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Best Camera for Product Photography Guide

Deciding on the best camera for product photography can be a bewildering choice to make with so many camera systems on the market. DSLR, Mirrorless Compact System Camera, Compact Camera, Compact Camera/Smartphone Hybrid, iPhone or other Smartphones? They can all produce great results with the right approach. Here we’ll weigh up the pros and cons of each system and offer some hot tips on how to get the best from your choice of camera system.

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Whether you’re a professional photographer or someone who has the need to take photos of your products you’ll likely want to use your camera for types of photography other than product photography. This, rightly so, should have an influence on your choice of camera.

Let’s start with the professionals choice of camera for product photography.

Using a DSLR for Product Photography

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When I have a commission for some product photography I’ll typically use my Canon 5D MKII DSLR, but not always as you’ll see later. The 5DMKII is a full frame DSLR (sensor physical dimensions same size as 35MM film). APSC size sensor and other crop sensor DSLRs can also produce professional results for product photography. The quality of your lens has far more bearing on your image quality. For close-up/macro product photography I usually use a Canon EF 100mm f2.8 Macro lens. Canon also do an APSC equivalent EF 60mm f2.8 macro which gives excellent results. I know the other DSLR manufacturers have similar lenses in their stables.

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Having said that, you can achieve stunning results using some very basic kit lenses. Although you’ll not be able to shoot true macro with a standard lens, you can shoot at the closest shooting distance and crop the image in for a close-up of smaller subjects. Standard kit lenses are ideal for larger product images that don’t need macro. Most DSLR’s these days have a high pixel count sensor meaning you can crop the image for a close-up and still have a high enough resolution for display on the web at least. Almost every recent DSLR on the market these days gives you all the control over settings you’ll ever need for product photography of small or larger subjects. The most important feature I find with DSLRs for product photography, compared to other camera systems, is full manual control of focus. Speed of operation is also an important factor for professionals.

Pros

  • Interchangeable lenses including true macro (1:1 ratio)
  • Lens adaptors available – Bellows, lens reversing adaptors, macro filter attachments, macro tube adaptors, tilt and shift
  • Multi exposure control modes including full manual control
  • Full manual focus control
  • Custom white balance control
  • Ability to view photo composition through viewfinder (and LCD screen)
  • Many DSLRs now feature ‘Live View’ on LCD
  • Compatible with Modahaus Tabletop Studios

Cons

  • Macro lenses can be expensive

Hot Tip

Investing more in a good macro lens, rather than in a higher spec body, makes sense as you can always upgrade a body in the future and your lens should remain compatible with future camera bodies.

Using a Mirrorless Compact System Camera for Product Photography

This is a relatively new camera genre. Let’s call them MCSCs. They come with a variety of sensor sizes up to APSC size. They have interchangeable lenses like DSLRs but don’t have an optical viewfinder. Therefore they don’t need the mirror that’s used to direct the image to a DSLRs optical viewfinder – hence the term mirrorless. You view the image on the LCD.  If you’re comfortable using an LCD rather than a viewfinder for all types of photography, including outdoor photography, then this could be your camera of choice for product photography. Some models also have an optional electronic viewfinder such as the Sony NEX-F3.

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Electronic viewfinders have improved a great deal in recent years. A typical MCSC  with an APSC size sensor has almost all of the advantages of a DSLR for product photography. Many have touch screens for settings including touch to set focus point. This gives you almost the level of manual focus control you’ll find on a DSLR. Some also have the ability to zoom in on the image on the LCD for fine focus control. More often than not, I use the LCD screen on my DSLR when shooting product photography so the lack of a viewfinder on a MCSC is no big deal. You also have the advantage of many controls at your fingertips on the touch screen. Best go for a lens with either macro or at least a close focussing distance like 20cm/8″ or less for product photography of small subjects such as jewelry.

Pros

  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Multi exposure control modes including manual control
  • Manual focus control on some models
  • Custom white balance control
  • Ability to adjust settings with touch screen
  • More compact than a DSLR
  • Compatible with Modahaus Steady Stands for overhead product photography
  • Compatible with Modahaus Tabletop Studios

Cons

  • Limited lens selection at present with some brands

Hot Tip

Consider a MCSC with a good range of lenses and ideally a macro or with a close minimum focus distance.

Using a Compact Camera for Product Photography

canon-powershot-g15-product-photography

A modern compact camera typically has a fixed lens with a zoom range from wide angle to telephoto. You don’t have the choice of adding a lens later so choose your camera carefully. Unlike most compacts, the Canon Powershot G15 shown above also has a viewfinder – useful for outdoor photography. Many compacts have very close macro capability, some as close as 2cm/1″ although the macro often only works with the lens at the wide angle setting. This means you can sometimes suffer from wide angle distortion in macro mode which can make some subjects look a bit odd. However taking care of your camera’s orientation to your subject can minimise the distortion. If you use a compact camera on macro mode, and are limited to wide angle, you can position your subject taking up a quite small central area of the frame then crop in tighter when post processing images. Although this means you’ll lose image resolution, if you have a high pixel count camera (12mp+) to begin with, then the image resolution should still be good enough for online display even after cropping. This helps avoid the wide angle distortion you may find if you fill the frame in wide angle macro. A compact camera with a macro mode means you don’t have the expense of a separate macro lens. Many recent compacts have touch screen technology that allows you to touch screen to set the focus point which is a major benefit for product photography. You also have the benefit of a Compact Camera’s zoom feature when shooting non-macro shots of larger subjects.

Pros

  • Multi exposure control modes
  • Manual focus control on some models
  • Custom white balance control on most models
  • Ability to adjust settings with touch screen on some models
  • More compact than a DSLR or Mirrorless Compact Camera
  • Compatible with Modahaus Steady Stands for overhead product photography
  • Compatible with Modahaus Tabletop Studios

Cons

  • Older compacts may not have macro mode or manual focus control

Hot Tip

Consider a Compact Camera with macro mode and manual focus control – touch screen focus control is ideal.

Using a Samsung Galaxy Camera for Product Photography

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The Samsung Galaxy Camera falls into the realm of Compact Camera/Smartphone Hybrid. Not to be confused with a Samsung Galaxy Smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Camera has all the features of a modern high spec compact camera and all the features of a modern high spec Smartphone and more! It has a full Android 4.1 Jelly Bean operating system on board, built in WiFi and ability to slot in a Sim card. You have access to all the Apps on Google Play and elsewhere. The built in camera App has a unique user interface with manual exposure control options. A huge touch screen from where you control all the features, including touch to focus. You can even make phone calls with it! There are useful on board image editing features. In theory, using Apps like WordPress for Android, I could have completed a blog post just like this all directly from this Hybrid Camera. i.e. Shoot all the images, edit and crop the images. Access the website blog admin area using WordPress for Android, write the post, add images and publish the post. All done directly from a hybrid Camera! The Samsung Galaxy Camera is pretty new and at the time of writing my favorite Android Camera replacement App, Camera FV-5 wouldn’t play with the Galaxy Camera. Perhaps the fact the Samsung Galaxy Camera has optical zoom was responsible. I’m sure new updates of Camera FV-5 will play with the Galaxy Camera soon 😉

If the Samsung Galaxy Camera ticks some of the boxes for you, another major feature it has is a massive zoom of (35mm equivalent) 23mm – 483mm. It performs well as a product photography camera aided by it’s intuitive interface and large 4.8″ touch screen. I did however find it slow to use for general point and shoot photography. You’ll find some reviews on the broader features and performance of the Galaxy Camera elsewhere. I do think this level of connectivity will become more common across the many camera systems in the not too distant future.

Pros

  • Large 4.8″ touch screen
  • Multiple exposure control modes
  • Touch screen focus control
  • Good auto white balance (AWB)
  • Custom white balance
  • Most controls accessed on touch screen
  • More compact than a DSLR. Similar size to Mirrorless Compact Camera
  • Unique, intuitive user interface
  • Advanced connectivity for a camera! You can also make phone calls with it 😉
  • Compatible with Modahaus Steady Stands for overhead product photography
  • Compatible with Modahaus Tabletop Studios

Cons

  • Quite large and heavy for a compact camera
  • The user manual is a bit inaccurate in places when describing photographic terms
  • If you’re familiar with other camera system operations, you may find the interface a bit alien at first

Hot Tip

Some retailers offer new customers a dedicated masterclass for the many features this camera offers. Worth considering.

Using an iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S3 Smartphone for Product Photography

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You can achieve remarkable product photography results with almost all Smartphones and other mobile devices like tablets. To put Smartphone camera megapixels in perspective, the image below was shot with an iPad 2 with its mere 0.7 megapixel camera with more than enough resolution for online display. The iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy SIII both have 8 megapixel cameras.

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One of the disadvantages that Smartphone cameras have compared to all the above camera systems is they don’t have optical zoom. If they do have any zoom feature it will be digital zoom. Digital zoom just means you zoom in closer to the pixels that make up the image. This means loss of image quality which can be evident if your Smartphone has a low pixel count sensor and you zoom in a great deal. The standard un-zoomed image captured on Smartphones is typically quite a wide angle. This can cause the same wide angle distortion mentioned above with Compact Cameras if you’re shooting close-up or macro. The closer you are to your subject then the more likely you’ll have some image distortion. Again, you can minimise this by being careful of your cameras orientation to your subject. The same tip mentioned for Compact Camera applies – leave subject smaller in centre of frame, then crop in post process as long as you have a decent megapixel count sensor and you don’t crop away too much. The two images below show the amount of detail the iPhone 5 and Samsung SIII have captured. These details are cropped from the full frame images shown on the phone pictures above.

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The macro facility on some Smartphones is excellent and there is also a distinct advantage Smartphones have over the cameras mentioned above. One of the problems you can encounter when shooting reflective subjects like jewelry, in close-up or macros, is reflections of your camera lens appearing in the subject. The bigger the lens, the bigger the reflection. This means Smartphones have a distinct advantage in this scenario. The shot below shows the Samsung SIII shooting jewelry overhead with the aid of the Modahaus Steady Stand SS200 (now part of the new SS300 Kit) and Tabletop Studio TS216. The Jewelry was placed on an elevated platform (upturned cup and drinks coaster) to bring them to the correct camera to subject distance for close-up macro photography. The Steady Stands range all come with an anti-reflection screen. This is a white polymer mask that covers the face of the smartphone and has a small aperture to allow the lens to capture the subject with minimal or no camera lens reflection in the reflective surfaces of the jewelry.

jewelry on elevated platform

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The resulting images above have no evidence of camera lens reflections. The ‘soft box’ side walls of the Steady Stand help diffuse light and give clean uncluttered reflections. I mentioned earlier, I don’t always use my DSLR for product photography and this instance is a good example of when I may choose to use my compact camera or Smartphone for an overhead shot of a subject. The Steady Stand ensures the camera is completely level with the subject below which means you achieve edge to edge sharpness. To shoot this type of subject overhead with a DSLR means using a tripod with a cantilever arm to get the camera overhead. Checking you are perfectly  level with the subject is tricky and avoiding shadows from tripod legs is difficult. I’ve had images shot with my iPhone and Steady Stand reproduced in printed jewelry catalogues recently.

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The above image shows this necklace and bangle shot with the iPhone 5 showing almost the full frame. This demonstrates the slightly wide angle perspective typical of most Smartphone cameras. In this case the composition and the size of the subject worked well with the wider angle lens. We shot this on the Modahaus Tabletop Studio Pro TS320 and used the iPhone 5 with the camera replacement App, Camera +. We also used the focus stacking technique covered in this post. There’s an Android camera replacement App we’ve used with the Samsung S3 called Camera FV-5.

Pros

  • Multiple exposure control modes with a variety of Apps
  • Touch screen focus control
  • Good auto white balance (AWB)
  • Custom white balance with some Apps
  • Controls accessed on touch screen
  • More compact than a DSLR, Mirrorless Compact Camera and Compact Camera
  • Good macro capability
  • Intuitive user interface
  • Multitude of image manipulation Apps available
  • Advanced connectivity for a camera! It’s a phone after all 😉
  • Compatible with Modahaus Steady Stands for overhead product photography
  • Compatible with Modahaus Tabletop Studios

Cons

  • Wide angle lens
  • No optical zoom
  • Exposure control is slightly limited compared to all above camera systems

Hot Tip

Smartphones with macro capability and a higher pixel count recommended. Use camera replacement Apps Camera+ for iPhone/iPad and Camera FV-5 for Android.

Wrap up

The new Samsung S4 with its 16 megapixel camera promises to be a real game changer for Smartphone product photography. This will mean you can use the digital zoom and still have a decent image resolution. Other camera system developments are interesting. Camera manufactures are starting to draw our attention to the importance of physical sensor size rather than just number of megapixels although there’s an element of marketing driving this.

An old adage ‘ The best camera, is the camera you have with you’ partly applies here. If you already have a camera and are unhappy with the results you’re achieving on your product photography then the camera is not necessarily the culprit. Adding bigger and brighter lights is unlikely to improve matters either. Essential for good product photography is a steady camera support such as a tripod (or a Steady Stand for compacts and Smartphones). You can use a multitude of lighting sources as shown in this product photography lighting guide. Controlling and diffusing your lighting is important. Choosing the right background and taking a few simple steps to control exposure will work wonders with your product photography.

You can visit our other Guides and Blog posts for more tips on product photography and the versatile Modahaus system. You may connect with us via RSS, Email signup, Twitter or Facebook to keep fully up to date.

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  • TQ Al

    Hi, and thank you for the good advice on how to solve this problem. I stoped reading after the DSLR, becous i sit with an 600D with an 18-55mm standard and a 50mm 1,4
    Now im hoing to take pictures of leather bags/purses, jakets and different accesories. To be honest here im on my own, living in Iraq i dont have acces to other than what i have, since money dont come esy here. I dont have any experience but i have to start som were. I was thinking about building a simple light box and using my 50mm to make some closeups on 2,8 for cover photos. And making some nice and clear pictures for the product content with the same 50mm. Whats your opinion on that? Oh and thanks again, i love googling and finding exactly what im searching for. 🙂

  • modahaus

    Hi TQ Al, Thanks for your question. I know the 600D and the Canon 50mm f1.4 lens well. You should get great results with that. Shooting at f2.8 will give you a short depth of field which can be very effective to drawing the viewers eye to a particular point of detail. At 1.4 the lens produces distinct soft edges. The lens is at optimum sharpness between f5.6 and f8 and best to avoid using below f16 as diffraction softening creeps in. A great lens though. Anything you can use to soften direct light generally helps with product photography. Setting your camera to spot metering will help with better exposure and any kind of camera support should help eliminate camera movement. Setting ISO 100 will help eliminate image noise/grain creeping in. Hope that helps, Lex

  • futurperfect

    Just wondering if you could say who made that “necklace and bangle” above. Love that jewelry! Thank you.

  • Yoel Fink

    Hi. Thanks for the info and tips. I have recently encountered this app and tried it out – gives nice results in minimum time and effort –
    http://petapixel.com/2015/11/10/product-camera-is-a-camera-app-that-creates-photos-of-objects-on-white-backdrops/

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