Dec 3, 2009

What Camera, Lights and Software should I buy? ($1,000 to spend)

I get asked at least once a day from people getting into photography, what I would "recommend" when  buying a camera, lighting equipment and software.  I had the opportunity to speak to a group of creatives this past week on "Photography: Tools of the Trade" and put together this little hand-out to serve as a quick introduction to newcomers and hope you'll find some useful info yourself.  I've made all of the following information available as a free resource to download here: Photography: Tools of the Trade.  Feel free to print it and share it!


Think of camera shopping like marriage.  You are selecting a companion for the long haul, so make a good choice.  When you buy a camera you are buying into a system that will grow with time and become a substantial investment if you pursue photography long-term. 

#1 Tip - Go spend as much time prior to buying into the system as possible. Visit local stores, borrow your friends camera and decide what you like and dislike about certain systems first.

TWO MYTHS Dispelled:
#1 I need more Megapixels  --  
Did you know? 

-A Four (4) Megapixel picture will completely fill a 30” monitor? (2560 pixels X 1600 pixels)
-10 Megapixel camera makes beautiful 20”x30” prints!

#2 Camera body determines image quality. Not completely. 
factors in order of importance:
1) Light
2) Lenses
3) Post-production
4) Camera body 


"You only get one sunrise and one sunset a day, and you only get so many days on the planet. A good photographer does the math and doesn't waste either." - Galen Rowell

Understanding light is more important than anything else in this post.  Study it and learn how to use it.

Bow Hunting Image:
Canon 5D with Canon 24-105 Lens
Canon 580EX II x 2 with Pocket Wizards Triggers
Post-production Composite: Lightning, Cloud layer and Partial Rain (via Photoshop CS3)

1) Sun (Always light #1 to consider)
2) Reflectors (light #2 - portable, cheap)
3) Strobes (don’t be afraid)
*What I use:
a) Small Lights
-Speedlights (Canon 580 EX IIs)
b) Big Lights:
-Elinchrom RX600 & Ranger
c) Wireless triggering:

Pocketwizards Plus II’s


What is RAW and why use them?
1) Highest quality, most flexible file type
Ability to change the White Balance (temperature) on the fly (in post-production)
Dynamic range is greater
Recover blown out highlights

When do I shoot in Jpeg format?
Family gatherings or events (quick to share)
Need more buffer than RAW allows (Sports)

Software I use:
Picasa - Free
iPhoto - Mac Only (free)
Lightroom- $199 (my recommendation for workflow and 90% of editing)
Photoshop CS4 - $650

iMovie & Final Cut (video)

*BACK YOUR UP IMAGES TODAY! It’s Cheap!  500GB for less than $100. 

Quick Tips for Great Pictures:

1) Compose your subject anywhere except the center of the image.  Try cutting out a small, square sticky note and paste it right in the center of your LCD as a reminder
2) Stop shooting at Noon.  Go out at sunrise or sunset for some beautiful “golden hour” light.
3) Shoot at different heights. Experiment taking pictures laying on the ground or standing on a ladder.
4) Force yourself to go manual; understand how shutter speed, aperture and ISO work together for exposure and effects.

Trail Running Image:
Canon 5D Mark II with Canon 16-35 II f/2.8 Lens
Elinchrom Ranger Pack w/ Single Light and Small Square softbox, triggered via Pocket Wizards Plus II”s
Post-production: Lightroom 2 + Photoshop CS3.  Minor contrast, dodge and burning


FIRST, go to a store, borrow from a friend and find out:
1- How does the camera feel in your hand
2- Play with menus, settings and functions
3- Remember this is a marriage, spend time courting

A) Two Camera Options

$850 - Nikon 5000 + 2 lens kit (Amazon) OR
$899 - Canon T1i + 2 Lens kit + 4gb (Costco)

B) Accessories
$89 - Lowepro Slingshot 200 bag
$100 - Tripod

$Free - Picasa or iPhoto

Kevin Winzeler Photography
Contact us for photography, workshops and speaking engagements: 801.319.8023,


Darrell said...

All excellent advice! Thanks for posting. I really enjoy your blog and the videos of your shoots - so very very informative. That trail running shot was top notch! I've watched it about 10-times.

SamPerry said...

great information. having taken the 'strobist' approach and not throwing tons of $ at lighting has allowed me to experiment, learn, capitalize on capabilities of my lighting and push the limits of the gear. now, if i move into assignments that require nuking the subject or other feature i have a better idea of what i need and how it might be used.

slowly, i am building with elinchrom monolights (300rx, 2-400DLite, vagabond) and batteries to find the limits of these systems before moving on to (if needed) expensive packs/batteries/heads.

in summation, i think there are valuable lessons learned from starting 'small' and finding the limitations of certain systems. for one, i think it breeds creativity.

thanks so much for all of the incredible info you provide... it continues to enrich this awesome community i am stoked to be a member of.


Kevin Winzeler Photography said...

Thanks Darrell! Glad you are enjoying.

Great approach Sam. I STRONGLY recommend the following to photographers building their gear collection:

1) Stay out of debt (AT ALL COSTS). If you can't pay cash, stick with what you have until you can afford it.

2) Wait until you really need a piece of gear to buy it (find the limits as you say). This is hard to quantify of course because everyones situation is different, but if you can critically evaluate the ROI with each piece of gear, you'll make smarter purchases. It amazes me how many photographers (at least those trying to make money) fail to realize that each $1,000 thrown down on gear is money that could be spent in other areas of growing their business (website, promos, travel, etc.). Everyone needs the essentials of course for whatever they're specialities are, but if a piece of gear is sitting in the bag for months without use, there's an opportunity cost associated there and the so-called "asset" has become a "liability". I can think of a few lenses that fit that description as I type this.