Best Camera for Food Photography
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One of the worst things about food photography is that the more serious you become about taking pictures of your food, the more money you're gonna find yourself spending to do it.
And with good reason. If you walk down the street (or in the case you live in Los Angeles like I do, drive at least 50minutes to anywhere) you will see pictures of... well, lots of things, but among them that gain a lot of traction are of .... food.
Local restaurants, global restaurant chains, food and beverage companies, advertisers are constantly in the need for photographers (and videographers) to tell their story through photos and video. There's local advertising things like menus, pictures you see in your community, or online or in the newspaper...all of them were in some way or another taken by a photographer who got paid to take that picture. So it seems that these establishments are willing to pay a lot of money for someone to take photos of their products. And I don't need to explain a lot to prove that. Just spend 20 minutes on google searching for a food photographer and you'll find people who've been doing this full time.
So with that said, if you're watching this video, chances are, you're in some way looking into taking food pictures professionally or are just looking to up your quality on your food photos for your blog or simply your instagram.
Well, I'm not a seasoned food photographer with years of experience nor do I claim to have extensive knowledge of camera gear.
As someone who has worked in the wedding photography industry for 3 years now and is looking to get into food, what I CAN tell you is that the best camera for food photography will always be one you know how to use...and use well.
My First Camera
When I first started getting into photography, I started with a canon 6d. And I took pictures of everything. From street photography to portraits of friends, to my dog, which I well could've used my phone for, I still took lots of pictures of him. I simply enjoyed learning and using that camera.
But once I started shooting weddings professionally, I realized that there were some features on the 6d that were holding me back in getting the best images possible. For example, with only 9 cross-type focus points on the 6d it was hard to track subjects in a photojournalistic environment. That simply means it was very difficult to capture important yet VERY FAST FLEETING moments during the wedding day. So I upgraded to the canon 5dmarkiv..
But since I've been taking food pictures a little more seriously, I've found that this camera is a bit too much for what I need. It was perfect for when I started getting into weddings because of the features it provided, but once I got into food, there are features that I don't find myself using as much and probably would've been okay with some of the lower end cameras....like my trusty 6d.
But that doesn't mean I'm going to downgrade my camera. Like I said, the best camera is not merely the one you have on you, but the one you can master and use to its full potential. I'm still going to use my mark iv for my food work. It's a great camera and it's a camera that I know how to use best.
And that's exactly where I encourage you to be. That no matter what camera you end up getting, you master it and become comfortable using it in all situations.
So you need a camera.... let's start with the first step:
Only two things you really need to know
The best camera to buy for food photography will depend on WHAT YOU NEED. This is a very important step, because if you go right in to shopping for cameras without really knowing what you need it's possible you'll make a decision that could cost you a lot of money. If you think about it, there's a camera out there for everybody. Name something to photograph as a profession, I'm pretty sure there will be a camera for it.
What you need will always be different for everybody. Once you figure out what your needs are, then you can go into the market and research what type of gear, brand, features etc. that will best be suitable for you.
So let's take this in two steps:
1. Let's figure out what you need.
2. What to keep in mind when shopping for a camera
HOW TO FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU NEED
A good place to start is to begin taking pictures of food with what you already have. If you don't have a dslr, you most likely have a smartphone that is capable of producing decent images so just start with your phone. Find a window that produces the best light, place your food near that window on a table and take your picture. Edit those pictures either on your phone or a desktop editing software (doesn't matter which one for now, the goal is figure out your camera needs). Challenge yourself to take one picture every single day and upload it to instagram or any social sharing site you desire. If you don't want to share it, you can keep it in a folder somehwere on your phone. The point is to just keep record.
Make sure to take notes of what you wish could've improved your results that may sound "gear" based or what you couldn't have achieved unless you had a certain type of camera feature.
For example, let's say that on your 6th photo you noticed that while your pictures looked good as soon as you took them, you looked back at them and realized they weren't very sharp. So you would note that getting accurate focus every time is somewhat of a struggle. Then after a month, if you realize that this is a recurring theme, then you could well conclude that in looking for a new camera, a camera that has a good focusing system would be a determining factor in your purchasing decision.
If you do this effectively, then at the end of thirty days, you could have a strong list of things that could improve your food photography that are based on camera features specifically especially if they keep recurring photo after photo. Once you've done that, I think you have taken a great first step in making an informed decision on what best camera to buy for your food photography.
If it's the TOOL that is holding you back from executing your vision, then that would be a good starting ground in deciding to purchase new or upgrade your gear.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
When you figured out what you need, the next thing you should consider is how to make sure you know what to look for in a camera and its features. Again, this will depend on what your needs are, but here are some useful questions to consider when buying a camera for food photography
- What size is the censor?
I'm gonna assume that you've heard of terms like "medium format" or "crop sensor" or "full frame" or "micro four thirds", all these terms do is describe the physical size of the sensor. I'm not gonna get into the technicalities of sensors, cause quite frankly I don't care to, but it IS an important aspect when buying a new camera because 1. Some sensors perform better in low light, in the case you'll be photographing in dark restaurants. and 2. the lenses you'll eventually be investing in have a correlation to the size of your sensor. For example, if you buy a crop sensor camera and a "50mm" lens, that 50mm will actually be equivalent to about 80-85mm giving you a more compressed telephoto look. Again, this goes back to what your needs are. Some people are okay shooting at a 85mm equivalent, while some need an actual 50mm lens.
My advice would be to buy full frame if you can. I believe it's a better investment in the long term especially when you start looking into investing into higher grade quality lenses, but that does not mean that purchasing a crop sensor camera will hurt you in the long run. If you simply do not wish to go the high grade lens route, you can still make incredible images in teh long run with crop sensor lenses and camera bodies.
- What's maximum resolution?
Or how many megapixels does this camera have? This is the very popular question a lot of people have when starting out and buying their first camera. Honestly, with how much technology is advancing most if not all cameras today will be more than enough for your megapixel needs. It's when you start getting into high end commercial advertising work where you might be more fit to get into medium format or greater than 40mega pixel monsters out there.
- ISO range?
ISO is basically a way to quantify your camera's sensitivity to light and is especially helpful when you are shooting in a dark environment and need to keep your shutter speed high. The issue here is, when you have a poor performing low light camera, the higher you boost the ISO, the grainer your images will be and therefore rendering them un-useable. If you have a tripod, then this won't be an issue. But if you're hand holding your camera for a shot and shooting in a dark room, you'll need to bump up your ISO to get a decent exposure.
So overall, find a camera with a decent ISO range. A good sweet spot is to find a camera that has useable images around 6400 ISO.
- Focus points?
Like I said earlier, my first camera was the canon 6d and that had only 9 main focus points, which in photojournalistic situations were very difficult to get consistently great images. I don't believe it should a major factor in your food photography, but in cases where you would find yourself focusing AND recomposing often, it would be easier if you had a system where all you would have to do instead is move your focus point across your viewfinder.
- RAW capabilities?
I believe almost every camera if not every camera, shoots RAW now. My phone can actually shoot RAW now and I have the pixel 2. If you don't know what RAW is, it's essentially a file type that your camera produces which allows you to be more flexible in your manipulation of a photograph much more than a jpeg file would. Think about it this way, a RAW file is like buying the ingredients for a dish and having them prepped in front of you before cooking them. You have all the creative freedom with teh ingredients to create whatever dish you desire. a JPEG file is what the dish looks like when it's cooked. You can season it with more salt or pepper and add garnishes if you wish, but you can't manipulate the dish any further cause any more would destroy the intended flavor. A jpeg file is similar in that regard.
This is what you get when you buy a camera with RAW capabilities, you'll be able to transform your images into your unique style because of that added flexibility.
- Does it have the ability to tether?
Tethering is especially helpful when your camera is in a position to photograph your food but you can't see the LCD screen or there's no way for you take the camera down and check your images. A typical set up would be if y our camera is on a c stand pointing down to capture a flat lay and you'd have to use a ladder to look at your LCD screen etc.
Always remember this, your best photos will never be because of your gear. Your best photos will come as a result of you practicing your craft. Over and over again.