As the owner and photographer of a large, bustling photography studio hosting over 6 product photography sets, shooting hundreds of product photos a day, I know a thing or two about the best cameras for product photography.
Also as the owner of a big and bustling photography studio (POW! Photography) that shoots hundreds of product photos every day, I get asked what the best camera is for product photography all the time. Over the last decade of shooting, we’ve narrowed it down to 2 camera bodies that our photography team stands by. In this article I’ll share my secrets and go into extreme detail as to why, providing you with valuable test data, discussion & example images.
The Best Camera For Product Photography:
The Canon 6d Mark II ($1800) or Mark I ($1000)
Quite simply, the Canon 6d Mark II is the best bang for your buck. It uses a full frame sensor similar to the higher-end canons but at a fraction of the cost (around $1800, but i’ve seen it as low as $1100). The file size is large enough for almost all applications ( 6384px x 4224px ), especially if you consider that most ecommerce product photos end up being no larger than 2000px square, this is more than double what you need.
The files are super robust because it shares the same sensor technology (6D mark II, DIGIC 7 processor) as other top shelf canon cameras (5D Mark IV, DIGIC 6+ engine), and you can go deep into editing and still maintain quality which is most necessary with product photography. In product photography, retouching is almost always an obligatory step whether it’s background removal or advanced compositing.
Both the 6d mark I & II check all the boxes, since it allows for interchangeable lenses like all dslrs do.
The 6d Mark II compared to the 6d Mark I are very similar. The only difference is the older model chip and smaller file type. The Mark I creates an image that is 5568px x 3708px; only a little bit smaller than the Mark II, but more than large enough for ecommerce and robust enough for retouching. The Mark I is typically around $1000 – $800 or less used. So if you want to save some money, this is still a great option. We shoot with both at our studio and they perform great.
Canon 6d Mark 1
Around $800 – $1000
Canon 6d Mark 2
Between $1799 – $1099
What to look for in a camera body for Product Photography
- Image type – Raw file
Almost all product photos need some sort of retouching. It’s best start with a raw file and get as far as you can before taking it into photoshop.
- Image size – No smaller than 17 megapixels (or 4000px) on any side
You want a file large enough to edit and crop. To get depth of field on smaller items you will need to pull back and crop in later.
- Long Macro Lens ~90mm capabilities
You want to be able to get in close to a product and the near limit of most lenses is about 1 foot. With a good macro lens (like the one mentioned below) you can get within inches. A long lens in relation to the sensor removes distortion.
- Normal lens ~50mm capabilities
A normal lens is the widest you can get without distortion and is great for groupings where you don’t need to be closer.
- Sharpness –
For this I like to use DXO and see the sharpness of different camera body and lens combinations. Also, experience taking files into photoshop is helpful.
- Deep depth of field
This is really hard to test for, although I have included a few test targets below. The combination we suggest has come from years of shooting with different types of camera and lens combinations and is more of a gut feeling than anything. Take it or leave it.
- Manual Exposure mode
The ability to control f/stop, shutter speed & iso preferably at ⅓ stops is necessary.
- Custom White Balance
The ability to set a white balance that does not adjust automatically is key.
- Tethered Shooting
Taking a photo and having it show up on your computer saves a ton of time and allows you to make advanced evaluations while you’re shooting. You’re going to really struggle without this feature to fine tune exposures, lighting & compositions.
- Image type – Raw file
What’s Lens Should I Get?
A DSLR camera body is nothing without a lens. We recommend 2 lenses listed below. The 50mm lens is great for most applications and the 90mm is better for smaller items. You need a lens that is sharp, has a full depth of field, manual focus, the ability to get close & is affordable.
Learn more at the article below.
Disclaimer: It’s the photographer, not the camera
When asking most non-photographers how to get better photos, the answer is typically to get a better camera. Taking great photos is far more than just pushing a button. You may be sadly mistaken if you believe that by purchasing this system, your product photos will become better.
Cameras, lenses and lights are tools. When building a house, a nail gun will help you build more efficiently than a hammer, but it does not plan the house or teach you everything about structure and physics that an experienced professional would know. Buying the best gear will help you create better photos, but only if you know the fundamentals of photography.
If this looks like a lot of money to spend on equipment, then you’re correct. One of the many reasons to hire a professional photographer is because they’ve made the investment in the gear and have learned how to use it. It is worth comparing the cost of hiring vs buying.
A typical camera setup will cost you at least $2000, not including the other elements of the set. A professional product photo from POW ranges between $30 – $40 per photo. That’s 50 perfect professional photos and you don’t have to buy the stuff or learn how to use it. Also, lets face it, these photos are the only thing your customers see before they buy; they need to be perfect.
Why Canon 6d vs Other Canon DSLRs
The Canon 6d Mark II is an excellent camera body for the price point. However, when comparing it to its brethren Canon camera bodies, it is the lowest level full-frame camera available. So really this is a discussion about what you need vs what you want.
This may be bold, but in my opinion the only real argument you need to have is between the 6d mark II and the 5d Mark IV. The top shelf Canon 5ds (~$4000) is way too expensive compared to the similar 5d M IV, and the lower level 7d mark II is not a full frame camera.
Both are similar on a technical level but there are 3 main differences.
- Body Construction:
The 5d Mark IV has a sturdier, larger camera body than the 6d Mark II. It just feels better to hold. This doesn’t matter to us since this camera will live it’s life out in a cushy studio on a studio stand, being pampered like a baby.
- File Size:
- The 5d Mark IV – 31.26 MP ( Image size: 6880px x 4544px )
- 6d Mark II – 26.97 MP Sensor ( Image Size: 6384px x 4224px )
- 6d Mark I – 20.65 MP Sensor ( Image Size: 5568px x 3708px )
- The 5d Mark IV : ~$3500
- The 6d Mark II : ~$1800 – $1100
- The 6d Mark I : ~$1000 -$800
So here is the deal: are you willing to pay an extra $1700 or more for an image that’s roughly 7% larger? In my world, no, it’s not worth it. However, the 5d Mark IV is a more well rounded camera. I might consider the upgrade if I wanted to do video with it as well.
The real conversation is between the older model Mark I and the Mark II. The difference in sensor size is about 12% but the price is really tempting because the Mark I’s performance feels similar to the II. The question is do you need those extra megapixels? It’s a really hard decision to make.
Budget comes into play to help me make this decision. When writing this, I found a Mark 2 on sale for $1100 and the Mark I for $1000. In this case, I would spend the extra $100. It just depends how important saving $100 is worth to you.
What about __insert camera__? Will that work?
This article is about the best camera for product photography and in my overall opinion, this is it. You may be saying, “what about my new iphone,” or “what about this so-and-so point and shoot”. All cameras can take a product photo like any other camera can, but they are not the best. A typical follow-up response is, “well, I don’t have that kind of money to spend on photography equipment.” My response is things cost money and if you don’t want the best, then make due with other cheaper equipment. My point is that this article isn’t about all possible camera options, it’s about the best camera for product photography and we all have a choice to make on what we want to do with that information.
What about Nikon cameras? Is Canon better?
I love Nikon and they make comparable cameras, but let’s not get into the Nikon/Canon debate. I personally have the Nikon D610 with the same lens setup we recommend in this article. It’s great a great camera, but all our staff prefers Canon to the Nikon in the studio and the Nikon is our back-up. This doesn’t have anything to do with the specs and I believe it is more about preference.
What about the Sony Alpha A7R IV, The Nikon D850 or the Nikon D7200? People are talking about these.
No doubt these cameras are mind-blowingly awesome. They’re also very expensive. The Sony starts at $3500. D850 starts at $3000 and is on par with the Canon 5d Mark VI which we’ve discussed above.
If you are a professional photographer you are no doubt already aware of these camera bodies and crave them just like me. However, this article is about the best camera for product photography specifically. To me the best also involves price/reward, and these cameras provide a lot of bells and whistles not necessary to take amazing product photos. Don’t get me wrong though, I dream of a newer shinier camera model just like the next guy. I just can’t justify it in this situation.
I’ve seen some other articles recommending the D7200. As a previous owner, I cannot recommend that camera. The files were very frail and the crop chip is difficult to work with. For the same price I would definitely consider a used 6d mark I instead.
Can I Use My Cell Phone For Product Photography?
Most of our readers are business owners, who are non-photographers. When talking with them, their first question is usually can they use their cell phone. Of course you can. Any camera can be used to take product photos, but a cell phone camera fails to meet the criteria above in most categories and is not considered the best option.
The largest issue you’ll run into with cell phone photos is that the images tend to fall apart when taken into photoshop for retouching. The sensor is so small, the pixel depth won’t hold up to any actual editing and usually ends up looking pretty bad on the export. Retouching is a necessary part of any product photography workflow.
Another issue you run into with cell phone cameras is distortion. Since the lenses and sensors are very small, they typically are very wide angle. This usually results in whatever is center looking more “bulbous”.
In short, if you are getting serious about product photography then a cell phone will not cut it. If you feel like by purchasing this equipment you are getting in over your head, you may want to consider hiring a professional photographer instead. Your product photos represent the product and business, and it’s the only thing customers see online before they buy. These photos should rock. A professional photography camera with lens typically costs around $2000. You can get around 50 professional photos for that without having to buy the gear and learn how to use it.
There are a lot of options out there but when it comes to product photography the Canon 6d Mark I & II are the best option for the price. Any camera can take a photo, but after years of shooting literally over 200,000 product photos, as a team we’ve learned to love this camera body for it’s performance and it’s price.
Now that you know the best camera, continue to the next article to learn about 2 great lenses to use with it.