Spoiler alert, friends… there isn’t a best camera for food photography. There are a lot of amazing cameras on the market that would be a wonderful camera for food photography. Depending on the type of images you want to shoot, there are different types of features to consider before making your purchase. Let’s dive in!
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What Is The Best Camera For Food Photography
There are a lot of really great cameras on the market, so it can be really hard to choose the best camera for food photography. The first step to choosing the best camera for food photography is to figure out your budget. You do NOT need the most expensive camera on the market to take great food pictures.
The next step is to think about what type of images you want to shoot.
- Do you want to focus on still life?
- Will you want to take more action/prep shots?
- Will you want to experiment with video?
- Will the images be used digitally mostly?
- Will you want to print some your images too?
- Do you plan to shoot in natural light or will you use studio lights?
Thinking through these things will help guide you towards the right camera for you and your budget.
Types Of Cameras
There are a few different types of cameras to consider for food photography and the ones I get asked about the most are the following:
Let’s look at the pros and cons of each.
Compact digital cameras are what people think about first when considering to get a camera. These smaller cameras (also known as point and shoot cameras) are super easy to use. They’re also super lightweight and easy to carry with you. However, if you’re wanting to really learn photography, these cameras are much more limiting to what you can actually do with them.
- Compact and easy to carry with you
- More affordable
- Full auto mode (unable to adjust your aperture, shutter speed or ISO)
- Limited to one lens (unable to switch out different lenses)
- Lower resolution images
A popular recommendation is to start with a beginner-level DSLR. DSLR’s will teach you everything you need to know about how to use your camera as long as you take the time to learn how to use it. I have the Nikon D850 and the Nikon D750.
- Fully customizable settings
- Larger sensors
- High resolution output
- Ability to switch out different lenses
- Wide variety of brands and models
- Great for video
- Heavier and more bulky to carry around
- More expensive
READ MORE ABOUT: HOW TO SHOOT IN MANUAL MODE
Mirrorless cameras are more compact DSLR’s. I love these little cameras and definitely recommend checking them out. They don’t have a mirror inside of the camera body which makes them smaller and more lightweight than a DSLR. They also take absolutely stunning images and video. And, much like a DSLR, you will need to take the time to learn how to adjust the settings so you can take more control over your images. I have the FujiFilm XT3 and the FujiFilm XT4.
- Electronic viewfinder with touch screen
- Lightweight, easy to carry around
- Easy operation and controls
- Great for stills and video
- Shorter battery life
- Less lenses & accessories to choose from
Using Your iPhone for Food Photography
A lot of people ask if the iPhone is a good camera to use for food photography. While I do believe working with DSLR’s or mirrorless cameras is the best approach when it comes to learning photography, I can confidently say that using your iPhone is a really great option now too. The iPhone cameras are getting better and better. In fact, I have created some separate posts that focus on using the iPhone, so be sure to check them out if this is a route that you want to explore.
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Camera Features To Consider
Now that you’re considering the different types of cameras, it’s important to think about the features you might need from your camera. When thinking about food photography in particular, let’s look at some features that I recommend considering.
1. Sensor Size
If you’re considering a DSLR, you’ll have a choice of a cropped sensor or a full frame. This decision will also affect the types of lenses you’ll need to buy too.
CROPPED SENSOR VS. FULL FRAME
A cropped sensor, in a nutshell, will crop the size of the image. A full frame camera will give you the full frame of the image. The beginner and intermediate-level DSLR’s will have cropped sensors. They’re lighter in weight and are more affordable. Full frame DSLR’s are heavier, have more advanced features and are more expensive.
Camera brands have different ways of labeling a cropped sensor vs. a full frame camera. For example, Nikon’s cropped sensor cameras are labeled DX and Nikon’s full frame sensor cameras are labeled FX. Canon’s cropped sensor cameras are labeled EF-S, whereas Canon’s full frame cameras are labeled EF. Be sure to ask which is which depending on the brand you consider buying.
You don’t necessarily need a camera with the highest megapixels, because a lot of DSLR’s will come with plenty of megapixels. But, this is a popular feature that camera companies love to promote, so let’s talk about it a little more.
The more megapixels, the better the image quality, right? This is technically true, but the real question is what will you be doing with your images?
Are you posting your images online to a blog or social media? Or, are you going to be printing your images?
If you are going to be posting images to the web mostly, megapixels don’t really need to be a deciding factor when buying a camera. Web images are a low resolution (72dpi), so you won’t see a difference in your images online if you use a camera with 23 megapixels vs. a camera with 45 megapixels.
If you are printing your images, the image resolution will need to be at least 300dpi for a nice clear image. So, how does printing an image translate to megapixels?
If you are printing an image that’s 8×10 at 300dpi, that would mean that your camera would need to have at least 8 megapixels to print the image clearly. Most DSLR cameras have at least 24 megapixels now, which is well within a clear print range. So, unless you’re planning to do larger-format printing, you probably don’t need a camera with the highest number of megapixels.
3. Focus Points
The number of focus points a camera offers is important to know, because the more options you have, the more flexibility you have with different different focal points in your compositions. Food isn’t always centered in the middle of the image. Sometimes the composition requires the food to be positioned in the bottom right or left of the image and you’ll want the flexibility to move your focal point easily without limitation.
4. Ability To Shoot RAW
You’ll want to be sure that your DSLR or mirrorless can shoot RAW images. Most cameras (including your iPhone) will allow you to shoot raw images now, which is pretty cool.
RAW means you are getting all of the information from the image you captured which allows for full editing capabilities of that image.
JPG is a compressed format of your image which means, you won’t get all the information for the image you captured and won’t have the full range of editing capabilities.
A lot of camera companies will talk about the ISO range on their cameras. ISO is your camera’s sensitivity to light. A higher ISO will give you more light sensitivity, but potentially more noise (or grain) in your image. A lower the ISO will give you less light sensitivity and less noise.
Noise is a grainy effect in your images caused from using a high ISO setting. Each camera starts showing noise at different ISO settings. The more advanced the camera, the higher you can go with your ISO without seeing noise.
For example, the more advanced Nikon D750 doesn’t show noise in the image until the ISO is around 10,000, which is pretty awesome for low light shooting. Whereas with a model like the Nikon D7100, the ISO started showing noise at around 2000.
With food photography the lower the ISO, the better, so should ISO even be something to consider? Possibly.
Whether or not higher ISO capabilities will matter for your food photography really depends on how you are shooting your images.
If you are shooting in low light situations and holding your camera, a higher ISO capability is definitely something to consider. If you use a tripod and shoot with artificial lights or have a lot of natural light to work with on set, a higher ISO capability may not be as important.
6. Frames Per Second
Food photography isn’t just about shooting motionless food on a plate. Sometimes you will want to capture movement like a splash or a pour. When trying to capture movement, photographers will try using Continuous Mode on their camera. This mode allows you take several shots with one click, similar to “burst mode” with your iPhone.
The frames per second is important when you shoot in Continuous mode. The more shots you can get per second, the better your chances are to capture that perfect moment in the movement of the splash or pour.
7. Ability To Shoot Tethered
As a food photographer, I shoot tethered a lot for my client projects. Tethered means that my camera is hooked up to my computer so I can see the images on a larger screen as I shoot. Being able to see the images on my large computer screen helps me correct any issues with the image much easier and quicker. It’s very easy to miss details when reviewing images on the small LCD screen on the back of your camera.
8. Dual SD Card Slots
When I’m not shooting tethered, I have more peace of mind when I can have two SD cards in my camera. I always use the second card as a backup just in case the other card goes a little cray cray.
9. Video Capabilities
Video is becoming more and more popular, even among photographers. It’s important to look into video capabilities if this is something you may want to learn down the road.
As a professional food photographer, I know all too well that purchasing a camera is a big deal. If you’re really unsure about what camera to buy or are stuck between some options, I highly recommend renting first! It’s a great option to ensure you’re comfortable with the investment.
Lensrentals.com is a fabulous resource for renting photography gear, lighting and accessories. I actually use them when I’m not necessarily looking to buy, but when I need something specific for a client project. It’s super convenient to rent when you need to, so remember that renting is always an option before purchasing.
Nikon Cameras for Food Photography
I’m a Nikon shooter, so I wanted to share some of the Nikon cameras that I have owned and rented as a professional food photographer. I’m covering:
- Nikon D750
- Nikon D850
- Nikon D7100
- Nikon D5500
If Nikon isn’t on your radar, use the above features as a guide to finding the right camera & brand for you.
I currently own the Nikon D750 and there were several factors I considered before purchasing this camera that I’m sharing below.
1) IMAGE SENSOR/FULL FRAME (FX)
I knew I wanted a full frame camera (FX) and the D750 is a full frame camera.
2) ISO CAPABILITIES
A lot of food photographers will tell you that ISO capabilities aren’t important in food photography, but like I mentioned earlier, it really depends on how you’re shooting.
When I bought this camera, I was shooting with a lot of restaurants and used natural light. Some restaurants had awesome natural light pouring in, but some didn’t. Since I wasn’t using artificial lighting quite yet, I wanted a camera that could handle a higher ISO setting without adding too much “noise” (or grain) to my images. This is why ISO was so important to me back then.
If you’re a photographer who is holding your camera and working with natural light, higher ISO capabilities are definitely something to consider.
3) DUAL MEMORY CARD SLOTS
This feature is really important to me when I’m not shooting tethered. It ensures that my images are safely backed up on not one, but two memory cards.
4) BUDGET FRIENDLY
Although FX cameras are more expensive than DX cameras, the D750 was on the lower end of expensive in comparison to other FX cameras I was considering. I was considering the Nikon D810 before I purchased the Nikon D750. I rented both cameras from lensrentals.com to test them out and didn’t see any major differences with my images. So, ultimately, budget ended up being the deciding factor for me at the time, which allowed me to invest in some extra fancy FX lenses.
SPECS FOR NIKON D750
- Image Sensor Format: FX
- Megapixels: 24.3
- Sensor Size: 35.9mm x 24mm
- ISO: 100 – 12,800 (Lo 50 & Hi1 – 25,600 & Hi2 – 51,200)
- AF Focal Points: 51
- FPS: 6.5 Frames per Second
- Video: Full HD: 24-60 fps / HD: 1280 x 720 50 & 60 fps
- Built-in WiFi
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The Nikon D850 is an awesome FX camera that I rent for a variety of commercial client projects. I rent this camera when my clients need large-format printing capabilities. My D750 will produce beautiful prints, but can’t produce images for large-scale printing with only 24.3 megapixels. The D850 has 45.7 megapixels, which is wonderful for my clients needs.
SPECS FOR NIKON D850
- Image Sensor Format: FX (Full Frame)
- Sensor Size: 35.9mm x 23.9mm
- Megapixels: 45.7
- ISO: 64 – 25,600
- AF Focal Points: 153
- FPS: 7 Frames per Second
- Video: 4k, Full HD, HD, Slow Motion
- Built-in WiFi
NIKON D7100 (Cropped Sensor/DX)
This is the second DX camera that I bought before officially upgrading to full frame cameras. I was ready to upgrade from my beginner-level DSLR, but the FX cameras were still out of my price range at the time. The functionality isn’t much different in comparison to my first camera, but the features become more advanced as you upgrade camera models. The D7100 was a really fun step up from my first camera and didn’t break the bank.
SPECS FOR NIKON D7100
- Image Sensor Format: DX (Cropped Sensor)
- Sensor Size: 23.5mm x 15.6mm
- Megapixels: 24.1
- ISO: 100 – 6,400 (Hi1 – 12,800 / Hi2 – 25,600)
- AF Focal Points: 51
- FPS: 6 Frames per Second
- Video: Full HD, HD
NIKON D5500 (Cropped Sensor/DX)
My first DSLR was the Nikon D3100, but they don’t make that camera model anymore. The Nikon D5500 is comparable to the D3100 and is a great starter camera if you’re new to photography.
It’s affordable and easy to use so you can practice shooting in Manual mode. After I learned how to shoot in Manual mode, I had a big breakthrough with my photography. I started seeing the limitations of the beginner-model features, which helped me know what to look for in my next camera.
SPECS FOR NIKON D5500
- Image Sensor Format: DX (Cropped Sensor)
- Sensor Size: 23.5mm x 15.6mm
- Megapixels: 24.2
- ISO: 100 – 25,600
- AF Focal Points: 39
- FPS: 5 Frames per Second
- Video: Full HD, HD, VGA
I hope this post has shed some light on different camera features and what to look for when choosing the best camera for food photography. Good luck in your search and reach out with questions anytime!
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This post contains affiliate links which means if you click or make a purchase through my site, I might make a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only promote products that I actually use and support.
All images ©Regan Baroni 2020.