(revised June 2018)
Almost every day someone on Instagram or Facebook asks me what camera I use. So I am writing up this post! I should start by saying that you can get amazing photos with any camera, including your phone or five-year-old DSLR. But if you want to increase the percentage of your photos that are great, invest in an appropriate setup for the kind of shooting you want to do. Just don’t stress too much about having the best camera. Choose the best one for you.
My Current Cameras
- Canon 6D Mark II DSLR
- Canon 7D Mark II DSLR
- Olympus TG-4 waterproof compact
- Apple iPhone X
- Sony a7r ii
- Sony a6000
These are all very different cameras. The 6D MII is full-frame and includes internal GPS, which I love since it tells me exactly where I shot each photo. The 7D MII is a replacement for my all-time favorite 7D, it’s great in low light, and I like the crop-sensor in situations where I want a little built-in zoom. The Olympus is good for kayaking, snorkeling and beach time, and shoots in RAW. The iPhone is the camera that I have with me all of the time, which makes it my default in most non-travel (and airplane window) situations. I typically shoot in RAW with it using Adobe Lightroom’s camera app. The Sony a7rii was my attempt to go mirrorless – lighter, but I hate the battery life and the RAW file size. The a6000 can take my Sony lens and batteries, and it’s inexpensive and lightweight for situations when I don’t want to take my better bodies (e.g. hiking, kayaking, cycling, theme parks, walking around cities that aren’t safe).
My Current Lenses
- Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8
- Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8
- Canon EF 24-105mm f/4.0
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.4
- Canon EF 85mm f/1.2
- Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5
- Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6
- Sony FE 16-35mm f/4.0
- Sony E 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6
The lower the first number (e.g. 10mm), the wider you can shoot – i.e. the more you can get into each photo. The higher the number (e.g. 200mm), the more zoom you’ll have. The second number refers to the f-stop. The lower the number (e.g. 1.4), the better your lens is going to be in low-light situations. Note: I’m explaining all of this really simply. If you have questions, just ask.
I never travel with all of these lenses – I choose anywhere between one and four depending on the shooting I’ll be doing. If I’m traveling through several countries with one of my kids and just want a setup that will be good in most situations, I either go with the 6D MII with a 16-35mm lens, or the 7D MII with the 15-85mm lens.
How to Choose the Best Camera for You
The camera and lens setup you select depends on several things:
1) What do you want to shoot? If you’re happy with selfies in the middle of the day, stick with your camera phone. If you want to shoot creatively – night shots with star trails, rivers where the water is smoothed out from a long exposure, food shots with blurry backgrounds – invest in a DSLR or mirrorless. If you want action shots – your kids jumping into a pool, or a basketball game or a Mardi Gras parade – invest in a DSLR/mirrorless, since you can control the precise timing of each shot. If you simply want to take snapshots, and capture what you see without getting overly creative, a point-and-shoot may work just fine for you. But it’s going to be more limited in its capabilities.
2) What’s your budget? Camera bodies get better every year. Lenses though can last a lifetime. If you have a fixed budget, choose to buy a lower-priced DSLR body and a better lens. The Canon T5i with the 24-70mm 2.8 lens will take a better photo than a higher-end Canon 5D Mark IV with a cheap lens. The Canon T5i with the standard lens that it comes with (either the 18-55 or 18-135) would be a decent setup for a beginner for well under $1000. If you decide to splurge on a really good lens, make sure it’s upwardly compatible. Canon EF lenses fit on practically all of Canon’s bodies. Canon EF-S lenses only fit on their crop-sensor DSLRs.
3) Where are you shooting? If you’re traveling, unless you’re going into a very unique once-in-a-lifetime situation like an African safari, you probably don’t want to take a lot of gear. Choose a good DSLR body and a lens that will have a wide range, like 18-135mm. If you’re cycling through France, you want a very lightweight camera – even a point-and-shoot. If you’re going to be abusing your camera in a damp/salty environment, definitely don’t spend a lot of money for a high-end DSLR/mirrorless body that may need to be replaced at the end of your trip. Whatever you choose, though, make sure it shoots in RAW. All DSLRs do, but only a few point-and-shoots do. You’ll get better quality and have a lot more flexibility in post-processing if your photos are in RAW format.
Mirrorless vs DSLR
In May 2017 I started shooting with a Sony a7r ii and a 16-35mm f/4.0 lens and made it my default travel setup for eight months, and I still shoot with it periodically. It’s definitely lighter, but there are a couple things I don’t like about it. The battery life is terrible. I can shoot for days on one Canon battery, but I go through 2-3 Sony batteries a day, which makes charging at night a hassle. But mainly I hate the file size. Each RAW file is 42mb. That required me to get several 128gb SD cards and a new external hard drive, and it makes editing/processing in Adobe Lightroom really slow. But the other problem with the file size is that there’s too much data. Every photo is too perfect – which may not sound like a problem, but it is. Because there’s no soul. I don’t want a technically perfect image. I want a photo that looks like it came out of a camera, with a camera’s limitations and quirks and requirements, rather than an image created by an electronic device. So after experimenting with mirrorless, I went back to a DSLR. If I’m on a trip that requires excellent photography, I take my Canon 6D MII, and I’m extremely happy with the images – even if the camera is heavier than the Sony. I take the Sony when I need a lighter body, or when the camera may get damaged, wet or stolen. Maybe I’ll give mirrorless another try at some point. But it’s not where it needs to be – yet.
I purposely selected photos for this post that were taken with a wide range of cameras and lenses. As I mentioned above, I choose a different camera and lens setup for every trip depending on what I’m going to be doing. Figure out what you’re going to be shooting and find an appropriate camera and lens setup. No need to spend a lot of money – you can start simply with a basic body and kit lens and get great shots. Then as you find your shooting style and discover the limitations with your initial setup, you’ll be able to choose the upgrades that are perfect for you. Questions? Feel free to post below or email me.