Canon 5D Mark III
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L
Canon EF 12 II Extension Tube
Manfrotto Pro Tripod Legs & Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head
Lexar Professional 32GB Compact Flash Card
72mm UV Filter
Manfrotto Advanced Active Backpack
Polaroid Collapsible Circular Reflector Disc
Manfrotto Boom Stand with Sand Bag
Rode Shotgun Microphone
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We upgraded to the Canon 5D Mark III from our Nikon D600 for a few reasons. First, since we focus on food photography, we noticed some of our needs were better suited for Canon products. Second, we haven’t put our finger on it yet, but there’s a certain color and overall image quality that seems to come out differently due entirely to Canon’s processor. Third, we have been doing more professional photography work and the investment made sense for our many needs. Read more about choosing Canon over Nikon here.
One thing we love about this setup is the Extension Tube. It’s about $90 and doubles our use of the most expensive lens we’ve ever owned. It allows us to get in tight on some of those macro shots without using a macro lens, which can be quite the investment.
Another upgrade we made was our Manfrotto Tripod & Tripod Head. We wanted a tripod that went over our food as well as was designed to make incremental improvements. This has helped our versatility greatly and is a great investment if you’re looking for something similar (it’s about as cheap as you can go for something that has this functionality).
Easily our favorite setup, but also our most expensive. We have now used both Canon and Nikon professionally and plan to stick with Canon.
Recommended Setup for under $500
Based on our prior recommendations, we have a greater leaning toward starting and staying with Canon.
Therefore, these are the cameras we’d recommend: Canon EOS Rebel T5 (body only, or get the free kit lens and resell it) paired with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens.
(If you can spring the extra $100 or find a deal in the used listings, jumping up to the Rebel T6 is probably worth it.)
Recommended Setup for under $1000
Recommended Setup for under $2000
Recommended Setup for under $3000
Canon has produced a successor to the Mark III, the EOS 5D Mark IV, which is notably more expensive. Probably not worth the extra $1K price jump, but does offer some new features that could be helpful for high-res video.
This was a great camera and a fantastic setup. We liked the 50mm lens, but needed the 105mm for any sort of close-in shot. Upgrading to Canon and using the extension tube eliminated the need for that second lens.
The D600 is a full-frame camera with a much more affordable price point than any other full frame camera. Nikon makes two basic types of cameras: fx (full-frame) and dx. These terms relate to the sensor size, which can make a substantial difference when considering ISO performance and the color depth. Since Dana takes photos in nautral light 99% of the time, this was an incredibly important feature we wanted to utilize if we could afford it. Lastly, we are dabbling in video more recently and this camera was a great way to start taking quality HD video.
First DSLR Setup
This was a great first DSLR and we were incredibly happy with it. Actually, for the price point, it offers an incredible amount of flexibility and professionalism.
We decided to get this lens instead of the Nikon lens kit per a salesman’s recommendation. It took almost every type of shot we wanted (those close-in tight shots as well as big picture shots). It is a really great all around lens that has a lot of flexibility. Its one weaknesses (which, is expected, as it couldn’t do everything for how affordable it is), is that it struggles in low light settings. This can usually be compensated in other ways and didn’t stop it from being a wonderful piece of equipment to really start learning.
However, in hindsight, we’d probably recommend just getting a great 50mm lens.
- Camera prices vary greatly. We have been able to upgrade our equipment by purchasing the best camera we could afford at the time and then selling our previous setup.
- Camera bodies have two big components that make them valuable: 1) The processor (size, speed, etc.) and 2) the lenses that can attach to it.
- If you are purchasing a DSLR, spend about as much on your lens as your camera. It might seem crazy, but the real magic happens with the glass on the camera.
- For the beginner wanting a DSLR, we would recommend getting a camera body and then investing in one really great lens (50mm is a great place to start).
- Deciding which camera would be best (Canon vs. Nikon) is really hard. However, we’ve professionally used both and decided the commitment to Canon was the investment for food photography.
- A 50mm lens is by far our preferred lens for food photography. Any version will treat your work wonders.
I’m just starting out, what would you recommend I buy?
First, be reasonable and realistic with what your budget is. What we really recommend is that you don’t get a bad case of buyer’s remorse.
Now, we have two more points of advice:
1) Fully utilize what equipment you have now and only invest when it is time. A top of the line DSLR really isn’t worth much if you can’t utilize its features. On the other hand, when your equipment is limiting you (and you have the resources), an upgrade is a worthwhile consideration.
2) Invest heavily in your lenses. This was advice we were given when we started out and now fully understand why. We actually just thought it was a salesman’s pitch to get us to spend more, but your lenses are going to have much more to do with what type of shot you get than anything else. It’s also possible to get a really great lens and continue to use it when you upgrade to a camera body that works with it in the future.
Should I buy a lens that zooms, or one with a fixed focal point?
There is value to both types of lenses. It really depends on what you are trying to do. If you need something to be versatile for every situation, a zoom lens can probably do the majority of what you need. However, fixed focal point lenses are the ones that really highlight other features (bokeh, less distortion, greater aperture flexibility, etc.).
If you are using your camera mostly for food photography, a fixed focal point lens is probably much more reasonable (than say if you were investing in sports photography only). Since, as a food photographer, you have time to adjust your shot and physically move closer or further away from your object, the fixed focal point won’t hinder your ability to get a great shot nearly as much.
I can’t afford a DSLR yet, does that mean I can’t improve my food photography?
Of course not! If we can do a bit of self promotion, we’d suggest you still check out our Food Photography School. Use what you have today and improve your photography however you can! We started using a simple point and shoot (and you could probably manage with just your smartphone), styrofoam, and construction paper.
These seem costly, are they really worth it?
Yeah, we know.
We took a gamble with investing in our first camera, but have found the more we invest in what we love doing, our skills start paying dividends in ways we never imagined.
More importantly, we don’t think all this upgraded camera equipment is just marketing hype (which, we feared at first). They really are great tools. The more we start to fine-tune our craft, the more we recognize the differences in higher quality cameras.
On the other hand, we’ve been able to justify in some top of the line equipment because of our professional gigs. Since photos get compressed and changed online anyway, if you have the money that you’re considering an upper-end investment, getting the entry full frame camera and a great 50mm lens will probably give you everything you need in terms of equipment.
Do I need a filter? Even if it is only a clear one?
When we bought our first DSLR, we felt like we were talked into all of these extra up-sells. We thought filters (especially clear ones) were one of those things. (Note: We found that you can usually grab one a high quality version of these on Amazon for about $40 (or the cheap ones for about $7) rather than spending $100 at a camera shop.)
Even though we do almost all our photography indoors, we would much rather clean a protective piece of glass than the lens itself. The real benefit touted about these filters is that if something were to go flying toward your camera, you don’t break your $1,000 lens.
Fine. So, yes, we use them. Somewhat bitterly, perhaps. We buy the higher quality ones so we don’t have to take them off when we are shooting. You can buy the cheaper ones, but you might want to remove them before a shoot so it doesn’t alter your shot.
Lastly, we really do try to embrace simplicity, even when it comes to investing in expensive tools. Once we stop using a camera or equipment, we sell it or give it away. Clutter is clutter, regardless of the excuse.
Furthermore, we have sold all kinds of things (furniture, watches, books) to get money for buying our equipment. We really do believe we should constantly evaluate our situation and eliminate anything that doesn’t add value to our lives.
Also checkout our Artificial Lighting Equipment Page.