So you finally want to dive into some more serious photography than your simple iPhone camera? Don’t get me wrong, smartphone cameras have come in a long way over the last few years in sharpness and even lowlight shooting quality with amazing sensors like HTC One’s UltraPixels or the iPhone 5s. But there are still some things that a smartphone hasn’t been able to do.
Your phone won’t give you control over exposure thanks to the fact that your phone automatically compensating for everything—after all there’s more to photography than panoramas and making your photos look like they came from a camera in 1800s. So for all you looking to graduate passed Instagram, here are 10 great and affordable cameras and tools that any amateur photographer should have in their bag.
1. Panasonic Lumix LX-7
Moving up from a smartphone camera isn’t just a matter of getting more megapixels. It’s all about control. Like the karate kid you have to get in to the groove and learn all about the wax-on-and-wax-off techniques of photography. So we’re going to skip right passed point and shoot cameras and go for something a little bit more difficult.
The Panasonic Lumix LX-7 is a great learning camera that gives you plenty of control to change your aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance. It’s not an interchangeable lens camera, but it’s more important to become familiar with all the camera settings that you wouldn’t bat an eyelash at with your automagically enhancing smartphone camera. More importantly the LX-7 will also allow you to start shooting in RAW format, which you’ll be thankful for if you ever need to recover vacation photos that are too dark or too bright.
2. Transcend SDXC Class 10 16GB Card
You’re going to need a place to put all your photos, especially when the RAW files are considerably larger than any .jpegs you’ve shot before or seen on the web. Fortunately, flash memory has become very affordable over the last decade, so you can easily nab a cheap, fast memory card for relatively little dough. Our advice is to go for anything Class 6 or higher and skip all the hype of the SanDisk Extreme III cards. They will suffice to make sure all your photos saving can keep up with your rolling shutter.
3. Canon EOS Rebel T5i
Price: $699 (body only)
Once you’ve got the basics down you’re ready to really jump into the world of Digital Single Reflex Cameras. The Canon Rebel T5i will be pretty much be the same ballgame as the last camera; you still have to manage all your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture settings. The only real difference here is you can look through an optical viewfinder. It also has a much larger image sensor both physically and digitally. Most importantly, though, you’ll get the added bonus of interchangeable lenses, which is where things start to get interesting.
Because you’re no longer limited to a fix lens, you can play around with a wider range of glass that can skew the world into artistic perspectives, reach out with farther telephoto lenses, and be more creative with your camera. But for starters let’s just go ahead and skip the starting kit lens and get something a little better.
4. Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM
The reason we want to skip out on the starter lens is because they really aren’t worth your time or money. Your basic Canon EF-S 18-55mm is just $200 and it works just fine—but the Sigma 17-70 DC Macro OS HSM is a much better lens that’ll only cost you a little bit more. On the wide end (that’s 18mm) it can snap photos with a larger aperture, which takes in more light to shoot at night and other dark situations. The lower f-stop also produces a narrower, bokeh filled depth of field.
The other 70mm end gives you a slightly extended range and the lens has a very short minimum focusing distance. A pairing of these two things makes the lens perfect for getting extremely close-up, macro shots that turns your camera into a makeshift microscope.
5. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens
Before we move on, there is one other extra lens you should pick up. The 50mm is one of the most basic and cheap lenses you will ever buy—but is totally worth a place in your collection. For just $100, you add this extremely fast piece of glass—meaning it has an extremely low f-stop or wide aperture. This makes the lens perfect for shooting darker situations or when you want to make dramatic photos with a blurred out background. As a fixed lens, the 50mm is also a great platform to start training yourself on how to manually focus your camera.
6. Lens Baby Composer
If you want to get even more artsy-fartsy about composing your photos, the Lensbaby Composer is basically a 50mm with a lens you can move around. Like the regular 50mm, it also has a very narrow depth of field and it’s one of the cheaper lenses you can buy. What makes it different is its ability to pivot front elements that skew the way light passes through the lens to your sensor. The resulting images you get have a much more dramatic, and often directional bokeh for more dynamic images.
7. Joby GorillaPod SLR-Zoom
A tripod seems to be a no-brainer piece of equipment for most photographers to have. But I’m not suggesting you get a tripod that’s longer your torso, made of carbon fiber, and costs half as much as your camera. Instead, we’re going to start off small with the Joby GorillaPod SLR-Zoom. It’s a small, stable platform that’s also tall enough for self-portraits or any sort of stationary shooting you’ll need to do as a beginner. Better yet, it’s even more flexible than a regular tripod that can wrap around any odd pole or tree.
8. IR Wireless Remote Control
Another big thing about having a tripod is it lets you take long exposures without having to worry about jostling the camera with your shaky hands. If you want to make doubly sure that your camera doesn’t shake at all or if you’re tired from running back to the camera every time you need to start a timer, you can buy a simple IR dongle to trigger your camera from afar. In some ways the small, cheap wireless trigger is even better than one of those fully featured, camera-controlling wired remotes.
9. Lowepro Pro Messenger 180 AW
Of course you’re going to need a bag to stow and carry around all your gear. Going with our light load strategy, we’re also going to pick a small inconspicuous bag that doesn’t scream, “I’m a photographer carrying around a lot of expensive gear.” The Lowepro Pro Messenger 180 AW is one of the leanest camera bags you can buy today without sacrificing the room to carry your DSLR, extra lenses, and all the other gear you need to have you.
10. Canon EOS 70D
So you’ve graduated from being just a beginner. Now you have all the skills to wrangle a real camera and shoot like a semi-pro. Eventually you will grow out of your starter cameras and want something a little bit more capable. But, before you jump ship to a full-frame camera or a completely different micro three-fourths system; you should consider the Canon EOS 70D. It is a more than admirable DSLR with a brand spanking new Dual Pixel AF system that makes autofocusing video so easy a child could do it. Plus with that bag full of decent glass, you can hold off on having to restart your lens collection all over again.
Kevin Lee is a freelance writer who types all day and listens to his ever-expanding music library. Follow Kevin Lee on Twitter at @baggingspam.