Essential Photography Gear

My photography gear has changed a lot since I first started shooting with a DSLR in 2006. I want to share what worked for me as a beginner (and make a couple of recommendations to those of you looking to buy), and then I’ll share what works for me now.

For Beginners

My first DSLR was a Canon Rebel XT. I wanted to be able to shoot all of my product shots for my stationery line in-house, and my husband bought that camera for me in 2006. I used it with the kit lens (EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6) until Tristan generously sent her used 50mm f/1.8 to me when she upgraded to the f/1.4 lens in 2011. The nifty fifty was the lens that led to my photographic awakening. The next lens I got was a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8. I bought it to replace the kit lens because I wanted the fixed 2.8 aperture, and I was very happy with it for a long time.

I no longer have that camera or any of those lenses. I sold the Rebel with its kit lens on eBay when I upgraded to a better camera body, and later sold the Tamron as well. I sent the 50mm back to Tristan so she can pass it on to her husband, and it became the traveling pants of lenses.

The Best DSLR Canon Camera and Lenses for Beginners

My Recommendation for Beginners


I waffled between the 5D Mark II and the Canon 7D when it came time to upgrade. I went with the latter and I’ve been happy (though if I were buying a camera today, I’d want the new 5D Mark III). Next, I turned my attention toward photographing interiors. I rented and tested a few wide-angle lenses, and chose the Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5.

I received the 50mm f/1.4 as a birthday gift in 2012 (that’s when I sent the f/1.8 back to Tristan). Just as the nifty fifty taught me the importance of lenses, the f/1.4 taught me about the difference in quality. Soon I wanted to upgrade my Tamron as well. When I’d heard that the new Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II had come out, I used my accumulated credit card rewards points to buy it. (Some people get plane tickets — I choose fancy photo gear.) It’s the most expensive lens I own, but photographers always recommend investing in lenses rather than a body, and this is a lens I’ll have for a long time.

I could have stopped there, except I went and fell in love with another lens. I was looking through a preview copy of Click Magazine, and I noticed that many of the photos I liked were all shot with the same lens: the Canon 35mm f/1.4L. My 50mm always felt a little too close/zoomed in since I have a crop sensor (APS-C) camera, but the 35mm is perfect. The lens has barely left my camera since I got it, and it’s my favorite for photographing my kids indoors and in low-light.

My Current Camera Body and Lenses

Other Gear

  • Make sure you have a UV filter for each of your lenses as scratch protection.
  • Pick up a lens cleaning kit and a blower.
  • Get yourself a proper camera bag. I like ONA and Epiphanie, and you can take a look at my roundup of cute camera bags.
  • Get yourself a tripod too. Originally, I bought the cheapest one I could find at my local camera store. Sure, it was a little wobbly and basic, but it was fine to start with. When I upgraded, I went with the same tripod and head that Nicole Hill Gerulat recommends.
  • If you want to get yourself in the picture, you’ll likely want a remote. The Canon RC-6 Wireless Remote is only $20. I keep one attached to my camera strap so I don’t lose it.

I’m only familiar with Canon cameras, but feel free to ask any questions you may have and I’ll at least attempt to answer them! I’m always happy to hear other opinions and recommendations too.

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  • Brittany LeSueur
    March 21, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    THanks SO MUCH for posting this! I have the 7d and was curious how the 35mm would shoot with a cropped sensor. I think I want that lens next! This really clarified a few things. I have the 50mm 1.4 and love it!!! Awesome post!

    • Making it Lovely
      March 21, 2013 at 4:48 pm

      The 35mm is an awesome lens. Definitely my favorite now!

  • Henna
    March 21, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    Nicole! You are so TIMELY! I am literally sitting here researching camera lenses. I have the 50mm 1.4 and I’m really ready for an upgrade. So funny that I’m sitting here getting a headache with all of the choices and take a break to check your blog and BAM, it’s like you knew. :)

    While I’m here, I HAVE to share my own fun new thing. I LEOPARD PRINTED some EASTER eggs. yup. :) Pretty sure you’d enjoy some of that sillyness. :) (enjoy!)

    Thanks again to the camera gear guide!


  • Alice
    March 21, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    I’m expecting our first child in August and am deep in the throes of researching cameras. Were you set on Canon from the beginning or did you do any comparison shopping? I don’t know how to decide between Canon and Nikon and was just curious if there were any specific reasons for your choice?

    • Making it Lovely
      March 21, 2013 at 4:51 pm

      I borrowed my sister-in-law’s Canon camera for a few days and I liked it, so I went with Canon. I’m taking a photography class right now and my teacher switched from Sony to Canon to Nikon because Sony didn’t have enough lenses to choose from, and Canon didn’t have the DC lenses that he wanted (which are admittedly very cool).

      • Brianna
        March 22, 2013 at 7:40 am

        I also just bought a new DSLR. I bought the Nikon D7000. I bought it because I wanted to take better photos for my Etsy shop and of my first baby due in April. My friend (who’s a photographer) said having the kit lens will be good for indoor and low light and it’s also good for kids because you can zoom in on them and get them more candid. My brother was disgusted that I didn’t buy the 35mm lens instead and I notice you mention that you like the 35mm for low light and kids. I’m wondering if I should get the 35mm now or if there are any tips you found helpful when you just had the kit lens? Sorry this is a long explanation! Oh PS – I’m also planning on signing up for Nicole’s classes while I’m on maternity leave since I’ll have a cute subject to work with! :)

      • Making it Lovely
        March 22, 2013 at 10:15 am

        Nicole’s Classes are great! I loved Photo 101 with her.

        I think everyone should start with a good walk-around lens, meaning a lens that can cover a range of focal points from wide to zoomed in. Kit lenses are a good place to start, but the reason people tend to upgrade them eventually is for a fixed aperture (say f/2.8 instead of a variable f/3.5-5.6), and better image quality (sharper, truer color).

        The nice thing about a prime lens (e.g. a 35mm, 50mm, or 85mm) is that you get an even lower aperture. (It looks like Nikon’s 35mm f/1.8 is well-liked, and about $200.) A low aperture allows you to get something very specific in focus and everything else will be blurred — that’s how you get bokeh. The other benefit of having that low aperture is that it’s a “fast lens,” meaning you can use a faster shutter speed in low light than you could with a lens that only goes down to f/2.8 or f/3.5. If you want to photograph wiggly little kids indoors, you’ll want a fast lens. The only drawback will be that you have to “zoom with your feet” (move around!).

  • Gretchen
    March 21, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Ha! That’s so funny–those two lenses in the picture are EXACTLY the ones I’ve bought for my Rebel. It was sort of eerie seeing my exact set up (except I have a T3) at the top of the post.

  • Quiana
    March 21, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Perfect timing as I just added remote and tripod to my shopping list earlier today! Thank you =)

    • Making it Lovely
      March 21, 2013 at 5:00 pm

      I didn’t include it as “an essential” because the wireless remote is cheaper and does what most people need, but you may want to look into an intervalometer and compare.

  • Kelly
    March 21, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    I’m curious why you recommend the T4i. I recently went through a bunch of searching and originally looked at the T4i. I didn’t need anything as heavy duty as the 5D but didn’t want something super cheap either. After lots of looking around and seeing them in person, I actually settled on the Canon 60D. I got a great deal on it with a lens for $900. I chose it over the T4i for a few reasons (google search T4i vs 60D – there are TONS of opinions and stats) and liked that it did feel a little more substantial. I also preferred the location of the buttons etc. For folks looking for a good option under $1000 I think the 60D is also worth a look. ;)

    • Making it Lovely
      March 21, 2013 at 4:46 pm

      You know, I did consider including the 60D as an option. It isn’t that much more than the T4i, and it does some things better. I think the Rebel is a little easier to jump in and use right away though, and it has automatic focusing for video (which may or may not be important, depending on the person buying). Both are fantastic cameras though!

  • Lianne
    March 21, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    I just upgraded from the xti to the 7D this xmas- thanks to the hubster and he also bought me the EF100mm macro – which turns out to be an amazing portrait lens. I took a class with Thea Coughlin and she turned me on to it’s portrait possibilities. Turns out she does most of her photography with this lens. (if you want to see, here’s her website:

  • Faith @ Ordinary Mommy Design
    March 21, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    So exciting! I just purchased my first DSLR. I waffled between the Canon Rebel T3 and the T3i, but opted for the T3 because I knew I wanted an excellent tripod and a prime macro lens, and the budget wouldn’t allow for the better camera body. (IN LOVE with the tripod I purchased too.) I’m sure in a few years I’ll want to upgrade to a better camera, but I’m excited to finally be shooting with an SLR! Thanks for all the lens info!

  • Brittany Lauren
    March 21, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    I’m so glad you posted this. As a fellow stationery designer, I take my own photos and I’m always looking for recommendations. My favorite is the Nikon 105mm AF Micro. Great for detail on products. I did however have a Canon but I actually love my Nikon instead. Hope you post more tips too! I’m excepting my first child in June and can’t wait to take photos of my baby :)

  • Jennifer M
    March 21, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    I love this post! I have all your beginner equipment, Canon Rebel T1i, nifty fifty, cheap tripod, and remote, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what I would get next. A wide angle lens is next on my wish list, but I’m starting to dream about a new camera body too. Ah, it never ends! ;)

    I did just get the new Kelly Moore Songbird bag in yesterday, and I LOVE it! So pretty and holds everything!

    Oh, and we pretty much always cash in our credit card rewards points for Home Depot gift cards so, priorities! ;)

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  • Alex - Hydrangea Girl
    March 22, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Hi Nicole,
    I’ve been a fan of Canon digital SLR’s for a long time. But I think my skills have kind of gone backwards. I’m okay taking pictures outside, but when it comes to taking pictures within my own apartment – my pictures look horrendous. Our apartment is like a cave so everything comes out dark yellow. Even under the tungsten setting. I am sick of attempting to fix them through Photoshop. Since I’m in interior design, do you have any tips for taking interiors photos? I’m already considering investing in a studio light. Thank you for your help :)
    xx Alex

  • Tristan B.
    March 22, 2013 at 9:47 am

    I really want the 35mm f/1.4 so badly. I did the same thing with wondering which camera to upgrade to, I chose the one below yours and will be saving my pennies for the 5D Mark III! The best thing I found about the upgrade is the ability to raise the ISO ridiculously high and get no noise (my Rebel had noise at anything over 400 iso). The Mark III allows you to go up to something ridiculous like 36,000!

    • Making it Lovely
      March 22, 2013 at 9:54 am

      I had the same problem with the Rebel (couldn’t go above 400 ISO). I want the Mark III for that very reason!

  • Lacy
    March 22, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Thanks so much for this info! I have a basic Nikon dslr.

    What good lens would you recommend for it??

  • Stef
    March 22, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Wow this is a great explanation of Canon camera bodies and lenses! I have a canon rebel with the nifty fifty lens- which I love, but now after reading this post I so want to upgrade! Now I know what to ask for this year for mother’s day, my birthday, anniversary, and Christmas! Thanks for such a great summary!

  • Patricia
    March 22, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Great post, thank you! Do you know if the canon wireless remote works for all canon cameras? I have the Rebel XS.

    • Making it Lovely
      March 22, 2013 at 2:27 pm

      There’s a list on the product page of all the cameras it works with, so I’d check that to see if your particular make is listed.

  • Stephanie
    March 28, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Thanks for posting this! I currently have the Rebel T3i, which I love, and I want to slowly upgrade some lenses and eventually get a better body. Perfect information about the lenses! <3

  • Amanda
    April 2, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Thanks so much for posting this, Nicole! I’ve been looking to invest in a better quality lens, and was wondering – what’s the main difference between the EF 50mm f/1.4 and EF 50mm f/1.8 lenses (besides aperture settings)? You said that the f/1.4 really taught you about the difference in quality. Is the quality that much better in the f/1.4 than f/1.8? I’m thinking about just taking the plunge on the f/1.4 now, rather than spending the money on the f/1.8 now, and knowing I’ll probably want to upgrade in a couple of years anyway.

    I’ve started getting back into photography this year in hopes of taking better quality images for my blog. I bought the Rebel T3i at Christmas, and am surprised at how easy it was to learn to use!! I invested in the Blue Crane Digital Training DVD that is sold as an accessory, and am really happy I did because it went through all the basics of controls, without getting lost in the manual. That DVD might be good for a beginner to add to their list as well. :) Photography is like any other hobby – there seems to be SO much information out there that it’s hard to know where to start!!

    Thanks so much for all the info!! I’ve really enjoyed reading through your posts on photography. :)

  • Deneise Bucko
    April 5, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    Great Post! I love when people give out information to help others. I find in the photography world not all want to share. I am self taught and learned so far on asking questions. I did take your recommends on the nicolesclasses and love it. The best class thus far. I have only taken one other… I too really want the 35 mm but I have no air miles and no extra dinero hanging around. So in the interim I will continue to shoot weddings, engagement shoots, family photo shoots with what I have and keep dreaming the dream of someday have the Mark #3 and some good lens and a bag and a cool camera strap…sorry for all the ands my dinner is burning . Yikes!

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  • Amanda Brown
    October 3, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    Thank you so much for this! Since I am just starting out I am trying to get the essentials to get going. Right now I plan on doing Maternity, Newborn and Birthing photography. I bought the EF 50mm 1.4 lens and I fell in love with the crisp beautiful photos it seems to take! However I was wondering if that is enough to shoot newborns? If not my choice would be the EF 35mm f/2, since that is in my price range (just starting out). Do you think that would be a good choice for Newborns? Thank you so much!

  • Djplo
    September 9, 2017 at 12:10 am

    I havs canon rebel TLi with 28-80 mm .leanse. 18-55 mm 70-10 mm and lastly 75-30mm. 5Thwey are all Canon peoducts and shoot grear photos!

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