DSLR Equipment Recommendation

On this page I will suggest some camera equipment to you and tell you in detail the equipment I use and I what I would recommend. This page was last majorly updated on 03/07/2013.

Cameras:



The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is the current camera I use (most of the time). This new camera from Canon is full frame and sure have a lot of pixels on the sensor. I find this camera heavy and rugged, great weatherproofing. Also, it performs very well in low light conditions even at higher ISO. I find that I can generally use it up to ISO 10000! This camera also fully supports Canon's new GPS receiver so you can geotag all your photos along with the direction you were facing at the time. This is a really advanced camera and for people that doesn't want to spend a fortune on a full frame camera. There is only 1 camera so far that is better than this and it is the Canon EOS 1Dx. It is also one of the first cameras to feature a built in HDR mode so you can shoot HDR and process it right in camera! Also, as with all the new EOS cameras, it does have the electronic level, in camera RAW processing, and other newer features not available in the older cameras. Anyways, can't say too much more about this camera as I just got it and I haven't really tested it out that much yet, but I have to say it is one great camera!

Showing off the low light performance of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
Part of the image is lit using the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT.
Photo taken during the 2013 Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco, CA. More photos here.
Focal: 16mm Aperture: f/5  Exposure: 1/15th second ISO: 6400

The camera I used to use is a Canon EOS 7D, and I still use this one sometimes as a backup. I mainly just let my dad use it now, who is actually currently learning photography from me. LOL This camera is actually one of the top cameras in DSLRs with a APS-C crop sensor (1.6x crop factor) and there are very few cameras that can actually compete with it. There is only 4 other Canon DSLRs better than this (the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EOS 1Dx, and the Canon EOS 1D Mark III). This is a semi-professional camera body, and is very good based on my experience. There are a lot of manual stuff that you can set and there is a built-in electronic level which is handy if you are doing a landscape shot and not sure if you are leveled or not. The electronic level can be displayed in the viewfinder too! Very handy. One thing I don't like about the camera is that there is no built-in geotagging feature, but pretty sure a lot of professionals don't really care. To get geotagging, you will need to get their new GPS receiver which plugs into the USB port. If you are a beginner, I wouldn't actually recommend you start off with this camera because it is quite expensive, very professional, and too many buttons to tinker with on the body. If you are one of those people who uses "auto" all the time, this isn't the camera for you, you should look for a cheaper DSLR.


Lenses:

Here are some tips on Canon lenses. I don't know much about other brands, because I'm using a Canon camera. First off, you shouldn't start off with low end lenses, you should go at least a mid-ranged lens (for Canon mid-ranged will be a EF Mount USM model). Remember, you may upgrade your camera a lot, but not your lenses. If you are going to go professional, most of the time, you will spend way more on lenses then you will with the body. Lenses shouldn't be upgraded often, it's the body that gets upgraded. So currently I am using two lenses. Let's start off with the first one.



The lens I use for portraits and landscapes now is the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Ultra Wide Angle Zoom Lens. This has replaced my old wide angle lens. As I start mastering the art of photography, I have started to upgrade my lenses to Canon's L model lenses which is the top of the line, best quality lenses. This lens, I find, is great for shooting in the dark and is great for star trails photography as the aperture opens up all the way to f/2.8. This lens is also great for shooting macro (not real macro), as I can get very close to subjects with this lens (minimum focus is around 0.98 ft). This lens also has a distance window (like a lot of Canon's L lenses) which is great as a focusing gauge during manual focusing. The autofocus system is very quiet with the ring-USM system, and can be manually adjusted anytime with full time manual override. The lens does not feature any image stabilization but I have to say the images are pretty stable, plus you are shooting wide angle, doesn't matter that much. Like lot's of professional photographers, I always shoot with a tripod and cable release, so image stabilization isn't much of a use to me. Every Canon L-model features a stationary front (with the exception of one or two lenses). The front of the lens does not move or extend while zooming and focusing which is great if you want to use a polarizer.

This photo was taken in Yosemite National Park near the trail that takes you up to Yosemite Falls.
Photo taken facing Half Dome. You can read more about my trip here.
Taken at a focal length of 16mm with aperture at f/22 on a Canon EOS 7D (APS-C).

The lens that I used to used before my L lens is the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS SLR Lens. Ironically, this is actually one of the low-end lenses I was talking about. This was due to the fact I was on a pretty tight budget this time. I usually use this for landscapes and some close-up macro photography. There are actually some other dedicated lenses for macro photography, but for beginners, this will work just fine. If you want real macro for cheap, just get yourself a set of Kenko Extension Tubes. If you are serious about photography, I would not recommend this lens because I already see some softness in my images. It's not very visible, but you will see it if you look closely (100% zoom). The micro-motor focus is also very loud compared to my L lens. As with all non-L lenses, the front part of the lens moves and spins as you zoom and focus which sucks if you want to use a polarizer.

This photo was taken at Half Moon Bay during one of its mega low tide days. It only happens a few times a year.
You can read more about my trip here.
Taken at a focal length of 55mm with aperture at f/11 on a Canon EOS 7D (APS-C).


The other lens I use is a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens. This is one of the mid-ranged lens I am talking about. The top lenses are called the "L-model" lens. USM ones are mid-ranged. I usually use this lens to zoom in on birds and other wildlife, and sometimes for macro with my Kenko Extension Tubes  300mm is the minimum you have to go for bird photography. This lens's focus is slightly faster than my cheap wide angle, but the focus system is still pretty loud compared to my L-model ring-USM focus system. The lens does not offer full time manual focus, you will need to switch between Auto focus and Manual focus. As with all non-L lenses, the front part of the lens moves and spins as you zoom and focus which sucks if you want to use a polarizer.

It's a boy! XD (Take a look closely at the photo and you'll get it.)
This photo was taken on Arroyo Del Valle Trail, the trail behind my house.
 It was taken at a focal length of 180mm and aperture of f/8 on a Canon EOS 7D (APS-C).
You can find this photo and other photos on this blog post.

So now, if you are a beginner, I would recommend you get an USM model lens. If you are intermediate and have a good budget, you should go for an "L-model" lens. L-models are generally $1500 and up. L-model lenses have an L after the aperture rating for the lens. The L stands for luxury.

One question you probably have right now is what is the difference between a EF Mount USM model and an L-model. So both lens types have a USM motor, but it's different. EF Mount USM model have a micro-USM motor which makes a it bit quieter and faster than a low-end regular lens. An L-model has a ring-USM which is almost silent, and works a lot faster than a regular EF Mount USM model. Also L-models have better coatings and have special optics inside that prevents light distortion in images during zooms. Sadly, L-models cost $1500 and up. If you are serious about photography, L-models are the ones I recommend.


Flashes:



The current flash I use is a Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT. This is one of Canon's newest flashes with an amazing guide number of 600! The flash is very strong and I can sometimes get away using it with wildlife photography! It will support focal lengths up to 200 mm and you can further extend that with flash modifiers. This is is a very big flash, biggest one out there for on camera flashes probably. It features Canon's new radio transmission system which allows you to trigger it wirelessly without line-of-sight with another device by Canon that supports the new radio transmission system. The new flash system is also backward compatible with optical transmission devices. Built-in focus assist beam is pretty nice too.


Tripods:




The Vanguard Alta+ 204AP is the tripod I use on my Canon EOS 7D and Canon Vixia HF200 when I take photos and shoot videos. This tripod is a professional tripod and is very sturdy. I've used those cheap tripods before, I don't recommend them. They are very shaky and breaks very easily! I have had several cheap tripods broken before. If you are shooting videos or taking pictures as a hobby, I'd suggest you get this tripod. I agree it is a bit heavier than the cheap tripods, but overall, it is very light weight. Tripods are great for landscapes and night exposures. Highly recommended. This tripod is very rugged. I've actually bumped it on things before, no problem! It also have a panoramic feature allowing you to lock everything except the X-axis (left and right panning). You can also flip the whole assembly over and attach your camera on up-side-down for low angle photography. Comes with a convenient hook for hanging bags or other camera accessories right on the tripod (helps stabilize tripod even more). I have also used this tripod in water with the 3rd segment of the leg fully submerged in water with no issues.


Batteries:



I've use Sanyo eneloop batteries to power my Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT. Reason? Because this battery is strong (extra kick), and holds more charge than the competitors (especially their new XX series). I get more use out of my flash that way! You won't regret getting this battery. It discharges very very slowly and can be stored for years with out it discharging completely. These batteries are also great for some 3rd party or Canon's own battery grips that can add more power to your camera. Here is an example.
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