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One of the most important factors in taking great product photography is, of course, choosing the right camera. The camera you choose can have a huge impact on how the photos turn out.
But if you can’t afford a super high-end camera, you shouldn’t sweat it too much.
Camera technology has advanced so far that most cameras–even the ones on a smartphone–are capable of capturing great photos if they’re used correctly. That being said, it’s still important to weigh your options and choose the one that meets your needs while also staying within your budget.
In this article, we will look at two possible routes and discuss your options for each.
Your first choice is to decide whether you’ll be using:
- DSLR camera
It’s probably obvious, but you should know that a good DSLR camera will produce the best results. It may also give you more options to edit and retouch your photographs after the fact. That said, you can still achieve solid product photography with a smartphone.
Let’s check out both options.
Choosing a DSLR camera
The preferred tool for product photography will always be a DSLR.
A professional-grade camera is pretty affordable and can be used to take amazing photos with even a modest setup. Obviously, there are more expensive models that will help you step up your photography. But you can get a pretty good rig at an affordable price if you know what to look for.
Megapixels are overrated
The most common marketing point for a camera is the number of megapixels. This is incredibly misleading. The number of megapixels allows you to capture better (larger) photos, yes–but only to a certain extent. The only real advantage of having a huge megapixel count is if you are planning to print large-format versions of your photos.
So, be wary. Don’t buy a camera just because it has a higher megapixel count, and expect to get better results.
Look for ISO performance based on your lighting
A higher ISO means that your camera will capture more light. This can be good in low-light situations, but it also creates more noise and can blow our photos with bright lighting. Different cameras will perform differently based on ISO settings. So, if you plan to shoot in low light, you will want to find a camera that has low noise with a high ISO. If you’re planning to invest in good lighting, then you’ll want to make sure that your camera performs well with a low ISO.
Another thing to note is that the camera body you purchase will ultimately be a lesser factor than the lighting and lenses that you choose. We’ve written a separate guide on selecting lenses, which you’ll want to check out.
But it all starts with the camera.
Here are some of the cameras we recommend for product photography:
|Canon EOS Rebel T3i ($500)
Sony ALPHA SLT-A65 ($750)
|Nikon D7100 ($1,200)
Canon EOS 70D ($1,200)
Sony ALPHA SLT-A77 ($1,500)
|Nikon D600: $2,000
Nikon D800: $2,800
Canon EOS 6D: $2,000
Sony ALPHA SLT-A99V: $2,800
|Canon EOS 5D MK III: $3,500
Using a smartphone
It’s not impossible to take pretty good photos with a smartphone–especially if you have a newer model phone with a great camera.
The real limitation of smartphone photography is that there are not nearly as many settings as on a DSLR camera. You have less control over the photo being taken. You can make up for some of those limitations, but the quality will never be quite as good as a nice DSLR.
Even so, smartphones are perfectly capable of taking great, high-quality photos if you know what you’re doing.
Get the right app
Smartphones come with a default camera app, but that doesn’t mean you’re required to use it. Many third-party apps help you capture better photos with improved photo processing and other features.
Of course, you shouldn’t expect miracles. These apps can’t improve on the actual hardware of your phone’s camera. But a great photo app can make a good photo look great if it’s used correctly.
Here are some to consider:
Camera+ (iPhone, $2.99)
Camera Zoom FX (Android, #3.95)
Buy an aftermarket lens
Although the camera you choose is important, the lens that you use to capture your product shots can actually have an even bigger impact on their outcome.
Smartphone cameras don’t usually have interchangeable lenses as you might expect from other cameras. But there are aftermarket lenses you can buy and attach to your smartphone to help you improve the quality of photos. This can be a huge game changer in the photos you take–and it’s probably worth the investment.
Here are a few smartphone lenses to check out:
Photojojo (iPhone and Android)
Moment (iPhone and Android)
Adjust your settings
To maximize the quality of photos you capture with your smartphone, you must master the settings that are available. They’re more limited than the settings you’ll find on a good DSLR, but using the right settings can still make a huge difference.
You may need to download a third-party app in order to adjust these settings in real time while taking a photo. But the three main things you’ll want to focus on (pun intended) include:
White Balance – Set your white balance to offset changes in lighting temperature. So, for example, if you have a white background that appears yellow or blue because of the lighting, you can adjust your white balance, and it will correct colors accordingly.
Exposure – If your photo looks too bright or dark, you can adjust the exposure to make it appear more lifelike. You generally want to stay within a range of +/- 1.0 EV, but this will take a bit of trial and error to get it right in your current lighting.
Focus – Most smartphone cameras have an autofocus. You can tap on the object you want to focus on (e.g., the thing you’re taking a photo of), and your camera will adjust accordingly.
With the right settings and equipment, your smartphone can serve as a formidable tool for capturing clean, professional product photography. It may not ever be quite as good as a DSLR, but it’s not a bad place to start.