What Camera Gear Should I Buy? Part Two

The following are some excerpts from emails with a friend looking at transitioning from film to digital studio photography.

With feedback from my friend I was able to get more specific with his camera needs.  If you haven’t read part one, then let me restate, that these are specific recommendations for a particular person and use.  I think they would be of general help to many potential photographers though.

The photo gear page I refer to many times below can be found here.  It’s right on this blog.

Here is what I’d consider if I were in your shoes assuming:

  1.  almost exclusively do studio work
  2. Canon only
  3. You have a full computer editing, storage, and backup solution and knowledge of how to use it.

Canon 60d (discontinued but good) or Canon 5ti (newer, more features, less pro features) – w/o much research I’d probably go 60d

Bullet point comparo of 60d vs 5ti (also called 700D)


Canon or Sigma Lens (I have a couple of Sigma lenses for my Elan and they are great) – probably a zoom for versatility.  Very dependent on your subject matter. See Wirecutter review below for help choosing. Note: any camera in your price range is going to be a cropped sensor (not full frame) camera so lenses will seem to be more zoomed in than what you are used to on your old full frame Elan.  In other words buy something a little wider angle than you expect. 50mm will seem like 70-80mm, etc.

I love my 70-200mm zoom.  If you do a lot of portraits and you have the room in your studio to back up, you might consider the EF 70-200 f4 IS or EF 70-200 f4.  This isn’t what I have but I’ve seen beautiful images made with these lenses.  They are half the size and weight of mine and much more affordable.  You probably won’t be able to buy either right off the bat though because they are still pricey.  You’ll probably be looking at a more general purpose lens like the EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS.  I have done no research on that particular lens.  I’m just suggesting that focal range as being very useful. Sigma probably has a much cheaper alternative that is a good value.

NOTE:  EF lenses work on cropped and full frame sensor bodies.  EF-S lenses only work on cropped.  Something to keep in mind if you want to keep your lenses and plan to upgrade to a full frame body at some point.

Tripod – A good one is worth a lot to you.  Many pros will say that they’d pick a tripod over a flash any day.  You don’t need lightweight for studio work so that will save you money.  You can get them dirt cheap if that is all you can afford, but stepping up to something that is solid is probably worth it.  Look for something that can get low to the ground and up to your eye level.  A ball head is joy to use but can add to the cost for a good one.  Being in a studio-only setting, you might splurge for one of those pistol grip ball heads.  Just grab it, move the camera, let go to lock.  I’d get one but they are too bulky for location shooting I think.  To get started you will probably get something packed in your camera bundle or check out what you can see and touch locally or wing it with something from Amazon, Adorama, or B+H.  See my photo gear page for what I use.  I love all of my tripods.  Gitzo and Really Right Stuff are great but extremely expensive brands.

Two Memory Cards – working in a studio, you probably don’t need super-fast or super-big memory cards.  The 60D only takes SD cards I think. Get at least two in the eventual case that one of them dies.  I got the fastest available at the time (see photo gear).  You could get away with much less.

Lens Cleaner – You may have a bunch of stuff already.  If not check out my photo gear section.  The thing I use the most is Giottos Medium Rocket Air Blaster. Works great, looks fun, cheap.

Backup and Storage.  I believe you have all this handled.  Just know RAW files eat up space quick.  If not, check out my photo gear page.

Color Calibration Not essential but really useful.  I think you have this handled already. If not, check out my photo gear page.

Two Extra Camera Batteries Will probably come with their own charger.  I use an off brand with no problems.

So we are at ~$1000 for camera body and a lens + $50-100 starter tripod + $40 (2) 32GB SD Cards + $10 Rocket Blaster + $30 (2) Camera Batteries.  So about $1230 is the minimum buy-in it would seem.  Of course, you can go used (local camera club or Ebay) and save some bucks.

If you are out of money at this point, open the garage doors and use natural light + white sheets for lighting and diffusion.  This can work surprisingly well.

Get two 1000w halogen work lights with stands from a home center.  Use your sheets to diffuse the light.  Get a sheet or two of 4’x8’ white Styrofoam insulation from the home center.  Cut and fold them down the center attaching them together with white duct/gaffers tape for V-flats or leave them whole to use as a big fill reflectors.

Professional on a Budget ~$1500
(2) Paul C. Buff Einstein E640 Studio Strobes – $500/ea – start with one and use a reflector if can’t afford two.  This is what I would get if I were starting over.

(2) YONGNUO YN568 EX II Speedlites – $124/ea – for hairlights/fill lights – for small lightweight location stuff.  This is what I would get if I were starting over.

Radio Frequency Transmitters and Receivers for Everything
CyberSync (Paul C. Buff) Transmitter $180 + (4) receivers $90/ea = $540
(5) PocketWizard Plus III’s $130/ea. = $650
Yongnuo YN-622C-TX transmitter  $50 + (4) YN-622C Receivers $40/ea = $210.

PocketWizard is the old trusted name.  CyberSync and Yongnuo get high marks from users too.  Check any of these systems to make certain they will work with all of the lights you plan to use.  I haven’t done this so there may be some incompatibility but I do know I would strongly consider these three brands over all others.  Sometimes there are different versions between Canon and Nikon camera bodies too. No matter what, I would go with an RF system (like all three of these).  No optical systems.  No corded systems.

Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini – $240 – battery pack for using studio strobes on location

Rechargeable Batteries for RF Triggers and Speedlites – see my photo gear page for what I use.

(4) Light Stands – Consider one with a boom arm.  Consider two C-stands (Avenger is popular brand).  C-stands are much more heavy duty than normal light stands.  Get wheels for them since you’ll leave them set up in your studio.  You’ll need to get some additional hardware to mount your speedlites to two of them.  See my photo gear for the various ones I use.

Sandbags – to hold down light stands on location or if boomed out to help counter balance.  See my photo gear.

Gels – I love the gel system I use for my speedlites.  Would work with these Youngnuos too.  See my photo gear.  Get gel sheets for your studio strobes too.  At a minimum, if you are shooting people, get 1/4 and ½ CTO to improve Caucasian skin tones.

Big Softbox – Photek Umbrella Softlighter II 60″ – I LOVE this light modifier.  You can get it at B+H and it works with speedlites and studio strobes.  It eats light though.  It will be fine with strobes but will push the limits of your speedlites.

(2) Shoot Through Umbrellas – Super versatile, compact, lightweight, easy to use with your speedlites.  See photo gear for brand.

(2) Stripboxes with removable grids –  I have 10” x 36”.  I would not go smaller.  With a dedicated space you might get some taller ones that will light an entire person top to bottom.  See my photo gear for details.  I LOVE these light modifiers more for what they do than this particular brand.  The particular ones I have are hard to assemble and take apart (Not a problem in your studio.  Just leave assembled).

5-in-1 reflector  – I have two and use them both.  If I had to pick one it would be the big oval one.  You can ignore this for a while since you have a dedicated space and can use anything: aluminum foil, white foam core, sheets, etc.  They are only really useful when you want to convey a level of professionalism or must go on location.  See photo gear for details.

I almost forgot, you’ll also want seamless paper.  Do yourself a favor and get the widest one that will fit your space.  It is pretty cheap stuff.  Get white, black, and mid grey.  See my photo gear for details.  Also, you can get some metal conduit from the home center and make brackets to screw in to your ceiling to hold it in place.  Think an L-shape stuck into each end of the tube.

$10/mo. Subscription to Photoshop + Lightroom CC

A great place to really educate yourself quickly and with good info is Tony Northrup.  He does reviews that I agree with more of the time than any of the other guys I read.  He came out with a buying guide specifically for you and it is only ~$10.  He is the “world’s best-selling photo author.”  His buying guide is cheap and you can get it directly from his site or Amazon or any of the other places.  Another advantage is that he is constantly updating his info on his site and via YouTube which you will have lifetime access to if you buy that book.  Please note, I don’t own that book.  I just watch his YouTube stuff.  Here is his site:

For a taste, try this TN video on studio lights:

While I don’t agree with them all the time, The Wirecutter does good and usually thorough reviews.  Check out these two articles:



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