Hot Shots 1 – choosing a digital camera

Last Updated 4th November 2013

ChoosingADigitalCamera © J Horak-Druiff 2013

This is the first in a series of posts about food photography for bloggers in which Jeanne Horak-Druiff  will be discussing everything from choosing a camera, through the basics of photography and styling, to lighting and prop shopping. Today Jeanne will be talking about choosing the right digital camera.

One of the questions that I am most often asked is what camera equipment I use to take the photos on my food blog and what I would recommend that other bloggers buy. Obviously there is no right or wrong answer, but here are the tips and considerations that I would mention to anybody thinking of investing in camera kit for their blog, or upgrading their current camera. As a preliminary point, the Canon/Nikon divide is a bit of a standing joke among photographers – people are often either besotted with the one or the other brand. This is entirely a personal choice – they are both fantastic products and generally accepted as the two leading names in digital photography today, both with huge ranges of camera equipment from the basic to the very advanced.  For one reason or another, I have been a Canon girl since I started in digital photography, so I am almost exclusively going to refer to Canon products in this post, but Nikon is equally good and makes approximate equivalents to all the cameras and lenses that Canon makes. (Edit – I have now added some Nikon DSLR model numbers to, illustrating their entry level, prosumer and pro ranges.)  Bear in mind that camera lenses are brand-specific so if you inherited a few Canon lenses from your dad, you will not be able to use these on a Nikon camera.

Whether you are looking at investing in or upgrading your camera kit, the main questions you have to ask yourself are:

  1. What is my budget?  It would be nice if we could all splash out on a top of the range camera and lenses but obviously this is not the case for most of us. So decide first exactly how much you would like to spend on the camera kit. Once that decision is made, it immediately narrows your choices and makes your decision easier as it cuts out a lot of high-end cameras and lenses.
  2.  What sort of things will I be photographing, under what lighting conditions? Food?  children? Travel and lifestlye shots? This will determine what lenses you will need to buy. Different lenses are good at doing different things, so there is no point buying a 70-300mm zoom which is wonderful for game spotting safaris in the Serengeti, when you are planning to take loads of close-up pics of your food in restaurants! I will talk in more detail about choosing lenses in the next post in this series.

Digital camera fall into two categories:  SLR cameras (stands for single lens reflex – the larger cameras with interchangeable lenses) and compact cameras (smaller camera that you can slip into your bag or pocket, usually with a fixed lens that you cannot change).  These days, there is also the option of a high end smartphone instead of a compact camera.  If you are looking to blow your budget on a phone, the best camera phone I’ve experienced is the Nokia Lumia range. The Lumia 920 that I tested blew me away, and I believe the Lumia 1020 is even better.

If you are on a tight budget, or if photography is not a passion but a business necessity for your blog, then you might well baulk at the price of a digital SLR. It is quite possible to buy compact digital cameras  that deliver excellent images and give you full manual control over your photos, just like a DSLR. This is how I started out and all the photos on my blog before late 2007 were taken on a compact Canon Powershot (see the photos in this post  for example) and often they were perfectly good. Personally, I eventually found the limitations of the camera to be frustrating, particularly in low light, and I upgraded to a DSLR. I would always advise people looking to upgrade to buy a DSLR if they plan to develop their photography skills, but if you really do not want to spend that much, look for a digital compact that has aperture priority (AV on the functions dial), shutter speed priority (SV or TV on the functions dial) and full manual (M on the functions dial) options. Even if you do not know how to use them initially, having them means you can still progress in photography and gain the skills necessary to move to a DSLR later. In the compact category, I would look at:

  • The outstanding Canon Powershot range (the high end G15 does almost everything a DSLR will do)
  • The outstanding Nikon Coolpix range (the high end 8800 does almost everything a DSLR will do)
  • The Nikon 1 J2  or 1 V1 (hybrids – compact but with changeable lenses)
  • The Canon EOS M (a hybrid – compact but with changeable lenses)
  • A number of other brands also do excellent compacts including the Sony Cybershot and Panasonic Lumix ranges

If you can afford to, though, I would always recommend buying a DSLR to allow you to grow your photography skills over time. The affordable entry level Canon DSLR is the Canon EOS 1100D and the equivalent Nikon is the Nikon D3200 which both have full DSLR functionality and takes standard Canon/Nikon lenses respectively – but my advice is never to buy the entry level of anything as you nearly always end up frustrated. Above the entry level, Canon do three main ranges of DSLRs:

  • the EOS 450/500/550/600/700/100D series – these are a step up from the 1100D – their consumer/amateur range and more than adequate for most food bloggers
  • the EOS 40/50/60/70D series – described as prosumer cameras – halfway between pro and consumer (both my cameras are from this range – a 20D and a 50D)
  • the pro range – the EOS 1D, 5D, 5D Mkii/iii (full frame) 6D (full frame) or 7D - professional spec camera – more functions than most non-pro photographers will ever want and serious cash needed

The newer models from the 600D and the 60D onwards have excellent video capability too, which is a nice bonus. The 100D has video capability and is the smallest DSLR on the market today – great for those looking for full functionality in a smaller body.

Above Nikon’s entry level D40, D3000/3100/3200 ranges we have:

  • the Nikon D50/60/70/80/90 (first with video), D5000/5100/5200/5300, D7000/7100 – their consumer/amateur range and more than adequate for most food bloggers
  • The Nikon D100/200/300/600/610/700/800 - described as prosumer cameras – halfway between pro and consumer
  • The Nikon D1, D2, D3 (full-frame), D4 (full-frame) - professional spec camera – more functions than most non-pro photographers will ever want and serious cash needed

The DSLRs (prices for body only – no lenses) range from about:

  • £250 for the Canon 1100D, or £275 for the Nikon D3200
  • to about £450 for a 700D, or £475 for the Nikon D90 (or £650 for the D7100)
  • to £950 for a 70D, or £1,600 and up for a Nikon 800D
  • to over £1,000 for the 7D or over £3,000 for the Nikon D4

But my best piece of advice to keep costs down while still investing in a good camera is to look at excellent second-hand cameras. Each time a new model comes out, the model before drops in price as photographers trade up – so I bought both my Canon 20D and my 50D bodies second-hand at a hefty discount. A lot of people equate “used” with “damaged” but this is not the case if you find a trusted supplier. Both my cameras have never given me a day of trouble and both were bought from the outstanding London Camera Exchange  on the Strand (they have branches throughout the country and an excellent search facility on their website to search across the branches). Their staff are friendly and very knowledgeable and they are happy to give you advice and let you play with the cameras in store before you make your decision. They also give a 6-month guarantee with their used cameras which added tremendously to my peace of mind. I would recommend them to anybody looking to buy a camera.

And to get back to the original question of what kit I use?  Until late 2007, all my pics were with a Canon Powershot compact and occasionally you will still see some travel pics shot with it (I am currently on the Canon Powershot SX260 HS and use it for my video clips). From late 2007 most photos were taken with my Canon 20D with the 18-55mm lens. From May 2011, almost all my shots are taken with a Canon 50D and either my 50mm lens or my 24-70mm lens with an 18-200mm for travel shots.

If you have any questions about anything in this piece, please leave them, in the comments below and I will be happy to help. Next time I will be discussing how to choose a lens for your camera – until then, happy snapping!

Post By Jeanne Horak-Druiff (5 Posts)

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5 comments to Hot Shots 1 – choosing a digital camera

  • Perfect timing with this post as I have just been investigating upgrading to a DSLR. I have almost decided upon the Canon EOS 100D. Is there any reason you haven’t mentioned it? Am I better looking at something else? Thanks, Vohn x

    • Hi Vohn – thanks for your comment! No reason I omitted it other than having research time constraints. I see it is both the smallest DSLR on the market and has video capability, making it a very good deal for those in search of a less bulky DSLR. I have now edited the post to add it, as well as adding some Nikon model numbers for the Nikonians :) Let us know how you get on with it.

  • What a useful post – I’m thinking about replacing my Sony SLR with a Canon. My friend is getting rid of his entry level Canon 1000 and I was wondering about taking it on and investing in a decent lens for my food photography. What do you think?

    • Hi Katie – thanks for your comment! I think that’s a grand idea – second-hand cameras that have been well looked after provide outstanding value for money. And the money you save on the camera can be put to good use buying a good lens. To be honest, it makes far more money to invest in excellent lenses that spending huge amounts of money on a camera, as it is the lens that will make a more noticeable difference to your photos, especially if they are mostly going on the web. Look out for the next piece in this series talking about lenses!

  • I have to thank you so much for helping me choose my camera this Summer. I love it! Nice post! Love Rosana

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