As a blogger, I’m often asked what kind of camera I use to shoot my garden close-ups or my travel landscapes, and the truth is — up until this past March, I just used a plain old point-and-shoot.
I’m married to the best photographer in the world, so I’ve learned — and firmly believe — that a good eye makes a good photo. While a fancy camera doesn’t hurt, the art of photography is really based on composition and lighting (did you know photos is the Greek word for light?).
If I had to choose the one tool that I think is most important for bloggers aspiring to better pictures, I would say, first of all — great, natural light. Second would be the gear and the knowledge of how to use that gear. And third would be to buy the best lenses you can afford, as I feel the body is secondary to good glass.
There are countless choices out there for cameras and lenses, and many more reviews than you can ever read in a lifetime. I always wonder how those super technical, super serious gear reviewers even find the time to shoot for fun?!
But this is my layman’s list. It’s very well-suited to bloggers and travelers. Everything is relatively affordable and you can own an entire interchangeable lens system for less than the cost of a high-end DSLR body. Read on!
I shoot with an Olympus OM-D EM-5. This camera is also known as a micro four thirds camera or a mirrorless DSLR. I chose this format as I wanted a small, lightweight camera that I could tote along and not attract too much attention. (The only attention I get with this thing is from the curious “Is that a film camera?” camp, and not of the suspicious “Are you a professional photographer?” sort.)
There are plenty of reviews online comparing m4/3 to APS-C and full-frame cameras so I won’t get into that here, but I will say that the image quality and technical capability of my OM-D rivals that of many professional cameras (including the oft-loved — and much more expensive, much more back-breaking — Canon 5D Mark II, which I used to shoot the first four pictures in this post). The m4/3 format basically allows a DSLR to shrink in size but still maintain an excellent sensor.
The OM-D is weather-sealed, and though I don’t have all the weather-sealed lenses to make the setup bomber, the little protection I do have for the body gives me some peace of mind when I’m rooting around in the dirt or snapping away in the snow. I love the retro silver body. The tilting screen lets me shoot from high angles or low angles without bending silly into yoga positions. I also get great HD video, though I don’t use the video feature enough to have any real commentary on that.
All in all, it’s the perfect camera for my purposes and it’s all that most people will ever need. My husband, Mr. Pro, has actually been so impressed with my OM-D that he’s thinking about trading in one of his pro cameras for it… and that’s sayin’ somethin’.
For years, I primarily used a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3, and it’s what all of my pre-2013 blog images were shot with. This camera has been good to me. It’s a point-and-shoot that turns out awesome pictures, on top of being completely waterproof, dust-proof, freeze-proof, and crush-proof. It’s still my go-to adventure camera for those reasons, and has quite a few dings and scratches to show for it.
A really neat feature is its GPS capability, which outputs exact locations on a map when you download your pictures. I’ve been able to zoom in on secluded surf breaks in Panama and remote trails in the Sierra wherever I’ve taken my camera. I even have a floaty wrist strap for it when I want to take pictures of my friends while we’re out surfing.
If you’re not ready to take on a DSLR yet, I highly recommend the TS3 (or whichever is the latest version of this camera — at the time of this writing, it was the TS5). It’s simple to operate yet still has some basic manual controls for the more advanced user.
All my lenses are specifically made for the m4/3 format, which has a 2x crop factor. That simply means you multiply the focal length by 2 in order to find its 35mm film equivalent.
The lens that stays on my camera the most is my Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 (equivalent to 50mm). It’s perfect for portraits (producing beautiful bokeh, or blurred backgrounds) and still shots of scenes I photograph most often (namely food, plants and projects). And the f/1.4 aperture is ideal for low-light situations, especially indoors. If you invest in only one lens, I recommend this one.
For wider shots, I use the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 (equivalent to 24mm). It’s not too wide where it causes distortion at the corners, but wide enough to capture entire rooms, backyards, and landscapes. I would say this is my number-two lens, and between this and my 25mm, I’m set for most shooting situations. Typically these are the only two lenses I take with me when I travel.
When I need to zero in on a subject, I use the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario PZ 45-175mm f/4.0-5.6 zoom (equivalent to 90-350mm). It’s fast and sharp enough to shoot surfers from atop a hundred-foot cliff (or hikers on a far-off summit), and that’s darn good for me.
Since this post is called “What’s In My Bag,” you’re probably wondering what I use to carry everything! My favorite is the Epiphanie Stella bag, followed by the Kelly Moore 2 Sues tote. Both bags have built-in padded compartments for camera gear, yet on the outside they look like everyday purses.
If I only need to carry my camera around for the day, I use this FlexARMOR X neoprene case which perfectly fits the OM-D with attached 25mm lens. I’ve dropped this case, nearly had a heart attack, then recovered when I found my camera unharmed. It’s rugged and it works.
When I’m traveling and want to be more discreet, I pack my things in a Camaroo padded insert so I can throw it into any bag or backpack. It’s also a great way to turn one of my handbags into a camera bag.
My camera strap is a limited-edition design from Sarah Frances Kuhn. It’s heavier than a typical strap since it’s metal, but paired with the OM-D, I don’t find it heavy at all. This strap probably gets just as many looks as the camera itself! I adore it.
For a tripod, I use a Joby GorillaPod Hybrid. I love this guy. I have a smaller version (with magnetic feet) for my TS3, and absolutely had to get this larger version when I bought my OM-D. I can get into way more places and positions with him than with a standard tripod. I tend to hand-hold most of my shots (and frequently stand on a step stool in the kitchen; I’m lo-fi like that), so the tripod is more for starry night pictures or self-timed group shots.
I use this Aputure wireless remote for self-portraits and pictures with long exposures. It’s simple and reliable with great range.
The iPad Mini (black 32GB wifi version) is a new addition to my camera gear, and so far I’m loving it. I used to laugh at all those people who held up their iPads to take a picture (it just looks silly, no?), but now I’ve become one of those people! It feels like you’re composing on a small TV screen, and is really fun for getting a group selfie with all your friends. I use the stock camera and edit in Snapseed, and these pictures usually end up on Instagram or Facebook.
For the last six months, I’ve used my micro four thirds gear every single day and love it more every time I discover a new feature. I like the fact that I can travel easily with everything and snap a quick shot without lugging around an embarrassingly big (or inconveniently heavy) camera.
When it comes time for me to buy a second body or upgrade my camera, I’m sold on the micro four thirds format. It’s exciting to see how this technology advances with each new body and lens that comes out… now if only they would make all their lenses waterproof! (Panasonic, are you hearing me?)