Gear Recommendations & What’s in my bag?


Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. The following is a list of camera equipment that I personally use, have used in the past or newer versions of these. Links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you purchase through my link I may receive a commission that is used to support the blog, and I sincerely appreciate your support keeping it going! 


I grew up in the midst of photography.  Some of my earliest memories are of my papa showing slides at night against a sheet hung in the living room. Since then, there are several accomplished amateur photographers in the family and I followed in their footsteps. 

I got my first SLR in college. I had fun with it, and it opened up a whole new world for me. But keepin’ it real, it largely gathered dust when I started adulting and entered the work force.  

Years passed.  
The dust piled up.
Many more years passed.  
Decades in fact.
And the babies came, and it was amazing!
Then when we were about to travel to Vietnam for our first adoptions, I wanted to ensure I remembered it all and wanted to purchase a good camera to preserve those amazing memories. I waffled back and forth between a DSLR and a point-n-shoot. Ultimately, I got a good quality pricey point-n-shoot because I couldn’t see lugging a big ol’ DSLR all around Vietnam. And ultimately I totally regretted my decision to not get a DSLR.

For the beginner. . .

I purchased my first digital SLR, or DSLR, in 2009. ‘Cause you asked, (Okay, you didn’t really ask did you? But humor me, okay?) it was a Canon Rebel T1i. All the photos on the blog from June 2009 through May 2012 were taken with that little Rebel. I do not recommend this camera since there are now newer and better versions of it, but I did have so much fun with it, and it re-ignited my love of photography. Canon’s Rebel line is kinda the best non-professional camera that they have, and thus the Rebel has a non-professional price tag. I recommend it for anyone who want to “learn” digital photography. My Rebel was just perfect camera for me to start with! My thoughts on what camera to purchase are HERE

My first lens that went with that DSLR was only about $100, a Canon 50mm f/1.8. It is a fabulous first lens that I do recommend and showed me the potential of what a DSLR can do! If there is one bit of advice that I’d give to a first time owner of a DSLR, it would be to not purchase the “kit lens” that comes with a camera and instead buy a camera body only and a 50mm or a 35mm lens to go with it instead. My thoughts on a 50mm lens are hereIt’s a great all purpose lens that teaches how to use your SLR yet still produces great images relatively easily. And did I mention that it’s pretty affordable? It is! If you know this is a hobby you’re going to stick with for a while and can justify the price, the Canon 50mm f/1.4 is even better. If you think you might want a wider view of the world, a 35mm is also a great first lens! 

For the intermediate hobbiest. . .

But if you stick with photography, you’ll discover, maybe sooner rather than later, that an entry-level camera does have it’s limitations. Usually they are limiting in low light settings, produce a lot more noise than you’d like, and focusing can be challenging. So you’ll probalby want to upgrade your camera body and maybe even your lens too. Now at this point, I want you to take a moment and really think. Photography is not a cheap hobby and equipment can be expensive. So there is a chance that you’ll want to skip the intermediate gear and go right to the high(er) end equipment. It really depends on you. Are you the type of person that always wants the best? Do you have visions of making money from your hobby? If you answered yes to either of these, then you might decide to skip the intermediate gear and justify paying for the extra for nicer equipment. Now don’t get me wrong, the stuff that I’m mentioning here is really nice quality wonderful gear and will limit you very little. But the last thing to want you to do is buy camera gear only to have you trying to save for something different. 

For camera bodies at this level, I suggest looking in to a Canon 6D Mark II starting around $1900, a Canon 7D mark II starting at just over $1K. If you are into sport’s photography, the 7D is probalby your best option but low light setting may still be challenging. If you can afford it and seeing yourself continuing this journey as a hobbiest, I recommend the above mentioned 6D.

This might also be the time to upgrade your lens as well. A wonderful all-purpose, just-put-it-on-the-camera-and-leave-it-there lens is the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II. In addition to the 50mm lens mentioned above, this lens is my other work horse. It is an upgrade of the first big-girl lens I bought, the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 that was my first big purchase, and I still recommend it if you can find it, although the version II is a bit sharper. But I will also add here, and if you are a hobbiest that has been shooting and exploring your options about lenses, you probalby have a personal preference for zoom versus fixed lenses. If you are the type of photographer that prefers fixed lenses, you may be craving a wide(r) angle lens at this point, like a 24mm f/2.8. Even better in low light but considerably more moola is that 24mm f/1.4.

For the professional (or the gal that wants the best and doesn’t mind saving to get it!). . .

Eventually sold everything not nailed down in my home saved enough money to buy myself a Canon 5D Mark II and continued down my photography journey. My current camera is a Canon 5D Mark III, and I’m eyeing the Canon 5D Mark IV but just can’t justify the cost of it. A note of warning to the gal that that wants the very best equipment so they don’t regret their purchase and doesn’t ming getting a 2nd job to buy it… Even after you buy the best whatever, there will be a new(er) and better version of what you just bought eventually. So this logic isn’t fool proof. But there is a certain validity to the argument that you don’t mind spending extra to insure that you’re equipment isn’t limiting you. I get that. And if you’re a professional, and by that I mean anyone that is accepting any payment or services payment in exchange for photography, I think you need the right equipment.

For this level of equipment, I recommend either the 5D Mark III starting at just over $2500 or Mark IV starting at $3300. The Mark IV of course is the most recent model and does have a few features and upgrades that makes it the more desirable body. But I’m mentioning the Mark III too becuase even though it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, (like a wireless connection, touch screen and slightly better sensor and dynamic range) it is a good way to save almost a thousand dollars, and it’s a very sound, professional-grade camera.

Lenses. . .

In addition to the lenses that are mentioned above, these are some that I also have. An intervention might be in order. 

I have a Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS that is great for portraits and incredibly sharp, but not very good at covering wider areas, like a shot of a whole room, sports, or landscapes.  

Then Papa recently splurged (read-scrounged on Craig’s List for months and finally found a awesome deal) and bought me a 100mm f/2.8L IS macro lens. It’s a dream to play with and finally allows me to capture images really close up. On top of that, it’s a great portrait lens too. I would say it’s a really fun and great lens to add to your bag, and can help you out of a creative rut, but again it’s not a lens to start with becuase it’s not very practical for everyday life.  

And becuase I’m a lens whore and like to have personal experience with a variety of lenses so I know how to direct my students, (Yes, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!) I’ve since upgraded to a 50mm f/1.2L, and it is often the lens that I often stick on my camera and just leave it there until I want to do something special, especially something special in very low light. I have also added a 16-35mm f/2.8L, 135mm f/2L  and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS to my bag in the last several years. And whenever possible, which is more often the case than not, I purchase used and refurbished equipment. 

Editing. . .

Every photo you see from me has been post-processed, i.e. tweaked after the fact, brightening, cropping, correcting white balance, etc…  via editing. I consider myself a continual learner (aren’t we all?) post processing can erase many flaws (sometimes literally) and can cover a multitude of photographer sin. It’s also really really good at polishing up images that are great to begin with! The two basic types of post-processing that most all photographers use are Photoshop and Lightroom.
I have a subscription service to Adobe Creative Cloud that gives me access to both Photoshop and Lightroom (and a whole bunch of other stuff that I don’t use) for $10 per month. Truth be told, I can’t stand subscription services, but this is one that’s totally worth it for me. I use Lightroom for all my photos. Now let’s talk about Photoshop. I’ve taken a several classes to learn the in’s and out’s of Photoshop, and I appreciate the incredible endless possibilities it offers. If I want to be super creative or have a fun project in mind, I will reach for Photoshop, but for me Lightroom is still it when it comes to editing a photograph. I love my Lightroom to help me polish good images and “fix” mistakes on others. Lightroom is my main editing software. Lightroom is my BFF. In my opinion, compared to Photoshop, Lightroom is far faster and easier to use, and is designed for the way photographers think.

And don’t forget about. . .

Just few more odds and ends I always carry in my camera bag.

Extra battery. In addition to my camera and lens(es) this is probalby the most important thing in my camera bag! And it won’t do you any good if it’s not charged. Don’t get caught with a dead battery. Always have a 2nd battery charged up and ready to go. Always. I charge the dead one at the first possible chance. You’ll need to get one specific for your camera.

Extra memory cards. Always. There are always 4-5 memory cards in my bag in addition to the one(s) in my camera. Check your camera to see if you use CF or SD cards and get a couple extras. I prefer 32gb since it’s big enough to hold a lot of frames but small enough that I need to download every few shoots, since there’s nothing worse than losing or damaging a card that has a whole year’s worth of images on it!

Microfiber lens cloth. Whenever I pull a lens out, it’s nice to give it a good wipe over with a good cloth. And it happens more often than not that I lose my lens caps, so the lens will likely need it.

Mini tripod/Gorilla pod. Every once in a while I want to get in front of the lens or use a slow shutter speed. This little tripod doesn’t take up much room and it definitely comes in handy every once in a while! Warning, this is not a secure tripod for a DSLR so I only recommend using it when your camera can take a tumble onto a soft surface, like a couch cushion. Still I love that it’s small enough to put in my camera bag.

Camera raincoat. Truth be told, I’ve never used this camera rain coat, but I absolutely still want it in my bag just in case it rains and I really need to get the pic. My gear is all weather sealed, but still…If there was a good steady rain fall, I just wouldn’t want to risk damaging it. They’re cheap and don’t take up much room. And when/if you use one, you just toss it out.

I really don’t have any special skill or talent. On the contrary, I am and regular ol’ soccer mom and photographer who is continually humbled by how much I don’t know! But I love to learn, I love to take photographs, and I love to practice. And if I can do this, you can too! Please don’t hesitate to give me a holler if you have any questions!