Camera and lighting kit suggestions, please.
August 29, 2007 5:22 PM   Subscribe

If you were going to start shooting pictures for an alt weekly/A&E publication, what kinda of gear would you get?

What camera would you get, what filters, what portable lighting system? The sky isn't the limit, say 2k total, so any suggestions?

All of this is for shooting for a weekly publication, usually done on regular and ultrabright newsprint stock.

For the SLR, I mean shoots well in the dark, has complete manual control and good auto settings, more than the usual 3x zoom, comes with a good lens, and enables you to swap out lenses for eventual upgrade to telephoto lens.

For the lighting system, something with a battery and hopefully 3 lights that can be packed down into an included case for getting those beautiful on location shots of the interviewee.

If you can recommend a good handheld flash (the type you stick on the camera and can adjust the angle of the flash) would be cool too.

The camera would be used in variety of settings, from shooting bands, to various events at various speeds at various times of the day.
posted by Brandon Blatcher to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For lighting advice, Strobist is the place to go. Check out the Lighting 101 and On Assignment series.

For the camera, any good semi-pro DSLR that feels good in your hand and works with the lenses you already have. For digital, you don't need any filters other than a UV and a circular polarizer. Put your money into fast lenses - look for a maximum aperture (the small number) between 1.4 and 2.8.
posted by matildaben at 5:52 PM on August 29, 2007

You haven't got any answers because you can't build what you are asking for for $2k. Instead, build something smart.

Get the cheapest Canon or Nikon DSLR body available to you. Buy a decent midrange zoom lens, say the consumer grade 28-70. That's a package deal at most retailers. $800 or so? You really just need one lens for now. Pro tip: Never EVER buy a poor quality lens just because it is inexpensive. Glass lasts forever, it's an investment. Conversely: Buy the cheapest digital body that does what you need. It will be obsolete in a year = not an investment.

If you're going to shoot a lot of concerts, get the 50mm 1.8 variant that fits your body of choice. It's cheap (< $200) and sucks in a lot of light. you'll want to learn to manual focus that bad boy, because af sucks in dark venues, and many of them don't permit flash anyhow. this lens is>
Here's the joke: any DSLR you can buy today has more resolution than the average editorial outlet is going to need -- you should even be able to handle double-truck (two page spreads) if you keep the ISO low enough. Seriously: Sports illustrated went digital with fewer megapixels than that, and no one noticed. Neither will your readers.

Okay, accessories. Buy at least two memory cards. Buy a spare battery. Even if it's $70. You don't want to run out of bits or volts during a shoot. This is very, very bad.

Buy a GOOD camera bag, which may cost you fifty bucks. It may cost you more. Put things in it: lens cleaning cloths, notebook, grey/white balance card or coffee filters, and your spare batteries, cards and your charger.

Now: Lighting. Get one umbrella ($40), one very good portable strobe to use off camera ($200?), and wireless triggers to fire it ($40-$300) unless your camera can do so on its own), and one light stand ($40). Rechargable batteries for the strobe (two sets!) and a charger ($50). That's it. Learn how to USE THESE THINGS. Read and practice endlessly.

Let's see... you're now into it for near, but not quite, $2k. You can take damn fine pictures yn myriad situations, because you didn't skimp where it counts. And you didn't break the bank because you know how to use what you have wisely and effectively.

Gear doesn't take pictures -- you do.

Good luck to you.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:04 PM on August 29, 2007 [6 favorites]

Sean's advice is great - particularly that last bit about the gear not taking the photos... so many people get hung up on gear.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:11 PM on August 29, 2007

Best answer: To get serious, you'll need to choose a system. Canon is still doing better on the low-light end of things (as well as having better lens pricing/availability and a much stronger used market), but Nikon's wireless setup for multiple flashes is easier and more capable, if that's how you intend to do lighting. At this point in the digital game I really can't recommend buying into any other the alternative systems (Olympus, Pentax, or Sony/Minolta) for non-amateur use. In any case, I'll let someone else make the Nikon recommendations. On the Canon side:

Body: 20D ($850-900, new). They're still around at and other places, or failing that, 30D for about $1000 new. Don't buy a used body if you need this for work: you'll need the warranty since working bodies often take some beatings. Don't use Rebels: the inconsistent AF and cumbersome LCD changing of parameters like ISO will trip you up while working. When you're working, you need efficient and reliable.

Flash: Either the 420EX or the 430EX ($150-250, depending on model and used/new). You'll want a Canon flash with a swivel head for TTL, bouncing, etc. For a full lighting system on the cheap, ask the folks in the Strobist flickr group. I suspect you'll be hard pressed to fit serious lighting equipment into your budget though unless you cut serious corners elsewhere. Quite frankly, unless it's a staged photo-op where you can set up lighting, you're going to have a hard time using anything other than a camera-mounted flash. There's an awful lot of flash techniques out there to learn with even a simple flash setup.

Lenses: One or two fast prime(s) and one multipurpose zoom. If you're covering local events, you'll especially need the wide end of the zoom from time to time for crowds and/or interiors (thus ruling out 24-xx or 28-xx zooms). For primes I'd use the Sigma 30/1.4 (general fast lens for available/situational shooting) and the Canon 85/1.8 for shoulder-length portraits (substitute the Canon 50/1.8 if you're really low on cash). There are a million zooms out there that would work; I'd consider, in order of my own personal preference: Sigma AF 17-70mm f/2.8-4.5 DC macro, Tamron AF 17-50mm f/2.8 SP XR Di II LD Aspherical, Sigma AF 18-125mm f/3.5-5.6 DC, and Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 USM IS (the Canon here is really a fallback since IMO there are so many better price/performance third party options here). Avoid any and all Canon kit lenses (i.e. those bundled with cameras) in this price range for paid work. If you come across them, buy used lenses to save money.

Filters: Don't use filters. Use lens hoods. Even if you insist on doing otherwise, there are better uses for the very limited dollars in your budget than pro-quality filters, and cheap filters are wholly counterproductive to image quality.

Accessories: Don't forget to budget for CF cards, extra batteries, a bag, etc.

And most importantly: a LOT of sweat and practice. And I do mean a LOT. Buying the equipment just gets you started, just like any bike you buy won't teach you how to ride itself.

Good luck!
posted by DaShiv at 6:28 PM on August 29, 2007 [7 favorites]

Alt weeklies are havens for the amateurs desperate to get photos published, and poncy professionals unpacking six cases of gear just to get an interview shot. I suggest taking the middle road. Be the dude with a solid SLR set-up and one flash, and let your eye be the value-added zing in your work.

Spend the big money on lenses - forget the lighting unless you're doing fashion or product photography. In the rare cases that you'll need extra equipment, rent it piecemeal and figure it out gradually.

Get all the stuff everyone else has recommended - memory cards, bag, batteries, etc. Get a flash like the Nikon SB800 unit that lets you turn the head, choose the power to the strobe, use it as a slave, etc. Learn how to manipulate the flash.

Don't use filters. Shoot in RAW, fix the white balance with Capture One or other software, and then let your Photoshop skillz fix the colour casts. No PS? Get a book and trudge through it.

Good luck!!
posted by Mrs Hilksom at 9:26 PM on August 29, 2007

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