Optics Matter — Camera and Lens Guide for the New Canon DSLR Shooter

Waking Up With You in Vegas

Last month I spent four glorious days shooting the lights and sights of fabulous Las Vegas. As always, I packed my camera bag full of my favorite lenses and other accessories. I haven’t done a “what’s in my bag,” type post in a while, so I thought I’d use this trip to talk about what camera/lens combinations I used on this trip and why.

In today’s day and age, I hear many photographers talk about ditching their DSLRs for other sorts of setups. I am not one of those photographers. Simply put, I believe that optics matter. I believe that there are things you can do with a DSLR and lens that simply cannot be done as well with other setups. There are unique qualities and characteristics of a well made piece of glass that cannot be replicated with micro compact software based algorithms.

The light going through the glass is primary and fundamental in my opinion, and I refuse to give up the high quality I demand for the convenience of something tiny that I can fit in my shirt pocket, text my friends with or strap to my helmet.

Each photographer must find their own way when it comes to what works best for them, but for me the glass is what matters most of all and there is just no substitute for high quality Canon lenses.

I’ve been shooting Canon digital SLR cameras for over 10 years now and it’s the lenses that allow me to get the shots that I need to get and that allow me to accomplish what I need to accomplish photographically speaking. Like everyone else these days, I’ll snap off mobile shots and post them to Instagram, but what I feel is my more important body of work comes from my DSLR.

To start with, I’ll inventory what I brought with me on my recent Las Vegas Trip — what’s in my bag:

1 Canon EOS 70D camera body
1 Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera body
1 Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens
1 Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lens
1 Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens
1 Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens
1 Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 Fisheye USM lens
1 Benro Carbon Fiber Tripod
1 Sandisk 64GB SDXC Extreme Pro Flash Memory card
1 Sandisk 32GB SDHC Extreme Plus Flash Memory card
1 MacBook Pro
1 Drobo Mini

All of my camera gear fits comfortably into my LowePro CompuDaypack bag. I keep the MacBook Pro in the hotel room and it is where I dump my photos to at the end of each day of shooting. The Drobo Mini is used as backup, so that I always have two copies of my image files before clearing off my memory card. It easily fits in the hotel room safe, while I am out shooting during the day and night and connects via Thunderbolt so backup copies are quickly made.

So this is my system, but what’s right for you may be a different story.

The number one question I get from people on social networks is, “what camera should I buy?” The advice I give is pretty much always the same — some sort of Canon DSLR set up, depending on your budget.

Part of why I recommend Canon, is because that’s the gear that I love, use and know. I am simply blown away with the high quality I personally get out of the system. For the life of me, I cannot imagine living without the crisp, sharp perfection of my EF 135mm f/2L USM lens (my favorite lens).

While there are other systems out there, this is the system that I’ve adopted and mastered. It does a remarkable job of getting me the images that I want and need.

There are lots of other reasons why I recommend Canon as well though.

When you are a new DSLR user, I believe one of the best things you can do is try lots of different lenses. Because there are more DSLR Canon shooters out there than any other kind, I find that borrowing friends’ lenses is a great way to stretch your experience, then learn and try new approaches.

Over the years I’ve lent my own lenses on photo walks to hundreds of different people and am always pleased when someone gets to try one of mine out. Likewise when I’m out shooting, I always like running across a different Canon lens and being able to swap with a friend for a few hours to try something new. Chances are if you are going to get into photography you will end up with photographer friends, and chances are that more of them will be shooting with a Canon DSLR system than any other.

For example, this past year at Coachella I shot with some very serious high end professional lenses that my pal Robert Scoble got from a lens rental site, the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM and the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM.

If I wasn’t a Canon shooter, the fact that my buddy Robert Scoble brought those really nice lenses would have been worthless to me. As it was though, I was able to borrow these great lenses just like Robert was able to borrow my EF 8-15mm fisheye lens too to get some awesome crowd shots.

Canon’s range of lenses is remarkable and unmatched. There is a reason why the pros primarily shoot Canon. Even if you can’t afford many of the most expensive professional grade lenses, you can borrow them or even rent them from many places online. Their line up is unmatched, which is optimal for expanding your work with new lenses or renting specialty lenses from time to time.

Another positive about Canon is their great service and support. Many times I’ve sent my Canon bodies in for cleaning, my overworked lenses in for minor repairs, the service has always been quick and top notch. Although I’m more self taught and don’t have as much patience for training and education, Canon does have some great resources for the new DSLR user with the Canon Live Learning Center and Canon Live Learning.

These days I usually recommend new users go one of two ways when they want to take the next step with their photography and invest in a DSLR system.

For those on a bit tighter budget, I recommend getting the Canon EOS 70D Digital SLR Camera with the EF-S 18-135mm STM Lens. This is a perfect starter combo and runs around $1,500. While there are other cheaper Canon set ups, I think the EOS 70D provides significantly better quality for a little bit more in cost. This camera holds its value well and is a great camera to learn on. If you decide you want to spend more, you can always sell it back on eBay or somewhere else and upgrade to my next recommendation, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

The Canon EOS 5D Mark III, is the camera that I personally use the most. It is the workhorse of digital SLRs. It is the best camera I have ever owned. It also costs around $3,400 for the body alone though — so this camera is either for people who have that sort of money to spend, who are very committed to honing their DSLR skills (and maybe even selling photos to offset the cost), or who have tried another Canon system, like the EOS 70D and are ready to take the next step up.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I am going to give more detailed reports on the gear that I use in 5 different blog posts, one on the EOS 70D EFS 18-135mm STM lens set up for starters, and then one each on the four professional grade lenses I took on my Vegas Trip. I’ll provide photographic examples from these different set ups and talk about why I would recommend you consider each.

Although I’ve written several “what’s in my bag” type posts before, by way of full disclosure, I want to disclose that part of the reason for my writing this post now is because Canon recently contacted me about working closer with me as a Canon photographer. They have agreed to sponsor this post and I’m receiving compensation from them.

While I’ve turned down many sponsored type posts from other products in the past, because I’ve been such a passionate Canon user for so many years prior to being approached, I had no problem saying yes to this sort of arrangement with them. When I love a product I’m happy to endorse it. It’s exciting to me to be working closer with Canon and especially exciting to me that Canon is interested in the various social networks and what social photographers working on the web are doing today.

I’m also very open to this post being a conversation about the current state of photography gear — so feel free to give your own input on what works best for you and why. I’m happy to consider your input and also to answer any questions you may have about my gear or recommendations from my perspective.

Be Sociable, Share!
Loading Facebook Comments ...

One Comment

  1. Alex says:

    Hey Thomas, thanks for the post. We just started out, but we are using a Canon Rebel T3i body and the Canon nifty 50MM lens exclusively. Would you check out our work at our website: peachteaphotography.com and let us know what equipment you think we should move up to next?