What to Know When Buying Your First Professional Cameras

What to Know When Buying Your First Professional Cameras

What to Know When Buying Your First Professional Cameras

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While some photographers have made their claims to fame on Instagram and elsewhere using iPhones or entry level DSLRs, most working photographers use high-end expensive cameras. It is hard to buy a bad camera in 2016. You really can’t do it because no cameras or lenses in the modern age of digital photography are “bad”. If you can’t produce strong pictures with any of the current lineup of Canons, Nikons, Sonys, etc… Then it isn’t the camera, it’s you (sorry). Yet your camera of choice does matter because it is what you will be using to make a living. There is a lot of information and misinformation on the internet regarding photo gear. You could spend hours upon hours reading reviews, forums, and asking your professional friends what they think. Sadly I’ve wasted a lot of time doing that, and it hasn’t made my photography any better. So here are some tips and words of wisdom that will help you pick out a camera quicker, and stop wasting time on the internet.

Statue of Liberty and NYC Skyline at night viewed from New Jersey. This shot was taken with a Canon 5D Mark III and Sigma 150-600 lens. I had to be sure to use the right gear, but also know how to set my camera, where to shoot from, etc... Knowing what camera equipment to use in specific situations is important, but it isn't what makes the photograph.

Statue of Liberty and NYC Skyline at night viewed from New Jersey. This shot was taken with a Canon 5D Mark III and Sigma 150-600 lens. I had to be sure to use the right gear, but also know how to set my camera, where to shoot from, etc… Knowing what camera equipment to use in specific situations is important, but it isn’t what makes the photograph.

(Sensor) Size Matters

A DSLR camera works exactly the same way mechanically that a film SLR works. Their difference lies within the medium used for actual image capture. Instead of film, DSLRs have a sensor on the inside that records images. This seems like common knowledge, but not everyone knows that sensors in DSLRs are not created equally in terms of physical size and dimensions. You have probably heard people discuss “Full Frame” cameras before and may be wondering what that means. Full frame cameras have sensors that are equivalent in size to a “full” 35mm film frame. Other DSLR cameras have smaller sensors, which can still take good photographs, but have some disadvantages. Mainly that they have more noise or grain when shooting at higher ISO settings.

Cameras have different size sensors in them. Most professionals use full frame sensors which allow for better overall image quality, especially in dimly lit conditions. (tested.com)

Cameras have different size sensors in them. Most professionals use full frame sensors which allow for better overall image quality, especially in dimly lit conditions.
(tested.com)

Wedding photographers are always looking for this edge in dimly lit churches and reception halls. Portrait photographers will appreciate the more accurate color (skin tone) representation full frames give at higher ISO settings. The larger physical sensor area of full frame cameras allows for more shallow depth of field as well. Unless you are looking to shoot high-action sports or wildlife professionally, you want to buy a full frame camera. It is important to realize that your original (EF-S or DX) kit lenses will not be adequate for full frame cameras. The larger surface area of a full frame sensor requires a large lens for full coverage. Unless you have specifically bought full frame lenses ahead of time, I would suggest selling them along with your starter camera when upgrading to full frame.

Draft a Budget and Plan for Backup

Now that you know that you want a full frame camera, the question often becomes “Should I buy new or should I buy used?” This is entirely up to your budget and both are great options.The prospect of buying an expensive new piece of equipment can be daunting. Digital cameras sales across the globe have plummeted causing the price of cameras and lenses to rise. Photography is exceedingly expensive hobby and/or passion to turn into a career. There is a healthy investment of at least $2500-5000 to be made on equipment alone.

Renting is another option if you can’t afford two bodies or all of the lenses you want right off the bat. I highly suggest taking a small percentage of your income (earned elsewhere and also from paid photo gigs) and put it in a gear fund. This will help you build up your kit as a beginner, and also help you with unplanned repairs in the future.

 

Full frame cameras allow for great detail and color accuracy at higher ISO settings. This shot was "only" taken at 3200 on a Nikon D810, but years ago it would have been unthinkable on one of my crop sensor cameras.

Full frame cameras allow for great detail and color accuracy at higher ISO settings. This shot was “only” taken at 3200 on a Nikon D810, but years ago it would have been unthinkable on one of my crop sensor cameras.

If you’re shooting professionally, you will want to have 2 full frame camera bodies. Your second body doesn’t have to be the exact same model as your first, but it should be enough to produce the same kinds of images that your main camera can. For example older generation cameras like the 5D Mark II and Nikon D700 are still very good full frame backups that you can find on the used market for cheap. However you should be aware that as time progresses these cameras will fall out of service life and be harder to repair. If you want your backup body to be a long term solution I suggest the newer Canon 6D or Nikon D610. These bodies are also fully capable main cameras if you are on a tighter budget. If you’ve noticed so far, I’ve only mentioned Canon or Nikon bodies. There are other options out there and I would never discredit a photographer for using any camera of their choice, but most working photographers choose to shoot with Canon or Nikon full frame DSLRs.

This is one of my favorite Northern Lights images and it was shot on a Sony A7RII mirrorless camera.

This is one of my favorite Northern Lights images and it was shot on a Sony A7RII mirrorless camera.

Be Informed on Mirrorless

I like mirrorless cameras. The Sony A7 series is extremely popular right now, and you have probably seen a lot of people bragging on them all over the internet. They produce great images. Some of my favorite Northern Lights photographs have been taken on a Sony A7RII full frame camera. I have seen other photographers do amazing things with mirrorless cameras in all photographic genres. That being said, mirrorless cameras have not been designed for professional use yet. The key word is yet. I would imagine in 2-3 years I will be able to rewrite this post with some alternative advice. Battery life on all mirrorless cameras is embarrassingly bad. Only one mirrorless camera (Fujifilm X-Pro 2) offers dual memory card slots that are crucial for important assignments like a wedding. It is advised that you have a second memory card in your camera for backup.

This is a shot I took using a Panasonic GX85. It is possible to achieve shallow DOF and high image quality on mirrorless cameras, but the lens I used was very expensive.

This is a shot I took using a Panasonic GX85. It is possible to achieve shallow DOF and high image quality on mirrorless cameras, but the lens I used was very expensive.

When it comes to mirrorless lenses on full frame, the most popular f/2.8 zooms and f/1.4 prime lenses become exceedingly bulky, sometimes even bigger and heavier than their DSLR equivalents. A vertical battery grip is often added to help aid balancing the heavier lenses. The extra battery also helps boost the dismal battery life of mirrorless cameras for event shooting. At this point consider how much money is being invested into making a camera that is supposed to be smaller, bigger. The investment is also larger as the best mirrorless cameras and lenses are newer, and therefore more expensive.  For all of the reasons I have mentioned, I would avoid using *only* mirrorless cameras for professional photography. Mirrorless cameras can make a nice addition to your kit for travel, engagements, etc… but do not rely solely on mirrorless system.

Suggested Camera Systems Tiered by Budget
Pricing based on MSRP or Approximate Used Market Value in the Fall of 2016

While everyone will have a different preference on things like zoom vs primes lenses, flash or no flash, etc… I am always asked what cameras and lenses they should buy for getting started in professional photography. Here are some of my suggestions that I think would help those looking to get started mainly in wedding and/or portrait photography. I am also often asked about third party lenses from Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina. I am not adamant about any gear choices so I don’t have a perfect answer for you. If you’re looking to get into fast aperture lenses or explore the specialty lenses that these brands make, then by all means give them a try. I have had excellent experiences using Sigma ART and Tamron SP lenses in the past and the most recent lenses from 3rd party manufacturers all score very highly in reviews. However I have moved to using only OEM lenses in my kit. That can be discussed more at length, but essentially as a CPS/NPS member, I want to have the ability to get my lenses serviced quickly and have a loaner at my disposal during the repair period. I may change my mind in the future, or end up buying a Sigma ART or Tamron SP as additional lenses to add to my kit, but any of my foundation pieces will remain OEM Canon/Nikon. Some people are really adamant one way or another on this topic, but I am indifferent. Consider the pros and cons I have laid out here and make your own choices. Reasonable people (not trolls) won’t think any differently of you no matter what you decide to do.

This image was made using a Nikon D810 and Sigma 35 Art lens at f/2.0 and ISO 2000. However I could have taken this same picture using a Canon full frame and any brand 35mm lens. Try not to get too caught up in online reviews and pick a system that works best for you.

This image was made using a Nikon D810 and Sigma 35 Art lens at f/2.0 and ISO 2000. However I could have taken this same picture using a Canon full frame and any brand 35mm lens. Try not to get too caught up in online reviews and pick a system that works best for you.

The same goes for the old tired Canon vs Nikon debate. Please don’t get sucked into that. They’re both great systems. If you don’t already have a starter camera like a Rebel or D3300, or if you’re just curious, I suggest renting a full frame body from both brands and trying what you like. Most importantly don’t listen to your friends who will tell you that one brand is better than the other. Go with what you like the best. Often you will be more at home with the controls on a camera that is the same brand that you already own. Obviously these suggestions are just a baseline, and you can mix and match to tailor to your specific style and budget. As you grow in your photographic career you can upgrade one piece at a time, reselling the previously used piece.

$2500 Canon System
2x Canon 5D Mark II USED ($1600 total)
1x Canon 85mm 1.8 USED ($275)
1x Canon 28mm 1.8 USED ($250)
2x Yongnuo 600EX-RT Flashes ($240 total)

$2500 Nikon System
2x Nikon D610 USED ($1800 total)
1x Nikon 85mm 1.8D USED ($250)
1x Nikon 35mm 2.0D USED ($200)
2x Yongnuo 685 (NK) Flashes ($210 total)

$5000 Canon System
1x Canon 5D Mark III USED ($1800)
1x Canon 6D USED ($1100)
1x Canon 28mm 1.8 USED ($250)
1x Sigma 50 1.4 ART USED ($700)
1x Tamron 70-200 2.8 VC USED ($900)
2x Yongnuo 600EX-RT Flashes ($240 total)

$5000 Nikon System
2x Nikon D750 USED ($3000 total)
1x Tamron 24-70 2.8VC USED ($675)
1x Nikon 35mm 2.0D USED ($200)
1x Tamron 70-200 2.8 VC USED ($900)
2x Yongnuo 685 (NK) Flashes ($210 total)

Mike Zawadzki
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