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The best camera for food photography is the one that makes it easy to achieve your goals!
Think about that for a second. The best camera will work with you to create beautiful photos that fit with your style and vision. Just like your style, your choice in camera is unique to you.
But there’s a catch. Not all cameras are created equal, and understanding how they differ is necessary to choose the best one for you!
I purchased my first DSLR based solely on price because I didn’t have enough knowledge to understand how my camera would impact my shooting process and finished photos.
After two years of shooting on a crop sensor then upgrading to a full frame in early 2019, I finally understand the pros and cons of shooting on both types of cameras.
Today I’m sharing that knowledge with you! Why?
Because choosing a camera is difficult! But it doesn’t have to be hard! You just need a little education, clarity, and confidence before you jump into making a decision.
I am so excited to share this knowledge with you! Whether you are a beginning food photographer or have been shooting for a while, this series is packed full of useful tips!
To breakdown the best camera for food photography, I split the information into 3 parts:
- Part 1: Overview of camera sensors, and the differences between a full frame and a crop sensor camera.
- Part 2: How the differences between a full frame and crop sensor impact your shooting setup and final photos.
- Part 3: Reflecting on your food photography goals, and how your choice in camera may affect those goals.
Part 1 – DSLR Camera Sensors
What is a DSLR Sensor?
At its most basic, a sensor is the part of your camera that captures the image. Light is reflected by the lens and into the sensor to create the picture. Before digital cameras, film was the sensor.
There were tons of different film brands and types of film to choose from, each with their own qualities which impacted your final photo. Digital camera sensors are no different. Each camera brand builds its sensors according to specific criteria that make them unique to their brands.
Sensors play a huge role in your final image.
- They control image quality through resolution and light sensitivity.
- They impact how much of a scene is visible through the viewfinder, and ultimately how much is translated to the final image.
- Sensors affect the blur in the background of a photo (bokeh); they can even have an impact on dynamic range, which is the range of tones captured between pure white and pure black.
You can also check out this video, which has a pretty good explanation of camera sensors.
What is a Full Frame?
A full frame camera contains the largest sensor available on the market. Think of it as the equivalent to a traditional 35mm camera.
Full frame cameras are typically marketed as high-end gear for professional photographers. The larger sensor has an impact on the overall size of the camera, weight, and cost. In general, full frames will weigh more, feel larger in your hands, and cost more money.
What is a Crop Sensor?
A crop sensor camera contains a smaller sensor. Cameras with this smaller sensor can also be called medium format, APS-C, or DX.
It is essentially a “cropped” version of a full frame sensor and gets its name from something called the crop factor. Because of the smaller sensor, these cameras are lighter, smaller, and less expensive.
What is the Crop Factor?
The crop factor is the ratio of the size of a camera’s sensor compared to the size of a full frame sensor.
Imagine holding a physical photo, then taking scissors and cutting off a portion of every side; that’s essentially what the crop factor is doing inside of your camera. It is narrowing your field of view so that you see less of the scene, or more of the subject fills your frame.
How does the Crop Factor Impact my Photos?
The crop factor changes the effective focal length of your lens.
Let’s say you and a friend are standing side by side; you are shooting with a crop sensor, and your friend is shooting with a full frame.
You both snap a picture and compare the output. The subject in the picture you shot, on a crop sensor, looks much larger within the frame compared to the photo taken on the full frame. It’s almost like you took a step forward, towards the subject, prior to taking the shot.
This is the crop factor. It changes the effective focal length of the lens by making it feel like you are shooting with a longer lens and narrowing the frame of view.
The photos above illustrate the impact the crop factor can have on your final photo. The photo on the left was taken with a full frame. If you had shot the photo on a crop sensor, the crop factor would have narrowed the field of view and less of the scene would be visible in the final image.
Determining the Crop Factor & Effective Focal Length
It’s good to be aware of the crop factor and effective focal length when shooting with a crop sensor. How do you determine these two numbers?
First, the crop factor varies by the camera manufacturer. A quick google search for a specific brand will give you the most up-to-date crop factor.
I shoot with Nikon, which has a crop factor of 1.5.
Next, you need the focal length of your lens; for this example, I’m using a standard 50mm prime lens.
Determining the effective focal length is a simple calculation. Multiply the focal length of your lens (50mm) by the crop factor for your camera (1.5). The result is an effective or perceived focal length.
In this case, a 50mm lens on a crop sensor camera will actually feel more like a 75mm lens; it will feel like you are closer to the subject.
In part 2 of my best camera for food photography series, I’m going to walk through how your camera choice (full frame or crop sensor) will impact your shooting setup and final images.
New to food photography? Check my blog post on 6 Tips to take Seriously when Starting Food Photography