Product Photography, Part 5: Choosing a Camera

I’m frequently asked to recommend a camera. Sometimes folks inquire about the camera I use to display my artwork online. But both queries miss the point. Knowing how to use a camera is far more important than the unit itself. Nonetheless, choosing a suitable camera is critical.

This is the fifth post in my series to help ecommerce merchants take better product photos. “Part 1” addressed the importance of backdrops. “Part 2” explained tripods. “Part 3” examined the fundamentals of artificial lighting, and “Part 4” reviewed angles and viewpoints.

In this installment, I’ll address how to select a camera for product photography.

Merchants have three options:

  • Smartphone camera,
  • Point-and-shoot digital camera,
  • Digital single-lens reflex camera.

Smartphone Cameras

I love my smartphone for lifestyle product shots. It provides a gritty, realistic feeling to my art that I value in the photos of other goods online. Even with Amazon’s strict image requirements, a new iPhone 12 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S21 is more than adequate with the proper lighting and background.

Photo from Apple.com of the back of an iPhonePhoto from Apple.com of the back of an iPhone

With the proper lighting and background, smartphone cameras such as this iPhone are more than adequate for most product shots. Image: Apple.

However, smartphone cameras have weaknesses, such as no manual adjustment for white balance and aperture. Moreover, smartphones don’t handle bright lights well, producing inferior digital stills. Thus using a smartphone for your product photography requires a superior lighting setup to make up for those limitations.

Point-and-shoot Digital Cameras

Point-and-shoot cameras have much more flexibility than a smartphone, and they’re affordable, available at Walmart and similar retailers.

Photo from Amazon of a blue Nikon Coolpix cameraPhoto from Amazon of a blue Nikon Coolpix camera

Point-and-shoot cameras, such as this Nikon Coolpix, are flexible and affordable. Image: Amazon.

An example is Nikon Coolpix. It’s a terrific little camera with many more features than a smartphone, such as settings for shutter, aperture, and optical zoom. But a point-and-shoot camera cannot match a DSLR camera.

DSLR Cameras

I’ll always recommend a digital single-lens reflex camera for product photography. It provides much more freedom than lesser alternatives. A DSLR has the ability to shoot manually, providing control over every aspect of a shot. At $500 to $700, a DSLR may seem expensive. But the investment will more than pay for itself with quality product photos that drive conversions.

What sets a DSLR apart is the option to use different lenses. Like lighting, lenses can make or break product photography. Using a macro lens, for example, an online jeweler can easily increase an image’s product details. That versatility is why I use a DSLR for most of my product shoots.

I favor Canon DSLRs. But Nikon and Sony make great cameras, too. Here are my top DSLR recommendations.

Budget option: Nikon’s D3500. With its 24.2-megapixel sensor and price of $600 to $700, Nikon’s D3500 is an excellent, budget DSLR for ecommerce photos.

Photo from NikonUSA.com of a Nikon D3500 camera.Photo from NikonUSA.com of a Nikon D3500 camera.

With a price of $600 to $700, Nikon’s D3500 is an excellent, budget DSLR for ecommerce photos. Image: NikonUSA.com.

The D3500 takes amazingly sharp images with a high dynamic resolution. Per Nikon, the D3500 is “compact, durable, and versatile.” It’s available directly on Nikon’s website.

Best for beginners: Canon’s EOS Rebel T7. Canon’s EOS Rebel T7 packs a lot of value for a mid-range camera. It will take perfect product pictures.

Photo from B&H Photo of a Canon EOS Rebel T7Photo from B&H Photo of a Canon EOS Rebel T7

Canon’s EOS Rebel T7 will take perfect product pictures. It packs a lot of value for a mid-range camera. Image: B&H Photo.

The Rebel T7 is ideal for beginners because of its 24.1-megapixel sensor and easy-to-use touchscreen interface. But the best feature is the $450 price.

Best professional option: Canon’s EOS 5D Mark IV. The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is the choice of many professionals because of its legendary performance.

Photo from Amazon of a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV camera.Photo from Amazon of a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV camera.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is popular among professionals because of its overall performance. Image: Amazon.

The camera comes with a whopping 30.4-megapixel sensor for superb images. It’s compatible with nearly all of Canon’s electro-focus lenses, making it powerful and versatile for all product shots. The only drawback is the cost, about $2,700 without lenses, on Amazon. But it’s worth every penny.

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