Your next piece of camera equipment

By May 2, 2015Photography Tips

One of the top questions I get from beginning photographers is: What’s one thing I could buy to greatly improve my photography? After evaluating their current setup, my answer 95% of the time is for them to upgrade to a better prime lens in their favorite focal length. Why do I keep recommending this?

The main reason is quality. Prime lenses are known for having better performance than zoom lenses. They are built to perform well at one focal length so they have less moving parts. In prime lenses, their able to achieve wider apertures (low numbers). As you know from this post on the Exposure Triangle, wider apertures allow more light in, leading to higher quality images because shutter speeds can be increased (sharper images) and ISOs decreased (lower grain images). Another added benefit is that prime lenses are often significantly less expensive than zoom lenses in the same class. The final benefit of working with Prime lenses is that you learn and get comfortable with the focal length. You know where it does best, you learn how to better compose photos and you know what it won’t work for. Eventually  you develop your photographic eye based on the focal length. For instance, I shoot at 35mm 97% of the time, I now see the world through a 35mm photographic eye. I can guarantee that other professional photographers that work in other focal lengths have adapted the same way to their cameras.

piton view

Focal Length: 35mm, Aperture: f/10, Shutter Speed: 1/100, ISO: 100


Before you go out and buy a new lens make sure to read this post about Crop Factor to help you determine what focal length lens you should buy.

I try to guide people to buy 35mm lenses if they have non-full frame cameras, this means that they will be shooting at roughly 50mm. My number one most recommended lens is the Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art. I own this lens and can attest to it’s quality, it’s also significantly less expensive than the Canon and Nikon versions most comparable. If you do decide to purchase one make sure that mount will match your camera.

tuscany pienza sunlight

Focal length: 35mm, Aperture: f/10, Shutter Speed: 1/200sec, ISO:250


If you can’t commit to one focal length and know you want to use a zoom, I recently found a great option. This Sigma 18-35mm 1.8 Art is built for APS-C sensor cameras. I’ve never used this lens but I know the Art line of lenses are all high performance. On an APS-C sensor you’ll get an effective focal length range of 27-52.5mm, great for Landscapes, Travel, Lifestyle and Portraits. At f/1.8 it’s the widest aperture I’ve ever seen on a zoom lens. To give you a comparison, my Canon 24-70mm has a max aperture of 2.8. Comparing the two, the Sigma allows in more than double the amount of light and a lot more background blur at it’s widest aperture setting.

At $800 and $900 neither of these lenses are cheap. If you are a beginning photographer and you’re just starting to fall in love with photography and have some money to spend, I highly recommend that you buy the best lens that you can afford. In the long run, you will save money by buying the right lens for you from the beginning.

jumby bay sunrise

Focal length: 35mm, Aperture: f/11, Shutter Speed: 1/250sec, ISO: 250





  • Violet says:

    Great info! Is your photography self-taught or did you go to school for photography? Looking to get into it myself.. Also, I’m big on getting photo credit if someone posts a photo I take but also reciprocate if I post a photo someone else takes. I’ve noticed you don’t on your IG, is it not a big deal to professional photographers? Am I just silly about it? Haha

    • Thomas says:

      I’m all self taught. I do read photography articles through Flipboard. If I were a normal professional photographer, I would of course insist on giving photo credit. If a friend of mine or Julia’s posts an image I took, I’m completely fine with them not crediting me. If a brand uses my image without a photo credit I’ll do my best to have them take it down or give me credit.

  • Kim says:

    Hi Thomas

    I am looking at investing in a Canon EOS 6D DSLR Camera with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens. My end goal is to improve the quality of the photos on my blog (fashion/beauty/travel) with this equipment being my starting point. In your opinion is this a good combination? Any advice you can share would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you

    • Thomas says:

      That is a really great starting point. The people that I know that own the 6D are happy with it. If they did have one complaint it would be the number of focus points 11 vs. 61 on the 5D Mark III. I love having the 61 focus points especially for fashion and beauty. You’ll love that 50mm lens on the full frame sensor. When I bought that lens and moved from the 24-70 2.8L to the 50mm the quality jump was amazing.

      • Kim says:

        Thanks for getting back to me Thomas, I am now considering the longterm benefits of investing in the 5D Mark III given its added features. Looking forward to your future posts!

        All the best,

        • Kim says:

          Hi Thomas

          Had to drop you a quick line and let you know that I purchased my equipment and just utilised it on my trip to Tuscany/London. I am thrilled with my photos and am now looking at investing in a second lens. Thanks again for your advice above as it worked out brilliantly for me!


  • Ann Krembs says:

    When I bought my camera, I didn’t want to get all caught up in the DSLR stuff. So I went with the Nikon mirrorless. I have been really happy with it. What’s ironic about your post is that my favorite lens for my camera is the prime. Love it!! Now that I’ve been getting into my blog a bit more, I do consider switching to a DSLR. I will look here before purchasing.

    Thanks Thomas!

    Ann from Kremb de la Kremb

  • Lara says:

    Hi Thomas, thanks again for replying to my question on Instagram, it’s been very helpful.
    One thing that came to my mind yesterday – could you perhaps do a post about how you cope with the sheer data size of all your pictures? I mean the best thing is of course to shoot in RAW mode, especially when using Lightroom for editing after, but I never do because my hard drives would just explode! What’s your strategy on this whole topic? Thanks for sharing, I think it’s so great that you now write this blog. Greetings from Zurich, Switzerland! Lara

    • Thomas says:

      I know the struggle of having all your photos take up your whole hard drive. I will make sure to touch on this in detail in a full blogpost. To summarize, I always carry an external hard drive with me and I try to have the file saved in at least 3 locations prior to uploading to the website. This is generally, computer hard drive, external hard drive and still on the camera SD card. If I’m short on space on any of those I’ll edit the photos and backup the edited photos onto Dropbox. Once the post is live, I’ll only keep the RAW file on an external hard drive.

  • Stephanie says:

    Hi Thomas – I’m looking to purchase my first DSLR camera. Can you recommend a good entry level camera? Do you think the Canon Rebel T5 would be a good choice? We are a young family so a quick shutter speed is essential to capture my little one 🙂

    Thanks in advance!

    • Thomas says:

      I would look at the newer T6 Cameras. They are great entry level cameras. Technology changes so fast that it’s best to buy the newest option.

  • Abby says:

    This probably isn’t the right post to comment/ask this question on, but do you have any tips for the Samsung NX300M? I got it for Christmas and then realized it’s the same camera Julia featured on GMG last summer. Do the two of you still use it? If so, do you shoot in manual or use the preset guides? Or do you just occasionally use it for IG? I’d love to know!


    • Thomas says:

      We don’t still use it. After iOS 7 came out we couldn’t transfer photos to our camera anymore. We gave it to a family member. We found that it was best to shoot in the preset guides.

  • Lynn clayton says:

    Do you people live in Alaska? I’m coming in AUG sept and will be driving around for a week after a week of bear shooting in the wilderness- any hints suggestions of places to photograph would be welcome.
    I’m leaving Anchorage toward Seward for 3 days then back up towards anchorage and across to homer perhaps.
    Any tips welcome…
    Lynn Clayton

    • Thomas says:

      Don’t live in Alaska but definitely love it there. I hope by bear shooting you mean bear photography. As long as you are driving the Kenai Peninsula you won’t have to worry about finding places to take pictures. If it’s sunny and clear I say take your drive as slow as humanly possible. From day to day it could be rainy and foggy and then next day clear so you will want to take advantage of good weather when you can. Just keep an eye out for beautiful settings and be careful when pulling over your car on the side of the road.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I am self taught (aka teaching myself still) ever since I got my first DSLR last summer. I am always learning and reading and trying to keep growing! I love these tips and I’ve added the lenses to my Amazon wish list so that I can save up! I am encouraged that you are self taught – it inspires me to keep learning!

  • Darlene says:

    Hi Thomas!

    Thank you so much for all the amazing tip. I didn’t really do a research first before purchasing my first camera. So I bought a fujifilm xt10 with 35mm prime lens and I also have my Rebel eos1 with the 50mm f1.8 lens. what do you think personally of fujifilms?

  • Jayna says:


    I’m a big fan of your blog and Gal Meets Glam.
    Question about the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lens options…

    I’m no pro, just shooting my family for the most part of scenic pictures when we travel here and there. I have a full frame Canon EOS, looking forward to upgrading in a couple years. I have the nifty fifty and my kit lens.

    I want the zoom feature, with a lower aperture so I’m considering the 24-70mm 2.8 I understand you use this or have used this in the past.
    There are a couple models out there, and I hope for your opinion between them. Is there one you recommend within the price range of $1000 or less? I don’t understand all the details about L, and II. The newest is too pricey for me at $2300 or even $1800 on Amazon.

    But if I ultimately need to hold out for that I will.

    Again I’m not shooting weddings or anything professional… can I go with a less expensive model?

    Thank you!!!

  • Olivia says:

    Hi Thomas,

    Thanks for your lovely blog. I’ve been admiring Julia’s lovely photos and am glad I found your blog to keep updated on blogging and photography tips 🙂 I have a question regrading your lens suggestion – do you mean 35mm full frame or 50mm full frame? I’m loving the field of view from you photos / Julia’s blog and would like to have a go at taking fashion/lifestyle photography. (I currently have an 18-36mm and 90mm full frame equivalent on my micro four thirds camera)

    Thanks so much!

  • Boston says:

    Would the
    Sigma 340101 35mm F1.4 Work with the cannon t3i? Also what cannon camera do you use, and what is the process you use to transfer the pictures from your camera to your Instagram? Do you transfer them straight to your phone from the camera? Also do you use vsco at all for coloring the photos with the same color scheme? Sorry I’m a total beginner! Thank you!

  • Do you use filters when you shoot? I’d love for some editing tutorials!

  • Kali Jaeger says:

    Hiiii. I’ve followed your wife’s blog for a few years and have admired her photos (which I’ve learned YOU take). So here I am checkin out your blog trying to improve my skills and learn about what my next prime lenses should be. You do great work and have insightful advice on shooting & equipment. So thank you!

  • Interesting. I’m primarily a 35mm shooter also (love that summilux) but I was wondering which lens you use for the shoe/food/product shots. 75mm maybe? Love your photos!

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