DSLR is short for Digital Single Lens Reflex, a phrase that ultimately implies the use of a mirror within the body of the camera to reflect light from a lens up into the viewfinder. The DSLR is composed of two pieces, the lens and the body, giving you the ability to switch out lenses for different purposes.
DSLR’s have become highly sophisticated nowadays, especially in the sense most consumer grade cameras (cheaper than “prosumer” and “professional”) are capable of producing professional quality photos for a fraction of the cost.
As someone looking to take your own product photos, we’re here to show you the key considerations for selecting a body, in addition to certain lenses built specifically for product photography.
But first, you need to ask yourself a few questions.
What Is Your Budget?
Coming up with a budget will greatly assist you in making an objective decision during the time of purchase. Keep in mind that DSLR bodies are typically sold with stock lenses which will work just fine. However, the benefit to buying a DSLR in the first place is the ability to switch lenses according to your particular needs.
As we go over lens recommendations, consider spending as much, if not more than the camera body. While an expensive camera body certainly has its benefits, you’re going to find that a good lens is more important for capturing products in focus.
Amazing product photos can come from a budget as little as $500-$700, so let’s go over some necessities when it comes to selecting a body.
What To Look For In A DSLR Body
The truth with buying a DSLR nowadays is that practically every camera body released within the last few years is going to provide the necessary features for producing excellent product photos. None the less, it’s important you know the essential features should you buy an older model, or something used.
- The ability to shoot in RAW – The RAW file format is equivalent to a digital film negative and stores much more information than JPEG file format. Having the ability to adjust the lighting of your photos in post-processing is very important to overall quality. Notice in the photos below that the unprocessed RAW file is much less attractive than the edited version.
- White balance options – One of the crucial aspects to shooting accurate product photos is capturing them in true-color. A big mistake many beginners make is mixing light temperatures, which can drastically alter the color of your photographs if you do not have the ability to control the white balance.
- Full frame vs crop sensor – The sensor in your camera has an effect on a number of things, including the image quality, ISO capabilities, crop factor, image resolution and ultimately the price of the camera body. Full-frame cameras are typically going to be more expensive because they excel in many categories, but for most product photography needs it is not necessary to invest in the top notch gear.Many companies can produce outstanding imagery using an iPhone, so when it comes to deciding between the two, you can feel confident knowing a crop-sensor will take great photos as well. What will be noticeably different is how the camera’s sensor will affect the focal distance of your lenses. The image below demonstrates how a crop sensor will magnify your lens’s focal length while framing your subject.
Depending on the brand and model of your camera you’ll need to take the crop factor into consideration when purchasing a lens. For example, buying a body with a crop factor of 1.5x, would turn a focal distance of 16-35mm on a full frame, into a focal distance equivalent to 24mm-52.5mm.
- ISO rating – A major selling point listed on every DSLR is how well it can shoot in low-light, hence the ISO Rating. Full-frame cameras excel in this category. However, you’re going to be using a tripod for product photography and so ISO isn’t a big factor when you don’t really have to worry about shutter speed.
- Sensor size (megapixels) – Differing from the sensor ratio (crop vs full frame), a camera’s sensor is also equipped with a certain amount of megapixels (MP). This is what creates your photo’s resolution ( i.e. 5,472 width x 3,648 height = 19,961,856 pixels or 20MP). New buyers are often tricked into spending more to get a camera that shoots a higher resolution, but if your photos are solely going to end up online, you don’t need huge file sizes that will only act to consume space on your computer. Most cameras will come equipped with at least 10MP which is more than enough to make your images look crisp online.
- Optional features – As you’re shopping you will begin to notice a variety of additional features that aren’t necessary, but might be useful depending on your needs.
- Swivel Screen – helps in situations when your camera body is too high/low on the tripod
- Video – most DSLR’s come equipped with HD video which can be helpful for creating product videos
- Wi-fi – send JPEG images directly to your phone for times when you need to upload photos on the go
Once you’ve picked out your DSLR body, make sure to spend time learning the settings to maximize the quality of your photos.
How To Select A Lens
Selecting the right lens has everything to do with the type of products you will be shooting. As there are many lens options out there, I want to focus on two of the most common needs for shooting products:
SHOOTING SMALL ITEMS
You’ve probably heard the term “macro photography” before, which is defined by shooting small objects in order to bring out their intricate features. Macro is difficult because not all lenses are capable of focusing sharply enough to capture these features in vivid detail.
If the objects you’re shooting are small enough to fit in your hand, and have important details, you’re going to want to consider buying a macro lens. Macro lenses typically have fixed focal lengths, and excel at bringing details into focus that other lenses typically cannot handle.
As you will see, the prices can range anywhere from $200-$2,000. The longer the focal length, the more expensive the lens. Having a longer focal length allows you to be further away from your subject, which many photographers find to be much easier and less strenuous.
Macro lenses with shorter focal distances require you to bring the lens much closer to the subject, which can make lighting and tripod set-up very challenging. My recommendation is to try and get a lens around 100mm to give yourself some space to set up your studio.
RELY ON THE STOCK LENS
On the flip side of things, most people will be shooting objects like clothing, shoes, electronics, etc which don’t necessarily have details small enough to require a macro lens. Stock lenses are capable of capturing professional quality images and are very affordable when bundled with the DSLR body.
Going this route will allow you to get started and become familiar with your camera. If you decide you want to invest in a more expensive lens to improve image quality, that option will always be there! The image below was shot with Canon’s 50mm F/1.8 that only costs $125.
Do you already have a DSLR body and lenses? Let us know what you’re using in the comments below! If you have any questions or need additional help, feel free to comment!