Beginner Cameras For Food Photography

What camera do you use? This is one of the most commonly asked questions we get. For most people who are interested in food, the food comes first and the photography comes next. Understandable as it’s only after running a blog do most realise the importance of good photography. But there is a level of trepidation attached because of the expense as this is not always the cheapest hobby/profession to enter. What brand to chose? What lens to choose? Do I need to learn to use Photoshop? Tripods? Lots of questions. Thankfully there is a lot out free info out there, especially via YouTube. Here are my two cents.

If you aren’t sure of what you are going to be shooting, or whether or not this is going to be a serious (or not so serious) hobby or even your new career, it probably means you don’t want to invest too heavily to start. You probably just want to dip your toes in to see first. I’m a Canon shooter but at this stage most pro or semi-pro brands will give you roughly the same results – each with its own strengths and weakness. What you want to do at this stage is to gather experience, learn composition, editing and find your own style. These all take time.

Canon 5D Mark 1 with 50mm lens

I started on a Rebel T6, a fairly decent cropped sensor camera (more on this in another post maybe). I took it on vacation and even started my first food shoots with it. But it soon became apparent what its limitations were. Crop sensors while relatively inexpensive really struggle with low light. Not yet having a great lighting setup, as well as not understanding how light works, some of my results were poor. I was a bit discouraged as I knew I couldn’t afford all the enviable L lenses (the premium ones in the Canon line). Then I got some advice that I wish I got before my purchase.

I was a bit discouraged as I knew I couldn’t afford all the high-end lenses

Get a Canon 5D Mark 1 also known now as the Canon 5D Classic. At the time this was a top of the line camera, in 2005. Now that may seem a long time in tech circles, and it is. The camera shows its age in many ways. For one, it doesn’t shoot video(!). It lacks an articulating (flip-out) screen, and the one it has is a bit small and isn’t touch enabled. It uses old CF cards, no wifi, no GPS, “why are we using this again?” The reason is this the pictures it produces are awesome. To quote a wiley space pirate – “she may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts”.

First off this thing is a full frame camera. There are a tonne of benefits of this but the most immediate advantage is that it’s great in low light. I was amazed that it blew away my newer T6 in this respect. There are also some intangible advantages too. There is something about the colours or the picture quality that set the images apart. Maybe it’s the pixel density.


Canon 5D Mark 1 with 50mm lens

Another thing is the glass (lenses). Now there are a lot of great glass options out there but Canon has some inexpensive solutions. Going down the EF-S route while cheaper in the short term, may be more expensive if you eventually decide to go full frame. There are some great lenses that give nice value for money. The first purchase should be the Canon 50mm STM. This lens is about $100 brand new, has a wide aperture that can be used to get a good feel of using a pro camera and has pretty decent quality. On the 5D Classic you will get an actual 50mm focal length, which is a nice versatile field of view. This means you can get a pretty great set up for about $400 with a lens if you buy on the used market – not bad at all. As you slowly invest in new glass, you can slap on brilliant L lenses that will work perfectly with the 5D and take advantage of the full frame sensor.

These are just a few reasons why getting the 5D Mark 1 is a great first pro/semi-pro camera purchase. Some people opt to stay with the ‘Classic’ getting multiple bodies as they don’t need the extra bells and whistles. What about you? What do you think of the 5D Mark 1 as a first camera? Do you have any alternatives? Any questions?