Updated November 1, 2016
I am often asked what camera gear I carry on my adventures. The answer really depends on where I'm going and what I'm looking to accomplish. If I'm shooting candid travel scenes in a crowded urban area, I'm going to take a different setup than I'd pack for an expedition or a commercial location shoot. Here is a description of what I currently use and why.
When quality really matters I use Nikon's new top megapixel monster the D810. I love to make really big prints and I often use it's incredible sensor and dynamic range to create massive multi-image panoramic merger files. The D750 is my backup and comes in handy for those situations where I want the flexibility and handling of a DSLR, but I don't need 36 megapixels and the extra weight. The D750's 24 megapixel sensor also has mind-blowing dynamic range and detail along with wifi connectivity.
Both of the Nikons rock in low light and produce great 1080p video, but the Sony A7s's 12MP full-frame sensor blows everything I've ever used away in lowlight and it's video nothing short of amazing.
When I'm traveling light, especially when shooting urban street scenes or candid people photographs, I love my Sony a6300, it is unobtrusive, and creates stunning images with it's 24MP APS-C sensor. People don't feel as self conscious when a camera like this looks their way.
I include my new Google Pixel phone, because it is always on me and it's camera and imaging software are mindbendingly good. The GoPro is for those shots you can't get a bigger camera in position for. I'm finding the Hero5 is better optically than my old Hero3 and I love it's new touchscreen interface.
- Nikon 14-24mm F2.8
- Zeiss 35mm ZF.2
- Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 VRII
- Nikon 50mm F1.8
- Nikon 24-120mm F4 VR
- Nikon 70-300mm F4-5.6 VR
- Nikon TC-17E II 1.7x Teleconverter (for the 70-200 F2.8)
- Nikon 400mm F3.5 ED IS AIS (no longer produced)
- Nikon TC-301 2x Teleconverter for the 400mm F3.5 (no longer produced)
- Sony 35mm F2.8
- Sony 70-200 F4
- Voightlander 10mm F5.6 full-frame rectilinear for Sony E-mount
When packing lenses for my Nikons, I am rarely without the first four on the list above. Despite their size and weight, I just love the optical quality of Nikon's fast 14-24 and 70-200 glass. The Zeiss 35 and the Nikon 50 are excellent primes to fill the gap between 24 and 70. They are also sharp, fast and light. Often I use them for panoramic mergers.
If I'm doing an extremely physically demanding trip where weight is a major consideration, I will take the 24-120 as an all purpose lens and the 70-300 for it's lightweight, long reach. I usually still pack the 35 and 50 primes for panoramic work on wide angle landscape scenes.
Because of it's versatility and surprisingly good image quality, I increasingly find myself hiking and skiing with the 24-120 on the camera and accessible. It is my general purpose "one lens kit" when needed. In more mellow conditions I use the Sony a6300, but the lack of weather sealing, small batteries and lighter build quality keeps pushing be back to Nikons for more demanding work.
My 400mm F3.5 "antique" manual focus Nikon lens has served me extremely well on multiple safaris in East Africa as well as wildlife trips closer to home. If my subjects are moving then I have to be careful with manual focus, but a brighter, clearer, sharper, easier to focus lens would be very hard to find. I absolutely love it and get razor sharp images even using the TC-301 to convert it to an 800mm F7.
The Sony 35mm F2.8 is a joy to shoot with. It is a lightweight, sharp, high-quality lens on both Sony cameras. It's the perfect street-shooting lens when paired with the A7s. The 70-200 F4 Sony isn't quite as fast or nice as the Nikon F2.8, but it is much lighter and pairs really well with the Sony's for video and stills. The Voightlander 10mm F5.6 is so ridiculously wide on the a7s. It's soft in the corners, but it's a blast to shoot with.
If I can possibly manage to carry it, I bring my big Gitzo GT3542 with the Sachtler fluid head. The tripod extends so high I can walk under it without ducking. It's rock steady and the fluid head is smooth for video and stills. I love using this setup for getting the camera properly positioned to create Panoramic Mergers. I also appreciate that it has no center column to keep me from getting low to the ground. It's only negatives are its weight and bulk. Ah the curse of the adventure photographer...
When all that weight is not an option, then I cut it in half with the Induro 304 and Manfrotto fluid head which isn't as tall or buttery smooth. Both are excellent supports, but I get so spoiled by the bigger setup, that I invariably miss it when using this smaller lighter setup. I just have to remind myself that I wouldn't be able to get to this amazing location if I had to carry that extra 4 pounds. If I'm really shaving ounces, then I reach for the Acratech. It's a great ultralight ball head; I just prefer fluid heads.
To protect my Gitzo from light damage when strapped to my pack, I keep the legs wrapped in road bicycle grip tape. It is also nicer to hold with gloves on chilly dawn shoots than the raw carbon fiber. Oddly enough the cheaper Induro comes with leg wraps and a nice padded travel case. Nice touch Induro.
- Zeiss lens wipes, a Rocket blower, and a sensor swab kit to keep things clean.
- Nikon MC-30 cable release: to keep from jarring the camera during long exposures
- Hoya Solas Neutral Density Filters (2, 4, 6, and 10 stops): To get slower shutter speeds in bright situations
- Hoya HD3 Polarizer: To cut distracting reflections, bring out rainbows, etc.
- Filter step-up rings: to adapt my smaller lenses to share large ND and Polarizing filters.
- Hoya HD3 UV filters: To protect my front elements from wind, water and fingers.
- Nikon SB910 Flashes: To add light when needed.
- Princeton Tec Vizz: A good headlamp with redlight (to save night vision)
- colored gels to modify artificial light.
A Bag to Pack it In:
I've spent years trying to find a bag that adequately protects my gear, carries the rest of the things I need in style and doesn't destroy my back. The F-stop bags are by far the best I've found yet. When I'm headed on a big expedition, then I pull the lightweight ICU (Internal Camera Unit) out and carry it inside my big expedition pack filled with extra lenses and gear while my camera rides in the big Kinesis C600 on my chest.
Thoughts on the Future:
I think it is fascinating to watch where the modern trends in digital photography are heading. I'm particularly impressed by Sony and Fuji's mirrorless offerings. Many of my pure landscape friends have completely switched to the Sony A7 series of bodies, often adapting their current lenses to work with these incredibly powerful little cameras.
I'm enjoying dabbling with the Sony's and I love doing film work with them, but I love shooting fast action, panning moving subjects at slow shutter speeds, and locking autofocus on tiny objects in near darkness. For me these new offerings aren't quite there, but with each new generation they get closer...