Best cameras for photographing artwork

Best cameras for photographing artwork

Lots of the images of art either online or in print are simply not good enough! They don’t do the work of the artist justice; fuzzy images, oversaturation, bad lighting – there are numerous ways to make a great piece look mediocre.

And of course there are just as many subtle techniques for getting the best possible images (check them out in our article Tips for photographing artwork). But buying a good quality camera to capture stunning shots of your art is a fantastic starting place.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the different types of cameras for photographing artwork available and discuss the pros and cons of each level of device.

Who is this article is for?

I’ve written this article with artists in mind, not photographers. Wading through the ocean of information available from online reviews and forums can be arduous and confusing, especially if you don’t know your shutter speeds from your focal ranges. My aim is to make the choice as simple as possible for artists on varying budgets wishing to purchase a camera to shoot their own work.

Which is the best camera for shooting artwork?

It depends entirely on what you need to do. When photographing art, the aim should always be to make the image as sharp and representative of the actual piece as possible.

But if you need images mainly for use on the internet or to use on small art prints, some of the less expensive options (like compact
and advanced compact cameras) will be just fine. If you want to capture photographs of a high enough quality to reproduce on medium to large-sized prints, you’ll be looking at investing a little more (on either a DSLR or an interchangeable lens semi-compact camera).

With that in mind we’ll review the pros and cons of each category of camera and suggest specific models.

Fathoming the features

So that we’re all on the same page and to help you understand the online reviews when you’re doing your research, let’s take a look at what some of the jargon means:

    • Sensor size: As a general rule, the bigger the sensor size, the better quality the images will be. The downside of a big sensor is that it requires a larger lens, meaning the price and practicality may be affected.
    • Megapixels (MP) and resolution: Megapixels represent the number of dots in an image; the more megapixels, the higher the resolution. High resolution doesn’t always equate to high quality, but it does mean more detail and a greater potential for cropping in on the details of your artwork. Low-res images will look pixelated when zoomed in on. A 12MP camera or above is ideal for photographing artwork.
    • Image stabilisation (IS): Although I would always suggest using a tripod when taking photographs of artwork, image stabilisation features help to reduce blur caused by vibration.
    • OVF/EVF (Optical viewfinder/Electronic viewfinder): As well as an LCD display screen, some digital cameras also have viewfinders. Optical viewfinders (found on DSLR cameras) offer a far more accurate idea of what the camera is actually seeing (and what the final image will look like) than the LCD screen. Electronic viewfinders are also more representative than the live preview in that they reduce ambient light.
    • Zoom lens/Prime lens: Zoom lenses offer a lot of versatility in that you can zoom in and out, but the images captured are only ever really great quality in the mid-range of the zoom. Prime lenses don’t zoom at all, but always produce better quality shots.
    • Focal range: This is the range of the zoom – how far in and out you can go with particular cameras. The tricky thing here is different manufacturers use different ways of measuring it!
    • Shutter speed: How quickly the image is captured. A very fast shutter speed means a very slim moment of time in which to capture the image. As visual art is normally still and you will probably be using a tripod, super-fast shutter speeds aren’t essential; they’re really only necessary for capturing razor sharp action shots.
    • RAW files: This is the unprocessed image data of a photograph and allows you to process it in a software programme yourself. Many modern cameras can be set in RAW mode, which has its advantages, such as greater detail, more potential for editing and correction, and the production of better art prints.

 

OK, let’s take a look at TextileArtist.org’s recommendations for cameras to take great photographs of your art.

Digital compact cameras

Recommended for: Artists on a budget who don’t need high quality prints of their work

All compacts are fixed lens cameras, meaning that they are extremely handy, easy to use, cheap and versatile (with good zoom range).

They do however have drawbacks when aiming to give your images a professional edge (which is part of your goal when shooting artwork). Small sensors produce lower quality images and colours can look unnatural (not giving an accurate representation of the shades in your work).

I would suggest these cameras are perfect for taking reference shots or small photos of your art for web-display, but don’t produce high enough quality for print reproduction.

All the cameras featured in this category cost under £200.

Best compact digital cameras for photographing artwork

Sony DSCHX50 Compact Digital Camera

Main features:

  • 30x optical zoom
  • 20.4MP sensor
  • Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation

Sony digital camera for photographing artwork

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ35EB-K Compact Camera

Main features:

  • High resolution Lens
  • 20x optical zoom
  • 16.1 Megapixel High Sensitivity MOS Sensor

Panasonic Lumix model - a brilliant device for capturing beautiful shots of visual art

Canon PowerShot SX280 HS Compact Digital Camera

Main features:

  • 20x optical zoom
  • 12.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor
  • Intelligent IS for sharp shots

 

A Canon is one of the best cameras for shooting artwork

Advanced compact cameras

Recommended for: A great camera for artists with a little more to spend who have the space to shoot their art without the need for an extensive zoom-range. This category of camera is also great for producing small to medium sized prints (with a little editing).

Advanced compacts are the compromise between the basic point and shoot cameras listed above and interchangeable lens cameras or DSLRs. They are a good option for general purpose, affordable and convenient.

They generally trade large zoom capabilities for higher quality, which means their sensors are bigger than most compacts; this offers a significant improvement in sharpness and colour (meaning images are generally far more representative of the ‘in the flesh’ artwork). Another advantage over their cheaper counterparts is that many offer filter capabilities, making them more versatile.

The drawback is that they can be a little cumbersome (for compact cameras some of them aren’t very ‘compact’).

Best advanced compact cameras for artists

Canon PowerShot S110 Digital Camera

Main features:

  • 12.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor
  • 5x zoom lens in a compact body
  • Intelligent IS for ultra-sharp photos
  • Wi-Fi for printing and instant sharing
  • RAW data capabilities

Advanced compact digital Canon camera - one of the best cameras for artists

Olympus Stylus 1 Compact Digital Camera

Main features:

 

  • Wide 24x optical super-tele zoom lens
  • Powerful image stabilisation system
  • Built-in WiFi

 

Olympus digital camera for art photography

Sony RX100M2 Advanced Cybershot Digital Compact Camera

Main features:

  • 20.2MP back-illuminated sensor for amazingly crisp detail
  • Tiltable LCD screen
  • NFC One-touch sharing

Sony Advance Cybershot camera for artists

DSLRs (Digital single lens reflex cameras)

Recommended for: Artists looking to get professional-standard shots when photographing artwork for printing and digital display. There may be somewhat of a learning curve for the novice photographer but it will be worth it.

DSLRs are the preferred type of camera for most professional photographers. They have a mirror that allows you to look through an optical viewfinder and see exactly what the camera sees (giving a very realistic impression of what the artwork will look like in the final image). The mirror then flips out of the way when the shot is taken. Hundreds of models are available starting at entry level and going through to pro standard; there are huge variances in quality and price too.

In general though DSLRs have a much larger sensor size than compact cameras, which means they produce much higher quality images at much higher resolution. DSLRs also offer a lot of versatility because they boast a range of high quality lens options. They are capable of capturing super-sharp images suitable for very large print reproduction. In short DSLRs do everything better except extreme zoom.

There are other drawbacks. If you want the highest calibre, it comes at a premium price and the cameras themselves aren’t easily portable; as a general rule, the heavier and more cumbersome the machine, the better the images.

If you are on a budget, it might be worth considering buying a used DSLR; these can offer amazing value for money and there are plenty available on Amazon.

Best DSLRs for capturing images of art

Canon EOS 600D Digital SLR Camera

Main features:

  • Incredible sharp images from an 18MP sensor
  • Excellent guide for quick pain-free product familiarisation
  • Vari-angle preview screen to shoot from any angle
  • 14-bit DIGIC 4 image processor
  • Lens kit included

A Canon DLSR camera - great for photographing artwork for printing

Sony A65

Main features:

  • 24.3MP sensor
  • OLED viewfinder
  • Translucent Mirror Technology provides high precision, single lens reflex quality performance
  • 3-way tilt screen
  • A great camera for art photography

Sony DSLR camera for taking fantastic photos of visual art

Pentax K-5 II DSLR Camera

Main features:

  • 16.3 MP Sensor
  • Bright, clear optical viewfinder
  • High quality LCD monitor
  • Customisable slow shutter speed setting
  • Lens kit included

Pentax camera - a brilliant option for photographing artwork with a digital camera

 

Interchangeable lens cameras

Recommended for: Artists looking for a great all-round option; great image quality for web and print, convenience and versatility

Interchangeable lens cameras are often referred to as semi-compact and I believe they are the best option for taking photographs of visual art.

They are smaller, lighter and more practical than DSLRs because they do away with the mirror and use an electronic viewfinder or sometimes just the rear screen to preview images. The photo-quality offered by interchangeable lens cameras is far better than its compact counterpacts due to bigger sensors and higher mega-pixels. They offer comparable versatility to DSLRs because of their multi-lens capability.

When researching interchangeable lens cameras, it’s important to spend just as much time researching the lenses; most of the time the camera will come with a starter kit of lenses but these are normally not the best quality.

Downsides include the added expense of multiple lenses, how much weight lenses add to the camera body, and the fact that, although they often come close, the image quality will generally be marginally lower than DSLRs due to slightly smaller sensor size. But worry not! You’ll still be able to get great quality images of your art suitable for print reproduction with these cameras.

Best interchangeable lens cameras to take photos of art

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7KEB-S Compact System Camera

Main features:

  • 16MP Micro Sensor for incredible picture quality
  • Brilliantly high resolution tilting electronic viewfinder
  • Tilting LCD Screen
  • Advanced focusing features; Magnification (upto x10)
  • Image Stabilisation

Panasonic Lumix interchangeable lens camera for artists

Olympus OM-D EM-5 Micro Four Thirds Interchangeable Lens Camera

Main features: 

  • The world’s fastest auto-focusing system
  • Tilt LCD screen
  • Ultra-responsive in-body image stabilisation
  • High-resolution electronic viewfinder
  • 16.1 megapixel Live MOS sensor

The professional artist and photographer's choice - An Olympus interchangeable lens camera

Samsung NX30

Main features:

  • 20.3 megapixel CMOS sensor for super-sharp picture quality
  • Advanced auto-focusing for detailed shots
  • 1/8000 second shutter speed
  • Tilting electronic viewfinder for specific framing

Samsung digital camera for capturing stunningly artistic shots

Products featured in this article

Sony digital camera for photographing artworkSony DSCHX50 Compact Digital Camera
Panasonic Lumix model - a brilliant device for capturing beautiful shots of visual artPanasonic Lumix DMC-TZ35EB-K Compact Camera
A Canon is one of the best cameras for shooting artworkCanon PowerShot SX280 HS Compact Digital Camera
Advanced compact digital Canon camera - one of the best cameras for artistsCanon PowerShot S110 Digital Camera
Olympus digital camera for art photographyOlympus Stylus 1 Compact Digital Camera
Sony Advance Cybershot camera for artistsSony RX100M2 Advanced Cybershot Digital Compact Camera
A Canon DLSR camera - great for photographing artwork for printingCanon EOS 600D Digital SLR Camera
Sony DSLR camera for taking fantastic photos of visual artSony A65
Pentax camera - a brilliant option for photographing artwork with a digital cameraPentax K-5 II DSLR Camera
Panasonic Lumix interchangeable lens camera for artistsPanasonic Lumix DMC-GX7KEB-S Compact System Camera
The professional artist and photographer's choice - An Olympus interchangeable lens cameraOlympus OM-D EM-5 Micro Four Thirds Interchangeable Lens Camera
Samsung digital camera for capturing stunningly artistic shotsSamsung NX30

What other equipment do I need?

Tripods

Almost as essential as a good quality camera for photographing artwork is a decent tripod. Without one the investment you make in a camera will be a waste of money; you’ll be taking photos that are blurred, tilted and off-centre.

The good news is that tripods don’t require nearly as much consideration or research as cameras and you can pick one up very cheaply.

For the lightweight compact and advanced compact cameras you won’t need any kind of heavy-duty bracing.

For DSLRs or interchangeable lens cameras you will require a slightly heavier duty tripod. Make sure you check your camera’s weight and that the tripod you select is capable of bearing the load.

Suggested tripods



Hama Star 61 Tripod

Have you produced great images photographing your art with a particular camera? We’d love to see the results. Post a link to a picture of your work in the comments below and don’t forget to help our other readers out by telling us the make and model of the camera used to capture it! 

FREE E-BOOK: How my journey into textile art began, a fascinating insight into the work of textile artist Sue Stone
Sunday 20th, August 2017 / 15:16
Joe

About the author

Joseph Pitcher is the son of textile artist Sue Stone. He is an actor and voice-over artist and has worked at the RSC, the National Theatre, West End theatres and several other leading regional venues across the UK. Find Joe on Google

View all articles by Joe

12 Comments on “Best cameras for photographing artwork

  • Don’t forget the Nikon D(SLR)90 🙂 I swear by mine! AND READ THE MANUAL!!!! There are things cameras can do now that are amazing, but only if you know how to set it up properly. A good camera will not do the job by itself though: learn how to “stage”, take advantage of natural light and stay away from the trendy overload photos with too many tchotchkes taking away from the “product”.

    Reply
  • Hello! I print out this article so that I can find DSLR cameras that captures artwork. Went to Henrys and blacks. These suggested cameras are discontinued. Maybe you need to do more research or update your website.

    Reply
  • You have neglected to include the Canon 5d mk 2. If you use a standard Canon 85mm F 1.8 lens and shoot at under 250th sec at f9, you will get incredibly sharp raw files for making large prints…. say 17 by 25 inches. Always shoot with a tripod. If you use natural light, never shoot with direct sun light or a blue sky. Start your raw file with lightroom, making changes that you can;t in photoshop. Then transfer to photoshop, and do the fine tuning. (specific print instructions are too much to go into here). ALways enlarge on your monitor to see and retouch little marks that you otherwise would NOT see in the original, but DO see in the print. I use an Epson stylus Pro 3880. I am very very very fussy about my prints, as I sell them my self.

    Reply
  • Padmakar Srivastava

    How about Full Frame DSLR Pentax K-1 with a full frame 36 megapixel sensor. If you put it on pixel shift mode it takes 4 pictures with sensor moving 1 pixel and it combines the 4 pictures, resulting in a 144 megapixel image, rivaling the medium format. The auto focus mechanism is in the body, not in the lenses, therefore, the lenses are relatively cheaper.

    Reply
  • I cannot for the life of me see why you haven’t included the NIKON range! Think you maybe rather out of date in your assumption of the best camera’s to do the job!

    Reply
  • Thanks for the information. I haven’t photographed anything in years so any info is appreciated. I’m 65 and have artwork that hasn’t seen the light of day for about 20 years. I need to document them for insurance and hopefully print. Your article and the reviews will help me make intelligent decisions.

    Reply
  • Thanks for all this information; I’m a beginner at 68 and this article was the only one I found during a 2 day internet search, which made any sense to me. I made extensive notes and reading it through once more, I feel confident to choose a camera and delighted with my progress in this new project. Many thanks.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hello and welcome to TextileArtist.org

TextileArtist.org is a place for textile artists and art enthusiasts to be inspired, learn from the best, promote their work and communicate with like-minded creatives.

From the bookshelf

What the artists say

"Textileartist.org is an invaluable resource. I am constantly sending students there and sharing it with other practitioners".

Nigel Cheney
Lecturer in Embroidered Textiles at NCAD

"The beauty of TextileArtist.org is that whenever you visit you'll discover something that you didn't already know".

Rachel Parker
Textile Study Group Graduate of the year 2012

"TextileArtist.org gives contemporary textile practice a voice; leading artists, useful guides and a forum for textiles".

Cas Holmes
Textile Artist and teacher

"This website is exactly what we need in the textiles world. A fantastic inspirational resource".

Carol Naylor
Textile and Embroidery Artist

  Get updates from TextileArtist.org via RSS or Email

Most Viewed

Get our free guide: The Creative Path

  • 20 Top Textile and Fiber Artists Share their Creative Secrets
  • Learn how professional artists beat procrastination, boost their productivity and consistently put their ideas into action with our brand new guide The Creative Path.