Photography · Saving Money

Best Portrait Cameras & Lenses For Beginners | What Gear is in My Bag?

This is totally not sponsored by anyone, I just sincerely love these brands. Most of these images are edited in Lightroom mobile, which I also love and am not sponsored by. Haha. (But it also means image quality is compressed a bit, since all of these came from my phone.)
Below are affiliate links, but feel free to shop around for the best price at various retailers if you choose to buy something! 95% of my camera equipment I personally DO buy on Amazon, though.

I have always been a pretty open book when it comes to photography, and have always been a little bit irked when other photographers are not. I remember doing the research for YEARS to find the things that I liked best, and being totally ignored often when I would reach out to other photographers for advice.

I mean, I get it. EVERYONE is a “photographer” now.

Does this make me a photographer yet?

But honestly, isn’t that kind of cool? We live in a digital world, and we live in a VISUAL world. And honestly, I am captivated by images.
So bring on the new photographers! I can’t promise you I will pay you to photograph my family, but I totally want you to take gorgeous photos of your babies. There’s shots you will get in your home that NO photographer will ever have the ability to be paid to take, and THAT is special.

And honestly, in the end, I think that every single photographer is different. There are hundreds of ways to use cameras, hundreds of opinions on what is best and what works, and hundreds of different editing styles.

So take my advice as you may, but this is the equipment that I know and love.


The most asked question that I get?

“I want to start taking photos of my kids, family, pets, travel, home, small business, food, makeup, ect… What camera should I start out with?”

It’s somewhat of a loaded question, because of course, not all cameras are created equal when it comes to what they are best made for, especially when you start talking about lenses. There will definitely be equipment that is better suited for landscapes vs. portraits, and vice versa.

That being said, I have experience with several brands over others, and I definitely have a strong opinion on which cameras will produce the best images with the littlest amount of effort (or knowledge.)

So, here are the pieces that I have in my camera bag, meaning they are the pieces that I have fallen in love with over the years. At the bottom, I’ll give you my recommendation for a great camera for beginners, especially those wanting to get started with portrait photography, which is what I know best.

Mirrored Cameras:

This is all of my “professional” equipment, so this is the equipment that I take when I am being paid by a client to take their portraits. I have shot with Canon for years, and am particularly glued to their 5d Mark line. I have owned the 5d Mark ii as well, and think it is a GREAT camera to start out with if you are looking to dive into the world of more professional portrait photography. Full frame cameras will definitely be more expensive, but when paired with a great lens, they are so worth it.

Mark 5d iii + Sigma 35mm 1.4
Mark 5d iii + Sigma 35mm 1.4

Canon Mark 5d iii

As stated, I adore the 5d line. Full frame, excellent resolution, and just really easy to use cameras. That being said, if you are looking for a starter camera on the more amateur end of the spectrum, I wouldn’t recommend this line. The 5d cameras do not have an “auto” feature, and you must know how to meter your images yourself in order to use them correctly. That being said again, they are GREAT for forcing you to learn how to correctly meter your images. Ha. I started out with the Canon Mark 5d iiwhich is a great price now that it is one of the oldest models. These cameras taught me how to do completely manual settings, and I actually even back-button or manual focus on them now too.

Mark 5d iii + 70-200 2.8


Canon 70-200 2.8

I can’t believe there are already 3 versions of this lens! I own the version linked above- the II. I personally don’t believe there is enough difference between versions for an amateur photographer for it to even matter. The only thing I would recommend is making SURE you buy an IS (image stabilization) equipped version. This lens is HEAVY, so the extra stabilization is absolutely crucial for creating tack-sharp images. This lens is perfect for kiddos in play, and is the lens I use most when I am shooting weddings, sports, or anything in fast motion. It has an excellent range, and when shooting around 135mm, the images are CRYSTAL clear. This one is my favorite to capture little ones who are on the go, without disrupting them by being super close up to them.

YEARS ago I also owned the Tamron version of this lens, and I remembered loving it so much. I upgraded to the L glass, image stabilized version only when I had saved up the money and was shooting weddings regularly.  I actually still miss the rich, warm coloring of that Tamron lens, and would love to play around with it again someday.
My Tamron retained its value, too- which is something that isn’t always true of lenses. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly telephoto, it’s a great option.

Canon Mark 5d iii + 85mm 1.4, editing is lighter than I usually like, color is more rich in original

Canon 85mm 1.4

This is a beauty of a lens to own, and I will likely never sell it. The crystal clear images from it are phenomenal- take a minute to look up the hashtag on Insta if you don’t believe me.
I do not use it nearly as often as I imagined I would, though, and I think that is important to state. For the price, I probably should have gone ahead and just purchased the Sigma that I will talk about next, and pocketed the difference. If you are looking for an entry-level lens, I wouldn’t recommend this one. It is BEAUTIFUL for low light situations, and is absolutely my favorite to use with kiddos and with individual portraits, but if I were just taking photos of my kids, I wouldn’t be able to justify the price that I spent on it.

Canon Mark 5d iii + 85mm 1.4

Furthermore though, I have heard super mixed reviews on the non-L glass step down from the lens, which is the Canon 85mm 1.8Personally, I have never been totally in love with a Canon lens that wasn’t L-glass, so I would most likely be on the negative review side of this particular lens. But because I haven’t shot with it, I can’t say that for a fact. It would be a great option if you are looking to just get started, but not pay an outrageous price for a portrait lens.

Canon Mark 5d iii + 35mm 1.4

Sigma Art 35mm 1.4

This is my favorite lens for everyday use by miles. I have read on many sites that this lens struggles with the slightest little hint of focusing too close or too far. (I’m talking like, the camera focused on the ends of the eyelashes instead of on your eyes kind of deal.) I chose to purchase the lens still, because there are countless YouTube videos on how to recalibrate the lens to not do this… BUT, that being said, I have never noticed anything but SUPER sharp images from it.
I couldn’t even tell you the last time I took my 35mm off of my camera body, or the last time I used my 85mm. This Sigma lens is perfect if you are trying to take photos indoors, as it allows for very close up shooting without only photographing somebody’s nose or eyeballs. I absolutely love this Sigma for my kids, and actually use it for most of my client work now, too. After reading review upon review about Sigma’s Art line, I am actually convinced it stands up to Canon’s L glass, and it’s almost always several hundred dollars cheaper. Win-win.

Mark 5d iii + Sigma 35mm 1.4

Canon 50mm 1.4

This was one of the very first lenses I bought, and I purchased it when I wasn’t able to afford the L-glass step up of the 1.2. I have shot with a Nikon 1.2 lens, and it is a beautiful lens, but personally I don’t think it is worth the almost thousand dollar increase to jump up to L glass in this case. If you are looking for an excellent, VERY budget friendly portrait lens, this little gal will be a great lens to start with. I no longer own it, as I have replaced it with my Sigma & L-glass lenses of different focal lengths, but I did sell this lens to my sister, who I believe loves it too.

So for mirrored cameras, what do I recommend for a FIRST camera?

The Rebels have a great line if you are looking for a cropped sensor that will be way more budget friendly. I shot with Rebels all through high school when I was yearbook editor, and they are excellent cameras. They will also still have a built-in flash, as opposed to the 5d line, where you will have to buy an external flash if you are looking to photograph anything extremely dark. My low light lenses give me the ability to almost never need a flash, but if you are not able to afford one of said lenses, I would stick to something with an in-camera flash. Always buy a great diffuser for any flash you use, and you will have MUCH less harsh images.

But honestly, my overall recommendation?
Any Canon. 

From WAY back in the day. Mark 5d ii (old version) and a KIT LENS. (Gasp) Honestly I believe this is the 24-105mm from Canon. Whichever kit lens came with the Mark ii back then, haha. 

I’ve shot Nikon too, and it just doesn’t compare in my opinion. The rich colors I consistently get from Canon are to die for.

Sounds funny after I just reviewed two super specific bodies, right?

That’s because I believe the biggest way to create beautiful images lies in the LENS, and in knowing HOW to use your camera. If you are looking for a mirrored camera that would be great for portraiture, I suggest finding a body that fits well with your price range, then choosing one of the lenses I recommended above. The Sigma 35mm 1.4 will forever be my top pick, but my super budget-friendly starter lens would have to be the Canon 50mm 1.4. It was my first Canon lens, and served me well for several years before I upgraded.

Mirrorless Cameras:

Sony a6000

Wow, wow, wow. I can’t say enough nice things about this camera. After just reviewing my well over $2k camera body, I actually honestly almost prefer my Sony now. This camera is insane, and the movement towards mirrorless cameras is really exciting for me to watch. They are small, they are lightweight, and they are SO MUCH EASIER.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4 (it even shows my poor kid’s missed long hairs in the front… haha.)

I bought this camera originally to take with me on trips in Japan. My Canon equipment is beautiful and wonderful, but it just does not work well with crowded Japan trains, and I really don’t love carrying all of that money around on my back. I had read amazing reviews on the Sony a6000, knew it was small and compact for travel, and so I impulse bought it at our BX.

And wooooooooow am I glad I did.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4

Personally, I would buy the camera body only, as linked above. The kit lens that comes with the camera is essentially useless to me personally, because I shoot often in the low light of my home, and want a pretty blurred background in my images. I shoot my kids inside our tiny rental house, and having a wider-angle lens like a 30mm is the only way that I am able to keep their entire bodies in the frame without only taking a photo of just their foreheads.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4

So I want something that serves me well in low light, can fit my entire kid into the frame at a close range, and creates a pretty bokeh (blurred background.)
The kit lens that comes with this particular camera doesn’t serve any of those things, and I will sell mine now that I have received my new Sigma lens to replace it, because I have absolutely no use for it and honestly don’t like the images it produces.

If you are looking for a step up from this camera, or more of a professional grade mirrorless body, I recommend the Sony a6500. I hear raving review after raving review on this mirrorless body, and have a feeling it would be spectacular paired with a low-light, wide angle lens. I have not used them myself, but I hear that the 16mm and 24mm Sigma lenses paired with this body are a match made in heaven. The 6500 body is next on my “want” list, but I am being a responsible saver for now, so that will probably come a little bit down the road. (Drew, don’t read that, I’m not planning on ANY more camera equipment, just like I promised. Ha.)

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4

Sigma 30mm 1.4

I seriously can’t say enough good things about Sigma. I purchased my first Sigma lens about a year ago, and looking back- my images with that lens were actually better than the images I took with my L-glass Canon lenses at the same time. Sigma doesn’t mess around, and they know their stuff. If you are looking for a specific lens, but are struggling to dish out the funds, check out third party lens reviews. Often, Sigma lenses are cheaper, and have better reviews. I have fallen in love with this one in the two days that I have had it, and I actually find myself reaching for my mirrorless camera with this lens attached over both my Canon AND my phone.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4, basically taken in the dark


So ultimately, what camera do you recommend for a beginner in portrait photography?


Well, again, loaded question. But if you are looking for an easy-to-use, relatively budget friendly, beginner level camera that will beautifully photograph your kids, a landscape, or the food you are eating, I really recommend the Sony a6000, paired with a low aperture lens. As mentioned, I own the 30 mm Sigma 1.4 with mine, and adore it.

Ultimately, I believe you really can’t go wrong with most choices, though- IF you take the time to research how to use them well. Avoid kit lenses (the lenses that automatically come with a camera, as manufactured.) Learn to use your camera, and watch all the YouTube videos you can on it. Take seminars, listen to podcasts, surf Pinterest. In the end, I believe wholeheartedly that you can make any camera’s shots look like they are professionally taken- it just takes some serious practice and knowledge. I know bloggers that shoot 100% with their iPhones, and you would never have any idea.

Most often, beautiful images come not only from talented hands, but from those who have taken the opportunity to LEARN their camera and lenses. It takes trial and error, and what works for you may not work for another photographer. Heck, I still totally mess up my settings on a weekly basis, and I am still having “OH CRAP, how did I not know this?” moments in regards to photography.
Take the time to read, research, and understand why reviews are posted the way they are, and what a review means coming from an individual. A travel photographer will review a lens differently than an indoor portrait photographer. You will find your niche, and the lines/brands that you love most. And in the end, I believe that probably more than 80% of beautiful photography lies in EDITING, and knowing how to do so without over-processing. I will share a post on that eventually, but feel free to message me on Insta with any questions you have about editing. Watch Youtube videos on editing styles, on streamlining editing, and on how you can make your images pop. It’s a surefire way to create beautiful images that are even better than the ones you pull straight off of your camera.

I hope this helps you get an idea of what you may want to start out with, but if not, feel free to shoot me a message on Instagram, asking me my thoughts on a specific body or lens! I actually respond to messages there, I promise. Haha.

Happy shopping, and happy shooting!


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