The best tech for improving your photography
Light is perhaps the most important aspect of any image. If you’re just starting out, we’d recommend a "continuous light," as it will help you get a sense for how it changes a scene before you take a picture. Our current favorite is the Aputure Amaran AL-F7, an affordable light that's plenty bright and comes with adjustable color temperature. The AL-F7 is best suited to a separate stand, but it's small enough that you can mount it directly on your camera. If you want something really pocketable, the AL-M9 ($45) is a great choice. It’s barely bigger than a credit card, but puts out a lot of light. Bonus: Continuous lights are perfect for video.
If you want more power than a continuous light can provide, you're going to need a flash. Flashes are perfect for times when you need a super-high shutter speed to freeze quick motion, and you can get creative results by bouncing the light off the ceiling or walls. They're also useful for softening the shadows you get on faces in bright sunlight. The Godox TT685S Thinklite is a great flash, and comes in multiple versions compatible with almost every major camera. It can also be paired with an inexpensive trigger that lets you mount it on a separate stand for even more lighting options.
Camera stabilization has improved dramatically in recent years, but there are still plenty of situations where you’re going to want a tripod. We recommend the Magnus VT-4000, which is a solid and relatively affordable tripod “system” (meaning it comes with both legs and a head). A tripod is essential for long exposures, time-lapses or just when you want to make sure you’re getting the sharpest shot possible. The VT-4000’s fluid head also means it can pull double duty for video. A fluid head is heavier than the ball head on photography-only tripods, but it helps smooth out motion when you're tilting and panning. If you’re only getting one tripod, it’s better to cover your bases.
Bad sound can ruin a video, and an external microphone goes a long way towards improving your clips. We love the Rode VideoMic Pro Plus, a shotgun mic that attaches to your camera and plugs in via a mini jack. Aside from improving sound quality, the Rode comes with a shock-mount that dampens the noise when you're jostling around, and it also keeps the mic away from your hands. On a lot of cameras, the built-in mics sit close to where your hands naturally fall, and they can easily pick up the noise of you adjusting settings or the lens motor focusing. The VideoMic Pro stays out of the way, so you should get clearer sound without all that handling noise.
Motorized gimbals are a big part of filmmaking these days, as they can smooth out dramatic camera movements or, if you're less adventurous, just help you capture clean footage while you're walking. Our top pick is the Zhiyun-Tech Crane 3 LAB, which packs powerful motors while remaining fairly lightweight. The handle design also makes it easy to carry in a number of different positions for creative shots. It can support the weight of most mirrorless cameras, and runs over seven hours on a charge. At $900, it's not exactly an impulse buy, so if you’re looking for a cheaper option, the Crane 2 isn't as versatile and can't support heavier cameras, but it costs just $350.
Watch our video on photography tech here.