Photo Tips

A Camera Bag for Beginners!

Me Ra Koh

I get emails everyday from hundreds of parents who follow my blog or have seen our Award Winning DVDs, Refuse to Say Cheese. One of the most commonly asked questions is “If I had to buy one camera and lens, what should it be?”

It’s a great question. My ideal Camera Bag for Beginners would have two things. The Sony Alpha 330 camera (if your tired of the black camera color and don’t mind waiting till this holiday season, you can get the Sony Alpha 330 camera in Copper Brown w/a pink interface option! I can’t wait!)

Me Ra Koh's Beginner Camera Choice from Sony

and the new Sony 50mm, 1.8 SAM DT lens.

Me Ra Koh's Favorite Beginner Lens from Sony!

Here is my reasoning. Let’s start with the camera body.

As a mom and professional photographer, I want a camera that can do several things. If I feel like putting the camera in my purse and going to the pool with the kids, I want the camera to be lightweight. Sometimes I bring my whole set up of camera gear, but a lot of the time I want a lightweight option that is more purse friendly. Yet, even though the camera is purse friendly, it is still a step up from a point and shoot. This way I can capture all the moments in my daughter’s back flip off the diving board.

Color quality is also a HUGE deal to me. I shoot thousands of images a month. In one wedding, my husband and I will shoot over three thousand images. One day at the beach with my kids, well, I won’t shoot three thousand. But I’ll come home with a serious handful. Due to the volume of images I’m taking, I don’t want to spend hours behind the computer adjusting color. Who has time for that? I want my color to be good the moment I shoot it. The color quality in the Sony 330 is BEAUTIFUL! What I see, and what I shoot, is what the camera gives back to me–without hours of color correction. This is a HUGE plus for any busy person!

But the lens. The lens is where the magic goes to a whole new level.

Everyone has their own preference to what they love about photography. My preference is what I like to call “buttery, blurred backgrounds”. I love the background that softly blurs and at the same time accentuates the story of where I’m focusing my image. This is why I would choose the 50mm, 1.4 SAM DT lens over a zoom lens any day.

Why not a zoom lens? Wouldn’t a zoom lens give me more versatility? A zoom can be nice b/c you can stand farther back, and if you want to get in closer with your framing you don’t have to move your feet. But zoom lenses are limited to how low they can go in their aperture/fstops. The more expensive zooms can’t go any lower than a 2.8 fstop. Here’s the key to the buttery, blurred backgrounds. The “lower” my fstop goes, the more buttery my background becomes. The 50mm lens that I’m suggesting can go all the way down to 1.8 fstop. That’s REALLY low!

I took this image of the kids at a 1.8 fstop. I wanted the wheat stalks to be in focus around Blaze’s sad face. (He was caught up in the idea of how sad he’d be if he lost his balloon to the clouds.) But I also wanted to make the image even more dramatic by having Pascaline blurred in the background. Her presence helps accentuate the story of Blaze, how young he is, the story of kids playing with red balloons in the wheat field, and at the same time Pascaline doesn’t take away from Blaze because of how much I’ve blurred her out.

Me Ra Koh Portrait Photography w/Sony

The best part about the low fstops is that you can take a great picture ANYWHERE! It doesn’t matter how horrible your background is. You can just blur it!

A zoom lens is also limiting in how close you can get to your subject. Have you ever tried to take a picture of your kids with a zoom lens, and as you try to focus, the lens moves back and forth but won’t grab a focus. The lens can make this horrible sound, you feel embarrassed, you have no idea what’s wrong with your camera and then without you realizing it your kids have run off. Has that every happened to anyone out there? 🙂 A zoom lens can require the photographer to stand six to seven feet away from the subject. Otherwise, the lens won’t be able to grab it’s focus.

With a fixed 50mm lens, you can get in SUPER close to your subject. I love Pascaline’s long eyelashes. So for this shot, I used the Tiltable Live View Screen and shot down on her smile with my focus on her eyelashes. I used a low fstop. Again, I went all the way down to a 1.8 so that her eyelashes would be the focus and the rest of her face and shoulders would become a buttery blur.

Me Ra Koh Portrait Photography w/Sony

The last feature I love about the 50mm lens is that it can get great wide shots too. The 50mm lens is not a “wide angle” lens. But it does the “wide” trick for me! Not only can I get in really tight to Pascaline’s eyelashes, but I can also step back and get a wide angle shot from underneath the pier.

Me Ra Koh Portrait Photography with Sony

Yes, I have to move my feet because it’s not a zoom lens. But the trade off for the extreme low aperture is worth it. The blurry background is one of the key features that makes our Point and Shoot images look like snapshots, and our blurry background images look professional. If you have a limited budget, and photography is a new passion of yours. Go with the Alpha 330 and the 50mm, 1.8 SAMT DT lens. You will be AMAZED at the difference in your images when you take your first shot at a 1.8 fstop. And if fstops overwhelm you, you can forget about numbers and simply adjust the sliding scale on your Live Preview Screen. See the person’s head with the blurred mountain behind him? The lowest fstop is 1.4. Once you get your 50mm lens, put your camera in A mode (Aperture Priority) so you can move the marker down the sliding scale. That’s it!

Sony's Live Preview Screen and New Interface for the Alpha 330

That is a signature feature to the Sony’s Alpha 330 camera, and I’m so excited for visual learners to have this kind of technology. It takes all the Math and fractions out of getting blurry backgrounds. And even better, it opens up a world of creativity to you!

I’m excited to see what you capture! Once you get your camera and lens, upload your images to Sony’s Digital Darkroom so we can see them!

For more photo tips and exercises, check out my daily blog at! To learn more about Aperture, check out our Award Winning DVD Series, Refuse to Say Cheese and Beyond the Green Box at

When your ready to expand your camera bag, check out the other equipment I use by reading THIS POST and my other post on LENSES! You’ll see lots of image examples that help explain the reasoning behind the equipment I need!

Much Warmth,

Me Ra Koh


  1. Me Ra says:

    This blog post was originally written for the Sony website, but as of today (Dec. 14th 2010), it’s now available for you to read here too!



  2. […] a Camera Bag for Beginners? **Please note; the Sony links temporarily don’t work.  Please CLICK HERE to see What’s in a Camera Bag for a […]

  3. Dayana says:

    Hai there 🙂
    I love your website! Okay. So I’m 18 this year, and I have always been interested in photography. I have never own a DSLR camera. I’ve doing a lot of research on cameras, especially Sony. I just want to make sure that I make the choice. The Sony DSLR a330 was released on July 2009. I’m sure Sony now has released new cameras. So I was wondering if a330 is still the best from any other new ones? I’ve checked out some other models as well. For example, a580, a390 and also a33. I’m pretty sure a900 is the best! Obviously. I would love to purchase a900, but it’s too expensive for me. I hope you can help me make the right choice! Looking forward to hear from you. Thank you 🙂

    p/s, My interest in photography, well, what I would like to take photos of, I love sports, travel, portrait, landscape and flowers and other close up still life. Well, basically, EVERYTHING 😀

  4. Hello may I extract some of the perspicacity from this delivery if I provender a bond back to your site?

  5. […] A Camera Bag for Beginners by Me Ra Koh (This post is about equipment but teaches a lot about operation.) […]