Photo Tips: The Gear

Photo Tips Part 1: The Gear

Last year my resolution was to pick up my regular camera more than my iPhone when there are moments to photograph. I think that I did a pretty good job and will continue to do that in 2014. However, I know that sometimes people pick up their phone to snap a photo because they aren’t as quick with a regular camera, or it just feels easier to them. So I’m starting a series for the new year to help you take better photos.

Part 1: The Gear

I’m going to start by talking a little bit about my basic gear, and my thoughts on it:

Canon 5DMKIII Camera – I started doing more advanced photography with a Canon camera, so over the years I’ve just climbed up the ladder when it comes to their SLR camera line. I started with something much more basic. I’m comfortable and quick using this brand of cameras so I stick with them.

Canon 135mm F/2L Lens*This is my newest lens, and I really favor it as long as I can stand far enough back to use it. The smooth backgrounds and perfect focus are amazing! Because of the focal length it’s not the best for moving targets because you are standing so far back it’s hard to follow.

Canon 85mm F/1.2L Lens*I had this lens for a couple of years and sold it because I was taking more photos in studio than outside and because of the focal length on this lens, it didn’t work as well for me. Now that I’m back outdoors, I wish I hadn’t parted ways with it quite yet.

Canon 50mm F/1.2L Lens*I think that a 50mm lens is nice well rounded lens but I find this one to be a little soft so I don’t use it most of the time. If I do, it’s at a higher F stop than normal.

Canon 35mm F/1.4L Lens*This is one of my more frequently used lenses because it is wide enough to take photos in smaller spaces, and it is my main lens choice when I am in studio. It is not so wide that it will distort faces or lines by much.

Canon 24-105mm F/4L LensThis lens is a basic zoom lens and it is commonly paired with most Canon full-frame cameras. I do not use it often because the aperture is so high and because I prefer my prime lenses more (I will explain more later).

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An editorial shoot at Sutro Baths in San Francisco, California.

What do all of these letters and numbers mean?

” Canon 85mm F/1.2L Lens* ”

Canon is the Brand/Maker. Some people prefer Nikon or others, but ultimately it comes down to what you are most comfortable with and what feels best in your hands.

85mm is the focal length. This is how far back you will need to be standing from your subject.

F/1.2L is the Aperture and line. Aperture is how wide the shutter will open up and essentially how much light it will allow in.

Lens just means that it’s a lens and needs to be attached to a camera body.

* denotes a prime lens. That means that this lens does not zoom in. You have to walk closer or back up to “zoom” the photo.

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Photographing the Na Pali Coast from Ke’e beach.

I don’t know what kind of camera I should get. Can you help?

I am going to assume that if you are an advanced photographer you already know what you want out of your gear and what to buy.

If you are familiar with composition and perhaps want to take your photos to the next level, I’d recommend investing in a starter SLR camera such as the Canon Rebel T5i. If you want a good walk around camera with a versatile lens, I’d recommend the Canon Rebel T5i Digital SLR Camera and 18-135mm EF-S IS STM Lens Kit ($933).

If you are interested in doing more, changing lenses, or just building your lens collection from scratch, I’d recommend buying the body only ($599). This means that it only comes with the camera body and you will need to buy additional lenses ($100-$$$$ each) to go with your camera and to make it a fully functional camera. If none of these cameras are within your budget, you can look at older versions of the camera for a fairly reasonable price. I’d recommend buying the Canon Rebel T3i with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens ($469).

If you are interested in something a little nicer, you can get the Canon 6D body only ($1,833) to build a collection, or paired with the Canon 24-105 F/4L Lens ($2,433). And if you really want to spring for the gold and have the cash to blow, I’d highly recommend the camera that I shoot with, a Canon 5D Mark III. Again, you can buy this with the body only ($3,233), or paired with a 24-105 F/4L Lens ($3,633).

I would like to take a moment to point out that one of the biggest differences between the Canon 6D / Canon 5DMKIII camera and the Canon Rebel series is that the 6D / 5D have a full frame sensor and the T5i / T3i have a cropped sensor. They both are capable of taking great photos, but there is a focal length multiplier specific to each camera (usually around 1.6)  with a cropped sensor. For example a 50mm lens on a 5DMKIII will act more like an 80mm lens on a T5i. There is a handy chart here. I’ll explain more on focal length a little further down.

If you are a beginner and are just looking for a recommendation for a good point and shoot, I’d recommend any of the Canon Elph series ($100-$200), but really any point and shoot that meets your needs will work. I have a Panasonic Lumix ($400) that we don’t use much for serious photos but it is waterproof and shock proof. We used it on our trip to Florida and it’s a fun one to bring along sometimes. My 10 year old is the primary user of it, sometimes my 20 month old likes to play around with it too.

Holding my camera tight at Barking Sands Beach on the Island of Kauai
Holding my camera tight at Barking Sands Beach.

What about lenses? What should I look for?
Earlier I broke down the title of a lens for you, now let’s talk about what each of those things actually means:

Focal Length is how close to the camera that the lens is actually able to focus. For example if I have my 35mm on my camera, I can stand closer to someone than if I have my 135mm lens on my camera. When the focal length is lower, the camera is also more prone to distortion. The photos look more “fisheye” and less flat. I do not recommend using a lens lower than 35mm to photograph a person’s face unless you are a fan of huge noses.

Aperture is how far the lens is capable of opening. A lower number means a wider aperture and thus more light is let in. It also means that the depth of focus will be more shallow so you can have a specific spot in focus, and the background more out of focus. I will explain more about this in my next post about actually taking photos.

If you are looking to purchase a prime lens (one that doesn’t zoom), I highly recommend the Canon 50mm F/1.8 ($110) as a starter lens. It is commonly referred to as “The Nifty Fifty” and is a decent lens for the price. As you advance you can move on to the Canon 50mm F/1.4 ($339) or even the Canon 50mm F/1.2L ($1,619). I started with the 50mm F/1.4 and worked my way up to the 1.2L. If you are looking for something that you can take pictures of a subject farther away, like a bird or other wildlife, I’d suggest something more in the 100mm+ range. If you want to take some fun fisheye looking photos, go somewhere lower, around 15mm.

If you really aren’t sure which lens you’d like to buy and are making a substantial investment, you can always rent a lens to try it out before actually taking the plunge to purchase one. One of my favorite resources for this is called Borrow Lenses. It is great to try out a lens before you buy, or to rent a lens that you wouldn’t use enough to justify a purchase but would like to use for a specific set of photos or trip.

With any lens that you decide to buy, you will want to buy a UV filter for it. The size of the filter that you need is usually listed on the front of the lens. The main purpose of purchasing a UV filter is to help protect your camera! If you drop the camera and it lands lens down (almost always does!) it could shatter the glass and you will have to make costly repairs or replace the entire lens. a UV filter will likely take the force of the blow and spare your actual lens from most damage. It also will protect your lens from being scratched during normal use or wear and tear.

Once you have started to build your gear, please do yourself a huge favor and choose a safe bag to store or transport it in. There are lots of different bags out there and as long as they are nicely padded and suit your needs, you should be fine! Great brands to look at are Lowerpro or Epiphanie.

Shop The Gear:

Phew! I think this is one of the longest posts that I’ve ever typed out. I hope that it was helpful and that you’ll tune in next week for the next installment in the series where I will cover the basics of taking a photo and controlling your camera.

Please, if you have any questions feel free to ask away in the comments. I will try to answer them in the comments or in a later installment.

9 thoughts on “Photo Tips: The Gear

  1. This is such an amazing tutorial! I’ve been looking for something exactly like this because I’ve been saving up to buy a camera. I can’t wait to see more of this series!

  2. such an useful post! my camera stopped working so I’m maybe going to invest in the rebel series. maybeeeeeee.

  3. I have olympus vg140 and these days i am searching/reading hard to make the best use of it on my trip to virginia and mexico…
    nice post btw! 🙂

  4. A quick thought on UV filters. They definitely have a role in protecting a lens from damage. But filters like neutral density and polarizing also bring an element of creativity into shots, to help punch up contrast, smooth elements in a photo like waves on a lake, or let you take long exposure shots using a tripod and shutter release. It takes some experimentation but it’s fun!

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