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Thread: Which DSLR to choose?

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    Rhoads238's Avatar
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    Which DSLR to choose?

    Hey all,

    Its been about a year since I've signed in, so it's good to finally be back on. I recently made a friend who is a web developer and he wants to purchase a high end DSLR. In part of buying this camera he intends to have me use it to take photos for clients' web pages that he works on. So we need a professional camera. He wants to spend between 3000 - 4000 usd on a camera and ideally two or three lenses. I prefer Nikon as I feel they are easier to use. The ideal camera I can imagine is the d800, however the purchase of this would leave almost nothing left for a lens. I also have been looking at the d300s but it seems a bit outdated. Anyway starting out we will be using the camera primarily for product photography, whether that means it is a still life or active use of a product by a model. The products may also be a service or membership depending on the client's needs. I know that one of the first clients he needs photography done for in the next few weeks is a makeup brush manufacturer. I'm imagining that we'll need some action shots as well as some macro still lifes for this job. so lens suggestions would be much appreciated. I'm extremely excited about this as it will be my first professional shoot. I'm looking forward to hearing what you guys have to say. Thanks in advance for any help and once again its good to be back on here at cic.

    Best regards,
    Jason

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    Jason - Hello there. Great to see you back.

    I don't know Nikon cameras and lenses, so won't suggest anything there. But given what you say, the question that springs to mind is lighting.

    You write about bodies and lenses, but say nothing about the need for lighting. Is that already taken care of? It sounds to me that you'll definitely not be able to produce the images required without having access to artificial lighting, of probably quite a reasonably high specification.

  3. #3
    Rhoads238's Avatar
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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald View Post
    Jason - Hello there. Great to see you back.

    I don't know Nikon cameras and lenses, so won't suggest anything there. But given what you say, the question that springs to mind is lighting.

    You write about bodies and lenses, but say nothing about the need for lighting. Is that already taken care of? It sounds to me that you'll definitely not be able to produce the images required without having access to artificial lighting, of probably quite a reasonably high specification.
    sorry I neglected to mention that we will be renting or borrowing lighting equipment. I plan to post a separate thread about what I will need for lighting. I wont lie, I know next to nothing about studio lighting. I'm really going to have to do some homework over the next few weeks. My friend is also friends with other photographers from working on different projects that would be willing to lend equipment and give advice as well.

    - Jason

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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    Here are a couple of thoughts... You mention that you want a Nikon "as I feel they are easier to use". This is the first I have heard that reason for selecting a Nikon.

    IMO, I would recommend selecting a camera based on its capabilities and on the lenses available for that camera rather than because one camera is or is not easier to use.

    I would definitely skew my purchase budget towards glass rather than camera bodies.

    I would want a pair of bodies. Full frame is nice but, you can also do an excellent job with high end crop cameras as long as you match these cameras with top-grade glass.

    You could probably do most of your shooting with a mid-range zoom lens. That is where I would concentrate my lens money. A macro lens might or might not be among your needs depending on whether you will need to do macro work or just close up work. A longer lens would be good to have if you want to do portraiture however, a longer macro would be quite suitable for a portrait lens. Additionally, if you will need to shoot interiors, a wide angle lens would be good to have.

    It would be very easy to eat up 3-4 grand on a full frame setup and couple of lenses. In fact at today's prices, it would be a bit of number crunching to set yourself up totally for this price. Additonally, doing professional photography without backup equipment is just asking for Murphy's Law to bite you on the you know where!

    Good luck!
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 20th April 2012 at 11:41 PM.

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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    Hi Jason,

    ANY and I mean ANY SLR camera will do what you want -- the specific make and model is up to you, but in essence, all it needs to be capable of is controlling aperture and shutter speed @ a given ISO, and focusing. A 2nd hand Canon 20D (or the Nikon equivalent would do the job just fine).

    Lenses will have a far bigger effect, although not as much as you'd think. Professional grade is preferred, but so long as you avoid kit lenses - and are careful with your sharpening - you can get good results. Most important thing with lens selection is having the right focal length. Also, a long focal length lens like the Canon TS-E 90mm F3.5 with tilt & shift is a god-send (it's my primary product photography lens) (Depth of Field will be a major headache for you).

    What IS important for product photography is everything else. Lights are one thing (and a biggie of course), but light modifiers (softboxes, snoots, grids, barn doors, diffusers, reflectors etc) are just as important - as are a means to trigger them reliably - as are a spectrally neutral grey card for white balancing and (preferably) a colour passport for colour profiling, and good software for post-processing - in particular one that supports colour profiles, and the ability to make good selections (I use the pen tool in Photoshop a LOT for product photography).

    Add to that tables, backdrops, black velvet cloth, gaffer tape, fishing line etc. And if you can shoot tethered to a bigger monitor or TV then so much the better (very very helpful for evaluating lighting).

    But most importantly of all - just as the most sophisticated operating room in the world would be useles without a competant surgeon - the photographer needs to understand what's required to use all the equipment to produce the desired result. If you're experienced or in-experienced or anywhere in between then the VERY FIRST thing I would do is get your hands on this book (also available in Kindle edition -- so you could be reading in 10 minutes from now). Get it. Read it. Read it again. Read it (cover to cover) a 3rd time. And then refer to it often when you're starting to put it into practice (and struggling, as we all do).

    Hope this helps.

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    For the budget you are looking at, you are not going to be able to get either a modern full-frame Nikon or Canon camera, and two lenses. The entry level point for both lines is in the $3000+ range. The Nikon D300 is a crop-frame camera and was Nikon's high end prosumer camera in 2007 and the D300s which was introduced in 2009 is getting a bit long in the tooth as well. I don't know Canon's lineup, but the refresh cycle of both companies is not all that different.

    As a web developer, he will not need the resolution that a full-frame camera produces; but that being said, the full-frame cameras is really where the top-end zoom lenses are, and these are running in the $2000 range for each as well. These lenses are heavy brutes, but are fast and sharp and have minimal distortion.

    As for Canon versus Nikon; I personally don't think you can go wrong with either company. I was in the position of making a choice on which system to go with about 4 years ago, as I was switching from my Leica-R film cameras. I ended up going with Nikon, after a long and careful evaluation of both company's products. I wouldn't say that one or other is easier to use, as both have their advantages and disadvantages. What really made up my mind was ergonomics. The Nikon simply felt better in my hands and the controls were better laid out for me personally. Using the Canons felt awkward and I just did not like the way they fit into my hands. They somehow seemed too slippery to hold comfortably. The way I selected I had a top, middle and bottom high end consumer / low end pro from each company at the camera shop to try out and regardless of price range, the ergonimics and comfort did not change very much within one manufacturer's product line.

    I would recommend you look at the same approach. Figure out which camera feels better to work with.

    That being said, Nikon has recently introduced the D800 and Canon the 5D Mark III. As both of these become more available, you should be able to find either a D700 or 5D Mark II getting heavily discounted new, or possibly on the used market. That could be the best way to get a reasonably priced body. As for lenses, I would pick up the highest quality glass you can afford and stick with one lens to start. I would suggest a fast mid-range like a f/2.8 24-70mm might be a good place to start and then you can fill the niche once you figure out were the bulk of the shooting is going to occur. The camera body is going to last you 3 - 5 years, the lenses (especially the higher end ones) will last a lifetime.

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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    As a web developer, he will not need the resolution that a full-frame camera produces
    Just because it's full frame, doesn't mean it would necessarily have a higher resolution than a crop-factor camera anyway; some of the crop-factor cameras are up to 18MP. Generally depth or field is an issue with many product shots (small products) and a full-frame camera makes that even worse (because a crop-factor camera can be backed off further, for the same field of view).

    but that being said, the full-frame cameras is really where the top-end zoom lenses are, and these are running in the $2000 range for each as well.
    Not sure what you're meaning here to be honest Manfred - all Canon EF lenses can be mounted on either full-frame or crop-factor cameras.

  8. #8
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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    Hi Jason,

    ANY and I mean ANY SLR camera will do what you want -- the specific make and model is up to you, but in essence, all it needs to be capable of is controlling aperture and shutter speed @ a given ISO, and focusing. A 2nd hand Canon 20D (or the Nikon equivalent would do the job just fine).
    Well I currently own a nikon d90. My friend just wants to get into photography for fun. He is a huge technogeek and wants something really nice. He has also seen that a lot of his clients want photography done but are unwilling to pay for a professional photographer. So that's where I would come in, as the not professional but competent photographer to do it for a fraction of the cost. It will be great practice for me and I will be able to start to build a professional portfolio. you have to start somewhere.

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    Lenses will have a far bigger effect, although not as much as you'd think. Professional grade is preferred, but so long as you avoid kit lenses - and are careful with your sharpening - you can get good results. Most important thing with lens selection is having the right focal length. Also, a long focal length lens like the Canon TS-E 90mm F3.5 with tilt & shift is a god-send (it's my primary product photography lens) (Depth of Field will be a major headache for you).

    What IS important for product photography is everything else. Lights are one thing (and a biggie of course), but light modifiers (softboxes, snoots, grids, barn doors, diffusers, reflectors etc) are just as important - as are a means to trigger them reliably - as are a spectrally neutral grey card for white balancing and (preferably) a colour passport for colour profiling, and good software for post-processing - in particular one that supports colour profiles, and the ability to make good selections (I use the pen tool in Photoshop a LOT for product photography).

    Add to that tables, backdrops, black velvet cloth, gaffer tape, fishing line etc. And if you can shoot tethered to a bigger monitor or TV then so much the better (very very helpful for evaluating lighting).
    my friend has two high quality monitors, the 27" thunderbolt display by apple. we will be able to use these as needed. although i will need to buy the other things you have mentioned. The lens decision is what I am most struggling with though. the tilt shift lenses look incredible but i'm wary of eating up all of a small budget.

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    But most importantly of all - just as the most sophisticated operating room in the world would be useles without a competant surgeon - the photographer needs to understand what's required to use all the equipment to produce the desired result. If you're experienced or in-experienced or anywhere in between then the VERY FIRST thing I would do is get your hands on this book (also available in Kindle edition -- so you could be reading in 10 minutes from now). Get it. Read it. Read it again. Read it (cover to cover) a 3rd time. And then refer to it often when you're starting to put it into practice (and struggling, as we all do).

    Hope this helps.
    Thank you this has been very helpful. I am going to buy that book today and start reading as soon as it comes in the mail. I know very little about lighting so there is going to be quite a learning curve. but fortunately from what he has described our initial jobs wont be so demanding as anything would be better than the clients doing the photos themselves with a point and shoot. thanks again for your help and i'm looking forward to buying that book.

  9. #9
    Rhoads238's Avatar
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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    For the budget you are looking at, you are not going to be able to get either a modern full-frame Nikon or Canon camera, and two lenses. The entry level point for both lines is in the $3000+ range. The Nikon D300 is a crop-frame camera and was Nikon's high end prosumer camera in 2007 and the D300s which was introduced in 2009 is getting a bit long in the tooth as well. I don't know Canon's lineup, but the refresh cycle of both companies is not all that different.

    As a web developer, he will not need the resolution that a full-frame camera produces; but that being said, the full-frame cameras is really where the top-end zoom lenses are, and these are running in the $2000 range for each as well. These lenses are heavy brutes, but are fast and sharp and have minimal distortion.

    As for Canon versus Nikon; I personally don't think you can go wrong with either company. I was in the position of making a choice on which system to go with about 4 years ago, as I was switching from my Leica-R film cameras. I ended up going with Nikon, after a long and careful evaluation of both company's products. I wouldn't say that one or other is easier to use, as both have their advantages and disadvantages. What really made up my mind was ergonomics. The Nikon simply felt better in my hands and the controls were better laid out for me personally. Using the Canons felt awkward and I just did not like the way they fit into my hands. They somehow seemed too slippery to hold comfortably. The way I selected I had a top, middle and bottom high end consumer / low end pro from each company at the camera shop to try out and regardless of price range, the ergonimics and comfort did not change very much within one manufacturer's product line.

    I would recommend you look at the same approach. Figure out which camera feels better to work with.

    That being said, Nikon has recently introduced the D800 and Canon the 5D Mark III. As both of these become more available, you should be able to find either a D700 or 5D Mark II getting heavily discounted new, or possibly on the used market. That could be the best way to get a reasonably priced body. As for lenses, I would pick up the highest quality glass you can afford and stick with one lens to start. I would suggest a fast mid-range like a f/2.8 24-70mm might be a good place to start and then you can fill the niche once you figure out were the bulk of the shooting is going to occur. The camera body is going to last you 3 - 5 years, the lenses (especially the higher end ones) will last a lifetime.
    I would love for the camera to be a full frame but its out of the budget. I would like to get a crop frame and then use get full frame lenses. I agree with what you are saying about the ergonomics of the nikon. That is what i had meant by saying I think nikons are easier to use. I love my nikon and that is why I am encouraging him to go with one. I am also going to further research the lens you suggested. thanks a lot.

    - Jason

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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rhoads238 View Post
    Well I currently own a nikon d90. My friend just wants to get into photography for fun. He is a huge technogeek and wants something really nice. He has also seen that a lot of his clients want photography done but are unwilling to pay for a professional photographer. So that's where I would come in, as the not professional but competent photographer to do it for a fraction of the cost. It will be great practice for me and I will be able to start to build a professional portfolio. you have to start somewhere.
    You'll have fun

    A nice camera is nice to have (waiting on a new 1Dx myself ) - but if you're on a budget then you'll get far far far better shots with good lighting - an adequate lens - and any old camera then you will with a top-of-the-line camera - adequate lens - poor lighting (and associates accessories). The camera is just a black box at the end of the lens that lets the light in for a split second.

    my friend has two high quality monitors, the 27" thunderbolt display by apple. we will be able to use these as needed.
    Excellent - they'll be a BIG help (with product lighting, you'll be working in "inches" (or "millimeters") - and you just can't properly evaluate lighting on a 3 inch camera screen.


    The lens decision is what I am most struggling with though. the tilt shift lenses look incredible but i'm wary of eating up all of a small budget.
    It shouldn't be too hard; normal weapons of choice are 24-70 and 70-200 zooms (unless you're into macro territory). For small products, getting a sufficient depth of field becomes a problem; if it's only for web display then often you'll get a much better shot by resisting the urge to "fill the viewfinder" ... if you back off the camera even a modest amount it can do absolute wonders for the DoF. You'll find DoF tables / calculator essential too by the way. A tilt & shift lens allows you to move the plane of focus - harder to use for sure, but they can produce noticeably superior results (or they can bite you in the bum if you forget to zero them out photographing paintings ... don't ask how I know this )

    Thank you this has been very helpful. I am going to buy that book today and start reading as soon as it comes in the mail. I know very little about lighting so there is going to be quite a learning curve. but fortunately from what he has described our initial jobs wont be so demanding as anything would be better than the clients doing the photos themselves with a point and shoot. thanks again for your help and i'm looking forward to buying that book.
    You're welcome. That book is THE industry standard for learning lighting - you'll find it absolutely invaluable. But having just said that - you STILL need to learn to put it into practice and it IS a steep learning curve. Stick with it though and you'll come out the other end as a photographer capable of producing a professional result.

  11. #11
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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    This is just me as a hobbyist photographer, but given that you want to do mostly studio work, I'd say go for a full-frame. But don't look at the brand new babies that just came out. Go back one generation. With the advent of the D800 and the 5DMkIII, the D700 and 5DMkII are dropping in price. Used prices on both are beginning to hit the $1500 neighborhood.

    Then, a 100mm macro lens (if you have small products), and/or a 24-70/2.8 to start. To me, that would be the way to start and still have a bit of cash left over for some lighting gear. And for lights, consider Paul C. Buff strobes like Einsteins. They cost the same as a top-end OEM speedlight, and will give you way more light to play with. The AlienBees cost even less. The Strobist speedlight thing is for folks who need to go small and battery-powered for portability, or who already own speedlights.

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rhoads238 View Post
    I would love for the camera to be a full frame but its out of the budget. I would like to get a crop frame and then use get full frame lenses. I agree with what you are saying about the ergonomics of the nikon. That is what i had meant by saying I think nikons are easier to use. I love my nikon and that is why I am encouraging him to go with one. I am also going to further research the lens you suggested. thanks a lot.

    - Jason
    Right now I am shooting a D90 and it didn't take me too long after I got it that I would want a full frame camera. As an aside, the three bodies I looked at were the D40, D90 and D300. This is mostly driven by the fact that I hate the crop frame viewfinder and getting to a full-frame will give me more frame to play with in cropping. I've only picked up full-frame lenses over the past couple of years in anticipation of doing so and have been shooting with the 24-70mm and 70-200mm for quite some time; but they cost pretty well what you are budgeting for both camera and lenses.

    I ordered my D800 on release day, so I know I'm near the top of the list, but my dealer hasn't received any cameras from Nikon yet, although my MB-12 grip arrived in the mail today.

    I would agree with Colin; lighting is key for product photography. While I don't mind using speedlights with an umbrella and reflector for portraits, I find studio flashes are the only way to go for product photography. Softboxes in conjunction with reflectors provide awesome lighting.

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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    I would agree with Colin; lighting is key for product photography. While I don't mind using speedlights with an umbrella and reflector for portraits, I find studio flashes are the only way to go for product photography. Softboxes in conjunction with reflectors provide awesome lighting.
    It's pretty hard to even do it with speedlites to be honest; often one needs to be in the F16 to F32 region to get the DoF with product stuff - and at those apertures - when firing into softboxes - speedlites don't even come close to cutting it. I even have multiple 1200 watt-second heads working close to full noise.

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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    Quote Originally Posted by inkista View Post
    This is just me as a hobbyist photographer, but given that you want to do mostly studio work, I'd say go for a full-frame.
    To be honest, it can make the job harder for product photography -- you have to stop-down more with FF and then you need more light. It's great for portraiture because one expects DoF to fall off (one doesn't need ears as sharp as eyes etc), but for product stuff you need 100% sharpness throughout the entire product (usually).

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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    To be honest, it can make the job harder for product photography -- you have to stop-down more with FF and then you need more light. It's great for portraiture because one expects DoF to fall off (one doesn't need ears as sharp as eyes etc), but for product stuff you need 100% sharpness throughout the entire product (usually).
    True. Didn't think of that. This is why pro advice for pros is always better than amateur.

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    Re: Which DSLR to choose?

    Quote Originally Posted by inkista View Post
    True. Didn't think of that. This is why pro advice for pros is always better than amateur.
    Dunno about that

    It's a curse I suffered though -- had a product just the other day -- it filled up the viewfinder about 2m away from the product, but DoF was too shallow - had to back the camera off to about 3m (made a huge difference) - but then one has to start thinking of how many pixels are going to be captured -v- how many are needed etc. Fortunately we only needed a few hundred for the web version, and only about 1/3 of what we captured for the print edition, but it could have got "nasty"

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