looking for opinions on this topic. I’ve been shooting with my phone and it’s clear that it’s not cutting it. I’m not sure if I need to go DSLR or if a point and shoot will get the job done with less hassle/cost. The capability to shoot decent video also would be nice. I’m also interested in useful accessories. Are there any portable light boxes or other lighting solutions I should look at?
What are you hoping to use it for? If you’re just documenting process images/videos, a decent point and shoot should be more than enough. If you’re want consumer facing imagery or video, a DSLR or a micro four-thirds (DSLR sensor in a body without a mirror) is practically a must. You’ll likely need multiple lenses if you’re shooting in more than one scenario (e.g. product hero shots vs. lifestyle video), and the ability to adjust shutter, aperture, color temperature, etc. is incredibly useful for creating professional-level imagery. I’d stick with Canon or Nikon if you go the DSLR route, and do some research for your specific needs if opt for the micro four-thirds.
As far as accessories go, it all depends on what you’re willing to spend and what you’re trying to shoot. For studio shots, you can find some decent barebones lighting setups online for a couple hundred bucks, and a sweep table is super easy to make with a couple of cheap plastic folding tables and roll of paper from Staples. For outdoor shots and video, a simple reflector disc is often all you need for lighting and a nice little hot shoe mic will do pretty well for sound.
I’ve been using a Lumix GF-1 with the pancake lens for a few years and its good for travel and looking a little bit more pro than just using the iPhone. Takes good photos, feels mechanical enough, and the short fast lens is wonderful in low light.
Hey Jeff, thanks for responding! As far as use, I plan to use it for pretty much everything. At the moment I’m struggling with getting decent process and glamour/hero shots, but use in usability evaluation is important too; getting shots of hand positions, facial expressions, and general ethnographic stuff. None of this is for customer facing stuff, just documentation.
When I was much younger I used a film SLR, a K-1000 (mostly arty concert photos), but only with the stock lens. I borrowed a friends DSLR recently and found that I don’t remember how to use the SLR stuff… which is why I’m considering a point and shoot - it’d be nice to have something that I can’t screw up.
Can you give me any overall guide lines regarding what I should look for in lenses for my needs?
To get good “hero shots” I think it is more about getting the lighting right than the best camera or lens. A zoom with decent range should be enough imo. I would rather invest in a flash that can be used off-camera than many lenses, or experiment with reflectors and daylight from a window or some other kind of lighting.
I would go for either a DSLR or a mirrorless system camera as these cameras give you more control, with a standard zoom (wide-angle to short tele) and possibly a flash or some other lighting*. Don’t buy lenses until you realise you need them, and the standard zoom is always good to have anyway. For the kind of in the field use you’re describing it sounds like a slow zoom can be compensated with high ISO (or flash) settings as noisy pictures for internal use shouldn’t be a problem (?). Most cameras today perform pretty well at high ISO too. If it becomes a problem buy a fast prime then (focal length depends on intended use). Also I wouldn’t get a camera without a viewfinder unless you mainly use it indoors in controlled environments (composing on a screen in sunlight can be tricky, it is easier to hold the camera stable when looking through the viewfinder and personally I just prefer looking through a viewfinder when composing).
For the record, I’m just a happy amateur in photography.
*I’m not really sure what is recommended for product photography… whether flash or lamps/continuous light is preferred.
I’ll give a bias photographer-turned-ID student opinion:
I’d probably look at buying a used or relatively inexpensive DSLR body, a 50mm prime lens, and a separate flash. Any used DSLR body should be pretty good and be had for a few hundred dollars. A 50mm prime lens is not only a great value, but a pretty good lens for product and process photography. Lastly, owning a separate flash is the first step towards understanding and controlling your light. You wouldn’t ever want to shoot with direct on-camera flash, but bouncing an on-camera flash can lend to some really quick great product shots.
Point and shoots are increasingly getting better and closer to the level of DSLRs—but will be less flexible for the type of photography you’ll need as a student. I’d just invest in a DSLR body and grow into it. Think of it as a very expensive tool that will help better represent your work, and ultimately help you land a job.
I’d say use case scenario would make the most difference of what kind of camera to get. Are you using it just around the studio, or more as you mention out and about for research?
Personally, I find portability to be the most important after a certain level of quality. The best camera you have will be the one you have with you.
I have a small point and shoot Samsung NV10 that gets a lot of use. Good for macro and small details. Video isn’t the best but the camera is 5 years old and the newer ones all do HD.
I bought a Samsung micro- 4/3 NX200and it’s a great camera, but it doesn’t get much use as I need to lug it around. Even when I do use it, it’s mostly on the Auto mode, so all the fancy adjustments don’t get used. I’m considering getting a pancake lens on it, which should help the portability and also the lack of decent macro.
I still tend to use the iPhone more than anything as it’s just easy and the pics are pretty good out and about to document things and the macro is very good.
I use my camera mostly around the studio to take pics to put together product review comments for suppliers and out of the studio for research.
For beauty shots of catalog quality you’ll need more than a good camera. A full lighting set-up, background, power pack, etc. I hire a pro when it comes to catalog product photography though I have considered getting a "studio in a box (a few lights and soft box) for quickie needs when I just need a few temp shots not at full quality.
I think in most cases a DSLR is overkill. I find it hilarious when I see tourists on the street lugging around a big DSLR. Most people don’t use all the manual functions, and these days you get more than enough MPs from a point and shoot for most uses unless you are blowing up to billboard size. A Micro 4/3 at the least is a good compromise as can shoot RAW and can get 20+ MPs.