It can be difficult to know which camera you should buy, especially if you’re new to food photography. So, what is the best camera for food photography?
As a food and still life photographer, you likely won’t need a lot of the bells and whistles that modern cameras offer.
Let’s take a look at some things to consider when you’re shopping for a new camera. Then we’ll show you a few of our picks for the best camera for food photography, at different price points.
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What to Consider When Shopping for a Food Photography Camera
Size of the Sensor
The first thing to think about when you’re on the hunt for a new camera body is the size of the sensor.
Will you buy a camera with a cropped sensor, or will you invest in a full-frame?
Your budget might be the biggest factor in determining your choice.
A cropped sensor is cheaper for a camera manufacturer to make. This makes good digital cameras available to a wide variety of consumers at every price point. These are often referred to as “prosumer” cameras.
You can take great pictures with a camera with a cropped sensor. The issue is that your camera and lenses will behave differently with a cropped sensor than a full-frame.
A full-frame camera matches the 35mm cropped standard of a traditional film camera. It has a sensor size of 24mm x 35mm. A cropped sensor is smaller than this. It doesn’t match most lenses and the final images look different.
Every camera has a crop factor. This is a number used to describe how much the camera is cropping your image in relation to the standard 35mm.
For example, I started out shooting food pictures with a Canon Rebel, which has a crop factor of 1.6.
This means that you multiply 1.6 times the focal length of your lens to get the actual focal length that it will look like your pictures were taken at.
So on a Canon Rebel, a 50mm lens behaves more like an 80 mm–a lens that works wonderfully to shoot food on a full-frame camera.
No wonder so many food bloggers recommend the 50mm as a great all around food photography lens!
This isn’t necessarily true–especially if your camera is full-frame.
These days, most digital cameras have large file sizes, however, the file size is something to be aware of if you ever want to print your images.
If you’re a food blogger, you likely shoot images for the web only. However, if you want to write a cookbook one day, or license your images through stock agencies, you’ll need to make sure that your camera can accommodate large file size.
This usually means at least 3000 pixels on the short side.
Also, be sure that the camera you choose is capable of shooting RAW files.
Some photographers start shooting JPEG files, then move on to shooting RAW when they feel they have developed their skills. However, I urge everyone to start shooting RAW and learning to edit as soon as possible.
RAW files are basically a digital negative. They can withstand endless editing without having their quality degraded–unlike a JPEG file. The quality of a JPEG file is degraded with every edit.
They also pack thousands of times more information and color luminance. This gives you an endless amount of freedom in how you approach your post-processing.
Unless food photography is strictly a hobby for you, I would make sure that whichever camera body you choose can shoot RAW files.
When you shoot food photography, you should be working on a tripod most of the time. There will, however, be instances where you will need to handhold your camera, like when shooting in a restaurant or on location at a vineyard or a farm.
This is when your ISO becomes very important. You will need a camera that can handle a relatively high level of noise.
Despite advances in camera technology, using high ISO absolutely does degrade image quality.
If you’re shooting in the scenarios mentioned above, be sure to test how far you can push your ISO before the shoot.
Post-processing programs like Lightroom, and the noise reduction plugin Dfine can greatly reduce noise in an image. But they cannot completely rescue an image of poor quality.
Number of Focus Points
I have found that this is one of the biggest factors that has influenced my decision about which camera to get when making new purchases.
Some photographers focus using manual mode. I have less than perfect vision, so I need to rely on automatic focusing.
Plus, it’s very easy to miss focus completely even if you’re off just a tad while engaging manual focus.
If you have a camera with only say, nine focus points, odds are that there will be many times that you can’t get the focus point where you need it. This can be very frustrating.
Popular Cameras for Food Photography
If you have less than $500.00 to spend, you will likely go for a camera with a kit lens, like the Canon Rebel with an 18-55 mm zoom lens.
A kit consists of a camera with a lens at a single price. The lenses are cheap quality, but this kit is an option if you’re strapped for cash.
Otherwise, I would recommend buying only the camera body and the “nifty-fifty“–Canon’s F1.8 50mm lens. You can purchase for a low price and it is a much better option. The quality is great relative to the price.
Together, these will only be a bit more expensive than the kit option but will deliver on quality.
This camera has some handy features, like a tilt screen and a touch screen.
It has a 24-megapixel sensor and goes up to 12,800 in ISO and has 19 focus points.
Comparable to the Canon Rebel T6i, the Nikon D3400 is also a great entry-level DSLR. It has 11 focus points, a 24-megapixel sensor.
While it has many of the same specs as the Canon, the battery life is almost three times as long, which is a nice bonus.
It doesn’t have wi-fi connectivity, however. Instead, it offers Bluetooth to transfer images to a smartphone via an app called SmartBridge.
This is your entry into the full-frame market. It’s the most inexpensive full-frame camera that Canon manufactures, thus it’s very popular.
It has an 11-point Autofocus system, 20.2-megapixel sensor, and goes up to 25600 ISO (50-102800 expanded).
One of the biggest selling points of the 6D besides price is its ability to shoot in low light–a full stop dimmer than the Canon 5D Mark III, which has a 22 megapixel sensor.
This can be extremely useful if you are a natural light shooter.
The Canon EOS 5D lineup has long been a popular choice for food photographers everywhere. It’s a fantastic all-around camera to have and a real workhorse.
In fact, this camera is one of the most used and recognizable cameras in the digital age.
I’ve worked with these cameras ever since I decided to go pro and I have never regretted it.
The Mark IV is the latest of the 5D EOS cameras. It offers a 61-point AF system with 41 cross-type sensors, and up to 32000 IS0 (expendable to 50-102400).
It is also the first Canon full-frame camera that can focus in Live View during still capture.
If you’re looking for versatility, there is no better camera out there.
This is Nikon’s equivalent to the Canon 5D Mark IV.
It has a bigger, 36.3-megapixel sensor but doesn’t offer wireless connectivity as the Canon does. The two cameras are matched in many areas, however, but the Nikon offers an extended battery life.
As with comparing any two cameras thought to be equivalents between brands, each has its pros and cons. My suggestion is to closely compare all of the specs if you’re not sure which brand you want to go with.
This camera is definitely on the pricey side. If you’re on the pro level and detail is what you’re after, this 50.6-megapixel camera will deliver more resolution and sharpness than any food photographer could hope for.
Only slightly higher-priced than the Canon 5D Mark IV, the 5DS goes to 6400 ISO (expandable to 50-12800), and offers 61 autofocus points as well as contract detection. This is excellent for shooting in low light.
It has the same autofocusing system found in Canon’s flagship sports camera.
I would be remiss to not mention a mirrorless camera when talking about food photography gear.
How long traditional DSLRs will stick around remains to be seen. It is becoming increasingly clear that mirrorless cameras are a force to be reckoned with.
I know some food photographers that have sold off their Canon and Nikon gear and moved over to a mirrorless system with thrilling results.
Although the Sony A7 Mark III is thought of as a basic model, it’s an excellent full-frame camera. It offers image quality, high resolution, and a wide variety of features.
It has a 24 megapixel sensor, a touch screen and boasts 93% autofocus coverage with 693 phase detection points, 423 points for contrast detection! There is an autofocus point in every bit of the screen. For a food photographer, this is worth the price of admission alone.
The autofocus system is lifted from Sony’s advanced A9 pro sports model. In addition, the Sony A7 Mark III is one of the best low-light cameras on the market.
If you buy an adapter, you can even use lenses you have purchased from other brands.
How to Shop for Used Gear
I heartily recommend buying used gear, provided that you do so through a reputable dealer.
In fact, my main camera body is a pre-loved Canon 5D Mark III that I bought at an unbeatable price. Although it’s an older camera, and the Canon 5D Mark IV has already been out for some time, it’s still an excellent camera that does the job.
When you’re buying gear, it’s not actually the camera body that matters so much as the lenses.
Lens sharpness and quality will ultimately provide the biggest impact on how your images turn out. This is where you need to direct most of your budget.
The good news is that you don’t need a lot of lenses to take a variety of great food pictures.
When shopping for used equipment online, make sure that the seller has a lot of positive feedback in relation to the number of transactions. This is usually a good sign.
I would recommend buying from a store as opposed to an individual.
Make sure that the camera comes with a 30-day warranty. And be wary of where it is being shipped from so that you don’t end up paying exorbitant shipping fees.
Be aware that there are a lot of knockoffs of Canon and Nikon bodies being sold from China on places like eBay. Make sure that the feedback is close to 100% in relation to the transactions.
I buy my used gear locally from a dealer so I can personally inspect what I’m purchasing.
If you’re buying online, make sure that the image shown is a picture of the actual camera, rather than a picture provided by the manufacturer, or you can end up getting a body that is scratched or otherwise haggard looking.
If you want to photograph food professionally, go for a full-frame camera right away–assuming that your budget allows for this. Buy a used one from a reputable dealer, if you can’t afford to buy new.
If you’re shooting professionally in-studio, you will need to have two cameras with you, in case one of them malfunctions.
This is a very real possibility, one that I’ve witnessed in the past, as a photographic assistant.
There is nothing worse than having your camera go on the friz while a client and creative director and perhaps even a whole team of people depend on you to get the job done.
Alternately, if you’re fairly new to food photography and are mostly shooting for your blog or website and have no need to print your food photography, you might want to start with a budget-friendly cropped-sensor camera.
You can upgrade to full-frame as your skills improve and you make decisions about the direction you want to take your photography in and how you will invest in it.
You may very well decide to skip the traditional DSLR cameras and ride the wave of the future with a mirrorless camera.
For more great tips before you invest, check our article on best time to buy a camera.