Are You Ready to Level Up Your Photography Game? A Guide to Gear for 3 Levels of Photography Enthusiasts + A FREE Guide for What To Do Next!
I hear this same thing several times a week:
“Courtney, I am so ready to finally take my photography seriously and level up my skills. What kind of gear do you recommend to help me get there?”
There is so much “stuff” out there when it comes to photography gear. So many different camera models to sort through, different lenses to choose from, and all sorts of gadgets you can buy to level up your photography game. Sorting through it all can feel overwhelming, so I’m here today to help you navigate through the noise, and choose the gear that’s right for you and your goals.
While I always like to emphasize that getting better as a photographer has little to do with what gear you’re using, and everything to do with how you’re using it, your gear can help you achieve your goals and get where you want to be! You want to make sure you have the appropriate gear for your interest level so you can get what you need out of it!
In this post, I’m breaking down a guide to gear for three different levels of photography enthusiasts: The Beginner, The Semi-Pro, The Professional.
*One thing to note: I am recommending both Sony and Canon cameras because those are what I have the most experience with! I grew up around Canon cameras, and it’s just simply what I know! Nikon also makes wonderful cameras that run the spectrum from entry level to top of the line! They are wonderful cameras, but I can’t speak to using Nikon cameras directly. Nikon cameras listed in this post are the closest equivalent to the Canon or Sony models recommended.
So you’re just getting started! It’s an incredible and exciting place to be, and an entry level camera is a wonderful tool to help you learn the basics and foundations of photography. Here are my recommendations for beginner level photographers, and those who feel that photography would simply be a hobby. These are great recommendations for moms who want to start taking better quality photos of their kids, or anyone who just wants a nice quality camera to capture their life!
Most entry level cameras operate with what is called a crop sensor. This means that the camera itself actually crops the focal length of the lens automatically, creating somewhat of a zoom effect right out of the gate.
For example, I have a Canon Rebel T2i. This camera has a crop factor of 1.6. Basically, it means that if I put a 50mm lens on my camera, I have to multiply this focal length of 50mm by 1.6 to get the true focal length. So on my Canon Rebel T2i with a 50mm lens, I get a focal length of 80mm. This is a fairly tight focal length, so when you peek through the lens, your subject will appear closer to the camera than a true 50mm focal length! Since you can’t zoom in and out with this kind of lens, simply move your feet forward or backward to create more space between you and your subject.
All of the below images were shot on a Canon Rebel T2i with a 50mm 1.8 lens!
The Canon Rebel Series
The Canon rebel series is an incredibly popular line of entry level DSLRs! In fact, there are many professionals out there whose careers have started with a Canon Rebel! I am a huge Canon fan and have been using them since I was in high school. I personally recommend the Canon Revel t7i.
The Sony A6000 Series
This is my top pick for moms who are shopping for a new camera! I'm obsessed with Sony's line of mirrorless cameras. The Sony A6000 series is a mirrorless camera system. It's super lightweight, but packs an awesome punch. It's the perfect purse or diaper bag camera, especially when paired with a 35mm or 55mm Zeiss Lens!
Nikon Equivalents: Check out the Nikon D5600!
Pro tip! Ditch the kit lens for these cameras, and invest in one nice prime lens for your entry level camera! Invest in just ONE nice prime lens. Most entry level cameras are compatible with a 50mm 1.8 lens. These usually come in with a price tag of around 150-250 and are worth every penny. This is what you’ll need to capture blurry backgrounds and beautiful portraits!
***Make sure you confirm your camera body and lens are compatible! Each camera has a unique mounting system, and you want to make sure the lens and camera will communicate. Amazon has a "part finder" feature that should pop up when you click the above links. Search your camera, and make sure to do your due diligence on your specific camera.
So maybe you’ve been dabbling as a hobbyist for a year or two, you’ve mastered some of the basics like manual mode and have a decent understanding of lighting and composition. Maybe you are even considering starting a business, or starting to charge your friends and friends of friends for your services!
When we start looking to this line of cameras, we get into what is called the “full frame sensor” category. Unlike in the entry level arena where our camera automatically crops or zooms in on the focal length of the lens we are using, this type of camera gives you a true view of the focal length you are using. It is a must if you are considering charging for your services, or if you really want to level up your photography game. This time of sensor gives you access to much higher quality lenses, as well - truthfully, it’s the lens that makes all the difference!
The Canon 6D
This one is for the mama who wants something in between an entry level and professional grade camera, or for anyone who is ready for higher quality images and a full frame sensor. If you’re considering going pro, but perhaps just on the side or you’re not sure how committed you’d be to it, this is a great option. The Canon 6D is a full frame DSLR camera at a really affordable price point.
Nikon Equivalents: Check out the Nikon D610!
Pro tip! If you’ve found your self at the semi-pro level you’ll especially want to make sure you’re using a nice prime lens! The entry level versions of 50mm prime lenses still work great on these cameras, but you might be getting close to REALLY investing in at least ONE nice lens. It doesn’t take a ton of gear to get great results. You just need a simple kit that suits your needs. I use my 50mm 1.2 lens (see below) 90% of the time!
If you’re considering going pro, CONGRATULATIONS! This is a really big deal! It means you are truly comfortable with your camera, and have found some consistency in your photographs. You’ve mastered manual mode, you understand how to beautifully light your subjects, and you are ready to truly invest in gear that will earn you some cash and take you to the professional level!
To share my favorite professional gear, I thought I’d share whats in my bag! Most of the time when I get asked about gear, people want to know exactly what I have, so here you go! Here’s a peek inside my camera bag:
Canon 5D Mark IV - This is my primary camera.
Canon 5D Mark III - This is my back up should my primary fail. It is actually no longer manufactured by Canon, but it’s still a wonderful option if you’re looking at used models! If you’re upgrading from a mid-level camera like the 6D, hold on to it. The 6D is a great back up camera to keep in your bag. Because if you’re going pro your gear WILL fail on you one day. A back-up is essential.
Canon 50mm 1.2 - This lives on my camera for outdoor sessions, and often indoors as well.
Canon 35mm 1.4 - My go to lens for indoor newborn shoots. The wider view helps me squeeze in to tight places!
Canon 24-70 2.8 - I don’t use this lens often, however when I photograph a birth and I’m stuck up at mama’s shoulder during delivery, the zoom allows me the freedom to vary my composition without moving my feet!
Canon 85mm 1.8 - a great portrait lens and an incredible price!
Nikon Camera Body Comparison: Check out the Nikon D810! Nikon also manufactures similar lenses to the Canon ones listed above.
Where to Shop!
So now that you know what gear you need, where should you buy it!? I purchase frequently from Amazon Prime. Let’s be honest - the 2 day shipping is incredibly gratifying to this impatient gal! I’ve also made many purchases from B&H Photo, as well as through Best Buy.
If you’re interested in a used camera, take a look at KEH Camera. They list their cameras by “grade” so you know what condition you are buying in. It’s nice to buy used from a company, especially like KEH. They have wonderful customer service, and have even fixed a few issues for me on old film cameras I’ve purchased through them.
Lastly, there are many Facebook groups out there for trading and buying gear! Just make sure you know the condition of what you’re buying. Get details on the “Shutter Count” on the camera. Many manufactures have a recommended shutter life on each camera. You want to make sure you aren’t getting a camera that’s close to the end of it’s life!
Oh, one more thing! You can also RENT before you buy! I do this for every big photography purchase I make! I use a company called Borrow Lenses, and rent gear for a week to 10 days at a time to test it out and ensure I like it before I invest. This is a great option if you' aren’t sure which category you fall into!
* Please note that this post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission should you purchase a recommended item. I only recommend products and services that I know or trust to be of high quality, whether an affiliate relationship is in place or not. Thank you for supporting this free content!
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