Once you’ve created your product, you’ll want to showcase it in the best light possible, which means producing high-quality images of your work that you can feature on your website and in your marketing materials. You don’t necessarily need to hire a photographer. In the past, we’ve discussed product photography on a very tight budget, using an iPhone or basic camera. This week, our staff photographer will address how to select a more mid- to high-range camera for elevated photo quality.
If you’re in the market for a camera, the first thing you need to come up with a budget. The sky’s the limit when it comes to camera prices – you can spend really as much money as you can afford. There is no point in me recommending a camera in the range of $2,000 if your budget is $500. I’m here to tell you that there are good options in every price range, and point out a few things to keep in mind while purchasing a camera.
Basic Breakdown of Camera Types
DSLR: Most of you will probably be looking into a 35mm DSLR, which essentially means a camera with interchangeable lenses. These are in the thousands and require an investment in lenses (which we will touch on later). But they also allow the most growth possible – over time, you can build out into a large assortment of lenses and accessories.
Point and Shoot: If you don’t want to invest in lenses, most manufacturers offer very high quality “point and shoot” cameras, with good optics and features as well.
A Mix: You might be wondering if there is a happy medium that merges the ease of point-and-shoots with the expandability of a DSLR. I’m pleased to tell you, there is. One of the more recent developments in the camera world is a type called “mirrorless”. It’s like a DSLR without the mirror, meaning you look at a digital display akin to that of a point-and-shoot or your smartphone camera, rather than a viewfinder that reflects onto a mirror.
These mirrorless cameras have a number of advantages compared to a DSLR, such as lighter weight and a smaller size, but they also have a number of disadvantages, the main being sensor size and lens availability. The imaging sensor in the mirrorless cameras is much smaller than in traditional DSLRs, which translates to increased noise, or digital grain most prevalent in low-light situations. And they almost all use different lens mounting systems, meaning less options for choosing different lenses.
Megapixels are overrated in the camera industry. Camera manufacturers will often boast about their insanely large megapixel counts. The reality is that after a certain point, more pixels create more noise because only a certain amount of data can be put on a sensor. More megapixels allow you to print bigger, but if you aren’t going to be printing your photos, you don’t need to put too much thought into it. Otherwise save money on megapixels, and focus on lenses. Here’s a handy chart that compares the number of megapixels to print size.
In camera shopping, this is the second most touted number after megapixels. 400, 800, 1600… all these numbers signify the sensor’s sensitivity to light. It takes a lot more light to photograph by candlelight than by sunlight, and cranking up your ISO is an easy way to shoot in the dark. But like everything in photography, there is a tradeoff – higher ISO produces more noise. If you are set on shooting in a low-light location, or don’t want to invest in in lighting, look for a camera that performs well with a high ISO. Generally you want to keep your ISO as low as possible, as you can probably tell from this handy set of images below.
Everything is Seen Through the Lens
I would focus on investing in a good lens. Camera models get updated every year, but new lens models are developed at much lower frequency. It took almost eight years for Nikon to release a new version of their very popular 24-70 f2.8, and the changes were far from drastic. Light doesn’t change, and the way it refracts through glass doesn’t change, so a great lens will always be a great lens unless you break it.
There are two things to pay attention to: focal length and aperture. Focal length is your zoom. I actually recommend prime lenses, which are lenses that don’t actually have a zoom. I fall into this camp for three reasons:
- Prime lenses are more affordable.
- They are often sharper than their zooming counterparts.
- You already have the most powerful zoom of all, your feet.
The other thing you should pay attention to is the number following that “f.” That measures the aperture, or the hole within the lens that lets in light. The smaller the number, the more that hole opens up to let light in, and vice versa. Yes I know, confusing. Wider hole also means that less of your subject will be in focus, yet another tradeoff in photography. The out-of-focus bits are referred to as “bokeh,” which comes up frequently in those photos you see all over the internet of cute babies or families amid blurred backgrounds. If you want more depth in focus, increase your f-stop. Hopefully the images below can explain my point more visually.
One more thing to note on lenses – if you are shooting a lot of small or intricate work, a macro lens, would allow you to focus on objects closer than a normal lenses. In fact, you can use a macro lens to photograph non-macro things as well, so it’s something I would recommend.
This Whole Video Thing Kids Are Talking About These Days?
I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on this. Even if you don’t think you’re going to be shooting any video, your camera will most likely have the basic capability to do so. Most DSLRs today have good video functionality, but Canon is traditionally known as the leader in this area. I would strongly recommend Canon’s lineup if video is your focus.
So, I’ve tried to tackle a very big topic and have just scratched the surface. My takeaway advice is:
- Set a budget and buy the best thing you can within that budget.
- Do your homework.
- Don’t let the marketing fool you – look at how you will be using the images, and get a camera with the necessary resolution.
- Think about the situation you will be shooting in – if you are going to be short on light, look for good ISO performance.
- Lenses are an investment – treat them like one.
Here are my recommendations that I fully stand behind. I am most familiar with the big two – Canon and Nikon. Because of their extensive lens libraries, I feel the confident you will be able to build on these investments into the future!
If I were building a product photography studio from scratch, these are the lenses I would recommend
Lastly, a good camera is only half the battle — the next step is to get shooting! Stay tuned for advice on shooting your products.