I’ve been getting lots of questions lately about the best cameras, lenses, and other photography gear for various people at various points of their interest in photography. Below, I work through various levels of photography and some of the gear I’d recommend at each point. Feel free to read through it all, or just jump down to the stage that best describes where you’re at.
Note: Cameras are expensive! I’d definitely recommend exploring options for used gear and camera/lens rentals if you’re not at a place where you can make some of these bigger investments.
Admired photography from afar for a little while? Ready to jump in and explore the possibilities it may hold for you? Whether you’ve been a pro-iPhone photographer for years, or have never taken a photo in your life, these are some good and affordable options for you as you begin to explore the field.
To start out as you explore this crazy new world of photography, I’d recommend a simple DSLR like this Canon EOS Rebel T6.
Price: $399 with kit lens
FAQ: What’s a DSLR? You’ll hear this term used a lot in the photography world. DSLR stands for “digital single-lens reflex” and it basically just means that, as opposed to film or disposable cameras (SLRs), when you take a photo it’s recorded digitally on a memory card so you’re not wasting film, and bonus! you’re able to see previews of the photos you’ve taken on the back of the camera. Most modern cameras are DSLR nowadays.
The Rebel also comes with an 18-55mm kit lens. This will give you a good range of depth to get started on, and it comes with the camera, so you’ll be all set to get started on your journey to become the modern Dorothea Lange right when the camera arrives in the mail.
FAQ: What’s the difference between kit, zoom, and prime lenses? Kit lenses are the ones that come with a camera when you buy it. More advanced frames don’t all come with lenses included, but lots of beginner DSLRs like this one come with one or two to use, depending on the package you buy. Kit lenses are great when you’re just starting to explore photography and aren’t ready to make a big investment yet. Zoom lenses are pretty straightforward: they zoom, and prime lenses don’t. The downside is that zoom gives you a smaller range for aperture, so your photos have the potential of looking a lot more precise and sharp with a prime, non-zoom lens.Photo
Spend time at this stage exploring different types of photography you might fall in love with and focusing on learning aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. Understand how these three things work together and how they affect each photo, so you’re super confident in shooting in manual before moving on to more equipment.
PICKING UP THE PACE
Now that you’ve hung out with your Rebel for a while, you’re ready to commit to photography and make an investment.
First off, I’d recommend upgrading your lens. My favorite is the Canon 50mm f/1.2, but an f/1.4 is a little cheaper and still an enhancement from the kit lenses! Make sure to buy a lens that’s compatible both with your current camera and the one you want to upgrade to next. This one works with all EOS Canon cameras, so if you’re going from a Rebel to the 80D below, you’ll be able to use all your lenses still.
Next, it’s time to upgrade your camera! There are lots of great options, but the one I’ve found to be the best upgrade for the price is the Canon EOS 80D. (Note: if you have a little bit of a bigger budget and want something you’ll use forever, or as long as it lasts, check out the 5D Mark iii in the section below.)
At this point in your photography talents, you might want to invest in editing softwares like Lightroom and Photoshop. There are lots of options here– you can get a month-by-month subscription, buy each individually, or get them in a package! Once you’ve found a software you like, start exploring presets–or make your own– to fit your style. I use a combination of VSCO Pack 5, Kindred, and my own presets for all of my work.
Now that you’re a highly sought after photographer in your area, you’re ready to go all out.
Let me introduce my very own child camera… the Canon EOS 5D Mark iii. Prepare to fall in love, and likely shed a few tears of joy when this beautiful creation arrives on your doorstep and you caress it in your arms for the first time.
A few other good tools to have on hand:
- Memory Cards. You’ll of course need these with all of your cameras, but start expanding your collection with a good variation of 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB cards. I also highly recommend any of the Eyefi brand SD cards– they’re wifi enabled so you can send photos to your phone while traveling or even at a session.
- External hard drives. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this! You’ll likely need a portable external drive just to hold all your pictures, but it is so, so important to keep backups. I have three– one for the photos I’m working on, one backup to keep in another place far from my main one and my computer, and one with previous client’s photos saved on it. If you’re using them frequently, I’d also recommend replacing them and your SD cards every 6-8 months. I’ve heard too many horror stories of wedding photographers having a drive crash and losing multiple weddings, or having cards give out during the middle of a wedding and have no ability to photograph the rest of it– or get the images that were lost!
- Tripod. I cannot tell you how many times my tripod has saved my life. You can set your camera on here and set a timer to take family pictures, or just keep your camera steady on it during a shoot– you can get one for $20 on Amazon and I can guarantee you will not regret it.
- Reflectors. Again, just $10 on Amazon and a never-ending list of life-saving abilities. By reflecting light (shocking, I know), reflectors help bounce light on your subjects, remove shadows, help with overcast locations, and diffuse light in the most gorgeous way.
- Kodak Mini Instant Photo Printer. This is the best tool for travel and my favorite to use during family sessions with little kids! It’s a mini printer that fits in your pocket and connects wirelessly with your camera or memory card. If you snap a photo of some strangers while traveling, you can easily print it off and give it to them right there, and if you’re trying to keep some little kids entertained, it’s perfect for getting them excited about having their photos taken.
MEGA ADVANCED – THE DREAM ARSENAL
Anddd last but not least, here’s a little glimpse of what heaven might look like in my camera bag. If anyone happens to win the lottery in the next few years (or in my entire lifetime) and is feeling extra generous– here’s my wishlist.
Kelly Moore Camera Bag
- Canon 5D Mark iv
- 5D Mark iii as a backup body
- Fujifilm X Pro 2 for travel, because have you ever seen anything more beautiful? So nice and lightweight, with incredible quality; so tempted to steal my dad’s and go rogue shooting all my weddings and sessions on this.
100mm macro f/2.8
Photos courtesy of B&H Photo, Kindred Presets, Kelly Moore, and Jessica Lauren.