It seems to me that perhaps the best "next tool" for me would be a better camera.  Without getting into details of what I'm using now I'm looking for a camera to record construction details, museum examples (where allowed), techniques, etc...  Certainly I would like to photograph my work as well, recognizing that my results are dependent on more than the type of camera - probably not for magazine submission but a decent completed project photo.  Certainly seems like an SLR or SLR-like hybrid is the way to go.  Any advice or recommendations?  I see this was a subject a number of years ago but wonder if there's any current opinions others would like to share.


I think that rather than asking what camera to buy, you might spend some time thinking about what you are going to do with the camera, and that will lead you to the right choice.  If you really do have expectations of publishing results, I believe that is a quite diffferent camera than for home use and posting on blogs, etc.

As I see it the issues are:

SLR vs pure digital
Max picture file size
Optical vs. digital zoom.
Automatic vs manual operation
Special lenses and filters
File format choices for camera output; the issue is the amount of hidden file compression and color conversion the camera does behind the scenes that you cannot undo.

My own personal choice has been a small inexpensive point and shoot Canon Power Shoot SD1200IS for a utility camera, and a Sony 8Meg CyberShot w. 15X Zeiss optical zoom for the photos that might be suitable to publish, but I am by no means an expert. The camera is only a small part of the story as the matter of proper lighting/staging is as big an issue of its own. I think it might best to asume that high end photos will not be taken as you would take a snapshot, but just with a better camera -they will need special staging and lighting, more sophisticated software for processing, etc.

I also suspect the SLR cross over point has shifted since the last discussion.

I have a nikon D5000 that I bought a few years back.  Best money I ever spent.  It has taken a bit of time to figure things out but I am extremely happy with it.  What I like about it- I can take photos in the RAW format or regular jpeg(I think that may be standard now).  I can correct the color or shift the color (color balance) which means I dont have to worry about the flourecents in my shop.  There are almost to many options on this camera to learn them all.  I also use photoshop elements 7.  I dont consider myself good with a computer or camera for that matter, but photoshop elements 7 was pretty easy to learn.  I bought a couple of extremely boring video tutorials off Ebay which helped.  Between the nikon software and photoshop, I am able to do quite a bit with images and promo material.  I bought a large backdrop that I set up in my shop for photos.  I also bought some expensive lighting but found that I got to many hotspots on the pieces.  I now dont even use the extra lights when I take photos. I dont have any extra lenses or filters.  Im no expert on cameras but with this Nikon and all the options on it, Im pretty happy with it.

I recently started a blog that is linked up through my site. 
I found the following blog article helpful with photography.


I have been doing all of our photography of my furniture and accessories for our web site for about 15 years.  The best camera to have is a SLR digital.  My current camers is a Canon Rebel T1i.  My last camera was a Nikon, both are good cameras.  Plan to spend $400 and up.  For serious photography you will need a camera that takes 300+dpi photos.  The last time I checked those pocket cameras are only 72dpi (the same as your camera phone).  Save that camera for your next cruise ship vacation.  If you are sending photos to a magazine they require 300+dpi photos.  I also have 4 portrait lights, about $800.  The flash on your camera is not a good lighting source.  A white seamless background sheet is used to photograph your furniture against.  I buy that at an art store.  You will also need Adobe PhotoShop to adjust the photos, another few hundred dollars.  Yes, it is expensive!!!  But I make furniture for a living and poor quality photos don't sell.

Dennis Bork
Antiquity Period Designs, Ltd.
I consider my digital camera to be one of my most valuable woodworking tools!

For some years I have attended local auctions and have taken many pictures of period furniture. As a result, I now have an extensive library of high resolution detailed digital photos that has proven invaluable. I have learned to take pictures of anything that catches my eye and not to be to deliberate. You can never tell what will come in handy. At first it was a bit embarrassing, but the folks at the auction houses have come to know me and even assist me at times. Knowing my habits, they once gave me a heads up about an exceptionally rare and valuable Boston block front chest of drawers that was on preview. As instructed, I came back 1/2 hour before closing and they helped me w/ unprecedented access to it!

I photograph from all possible angles, pulling drawers out, turning the piece upside down, etc... One trick I have found very useful is to get some poster board, and draw dark, black lines w/ a sharpie on 1" intervals. I put that up next to or behind what I'm photographing. It often eliminates the need for taking measurements or making tracings of curved elements, and I believe it could be used to compensate for lens distortion when scaling from photos, but I haven't used it for that yet.

I purchased a Canon Rebelabout 6 years ago, and the decision to go w/ an SLR proved to be fortuitous. It's capable of taking highly detailed, clear images that allow me to zoom in an incredible amount from my computer to glean details from the photographs. When I was initially pondering what to buy, most people recommended I buy a standard pocket camera. I am delighted I followed my instinct and went for an SLR!

I find a zoom lens to be invaluable, especially when photographing museum pieces where it's not always possible to get close or step back, etc... Photo purists complain that zoom lenses have distortion, but I haven't found that to be much of a problem for what I use the camera for. For "overall" shots, I find the auto-focus to be best, since its reliable and greatly speeds up the process. For detailed macro shots, manual focus is usually the answer.

Since flash photography on furniture w/ shiny varnish finishes usually doesn't yield good results, I've learned to turn the flash off and rely on both small and large tripods. I think a basic SLR camera w/ a zoom lens, and the tripod meets 99% of my needs. Lately I have been thinking about purchasing a mono-pod and a macro-lens. All the other stuff I purchased hasn't proven as useful.

Focus / depth of field has proven to be a most vexing problem. While it's still too early, I think this type of technology will prove invaluable for making documentation photos of furniture in the near future:

Since digital photos are free, I've taken to documenting everything I build. It's amazing how useful that has proven, as well. I use it both to remind myself and to show others how I solved a particular problem. In one case, these photos unexpectedly because the basis for a SAPFM journal article! When I took the photos I had no such plan to publish them. But a good quality SLR means your photos are really clear, so you do have the option to use them in ways you never intended.

Robert Millard wrote an excellent blog entry on photographing furniture:

There was also an excellent article in FWW a couple of years ago on photographing your own work. One of the most useful articles they've published in a long time IMHO!

Whew, I'm rambling. I wrote all this in the hopes that it will help you confirm your decision to purchase an SLR!



I really appreciated the material you posted, but it raises a question in my mind; the role of the hybrid DSLR.

It is my understanding that cameras that have large image sensors and interchangeable lenses are widely called hybrid DSLRs, but I find this to be a little confusing.

Since you advocate the SLR camera, does that include cameras with SLR-sized large sensors and interchangeable lenses ?  I do not understand how the presence od the SLR mechanism by itself is a big advantage if the camera has a large viewing screen, and I really like to ability to move my viewing screen around to suit different camera attitudes, such as on a copy stand.

Some of those who try to predict where cameras are headed seem to see hybrids replacing DSLRs as the high end choice.

What do you think ?

The hybrids are between the dslr and the point and shoot, I think one of the main differences between them and a dslr is the hybrid has no mirror box allowing them to be much smaller than a dslr and in turn allowing the lenses to be smaller in size while accomplishing the same task as a full size lens.

I have dslr's as well as point and shoot cameras, and I'll play devil's advocate here and encourage you to look into higher end point and shoot models. There are plenty that take fantastic high resolution photos, have a full array of manual features, flash hot shoe etc etc. without all the size and expense of a dslr and lens. Will they take as good of a photo as a pro level dslr with a pro level lens? No. But there are some that take super photos out there.

I have a Canon S5 IS from a few years back that is a wonderful camera, full controls, 12x optical zoom, hot shoe. When I want to do "photography" I use the dslr's, shoot in RAW, edit in Photoshop and Lightroom. When I just want to take some good pictures of the kids playing or whatever, I take the point and shoot. It has the twist viewfinder which is awesome for shooting weird angles and from high/low, shoots great jpg photos straight out of the camera, and is much smaller than the dslr.

If you're going to do high end furniture shots, as has been mentioned already, lighting and a tripod will be important, really more important than the camera.

Also, I would consider buying used. Craigslist photo/video in my area is hopping, people buy and sell like crazy and you can get some good deals once you know what you are looking for.
It's good that Chris weighed in as devil's advocate. He's brought up some good points.

Given the state of flux and the variability in the technology right now, it may be impossible to say one class of camera is better than another. I had an exchange w/ a friend who is a photo enthusiast and here are some points to consider:

Larger sensor size is better
Hybrids are generally more expensive than SLR's right now
In general, lenses for SLR's are still a bit better/cheaper than they are for the hybrids
Built in flash on SLR's is usually better
You can purchase a slightly used SLR quite cheaply, especially if it doesn't have movie capabilities
Whatever is true about Hybrid's .vs. SLR's right now won't be true for much longer!

I think it's important to consider the fact that anything you purchase new right now will be hopelessly out of date in just a few years. So unless you are after something specific, it may be better to follow Chris's suggestion and purchase used equipment and plan on replacing it more often until either the technology settles down or you figure out what you really need.

My bias is towards SLR's, because it has worked so well for me and I don't mind the extra bulk. But I'm a woodworker, not a photographer!

I don't envy you; ahhh... the 'horror of decisions' !


Thanks everyone for the great responses and keep them coming.  I do read and use Consumer Reports and online sources but appreciate the input of woodworkers that probably want to do the same things I do - record process, get images for research and photograph the work.  I have a film SLR (I used to read Pop Photography back when digital was still considered "evil") that hasn't had batteries in a few years and I use a decent P/S camera for both family snaps as well as my furniture hobby.  I know the upgrade isn't cheap no matter what route but I also know I want something more capable.  Thanks everyone for the opinions.

JB said:
>>You can purchase a slightly used SLR quite cheaply, especially if it doesn't have movie capabilities<<

I'm a Canon person so someone else will have to speak about Nikon, but a good middle of the road used Canon is the 40D. You can get a body off ebay for around $400 with low shutter count. Of course if you want to spend more, the 50D and 60D are out there, moving right on up the line to the 7D and 5D etc. You can get a cheaper dslr with the entry level Rebel Series but IMO it's worth it to spend a little more on a higher end model. I still have a Rebel myself and it's a good camera but they do have some limitations that may or may not be important to you, depending on what you want to do with the camera.

The EF-S 18-55mm lens is one of the main kit lenses out there that can be bought very cheaply. It's really not a bad lens to start out with for the $$. With a crop sensor camera that focal range is very usable.
I use both a point and shoot (because I can stick in my pocket) and a DSLR.  I use the point and shoot when travelling,  musuems  and attending classes (if photos allowed).  I use the DSLR in the shop.  I like to take a few photos of myself working on each project.  I have always thought it would be nice for a family member to have a few photos of me actually working on the piece they own once I have passed on.  Taking photos of only the work itself will mean little to family members that are not into woodworking.  Therefore cameras with timers are great.   Of course taking photos of contruction details are priceless for yourself or to share with the rest of us!

I agree with a high end point and shoot that has a good set of features.  On the DSLR, ask yourself how much you will get into the photography.  If you are not going dive deep into learning camera features, you can get a good DSLR for less than $1000.  I have an Olympus DSLR with image stabilization, but I don't spend a lot of time with other features.  The full version of Photoshop has steep learning curve, but is very powerful.  Photoshop Elements is a good compromise and can be bought for less than $100.