Gear Recommendations for a Photography Student

Many people have a basic camera phone or point-and-shoot camera these days, but if you are going to take a photography class or otherwise get more serious about improving the craft of photography, you may want to consider the kinds of equipment you will need to be able to experiment more in-depth with the technical and creative sides of photography. There are an overwhelming number of camera models on the market to choose from, but in this guide I have tried to boil it down to a select few for those who have never shopped for a more advanced camera before. The approximate prices listed are current as of January 12, 2015.

Whether we are looking at the models below or considering other options of your own, my criteria for evaluating cameras starts with some very important requirements:

* The camera must allow Manual control of aperture and shutter speed. This is most easily confirmed by the presence of an “M” mode on the main shooting mode dial.

* The camera should have an interchangeable lens system. Basically, you want the option to switch out lenses (wide angle, telephoto, macro, etc) for different photography subjects.

* If you are planning to use an older or used camera, make sure the battery is reliable or get additional backup batteries. There’s nothing worse than everything and everyone being ready for a shoot and your camera running out of batteries!

Budget Cameras ($350 or less)

Cameras in this section are going to allow much more creative control than camera phones and most point-and-shoot cameras, and will be adequate for many basic photography classes. But they will be more limited in functionality than more expensive cameras, making you want to replace them sooner with an upgrade as you get serious about photography. The units I have listed belong to the compact mirrorless class of cameras, which allow for interchangeable lenses while still remaining very portable and affordable. The tradeoff is usually that they will be slower than more expensive cameras, and they will also tend to be noisier or grainier than higher-end cameras due to the size of the image sensor.

Sony A3000 with 18-55mm lens: $298
This is a trimmed-down version of Sony’s very popular Alpha-series cameras. While it won’t win any performance awards as a camera, it will surely still allow you much more functionality that your smart phone and cheap point-and-shoot camera. People seem to find the grip on this camera to be very comfortable.

Canon EOS M with 18-55mm lens: $316
This is a very interesting camera offering by Canon that uses the same image sensor as many of their higher-end DSLR cameras, but in a very compact form factor and low price. You can also purchase an additional lens mount adapter in order to use standard Canon lenses with this camera. If you think you’d ever like to upgrade to a more serious Canon DSLR, this is a great way to get started at a low cost of admission.

Panasonic DMC-GF6KK with 14-42mm lens: $349
This is a capable camera that conforms to the Micro Four-Thirds standard, which means that you will easily be able to acquire additional lenses from a number of manufacturers when you are ready to expand your craft. In my opinion, the versatility offered by this model over the Sony A3000 is well worth it if you are shopping in the sub-$350 range.

Entry-Level Digital SLRs ($550 or less)

Cameras in this section are true digital SLR (DSLR) cameras will be very good for many photography applications, have lots of lens and accessory options, and will last for a long time if you take care of them. It’s astounding to see how a $500 camera today can outperform even $2000 cameras from just a few years ago!

Nikon D3100 with 18-55mm lens: $369
This is Nikon’s entry-level DSLR, and it offers great performance for the price. It is a very capable camera that will offer everything an aspiring photographer needs to create exciting images. One bonus feature is that in the video recording mode, the camera can continuously refocus on your subject, just like a camcorder.

Sony NEX-5TL with 16-50mm: $398
In the past couple of years, Sony has been making huge strides in the photo industry and gaining a reputation for creating exciting and innovative cameras that perform well under a variety of shooting conditions. Sony’s NEX and Alpha series cameras have gained a lot of popularity and are giving Canon and Nikon a run for their money. Check out this camera with the very compact form factor.

Canon T3i with 18-55mm lens: $549 (I’ve seen much better prices than this during sales!)
Canon has since replaced the T3i with newer models, but this camera still offers amazing performance. It is easily the camera I have most often recommended to budding photographers, and for good reason. Of the models listed on this page, I have the most personal experience using this camera, which has proven to be a winner in terms of image quality, features, and price. One bonus feature is the flip-out LCD screen which will allow you to shoot from extremely high or low angles to get unique perspectives.

For more recommendations on entry-level DSLR cameras, check out this video by B&H Photo:

Worthwhile Accessories

Consider adding the following equipment to your photography supplies:

A very good tripod at the $50 range is this Dolica tripod. It’s reasonably lightweight for travel, while having enough stability for most consumer DSLR and smaller cameras.

Blow dust and other particles off of your lenses and gear with this Giottos air blower for less than $10. This is much better than blowing with your mouth and getting spit on your lenses! I rarely bother to wipe my lenses with cleaning solution, but I frequently use the air blower as a simple and effective part of camera maintenance.

I have many different backpacks and camera bags over the years, but the one that I have continued to use all these years as a travel pack is the $60 Lowepro Slingshot 102 AW (technically I had the 100 which was the older version). It’s just enough for me to hold a camera with lens attached and two or three other lenses and a few small accessories. The main design innovation is that you do not have to take off the backpack to get to your gear, so it’s great for traveling. It also has straps for securing your tripod to it, but I’ve never used that feature before. If I have a very important professional shoot, I will of course use my bigger case, the Lowepro Pro Roller x200, but for basic photo trips, I turn to the Lowepro Slingshot.

Finally, if you’re looking for an external flash, please see my Basic Flash recommendations page!

Higher-End Cameras and Additional Gear

There are a whole lot more options out there in terms of cameras, especially if you are willing to spend more than $500 for a camera and lens combo. For example, you can see what I use in my professional photography work on my Gear Page.

If you are looking for a camera that is even more powerful or has even more advanced features than what is discussed in this article, please send me a note at kenneth@kennethphotography.com so I can get a better idea of your requirements and make a custom recommendation for you! I can also provide suggestions for many other kinds of camera gear.

Don't forget to check out the Recommendations page for the latest products that I'm showing to friends and blog readers based on their requests. I love talking about this stuff, and every time you click on a referral link from this website to a featured retailer like Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video, I get a small commission that helps keep this site running, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support, and please contact me if you need any recommendations!

Gear for an Event Photographer

A reader recently asked me about what gear I use for event photography, since that is a large part of what I do. I wanted to share the thread for others who may be similarly interested.

What camera gear do you use and recommend for event photography in general?

I think the key here is recognizing that every event is different in terms of the lighting conditions, the house rules of the venue, and the specific needs of your client, which may dictate factors such as how much you are allowed to move around and how close you can get to the action without being in the way, as well as how much you can alter or add to the lighting without being a distraction. The combination of gear I use and recommend provides excellent performance for capturing any scene:

In terms of event photography, whether it’s a wedding or a birthday party or a conference, my most common two-camera setup is a Canon 5D Mark III with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens and a Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens for optimal coverage. This is my combo for 90% of event shoots. The reason I want to have two cameras with me the whole time is so that I can cover a full range of the action. When I need a wider shot, I pick up the Canon 5D with the wide-angle lens. When I need to get in close, I use my Canon 7D with the telephoto lens. Yes, you can of course use “sneaker zoom” by walking closer to or farther from your subjects, but you don’t always have the luxury to do so, due to the speed at which events are unfolding or due to the house rules of the venue. For example, I’ve now been to several weddings where the church coordinator’s rule was, “Pick a spot, any spot, but you’re not allowed to move around during the ceremony.” So my gear has to be able to cover a full range. The reason I’ve invested in two camera bodies is for speed — I can immediately change ranges without fumbling with lens changes. There are many events I cover where this optimal combination allows me to not have to change lenses at all during the entire event. That is a huge plus to me.

There are of course times when it makes sense to change lenses, so in my gear bag I also have a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens for extra wide shots, and Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS Macro lens for the serious detail shots (like rings, etc). I used to shoot with more primes like the 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.8 when the venue was very dark, but I hardly bother anymore because I can pump up the ISO to 3200 and 6400 and still get great image quality on these camera bodies (particularly the Canon 5D Mark III). I like the versatility of zoom lenses when the scene is unpredictable and I want to be ready for anything.

In order to carry both cameras on me during the event, I use the BlackRapid DR-2 double strap, which has been way better than getting tangled up with two standard camera straps. The DR-2 can also be separated into two separate shoulder straps so you can keep your cameras mounted on them even when you only need one camera. The only thing that is annoying about the BlackRapid design is that it requires use of the tripod mount, which effectively means I have to take off the BlackRapid fastener before using the camera on a tripod or monopod. Those are not part of my standard arsenal for event photography anyway, so it has not been a major issue for me.

I do also set up portable lighting for some events, such as wedding receptions, and that is covered in the Gear for a New Strobist article. You can also check out the rest of the gear I use on the Gear I Love Using page of my photography blog.

Finally, to carry all of this gear with me everywhere I go, I use the Lowepro Pro Roller x200, which is a serious roller bag that is also carry-on compliant for flying. The pop-up pull handle can be very easily deployed with one hand, and you can even mount a camera or an external flash on the handle if you’re in a pinch for a tripod or light stand. I like that it comes with a security cable mechanism so that you can lock it down to an immovable object, and I’ve used it a few times at events so that a thief can’t just easily walk away with my whole bag while I’m distracted. It has lots of configurable compartments and heavy padding to protect my stuff while providing quick access when the bag cover is unzipped. I usually have the following loaded up in there: Canon 5D with 24-70mm lens mounted, Canon 7D with 70-200mm lens mounted, Canon 16-35mm lens, Canon 100mm Macro lens, four YongNuo 460ii strobes with wireless transmitters, Canon 580EX II flash, and a bunch of smaller accessories, batteries, etc. No doubt, this thing gets VERY heavy when fully-loaded, but having this bag has certainly saved my back! I can’t believe I used to try to carry most of this stuff in two overloaded backpacks!

Anyway, here was a long answer to your question. This is how I find myself best prepared for whatever happens at an event. Hope that helps!

Don't forget to check out the Recommendations page for the latest products that I'm showing to friends and blog readers based on their requests. I love talking about this stuff, and every time you click on a referral link from this website to a featured retailer like Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video, I get a small commission that helps keep this site running, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support, and please contact me if you need any recommendations!

Major Prius Bumper Dent Repair

Rather than paying for an expensive Toyota Prius bumper replacement after an unpleasant encounter with a parking lot pole, we decide to attempt the do-it-yourself, armed only with a can of solvent, two hair dryers, and some touch-up paint. Half of the fun is listening to Dad’s comments!

Your mileage may vary! We were lucky that even though the dent was huge, it was easy to access the other side of it to push against. We thought about trying the compressed air trick, but the dent was so deep that we were afraid it might pop in the wrong direction!

Recorded with the Canon VIXIA HV30 (now HV40) (awesome camcorder!). Support this site by buying yours at Amazon through this link!