Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Essential Gear for The Family Photojournalist

Essential Gear for the The Family Photojournalist

I have heard many times that “gear does not make the photographer”. I agree with this statement to a certain extent. The finest equipment in the world will not find good light and it will not compose a fine photograph. But, I will say, “better equipment helps photographers make better images.” Better lenses are sharper, offer more contrast, and allow more light into the camera. Better cameras are faster, made with stronger materials, and can shoot in a wider variety of lighting situations. So I believe that it is naïve to oversimplify and claim, “gear does not matter.”

Choosing gear as a family photojournalist can be a daunting task as there seem to be endless equipment offerings. I look at gear selection for the family photojournalist a lot like choosing how we dine out! We might opt for McDonalds if we are low on funds. Maybe you’ll head out for a casual bite to eat at TGI Friday’s when out shopping with your significant other. Perhaps you might have the occasion to celebrate a big raise you received and you invite your friends to Morton’s Steakhouse. Or you just hit the lottery and you are lucky enough to hire a personal chef! Or you are like many people around this time of year and you are trying to drop a few pounds so you go on a diet. We would all agree that each of the above dining options will certainly do the job filling our bellies, but we might enjoy one option over the other. Choosing camera equipment to document your family is no different!

So, like dining out, I have compiled five different sets of equipment for the family photojournalist based on five budgets: The McDonald’s, The TGI Friday’s, The Morton Steakhouse, The Personal Chef, and The Diet.

DISCLAIMER: I am well versed in Canon equipment having owned (at one time or another) virtually all of their DSLR camera bodies and most lenses they offer. I would also recommend using Nikon gear as they have an excellent reputation and offer a wide array of products for the DSLR user. But keep in mind, any DSLR (or SLR) camera will suffice and most companies offer comparable products!

I will be recommending lenses that will have a maximum aperture of f/2.8 and wider so that the family photojournalist will be able to shoot indoors without flash. I will also recommend a telephoto zoom to help document your children’s events (dance, plays, sporting events, etc).

The McDonald’s:

Camera: Canon XSi (body only) ($459)

Prime Lens: Canon 35mm f/2 ($299)

Zoom Lens: Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 ($459)

Supersize It: Replace the Canon XSi with a Canon T1 ($659) and add a Canon 75-300mm telephoto lens ($159) (for your child’s outdoor sports event).

The TGI Friday’s:

Camera: Canon 50D (body only) ($959)

Prime Lenses: Canon 24mm f/2.8 ($339) and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ($499)

Zoom Lens: Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 ($449)

Telephoto Zoom: Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 ($799)

The Morton’s Steakhouse:

Camera: Canon 5D mark II (body only) ($2499)

Prime Lenses: Canon 24L II f/1.4 ($1699) and Canon 35L f/1.4 ($1369)

Zoom Lens: Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 ($1520) and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 ($1339)

Telephoto Zoom: Canon 70-200IS f/2.8 ($1799)

The Personal Chef:

Camera: Leica M9 ($6995)

Prime Lenses: Leica 24mm f/1.4 ($6495), Leica 50mm f/0.95 ($10,500), Leica 75mm f/2 ($3300)

The Diet:

Camera: Canon XS with 18-55mm lens ($499)

Lens: Canon 50mm f/1.8 ($89)

All of the above prices are based on B and H Photo (www.bhphotovideo.com). Buying used equipment is also an option if one were inclined to shave a few dollars off of the budget. I rarely buy new and have made many flawless transactions at www.fredmiranda.com Buy and Sell forum.

The kits listed above are just suggestions. In reality, the family photojournalist can document the large majority of family life with any DSLR and lens listed above. For example, I shoot primarily with the Canon 1ds2 (bought used) and a Canon 35mm f/1.4 lens.

The images below were taken with the 35mm f/1.4 lens. This has been my favorite lens for the past few years. I think the focal length is perfect for most of my shooting and it has a very wide aperture of f/1.4 that allows me to shoot in most situations without using a flash.




This photo really demonstrates why I feel that lenses with wide apertures are invaluable. Without a wide aperture, I could not have taken this shot. My exposure settings were: 1/60th, f/1.4, ISO 6400.


As always, thank you for checking in!

Best Regards,



  1. Chuck,

    Thank you for the gear post. I am thinking about picking up a new wide prime lens.

    I have taken your advice and started taking some family photojournalist shots of my family and processing them in black and white. It has become part of my 7 pics per week project for the year 2010.

    If you are interested the link is http://7picsperweek.blogspot.com/

    Thank you for the inspiration.

  2. Terrific article and photos.

  3. Thank you for this article. Just purchased a 35mm 1.8 lens for my Nikon D40. I can't wait to see how it captures my family shots now.

  4. Just came upon your blog. Great stuff, guys! Much appreciated.

    One question regarding "TGIF" equipment.

    If you already have the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8, does it make sense to get the Canon 24mm f/2.8 as well since the range and aperture are already covered by the zoom?

  5. I wanted to know if a Micro four third camera also can be used instead of a dslr. If you or anyone else know and tell me which lens to use, it would be great.

    I have an Olympus EP-1 with 14-42 kit lens


  6. Re: Micro 4/3. I would say ABSOLUTELY. Really, any camera will do. However, Daniel and I both prefer prime lenses with wider aperture openings as we both have houses that are pretty dark. I do not know about the 4/3 system, but am aware that there are some pretty nice prime lenses. I think there is a 20mm f/1.7? No? That would be perfect for family photojournalism :) Good luck!

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