Updated: Feb 18
(...planning out a three week road trip across the United States is a lot more work than I expected...)
I thought I’d write an article about the equipment I use for my photography. I get asked a lot of questions about the type of equipment I use and why I choose certain brands over others. I thought it would be useful and hopefully inspiring if I shared my thought process behind what I do. Having said that, I’m going to take you back to when I first started photography and where I’m at now. This article isn’t about my thought process behind photos, but more of what hardware I own and why I chose it.
Before I go into details about the decisions I made to get my gear, this is what I currently have:
Canon 5D Mark IV
Canon 24-70mm f4.0
Canon 70-200mm f2.8
Canon 8-15mm f4.0
Canon 35mm f2.0
GoPro Hero 4 Black
DJI Phantom 4
DJI Mavic Pro
I started shooting professionally about 10 years ago. Before I started getting paid for photography, I owned an old Canon Powershot. I didn’t do anything too complicated with it. I took quick photos of friends and family, but never really thought of photography as a profession. It was just a fun hobby.
Back in 2010, I made a job switch. At this new job, a lot of my new friends were really into photography. They would bring their cameras into work and show me tips and tricks. They would show me photos online taken by other people and try to guess all the settings the photographer used. Their passion for photography was unlike anything I had seen before.
I felt really inspired by them. I never thought much about the power of photography. I used my camera as a means of capturing a moment in time; a moment that I experienced like a birthday or an event. I never thought of a camera as a tool for crafting scenes and playing with the feelings of the viewer. I never thought about composition, depth of field, shutter speeds, or any of the technical stuff. I just knew how to point at something and push a button.
It was during this time where Instagram started taking off. It was an Instagram that not a lot of people probably remember. It wasn’t purchased by Facebook yet. Getting 10 likes on a photo was a big deal. All photos posted had to be square. Direct messaging wasn’t a thing yet.
It was during this time that I tried playing around with my phone camera. I tried thinking about my how I framed my photos and forced myself to look at the world differently. I took pictures at sunrise. I took photos at night. I played with lighting. I played with perspective. And while I was doing this, I posted these photos on Instagram. I wanted people to see my pictures. I wanted to see if I could inspire anybody. I was trying to reach out with my photography. If you follow me on Instagram and scroll way back, you can still see a lot of these photos.
But it got to a point where I started feeling limited with my phone camera. I couldn’t change as many settings as I wanted to; I was curious. I wanted to see how far I could push myself. It was around this time when I started looking for a full sized camera. I wanted to get my own DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera. Getting a DSLR camera would give me the ability to change lenses and change settings in ways that just weren’t (and still really aren’t) possible with phone cameras.
I started doing some research. At work, other part-time photographers told me all different options. Some people told me to buy a Nikon camera; others suggested going with Canon. I had a couple people swear by Sony cameras. I felt like I was looking at every brand. I would go online and see what other people were shooting with. It felt pretty even across the board.
In the end, I decided to go with Canon. I already had a Canon Powershot and I liked their brand presence. They were very active on social media and they were pioneering DSLR cameras that could both take photos and be a powerhouse in handheld cinematography. There was this Canon sponsored video challenge called “Story Behind the Still” where photographers took a shot at creating cinematic video. It was a way to prove DSLR cameras could rival some video-specific cameras used in the film industry. Below is a link to that series if you were curious.
I looked at all different levels of Canon cameras. They ranged from $400 all the way up to around $5,000. Because I was just starting out, I decided to go with the cheapest camera. My first Canon DSLR was a Canon Rebel T3. It was really bare bones but gave me an opportunity to start playing around with more advanced settings like shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. My first lens was an 18-55mm. For anybody reading who isn’t so sure what those numbers represent, the easiest way to explain it is the higher the number, the further the zoom. 18mm is a really wide angle where you can see more in a shot, and 55mm is zoomed in further for moments where you can’t get as physically close to a subject.
After purchasing my Canon Rebel T3 camera body and the bundled 18-55mm lens, I started doing more research into lenses. This is the real highlight of DSLR photography. You could have the most expensive camera body, but if you don’t have a quality lens (or don’t know how to properly use a lens) your photos won’t come out nearly as good as you would expect. This is something that I’ll dive into for a future post.
The first individual lens I purchased was a Canon 50mm f1.8. It is a prime lens (it does not zoom in and out; it has a fixed focal length) which means it should be shaper than a zoom lens like my 18-55mm. Prime lenses typically have a wider aperture (that 1.8 number) which means they let in more light in darker conditions and create a blurrier background in photos.
I was so excited when I got this lens. I didn’t have the ability to zoom in and out, but I could always walk closer or further from my subject if I needed to. In the event that I really couldn’t walk further back, I always had my 18-55mm as another option.
For a while, I relied on both of these lenses. But there came a time when I wanted a little bit more zoom. So I decided to save up and buy a 70-300mm lens. This gave me some extra zoom and I used it for a few shots, but soon found it to not be as sharp as my other two lenses.
At this point, I had my Canon Rebel T3 camera body for about two years. It was a great camera body and I had already been hired for food photography shoots. The camera was my transitioning point into photography and it will always mean something to me. But I reached a point where I was seeing limitations. I wanted to get deeper into video and the Canon T3 didn’t have enough options to let me customize video the way I wanted to. I did some more research. I wanted to stick with the Canon family so I looked back on those "Story Behind the Still" videos and rediscovered how Canon brought so much attention to DSLR cinematography.
At the time, there were two Canon DSLRs that were pioneering video. This was the Canon 7D and Canon 5D Mark II. The Canon 7D was a crop sensor camera (basically the flagship crop sensor Canon camera) and the Canon 5D Mark II was Canon’s high end full frame camera. Full frame cameras, because of their larger, more advanced sensors, tend to cost significantly more than crop sensor cameras. Full frame sensors, due to being physically bigger, let in more light naturally than their counterparts. This means all the difference if shooting weddings or at locations that may be unpredictable with lighting.
I made the decision to purchase a Canon 7D. I got it as a kit and it came with an 18-135mm lens. For the next few years, I practiced my photography skills and built up my video skills. Along the way, I bought a Canon 35mm f2.0 lens. I started diving into portrait photography and continued shooting food for bars and restaurants. I went through a period of time where I was really into ultra wide shots. I bought an 8-15mm f4.0 fisheye lens and brought it with me everywhere.
It was summer 2016 and I was in California working on an internship when the Canon 5D Mark IV was announced. I had my Canon 7D for a few years at this point and I was seeing limitations with that camera as well. I would constantly run into issues with lighting and my photos tended to be darker than I wanted them to be. I would push my ISO on my camera to 3200 or 6400 and I would get lots of grain in my photos. I would try and shoot with wide apertures like the 35mm at 2.0, but it still wasn’t cutting it. A full frame camera seemed really tempting.
That summer, I bought the Canon 5D Mark IV, and I continue to shoot with that same camera. It’s been a complete powerhouse for what I do. It’s great in almost any lighting condition and has proven to be super durable. I’ve had a friend of mine drop it onto smooth concrete from about six feet, and it didn’t get a scratch. I’ve also shot with it in complete downpours, and it’s been able to take the water without a hiccup. If you want to take a further look at it, I’ve provided a link below.
When I bought the Canon 5D Mark IV, I bought it body only. At the time it cost $3,500 and I decided I would use the lenses I already had. But as I used my current lenses, I started seeing limitations. I had a strong, weatherproof camera body that was capable of photos over 30 megapixels. But the lenses I owned were cheaper and not quite as sharp as what the 5D Mark IV could output. The first lens I purchased for my new camera was a 24-70mm f4. It was light and really durable. It was a great all around lens.
Since the beginning of my photography journey, there was always one camera lens that I wanted above all others. Every bit of research I did about recommended lenses or lenses that were really useful for cinematography always ending up including one specific lens. This was the Canon 70-200 f2.8. The 70-200 is more than just a zoom lens. The way it compresses photos and brings the background closer to the subject is just fantastic, and having an aperture that can open as wide as 2.8 even at 200mm is great when you're looking for a blurry background or shooting in darker conditions. It was soon after that I started saving up for this lens and made the plunge. It may forever be my favorite camera lens of all time. I’ll drop a link to it below as well. It is incredible.
After the Canon 5D Mark IV, I felt settled. I had everything I needed to be successful on shoots. But then there was a big revolution for drone photography/videography. Everybody was talking about it. The DJI Phantom 4 pushed drone content into the limelight. I had to know what it was all about. My first drone was the DJI Phantom 4. Not soon after, the DJI Mavic Pro got announced. It wasn’t much different than the Phantom 4, but it was much more compact. I could put it in a backpack and bring it with me on trips. I needed to have it. So far, my Mavic Pro has joined me on trips to Costa Rica and Iceland. Both drones have helped a lot with weddings and event shoots.
Since purchasing the drones, I’ve leveled out. There are still lenses and accessories that I would love to have. And I’m sure with time, I will continue adding to my collection. But, for now, I’m content with what I have. It’s been quite the journey. Three camera bodies and multiple lenses later, this is where I have come. If you have any questions about my opinions on my gear, or anything related to what I covered, feel free to leave a comment!