Building your photography system

Buying a new camera body or a backup body requires careful consideration of what your current photography system lacks and how to balance those needs with your budget. Lenses, especially Canon’s high-end L-series professional lenses and specialized lenses such as for macro photography, are expensive, and it’s often difficult to decide which lens or system component that you need next or need most.

Unless you have unlimited resources, it’s best to have a plan for building your system. Even if your interests include more than one type of photography, such as the macro and portrait work shown in 1-7 and 1-8, this will ensure that you invest wisely and help you arrange your purchases around equipment that will enhance your own creative vision.

The versatility of a good camera system allows you to pursue multiple photography styles and techniques; with a limited budget, you can get a lot out of a single body and lens. Both 1-7 and 1-8 were taken with an EOS 5D and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. 1-7 at ISO 320, f/22 at 1/60 second. 1-8 at ISO 100, f/16 at 1/160 second.

The versatility of a good camera system allows you to pursue multiple photography styles and techniques; with a limited budget, you can get a lot out of a single body and lens. Both 1-7 and 1-8 were taken with an EOS 5D and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. 1-7 at ISO 320, f/22 at 1/60 second. 1-8 at ISO 100, f/16 at 1/160 second.

The versatility of a good camera system allows you to pursue multiple photography styles and techniques; with a limited budget, you can get a lot out of a single body and lens. Both 1-7 and 1-8 were taken with an EOS 5D and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. 1-7 at ISO 320, f/22 at 1/60 second. 1-8 at ISO 100, f/16 at 1/160 second.

The starting place for any photography system involves having the basic components you need for everyday photography. While you may want and think that you need five, six, or even ten lenses, remember that many great photographers made great pictures using a single lens. Their work testifies to the fact that you can do much more with a single lens than you might imagine. The goal is to exploit your current gear to its greatest potential.

Many of Canon’s dSLRs are available as kits that include a zoom lens that provides a focal range suitable for common shooting needs — from landscapes to portraits. For example, Canon offers consumer-quality lenses, including the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 USM, designed for optimized performance on the Digital Rebels and EOS 40D cameras.

While a kit lens ensures a focal range adequate for photographing landscapes and portraits, a single lens typically won’t meet all your shooting needs. And if you didn’t buy a kit or you bought a professional-level camera, then the question is what lenses you need to buy — lenses that will become the foundation of your system.

But what are the goals for a basic photography system, and what would a basic system include? Assuming that you already have a Canon dSLR, my recommendations for a basic photography system include the elements shown in the following list. With this system, you have a focal range that allows you to photograph everyday family photos as well as travel, landscape, portrait, and wildlife images. In addition, the basic system allows you to travel light while not missing photographic opportunities. A typical basic system would include:

  • A wide-angle zoom lens. A wide-angle lens in the range of 17-40mm allows you to capture a landscape image (see 1-9), group portraits, and even individual portraits at the 40mm setting. On the Digital Rebel XTi and EOS 40D cameras with an APS-C-size sensor, a lens in this range is equivalent to 27-64mm. On the EOS-1D Mark III, with an APS-H-size sensor, this range is equivalent to 22-52mm. On full-frame-sensor cameras, such as the EOS-1Ds Mark III and the EOS 5D, a 17-40mm lens, for example, operates precisely as a 17-40mm lens.
  • A telephoto zoom lens. A telephoto lens in the range of 70-300mm enables you to capture portraits, wildlife, birds, sports, and distant landscapes, such as the scene shown in 1-10. On the Digital Rebel XTi and EOS 40D cameras with an APS-C-size sensor, a lens in this range is equivalent to 112-480mm. On the EOS-1D Mark III with an APS-H-size sensor, a lens in this range is equivalent to 91-390mm.
  • UV haze filters for all lenses. These filters absorb ultraviolet light to reduce haze on a sunny day and protect the front lens element from dirt and scratches.
  • Circular polarizing filters for one or both lenses. These filters allow rotation to reduce reflections and glare on water and other shiny surfaces as well as increase color saturation.
  • Lens hoods. Lens hoods prevent stray light, which can create flare in images, from entering the lens. They also offer protection to the front element of the lens.
  • Canon Speedlite (optional). I list this as optional because using a flash depends a lot on what subjects you like to photograph. Also, if you have a Digital Rebel or EOS 40D with a built-in flash, then you may find that it is adequate for your immediate needs.

This is a do-it-all approach that works well for general shooting. The basic system is, however, not as well suited for specialty shooting, such as for macro images and sports photography. If you have a specialty shooting area identified, then the composition of your basic system will be weighted toward the lenses you need for that specialty.

With a good wide-angle zoom lens, you can crop your scene exactly as you want. Taken with an EOS-1Ds Mark II, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L lens, ISO 50, 2 seconds at f/16.

 

By remaining quite still and using a good telephoto zoom lens, I was able to capture this early morning image of a young deer crossing the road. Taken with an EOS-1Ds Mark II, EF 100-400mm IS L lens, ISO 400, 1/320 second at f/6.3.

Category: Photography System

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