Remember, gear is important but it is not everything. Photographers tend to be gear junkies and there have been times when I’ve certainly fallen for the “If I only had the camera/lens I’ve always wanted, I can finally become the photographer I’ve always wanted to be” trap. New cameras and lenses don’t make you a better photographer. PHOTOGRAPHING makes you a better photographer. I have transformed from carrying more than I need to be ready for any contingency to the “less is more” mentality only taking what I need with a minimalist approach.
I don’t buy gear until my skill level and performance needs exceed what I am currently using, it becomes too obsolete and unsupported by the manufacturer, or, I trash it (which I tend to do a lot!) As a working pro, I am hard on gear and I trash on average one body and lens a year.
I never shoot with the latest and greatest bodies and lenses. I purposefully stay one or two generations behind. When a new body (Canon 5D Mark IV vs Mark III) comes out it doesn’t mean the current one is now a bad camera. My Canon 5D Mark III bodies are still great cameras. In all my years shooting, I have NEVER been asked what I shoot as a condition of being hired, or having an image licensed. I have never lost a job or sale because I didn’t have "THE” camera. I mostly buy used gear. When new bodies and upgraded lenses come out, the price on the perfectly good older versions drop - sometimes drastically.
So with all that said, what do I use mostly? Well here it is:
- Canon 5D Mark III
- Canon 1D Mark IV
- Canon 1D X
- Sony A6300 mirrorless (for backpacking)
LENSES: 90% of my photography is done with the following 4 lens (All Canon L series f/4 lenses)
- 24-70 IS
- 70-200 IS
- 400 DO IS
- Canon 24-70 f/2.8 non IS
- Canon 24 f3.5 tilt/shift
- Canon 20 f2.8
- Sony/Zeiss 16-70 f/4 for backpacking
I am an f/4 photographer. I shoot a lot of action and some night work but overall an f4 lens line-up at least with Canon L lenses, is cheaper, lighter ,and just as sharp as an equivalent f/2.8 set of lenses.
I plan to replace my 17-40 with the 16-35 f/4 since it now includes IS technology. This will be very useful for hand-held slot canyon work.
I did a price and weight comparison in December 2016 using B&H on the above 4 lenses. Here is the comparison of an f4 line-up versus f2.8
- f/4 kit without the 400 telephoto: 4lbs., $2,750.
- f/2.8 kit without the 400 telephoto: 5.5lbs., $5,000
Add a 400mm prime to your line-up
- 400 f/4 DO IS II: 4.6lbs, $6900
- 400 f/2.8 IS II: 8.5lbs, $10,000
I use telephotos like the 400mm on people/action and landscape work. I have the version 1. The f/4 is half the weight and at one time, nearly half the price of the f/2.8 version. It is light enough to hand hold with skill and practice. It is easier to carry in and out of a boat, a pack, or plane and even ski lifts. If you are primarily shooting birds and wildlife then consider the 400 f/2.8 or a 500 f/4. For all other work where you want or need a sharp, fast super telephoto, the 400 f/4 has many advantages over heavier versions. Read the reviews and draw your own conclusions.
- 3 Canon 600RT’s and ST-E3 Transmitter
- Honl 1/4 inch grid and gels
- Spinlight360 black and white grids and warming gels
- Lastolite 24” softbox
- Lastolite TriGrip 30” sunlite reflector and transluscent
TRIPOD & SUPPORT:
Arca-Swiss style clamps and plates all the way. There is NO better system. ALL of my bodies and lenses with tripod collars are equipped with Really Right Stuff plates. My bodies all have L-plates. It just makes life easier in the field. You attach them once with an allen wrench and you are done. They stay rigid like they are supposed to.
- Really Right Stuff TVC-23 with Really Right Stuff BH-40 head.
- Gitzo 400 series carbon fiber (current redesign is: Series 3 Mountaineer Carbon Fiber) with flat platform and Arca-Swiss BH2 (behemoth bullhead not made anymore) for telephoto work. (You can mount a Howitzer on that puppy.)
- Gitzo Series 0 traveler carbon fiber with Really Right Stuff BC-18 Micro ball head (my long distance, light weight backpacking tripod set-up)
- Really Right Stuff MC-14 monopod with spike foot and BH-25 head. Serves as mobile light stand and boom pole, ski pole
- Manfrotto Super Clamp and Magic Arm with 3/8” stud to mount small ballheads
The tripod I want in my luggage or pack is not the same tripod I want when I actually need to use it. Be aware of tripods that fold up small have many leg sections to operate in the field. I favor FUNCTIONALITY over COMPACTNESS any day! I use 3-leg section tripods. They are just easier, quicker, and more efficient to use in the field.
Get a tripod with a flat platform without a center column. You will get better images splaying your legs and getting your tripod low to the ground. If you find yourself frequently extending your center column to shoot, you need a taller tripod and you are sacrificing stability and negating the very reason for using a tripod.
- Breakthrough Photography X4 Circular Polarizer
- Singh-Ray LB Neutral Circular Polarizer
- Singh-Ray Vari-ND
- Singh-Ray 100mmx120mm 3 stop hard
- Singh-Ray 3-stop soft step graduated ND
- Lee Filter holder with adaptor rings for different size lenses
If you are buying and using pro level bodies and lenses, then use top quality filters! To do otherwise is just silly. I only use 3: Circular polarizer, straight ND and graduated ND. Circular Polarizer, 3 recommendations: 1) Singh-Ray Lighter Brighter. 2) Breakthrough Photography’s X4 great product! Just as neutral and even a little brighter than the Singh-Ray. This is great for action work when you want the polarizer effect without sacrificing too much shutter speed. 3) B+W Kaesemann great quality but darker than the other two. Not an issue and even sometimes favorable if you only shoot landscapes.
Graduated Neutral Density: Still essential for landscape work in high dynamic range situations, even if you are a virtuoso with Lightroom’s gradient and radial filters. I use the Singh-Ray 4” rectangular filters with a Lee brand holder. Screw in grad-ND’s are useless. I use the 3-stop hard and soft steps the most. I have a 2-stop from the film days but with the increased dynamic range of modern digital sensors, 2 stops is easily compensated for with skillful exposure and post processing.
Straight ND: These are different than the graduated ND which are clear on half the filter and have light blocking ND material on the other half. These are strait all light blocking filters that are supposed to maintain neutral colors. I use a Singh-Ray Vari-ND which blocks anywhere from 1-8 stops of light. You turn it like a polarizer to change the intensity of light blocking desired. They are heavy and expensive, AND vignette on wide angle. The other ND filter I use is the Breakthrough Photography’s X2 which blocks 6 stops. It is light weight, sharp and neutral.
ND filters are useful if you are shooting video and you need to get your shutter speed down to 1/60 second in bright daylight. They are also useful for landscape work where you want to really slow down flowing water in bright daylight, or, show clouds in motion where you want to do a multi second exposure in full daylight.
- Think Tank Speed Racer and Speed Freak: large and small (respectively) fanny packs with shoulder strap for general photo bags.
- Think Tank Glass Taxi: narrow backpack for carrying a body with the 400/F4 attached and ready to take out of bag and shoot.
- Clik Elite Pro Chest holster: I don’t think they make these anymore. They come with 4 attachment straps and are great at attaching your camera to virtually any backpack. Also comes with a stand alone harness for carrying your camera on your chest without a pack.
- Pelican Hard Cases
- Watershed Dry Bags
- Vest: Patagonia flyfishing vest
- Media: Sandisk Extreme Pro Compact Flash cards, 16, and 32 GB in Think Tank card wallet
- Hoodman Loupe
- Canon electronic cable release
- Several Lenspens
Vests are essential for me in carrying very important and small essentials. My vest carries at a minimum: All my filters and holders, Hoodman Loupe, cable release, lens cloth and pen, allen wrench, media card wallet, extra batteries, and, of course, my chocolate bar. I use a flyfishing vest because for outdoor and adventure work photo vests are not very useful. Maybe there are new products on the market but when I bought my latest vest 10 years ago, Domke vests and Tamrac vests were just too cumbersome or long. The Patagonia vest has a padded neck, does not absorb water, and, is short so a backpack hip belt or fanny pack can be worn without any interference. They have pockets a plenty for all my small essentials.