Best Point and Shoot Camera for Low Light


Finding the right camera can be challenging but finding the right camera for a specific kind of photography adds another layer of complications onto your purchase.
Whether you’re a seasoned professional looking for a competitive edge, or a curious newbie who’s only ever shot smartphone pictures, everyone knows that shooting in low light can be a blurred, noisy nightmare if you aren’t packing the right gear.
Fortunately for you, we’ve gathered five of the best cameras for low light photography, so they should be up to the task for whatever you have planned.
We’ve written out their pros and cons, as well as small entries explaining why we think they can stand up to the job.
Included below is also a buyers’ guide that will tell you what to look for when buying cameras in order to get low light performance. An FAQ is also attached so that you can see the common questions other photographers have asked get answered.
If you choose to read the guide, you’ll know what to look for next time you make a purchase, and so there’ll be less chance of you being left in the dark.

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Are you in a hurry to see the light? 

If you need a camera that can squeeze every lumen out of a dark room, we recommend the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 4K Point and Shoot Camera. 

We do this because it’s competitively priced for the specs it has, and you can see some of those specs below:

  • This model has a large one inch 20.1-megapixel MOS sensor and can deliver 4K photography and videography capably in low light conditions.
  • Its Leica DC lens is perfect for sharp, brightening photography, and is reinforced by an optical image stabilizer that reduces blur.
  • This camera has integrated smartphone app compatibility if you have the prerequisite Wi-Fi connection, and as mentioned, is more affordable than some of the other products in the below list.

In a hurry? This is our winner!

Our rating:

Best Point and Shoot Camera in Low Light – Comparison Table

Best Point and Shoot Camera in Low Light – Reviews

Our Pick

PANASONIC LUMIX FZ1000 4K Point and Shoot Camera, 16X LEICA DC Vario-ELMARIT F2.8-4.0 Lens, 21.1 Megapixels, 1 Inch High Sensitivity Sensor, DMC-FZ1000 (USA BLACK)

Our rating:

Coming from an established household name in the world of cameras, our top product is the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000. This camera is one from a series intended to be able to tackle challenging light levels, hence the Lumix name. 

This model has a large one inch 20.1-megapixel MOS sensor that’s good at coping with low light levels. As the name has mentioned, it shoots photos and videos in 4K. This is done at 30P for videography with hybrid 8MP video frames grabbed as photographs. 

It uses the Leica DC lens, which is bright and very sharp at 25,400 millimeters, but is capable of macro photography down to three centimeters. The lens is stabilized by a hybrid optical image stabilizer that features five axis correction so that blur occurs less often, and one-handed shooting is a possibility open for you. 

One of the features that made this model stand out above the rest was its integrated smartphone compatibility via the Panasonic image app, allowing for remote imaging control as long as you have that app and a Wi-Fi connection.

You get all of the above for what we think is a humble price, too, but everything has its flaws and so we thought we’d address some concerns others have had, for the sake of transparency. 

One criticism is that it lacks a touch screen like other, more compact models in the Lumix family, and so can seem unwieldy to some with all of its buttons. Whilst that will be a problem for some, we should point out larger cameras are usually more ideal for soaking in as much light as possible. 

Another is that it can make whirring noises and seems to look old-fashioned compared with a lot of other cameras on the scene nowadays, but this is a largely subjective complaint and isn’t guaranteed to be the case with you, so if you like the sound of this model you should give it a try.

Pros

  • Large one inch 20.1-megapixel MOS sensor
  • 4K photography and videography
  • Optical image stabilizer reduces blur
  • Integrated smartphone app compatibility
  • Good price for these specs

Cons

  • No touch screen like others in the Lumix family
  • Makes whirring noises, like older cameras
Canon Digital SLR Camera Body [EOS 80D] with 24.2 Megapixel (APS-C) CMOS Sensor and Dual Pixel CMOS AF - Black

Our rating:

The second product we have comes from a name that everyone knows in the industry, it’s the Canon Digital SLR Body EOS 80D. 

The body of this camera has a sleek, matte black finish that looks good in your hands, but the real features of this camera that you’re interested in is its capabilities. 

It has an intelligent viewfinder that makes shooting wide-angled photographs simpler than ever and uses autofocus points to ensure consistent quality where it matters in all photographs big or small. 

It has a 24.2-megapixel CMOS sensor that ensures high resolution imaging, but what really made this camera earn its place on the list is the fact that it has refined individual pixels that enable high ISO speeds, which determines how well this camera performs in low light. 

It can hit 16,000 ISO for photographs and 12,800 for video, which should be ample for most dimly lit environments. 

You should know, however, that the lens itself isn’t included in the product, it’s just the camera body. You’ll have to source a low-light lens yourself if this is the option for you.

Pros

  • High ISO settings, ideal for low light shooting
  • Intelligent viewfinder makes wide-angle photography easy
  • 24.2-megapixel CMOS sensors capture images at a high resolution
  • Sleek black matte body makes this a stylish piece of kit

Cons

  • The lens isn’t included in this product
  • If you set the ISOs too high, the video quality can get reduced
Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K

Our rating:

The product at the mid-point on our list is a camera that’s very effective, but is also very effective at lightening your wallet, the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera. The first impressions from the feel of this camera are that it’s a very compact and lightweight model, being made from carbon fiber composite. 

Despite its size, it packs a powerful 4096×2160 resolution and is a performance powerhouse at videography thanks to its 4K DKI 60fps video recording capability.

You control the action via an LCD touch screen that’s spread five inches across the back of this model, limiting the amount of buttons and so making it as easy to use as a piece of tech like this can possibly be. 

The videoing capability makes this camera, in our considered opinion, better as a videography camera rather than a photography camera. This isn’t just because of that 4K 60fps recording capability, but also because it has built-in microphones that offer good sound quality. 

As mentioned, it’s also quite expensive and so seems to us a product for those of you who are serious about your camerawork.

Pros

  • High resolution pictures and video
  • Easy to operate five-inch LCD touch screen
  • Microphones offer good sound quality, ideal for videoing
  • Compact and lightweight carbon fiber build

Cons

  • More suited to videoing than photography
  • Body only, lens not included
  • Expensive compared to other items on the list
Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II (Black)

Our rating:

The next camera on the list is another Canon, the PowerShot G7 X Mark II. It works off of a large one inch 20.1-megapixel CMOS sensor that takes high quality images and a TTL autofocus system which reduces blur, especially on wide angled shots. 

Those wide-angled shots carry an aperture value of F/1.8 that turns to F/2.8 when zoomed in. This camera wastes no time in capturing images by snapping at a consistent 8fps. 

This camera is also capable of Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing you to post images online. It’s operated by a three-inch LCD monitor that’s capable of tilting up 180 degrees or down 45 degrees in order to take angled photographs. 

However, speaking of degrees, this camera is limited by the fact that it can only operate in temperatures of 0 to 40 degrees Celsius, or 32 to 104 Fahrenheit, before beginning to malfunction.

Pros

  • Large one inch 20.1-megapixel CMOS sensor captures high quality images, and a TTL autofocus system to reduce blur
  • F/1.8 aperture value at wide angles and F/2.8 when zoomed to 4.2x
  • Continuously shoots at 8fps
  • Three-inch LCD monitor that can tilt up or down for angled photography
  • Built-in Wi-Fi

Cons

  • Restricted to operating temperatures of 0 to 40 degree Celsius (32 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Battery pack needs to be bought separately
Nikon COOLPIX A10

Our rating:

The final camera model on this list is the Nikon COOLPIX A10, a compact and chromed out camera that’s light on the wallet. Its CCD image sensor shoots to the tune of 16.1 megapixels, allowing for good photos and the shooting of videos at 720p in HD. 

It has a built-in glass lens capable of zooming in up to five times, which belongs to Nikon’s in-house brand Nikkor and so benefits from its purpose-built compatibility with the rest of the camera.

It has a quaint 2.7-inch LCD display that makes this camera a breeze to operate, and it accepts a wide range of batteries whether they’re alkaline, lithium or of Nikon’s own rechargeable make. 

The problem there is the fact that this camera retails with no battery pack, and so it needs to be bought separately. 

As said, it’s also very affordable to the point that it’s the cheapest on the list, but it also must be said that it’s the least-powered too. Still, it’s a more than viable option for those who need a little low light performance on a budget.

Pros

  • 16.1-megapixel CCD image sensor for good photos and 720p HD video
  • Built-in 5x optical zoom Nikkor glass lens
  • 2.7-inch LCD display
  • Accepts a wide range of batteries
  • Very affordable, cheapest on the list

Cons

  • Battery pack needs to be bought separately
  • Is the lowest-powered camera on this list

Best Point and Shoot Camera in Low Light – Buyers Guide

How to Choose the Best Low Light Camera

Before you make your purchase, perhaps you want to read up on these types of cameras and what makes certain models better than others.
This buyers’ guide is here for you to do just that, and in doing so get the knowledge of these cameras you’ll need to make the best purchases now and into the future.

This guide covers the following features of low-light cameras: image sensors, ISO settings, lens, aperture, and of course, image and video quality. We also have a Frequently Asked Questions section below for your perusal, maybe a question you have has already been answered?

Image Sensors

Image sensors are solid-state devices that actually create the image you see in the viewfinder by converting light. Smaller sensors, naturally, crop images since they cannot capture the full scene like larger full-frame sensors can.
You’ll see above the sensors come in three types, MOS, CMOS, and CCD. MOS stands for Metal Oxide Semiconductor, named for the specific method by which the hardware is formed on silicon wafer.

MOS sensors create either n-channel or p-channel Field Effect Transistors (FETs) vital to the operation of the camera. CMOS, meaning Complementary MOS, use and toggle between both and so use less power, allowing for healthier battery lifespans.
CCD sensors are Charge-Coupled Devices that function much like MOS image sensor devices but use up more power.

Max ISO Settings

ISO stands for International Standards Organization, but within the context of photography it refers to the quantified measurements of how sensitive the camera is to light. If you’re looking for low-light cameras, you’ll want products with a wide range of ISO settings.
A good number to aim for is around 12,800 or 25,600 since these would be considered at the top end of camera ISO settings. Be aware that the model of camera you get should have ISO settings that are compatible with other features such as aperture or shutter speed.

The Lens

The lens of your camera is obviously an invaluable component that needs to be considered before making your purchase. A good quality lens will be required to tackle low light environments. Most digital cameras have built-in optical zooming lenses, but DSLR cameras exist which may want to be considered.

Aperture

Lens aperture is a measure of how much the lenses open. Low aperture means that it is wide open whereas a high aperture means that there’s a very small opening, and so not much light enters through the lens. So, for low-light photography, having low aperture is preferred since it soaks in as much light as possible to produce an adequate photograph.
A lot of cameras with higher ISO settings will often lower your aperture automatically to perform better in lower lights.

Image and Video Quality

What good is a camera if it has a poor image or video quality? When trying to get the best camera quality, it’s important that you remember that the most expensive models of camera aren’t necessarily the best when it comes to quality. That’s why it’s important to keep your options open and consider every alternative and balance their features against each other.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you shoot indoors in low light?

Need some pointers? Firstly, you’ll want to photograph whatever you’re photographing with it as close to the light in the area as possible, whether it’s natural ambient light or artificial light.

Sometimes low light isn’t so much the problem as an unstable camera that’s out of focus, as the two often get conflated, so another thing to try would be practicing good camera holding form with your elbows tucked in and your other hand supporting the weight of your camera from the bottom, if you have a protruding lens.

It may be obvious to state, but we’re compelled to make sure that you’ve set the ISO settings so that they can perform for the environment you’re in.

Are mirrorless cameras better in low light?

This list is for those looking for point-and-click cameras, but generally speaking mirrorless cameras will indeed out-perform those cameras in darker environments. This is because those hefty mirrorless cameras often have larger sensors, which allows for more translation of light input into electronic photographic output.

Mirrorless cameras are, however, outgunned by DSLR cameras simply because their sensors are larger again, and they have variable lenses which allow for specialized, low-light performing lenses to be attached.

Are point and shoot cameras better than iPhone cameras?

Smartphone camera technology, and smartphone technology in general, has come an astounding way in the short decade and a half they’ve been mainstream. That said, even the most compact camera isn’t as slender as smartphones are and that means that their image sensors aren’t as large as camera-sensors.

Name any other factor and a good old camera will likely beat the iPhone on that, too, e.g. optical zoom, image stabilization, the inbuilt flash, and especially battery life. iPhones and other smartphones have it for portability and convenience, we’ll give them that, and there’s a growing contingent of talented photographers and videographers that swear by them, but if you’re serious about getting the best performance, using a camera is usually your best bet.

Last Updated on 2020-04-01 //Source: Affiliate Affiliates





Photo Techniques to Capture Sports and Action


Canon 6d with Canon 70-200 f/2.8 lens. 1/800 @ f/6.3 ISO 200. No flash, daylight only.
Photo by Rick Ohnsman

There’s a thrill to catching the peak moment of a sporting event or other action, capturing an instant too fleeting for the eye so you may later study and appreciate it in a photograph.  Making good sports and action photographs isn’t easy and will test your visualization and camera operation skills. But, when you nail the shot it can be deeply satisfying.  Let’s take a look at how you can “up your game” when shooting sports and action.

Getting good sports and action photographs is all about
being in the right spot and clicking the shutter at the right time.  A knowledge of the sport will help you do
both.  Where you position yourself is
critical.  If you’re shooting a football
or soccer game you will know that the endzone or goal is where scoring will
happen and action apt to be more intense. 
But, if you position yourself there and a good bit of the action happens
at the other end of the field, you’ll be missing a lot.  If you’re shooting dirt bike racing, you
might want to consider a spot where riders come through a tight corner or leap
into the air at a jump.  If the sport is
baseball, a spot where you can see the action at the plate or at first base
might give you the greatest chance for a good shot.

In addition to getting a good vantage point to help get the greatest number of good shots, knowing the sport so you can anticipate what will happen next is very valuable.  If for instance you know that when a football team sets up in a particular formation the quarterback is apt to throw a pass, you can be ready on the shutter button for that action.  Whatever the sport, a good idea of what might happen next and being ready to capture that action is invaluable.

Try to get close enough to fill the frame with the action and see expressions on the players faces. 1/1500 @ f/6.7 ISO 400 – Photo by Rick Ohnsman

Another important rule to keep in mind is to keep your “chimping” to a minimum.  Too many photographers have missed that great shot at a sporting event because while they were busy looking at their LCD screen something remarkable happened and they missed it.

You should also consider your angle relative to the action
and what is apt to be in the background. 
You will often see pros shooting football down low shooting up.  There are two reasons for this; one is to
minimize the background clutter.  If the
sky is your background that can help. 
The other is to emphasize the “power” of the players.  An angle lower than the player looking up
makes them look more massive and powerful and the action more impressive,
something you want when shooting football players as well as many other
athletes.

If you are lucky, you will be able to get as close to the
action as possible.  It would be great at
a football game to always be able to be on the sidelines or at an auto race to
have a pit pass.  That’s not possible
most times, which bring us to the next point… equipment.

The reach of a 400mm lens helped bring this shot in close. A shutter speed of 1/2000 helped to make it sharp enough to read the small writing on the side of the plane. Canon 6D w/ 400mm lens, 1/2000 @ f/5.6 ISO 200 – Photo by Rick Ohnsman

Equipment
Considerations

Being able to fill the frame with the action is key to making impressive sports photos.  A shot where a football receiver catches an impressive pass isn’t nearly as thrilling if he is just one of a field full of players in a wide shot.  You want a tight shot of him and the defender leaping for the ball. You want to be able to see the expressions on their faces.  If you are lucky to be on the sidelines, you might get that with a 200mm lens.  If you’re further away, you better have a longer lens than that.  A typical NFL professional photographer who would be on the sidelines might have two bodies, one with a 70-200mm lens for closer shots, the other with maybe a 400mm f/2.8.  (Nice if you can afford it, that 400mm f/2.8 will come in at around $10K).  Many serious amateurs do however have a 70-200mm lens and if you put a teleconverter with that, you still can make some nice shots.

What you don’t want to have to deal with is a point-and-shoot camera.  Yeah, some of them have pretty impressive zoom lenses, but what will kill you when shooting sports and action is the shutter lag.  When you press that shutter button you want instantaneous shooting.  If instead you have to wait even a ¼ second for the camera to fire after you press the shutter, often the peak action will be gone.  Learning to anticipate the “moment” and starting the shot a fraction of a second before can help, but even so, a camera with significant shutter lag is apt to be an exercise in frustration when shooting sports and action.

“Biting Cold” – Not an exceptionally fast shutter here, but the key to getting the shot was anticipating the moment as my dog Shadow snapped at a thrown piece of snow. Canon 50D with Canon 24-105mm lens. 44mm, 1/640 @ f/16 ISO 400 – Photo by Rick Ohnsman

Anticipation and
Continuous Shooting mode

So we talked about knowing your sport and we also discussed shutter lag.  The key to getting that perfect moment is dealing with both.  Most modern DSLRs and high-end mirrorless cameras will have a continuous shooting mode.  Go to that mode, hold down the shutter button, and the camera will shoot rapid-fire, machine-gun style images.  The best cameras can shoot around 15 frames per second, prosumer level DSLRs shooting about 4-8 frames-per-second (fps).  If you’re buying a camera primarily for sports photography, this specification is something to consider.  Whatever the rate, to increase your chances of getting that perfect moment, anticipate the action and start shooting a fraction of a second before it.  Fire away until the moment has passed. A couple of things to know however; You will shoot a LOT more images when shooting in continuous mode so have a large storage card.  Also, have a “fast” storage card, one which is capable of quickly writing images to the card.  Read up on storage cards and consider the specs when buying them if you plan to shoot in continuous mode very often. Also learn how many shots your particular camera will store in the buffer before it has to pause to write them to the card.  If you’re ever shooting in continuous mode and after couple of seconds the frame rate slows way down, this is what has happened.  The buffer has filled and the camera is writing to the card.  Practice so you gain a sense of what is possible with your camera and card combination.  Also know that continuous shooting mode will drain your camera battery much faster so take that into account. 

A fast shutter speed catches even the pieces of dirt flying in the air. 1/3200 @ f/2.8 ISO 400. Photo by Rick Ohnsman

Camera Settings

What other settings do we want to consider when shooting
sports and action?  We’ll assume for the
moment your objective is to freeze the action. 
(We’ll talk about purposely blurring the action later).  To achieve that, you will want to shoot with
as high a shutter speed as is practical. 

Using AI Servo focus with my Canon 50D and a Canon 70-200 image-stabilized lens was the key to getting a sharp shot of this Eurasian Eagle Owl in flight. 1/2000 @ f/4 ISO 400
Photo by Rick Ohnsman

Shutter Speed

First, consider you are likely to be shooting handheld.  (Shooting action from a tripod is usually difficult, though sometimes with especially long lenses, photographers will use monopods or sometimes a gimble-head arrangement, (particularly popular with wildlife shooters armed with long lenses and having to wait for long periods for that just-right moment.)  If you are shooting handheld, you will want to remember the “inverse focal-length rule.”  Your minimum shutter speed should be at least 1/focal length.  So, if you’re shooting a 70-200mm lens fully zoomed out at 200mm, a shutter speed of 1/250th would be a good choice.  Yes, stabilized lenses or cameras with In-Body-Stabilization (IBS) can allow you to go lower than that, but know that a fast shutter speed will help insure you don’t have a less-than-sharp shot due to camera shake.  Also know when to turn the image stabilization mode off or adjust how it performs.  Some systems will have modes allowing you to pan and not have the system fight you while still maintaining vertical motion stabilization.  Learn your lens and camera so you know when and when not to use the stabilization system.

When the light is dim and you’re shooting handheld you need all the advantages you can get. Kicking the ISO up to 3200 allowed me, to freeze this shot at just 1/320 sec. Canon 6D with 24-105mm f/4 IS lens. 1/320 @ f/40 ISO 3200
Photo by Rick Ohnsman

Understand that image stabilization is designed to compensate for camera movement.  It does nothing to freeze the motion of your subject.  That is purely a function of shutter speed.  So, how fast a shutter speed do you need to freeze the action?  As with so many photography questions, the answer is – it depends.

Some of the considerations when deciding how fast your
shutter must be to freeze the action are:

  • How fast is the action?  Are we talking a dancer on
    stage or trying to freeze a pitched baseball? 
    How fast the action is will vary greatly and you’ll have to develop a
    feel for what shutter speed it will take to freeze it.
  • How close is the subject to the camera?  A jet flying through the sky is moving at
    hundreds of miles per hour yet from a distance it appears to just hang in the
    air.  The proximity of the subject to the
    camera will change the required shutter speed to freeze it.
  • In what direction is the object moving relative
    to the camera?  Objects moving perpendicular
    to the camera view will appear to move faster than those moving directly toward
    or away from the camera

You will need to determine how fast a shutter is needed for freezing
the particular action you are shooting. 
Here however are some starting places:

Action Shutter Speed
People Walking 1/125
Freezing Distant Ocean Waves 1/250
Most Sports / People running 1/500 – 1/1000
Vehicles (Panning will allow slower speeds) 1/800
Birds in Flight 1/2000
Splashing water (close to camera) 1/4000-1/8000
CANON 50D WITH CANON 50MM F/1.8 PRIME LENS. 1/3200 @ F/4.0 ISO 400 – DAYLIGHT ONLY, NO FLASH. LIGHT WAS CONSISTENT AND IS WAS ABLE TO USE MANUAL MODE FOR THESE SHOTS. – PHOTO BY RICK OHNSMAN

Camera Modes

If your objective is to freeze, (or blur) action, you will
want to take control of the shutter speed. 
The Automatic modes will allow the camera to make that choice, not what
you want.  Many cameras have a “Sports”
mode.  Usually that will default to the
highest shutter speed possible with the given light conditions.  Better, but you’re still letting the camera
choose.  So what’s left?  The semi-auto modes or manual.  Let’s discuss the merits of each.  Remember that the “Exposure Triangle” is always
at work:  Aperture + Exposure + ISO =
Exposure.  Adjust one and one of the
remaining two will need to be adjusted to maintain proper exposure.

Aperture Priority Mode (Av or A) – Aperture Priority seems to be the go-to mode for many, even sports photographers.  Locking in the Aperture allows control over the depth of field.  Sport photographers often want to blur the background for less cluttered images so a wide aperture, (i.e. f/2.8 or f/4) allows that.  Also, setting a wide aperture forces the shutter speed to bump up, something desired for freezing action.  Keep in mind however that depending on available light, the ISO may need to be increased to keep the shutter fast enough.

Shutter Priority Mode (Tv or S)Shutter Priority would seem the logical choice for sports and action.  Decide and lock in a shutter speed and let the aperture float.  This can work, but in varying light the depth of field will vary as the camera adjusts the aperture.  In bright light you might get something like 1/1000 @ f/8, good shutter speed but perhaps too much depth of field to blur the background.

Manual (M) – Manual allows you to choose and lock in all settings, Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO.  This is fine, IF the light doesn’t change.  Sometimes you’ll be lucky and the light where the action is playing out will be pretty constant.  If so, Manual Mode will provide good shot-to-shot consistency and might be a good choice.  However, if the light changes, you need to be watching your settings and be quick to change them.  This can be tricky when shooting fast moving action and varying light in a sports situation.

Auto ISO – I’m an old film shooter and so the idea of changing ISO shot-to-shot is a relatively new concept to me.  When you put in a roll of film you had to stick with the same ISO for the entire roll.  Now, you can change the ISO with every shot or, even let the camera do it automatically.  So, maybe you might want to try a combination of things.  On some cameras you can go to manual mode, lock in both the shutter speed and aperture, and allow the ISO to float.  You will also want to set the camera so you control the highest permissible ISO.  Allow it to go too high and you will have noisy shots.

When shooting fireworks, you often want to get several bursts in the shot. Shoot from a tripod and slow down the shutter. Canon 6D with 24-105 f/4 lens. 6-seconds @ f/9, ISO 100
Photo by Rick Ohnsman

I have had good success using Av (Aperture Priority Mode) in
combination with Auto ISO.  The Aperture
is locked, the Shutter speed will usually stay set and the ISO floats.  You will need to experiment with your camera
to determine how Auto ISO interacts with the other settings in each mode.

When you have the need for speed, you want a camera that can deal with a high ISO. Nikon D850, 300mm lens with 1.4x teleconveter. 420mm 1/2000 sec. @ f 6.3 ISO 2500
Photo by Ken Miracle

Examples

Let’s look at some photo examples and examine how settings
were used to control the action in the images. 
My friend Ken Miracle, who I interviewed for my How to
Photograph Birds in Flight
article, typically advocates keeping the shutter
speed as high as possible.  He is also
usually shooting with long lenses.  He is
fortunate to also have good cameras where high ISO settings are not a problem
introducing noise.  So it’s not unusual for
him to have a setting like 1/6400 @ f/5.6 ISO 800.  I have also seen photos he’s done in lower
light with settings like 1/2500 @ f/6.3 ISO 8000.  I’m primarily a landscape photographer and so
any ISO over 800 and I’m freaking out a bit. 
But, to keep that shutter speed high and the photos of birds in flight
tack sharp, he has no qualms kicking up the ISO.  In fact in his article he says his typical
camera set-up is:

You better be fast to catch a kingfisher diving for a fish. Nikon D850 – 300mm lens with 1.4x teleconverter. 420mm 1/3200 @ f/8, ISO 500
Photo by Ken Miracle
  • Aperture Priority Mode (Av on Canon, A on Nikon)
    or Manual (M)
  • Single-point or Grouped-Point Continuous Focus
  • Center-Weighted Metering
  • Continuous High-speed Shutter
  • Lens at its widest aperture
  • Minimum of 1250/sec. shutter speed
  • Auto ISO (depending on the camera)

Focus
Modes for Sports and Action

You’ll note Ken’s choice of focus mode is Continuous.  He shoots a Nikon.  On my Canon cameras, this is called AI Servo mode.  (I believe the AI is an abbreviation for Auto Intelligence).  Anyway, the idea is that the camera, once a focus point is chosen, will track and keep an object in focus.  This is invaluable for fast moving subjects when doing sports and action photography.  The images I show here of the whitewater kayakers and dirt bike racers were done with this mode.  I marvel at old film camera photographers who, with only manual focus, could shoot these kinds of things!  I wouldn’t be without AI Servo mode for sports photography.

I was just off the edge of the track when this guy came ripping by. 65mm was enough to fill the frame. Thank goodness for AI Servo Focus, an image-stabilized lens, and a bright summer day allowing a fast shutter speed at a low ISO.
Canon 6D with 24-105 f/4 IS lens. 1/1000 sec @ f/5.0 ISO 100
Photo by Rick Ohnsman

Another focus mode on Canon cameras is AI
Focus.  The manual says this is used when
the subject is stationary but might move unexpectedly.  The camera locks focus much like while in
One-Shot focus mode but if the subject moves, it switches to AI Servo, tracking
the subject.  I can’t say I’ve used this
mode much, but I guess there might be circumstance where it would be useful.

Metering

You will note Ken’s metering mode of
choice is center-weighted.  Consider he
is often shooting birds against a bright sky, so this makes sense.  Which metering mode you choose for your
sports or action photography will of course vary depending on your subject and
background.  I personally try to stick
with Evaluative, (Matrix on Nikon), for most shooting though I may switch
depending on various factors.

CANON 50D WITH CANON 50MM F/1.8 LENS – 1/2000 SEC. @ F/6.3 ISO 400. DAYLIGHT ONLY – NO FLASH. – PHOTO BY RICK OHNSMAN

Freezing Very Fast
Action

When the action is very fast and you want to freeze it, you want a very fast shutter speed.  Such was the case with my “splash” photos.  I wanted to shoot as fast as I could and fortunately, made the shots in the mid-day summer sun.  With plenty of light I was able to get shutter speeds of 1/2000 and even up to 1/8000th of a second, the limitation of my camera.  Have a look at my article on A Beginners Guide to High Speed Photography to understand the means by which these photos were made.

Shooting at the Speed
of Light

When you really have the need for speed it’s time to reach for your flash.  While most cameras top out at about 1/8000 of
a second, the speed of a flash is MUCH faster and that burst of light can
freeze even splashing water, breaking glass, and speeding bullets.  For example, a typical Canon Speedlight at
1/128 power has a flash duration of only 1/20,000 of a second!  I suggest you also take a look at my article The
MIOPS Smart Trigger – A Review
to see how you can put that kind of
action-stopping power to work.

Dropping the ISO, adding a polarizing filter, and a scene in low light allowed a shutter speed of just over 3 seconds, nicely blurring the water in this shot.
Canon 6D with 24-105mm lens on a tripod. 3.2 seconds @ f/9 ISO 50
Photo by Rick Ohnsman

Slowing it Down –
Creative Blur in Sports and Action Photography

To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “There’s more to life than increasing its speed.”  I don’t think photography was what he had in mind when saying that, but sometimes when making sports and action photos we want to creatively blur, rather than freeze the action.  We do that by slowing down the shutter speed.  Just a couple of ways we can use this:

Get “arty” using “Intentional Camera Movement” (ICM). Slow the shutter down to 1/25th of a second and pan the camera vertically in this case.
1/25 @ f/25 ISO 400
Photo by Rick Ohnsman
  • Blurring the motion of a subject so as to illustrate motion.
  • Panning with the subject but using a slow shutter so while the subject is sharp, but the background is blurred, again helping illustrate motion.
  • Using slow shutter speeds in long exposure shots to blur the moving clouds or cause water to go soft and silky (i.e. waterfalls shots).
  • Long exposures with Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) to make creative artsy shots like “swish pans.”
  • Extended “time-exposures” allowing creative effects such as light trails.  Things like vehicle motion trails, fireworks photos, or those steel wool spinning photos you see are done like this.  (My “Electric Cocktail” shot was made with this technique.  Using a 4-second exposure allowed me time to move the sparkler in the shot in a swirl producing the light trail.  The long exposure also allows the shot to be light solely with the light from the sparkler.)
A 4-second exposure allowed time to move the sparkler and produce this swirled pattern.
4-seconds @ f/11 ISO 100 Photo by Rick Ohnsman

Often using a small aperture and low ISO may be enough to
get the shutter speed slow enough to create the intended effect.  In brighter light however when extra-long exposures
are desired, photographers will use things like Neutral Density filters (ND) to
cut the light coming into the camera and thus allow shutter speeds with longer
durations.  The result is greater
blurring of moving objects.

Combining Fast and
Slow

An interesting technique to show motion is to combine the blurring action of a slow shutter speed with the freezing effect of a flash.  Often this is done using the Second Curtain Sync feature of a camera.  This creates an “exposure within an exposure.  Typically when a flash is connected to a camera, the flash fires at the beginning of the exposure and the shutter stays open for the duration of the set shutter speed.  So say the shutter speed is set for 1/15th of a second.  The shot is tripped, the flash fires immediately and takes perhaps 1/250th of a second at full power.  Now the shutter remains open for the duration of that 1/15th of a second and ambient light continues coming in.  If you made a shot of a fast moving object with these settings, you would have a frozen subject, (that being the portion lit by the flash) and the trail of the moving object lit by the ambient light continuing on in front of the frozen subject. 

When using the flash in TTL (Through the Lens) mode, a pre-flash is fired and the flash calculates how much power to use.  The illustration above shows First Curtain Sync mode where the flash fires at the beginning of the exposure. In Second Curtain Sync mode the flash fires at the end of the exposure just before the second curtain closes. This diagram using a sample 125th of a second shutter speed might help you understand the concept.
A little harder to tell with this shot, but in this case the camera default of first curtain sync was used. The shutter speed was 1/6th of a second. The shutter opened and the flash fired immediately, freezing the riders. Then the exposure continued with the ambient light producing the trails in front of the riders. 1/6 @ f/4.5 ISO 100

But that looks weird.  We’re used to seeing the trail of a moving object behind the object.  So, by using Second Curtain Sync and causing the flash to fire at the end rather than the beginning of the exposure, we have the motion begin to be captured using the ambient light at the beginning of the exposure and then that burst of flash at the end of the exposure, freezing the subject.  That’s exactly how my shots of the bicycle racers were done using a longer exposure with Second Curtain Sync Flash.  Check the caption under the photo for the shot settings.

CANON 50D WITH TAMRON 17-50 LENS. 1/60 @ F 5.0 ISO 400. SECOND CURTAIN SYNC CREATES WITH BOTH BLURRED AND FROZEN ACTION. PHOTO BY RICK OHNSMAN
Panning with the rider at a medium shutter speed produced this effect where the background is blurred but the rider is relatively sharp. Canon 6D with Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS Lens.
135mm 1/125 @ f 3.5, ISO 800
Photo by Rick Ohnsman

Upping your Game

I used that phrase earlier in the article and the truth is, learning how to shoot sports and action will grow your camera control skills.  In something like landscape photography, still-life, portraiture, or other less “hurried” kinds of photography you will likely have time to check your exposure, think things over, make a shot, look at it and if necessary, adjust and make another shot.  When shooting sports and action, you will not have that luxury.  Figure out what you need to do ahead of time and then, while the action is fast and furious, you best be right. You will not have an opportunity to make another shot and there are no “do-overs.”  Miss the big play, fail to properly consider exposure factors, determine proper shutter speed or not nail focus and you’re sunk.  If you’re shooting for hire, try to explain to your editor why you didn’t get the front page shot when your competition did.  Bad news.  On the other hand, when you do it right and get the shot at the peak of the action, there’s nothing like it.  You’ve brought your skills to bear and delivered the goods… there’s nothing like it!

If you’re normally a landscape or portrait shooter give sports and action photography a try. Learn the techniques to get the shot when it’s “crunch time,” savor the thrill of getting that killer pic and become a better photographer in the process.   Now go get ‘em!

Trying shots at various shutter speeds, I felt this one showed about the right amount of water blur while still maintaining some detail. Canon 6D with Canon 17-40 f/4 lens.
1/20 sec. @ f/5 ISO 100
Photo by Rick Ohnsman

About the Author

Rick Ohnsman

It’s not just a hobby… It’s an Adventure!
That’s how I feel about photography. My camera takes me to new places, shows me new sights and most of all, allows me to express my personal vision of the world. From high school in the 70’s with a Hanimex Practica Nova 1B and a darkroom in the garage, college work with 4×5 view cameras, through Kodachrome slides and then on to the digital age I’ve pursued photography for over 45 years. I am an enthusiastic member of the Boise Camera Club where I enjoy pursuing our common passion and also teaching new members. Check out some of my favorite shots on my 500px site!





Time Lapse Photography Equipment Needed for Pro Results


You can find time lapse videos just about everywhere you look.  You’ve probably dabbled with it a little bit, or seen it on different websites, YouTube videos, even in TV shows or ads.  Making time lapses is much easier these days, with all the new digital tools and software that is available to make the more challenging-looking time lapses easy to do.  You may have read through my article this past summer on making day to night time lapses.  There is also a wide range of equipment available to take your time lapses to a whole new level and get those pro results.  Some options can be on the costly side, but there are very affordable options to choose from too.  Here are some equipment options that you can use to get those pro results in your time lapse videos. 

Smartphone on a Tripod or Gorillapod

The simplest setup to do time lapse photography is from using your smartphone.  All modern smartphones have the ability to record time lapse video in the camera app.  An important factor is to make sure your smartphone remains stable, since camera shake throughout a time lapse video will not give that pro look.  While you could just prop your smartphone on a stable surface, that can be limiting in terms of how you compose your scene.  That’s assuming there is even a stable surface where you are to prop the smartphone on.  Using a tripod adapter and attaching it to your tripod or even a Gorillapod, gives you maximum flexibility.  Tripod adapters are very inexpensive and can be purchased on Amazon for less than $20.

SMARTPHONE ADAPTER ATTACHED TO TRIPOD
SMARTPHONE ADAPTER ATTACHED TO GORILLAPOD

Panning motion

As simple as time lapse photography can be, having the time lapse video record from a single spot with a single composition can get boring and to a certain degree, can be considered overshot.  It’s the easiest to do and with so many people having smartphones with the ability to record time lapses, there are a lot of them out there.  One way you can add interest to your time lapse videos is by adding motion.  Not motion in terms of having people or objects moving within the video, but movement of the video frame itself. 

One way to do this is to add panning movement; essentially, setting up your camera such that it rotates steadily from one side to the other for the duration of your time lapse.  There are several kinds of controllers that can be used to add this panning motion to your time lapse, which range in cost and capabilities.  These controllers attach to the top of your tripod, which you then attach your camera to.

You can find this Flow-Mow Time Lapse Motion Controller for a budget-friendly $50 on Amazon.  It is has limitations, as it will only rotate at a single speed.  If you’re just getting started into time lapses, it makes for an easy, low cost option to choose from.  You may however, find that the rotation speed is either too fast or too slow, depending on what camera settings you plan on using.  I personally found it too fast for what I like doing, so ended up returning it.

SCREENSHOT OF PRODUCT LISTING

The Syrp Genie is another time lapse controller which has a lot more flexibility.  You can customize settings within it or use factory pre-sets, it can do 360 degree panning, it has a built in bubble level, and lots more.  It is however on the pricey side, costing $650.

SCREENSHOT OF PRODUCT LISTING

The VidPro controller is somewhere in the middle.  A more moderate $100 in cost on Amazon and while it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that the Syrp Genie has, it does have the ability to select from different time durations of rotation, degrees of rotation and direction of rotation. For what I like doing, I found this to be a good balance between rotational flexibility and cost.

SCREENSHOT OF PRODUCT LISTING

Sliding motion

Taking motion one step further would be from the use of a slider, which gives a horizontal sense of movement.  If you couple this with a panning motion controller as described above to get both panning and sliding motion, that would take your time lapse to a whole other level.  This is the kind of pro technique that you don’t come across as frequently as with the other options.  Just like the panning motion controllers, there are several types of sliders that can be used to get this side-to-side movement.

This Neewer slider is a budget-friendly system that can be found on Amazon for $80-95, depending on the rail length.  It’s a very simple rail system that you can mount your camera on to.  This slider also has the ability to mount from the slider end and from a central fixed plate on to a tripod, which will give you the ability to do vertical movements or even 45 degree angle movements, in addition to horizontal.  This slider is not motorized, so you will need to manually slide the camera on the rails.

SCREENSHOT OF PRODUCT LISTING

There are motorized sliders as well, such as those made by Rhino or this Varavon slider on Amazon, which will slide the camera automatically.  Of course, these are more expensive and can range in cost starting from $300-600 depending on the features that you get, such as programmability and even a panning attachment.

SCREENSHOT OF PRODUCT LISTING
SCREENSHOT OF PRODUCT LISTING

Another option is to make your own DIY slider.  A Google search can uncover many tutorials on
how to do this.  The tutorials range
anywhere from making the entire slider yourself, to attaching a motor to a
non-motorized slider, like the Neewer slider above.

Neutral Density filter

If you want to do time lapse photography during the daytime but need to slow down the shutter speed to get more fluid transitions, neutral density (ND) filters are a great tool.  Think of ND filters as sunglasses for your camera.  The slower shutter speeds will give much more interesting transitions, with movement in the time lapse looking more seamless and less “jumpy” from frame to frame.  This is especially more noticeable when the motion is fast, like traffic or crowds of people. 

The type of ND filter you get in terms of number of stops of light reduction to the camera, depends on how much you want to slow the shutter speed down.  For example and to paraphrase Sharky James, if daylight conditions have your camera settings at f/8 and 1/250 seconds, a 3-stop filter will slow you down to 1/30 seconds, whereas a 10-stop filter will slow you down to 4 seconds. 

ND filters can also range in cost, depending on quality and the type of filter you get.  You can find filters that are round and screw on to your lens, or are square and require a filter holder system to attach to your lens.  Lower quality filters tend to cause colour casts on your images.  Whether you decide to get ND filters or not may be part of a broader decision on your overall filter needs, since you can use a ND filter for more than time lapses.  Here is a great article that Pete LaGregor wrote last year which gives an overview on lens filters, including ND filters and filter sizes/systems.

All of these are great tools that can bring your time lapse photography to the next level, giving you that pro look.  How and whether you choose to use any or all of these options is up to you with what you are trying to accomplish with your video.  Remember that just because a slider with a pan controller maximizes the type of movement you can get, you wouldn’t want to do this for all your time lapses.  In many cases, it can be an overkill effect where just attaching your camera onto a tripod will do.  And there’s nothing wrong with just propping the camera on a tripod.  What other techniques have you used to get pro results with your time lapses?  Feel free to share in the comments.


About the Author

Nathan Goldberg

Nathan is a hobbyist photographer from Toronto Canada, working by day in the financial services industry. While he likes trying many different types of photography, he really enjoys photographing landscapes, travel and sports. Feel free to visit www.nathangphotos.com and Instagram: @nathangphotos to see his photos.





How I created one of my best Santorini photos


Sunrise with clouds below the caldera photographed from Kasimatis Suites. Sunrise and sunset can be different every day, like this surreal sunrise with a blanket of cloud just below the hotel in Imerovigli on the Greek Island of Santorini

In this article I am going to write about this one photo that I took on my photographic trip to Santorini.

There is one very simple reason why this is one of my best photos of Santorini – when I look at the image it brings back to me so clearly being there – I can almost feel like I am there. And that for me is the point of travel photography – to make you want to be there, or bring back the memories of being there when you took the photo.

When I say one of my best photos of Santorini I mean just that – one of the best photos taken by me.

Why do I like this photo?

I have never seen such a scene before when I get up in the morning. This was our first morning in Santorini, and I had missedthe sunrise. Well we had just got there to be fair so this was the first morning.

The first I knew about all this funky weather stuff going on was when my wife shouted out in surprise after opening the curtains!

Neither of us expected this! A blanket of cloud immediately below us and that gorgeous orange morning light.

Even better was the fact that this photo was taken at the actual hotel that we were stopping at – Kasimatis Suites

I love the contrast of the colours and the uniqueness of this scene – that lovely surreal grey cloud not where it should be – i.e. down below and not up in the sky!

And I also love the fact that this photo was taken at the hotel that we stayed at – my wife spent a lot of time choosing this exact hotel for my photographic trip to Santorini.

This was the kind of thing I was hoping for – stunning views including the white buildings of Santorini. This photo is one of the 20 images featured on my travel photography website Photos of Santorini.

A quick word on the location itself

The hotel we were stopping at is in the town of Imerovigli, located on the top of the Santorini caldera and a fantastic base for a photography trip. Imerovigli is within walking distance of the capital, Fira.

And for those of you who don’t know about Santorini, which it is rude to assume, Santorini is a Greek Island formed by a volcanic eruption years age.

Where I took the photo from is identified by the blue flag on the screen shot from Google Maps.

Look at the shape of the island you will see that the water in the middle is the centre of the volcano, and this unique topography gives fantastic photographic opportunities.

Getting back to the photo, this is the view from the back of the Kasimatis Suites.

Kasimatis Suites at sunrise with low cloud IMG_8316

This is a panoramic shot taken with my iPhone. I use the large screen on my iPhone to help me with compositions. The screen on my iPhone 7 Plus is significantly better than the screen on my Canon 6D.

I quickly walked round the hotel looking for my composition. One shot that I did try was from the very bottom of the hotel looking down, but this didn’t make any sense.

I needed some of the hotel in the shot to give the composition context. Clouds are clouds after all, and are found all over the world. Looking down on clouds really does not work!!

I settled on the view you can see in the main image on this post which is telling the story of a morning at a hotel on the Greek Island of Santorini.

A sunrise morning with low clouds that is. Now I know that this is not unique but neither is it a daily occurrence either.

This is where the photo was taken

Right there where the Red Cross is. This is the Kasimatis Suites in Imerovigli on the Greek Island of Santorini.

This is a screenshot from Lightrooms Map Module. The combination of the GPS on my Canon 6D and the Map Module Look in Lightroom are very useful tools for me, as I take photos all over the place.

The Map Module in Lightroom is so detailed you can see the swimming pool, and exactly where I took this photo!

What photography gear did I use to get the shot?

  • Canon 6D
  • Canon 24-105mm F4 L Lens
  • Manfrotto 190 Go tripod with geared head
  • Peak Design Everyday Backpack
  • Loupe Viewer
  • Red hat
  • Oakley sunglasses
  • Red shoes – fresh on!
  • This was pre-morning coffee!

What camera settings did I use to get this shot?

  • Aperture F8
  • Shutter speeds 1/250th second, 1/1000th second and 1/60th second.
  • ISO 100
  • Back-button focus
  • Focal length 24mm
  • AV Mode
  • 10 second self-timer
  • RAW format

You can see what this all looks on this low quality video taken with my iPhone, with accompanying early morning sounds!

A quick word on processing the image

This one took a little while to produce in Lightroom – not too long. Sometimes edits are nice and quick, sometimes not so.

The first job was to merge the three bracketed images together in Lightroom to form a new Dng file.

Next thing I always do is to get the verticals and horizontals correct, and crop the image on the rare occasions that a crop is required.

After that I always do white balance.

I do these thing first so that I am working on the actual composition I want, and with the right colours – a technically accurate starting point for the more creative processing.

Most of the work was done in the Basic and HSL panels in Lightroom, which is normally the case for me – see the screenshot above.

By the way, I apply some processing on import of images into Lightroom, including a subtle vignette, sharpening and profile corrections.

There was quite a bit of cleaning up to do, removing blemishes, dust spots and random bits of lights and stuff in the building that were detracting from the scene.

This is what I use Photoshop for, and not much else!

What could I have done to improve the image?

Something I am doing more often now is actually looking at the finished image. I do this a few days after the edit.

And what did I miss? I need to get rid of that bit of wall bottom right – I only just noticed this writing this article!

And that is the point of me asking this question – it forces me to look at the images I have created and see what is in there that I don’t like, and think about ways that I could have created a better image.

I recommend everyone does this who wants to improve their phototgraphy – even better get someone else to do this for you.

Not your family of friends – they will just say that they think your photos are great even if they are rubbish! Better to ask someone who knows what they are talking about who will be brutally honest with you.

My first critique was with a Hasselblad Master who was also my BIPP mentor!

Summary

I have never seen weather like this before. And I am quite old!

I have never looked down on clouds from my hotel room, especially with a big bright band of sunrise light above the clouds.

This scene was absolutely surreal and stunning, and a scene that I will not forget in a long time.

I am happy that this image brings back those memories of that morning – this is why I love photography so much.

And also why I want to go back to wonderful Santorini. Then again there are so many other places on this wonderful planet of ours.

Let me know what you think, even if it is to tell me that I have been speaking a load of rubbish!


About the Author

Rick McEvoy

Twitter

I am a photographer based in the lovely county of Dorset in England. This is my Website, and I also have a weekly photography Blog. I specialise in architectural photography – well anything to do with buildings, and extend this to industrial and commercial photography which have similar requirements – stationery subjects, no people, no animals. I also enjoy landscape and travel photography. My dream job is photographing buildings in nice places, which I am working on right now. I have two travel photography websites, one which is completed called Photos of Santorini and a website that I am working on called Paxos Travel Guide





Saddleback Bags and the Slim Laptop Briefcase


Quality and style. They’re not the same for everyone. As individuals we all have our own sense of style, but quality is quality and it’s hard to deny admitting good quality when you see it. To me, that’s what I think of when I think of a Saddleback bag and the Slim Laptop Briefcase is a perfect example, from the thick leather to the metal clips and rings.  

As a photographer, image matters. Not just the image I create with my camera, but the image I portray in my brand and who I am. I always stress that photography is about much more than just creating beautiful images, it’s a relationship. Relationships start with a first impression. Having the Slim Laptop Briefcase with me as I meet a client is a great way to start things off. I’ve had many many compliments on how sharp this bag looks!

When my nose isn’t in the bag breathing in the aroma of glorious leather, I’m utilizing the many different pockets with my laptop, magazines, journals and more. I carry a 15” MacBook Pro. At first I was disappointed to see that it didn’t fit inside the floppy pocket that would hold a 13”, but as soon as I placed it in the main compartment, my concerns quickly faded. A 13” would even fit in the front exterior pocket, but I personally wouldn’t store it there with the lack of snaps or buckles on the actual flap to keep it closed. I do, however, feel secure about transporting my iPad in there, but most of the time I keep that in the outside back pocket for a quick grab and to avoid having to unbuckle the bag for it.

One thing I love about this bag is the amount of pockets. I don’t have to search through one big spot to find what I’m looking for. I keep my ipad in one pocket, my computer in the main, magazines in another, and my journal in an additional spot – the space between the large front pocket and the bag actually creates ANOTHER pocket. Inside the main interior there are two side pockets that are great for pens and such, but with my computer filling side to side, I’d rather they not be there because the flaps often catch my laptop as I’m placing it in. The outside side pouches allow for pens or other small quick grab items.

I love how the bag has the ability to stand upright by itself. I didn’t realize how much this mattered until I started using it. I often keep my bag on the ground in a coffee shop or when meeting with someone and this bag doesn’t fall over causing it to get dirty or making things slide forward to fall out. I don’t need to lean it against my chair or table leg.  

The shoulder strap has two adjustable or removable pads attached that allow you to move them comfortably to support the weight, but the main reason there are two pads is so you can convert it from a shoulder bag into a backpack placing each pad on both shoulders. A friend of mine owns the Front Pocket Leather Briefcase which also has this feature. I tried it on as a backpack and found it uncomfortably bulky. The Slim Laptop Briefcase doesn’t have the bulk giving it a much more natural feel and fairly comfortable if you’re wearing a layers. The reason I say layers is because the thick leather and its seams may not be the most comfortable rubbing against your back with just a shirt on.

If you want to alter the bag to a high and close fit when carrying it as a messenger bag, the remaining part of the strap can be pretty long since it adjusts like a belt. There is a loop to place it through, but after a certain length the strap may just hang loose.   

For photography, the Slim Laptop Briefcase functions best as named – to be used as a laptop bag, but I have used it at times out on a shoot. Most shoots don’t require an immediate use of a computer so I’ve left it at home. The problem with this bag for a photographer is that it doesn’t have any separate dividers to insert camera gear. I’ve made this work for me by inserting a different ICU (internal camera unit) that allows me to store my dslr and a couple lenses. It’s a snug fit but it works, allowing me to carry a dslr with a couple lenses or a mirrorless camera with some space for more. Without any padding stitched into their bags, the thickness of the leather provides some protection but may leave some people feeling cautious.

One thing I’ve learned about leather bags is that the more distressed the leather gets, the more beautiful the bag becomes. A newly fresh leather bag has no marks yet and scratches easily from the beginning. Each scrape and scratch tells a story and I’m excited to see how this bag ages and the stories it will tell. I’ve had this bag now for almost one full year and it’s breaking in nicely!


About the Author

Brian McGuckin

Facebook

Addicted to traveling, Brian McGuckin has journeyed to 20+ countries around the world. On Sundays you may see him on the sideline shooting NFL football games. Celebrity/athlete event photography, weddings, and portraits allow him to be immersed in different genres of photography. He shares his love of photography as a workshop instructor. Somehow he juggles this with teaching middle school social studies and living life to the fullest with his wife and four kids.





Review of the the Oben CT-3565 Tripod with BZ217T Ballhead


For a travel photographer, a sturdy, but light and compact tripod is absolutely essential.  I started using the Oben travel tripods several years ago when I got the Oben CT-3561, which I reviewed a few years ago.

There were a few things I liked about the Oben CT-3561.  First and foremost, it folded up very small to easily fit wherever needed during travel.  Second, it was very lightweight, so carrying on a long hike was not inconvenient at all. These benefits are also what I love about this the Oben CT-3565, which has even improved a fair amount in those, and other, fields

The BZ217T Ballhead is a Great Ball Head

The Oben CT-3565 tripod comes standard with the BZ-217T ball head.  Combination ball head-tripod sets are usually not great quality as the ball head is just a cheap throw in. That is not the case at all with the Oben BZ-217T ball head.

My favorite part about this ball head is that it is very sturdy, but comes in a very slim profile.  The ball head has four knobs that all work very smoothly. The most impressive knob to me is the friction-control knob.  It works excellently, making it so you have very precise control over how stiff the ball will rotate.

Lightweight

To me, I think the CT-3565 is the perfect weight.  The carbon fiber legs go a long way, but I have had plenty of carbon fiber tripods that are not this light.  It weighs 3.2 lb. ( 1.45 kg) so it still isn’t the lightest tripod out there, but I wouldn’t want it any lighter. I think this is the best you can go with being lightweight without being so light that the tripod is unavoidably flimsy.

Compactness

This tripod is the most compact tripod I have every used.  The tripod legs have five sections, while larger tripods often have four or even three sections.  There are drawbacks to having five sections in that there is more to unscrew and tighten and the bottom legs get more thin and flimsy, but such drawbacks are far outweighed by the compactness of this tripod in my opinion.  The five legs that slide inside of each other make it so the tripod is very compact when all the legs are collapsed.

The other feature that helps this tripod be so compact is that the legs are reversible.  This means they can rotate 180 degrees so the ball head is tucked underneath. This makes it so the entire length is limited to the length of the legs without the ball head or mount.  This all leads to an impressively short folded length of 15.2 in. (38.7 cm).

Stability

The stability was my biggest concern with my earlier travel tripods, though it was a relatively minor concern. The new CT-3565 has actually improved quite a bit in this model.  With five tripod leg sections, it is unavoidable that the last leg is going to have a little give to it. With this tripod, the legs remain quite steady even extended all the way out. In good conditions, there is absolutely no unsteadiness in this tripod. It may struggle a bit when it comes to heavy winds or crashing waves, but it will perform much better than any comparably sized and priced tripod I have seen.

Ease of Use

Ease of use with a tripod for me usually comes down to three things: 1) portability; 2) Weight; and 3) Leg locks.  The portability and weight have been discussed above and are admirable with the Oben CT-3565.

The leg locks also perform really well.  Having five twist locks on each leg can be burdensome because that would mean doing 15 locks every time the tripod is used.  That burden is minimized with this tripod because the locks easily loosen and tighten with just one twist, and it is actually really easy to tighten or loosen all five at once when the legs are collapsed. That means just three twists to loosen or tighten from the collapsed position. Even when doing one at a time, the half twist required makes it really simple to use.

Tripod Feet

The feet on the tripod are a unique design from what I have seen on most tripods.  On the Oben CT-3561, there were really nice, long spikes covered by a rubber cap that could be removed.  These spikes were great for using the tripod in the sand. However, over time, the rubber caps became looser and fell off without me noticing.

The CT-3565 got rid of the rubber caps and now has a twist knob that either exposes or hides the spike.  This was really exciting for me since I don’t have to worry about ever losing the cover. Unfortunately, the spikes are not very long, which means they aren’t as useful as the spikes on the earlier model.

Conclusion

The CT-3565 is really impressive and ranks as my favorite travel tripod.  It isn’t a cheap tripod by any means, but I think it is a really good value, especially when you add a really good ball head that comes with it.  

This may not be the ideal tripod for a dedicated landscape photographer that doesn’t hike much, but if you like to travel or hike, I don’t think you can go wrong with this tripod and ball head set.  To see the current price, head on over to Amazon.


About the Author

Brent Huntley

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Brent Huntley is a 32 year old partner at a litigation-focused law firm. He is a hobbyist photographer focused primarily on landscape and travel photography. He also writes articles and shares his work at photographyandtravel.com and is active on instragram @brentdhuntley.





Vallerret Markhof Pro 2.0 & Skadi Zipper Mitt Photography Glove Review


Vallerret recently released two brand new photography glove models.

Well, kind of. The Skadi Zipper Mitt is a brand new photography glove offering.

The Markhof Pro 2.0 is an updated version of, you guessed it, the Markhof Pro Model Photography Glove.

When one of Vallerret’s founders asked if I would like to try out these new gloves, I jumped at the chance.

Vallerret has been providing high quality, photography-specific gloves for those of us who live in colder climates since 2014.

With winter settling in where I live, the timing couldn’t be better to put these gloves to the test.

Markhof Pro Model 2.0. Vallerret Photography Gloves

To put it simply, cold hands can ruin a shoot. If you are not comfortable, then your photography suffers.

This is why it is very important to dress appropriately for the elements.

Not only will you be much happier, but your focus will be more on photography and the images you create will reflect that.

Before jumping into the reviews, I wanted to be sure to share with you where to find out more about Vallerret and their products.

You can always do a Google search or just head over to www.photographygloves.com to read their inspiring story.

Markhof Pro 2.0

First up is the new Markhof Pro 2.0 photography gloves. As previously mentioned, this is the second version of the very popular Markhof Pro Model photography glove.

I did a review of the original Markhof Pro’s about two years ago and really liked the gloves. I couldn’t wait to get my hands into the new version of these gloves.

The Markhof Pro 2.0 gloves retain many of the features that made me like the original gloves so much.

That’s not to say that the Markhof Pro 2.0 are the same as the originals. Vallerret has obviously been at work to make some changes to make a good glove even better.

Let’s break down some of the key features of these gloves and note some of the changes/improvements that have been made.

High Quality Materials

This was noted on the original gloves and the new Markhof Pro 2.0 is no exception.

The gloves seem to be very well made with high quality materials.

A combination of goat leather, suede, and durable water repellent (DWR) shell give these gloves a nice look and feel that stands up well to the elements.

Merino wool lines the inside for a soft touch and added protection from the cold.

New on the Markhof Pro 2.0 is the addition of a Thinsulate mid layer to provide extra warmth to fight off winter temperatures.

FlipTech Finger Caps

The FlipTech finger caps on the thumb and index finger of each glove allow you to flip back the tips for easier access to camera buttons and dials.

Once the tips are flipped back, there are magnets to hold them in place and out of your way.

This is a neat feature and is necessary to provide manipulation of camera controls.

You will also need to flip the fingertips back to use a touchscreen as the fingertips on the gloves are not touch-sensitive.

One difference I noticed is that the finger slits seem slightly smaller on the Markhof Pro 2.0.

I assume this was done to make a smaller opening that will allow cold air into the glove, but it does create a pretty snug fit around the finger and thumb.

No-slip Grip

The palm on each of the gloves has a no-slip textured grip, which is a really important feature.

Many other gloves I’ve used don’t have this and there is always a worry that the camera or most likely a lens will slip out of my hand.

The super grippy material on these gloves makes that much less of a concern and provides some peace of mind.

Zippered Pocket

There is a zippered pocket on the top of the hand of each glove, just like in the original Markhof Pro.

The pockets could be used to carry spare memory cards, microfiber cloths, small chemical hand warmers, or anything else rather small that you want to keep handy.

A couple of noticeable differences is the orientation of the zipper and size of the pocket.

The zipper on the original Markhof Pro was oriented at about a 45 degree angle whereas it is straight across the back of the hand on the new model.

The pockets are also quite a bit larger on the Markhof Pro 2.0, which is good.

The zipper on the Markhof Pro 2.0 is seam-sealed to help keep moisture out. That was not the case on the original Markhof Pro glove, so nice touch Vallerret.

Also different is the addition of a tripod key tethered into the left glove pocket.

This is a nice idea to include a useful tool integrated into the glove.

I did find the tool to be somewhat thin and lacking in rigidity as it bent while trying to remove the L-bracket from my camera during testing, but it is still a nice touch that can be useful in many situations.

Other Changes

The Markhof Pro 2.0 gloves come in a two-tone gray and black color scheme. The originals were solid black.

Another difference is the silver Vallerret name badge on the back of each glove. These are just cosmetic changes, but I do like the look of the new glove version better.

The new version feels thicker due to the inclusion of the Thinsulate mid-layer. This seems to translate to a warmer glove.

The Vallerret Markhof Pro 2.0 glove models are give a warmth rating of “Mid-Winter.”

Vallerret has done away with the temperature ratings, as the original version had a rating of 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

These ratings are very subjective, since everyone has a different tolerance level of the cold.

For me personally, the Markhof Pro 2.0 is very usable into the mid- to upper-teens, but YMMV.

A Note About Sizing

I ordered the gloves in medium based on the sizing guidelines on the Vallerret website.

My hands were on the upper limit of the medium sizing measurements in girth, but on the lower end of the large size in length.

I prefer my gloves to fit a little more snugly, so went with the mediums.

If you prefer a looser fitting glove, or would like to leave room for a thin liner glove, then I would recommend going up a size.

The Bottom Line

I quite like the new Markhof Pro 2.0 photography gloves. They are stylish, fit me well, are well made, and have nice features.

Are they going to be perfect for everyone? Of course not.

If your camera has a touch screen LCD, you will need to flip the fingertips back on the gloves to use it. That may be a deal breaker for you.

However, these gloves are much warmer than other, much thinner touch-sensitive gloves I’ve tried. For me, I prefer the warmth.

An alternative would be to get these in a large enough size to fit the Merino liner touch photography glove underneath.

You’ll still need to flip back the fingertips, but at least there will be some protection there.

Skadi Zipper Mitt

I was really excited to try these since it gets a bit cold around here and I sometimes need more protection for my phalanges.

The Skadi Zipper Mitt is actually a 2-in-1 system, consisting of a separate Primaloft Merino wool inner liner glove and an outer shell mitten.

The idea is to provide more versatility and also more warmth.

By the way, in case you are wondering about the name, Skadi is the goddess of winter in Norse mythology.

The Skadi Zipper Mitt is a brand new glove in the Vallerret lineup.

They do share some of the same cool features as their other gloves, but also have a few cool new features.

High Quality Materials

Vallerret gloves are well-made with typically high quality materials, and the Skadi Zipper Mitt is no exception.

As previously mentioned, the inner liner is a Primaloft Merino wool that has a nice feel and conforms well to the hand to maintain tactility.

The index finger and thumb on each liner glove are also touch screen ready to allow use of touch screen devices without removing the glove.

The outer mitten is a combination of goat leather, laminated soft twill, and 2-ply DWR suede to provide water and wind resistance. A Primaloft mid-layer provides extra protection from the cold.

Zippers used on the mittens are high quality YKK zippers. They are also seam-sealed to help keep moisture and wind out.

Speaking of cold, these gloves are rated for use in “Deep Winter.”

Again, that may mean different things to different people, but they have been sufficiently warm for me down to near 0° F.

My testing will continue as we get into the colder temperatures.

Zipper and FlipTech Finger Caps

The Skadi Zipper Mitt uses a combination of a zipper and FlipTech caps on each mitten to provide your fingers access to camera controls.

The zipper can be opened to expose one or all four fingers on each hand. Each thumb has a FlipTech cap to allow use of your thumbs.

With the zipper open, the top portion of the mitten can be held out of the way using a snap located on the side.

The thumb cap is held out of the way using magnets.

The use of the zipper is a little difficult at first. Not only are they stiff when new, but the seam-seal makes them more difficult operate.

I didn’t notice this as much on opening as when trying to close them.

However, they do loosen up with use and have become much easier to manipulate.

No-slip Grip and Zippered Pocket

Just like on the Markhof Pro 2.0, the Skadi Zipper Mitts have a rubberized, no-slip coating and a zippered pocket on the back of each hand.

The no-slip coating is only present on the finger portion of the mitten, which makes sense since that is how you would be holding a camera or lens anyway.

The left zippered pocket also contains an integrated tripod key, just like on the Markhof Pro 2.0.

Wrist Strap

Each mitten has a wrist strap that can be used to adjust the fit and help keep cold air out.

I just preferred to keep these loose so I wouldn’t have to fiddle with then when I wanted to remove the mitten.

Storm Leash

A storm leash is tethered to the outside part of the wrist of each mitten.

This is essentially an elasticized band that you wear around your wrist so the mitten can be removed and allowed to hang from your wrist.

This is a nice feature to include so that when you just want to use the inner liner glove, you don’t have to worry about what to do with the mitten.

The storm leash is removable, however, just in case you prefer not having them.

The Bottom Line

The Skadi Zipper Mitt is a nice addition to the Vallerret lineup of photography gloves.

These have worked well for me when the temperatures have dropped into the single digits and I suspect they will function well as it gets even colder.

To be honest, I’ve always preferred gloves since they provide better control, but these are really growing on me.

The Skadi Zipper Mitt comes in two color combinations: black and goldenrod (looks more tan to me).

I got the black ones, but the goldenrod color combo looks really nice.

As far as fit, I got the medium size based on the Vallerret sizing chart, which worked well for me.

Vallerret continues to churn out some cool products and I look forward to what they come up with next.

If you are in the market for some new photography gloves, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend their products.

Check out their website and you’ll likely find something that fits your needs.


About the Author

Rusty Parkhurst

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Rusty has been passionate about learning photography and creating great images since picking up his first ‘real’ camera 5 years ago. He works in the environmental consulting industry by day, spends evenings and weekends trying to keep up with 3 growing boys, and squeezes in as much photography time as possible. He loves talking photography and welcomes any questions you may have. More of his work can be found on his website.





My 8 Favorite Inexpensive Canon Lenses


cheap-canon-lenses-ad

In the last few years, I have reviewed more lenses than you could possibly imagine.  

My photography students are always asking which lens is right for them, so I spend a significant amount of time looking for lenses that offer superior quality at lower price points.  

These are the best inexpensive Canon lenses I could find.

There are many others that I’m sure people will mention in the comments, but only 6 could make the cut for this list.

These lenses are the ones that I recommend very often on the Improve Photography Lens Finder. 

I spent thousands of dollars and over a year developing the lens finder.  

It basically asks you 5 questions about what lens you want, and then recommends the perfect lens for your situation.  

Check out the lens finder here.

I must mention from the outset that I use “the triad” of lenses (explained later), so I’m comparing the lenses in this list against the highest quality lenses in the Canon system at any price.  

In all instances I have found these lenses to perform extremely well with Canon L lenses, but for WAY less money.  

This is the good stuff–even when compared to the highest quality lenses money can buy.

Also, I must issue a disclaimer that the word “inexpensive” means different things to different people.  

I am using the word “inexpensive” to compare these lenses to the top performing Canon L lenses that are generally priced around $2,000.

Product

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras – Fixed

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Fixed Lens for Canon SLR Cameras

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras, Lens Only

Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM Lens

Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 SP XR Di LD Aspherical (IF) for Canon Digital SLR Cameras (Model A09E)

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Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras - Fixed

Product

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras – Fixed

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Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Fixed Lens for Canon SLR Cameras

Product

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Fixed Lens for Canon SLR Cameras

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Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras, Lens Only

Product

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras, Lens Only

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Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM Lens

Product

Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM Lens

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Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 SP XR Di LD Aspherical (IF) for Canon Digital SLR Cameras (Model A09E)

Product

Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 SP XR Di LD Aspherical (IF) for Canon Digital SLR Cameras (Model A09E)

Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Lens

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a rep from Tamron and spend the day shooting just about all of the lenses in the Tamron lineup.  

To be honest, I was not thrilled with most of them.  

Most were “acceptable” and one lens was jokingly awful.  

I finally couldn’t take it anymore and I asked the rep to show me just the one best lens in the Tamron lineup.  

He reached for the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8.  Skeptically, I played with it and shot with it for a while.  

I was blown away at the quality from this lens.

I found this lens to be extremely close to the sharpness of the $2,400 Canon 24-70mm, and it adds one really impressive feature that the Canon doesn’t–it’s also a nice macro lens.  

For me as a professional photographer, I would definitely take a long hard look at the Tamron 28-75mm before shelling out MORE THAN FOUR TIMES the cost to buy the Canon 24-70.

You can check the current price of this lens on Amazon.

You can also check KEH Camera to see if you can save some money on a REALLY high quality used one: Used Tamron 28 – 75mm f/2.8 on KEH Camera.

KEH Camera also has REALLY good financing option!

tamron-star-rating

Canon 70-200mm f/4

Before you get lost in your excitement over the price of this Canon lens, notice that the f/stop only goes down to f/4 instead of the much-desired f/2.8 version of this lens (which costs about $2,500 dollars!).

To have an f/4 maximum aperture is not entirely negative; in fact, it gives you a lighter lens than the f/2.8 version with nearly equal optical quality.

The fast aperture will give you great results all the way through the lens to the edge of the photo.

In fact, many professional photographers who have used the 70-200mm f/2.8 for years are now switching over to this f/4 version to save some money and to lighten their load.  

If you haven’t used professional lenses before, you may not appreciate just how heavy they are, so saving weight by choosing this f/4 lens is a significant benefit over the $2,500 f/2.8 version of this lens.

This is probably the most popular lens for photographers buying their first professional-grade “L” lens (Canon’s marker for their professional quality lenses).

There are two 70-200mm f/4 lenses available for the Canon system.  Both are “L” glass, but one has image stabilization and one doesn’t.  

The image stabilized version is significantly more expensive, but the optical quality is similar between the two versions.

Click here to check the price of the less expensive non-IS version on Amazon, or else you can click here for the much more expensive version with IS on Amazon

You can also check KEH Camera to see if you can save some money on a REALLY high quality used one:

Used Canon 70 – 200mm f/4 IS on KEH Camera.

Used Canon 70 – 200mm f/4 on KEH Camera.

canon70200star-rating

Canon 85mm f/1.8 – $335

If I could pick only one prime lens for portrait photography, it would be the 85mm.  

There is also an 85mm f/1.2 lens available for the Canon system, but this lens is nearly as good for much less money.

The 85mm focal range allows you to maintain a bit more distance between you and your client.

Also, the bokeh in your backgrounds just look silky smooth.

You will be amazed at the sustained image quality all the way to the edge of your photos, even with finer detail.

When shooting portraits with this 85mm lens, full-frame shooters will see a slight softness around the edges… but nothing you can’t live with.

Check the price of this lens on Amazon.

You can also check KEH Camera to see if you can save some money on a REALLY high quality used one: Used Canon 85mm f/1.8 on KEH Camera.

canon85mmstar

Canon 100mm f/2

The Canon 100mm f/2 is the twin sister of the 85mm f/1.8 lens mentioned previously, but this one was born 15mm later.

In terms of build quality, value, and sharpness, these lenses are both about equal.

So now the question–which one do I pick?!?!?  My rule is this: if you EVER shoot indoor sports, you want the 100mm f/2.  

It’s just about as fast and sometimes the extra 15mm can make a real difference for indoor sports.  

This is a great option for indoor sports because it is ridiculously fast and is a good focal length for “close” sports where you can get right up to the sidelines like swimming, wrestling, tennis, some basketball games, etc.

Aside from indoor sports, this lens is fantastic for portraits as well.  If you are shooting exclusively portraits, it is difficult to choose between the 85 and the 100.  

The features on the face become flatter and more flatterING when shooting with a longer focal length, but photos shot with a slightly shorter focal length have a more intimate feel.  

In general, I’d recommend the 100mm for full frame cameras (5D Mark III or 6D, for example) and the 85mm f/1.8 for crop sensor portraits (like the Canon Rebels, 70d, etc.)

Check current prices for the Canon 100mm f/2 on Amazon.

You can also check KEH Camera to see if you can save some money on a REALLY high quality used one: Used Canon 100mm f/2 on KEH Camera.

canon100star

Canon 100mm f/2.8 MACRO Lens

Things just got complicated.  You decided between the 85mm f/1.8 and the 100mm f/2, but now there is a third option with a similar fast aperture and similar focal length.  

This one, however, adds macro capabilities which means it can focus very close to the camera.  

But this lens is not only for macro photography.  

Given it’s sharpness, fast aperture, and convenient focal length, it also makes a nice portrait lens.

This lens is the little brother of the Canon 100mm f/2.8 L lens, which is slightly sharper and has better build quality.  

But just because there is a more expensive version of this lens does not take away from the value of this excellent and sharp portrait and macro lens.

If you want to do serious macro photography on a budget, then this lens is an excellent option.

If however, you really want to do serious portrait photography and it would just be handy to do macro as well, I’d advise you to pick the 100mm f/2 (mentioned above) and simply buy this close focus filter on Amazon to add on the lens when you want to occasionally do macro work.

Check the current price of the Canon 100mm macro on Amazon.

You can also check KEH Camera to see if you can save some money on a REALLY high quality used one: Used Canon 100mm macro on KEH Camera.

canon100Macrostar

Canon 50mm f/1.8 II

Every photographer should own a 50mm f/1.8 lens as your first upgrade from the kit lens that came with your camera.  

This lens is significantly sharper than the kit lens, has an extremely fast aperture for blurry backgrounds and shooting in low light, and the price is unbelievably good.

This little guy will just simply astound you at the great quality and stunning images you will get.

At the low price, it’s nearly a no-brainer to add this lens to your lineup.

This lens maintains great quality all the way to the edge at lower f/stop values.

This is a prime lens, so you will have to physically move to zoom in and out and potentially get in your client’s face.

I used the “nifty fifty” (as photographers often call this lens) for several years before investing in uber-expensive pro lenses.  

Looking back, this lens is only a tiny bit less sharp than pro lenses, but for me the real benefit of the more expensive lenses is the zoom.  

Many photographers love shooting prime lenses such as this, but most of the time I prefer a zoom.

Check the current price of the Canon 50mm f/1.8 on Amazon.

You can also check KEH Camera to see if you can save some money on a REALLY high quality used one: Used Canon 50mm f/1.8 on KEH Camera.

canon50star

Two more lenses that ALMOST made the list

There are two more lenses that I was extremely tempted to put on this list but resisted because they are a bit too expensive to be called “inexpensive” even though they are much less than other lenses of similar quality.  

They are the Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens and the Canon 200mm f/2.8L.

The Canon 24-105 is probably the best “walk around” lens in the Canon lens lineup.  

It is used by many professional photographers as a street photography and “chase the kids” lens.  

It has a reasonably fast aperture, a convenient focal length, and is sharp as a tack.  

I just wish it came down in price a couple hundred bucks.

The Canon 200mm f/2.8 L is a marvel of engineering.  

For the price, you get a sharp, fast prime lens that would be terrific for shooting indoor sports, longer portraits on a full frame camera, etc.  

Highly recommended though if I were spending that much I’d have to figure out how to justify purchasing the 200mm f/2.8 instead of the 70-200mm f/4 for even less money.

One side note…

Just about every professional photographer I know owns the same three Canon lenses: The 16-35mm f/2.8, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8, and the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8

Photographers often refer to these lenses as “The triad,” and the same lens names make up the Nikon triad.

I certainly wouldn’t agree that you need these three Canon lenses to be a professional photographer.

But I do want to bring out the point that professionals rely on this triad because they are all nearly flawless, fast lenses that cover the entire range of focal length that most photographers need for general photography work.

I want to re-iterate that I do not think the triad of lenses is necessary for photographers to own in order to produce top notch photography.  

That’s the whole point of this article!  

But if you plan to shoot your camera system for many years and you are in a position to invest heavily on lenses, one advantage to these lenses is they generally last a decade or longer with excellent results.  

I know many photographers who purchased a 70-200mm seven years ago and who don’t feel the need to upgrade to the newer versions because their original is still so good.

Quite frankly, the difference between most of the lenses on this list and the more expensive competitors to these lenses is extremely minor.  

I wouldn’t put too much stock in what the camera manufacturers want you to think you need to take a nice sharp photo.

Disclaimer: Improve Photography is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program among other affiliate programs, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and other websites.

Last Updated on 2020-02-03 //Source: Affiliate Affiliates


About the Author





Best Camera Strap: We Reviewed 17 and Picked our Favorite


We spent weeks talking with all the major camera strap manufacturers, testing more than 17 camera straps hands on, testing them in the field, and analyzing every angle of each strap.

In the end, there are a lot of great straps on the market filling every niche from the leather strap for hippies or vintage-lovers, to the pink patterned women’s straps, to the ultra rugged outdoor straps.

After testing 17 camera straps hands-on, Improve Photography recommends the Peak Design Slide Strap. This strap is innovative, comfortable, and durable. It’s imperfect, but Improve Photography gives it our highest recommendation.

At the end of the day, your choice in camera strap needs to start with your shooting style. 

From there, it really just comes down to what material and pattern you like best. 

You will also see there is a wide variety in pricing on camera straps.  While some may seem more expensive, they are often made with high-quality materials and will last you through multiple cameras, but even the less expensive ones offer great options. 

So, whether you want to spend $20 or $120, I do not think price is going to be the most important factor (and it usually is for me) when you realize you may have this strap for 10-20 years

Now, let’s get to the straps.  These are in no particular order.  I tested them randomly through a variety of uses and am presenting them in the order of testing.

Our Top Pick: The Slide Strap from Peak Design

The Slide Strap is the most unique strap I tested. 

I was very excited to test this strap as I have long been a fan of Peak Design and the practical equipment they specialize in.  The Slide Strap lives up to that reputation. 

This strap is all about ease of use. 

It comes with four attachment loops you hook to the strap loops and tripod plate that also comes with the strap. 

The attachment loops make it very quick and easy to remove the strap or hook it to either the side of the camera or the tripod plate.  

You can even hook it to a side and the tripod plate to get just the right positioning that is most comfortable. 

This was by far the best feature of the strap and the reason it will likely be on my camera a lot. 

The ability to quickly change this strap from normal position to side-mount, while still being able to use a tripod is amazing. 

I was worried the attachment loops would get in the way when using a tripod, but they were fine and no adjustments were required to attach it to the tripod when the strap was hooked into the tripod plate. 

The only potential issue is the tripod plate cannot be removed or attached without a hex tool so you will have to make sure you always have one. 

The final unique part is the adjustment mechanism. 

Rather than the normal finagling, the Slide has a place to press the brackets so they just slide up and down.  

This is awesome as I hate trying to thread skinny straps through buckles.

IMAG1317
The Slide was great for keeping the camera from dangling around while climbing rocks in Valley of Fire.

I like the look of the Slide Strap.  It is a no frills, utilitarian look.  

While I enjoyed a lot of the cool designs on other straps, the look of the Slide made it look more like a tool. 

I have heard complaints about it looking like a seat belt, which I can see, but frankly, it just doesn’t bother me.  

The one other thing I could see people not liking is the attachment loops.  

The loops themselves are fine, but because you attach separate loops to the tripod plate and the strap hooks for easy transition between holding styles, there are going to be two loops dangling where the strap isn’t attached.  

I thought this would bother me, but they are small and don’t get in the way so I ended up not caring.  

Plus, if it really bothered you, you could always take the extra loops off where you don’t usually attach the strap.

I found the Slide to be quite comfortable.  It has a little extra cushion around the neck and the strap fits snug to your body.  

I prefer wearing my straps across my chest with my camera at the hip.  

This strap felt very comfortable in this position (perhaps because it does feel a bit like a seat belt) and kept my camera tight on my body so I didn’t have to worry about it banging around.  

When worn normally around the neck, the camera does bounce around a bit.

The only downside I see here is the Slide is a bit bulky.  

There were two instances where this became bothersome.  

First, the strap takes up a lot of space in your camera bag so you need to have a bag that allows some extra space around the camera.  

This was not a big problem with the bags I was using, but be aware that it could be an issue if your camera is already a tight fit (they also make a lite model if this is an issue).  

The other instance is if you let the strap get twisted at all.  

Like a seat belt, the strap feels awkward if not lying flat.  

It didn’t happen often and wasn’t a big deal to correct, but it did happen a few times when I would initially put the strap on.

The Slide Strap is currently available in 3 different colors and can be picked up at Amazon at an affordable price.

Best Strap for Small Cameras: The Saigon Strap from Case Logic

I liked the look of the Saigon strap.  

It was very simple, but I liked the nice shade of blue that made it just a bit different without making too much of a statement.  

It is a smaller strap than I am used to.  

I think it was about maxed out on my Fuji X-T1.  

It would look better on a smaller camera, and it would probably look out of place on anything larger.

I was surprised by the comfort of the Saigon neck strap.

Being smaller and thinner than I am used to, I expected discomfort, but in my hiking, I didn’t feel any strain or discomfort on my neck. 

It was just long enough for me to strap across my chest and wear on my side.  

It sat snug against my side and was okay for hiking in that position.  

I would have preferred a little extra length, but I am 6’2″. 

I probably would not want to push it for a hike lasting more than a couple hours and I would not want to use it with a larger camera, but as long as you are not too tall and your camera is not too big, this is definitely a viable option.

The Saigon strap is a great option for someone with a smaller camera who is looking to replace a lost strap, but not necessarily seeking an upgrade.  

I think it was probably most designed as an inexpensive option for people whose camera did not come with a decent neck strap.

As you would expect at this price point, the strap is made of polyester and comes with the basic attachment materials you see on most straps.

Best Looking Strap for Retro-Styled Cameras: The Lincoln and Morgan Straps from A7 NYC.

I was fortunate to be able to test the two most popular models from A7 NYC. 

The Lincoln and Morgan are very similar, but the Morgan has a bit of added length if you like a longer camera strap. 

Both are quality leather camera straps. 

A7 NYC is a New-York based company specializing in soft leather straps made by a family-owned leather manufacturer also based in New York City. 

They were featured in GQ magazine so you know the style is going to be on point.

Both straps were very comfortable.  They are all leather, including the attachments. 

I appreciate that for the sleek look this provides rather than transitioning to a cheaper material on the strap. 

It also makes connecting the strap to the camera very simple and fast. 

It hooks through just like a leather belt with multiple belt holes for different lengths. 

Both cameras had plenty of holes that would make it comfortable for any person. 

I found these straps very comfortable to wear like a sling across my chest, which I prefer. 

They were some of the most comfortable straps in that situation that were not dedicated sling straps. 

I was able to have the camera sit snugly right above my hip and access it very quickly and smoothly.

To me, these straps are for someone that likes the high-quality rugged leather look and feel.  You can currently pick them up at A7 NYC for $85-$120.

Nicest Looking Strap for Women: Symphony Strap from Capturing Couture

Capturing Couture is a really fun company who makes camera straps for women. 

They have a wide variety of unique and fashionable straps featuring all kinds of designs sure to fit whatever you want. 

My first thought when I saw these straps is that they would be perfect to give as a gift due to the fun designs and great price point. 

I had this thought again when I received the strap and it had awesome packaging already done like a little gift box that fit right along with their whole fashionable design theme.

Do yourself a favor and at least go check out their site as there are some awesome designs on different size straps and even scarf straps. 

While they are mostly designed for women, there are some very classy men’s straps that I love.

I tested out one of their most popular straps-the Symphony. 

The strap was very comfortable to wear with extra padding around the neck. 

I enjoyed the length and thought it worked okay as a sling across my chest.

The end of the plush velvet strap connected to a metal bracket that connected to the nylon portion that attaches to the camera. 

The attachment mechanism is the same basic one you will see on most straps. 

I find the mechanism a little annoying on all straps as it is not fast to attach the camera or take it off, which I find necessary more often than do others I know. 

That being said, you are not likely to find a quicker connection unless you want to shell out more money.  

You can currently pick this up at Amazon for a very good price.

6. Aplaca Wool Leather Strap from Cecilia

Cecilia is a newer company that comes from a long history of leather making. 

They specialize in combining high-quality leather with alpaca wool.  All their straps offer a very elegant and timeless look. 

I chose to try out the light gray baby alpaca wool with black leather model. 

I really liked the look of this strap and I was very impressed with the quality of the leather .

My biggest fear with this strap was having the wool rub my skin. 

Of course, the wool is on the non-skin side, but I will admit it felt a little weird when I first put it on. 

After that point though, I never noticed it again and the strap was quite comfortable. 

The leather was crazy soft and felt good on my neck.  It was a little longer than normal straps and I really liked how comfortable it was wearing it sling-style across my chest.

The great leather on this strap goes all the way down without a separate attachment strap; however, it does not have a belt-loop style attachment; instead, it uses the common attachment where you thread it through the buckle (I tried to find what this was called, but had no luck). 

Usually, I do not like having to do this connection, but the soft leather was much easier to get through the buckles than the nylon you find on less-expensive straps.

You can currently pick up this strap at Amazon for under $90.

7/8/9. MOD Straps and Accessories

MOD is a fun camera strap and accessory company from Dallas, Texas. 

They use all local products in their aim to create fun and expressive straps that combine fashion with functionality.

If you like design and patterns, you have to check out their website as they have so many different straps and accessories that are completely unique to anything else you will find (they might even have one for your college). 

I was lucky enough to test three of their straps, two of their drop in bags, two cap savers and a strap wrap! 

For reference, the designs I tested were the Green Maze, Sahara and Shot through the Heart.

All the straps feature their plush signature fabric that goes on your neck. 

This fabric is so soft, it is one of those fabrics that you rub against your face just to see how soft it is. 

For this reason, it is very comfortable to wear, but there is one big caveat I have to mention: The plush fabric is not great in the heat and humidity. 

I quickly learned that in Vegas as the fabric captures sweat on your neck and you can really feel it. 

So you will love the comfort of this strap in most situations, I would just avoid it if you are going to be out in the heat or humidity.

The plush fabric connects to synthetic leather ends, which then connect to the standard nylon adjustment straps. 

The straps connect like most of your basic straps with the buckle you thread the strap through.  

The buckle was actually really easy to use, but the other little clips that hold the strap tight were a little frustrating to get the strap through.

I thought the Strap Wrap was a really cool accessory. 

It is basically a little wallet that attaches to the strap so you can put money, credit cards, filters or even a battery right there on your strap. 

Since I always have a wallet, I may not use it much, but I thought it would be great for female photographers, especially at a wedding where they might be wearing something without pockets.

The Drop-In Bags were another really cool accessory. 

You could purchase these as part of a bundle that includes the matching strap and cap saver. 

The drop-in bag is a really simple concept that consists of just a small bag that has the matching fabric exterior with the plush fabric on the inside. 

You drop your camera in the bag and cinch a drawstring on the top so your camera can be in the bag while you carry it on the strap. 

I really liked this because it is a way to add a little extra protection to your camera and lens and it allows you to throw in a few small things if you want.

This is another company that would be great to look at if you are trying to find a gift as they have a good price point on a lot of expressive and fun designs over a variety of straps and accessories. 

Check back often as they have sales on their website and new designs too. 

Also, be sure to look through Amazon for some of their other straps as they have some great deals on individual straps there too.

You can find Mod Straps on Amazon or Mod Straps.

10. Heavy Leather NYC’s Classic Strap

Heavy Leather makes some top-quality leather straps. 

I tried out three of their most popular models and the Classic was by far my favorite. 

It is lightweight but made of a thick, super-soft Italian leather that is so comfortable to wear. 

Although it is light weight, the thick leather makes this a fairly bulky strap so it may not be ideal for traveling light. 

I took it with me to Costa Rica and it worked fine, but I would not have wanted to shove it into a smaller pack.

Costa Rica was super humid and the leather was a little sticky and uncomfortable in the hot, humid weather, but I think that would be expected of almost any strap. 

Even when I got caught in a rain storm, the strap was very comfortable to wear and was great for long hikes. 

The length was great and it was very comfortable when wearing around the neck or slung across the chest.

The build quality on this was really great and the nice leather went all the way through the attachments. 

I fell in love with this strap mainly because of its attachment straps.  Really short belt-loop style straps attach easily to the camera. 

Those are connected to the main strap with a metal clasp that is very easy to remove.  This was so much more convenient than I would have ever expected. 

I used my Miggo Aqua a lot in Costa Rica because of the rain and there was no way I wanted to shove the whole strap in there so I could unclasp it and leave the attachment straps on to put it in the Aqua and then easily reattach it to the Heavy Leather NYC strap whenever I wanted. 

I also used the strap to add extra security when I was hiking or ziplining with the camera attached on a clip. 

It saved my camera in the jungle when the attachment plate on my clip actually came out of my camera and it fell off my waist. 

I had left the strap connected on one side of my camera and hooked the other clasp on my backpack so my camera stopped in mid-air about a foot from smashing into the rocks!

You can currently pick up the Classic strap from Amazon for under $50.

11 & 12. Slingshot/Wax Cotton Sling from Heavy Leather NYC

Heavy Leather NYC also offers two different sling straps. 

The Slingshot is a heavy-duty thick leather strap and the Wax Cotton Sling is a heavy-duty cotton strap. 

Both straps are very well made, just like the classic strap.  They are both very comfortable to wear and make access to the camera quick and easy. 

The only downfall I had was while I was wearing them with a backpack. 

The backpack would push the strap up my neck from time to time and that was not very comfortable and less easy to work with. 

I really like the quick release clips that attach to the attachment clip. 

They make it easy to take off the strap (and don’t leave a lot of excess material), which is becoming more and more important to me as I test more equipment. 

The attachment on these is the same used on many sling straps, the twisting screw that goes into the tripod screw thread.  That is my biggest complaint with these.  Because I use a tripod a lot, these could not be an every-day strap for me.  I really liked using these when I was just taking my camera out for family outings or street photography, but I wouldn’t use them for hiking with a backpack or doing landscapes where I need a tripod.

Other than the look, the biggest difference in these straps is the area around where the camera attaches. 

On the Wax Cotton Sling, there is a little area that lets the camera slide up and down. 

This is awesome when it comes to shooting because the strap does not have to slide up and down as you bring the camera up to your eye. 

That makes it more comfortable for shooting, but it also means the camera is not as tight on your body and bounces around a little as you walk or run. 

The Slingshot does not have that feature so the camera holds tighter, but the strap slides on your body as you pull the camera up.

The Wax Cotton Sling comes in a few different colors.  I tested the olive green and it was very classy looking.  I liked that it added a little pop without being flashy.

You can currently pick up the Wax Cotton Sling or the Slingshot.

13. Lance Camera Strap

The strap from Lance Straps is different.  It has a unique look with a very simple design. 

It almost looks like a rope or bungee cord.  To be honest, my first impression was that it would not be comfortable at all. 

I was surprised after wearing the strap that it was actually quite comfortable.

It was also really comfortable to wear slung across my chest.  I also liked that the strap was not bulky at all. 

This made it really easy to fit in any camera bag.

I had the non-adjustable strap.  It worked fine for me, although I would have preferred to be able to shorten it on a few occasions. 

I would not recommend the 48 inch non-adjustable strap if you are under six feet tall as it is a pretty long strap. 

As I haven’t tried the shorter one, I couldn’t tell you what height that would be good for, but it wouldn’t take much to figure it out.

This strap is really well made with great attention to detail.  I loved the attachment clips (optional purchase). 

They attach right to the camera so you don’t have extra strap dangling when you disconnect the strap and they are fast and easy to take on and off. 

They also have optional little rubber bumpers to keep the metal from rubbing or scratching your camera body.

You can currently pick up this strap from Amazon for under $50.

14. IMO Straps

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The IMO straps come in a variety of fun designs for you to match your style. 

I tested out two of the straps. 

They were basically the same strap with a different design. 

The straps are fairly basic.  It is a fabric strap with neoprene on the inside. 

The fabric stops the neoprene from stretching, but it is still fairly padded and more comfortable than just a basic strap. 

The length was very good for me.  There is a touch of leather that hooks the strap to the nylon attachment straps. 

You change the length by weaving the nylon through the buckle.  That is the same as you see on most straps and is a drawback for me. 

I do like that the strap has buckles so you can separate the main strap from the attachments and easily take the strap off. 

Unfortunately, the portion of the strap that stays attached to the camera is quite long, but it is so much better than having to undo the entire strap to remove it when you want to use your camera without a strap. 

This did not matter to me when I was just starting, but there are many occasions, like shooting in underwater cases, where I need to remove the strap.   

Of all the straps I tested, I got more compliments wearing these straps than any others so, if you want people to think you are cool…..

You can pick up any of their neoprene straps on their website.

15. Neoprene Strap from Ape Case

For the price, this strap is a steal. 

There are no frills with this strap, it is very basic, but it is going to be a pretty good upgrade over the strap that comes with most cameras. 

It is a very comfortable strap.  The entire shoulder area is just neoprene so it is stretchable and soft.  I like the length and it works well. 

As you would expect, the strap has vinyl straps to attach the camera. 

It has removable o rings at the end of the straps so if you like attaching it like a key ring you can use those, or you could just take them off. 

I found it to be a bit of a pain to attach.  It was also not the easiest to adjust the length, but it works like most other straps where you weave the nylon through the buckles.

If you want something basic, but pretty comfortable at a really good price, this would be a great choice.  You can pick one up on Amazon right now.

16. Prairie Breeze Camera Strap from Abie Straps

Abie Straps is a really cool business that is the pet project of professional wedding and portrait photographer Ellen Leroy.

What makes Abie Straps so cool is that Ellen donates all of the proceeds to help treat blindness in third-world countries.  

It also helps that she makes some pretty sweet camera straps.  

Her goal is to produce ultra-high-quality straps that can reflect your personal style and personality.  

Abie Straps offers dozens of designs from funky to sleek to retro.  I tested out the Prairie Breeze design.

I really liked the style of this strap.  It had kind of a vintage timeless feel to it.  

It combines leather piping with a comfortable suede backing and cotton print.  

Classy-looking metal rings connect it to buckles and the nylon attachment straps.  

As you know by now, I love the buckles that make detaching the strap quick and easy.  

Finally, the strap hides a discreet pocket on the inside that is perfect for storing extra memory cards (The detail you get when a wedding photographer designs the strap!).

This strap is super comfortable.  I think it delivers on the goal of mixing comfort with style.  

The only downfall to me is the cheaper nylon attachments that have to be threaded through the buckles.  

I have learned it is pretty tough to find a strap that does not have this same attachment style so if it is not a deal-breaker for you, then you are going to be very happy with this strap.  

I finished my testing a few weeks back (this was my last strap to test) and this strap is still on my camera so you know it has to be pretty good.

You can get your own Abie strap on Amazon (only a few designs available) or from Abie Straps.  Ellen has graciously offered a discount code for Improve Photography readers.

17. Agua from Miggo

I wrote all about the Agua last month.  It is a combo strap and storm-proof holster that warranted its own review.  Check it out here.


About the Author

Brent Huntley

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Brent Huntley is a 32 year old partner at a litigation-focused law firm. He is a hobbyist photographer focused primarily on landscape and travel photography. He also writes articles and shares his work at photographyandtravel.com and is active on instragram @brentdhuntley.





Mac vs. PC for Photographers: The Ultimate Guide


Mac vs. PC.  A debate that live on for years to come, but there is really only one that is best for photographers.  Read on to find out which.

Oct 2015 Update: Be sure to check out the Windows Photo Editing SUPER Guide article for updated recommendations on the best low price options for PCs that will run Photoshop and Lightroom well – including what hardware is worth spending more money on and what is not!


Short Answer

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It depends!  I hate it when photographers do that to me.

OK, so bottom line is that either can work fine, but you have to spend the money to get the hardware you need.

Really this article is mostly for the PC user who are into photography.

If you are a Mac user, I doubt you are tempted to switch to a PC because you are a photographer.

In fact, you may be a Mac user because you are a photographer, and that is great.

You Mac users may be interested in the end of the article where I provide recommendations on which hardware upgrades are actually worth the money to make sure it can do a good job editing photos.

Now for you PC users. You are probably hearing constantly about doing photo editing on Mac.

You may be seriously tempted to get a Mac just because you hear so much about it from the photography community.

Maybe you are curious about if it really is better than the PC.

You may want to give it a try and determine for yourself, especially if it is time to invest in a new computer, but if things are going fine for you with editing your photos on a PC then my recommendation is to stick with what you know.

Why put a kink in your workflow and go away from what you know?

There, a photographer just gave you permission to use a PC for editing photos.

Instead of switching platforms from PC to Mac, your photography will improve much more by investing in lenses (check out my article recommending a “nifty fifty” lens as the second thing a beginner should buy), other equipment, and training (check out Jim and Darin’s awesome training courses at photoclasses.com).

Whether Mac or PC, I know how seriously frustrating it is to try and edit photos on a computer that doesn’t have enough power.

Maybe you are still using the computer you had before you started into photography, and it isn’t up to the challenge.

If that’s you, it is time to invest in a newer computer.

Read the long answer to go through reasons to pick one over the other, but really neither has a huge advantage and I think it makes the most sense to stick with what you know.

Check out the last two sections of this article for help in the specifications of what you need in a computer (PC or Mac) for a good photo editing experience.

Long Answer

I think it would be easier to discuss religion or politics than to take a side on the Mac vs. PC debate.

It is a debate that seems among photographers to be second only to the Canon vs. Nikon (or Sony, or Panasonic, or any of the other manufacturers).

The discussion is a little easier when you put a photography related slant on it, but it can still be fairly heated.

Still, as the hobbyist editor here at improvephotography.com my job is to take a view on these kinds of things and recommend something based on my own experience as well as what I have learned from other great photographers.

Remember this when you comment on the post, but please do comment.

At some point it is likely to become necessary to get a better computer than what you had when you started into photography.

Photoshop, Lightroom, and many other photo processing tools run much better when you have a good computer.

That machine you bought online for $200 last Christmas is simply not going to work well.

You can make due for some time, and you should for as long as you can.

But when processing a shoot takes twice as long as it should because you are CONSTANTLY waiting for your computer, or the display connected to your computer is not good enough (1080p HD is NOT enough), you will want to do something about it.

At the point when you have decided it is time and the next photography investment you are going to make is a new computer, think of it in the same you think about investing in a new lens and be prepared to spend as much in a lot of cases.

Check out the last part of the article here on recommendations of what the minimum hardware should be in both Mac and PC computers to make editing photos go well.

Why Should You Listen To Me?

Like the other articles I have authored for this website, I am writing this shortly after having gone through exactly this dilemma. 

I realized very quickly that even a as a beginning photographer I needed to “post process” my photos on the computer (see my article here about why a beginner needs Adobe Lightroom) in order to make my shots look anything close to those I was seeing online.

Although I consider myself to be a fairly solid hobbyist photographer at this point, I am still relatively new to photography. 

However, as an IT professional who has worked on and with computers for more than 20 years, I know computer hardware and software pretty well. 

I have built computers, written software for computers, and as of writing this article my full time job is to architect solutions for very large computer systems for a large financial institution. 

It is a subject area I have more qualifications to speak to than any other photography subject.

All that said, as I was trying to learn about photography any way I could (podcasts, YouTube, books, etc.) it felt like I was constantly being told that I needed a Mac in order to have photo editing go well. 

It seemed like every YouTube video was done on a Mac, ever podcast was about how the new Mac was so awesome, and every photographer I talked to was using a Mac.  It was a full on Mac attack, and I am a PC user.

I was editing my photos in Lightroom and had become frustrated that the PC laptop I was running it so … s l o w l y. 

The laptop was dated and I knew that even if I wasn’t doing photo editing it was time to upgrade the hardware.  

Given all of the hype from the photography community about Mac, I was wondering if I should dump all of my limited hobbyist photography budget on a Mac, or save some $$$ and stick with PC?

Hopefully my story sounds familiar to some of you, especially the beginners out there who are just getting started into photography. 

If so, let me take you through a few questions you probably have.

Doesn’t Adobe Software Run Better on Mac?

Mac fanboys are probably going to disagree, but my experience has been that Adobe tools like Photoshop and Lightroom do not necessarily run better on a Mac vs. a PC. 

I believe they used to several years ago, although I don’t have personal experience with it from before 2011 to say for sure.

In fact, before Apple switched the architecture of the Mac from PowerPC to Intel in 2006, Adobe had to write their software products very differently for Mac than for PC due to the architecture differences. 

So I am pretty sure there really was something to this years ago, I just don’t think there is much to it today.

Like so many other things in life, you get what you pay for in a computer.  There is a reason those cheap $200 PCs don’t really work that well for nearly anything. 

If a PC has equivalent hardware to a Mac, it will run Adobe software products just as well as a Mac. 

Really the biggest difference then is the cost (Mac is more expensive – initially) and personal preference of Windows vs. OSX – which can be extremely important.

If you are using a PC, I think you should stick with what you know best because I don’t think either has a big advantage over the other to run post processing software.

Don’t Macs Have Fewer Problems?

This is an area where I will give a very slight nod to the Mac, agreeing that in general they seem to have fewer issues than PCs. 

Again, you get what you pay for, and there is a reason a Mac has more of a “premium” initial price than a PC. 

Well, okay, it could be just because Apple can.  No, Apple really does put a lot of work into making sure you have a good product in your hands when you fork over that much of your hard earned money.  

I am truly convinced this is a real difference between Mac and PC.  Unfortunately, it seems Apple is also becoming a victim of their own success and the quality control has gone down as the demand has gone up.

I often hear the argument come up very quickly that PCs are virus magnets whereas Macs are impervious to malware problems. 

This is actually a topic very near and dear to my heart, but this isn’t an article on the topic of computer security, so let’s just say that there is more in it for the bad guys to write viruses for Windows. 

So yes, you are more likely to have a problem with malware on a PC than on a Mac.

Can a PC work without major problems?  Can a PC be kept clean from viruses?  Do Macs ever have problems?  Yes, yes, and yes. 

Is this a reason to pick a Mac over a PC?  Maybe.  It may make sense if you are, or will be, doing photography professionally to save yourself from also having to be a PC technician by getting a Mac.  

Just remember that Macs are still computers, and all computers have technical problems (after all the hardware in the Mac is the same as in some good PCs).

If you aren’t used to a Mac, a PC will be just fine, so long as it isn’t a bargain basement model.  I think it makes a lot of sense to stick with what you know.

Aren’t PCs MUCH Less Expensive?

As I have alluded to earlier in the article here, in general PCs are less expensive than Macs – at least initially. 

And that word “initially” is the key.  The upfront cost of a PC that has almost exactly the same hardware can be as much as 50% less than a Mac. 

This is why many PC fanboys will often refer to the “Apple Tax” when you talk about Macs. 

But the truth is, unless you build a PC yourself, many of the PC models from the big box vendors like HP and Dell usually end up with some durability problems.  They just don’t seem to last very long.  Sigh.

The PC business is pretty much as cutthroat as it gets. 

The margins have gone down to the point that the manufacturers have to sell a ton of them to make any money.  

As they are building them they cut every corner they possibly can.  It is worse for laptops than desktops.  So you may be able to buy a PC for considerably less money than a Mac, but the Mac may last longer.

Will a Mac last long enough to make the higher initial cost worth it?  Maybe.  Depends a lot on your use.  I think it is very similar to a car.  

The same car will last much longer for the old lady driving to church on Sundays vs. a teenager.

To me the costs of a computer, the full costs from beginning to end, depends on how much you know about PCs and computer hardware. 

Apple has chosen to make their computers much less upgradeable by anyone but them. 

There are some good reasons to do so, but you can’t replace almost anything yourself very easily on many of the most recent models. 

PCs on the other hand are much more open.  Desktops a lot more so than laptops, but without too much trouble you can replace RAM, a hard drive, video card, and even a processor if you wanted to.  

This can help you increase the hardware in your computer a bit more slowly like I did, where I added almost one thing at a time.  

Takes some knowledge.  Takes some time.  But if budget is one of your key concerns you can minimize the up front investment.

If you are a beginner on a tight budget and are willing to be your own tech support then you can potentially save quite a bit of money on a PC and use the rest on photography gear! 

But be aware, even though the number may be smaller than the up front cost of a Mac, it still takes a good sized amount of money to build a PC good enough for editing photos.  

In the end I don’t think the cost is all that different, at least not 50% less.

Desktop or Laptop?

Another trend I heard constantly from photographers was the use of laptops for photo editing.  

Maybe this has to do a lot with the Mac line of computers having a sweet spot with the laptop form factor with their MacBook models.  

Maybe there are just a lot more photographers who are constantly on the go and need a more mobile solution.  

Whatever the reason, I think this is one you really need to consider carefully.

Desktops are quite simply better for editing photos.  Yes, that is a blanket across the board statement.  

Mac or PC, a desktop will run your editing software better than a laptop for less money.  

MacBooks are very capable of running editing software if you make sure they have some essential upgrades (see the Mac Recommendations section below).  

In fact, I think MacBooks are better suited than nearly anything from the PC world in the way of laptops.  

That is changing a bit, the “ultrabook” line of PC laptops are finally competing fairly well with MacBooks and some of the stuff shown by PC makers at CES 2015 looks really interesting.  

But going back to the cutthroat market of PCs I will bring up again how the vendors cut every corner they possibly can.  

I have owned numerous PC laptops over the years and haven’t been truly happy with any of them – especially for photo editing.

As good as a MacBook can be, I still recommend a desktop.  Laptop screens are mostly terrible.  

The MacBook retina screens are beautiful, but tiny.  I have been shocked as I moved from a 24″ full HD (1920×1080) screen to a 30″ WQXGA (25650×1600) IPS screen at just how important this is for editing photos.

There is a reason creative professionals are willing to spend $2,400 on a super high quality Eizo monitor (check out monoprice.com for great monitors for far less money), it really matters.

In general you can get more CPU, more RAM, and more disk with less money in a desktop than a laptop.  

Desktops also tend to last longer because heat is an enemy to computers and laptops are in such small packages their heat battle is going to be lost faster.  

Think through this one very carefully.  If you REALLY need mobility then you have no choice and should use a laptop, but I suspect that for many who claim this to be a requirement their laptop actually rarely leaves their desk and they would have been better off with a desktop.

PC Recommendations (early 2015)

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When I was faced this dilemma I knew both the Mac and the PC pretty well, so my own choice actually came down to cost. 

I knew how to build and maintain a PC very well, and could get a lot more hardware for the dollars by doing that. 

I decided that for me it was better to minimize my investment on computer hardware, end up with a PC better suited for photo editing, and save the rest of the budget for other photography gear.

Even though I had a lot of experience with computers, I didn’t have a lot of experience with photo editing software and understanding what hardware actually makes a difference. 

So I did quite a lot of research and was able to do some testing to see specifically what makes a difference.

Unfortunately there are too many PC manufacturers for me to recommend a specific model.  

I don’t think in the PC world there is actually all that much difference between them.  

Some PC makers do better at customer support than others, although even that seems to change depending on who you ask.  

I will say that I doubt any of the PCs you find in a box at the store are going to meet your needs.  Go online and customize your order based on the recommendations below.

Here is my advice on what things are worth “upgrading” in a PC to make sure it will run Photoshop and Lightroom well.  

Remember, this is very photography focused and is not a recommendation for a gaming or video editing PC (that would start off with maxing out the CPU and have some other differences). 

The recommendations are in order of priority to help you decide how to get it configured as you are ordering from a PC maker or if you are brave enough to try a custom build (Be sure to check out the Windows Photo Editing SUPER Guide article for updated recommendations):

  1. 32GB of RAM. These photo editing software programs are memory hogs.  As a software developer I think Adobe and other software companies are being lazy with their development practices because so many computer systems have high quantities of RAM, but they need every bit you can give them. 

    You can have things work pretty will with 16GB of RAM, and can get by with 8GB, but this is the first place I would max out a system configuration for a computer and get as much memory as possible.

  2. SSD hard drive. Abbreviation for solid state drive, an SSD is a hard drive that uses flash memory technology, similar to the memory in your phone and the SD cards you put in your camera. 
    They are quite a bit faster at reading and writing than the magnetic spinning hard drives, but they are also more expensive. 
    Quite a bit more expensive.  But boy does this make a difference for photo editing, I almost made it my first thing on the list. 
    Get something 256GB or higher for the OS and programs, and to use as a “working” drive. 
    Then have a 1-4TB magnetic hard drive used for your longer-term storage (internal or external).
    If SSD is too expensive, then at least making sure you have a magnetic drive that spins at 7200RPM (instead of the very common 5400RPM) will make a big difference.
  3. Intel “Core i” processor. Kind of strange to think that the processor is so far down on a list of hardware specs, but in my opinion this is where it belongs for a decent photo editing machine. 
    This doesn’t mean you can ignore the processor.  Won’t do you any good to have loads of RAM and a SSD drive if you don’t have a decent CPU. 
    Get the best one you can afford, but upgrade the other things listed previous to the CPU first.
    I have been an AMD processor fan for many years, just like I love to cheer on the underdog in sports. 
    AMD has often had a better price to performance ratio over Intel, but when it comes to running photo editing software there is no question the software is heavily optimized for Intel processors. 
    Photoshop and Lightroom will still run on AMD, you won’t have a problem launching the application, but I think it is worth the money to go with Intel.
    I also recommend at least a Core i3 processor.  The software will run on a Pentium or Celeron process from Intel, but not nearly as well. 
    The Core i5 is a pretty big step up from the i3, and the Core i7 won’t break a sweat on this kind of work.
  4. Large, high resolution IPS monitor. This was the last piece of computer equipment I upgraded, didn’t want to spend the money on a monitor, but it has made a HUGE difference in my photo editing. 
    I recommend a 27” or 30” monitor capable of 2560×1600 resolution (more than 2x more resolution than HD).  That resolution is commonly called WQXGA.  You will want to connect the PC to the monitor through DVI or DisplayPort, not through HDMI or VGA.  
    If you missed it earlier in the article, check out the monitors over at monoprice.com for really good ones at very reasonable prices.
  5. Nvidia graphics. This isn’t because AMD (used to be ATI) graphics are bad.  It is because Adobe doesn’t support anything but Nvidia very well on a PC. 
    It is improving, and I expect it to get much better in the coming years with the AMD graphics in the Mac Pro being supported so well, but for now you should avoid AMD video cards in your PC – whether laptop or desktop.
    The graphics chipset seems to be a much bigger deal in Adobe’s video editing programs than it is for Photoshop or Lightroom, but if possible you should get a computer with a discrete (meaning one that is not built into the motherboard often called “integrated”) Nvidia chipset graphics card with 1GB of RAM.
  6. USB 3.0. Your Mac friends will scoff at USB speeds when they have Thunderbolt for external storage. 
    There are a few PC motherboards with Thunderbolt built into them for PCs, but it has remained mostly a feature of Apple products and isn’t very well supported. 
    Still, USB 3.0 is so much faster than USB 2.0 that it is good to make sure you have a few on your computer. 
    Even with USB 3.0 I wouldn’t recommend editing your photos from an external drive, it just isn’t fast enough. 
    But using a USB 3.0 compatible SD card reader when importing the photos will make a big difference, as well as backing up or having your long-term storage on a USB 3.0 compatible external drive.
    Note: At CES 2015 USB 3.1 and a new type of “C” connector was presented with speeds 2x faster than USB 3.0, theoretically equal to the speed of Thunderbolt. 
    Although there is still an architectural advantage to Thunderbolt that will likely make it superior.
  7. 64 bit Windows 8.1 or 64 bit Windows 7 Professional.  The latest and greatest OS from Redmond has taken a beating in the media.  
    They changed things up a lot.  Judging by the direction Microsoft is taken Windows 10 they know they went too far towards a tablet friendly UI that didn’t go well with PC users.  
    Still, once you get used to things a little it isn’t a big deal.  
    I have been running my photo editing on Windows 8.1 for quite a while now and have no complaints.  
    Whether Windows 7 (recommend Professional in order to take full advantage of all the hardware) or Windows 8.1, you have to make sure you install the 64 bit version or you won’t be able to use all the RAM you have in the computer.  
    This shouldn’t be too hard as everything within the last 2-3 years has come with a 64 bit version of Windows.
  8. No Hackintosh. I hesitate to even raise the topic, but I am imagining the comments coming, so I thought I should. 
    With Apple moving to the x86 hardware architecture, it is technically possible to run OSX on hardware not directly sold from Apple. 
    You can get specific components of hardware and then use some hacks to get OSX loaded up and have it function fairly similarly to a Mac without paying for a Mac. 
    It is true you can save some money here, but besides it being legally questionable (violates OSX terms of service and possibly the DMCA) it is difficult to maintain the hacks over time. 
    As new OSX updates come out the hacks frequently stop working until those smart hackers out there figure out how to get around it. 
    It simply isn’t worth the trouble.  If you want a Mac, buy one.

If you are interested in building your own PC there are plenty of DIY build recommendations and instructions out there to make this very possible. 

It sounds really intimidating at first because hardware has such confusing names and not everything can fit together. 

But I can recommend Paul’s Hardware Channel and the PCDIY channel on YouTube along with the digital video editing DIY build recommendations from videoguys.com.

Mac Recommendations (early 2015)

macproscons

You don’t have nearly as many different ways to configure a Mac as you do a PC, really just a few choices. 

I thought I would break out my recommendations for Mac differently that I did for PC based on the model choices from least expensive (not cheap) to outrageous

Mac Mini

The Mac mini is the entry level machine from Apple really designed for people switching from a PC. 

It is a tiny little desktop computer that packs quite a lot of punch into a small space, and will run Photoshop and Lightroom very well.  

If after reading this article you think you might like trying a switch from a PC, this would be a really good way to try it out and see how you like the world of Mac. 

Here is how I would configure it minimally for photo editing (about $1,000):

  1. 2.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5
  2. 16GB 1600MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM (max)
  3. 1TB fusion drive (will probably want a thunderbolt external drive)
  4. Apple Magic Mouse

MacBook Air

The entry level laptop from Apple is very nice as far as a laptop goes. 

It gives you probably the ultimate in portability, but you will honestly get more power out of the Mac mini for less money. 

Here is how I would configure it minimally for photo editing (about $1,300):

  1. 11 inch model
  2. 4GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5, Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz
  3. 8GB 1600MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM (max, can’t get 16)
  4. 256GB PCIe-based Flash Storage (going to need a thunderbolt external drive)
  5. Apple Magic Mouse

MacBook Pro

PC manufacturers are catching up (some of them shown at CES 2015 looked pretty nice) but the MacBook Pro is arguably the best laptop money can buy and is awesome for photo editing. 

The Mac mini offers roughly the same power here, with 4x more storage, for less money, but here is the minimal configuration I recommend (about $1,800):

  1. 13 inch model
  2. 6GHz Dual-core Intel Core i5, Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz
  3. 16GB 1600MHz DDR3L SDRAM
  4. 256GB PCIe-based Flash Storage (max, going to need a thunderbolt external drive)
  5. Apple Magic Mouse

You’ll notice that I recommend the Apple Magic Mouse with each one, that’s because the mouse is so good it is worth the money to get one. 

I would also recommend that with either of the MacBook models you should also get a monitor to use with them when you are in your office.

Editing photos on those tiny screens, nice as they are (and they are incredible), is not great. 

The Apple Thunderbolt Display would be a really good choice, but at $1,000 that pretty much doubles your cost.  Yikes.

iMac

Apple just revamped the iMac in late 2014, making it one of the most desirable desktop computers for photo editing due to the 5k display. 

As of the writing of this article there aren’t really 5k options available for the PC world, and I can confirm that even as a hobbyist a high resolution monitor is a VERY big deal.

Could you save some dollars and consider the previous model iMac?  Absolutely. 

You will still get a very good display with it, just not 5k.  And the iMac has been a good machine very capable of doing photo editing for quite some time. 

In fact, at this point I think it is a fair statement across all these Mac models to say that a previous generation model will work pretty well – just look for the RAM.

Here is my minimum recommendation for an iMac, which isn’t the 5k version (Jim reports that the difference seems TINY to him), but isn’t the smallest model either (about $2,200):

  1. 27 inch model (you could go down to 21 if it isn’t in the budget, but it really is worth it to go 27)
  2. 16GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM – 2X8GB
  3. 1TB Fusion Drive (will probably want a thunderbolt external drive)
  4. Apple Magic Mouse (already included with an iMac)

Mac Pro

Now we enter the world of insanity for many.  The Mac Pro is an incredibly powerful machine, but I don’t recommend it for a beginning photographer.  It is something more for a power video editor. 

Of course you could edit photos on it without the machine breaking a sweat, but it is overkill in my opinion and you are much better served to spend the cash on lenses.

I don’t need to provide a minimum configuration here because anything you order of a Mac Pro is going to rock Photoshop, Lightroom, and Premiere Pro. 

The most inexpensive Mac Pro starts at about $3,000, which may seem not too bad when you compare it with the iMac because that is only $800 more. 

Wait, did I just say ONLY $800? 

But there is no monitor that comes with that, so you have to add that on top ($1,000 thunderbolt display). 

So you could get an iMac and a MacBook Air for less than a Mac Pro and monitor, which would be better in my opinion.

Conclusion

A PC user doesn’t have to switch to a Mac in order to have a good experience editing photos.  

I think it makes a lot of sense for a photographer to stick with what they know. 

At some point it may make sense to go to Mac from PC, especially if you are a professional photographer, but it is really a matter of personal preference and neither has a big advantage over the other.  

Just make sure you have enough hardware for the job in whichever you choose.

OK, so now let me have it in the comments below 🙂


About the Author

Jeff Harmon

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The hobbyist editor here at improvephotography.com. IT Professional by day, passionate hobbyist photographer ever other second possible. Living in Herriman, Utah. Loves trying to capture the beauty around every day and family portraits occasionally. Be sure to check out my portfolio at http://jsharmonphotos.com.