Nine years ago I held my first DSLR. It was so big and bulky in my hands, I couldn’t understand why my friend had paid so much money for it when our little pocket-sized cameras seemed to do the job just fine. Then a few months later, I was checking out profiles on Facebook (this was before the creation of the news feed) and happened to land on hers. I was blown away by the quality of her photos, and more than a little jealous knowing I’d never be able to capture anything near that nice with my old Kodak point-and-shoot. That was the first day I started saving for my own DSLR. It took me over five years to do it, but in 2011 I purchased my very first “professional” camera, and I’ve never looked back.
I’m not a photographer, at least in any professional sense, and I’ve never had any formal training or classes. Everything I know I’ve learned from books and online tutorials and the old tried-and-true practice-makes-perfect method. Taking photos is just a hobby for me, and I’m fairly certain I never want it to be any more than that, but I do get pretty passionate about this little hobby of mine. So much so that I’d rather wear shoes with holes in the soles and keep saving for the next lens than buy new shoes that’ll make me look like less of a hobo. That’s a true story. I finally just threw those shoes out last week.
Camera bodies. Lenses. Filters. Flashes. Tripods. Photography equipment, even the cheap stuff, doesn’t come cheap. When I bought that first camera with its accompanying kit lens, I thought that was it. I thought I’d never buy a single other piece of equipment ever again. (Go ahead – take a moment to laugh at my naivety for a moment. I’ll wait.) Photography is addictive – you’re never done learning and improving, and it just generally follows that you’re never done buying the bits and pieces that will help you produce the shots you’re learning to take.
So today, since I love learning what equipment other bloggers and photographs choose to shoot with, I thought I’d share what’s in my camera bag. FYI: All of these items can be found on Amazon or at camera shops and big box stores like Best Buy.
First off, you probably need to know I only shoot with Canon bodies and lenses. I know very little about Nikon or companies like Tamron and Sigma that makes lenses for multiple camera brands. There is no scientific reason why I first went with Canon – I had done my research between Canon and Nikon which led me to believe I’d probably be happy with whichever brand I chose, but when I went to the store, the Canon fit most naturally in my hands. Simple as that.
Currently I’m shooting with a Canon EOS 6D. It’s my first full frame and I’ve only been using it since July, so I’m still getting to know it, but I can already tell I’m going to be happy with it for a long time. It performs remarkably well in low light, and I’m amazed at how much of a difference a full frame sensor makes in my resulting photos, particularly when using a wide aperture. In some ways, I feel like I’m having to learn things all over again, but when I get it right, the quality is just outstanding.
When I bought the 6D, I purchased it as part of a package deal that came with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L lens. This lens is my first L-lens, which is Canon’s top-of-the-line series of lenses. The 24-105mm is a rather large lens, but it does just about everything I need it to do, making it the perfect walk-around lens. At 24mm, I can take wide landscape shots, but also get those lovely sharp shots with bokeh in the background if I zoom in and use a wide aperture. I use this one most often when we’re traveling because it’s so versatile, but its size and weight can be a burden after awhile which leads me to my second favorite lens, the 50mm.
Two years ago I bought the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens, and after I put it on my camera for the first time, I hardly ever took it off again. It’s a very fast lens that produces a perfectly crisp shot for me nearly every time. Considering the price and the quality of the shots it takes, if I had to recommend only one lens to someone, this one would probably be it. While it definitely has its limitations, especially when I need to zoom further in than my feet can go, its portability and light weight make it a great choice for traveling as well.
As for my accessories, I use a Manfrotto Compact Tripod. It’s good for the price, but you’ll certainly get much sturdier material if you’re willing to spend a little more. Right now, this one works for me, but I do see an upgrade some day in the future. My camera bag is the ONA Bowery Bag pictured above in Antique Cognac. This bag isn’t large, but I was specifically looking for something small that wouldn’t feel bulky. It fits my 6D with the 24-105mm lens attached, but that’s pretty much it. With a smaller lens attached, like the 50mm, there’s plenty of extra space.
Just in case you’re looking for a little reading material, I highly recommend all three of these books, especially if you’re just beginning to move into manual photography. The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby is not a technical book by any means, but more of a here’s-what-you-should-do-in-this-type-of-situation book. Very easy to read and understand. The Photographer’s Eye by Michael Freeman is without a doubt the prettiest book I own. This one is all about teaching composition and taking creative photos. And finally, Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson – my favorite of the three. Teaches exactly what the title states. I’m already looking at more of his books just because I’m learning so much.
Everything I just listed out above is perfect for an intermediate photographer, but what if you’re just a beginner and you’re not sure you want to shell out $3,000 for a camera and lens? In that case, this is what I’d recommend.
I started with a Canon Rebel T3i/600D, but that particular model has since been improved upon a good deal. The current model is the Canon EOS Rebel T5i. As far as beginner DSLRs go, this series is a really good one, especially if you’re not sure you want to jump right into using full frame.
When purchased as a package deal, the T5i comes with the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. Kit lenses are not always the best lenses, but they’re enough to get you started. The price of upgrading to a package deal vs body only is not really that much different (and exactly the same if you purchase on Amazon), so in my opinion it’s worth it. Use the kit lens for a few months while you start figuring out the kind of shots you like to take the most and then you can think about purchasing other lenses.
The first lenses I bought after playing around with the kit lens for a year were the 50mm prime lens I mentioned above and the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 lens. While I didn’t use this telephoto lens on a day-to-day basis, I loved it for photographing the wildlife around our house in Tennessee and even used it in Paris when we climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower. But keep in mind, if you purchase an EF-S lens, it will work with the T5i and any other crop body Canon, but not on full frame camera. So I’ll say it again, if you can only buy one, buy the 50mm – it works with both!
I know you can hardly see it in the photo, but the first camera bag I ever bought was a Canon Backpack-Style Camera Bag. Even though I love my ONA bag, this one is much, much better if you’ve got a lot of equipment to carry. It can hold the Canon 6D with the 24-105mm attached, the Canon T3i with the 18-55mm attached, the 50mm in a separate pocket, and there’s still space for other small accessories in another pocket. The inside has padded velcro that can be rearranged in any pattern allowing for quite a few different arrangements. Even with all of our camera equipment in here, we can still fit everything else we travel with like money, phones, and water bottles in, too. It even has a spot along the bottom to strap in a tripod. It is truly the ultimate travel bag, especially if you have a traveling companion willing to carry all of that extra weight for you. :)
If you’re a real beginner and don’t have the first clue where to start, the Canon Rebel For Dummies series books are a great supplement to your camera manual. This book, combined with more YouTube tutorials than I care to recall, was a decent alternative to paid classes. Of course, if you can afford classes – do that!
And that about sums it up. I know this is a lot of information for one post, but I hope it has been at least somewhat helpful. Now that I’m starting to get the hang of using a full frame, I think I’m just about ready to start my first foray into editing. I’m starting out with Lightroom 5, so if anyone has any tips or suggestions, please send them my way!