A Peek Inside my Camera Bag: Body and lenses

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Lets talk equipment today, and I’ll share with you a little peek inside my camera bag at my camera body and lenses. Photography is an overwhelming hobby in many aspects. First, you have to figure out what camera to buy, then teach yourself how to use said camera, then there is gear and all sorts of other fun stuff to learn to improve your photography. It can make ones’ head spin. I’ve got opinions on cameras and lenses, that I hope will help some of you decide what will help you best.

{Camera bag by Jill-e}


A Peek Inside my Camera Bag: Body and lenses

I remember when I started out in 2002, trying to figure out what camera to buy made me want to poke my eyeballs out, and cry a thousand tears at the same time…I was so overwhelmed with the options! I wanted someone to just do it for me.  Well, I’m  here to offer my tips today. If you remember just one thing from this post, know that:  The camera body is less important than the camera lens. With that said, lets talk bodies.

Canon or Nikon–period. Either brand is an excellent option, but I’d stick to one of the two. There is Olympus and Fugi, and other lines, and they may be less expensive, but it is because (from my understanding) there are few lens options, etc. In my experience with a whole slew of professional photographers, they are  one of two parties: Nikon or Canon. If you truly want to learn photography, you will want an SLR, which allows you to change your lenses.

My husband likes to try to get me all up in arms about being “pro-Canon,” but in reality, I know that Nikons are equally excellent. I’ve seen pro’s hop from Canon to Nikon and Nikon to Canon depending on who came out with the next best thing first. I ALMOST hopped from Canon to Nikon years  ago, because I love the sound  of the shutter on a Nikon–it’s different–music to my ears. Strange, I know.

Once you decide on the brand, you now have to decide on the model. There are varying tiers with camera bodies. I started with a Canon Rebel many years ago because it was the most affordable, basic body. I think it was $600 and comparable to today’s Tii’s and such. I really don’t know a lot of difference in all of the models, but I suggest starting with a lower model if budget is a major factor.

With Canons the beginner tier is the Rebels/Tii’s. Then you have the 50D range, then the more pro bodies are 5D, 5D markIII, etc. I went from a Canon Rebel in 2003 to a Canon 20D in 2005, and have used my Canon 5D since 2008. Now that the Mark III is out, I have been looking into the Mark II, but I’m in no hurry.

I see TWO big reasons to upgrade to a higher level body model: 1)  You plan to shoot professionally–you don’t want to have a lower model than the people you are photographing. 2) You plan to shoot a lot inside in dark rooms (live in gloomy winters with little window light). The ISO capabilities are much more impressive, the more pro you go.

Sidenote about clothing:  Below is my photographer “uniform” that I wear when I shoot portrait sessions. I had a shirt made with my logo, and it’s just easy to put that on, instead of trying to figure out what to wear. I also have a pretty turquoise Jo Totes camera bag. Though my blog is “Capturing Joy” I still refer to my portrait business as “Kristen Duke Photography.”
My camera bodies I’ve owned:


What about lenses?

Those that have read my book, Say NO to Auto, will recall my recommendation of purchasing a 50 mm fixed lens for portraits. It’s all over the photography industry, that a 50 mm lens is a great starting out tool, and you will see a big difference when you shoot with it over the kits lens.

Which brings me to an important point:  What’s up with the kit lens? I used to recommend against getting a “kit” when purchasing your camera, and just ordering the camera BODY and the 50 mm lens. However, beginners might be frustrated with the fixed nature of the lens:  it doesn’t zoom in and out, YOU are the zoom. Though some photographers refer to the kit lens as c.r.a.p., I don’t want to say NOT to get it, then have you frustrated that you can’t take a picture of a building because your 50 mm lens doesn’t zoom out–make sense?

Plus, people weren’t listening to me because purchasing the camera in a kit is a better value–monetarily speaking. I hate to say, “I told you so” but I have heard people tell me, “you told me so, but I didn’t listen” because they got suckered into the marketing plan that involves the kit lens and a zoom or something else. If I had my way, and there was flexibility in the budget, I’d suggest 1) camera body 2) 50 mm lens 3) Tamron 28-75 mm lens. It’s an affordable all purpose lens, comparable to the kit lens–but better glass and make-up.

{When shopping for the 50 mm lens online, you will see 1.8 for around $100 and the 1.4 for $300. I started with the 1.8, then later upgraded to the 1.4. It is a stronger build, but the 1.8 was perfect to start with.}

I wish I could say that there was ONE perfect lens, but there isn’t. At any given photo session, I’ll switch my lenses a few different times for different reasons. Though I shot with my 50 mm lens for 2 years exclusively, my MAIN LENS LOVE is the 85 mm lens, 1.8. I’ll get more depth of field at the same settings as I would with my 50, but it is SUPER zoomed in, and takes some getting used to, that I have to step so far back.  I also recently purchased the 35 mm 2.0, and enjoy how wide it is compared to my 85 mm. In my book, Get Focused, I talk a lot about the difference with these lenses, and show how the focal distances compare. I also have my zoom lens that I love for sports. I used it for portraits for a while (it is my most expensive lens) but found it wasn’t as tack sharp as my fixed lenses, and only use it when I need the distance now. It is a 70-200 mm 4.0 IS lens.  Lastly, I use my Tamron 28-75 mm 2.8 lens as my “all purpose” travel lens. Not as sharp, but gets the job done.

My favorite camera lenses


Anything else?

95% of the time, I shoot with the natural/available light. It’s the most beautiful, the most authentic. However, 5% of the time, I’ll pull out my flash. I have the 580 ex speedlite flash, and it has the ability to bounce it off of the ceiling, which I do often. Frustrating enough, the external light is just as expensive as a lens. I got it when I was shooting weddings, and I needed it for night shots. It can also be used off camera, but I’ve never really done that. There are less expensive models that don’t swivel as much. If I do use my flash, I never point the flash right at my subject unless I have a diffuser. My diffuser of choice is Gary Fong’s Lightsphere.
My professional grade camera body does not even have a pop up flash attached to it. That’s how much the makers of my camera feel about that;) However, for those that DO have a pop up flash, I’ve started recommending the lightscoop to use as a diffuser. I’ve never used it, but heard a lot about it from those that have attended my Say NO to Auto workshops. It is a very inexpensive option ($30) to diffuse the flash light you already have. It is an attachment that helps to bounce the flash light.

That’s about it. I don’t use light meters or pocket wizards or reflectors. I always have extra camera batteries, and my preference is to shoot 1 family session on a 4 gb CF card–it gives me about 250 RAW images. I also like to keep Smarties candy on hand, it’s a great/clean/easy treat for kids of all ages. I also keep a ball or a rattle toy to help get little ones (or dogs) attention.

I’ll end with a pretty picture I took (and watermarked with my old logo) a while ago. The lens and settings I used are below.

Evening light. 85mm lens.  ISO 320 SS 1/1600 @ f1.8

Did I answer questions you had previously? If you need clarifying or have other questions, please feel free to ask in the comments, and I will answer there as well.

If you found this post helpful, check out my other posts with photography tips:
How to start a Photography Business
Say NO to Auto beginner photography book
What to Wear in Family Portraits
How to Shoot a great silhouette
Using the Foreground to Frame your Shot

If you have a fancy camera that you don’t know how to use, check out my books!

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If you’d to join the Capturing Joy Photo Club on Facebook, where we have photo challenges, Q&A’s, and image sharing, request to join HERE: https://www.facebook.com/groups/CapturingJoyPhotoClub/

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