I get asked two questions all the time:
- What camera and lens do I need to shoot food?
- What camera and equipment do you use?
So here is all the equipment I recommend for starting out, and all the equipment and software that I use, plus a few accessories at the end.
I am showing price ranges from used gear to new gear. I buy a lot of used gear on Amazon and Ebay – just buy from a reputable store that allows returns for any reason.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and I’m not being endorsed by any of these brands. They have no clue who I am. I use most of the equipment and software on this page and highly recommend each item. Some of these links are affiliate links and I will receive a small commission should you purchase the item at no cost to you.
Please bookmark this page as I will be updating this regularly. Last updated January 27, 2017.
In days of film, I used to own a Nikon FM2 camera. I switched everything to Canon when I wanted to gear up, and realized a lot of the Canon gear was less expensive than Nikon. So the cameras and lenses I am recommending are all Canons as these are cameras I own and use and love. This doesn’t mean these are better than Nikon, they are just my preference. Nikon gear is excellent as well.
To compare all the Canon cameras you have to dig around on their website: Canon.com, then in the search box top right, put in the camera you are looking for. If you are considering a Rebel, just type in Rebel in the search box and you’ll see all of the choices.
You better know what a cropped sensor is!
I’ve learned that most bloggers don’t know if their camera has a cropped sensor or not. A cropped sensor camera will take a picture using a smaller sensor than the full sized sensor.
Why do they make these kinds of cameras? Well, they are less expensive to make, which enables them to lower the price for us all, yippee!
Hold on there, what this means for photography and our lenses is a really big deal though. You see, the focal length of our lenses will have a perceived change on a cropped sensor camera, a lot! All your lenses will visually look longer than they are. This is called the Field of View Crop Factor. So, if you have a 50mm lens and slap it on Rebel T5i, your 50 will actually take pictures as if it was an 80mm lens from the same spot!
Here’s how you figure this out with your camera. Google this, “what is the crop factor of (fill in the blank with your camera). This info is sometimes hard to find on the manufacturers websites as they can burry info several pages deep, so I just google it.
Let’s use the Canon Rebel T5i below as an example. The sensor crop factor is 1.6. So, take the focal length of the lens you are using, let’s say the 50mm lens, now multiply 50 by 1.6. This equals 80mm. Now, that’s like an entirely different lens!
So let’s say you had a rebel and now you are upgrading to a full frame sensor camera – all your lenses will feel very different to you because now your 50mm lens will actually shoot like a 50mm lens, which is much wider than 80mm.
Some of these links are affiliate links. Should you choose to buy any of these items, I will receive a small commission.
If you are starting out, a great camera to get is the Canon EOS Rebel T5i Digital SLR Camera. Please note, that tiny “i” in the name means a lot. The T5i has a touch screen, a higher resolution screen, and the screen flips out as well – great for video. However, those features are $200 more. The T5i is going for $599 at the time of this post and the T5 is going for $399. So if those extra features don’t matter to you, the T5 is still excellent. The Rebels have a pop-up flash which is very handy if you want to take snaps of people as well – never use the pop-up flash for your food photography! I will hunt you down, and slap your face, with love.
Please note: When looking for Canon Rebels online, you will find many kits that look enticing. These kits have one or two lenses, and a bunch of other stuff. These kit lenses will NOT work on the pro camera bodies. So if you upgrade your camera, you CAN NOT use the kit lenses on your new camera. Everybody, say together, “boooooo!”. The pro lenses WILL work on most kit cameras.
This is a cropped sensor camera with a factor of 1.6.
A step up from the T5i is the T6i. The T6i has 19 focusing points! For the price of this camera, that’s awesome. The other big difference is the files are bigger at 24.2 megs vs 18 megs. Now, if you think you will only be putting images online, then the file size won’t matter for you. If you think you will ever want to print your images, like do a cookbooks, the bigger the file size, the better off you will be. For me, personally, just the increase in focusing points is the main reason to buy this over the T5i.
This also has a cropped sensor with a factor of 1.6.
3. Canon EOS 70D, $680-$900
If you aren’t ready yet to join the big boys (or gals), the 70D is a nice little upgrade from the Rebel systems. For me the big difference here is that this camera has 19 focusing point. The Rebel above only has 9. If you don’t know what this means, you need to get your camera manual out and play around with the focus and focusing points on your camera. I change my focus around all the time, so the more focus points I have, the more I can control exactly where I want my focus.
The camera will still take the kit camera lenses, so your lenses from your Rebel will still work on this and it also has a pop up flash too.
This camera is not a full frame sensor camera as well, unfortunately. It also has a cropped sensor with a factor of 1.6. This means your 50mm lens will feel more like an 80mm lens.
4. Canon EOS 80D, $900-1099
For even more focusing points and a slightly larger file size. The 80D is great camera for the price and is just a little bit more than the 70D. You get 45 focusing points and the file size is 24.2 mp. It also has a popup flash.
This camera is also not a full frame sensor. So it will make your lens feel like it’s much longer than it is. It also has a crop factor of 1.6.
5. Canon EOS 5D Mark II, $750-$1900
The Canon EOS 5D Mark II was my favorite camera for years. I still have one, and it’s great. Most of the pictures on this blog were taken with it, and it’s good enough quality for high resolution advertising work. As there is a new Mark III out, Canon discontinued the Mark II, so the price on this one has dropped considerably. As this camera has been around a while, you can get it used for a great price on Amazon or Ebay, starting at $1000. Only buy a used camera from a store that has excellent reviews and allows returns. I buy used gear all the time. Though Canon has it listed on it’s Amateur Model list, it’s still an excellent camera for all types of shooting.
This camera is a full frame sensor camera.
What looks to be the same as the Mark II, it’s definitely not. The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is the camera I upgraded my 35mm system to. There are two reasons why I bought this camera. First, the Mark III has an incredible choice for focusing points. You can choose from 61 little focusing points. This is huge. The Mark II only has 9. The other thing I love about this camera is how I can set up the custom settings when I’m shooting on location to be almost automatic with great exposures.
Here is how I use this camera when I’m shooting a farm: I create a custom user mode, C1 (that’s on the top dial that has AV, TV and M modes on it) where I program the following settings:
- I set it so that the shutter speed will not shoot slower than 1/250th of a second.
- ISO is set to Auto mode so the camera picks the lowest ISO it can do.
- I set my white balance for open shade or cloudy day.
- Image size is the largest RAW file size it offers.
After each of the above is programmed into the C1 user mode, I simply pick my F-Stop for each shot to control the depth of field I want and shoot like that all day. I don’t have to worry about anything else – I just pick the F-stop I want. Easy!
This is a full frame sensor camera.
This is the newest, high end DSLR from Canon and I’m very excited about it. It is the same camera as the 5D Mark III with a huge sensor! This bad boy has a 50.6 Megapixel full frame sensor. Well, hello there 150mb files! Now, for those of you who only want to use your images for your blog, you won’t need this. For those of you who are thinking ahead, and are considering selling your images for stock photography, this would be perfect.
I’ve sold a lot of my food images for stock. The bigger the file is, the more you can charge for it, if the customer needs a file that big. This is also a great camera for advertising photography as well. This would be the ultimate upgrade before crossing over into the $6000 camera and above range.
Every manufacturer has two types of lenses, a Pro series and an Amateur series, or Consumer grade series. Pro lenses are sharper and cost more money. Consumer grade lenses are cheaper and not nearly as sharp as the pro lenses. It’s like diamonds people, the more money you spend, the better clarity, color, and sharpness you get.
As zoom lenses are known for being soft (not sharp), and if you want a zoom lens, you really should invest in a Pro zoom lens, if you can afford to. Notice in the title of the lens below, it has an “L” at the end. When buying equipment, you have to pay attention to every little number and letter they use as the manufacturers might have more than one model with almost the same lens name. Canon uses the L for their pro line.
This is one of my favorite lenses, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L zoom lens. I shoot all the farms and various locations with this lens. It is not a macro lens, but you can get pretty close to things. As it is a zoom lens, it is not as sharp (in focus) as a fixed lens (lens that is not a zoom, but has one focal length like the 100mm macro).
This lens has been around a while too. You can still get it new or you can get a great deal on a used lens on Amazon or Ebay for much less. There are also several stores selling these as a “white box” deal. That means it came from a camera kit and they sold the lens separately. They are still new, but you won’t get the fancy box and so you’ll pay less.
Please note: on a cropped sensor camera that has a sensor crop factor of 1.6, this lens will act like a 39mm – 168mm lens.
The lens I use the most on my Canon in the studio is the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro. This is NOT the Pro grade lens, but because it is a fixed lens, it’s pretty dang sharp. It’s sharper than the Pro grade zoom lens I have. So you can save some money here and get the Consumer grade version. You’ll save about $400 doing so. This is also an excellent lens to get used from a reputable store online that allows returns. What can I say, I love this lens. This lens was used for most of the food shots on this blog.
Please note: on a cropped sensor camera that has a sensor crop factor of 1.6, this lens will act like a 160mm lens. Price ranges from used prices to new prices.
I have to mention this lens. Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift Lens. I know this lens looks funny. The two knobs on the side of the barrel will enable you to shift your focus. This is an awesome thing when you are trying to get everything in focus in your shot, OR you really want to exaggerate shallow depth of field and just make one little thing in focus. You can also rotate this lens and get some pretty cool focus effects.
The focus plane, that’s everything that will be in focus in your image, is like a sheet of paper going through your image. It’s a straight line. So if you think of your focus that way, with this lens, imagine if you can tilt that piece of paper and rotate it. You can put your focus anywhere you want. The only draw back is that it is NOT auto focus. You can only manually focus this lens.
This lens would be a great lens for any cropped sensor camera (see explanation in the camera section above) for food photography. On a cropped sensor camera, like the Rebel, this lens would act like a 96mm lens – which is the closest to my favorite lens, the 100mm macro on a full sensor camera.
This lens would work for a cropped sensor camera as well to get you a closer shot of your food with nice depth of field. This is not a macro lens, so you can’t get right on top of your food – keep that in mind.
The other lens I have to mention is the one that all food bloggers love, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4. This lens is great for shots where you need a wider lens to show more of your set. It will be sharper than a zoom lens. In order to get very shallow depth of field, you need the wide f/stops like 1.4 and 1.8 to shoot with.
The reason why I believe this lens is so popular with food bloggers is because they are using this lens on a camera with a cropped sensor (see my explanation of this in the Camera category up top). So if they use this on a Canon Rebel T5i with a sensor crop factor of 1.6, that makes this lens act like an 80mm lens! That’s a huge difference.
If you have a cropped sensor camera, see my notes above before the list of equipment, this lens would be great for doing overhead shots. If you have one of the newer Rebel cameras, they have cropped sensors. On a cropped sensor camera this lens would act as if it’s about a 55mm lens. This is considered a wide angle lens. The only time I’ve used this lens is for overhead shots. Again, the reason why I am listing all these fixed focal lenses (meaning they are not zoom lenses) is because any fixed lens will be sharper than a zoom lens.
It’s actually easier to shoot with artificial light than with daylight. I’m not lying to ya. This is a great softbox, the Westcott uLite with 26″ Octabox. Daylight moves all day long and changes it’s color temperature along with it, so over the course of a few hours, you have totally different light for your shot. Not with tungsten light. This is a great light to use with a fill card on the other side. To make it even softer, you can put up a white sheet in front of it to make it a really soft, beautiful, broad light source, the best for shooting food. This does not come with the bulb or the stand, please see below.
This is a great stand that would work well for the light above. It’s the Westcott 750 Photo Basics 6.5-Foot Light Stand and goes for $35.99. There are smaller cheaper stands out there, but the point of the stand is the make sure it will hold what you put on it and never fall over.
This is a smaller light for small sets. It’s a 20 x 20 inch soft box. Super cute and just as easy to work with as the Octabox. Comes with light head, soft box NO stand (see above) and NO bulb (see below). You can see a post I did using this light – Food Photography Lighting – Easy Artificial Side Light
This bulb works in both of the lights mentioned above. It is a 500w photo bulb with an Edison screw base. This is a tungsten (or incandescent) light source, so set your camera’s white balance accordingly. Get at least two bulbs because you’re always going to blow a bulb in the middle of a food shot.
Tripods and Tripod Heads
When selecting tripods, you have to consider three things.
- The legs – how high they will go, and how sturdy they are.
- The center column – geared is much better, as it won’t fall when you loosen it and possibly damage your camera.
- The head of the tripod – the part that screws into your camera.
Some tripods come with a tripod head, but most do not.
Be very careful falling for a cheap tripod that’s called a compact travel tripod. This will not be heavy enough to hold your camera, unless it’s a very small point and shoot camera. If the tripod is under $100, chances are it will not be heavy enough to hold your camera. I repeat – DO NOT BUY A COMPACT, LIGHTWEIGHT TRIPOD!
When selecting tripod heads, you have to consider three things as well.
- Do you want a quick release head? – this means there’s a small plate that screws onto your camera, then that plate snaps into your tripod head. You will have to keep a screw driver handy or a quarter as these will loosen up while shooting sometimes. The other kind has your camera screw directly into the tripod head plate, my preference if available.
- Do you want a ball head or a 3- way head? A ball head uses a pistol grip, and when you press it, you can move your camera in any direction. A 3-way head enables you to move your camera in one direction at a time – horizontal, vertical, and swivel left or right. This is my personal favorite.
- Will you be shooting video? If so, you will have to get a smooth fluid head enabling you to move the tripod head very smoothly during video shooting. These are always more expensive, and a lot of these video heads will not enable you to shoot stills in a vertical format, fyi.
If you have a small camera – like a Canon Rebel, I think this is the best tripod for the price, if you already have a tripod head. Manfrotto MT190XPRO3. It does NOT come with a tripod head and the center column is not geared BUT, the center column will enable you to do overhead shots without buying another attachment. You will have to add some weight to the tripod if you are shooting overhead if your camera makes it top heavy. Just grab a bag, put some books in it and hang it on the other side of the column arm opposite your camera. This weighs 5.35 pounds and is about 26 inches tall. This would still be considered a light weight tripod so as soon as you put a bigger camera on this with a bigger lens, it might not be heavy enough to support it.
This has come way down in price! Used to be $100 more. This is the beefier version of the first tripod with a great tripod head. It is more than a pound heavier than the tripod above.Manfrotto MK055XPRO3-3W 055 With 3-Way Head. It does the same things as tripod #1 with the center column going 90 degrees to shoot overhead. You will definitely have to counter weight this tripod as well when shooting overhead. This one, with the head, weighs 8.9 pounds and is almost 30 inches tall. This is better for the bigger cameras – the full frame cameras and heavy lenses like the 100mm macro lens.
Slik is another great brand for tripods. This is a traditional tripod that will not adjust to shoot a straight overhead shot. Most tripods don’t have that feature actually. The Slik Pro 780DX Tripod With 3-way Pan/Tilt Head is an excellent tripod for the price. This one weights 13.27 pounds and is almost 34 inches tall.
This is the tripod head with tripod #2. The Manfrotto MHXPRO3W X-PRO 3-Way Head. If you already have a tripod, this would be a good head for it. It’s heavy duty, and the arms won’t get in the way of shooting. It also has bubble levels on it, which is very handy for helping you get your horizon lines straight.
Computer and Digital Equipment
I’ve been using Macs for 25 years. They were torturous hell in the beginning for photographers. If you wanted to run a Photoshop filter, you had to get cup of coffee as it would take 45 minutes, if it didn’t crash during that time.
These machines have come a long way. These days, I now have four Macs. The computer I’m mentioning below is excellent for shooting tethered – shooting while your camera is attached to the computer so you can see everything as you shoot. There really is no other way to shoot in the studio or at home.
When buying a new computer, you have to consider four things:
- How much memory does it have? The more RAM you have, the faster your machine can do certain laborious tasks. When purchasing your Macbook, make sure to see how much RAM comes with it.
- The other thing that effects performance is the speed of the processor. This is measured in Gigahertz or GHz. You will usually have a few options in processor speed when buying a laptop. Obviously, the faster the GHz, the better performance you can have, but you have to pay more for that.
- Storage Size. The next option is to choose how much storage, or drive capacity, you want. I always get the biggest storage available.
- What ports and connectors does it have? These items seem to change daily. It’s very annoying. So if you want to plug a monitor into your laptop, you’ll probably need an adapter for that.
This machine will last you a long time, the Apple MacBook Pro 15.4-Inch Laptop with Retina Display. The Retina display is a higher resolution display. This is now the largest screen they make in laptops, the 15.4 inch screen.
This unit has 16 Gigs of RAM, which is perfect for a food blogger.
This unit comes with the 2.5 GHz processor, which will be great for blogging and shooting.
I have a much older version of this machine and it’s still working great as a shooting laptop. I also buy used machines from reputable stores. Let’s face it, Apple comes out with a new computer every 2.5 days it seems, so a used version that’s a year old can work just fine. You do NOT have to buy the newest computer. The price range is showing the used price to the new price. I also buy gear refurbished from Apple.
I have several Apple Displays. They are pricey when new, but your images will look great. There are several different models, and I’ve bought most of mine used. Just remember to buy from a reputable store when buying used gear. The price range above is showing the cheapest used version to the new price.
I always work with a monitor plugged into my laptop. I never use the laptop screen on it’s own as it’s often very inaccurate in brightness and contrast. If you have never calibrated your laptop, it is not going to be accurate. See the monitor calibrator below.
I use this every time I shoot. It’s crucial for getting your screen to look accurate. If your screen is not accurate, your blog images will look too dark, or too bright, or have a wacky color. You need to calibrate your monitor, especially if you are having the problems I am talking about.
The device is very easy to use. You just plug it into your computer and follow the instructions, the process takes about 5 minutes to do. I use this on my laptops and my stand alone monitors. Make sure your monitors or laptops have been turned on for at least 20 minutes to warm up before calibrating them.
4. Monitor Adapters
Depending on your computer, you might need an adapter to plug your monitor into your laptop. There is an adapter for every kind of interface, so pay close attention to what plugs need to go into what ports, and make sure to get the exact names of what you need. You could end up paying as much as $100 just for the adapter so when buying a monitor for your computer, check what plugs you need.
We all need these. I have several of this exact card for when I’m shooting on location. This card is for the bigger 35mm cameras, like the Canon 5D’s. This type is called a CompactFlash card. The more data the card holds, the more money it is. This one holds 16 gigs, which is a lot of images. The 700X is referring to the speed of the card, the speed in reading the images or videos, and also writing this data onto the card. The faster the card, the more money it is.
If you are shooting video you must buy the fastest card you can get or afford.
Please know that if you are using an old card reader to download images, the newer cards might not work in them. That’s happened to me a few times.
These are the memory cards for cameras like the Canon Rebel. These are called SD or SDHC cards. They are smaller in size, but can still hold a ton of images. These are delicate things and you should never touch the metal contacts on the back of these, as that can damage the card.
I probably have about 15 of these by now. G-Tech drives. Are you backing up your images in any way? If you are not, be prepared. It’s not IF a drive fails, it’s WHEN a drive fails. I’ve now lost three major drives over the past 10 years. I’ve lost very little data because as I’m shooting, I’m always backing up my data. There’s a couple of times that I forgot to back something up, as it wasn’t a job. I was shooting in class, or just for fun and sure enough, that’s when a drive crashes. People, back up your stuff!!! That’s all I’m sayin’.
Tethering cables allow you to connect your camera to your computer while shooting, so that you can see each image a second after you take it. It’s the only way to work as far as I’m concerned. Some people swear that you have to use very expensive cables to do this. Well, I never have. I’ve had excellent luck with the inexpensive kind. I always have more than one, just in case one goes down, and I’ve never had a cable go bad yet. This cable is 10 feet long. You can use the cable that came with your camera, but it’s only a few feet long, so it’s really not useful for shooting while tethered. Get a 10 foot or 15 foot cable.
This is also a must, a shutter release. There are tons of knock offs that are cheap, so you could try one of those. This is a simple shutter release that enables you to take a picture without touching the camera. If you are indoors and even shooting on a tripod, and if your shutter is slower than 1/125th of a second, you can get camera shake motion blur in your shots if you don’t use one of these. Lots of my students are struggling with focus, and half the time this is the reason why.
Please note: There are 1000’s of camera models out there, so make sure that the remote you are looking at works with your exact camera model. This one pictured works with a ton of different Canon models.
Another must have. I use Photoshop and Lightroom all the time. When I’m shooting tethered with my Canon, I use Adobe Lightroom. Adobe has now made it so that you can not buy CD’s anymore for Photoshop. Something that all pro shooters are very upset about. Now you have to pay a monthly fee to use PS. Well, at least you get all the updates this way.
I shoot into Lightroom, do minor edits and adjustments, then I take files into Photoshop to do major editing. I know many bloggers that only use Lightroom, and that’s great. I use Photoshop when I have to do compositing, and for adding text to images.
I love camera bags that DON’T look like camera bags. I just think this is brilliant. There is a removable insert in the bag, so this can be a tote bag when you want, then whamo! It’s a camera bag. It’s the same price as a camera bag, and you can use it a lot more.
You have to check this out. These are made by a lady in her home in Colorado. You can make any tote bag a camera bag by putting this into it. Depending on the price of your tote bag, you can save some money by creating your own camera bag. You can also pick other colors and have custom sizes made. Great idea.
4. The Food Stylist’s Handbook Kindle for $14
The first edition sold out! Denise is now working on the second edition and I’m writing a chapter in it about food photography. Every food blogger must get this book by Denise Vivaldo. Denise talks about all kinds of food and how to style them, along with the business of food styling.
Some of these links are affiliate links. Should you choose to buy any of these items, I will receive a small commission.