Best camera for headshots
Camera manufacturers are constantly bringing out new models and lenses in the strive to become the best, fastest, lightest, most accurate, etc.
A list of ‘best cameras’ therefore can be out of date within days of writing. Bearing this in mind, we will take a look at some specific cameras, any one of which could arguably be the best camera for headshots, but first, we need to understand what we are looking at, namely:
Putting it all together
This is important because there is not one single camera that will rise above the others to win the title of ‘Best Camera for Headshot Photography’. It will always be a combination of the above elements plus the actual circumstances of the shoot itself.
This article is not attempting to be the definitive guide to purchasing the ultimate camera – but to offer general points to help give an understanding of what various types of camera are available, including the good and bad points in them, in layman’s terms. Hopefully, this will give then you some extra ideas to help you make the right choice for yourself.
A final note: When we say ‘best camera for headshots’ we are referring to professional headshot photos, rather than something that can be snapped to use as a quick Facebook share.
Best Camera Type for Headshot Photography
There are several different types of camera, and probably the best place to start is with an exploration into what they are. As with anything these days, there are a huge number of variants, but we will keep ourselves to the main ones.
A compact camera is something almost all of us have had at some point. Sometimes referred to as a ‘point and shoot’ camera, these are small, usually cheaper and are made for everyday use. They almost always have a small LCD screen on the back instead of a viewfinder and most have only one fixed lens. They are great for ease of carrying, for tourism, landscapes and ‘quick snaps’. At the more expensive end, you will find the option for interchangeable lenses and other features.
For a large portion of the general public, who are casual photographers, their compact cameras have been replaced by their smartphone. As phone lenses and capabilities have improved dramatically in recent years, and as people generally always have their phone with them, convenience has overtaken quality of the image. Having said that, as most sharing of photos is now done online and via social media, the modern smartphone camera is more than adequate for these uses.
The DSLR camera is what most of us think of when we are picturing ‘professional cameras’ – that is, bulky, with interchangeable lenses and usually made by Nikon or Canon. (DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex).
The SLR part of the name refers to the mechanism inside the camera. Simply put, the light enters through the lens into the camera body. This light is then reflected up into the viewfinder by a mirror, so you can see what you are pointing the camera at. When you press the shutter to take a photo, this mirror swings up out of the way and the light hits the now-exposed sensor that, until now, was hidden behind the mirror.
Once the sensor has been exposed for the correct time, the mirror swings back down and the photo-taking is complete. This is a very simplified description, but it’s enough to get the idea of what is going on.
This mirror action is why the camera body is quite bulky and heavy – a lot is going on in there!
A mirrorless camera – as the same suggests – does not have the reflex mirror of a DSLR. Instead, the sensor is continuously exposed to the light from the lens, and this image is electronically passed on to the digital viewfinder.
Doing away with the mirror means a much smaller (and lighter) camera body and also a much quieter photoshoot! They do away with the loud clicks of the mirror moving up and down in a DLSR.
So which camera type is best for headshots? Well, keep in mind what we said at the start, that no one element stands alone, but rather a combination of all the different parts of the camera. However, at this point, it is reasonable to make some generalisations.
First, the compact camera is not ideal – and the same goes for your smartphone. They may well have a high pixel count (which helps with quality of picture) but if it’s a fixed lens then it will be too wide-angle for a decent headshot. We’ll discuss lenses more in a moment.
For a choice between DSLR and mirrorless, the preference will usually now be towards the latter. Both are excellent in terms of lenses available and quality of results, but with less moving parts (ie. no mirror) the mirrorless will produce less vibration when the photo is taken, which helps get a sharper image – a key aspect of the headshot. More importantly, as there is no mechanical movement, a mirrorless camera can take photos faster. And often, the difference between a good headshot and a perfect headshot is just one image out of a burst of many. The more shots you can take per second, the less chance there is of missing that perfect image.
Mirrorless cameras are also lighter than their mirrored counterparts. On the downside, due to the different ways that the image processing is done, their battery life does not compare to a DSLR.
So now we have looked at the main types of camera system – let’s now turn to the camera lens.
Best Lenses for a Headshot Photograph
Without getting into a deep discussion about the hundreds of lenses available, let’s take a quick look at the broad lens groups.
But first – a word about focal length. In essence, it is a measurement of the distance from a specific point in the lens to the camera sensor, measured in millimetres. The longer this distance, the narrower the field of view of the lens (the less it can see, going from the centre of the picture outwards). Depth of field of the lens is the amount of the picture that can be in focus and is related to the focal length.
The wide-angle lens is great for landscape photography, architecture, travel. It captures more of the view in the image (a wider angle) and allows you to get closer to the subject, especially if it is large, such as a building. Although they are designed to minimise distortion as much as possible, some is almost inevitable. Wide-angle lenses have short focal lengths. This makes objects look smaller than they do to the natural eye. Wide-angle lenses have a large depth of field, meaning that almost everything in the image (near and distant) will be in focus.
Telephoto and zoom lenses have long focal lengths, so they capture less of the view. A zoom lens is one in which the focal length can be varied – thus you can ‘zoom in’ on a subject far away. The long focal length makes objects appear larger than they do to your normal vision.
Between these are mid-range, or standard, lenses. These are lenses with a focal length between 35mm and 70mm. They take photographs closest to the way our eyes see the world. They cause minimal distortion in the photos and with a much shallower depth of field, can hold the subject in focus while isolating it from the background.
For these reasons, it is this last group which make the ideal lens for the best headshot photographs.
Lenses on compact cameras are usually wide-angle, which is why they are great for tourism and landscapes. Most of the image will be in focus, so they work well on all types of point and shoot cameras. However, for these (and smartphone cameras) the wide-angle makes them unsuitable for headshot photography. The short focal length means you need to get close to the subject, and close means distorted images. For a headshot – that’s the last thing you need!
The best camera sensor for headshots
Here, we will restrict ourselves to two main types of camera sensor – and leave aside compact cameras for the time being.
For both DLSR and mirrorless cameras, you can purchase a body that has a full-frame sensor or crop frame.
A full-frame sensor (the part of the camera that ‘sees’ and records the picture) is the same size as the ‘old’ 35mm camera film. The full-frame camera then will see 100% of the image being delivered by the lens.
Conversely, a crop frame (sometimes referred to as a half-frame) camera has a sensor that is smaller and therefore it is exposed to less of the image coming from the same lens.
Full frame cameras hold several advantages – because the sensor is larger it can record far more information – detail – and work amazingly well in low light conditions. Also, with a larger sensor, you have more control over your depth of field, and this means you can get in closer to your subject if you choose to. Image quality is especially important if the photo is to be printed; the difference may be minimal on a computer screen or mobile, but with large prints, you will clearly notice the difference.
The downsides are cost and weight. For all the advantages of a full-frame camera, you will pay for it, both financially and in the extra effort carrying it around.
Putting it all together
As we said at the start, the best headshot photographs will be a product of several factors. Concerning the camera itself, this will be a combination of the body and lens and it is worth taking time to read up and research on the latest thoughts and availability of both.
Whilst mirrorless cameras are the way that the industry is heading, it does not mean that you should discount DSLR – the price and sheer number of lens options available being just two reasons.
Read reviews of specific cameras, talk to professionals about what their own preferences are – and why. If you can, test drive a few different cameras and get a feel for what you like and dislike. Many professional photographers prefer DSLR over mirrorless simply because they feel ‘more like a camera should’. In other words, the size and weight are comfortable and familiar to them.
The other factors that will affect the quality of your headshots are circumstance (e.g. location, available light, the subject themselves and your experience).
Add all these into the equation, together with your equipment of choice, and it is this that will determine the result (success or otherwise) of your photoshoot.
So, what is the best camera for portraits?
This really is a question along the lines of ‘how long is a piece of string?’ so rather than declare what is best (which is a complicated, ever-changing issue) we’ve listed here a few different cameras which we offer as food for thought and which we hope will start to point your search in the right direction.
Nikon’s first professional, full-frame, mirrorless camera. 46mp sensor, with image stabilisation.
Canon EOS 5DSr
A first-choice DSLR, full-frame 50.5mp sensor with a face-detection system.
Sony A7R IV
DSLR quality in a mirrorless, lightweight camera. 61mp sensor and a fast 10fps.
Ultimately, the best camera is the one that you take your best photographs with.
Alternatively, it can sometimes be the one that someone else is using. If you need a professional headshot – even at short notice – and you don’t currently have all the equipment to do it yourself, then talk to Splento.
Splento has local headshot photographers available for a fixed hourly rate – just £99 – which includes retouching and editing. They are also global, meaning that they have experienced photographers close to you – wherever you are.
Take a look now at their portfolio for some amazing headshots, and quickly discover how to make your own booking for a professional headshot photo session.
Are you currently considering purchasing a new camera? Have you already decided which one it will be? Comment below now and tell us about it; we always love to hear from other photographers!