First things first – we aren’t aiming to create a “Nikon vs Canon vs Sony” war here or anything. Those debates always end up going nowhere.
Rather, many people genuinely wonder – What is the best camera for stock photography? Not brands as such, but types of camera gear.
So we have put together some useful guidelines to help newcomers to stock photography.
Let's break it down into 4 main areas of essential equipment:
Best Camera For Stock Photography
How Many Megapixels Do I Need For Stock Photography?
Most modern digital cameras are producing anywhere from 12 to 60+ mp (megapixels) per image. You should aim towards the middle or higher end of that spectrum if possible.
For instance, a 36mp camera provides a huge amount of scope to still resize or crop before submitting it to an agency and still have decent resolution. If you are serious about getting into stock photography, then putting your money into a modern, quality DSLR or mirrorless camera is the obvious first decision to make.
You don’t need the latest and greatest, but make sure it produces clean, crisp images at a decent resolution with low noise. Most cameras from Nikon, Canon, Sony and the like that fall into the midrange (serious amateur) range will do just fine.
However, don't fall into the trap of thinking more megapixels equals better quality. It doesn't. It is just part of the equation. Sensor size also plays a major role. The bigger the sensor, the bigger the individual light gathering elements on the sensor can be. The bigger these tiny elements are, the less noise you will get in your images. That's why you might see an impressively spec'd point and shoot camera with 50mp performing a LOT worse than a 25mp Nikon Z6.
Should I Buy A Mirrorless Or A DSLR For Stock Photography?
Both are great camera systems, but they serve slightly different purposes.
If you have been a photographer for some time, you probably already have a favourite DSLR system from Nikon or Canon. That means you already have some lenses and accessories. Perhaps all you need is to upgrade your camera body to something newer and you could start shooting stock photography right away.
On the other hand, if you have no gear at all, the decision is a little more involved. Here's some of the main differences:
- DSLR's have a long history behind them, they are built tough and the higher end ones are designed for constant, daily use. Their battery life is generally better, they often work with older lenses.
- Mirrorless cameras are modern, meaning lots of technology tricks up their sleeve. They will likely be lighter and easier to carry around, less obvious for something like street photography and can do amazing things with video as well.
It does seem like mirrorless is the future, but that future is not fully here yet. So both have their place. If you have an opportunity to try both, do so and see what you like. Rest assured, both are perfectly fine for stock photography.
So What Is The Best Camera For Stock Photography?
As mentioned, we aren't going to give one brand or model as the answer to the best camera for stock photography. That would be like saying a certain brand of car is the best one for driving in a city – there's too many variables for that to be realistic. Let alone taking into account personal preference.
Rather, we can tell you that if you look for the following features, you will have found the best camera for stock photography – regardless of brand.
- Either DSLR or mirrorless, in the middle to high end range (no need for the top models unless you're a full time photographer)
- 20 megapixels or above
- Fast, accurate auto focus system such as found on the latest mirrorless cameras (with eye detect as a bonus)
- Low noise, especially if you often shoot above 200 ISO
- 4k or above if you intend to also shoot and sell video footage for stock
Some good examples of suitable cameras for stock photography in 2021 are:
- Nikon Z6ii / Z7ii
- Sony A7 III
- Fujifilm X-T4
- Canon EOS R6
- Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III
Bear in mind, this list is not exhaustive but should give you some models to look at. Choose the one that best suits you, your budget and your shooting style.
Best Lenses For Stock Photography
What difference does a lens make?
Imagine putting on a nice pair of sunglasses with good quality lenses. Nice, right?
Now replace those with a $2 pair of sunglasses with thick plastic lenses that distort everything you see. Enjoyable? Probably not.
But that's the difference your lens choice can make.
Quite often the first lens you will use is called a kit lens, because it comes in a kit with your new camera body. These aren't necessarily bad, but they certainly aren't the best either. Likely it will be useable for a lot of your initial stock photography. But if you want to get serious with your photography you will want to invest in some more expensive glass.
What type of lenses should I get for stock photography?
Again, brand is not so important here.
Sony, Nikon, Canon etc – they all make some really great lenses.
What we are talking about here is the type of lenses you should considering. What types are there?
- Prime Lens – Eg: 35mm or 50mm fixed focal length, often producing the sharpest images possible
- Wide Angle Lens – Eg: 17mm either prime or zoom, perfect for landscapes and unusual perspectives
- Telephoto Lens – Eg: 70-200mm zoom range, needed for wildlife and subjects you need to get closer to
- Macro Lens – Various focal lengths, designed to do extreme close ups
Another thing to consider is the ‘speed' of the lens. The more expensive lenses will have a constant aperture (eg: f2.8) throughout the zoom range. This will allow for more light to enter the lens, and is generally a good indicator of the overall quality of the lens as well.
So what are the best lenses for stock photography?
A standard kit would include 1 or 2 good prime lenses and a nice telephoto.
Another option is a high quality mid range zoom like a 24-70mm 2.8 zoom instead of a few primes. It depends what you like to carry around and how often you like to swap out lenses.
Start with what you can afford and what suits your type of photography. There's no need to spend big dollars on a macro lens if you only ever shoot portraits. Don't over invest in unnecessary gear.
Try to cover a fairly typical range that most photographers find themselves needing. For instance:
- 24mm wide angle for landscapes and the outdoors
- 80mm or so for portraits and lifestyle
- 200mm for wildlife, street photography
Quality lenses covering those focal lengths will start you off nicely in stock photography. Some great examples of lenses for stock photography in 2021 are:
- Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art
- Canon EF 70-200mm F4L IS II USM
- Nikon NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S Lens
- Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS
Again – this is not an exhaustive list but merely a starting point for you to work from.
Best Lighting Equipment For Stock Photography
What Lighting Options Exist For Photography?
In general, there are the following lighting types used in most forms of photography:
- Natural Light – Yes, that's right – beautiful, free, natural light from the sun is often hard to beat
- On Camera Flash – Either a built in pop up flash or a seperate larger flash attached via the camera's hot shoe
- Traditional Studio Lighting – Usually either tungsten or fluorescent based for either continuous lighting or flash based photography
- Portable Lighting – Various power levels, often LED based and more lightweight than traditional studio lighting
Which Lighting Is Best For Stock Photography?
It depends on what you are photographing.
But often a good starting point is natural light.
Obviously natural light is pretty much the only light you care about if you mainly shoot landscapes. But natural light is great for far more than just the great outdoors. Natural light coming in through a window (which helps diffuse it) is amazingly good for portraits and still life subjects. In fact many food photographers wouldn't use anything else. The only accessories you may need are some reflectors to balance the shadows. It doesn't get any cheaper than that! On our Microstock Tools & Resources page you will find some great eBooks, including one to help you understand lighting.
However, you will probably find that at least having some form of artificial lighting will be useful for you. If most of what you shoot is outdoors and on the move, then a good external flash unit that mounts on your camera will be sufficient in most cases. These are usually in the $300-$700 range, and if looked after can last a lifetime. Just make sure you get a compatible one for your camera.
If you are really getting serious then you may want to consider a small studio setup at home or in the shed. Studio lighting takes some getting used to, and if you haven’t used it before than you may want to get some basic training on it, or at the very least watch some YouTube! 3 or 4 flash heads will allow for most studio setups that you will likely want to do. Again, you don’t need the top brand names. You can probably find some cheaper mono blocks for about $1,000 to $1,5000 for 3 or 4, complete with stands and umbrella’s etc.
If you plan to do more on-location shoots then portable LED style studio lights would suit your purpose better than traditional studio lighting.
In summary, here is our recommendations for basic lighting for stock photography
- Find a large window with nice diffused light for food, still life and portraiture shots
- Purchase a large foldable reflector that can fill in shadows for natural light or flash
- Purchase some white cards that can be used as reflectors in different sizes
- Work out what type of subject matter you will shoot and decide if you need any kind of studio lighting to complement your natural light setup
Best Computer & Editing Software For Photography
What Are The Best Computers For Photo Editing?
Most photographers would use one of the following types of computer setups:
- Powerful Laptop – Take note of the first word – powerful. A cheap $500 laptop will not make photo editing a pleasant experience
- All In One Desktop – Something like an iMac where the computer and monitor are one, but again are not cheap and nasty
- Custom Built Desktop – Some love to build their dream PC purely designed for photo editing
- iPad Pro or Surface Pro – Yes it's possible to edit on a powerful tablet alone
Before you rush out and buy something though, give it a little thought. Do you already have an iPad Pro you could try working on and see if it's a fit for you or not? Or perhaps your current desktop computer – could you add some RAM and maybe swap out the old hard drive for a SSD (Solid State Drive)? You may be able to breathe some life into something you already have.
If not, and you need to purchase a computer to edit photos on, think quality. Something like a MacBook Pro or PC equivalent. Be willing to spend a little more to get a good quality screen that doesn't change to much depending on your viewing angle. Give yourself plenty of RAM and most definitely avoid traditional spinning hard disk drives (HDD) and get a SSD instead.
Here are our minimum recommendations for a laptop/desktop:
- Intel i5 processor as a minimum or AMD equivalent (sometimes cheaper and faster than Intel)
- 8GB RAM as a bare minimum – 16GB and above will do you many favours
- Solid state drive (SSD) of around 512GB, 2TB external drive for backups and storage
- Good quality screen 21 inch or bigger if desktop, 15 inch or bigger for laptop
- Fast, accurate mouse
What Photo Editing Software Is Best?
Part of the answer to this will depend on what device you decided to work with. But let's assume you will be working on a laptop or desktop computer.
The most well known photo editing software is Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom. Adobe basically invented photo editing software, so there is a long history behind these products. That's a good and bad thing. The good is there are endless options and the software is super powerful. The bad is it can be hard for beginners to understand and since the code base is old it can be a bit slower than the more modern competition.
However it's still the logical place to start for most. You can get a plan that includes both Photoshop and Lightroom (and Bridge, a useful photo organiser app) for less than $15 per month. This includes all the updates as they are released, so you've always got the latest and greatest. Learning how to use these apps is basically essential is you want to work commercially as a photographer as many agencies will require you to be familiar with them.
But there are other alternatives. Some (like Capture One) are perfect if you prefer to shoot while having your camera tethered to your laptop so you can instantly edit your work.
Here are our recommended photo editing apps:
Camera Gear Sorted – Now What?
Now that you have your camera gear sorted, you just need to get on board with the major stock agencies. Take a look at our list of the best microstock agencies and to find out all you need to know.
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