I recently spent well over 20 hours researching my next DSLR purchase (I’ll reveal what it is in a future post!). Along the way, I realized there’s good cameras at every single price point – so I put together this camera-buying guide for other crafters and food photographers thinking of a camera upgrade.
This camera buying guide, just like this site, was written specifically for craft and food photographers! This is your guide to the best cameras for craft and food photography. We’re assuming your subjects are small-ish (anywhere from jewelry to throw pillow sized) and that you want just little background showing, preferably as a soft blur.
Links to Amazon.com are affiliate links.
This guide answers the following questions:
- What’s the right camera for my budget?
- What features do I really need?
- What’s the best camera lens for food and jewelry, or for people wearing things I made? How about smaller things like plushies and throw pillows?
- What features do I get if I spend a bit more? What do I miss out on if I spend a little less?
- How do I choose a camera brand/manufacturer?
We won’t bog you down with tiny technical differences or try to cover every type of photography under the sun.
If you’re a crafter who is great at making things, but isn’t sure where to begin when it comes to choosing the right camera, you’re in the right place! This guide is for you.
Best Camera under $100
The Straight Shooter
If your budget is tiny, we recommend the Canon PowerShot ELPH 130 IS. This is a newer version of the same camera I used for years for family photos, Etsy listing photos, and many of the photos on this very site. This camera is simple to use and Canon is basically the rockstar of the inexpensive camera category.
Point and Shoot Advantages
- Almost no learning curve
- Budget friendly
- Portable & pocket-sized
- 16.0 MP Digital Camera
- 8x Optical Zoom
- 28mm Wide-Angle Lens
- 720p HD Video Recording
Point and Shoot Disadvantages
Alas, there is one big disadvantage: you’ll have a hard time getting a lovely out-of-focus near background effect with a point and shoot camera. This kind of shot is difficult, if not outright impossible, to achieve.
Point and shoot camera lenses are designed to put everything into focus. Macro mode and Portrait mode allow for some blur in the (very distant) background, but your blurs will be subtle.
Here’s a yummy photo I took using macro mode on my own point and shoot – the sugar crystals are sharp, but the cookie stack in the background is softer.
Think twice before buying a point and shoot if…
You already have a pretty good smartphone camera, such as a recent iPhone or Android phone. The point and shoot camera category has been gutted by smartphones in recent years, and the gap between the two gets smaller every year. To get a camera that really outshines your smartphone, save up a couple hundred more and look into this next category of cameras:
Best Camera for $200-$400
Advanced Point and Shoot
Advanced point and shoots are pretty much the same as above but with much more powerful lenses and zoom capabilities. If you were bummed about not getting to control depth of field on the point and shoot, you’ll be happy to hear these cameras are much better at separating foreground from background.
We’re going to make two recommendations in the $200-$400 price range. Up first, at the low end of this price range is the Canon PowerShot SX510 HS:
This camera’s been haunting the top of Amazon’s best-selling digital camera list for a while, and it’s no wonder: it offers manual and fully automatic shooting modes, beautiful 1080p (high definition) video recording, clear photos of moving objects, good performance in low light, and even includes a wifi picture transfer feature.
At the higher end of this price range we recommend the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS:
What’s the difference between the SX50 and the SX510? The extra $150 on the Sx50 gets you a flip-out screen, more zoom, faster shooting (more shots per second), and better maximum light sensitivity (6400 ISO vs 3200 ISO). If you have another $150 or so, you’ll love this almost-a-DSLR camera.
Advanced Point and Shoot Advantages
- Almost no learning curve
- Budget friendly
- Portable & pocket-sized
Advanced Point and Shoot Disadvantages
- You’re so very close to affording a DSLR, which lets you swap the lenses
Think twice before buying an advanced point and shoot if…
You’re really itching for control over your shots and are ready to invest a little time in learning more advanced photography techniques outside of simply photographing crafts and food. These cameras offer a manual mode, but you might feel limited if you’re really looking to grow your skills.
But wait, there’s more!
At the very tippy top of this price range you’re actually in DSLR territory! The Canon Rebel T3 is just inside this range with the “kit lens” (that’s the lens it comes with the camera, but it’s detachable). This camera is extremely popular and it takes fantastic photos, especially if you invest later on in a very nice lens to go with it.
Snapsort.com, a handy camera comparison site, actually ranks the SX510 just a teeny bit better than the T3, but the T3 gives you the opportunity to change the lens. Remember, the real value is in the lens – an expensive lens on a cheap body is MUCH better than a cheap lens on an expensive camera.
Interchangeable lenses open up to a world of possibilities. If you know you’ll be able to put another $100-$300+ into a lens later on, go with the Rebel T3. Learn how to use it with the kit lens and, once you’ve got some practice and know what you need, get a specialized lens to really amp up your photos.
Going with a DSLR also gets you a much larger sensor (for more detailed photos), higher resolution, the ability to shoot RAW (an advanced form of jpg that makes it easier to edit aspects of photos individually), longer battery life, more focus points. But really, the key here with the T3 is the ability to change what it’s “good at” by swapping lenses.
Think twice before buying a DSLR if…
You’re really not sure you want so many buttons and settings to fiddle with (the camera offers an auto mode) or you’re not sure you want to get into lens buying or spend even more money on photography equipment. That’s okay – the SX51o is on pretty much on par with the kit lens T3 and will suit your needs just fine.
Best Camera for $400-$600
If you’re serious about photography (ie: not just gonna take a few snapshots and call it a day), you’ll love a mid-range “entry level” DSLR. Don’t let the “entry level” nomer on some of these cameras dissuade you – these cameras are fantastic. (Plus, the next big price/quality jump adds about $1,000 to the price tag with diminishing returns for product photographers.)
In this price range, we recommend the Nikon D3200 (available in red and black). It beats the pants off of the Canon T3 we recommend for buyers in the $400 range in Snapsort.com comparisons and it’s our top pick from the best-selling DSLRs of early 2014. This camera continues to edge out its competitors and at just under $500 at most retailers, you’ll have a little cash left over to put towards a lens upgrade later on.
Good rule of thumb for buying a DSLR: spend as little as you can on the camera and as much as you can on the the lenses.
There’s a bit of a mental shift required when going from a point and shoot to a DSLR: lenses matter more than the camera body!
For $400-$600 you can get a great camera body (the kind that used to cost well over $1,000+ just a few years ago) with a kit lens (that’s the “default” lens that comes with the camera). Pocket the leftover money for a future lens purchase once you’ve familiarized yourself with your new camera and determined which of the 100+ available lenses will best suit your needs. And don’t worry – for crafts and portraits you’ll only feel the need for one or two additional lens, not dozens.
- Incredible, professional shot quality
- Big variety of lenses to customize your camera to your shooting needs
Psst: We wrote an entire article on the advantages of DSLRs over point and shoots – check it out!
Also, there’s this:
- Lenses = prepare for sticker shock. A good lens might cost more than your camera itself! Lenses are one of the few things in life where you get what you pay for, though. Pricey lenses are worth it – especially if you intend to keep the lenses for years to come.
- DSLRs are larger and heavier than a point and shoot. There’s no way around this one, these cameras don’t fit easily into purses and definitely not into pockets.
- Big and bulky. If you hope to carry it around on vacations, you’ll need to invest in some carrying equipment and actually, um, carry it.
Think twice before buying if…
You’re not really interested in acquiring another hobby, because that’s what photography will be with a DSLR (at least for a while). You’ll have to spend some time learning how to use the camera. The rewards are worth it, but if you’re certain that’s not you, then you could stay in the advanced point and shoot category and be quite happy.
Best Camera for $600-$999
Got even more to spend? Get the same camera you’d get if you had $400-$600 and put that extra cash into a GREAT lens!
Same rule applies: spend as little as you’re comfortable with on the body, and as much as you can on the lenses.
Camera bodies in this price range ($600-$900) add more battery life, weather sealing, secondary storage slots, faster shutter speeds, a larger viewfinder, and more focus points, but these gains might not be worth the doubling of price for someone who is only photographing models and products. If you do want to spend this kind of money on the body alone, we recommend the Nikon D7000.
Camera bodies come and go but lenses represent a huge opportunity to up your photo game. A quality lens can cost anywhere from $100-$500+, depending on what you get and whether or not it’s a “prime” or a “focus” lens. For craft/product photography, look for a 50mm f/1.8 lens in the $150-$300 price range. That’s a lot of jargon – but you’ll see it a lot if you go with a DSLR. The “50mm” is the most important part. Run a Google Image Search on the phrase “kit lens vs 50mm” to see a ton of examples of what a specialized lens can do for your photography.
For craft photographers with up to $1000 to spend, we recommend the Nikon D3200 and one of the following two lenses.
Versatile lens recommendation: The Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S is a flexible “prime” (non-zooming) auto-focusing lens capable of putting a beautiful background blur behind small, close-up objects as well as shooting larger scenes with incredible clarity. Your subjects will have to be at least 1 foot away from the lens, making this lens great for larger items like clothing and human models. If you need to get super close, save your pennies and go to the next lens instead.
Close-up lens recommendation: This lens can do landscape and portraits and all that but it also takes stunning photos of super tiny things. If you’re going to be shooting jewelry, craft supplies, or food, consider the Nikon 40mm f/2.8G AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR Lens. Yes, it costs more, but it lets you get extremely close and the clarity and bokeh will knock your socks off.
If your crafts aren’t tiny, though, you can probably get away with the previous lens and pocket the savings.
Think twice before buying a DSLR + lenses if…
Don’t rush into lens buying unless you’re sure the kit lens won’t meet your needs. (And if you are certain you don’t want the kit lens, you can save around $100 and buy the camera body by itself.)
The blurry backgrounds from a 50mm lens are absolutely gorgeous and if your items are tiny, a close up lens will work wonders. but if you’re thrilled with what the camera and kit lens can do (and you will be… for a while :D) you might as well pocket the difference.
Best Camera for $1000-$3000
You have a lot of options if your budget is between $1000 and about $3000. There’s really no limit to how much you can spend on photography equipment, since professional cameras run all the way into five-digits (yes, like how much you might pay for a car).
Only consider spending this kind of money on a camera and lens set if you’re interested in photography beyond selling/blogging your crafts and you can actually afford to do so. If you want to be your family’s go-to photographer or are thinking of starting a side (or main) business as a photographer and you’ve got the cash to spare, then it might make sense to splash out on a camera body. (But seriously, the previous category’s got you covered even for those things.)
That’s not to say there aren’t bloggers and crafters out there using prosumer cameras. The incredible (and not to mention massively popular) photos from PinchOfYum are shot with a Canon EOS 6D DSLR and a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 telephoto lens. (Take a peek at those cameras on Amazon – yes, this is serious photography equipment!)
Since I’m madly in love with Pinch of Yum’s photos, I’m gonna go ahead and recommend their equipment:
The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens offers resistance to chromatic abberation, autofocus, brilliant color saturation, and buttery smooth bokeh.
We also love the Nikon D7000 (if we have any complaint, it’s that it’s noticeably heavier than the D3200) and the extra cash in your budget can be spent on some incredible lenses.
Psst: These are the same lenses we recommend above for the D3200.
- Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S NIKKOR FX Lens for models, animals, and small crafts
- Nikon 40mm f/2.8G AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR Lens for extreme close ups of jewelry, trinkets, and details shots
Prosumer DSLR Advantages
- The only limit is your imagination – these are professional cameras
- Compatible with your entry level DSLR lenses, if you have some
- The camera body should last you a very long time, you shouldn’t feel the need to upgrade for years
Prosumer DSLR Disadvantages
- You have to know what you’re doing to get full value out of a prosumer cameras. An expensive camera and lens can’t save you from yourself. If you’re brand new to photography or new to DSLRs, there’s no way around it: you’ll have to put in many hours to truly understand and master this equipment.
Think twice before buying a higher tier DSLR if…
You think the camera’s going to do all the heavy lifting for you. Nope! You are still the most important factor here. Even the best camera and lens setup in the world can’t give you good lighting conditions and create beautiful compositions in your camera. Successful photographers like Pinch of Yum obsess over lighting and composition – you’ll need to do the same to get the same results.
Choosing a Camera Manufacturer
You know how there’s no one right car for everyone? Cameras are the same way! Sorry – there’s no easy answer. Choosing a camera brand is a lot like deciding whether you prefer Toyota or Honda. You can drive yourself completely nuts debating Nikon vs. Canon vs. Fujifilm vs. Olympus vs. Pentax.
Test drive it!
If you can, use the camera you’re considering or at least hold it before you buy – that will tell you more than hundreds of hours of reading on the Internet ever will. In my own personal experience, I only had to hold a Canon camera body for a few moments to know that I preferred the feel of a Nikon.
The Internet is full of arguments over whether Canon or Nikon is better, since these two manufacturers represent about 80% of the marketshare, and the fact that no one’s “won” this argument is a testament to just how good both these manufacturers are. The pros use Canon and Nikon almost 50/50. Brands like Pentax, Fujifilm, Olympus and a host of others offer their own unique advantages. The car analogy works here, too – all cars can get you from point A to point B, the rest is details.
For beginners, I like to recommend Canon or Nikon because these brands have such large user bases. Lots of people using these cameras means means there are lots of how-to videos, guides, and reviews on accessories out there.
The Final Word
You can spend a lot of time reading reviews, but this is what it boils down to: get a camera, read the manual, start taking pics.
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