Architectural Photography Gear - A Good (basic) Setup
See also: How I Record Overhead Sketching Videos
Here's the camera gear I use to both document my work and record video footage for my YouTube channel. Without any gear I chose Canon for it’s reputation, color science, and gear availability (both new and used). When I started on YouTube in 2013, the 70D (shown below) was one of the most popular vlogging cameras on the market. After using it for 5 years, I was rarely left wanting any of the features of a higher-end setup like a 5DMKIV or similarly priced models with full-frame sensors. If you're just getting into video recording the tilt-screen feature on the 70D (or the more recent 80D) is absolutely essential. Not only does it allow you to view yourself as you’re recording, but you can position the camera high or low, pivot the screen while using the live-view feature and you can easily capture viewpoints, scenes and perspectives that otherwise would’ve been difficult to see into the viewfinder.
The Canon 70D + 80D are crop sensor cameras. Smaller sensors produce smaller images, capture a more limited dynamic range and are overall less expensive than full-frame sensors to manufacture. Larger sensors will record a greater dynamic range and will allow you to use the maximum focal length of your lenses. Choosing a crop sensor for a first camera is sensible as it allows one to purchase a nice camera and still have some in reserve to pick up a few nice lenses. And, at 20 megapixels a crop sensor camera like the 70d or 80D will still net you fantastic image quality.
It’s important to know a couple of things if you choose a crop sensor camera. The 70D's smaller sensor changes the effective focal length of any lens you use. For this camera body, you’ll have to multiply the lens’ focal length by 1.6 to calculate the actual focal length. So, for a 10MM lens, the effective focal length when used on a 70D would actually be 16MM, while on a full frame 5D MKIV, it would be the actual 10MM. You can see the smaller sensor is able to capture less information from the same lens, which makes sense, right? If you have a long lens in your stable, this effect can turn a 200mm lens into a staggering 320mm ultra-zoom. The entry lenses I chose below note the converted focal lengths to give you an idea of how wide they actually are.
MARCH 2018 UPDATE: I’ve upgraded to the 6DMKII, full frame camera body. The additional room to crop images and zoom in post has been helpful and it’s also allowed my wide angle lenses to live up to their full field of view.
I started off purchasing two prime lenses of better quality that would be the foundation of my kit. Some opt for the kit lens, but I read too many reviews about the inferior quality. I chose one for close-up work - details and filming videos - and another for wider angle work. 40MM/f2.8 EF STM (effective focal length of 64MM) $179, the STM designation stands for Stepper Motor which has been designed for nearly silent autofocusing when recording video. This one came with a hood, a UV filter and a lens cleaning supply kit too.
24MM/f2.8 EF-S STM (effective focal length of 38MM) $149 The ’S’ designation stands for “small image circle”. Crop sensor cameras allow the optical elements to protrude further into the camera
body, which allows for some very wide angle lenses and enables them to be made smaller, lighter (containing less glass), faster (larger aperture) for less money.
Since recording the original video I've been upgrading my lenses. First I wanted a wider angle lens, so I picked up the Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens. This has image stabilization and is nice for interior architectural work; very pleased with this upgrade. It’s not, however, the sharpest lens and at its widest FOV, the edge distortion is severe. For the price I still think it’s a good value, especially for entry level interior documentation and everyday vlogging or video work.
Next, I purchased what has become my go-to, favorite lens: Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Zoom Lens. My first “L” or Professional Series lens. See the red ring there? That’s Canon’s visual indicator that the optics are of the highest quality. The images this lens produces are truly impressive in every way. It comes at a pretty steep price though which is why I waited four years to upgrade. The zoom feature is handy when space is tight and you absolutely can’t move further away from your subject. On a full frame 24mm is a great focal length for capturing interiors without the significant distortion I noticed with the 10-18mm.
Next, came two in rapid succession, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS, and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II lenses. That little red ring…it hypnotizes you. Once you upgrade your glass, it’s hard to go back to lenses of inferior quality. Having dismissed zoom lenses early on, I’ve found their versatility to be invaluable. Both of these lenses have a version that’s a stop wider than the 4, bringing the maximum aperture to 2.8, but it’s add a lot to the cost and the weight. To help offset the slower lens aperture, each has an active internal stabilization system which will help you shoot a few stops wider than you normally would be able to handhold. For video, the IS is quite useful as well and although not a substitute for a gimbal it takes the edge off of ultra-shaky footage. The most recent addition to my collection is the Canon EF 100mm f2.8L Macro (added in Nov 2018). I’m using it sketching videos as well as detailed images (materials, connections, textures…) The IS for this lens is super helpful given the 100mm focal length.
Ravelli APGL4 New Professional 70" Tripod with Adjustable Pistol Grip Head - $65 (this was my starter tripod)
Manfrotto MVH502AH Upgraded Video Head
RODE VideoMic Pro shotgun mic $199 (on board mic is subpar)
Extra Batteries - $13 ea
Adobe Lightroom + Photoshop Photography Plan - $10/month
32GB SD card $12, need the Class 10 card if you’re recording video
Total Cost (purchased in 2016): ~$1600
The bag (which works well for everything architecture too) is the Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II, and it holds not only my camera gear (lenses, SD cards, batteries, camera body), but it also has a slot for my Macbook Pro and the top compartment fits a sketchbook, pens, and my phone. The 250 is good for run and gun style (just a few lenses), if you want to bring more gear then you can upgrade to the ProRunner BP450 AWII (this is the one I travel with currently). Only thing I miss is the side access compartment, but it holds so much more (even a change of clothing + toiletries).
A few additional pieces of gear my professional friends + collaborators use for photoshoots. If I had to move to an upgraded camera body, the Canon 5DMKIV would be a solid choice. But, it’s been a long while since it’s been refreshed. For video, because it lacks a flip screen, it’s a no-go for me personally.