This article is all about the photography equipment that I use professionally. Although some of this material is brand specific, I hope that there is some good advice in here for any serious digital photographer.
I make my living teaching digital photography, and in the winter I love to shoot sports: particularly skiing and snowboarding. I need durable, portable equipment that I ski around with everyday. As a professional photographer, I usually carry just one lens and one camera body. I carry whatever I am going to use for the day in either a LowePro Off Trail 2 hip sack or a waterproof Pelican Case. For true camera protection, noting beats a Pelican box, but they are awkward to lug around!
Advice on Camera Bodies
Among photographers, there is no easier conversation starter then the question “what camera do you use?” For some reason, we photographers are obsessed with our camera bodies. I currently own two Canon bodies; a Canon EOS 7D for everyday use and an old beater that I converted for black and white infrared capture only. I shoot Canon because this is the system that I knew back in the film days. If I could start all over, I might stick with Canon but I truly believe that there are phenomenal camera bodies on the market right now from Nikon (Nikon D3x, Nikon D3S, and Nikon D700) and from Olympus. There are great bodies from all these brands but since I have been using Canon’s system for such a long time this is the one place where I feel qualified to give detailed advice on all of their current DSLR models.
If money were no object, I would love to have a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV. I loved my 1D-Mark II and 1D-Mark III bodies. These are top of the line equipment and they are built like a tank! Yes, these are very heavy cameras, but for the professional level sports / action photographer they are a solid investment that will hold their value for many years. When I sold my perfectly good Mark III last fall I considered putting the money into a new Mark IV, but could not justify the difference in price over the Canon EOS 7D.
For my needs, the Canon 7D is the perfect mix of professional image quality at an affordable price. I love this camera’s 100% viewfinder, its image quality, and the electronic bubble level feature is cool. The sensor in the 7D is definitely not as good as the sensor in the 1D Mark IV, or the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. The Mark IV and the 5D Mark II definitely take cleaner pictures, with more useable detail especially at higher ISO settings, than the 7D. Still, the 7D’s image quality is more than adequate for my professional needs and it is a whole lot less expensive.
This is the camera body that I recommend for any serious photographer unless you are making a living shooting only landscapes, studio product images, or architecture. If products, or architecture, are your market niche then I would definitely pick a Mark IV, a 5D Mark II or a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III over the 7D. For these types of photography, a full-frame sensor is essential, but for a sports shooter like me the Canon 5D Mark II is painful slow and the Mark IV is just out of my price range.
For those on a really limited budget, I recommend the Canon T2i / 550D. This camera has a lot of the features that I love in my 7D though its controls and ergonomics are not nearly as good. Still, for under $1000 its image quality is excellent. Ironically, its sensor far exceeds the quality of the “kit lens” that Canon usually bundles with the body. To get your money’s worth out of this, or any of the other camera bodies that I recommend, you need to invest in a very good lens.
Advice on Lenses
Digital SLR camera sensors can record amazing levels of detail with today’s technology. Unfortunately this is double-edge sword. When everything is right, our photos look amazing. Sadly though if you put a low quality lens in front of a great sensor then you get lousy photos. The image quality suffers because the sensor will record every flaw that the lens creates. Low-grade lenses are prone to soft spots and create a lot more chromatic aberration.
My advice is to get the best lens that you can possible afford. I would rather have just one great lens then a bag full of mediocre choices. Trust me, every year I teach hundreds of photographers and I lead dozens of classes. If you are just starting out, then I urge you to buy just one good lens!
As a professional photographer, I can build powerful images with just one lens. I may have to move my feet a lot more but the photos that I create will be winners. With cheap glass though, I am just going to get frustrated and create more work for myself when I get home. Instead of getting it right in the field, I am going to waste a lot of time in Adobe Photoshop, or Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, repairing the flaws that were created by the low quality lens the moment I clicked the shutter. Start with just one great lens and learn to use only this lens for at least three months. If I were you, I would not buy another lens until a job, or event, comes along that is clearly beyond your current equipment’s capabilities. Even then I would consider renting gear from a company like www.borrowlenses.com before purchasing more glass.
Still you have to start with something on your camera. Starting out, I would put my money into high-quality “wide to telephoto” zoom lens. In the Canon product line, the best lenses are marked with an “L.” For Canon users the “L rating means the best glass and the first one that I would buy is the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens. This is my favorite lens for everyday photography and it is the one that I use ninety-five percent of the time. For wide angle work, my top choice is the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Ultra Wide Angle Zoom Lens. I love the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM for telephoto work though I carry around the smaller, lighter, and not quite as sharp Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM Lens most of the time. I love the 70-200mm, but it is just a little too big for the waist pack that I wear when I am skiing. Again though, my advice is start with just one lens and add others only when you need them.
I hope you found this helpful. For more advice on digital cameras please visit:
- Lens Advice from Neil Chaput owner of the Rocky Mountain School of Photography
Always remember that these are just tools. They don’t make art for us. Buy what you need but never forget that a talented artist does not need a huge bag of expensive toys to create great work.
P.S. This article, and most of my posts, are peppered with hyperlinks to products from retailers like Amazon.com and B&H Photo Video. If you use any of these links to make a purchase then we get a tiny reward as a “click-through revenue affiliate.” I have no problem with this since I am not a paid endorse any item and I truly use every item that I recommend in this article. I too buy my gear on the retail market and I support these merchants.
If I could, though, I would gladly fill this article up with hyperlinks for Stephen Neal, owner of Neal’s Photo in Philipsburg, Montana. Unfortunately Steve doesn’t have a website yet. This is a small-town one-man country camera shop. This is a reliable business though where the guy who answers the phone is the owner and sole employee! Neal’s is not a major corporate player, but he is a Canon, Epson, Lowepro, etc. dealer. His business may be small but his prices are fantastic and he has never let me down. if you are shopping for equipment then I urge you to give Neal’s Photo a call first at 1-800-859-3855 or 406-859-3855.