I couple of things have lead up to this post:
- I am always asked by people what camera gear I use. Most people who dabble in photography are always curious what sort of cameras people use. I ask the question myself when I meet other photographers so I completely understand it.
- My new sponsor, B&H Photo, recently set me up with brand new gear which makes the discussion sort of relevant. I’m heading off to Europe for a few months and I’ll be doing so with camera gear I haven’t used before, so the subject has been on my mind the last week.
Unlike most professional travel photographers, I am traveling all the time. I don’t just fly into a location to do a shoot and then go home. Because I’m traveling so much, weight and space are the biggest factors in determining what gear I use and how much of it.
I find myself sandwiched between a high end photographer carrying around several pelican cases full of lenses and a traveler who just wants a point and shoot to cut down on the weight. This means that I carry around far more photography equipment than the average traveler, but far less than a pro who parachutes in with a particular objective in mind.
Everything I carry is done with the intent of balancing my ability to get quality photos and at the same time keeping the stuff I have to carry to a minimum. Despite that, camera and computer gear is still the heaviest part of what I pack. I think I’ve achieved a balance between what I need to get good photos and what I can reasonably carry around by myself for extended periods of time.
When I started my trip back in 2007 I purchased a Nikon D200 camera and an 18-200mm VR lens. Almost every photos you’d seen on this site which was taken before October 2010 was taken with my D200. The D200 served me well and still works fine, but along the way as I figured out what I was doing with photography, I ran into a big limitation of the camera: it was horrible in low light situations. There were hundreds of photos from inside buildings, early mornings and evenings which I never got because the noise in the images was so bad whenever the ISO was above 400. I compensated by getting a really fast 50mm f/1.4 lens, but that still didn’t solve the ultimate problem with the camera.
In September of last year I finally upgraded my camera body to the Nikon D300s, which was the latest in the Nikon DX family of cameras. I stuck with the DX camera line just because I didn’t want to get all new lenses, which would have cost more than the camera…and an FX camera would cost more than DX camera on top of that.
Before I go any further I should explain the difference between the the Nikon DX and FX cameras, or more generically, the difference between crop-sensor and full-sensor cameras.
A full frame sensor is roughly the same size as a single frame of 35mm film. In digital camera terms, that is pretty big. Silicon, however, costs a lot of money and it is the most expensive part of any digital camera, so most affordable cameras use a smaller silicon sensor. A smaller piece of silicon means that fewer photos of light will be hitting it and if you pack a lot of pixels on that silicon, then each pixel will be very small and have few photos of light hitting it.
My D200 was a 10.2 megapixel camera. My new D700 has 12.1 megapixels. The number of pixels is about 20% greater, but as you can tell from the graph, the area of the sensor is MUCH larger. That means any given pixel will have more photons hitting it, which means you can take better photos when there aren’t a lot of photons around (ie: low light). Most of the photographers who use full frame Nikon cameras (usually the D3 or D3x which has the exact same senors as the D700) say they can shoot at ISO 1600 and not have to worry at all about noise.
All the images on my site to date have been taken with a crop-sensor DX camera, so it is a testament to the quality of the images it can produce. My move to a full frame sensor has everything to do with taking photos in low light.
In May I’ll be returning to Rome for a day and I’m seriously considering returning to St. Peter’s Basilica just so I can take photos. You can’t bring a tripod into St. Peter’s, so the next best thing would be a camera that works well at high ISO….which is exactly what I’ll have :)
Ok, enough talk. What exactly am I using now?
Nikon D700 – I went with the D700 over the D3 or D3x because the body weighs less. The D3 has a much larger and heavier body (and sturdier) but I wanted something smaller to carry. Because the sensors are exactly the same, I didn’t feel I was compromising much.
NIKKOR 70-300mm VR f/4.5-5.6G This lens is going to sort of replace the 18-200 VR lens I’ve been using for the last 4 years. There are two big differences: It can zoom out father and it isn’t as wide. The extra reach will come in handy, but losing the wide angle abilities on the same lens will be a bit of a sacrifice. This will give me an opportunity to try some wildlife photography, which I have always been bad at. It isn’t the fastest lens in the world, but I should be able to compensate a bit by shooting at higher ISOs.
Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G Given how they work with lenses, crop sensor cameras actually give you a bit of a boost in zoom and full sensor cameras give you a bit of boost with wide angle. I’m really excited to be using this lens with the D700. It is a great wide angle lens and I’m guessing it is going to be what I use most of the time if I’m just taking landscape or architecture shots.
Sigma Normal 50mm f/1.4 I think everyone needs to have a 50mm lens in their bag. This will fill in the gap between the 24mm on my wide angle lens and the 70mm on my zoom. More importantly, it is very fast so I can use it for anything which requires a very shallow depth of field.
Oben CT-3420 Carbon Fiber Tripod My previous tripod was a Manfroto carbon fiber tripod with an aluminum ball head. It was far and way the heaviest largest thing I carried with me. It was so large that I had to pick my bags around what I could fit the tripod in. The Oben tripod is significantly lighter, has a much smaller head and it folds in such away that it is much smaller. I could probably put it in a carry on bag if I had to. Yet, it still feels extremely sturdy. The weight gain in my lenses is more than compensated by carrying a slighter tripod.
Tenba Shootout BackpackThe quest for a good camera bag is never ending. For me, it has to hold more than camera gear, it has to hold most of my computer equipment too.
Nikon SB-900 Flash I don’t use my flash nearly as much as I should, but I’d like to change that.
Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsible Inverted Dome Diffuser Flashes can be great, but harsh light isn’t. The diffuser is light and takes up little space in my bag.
15″ MacBook Pro I purchased this computer in Vietnam and have been using it every since. Editing photos on the road is a bit of a pain, but necessary.
Adobe Lightroom 3 Since I moved from editing photos in Photoshop to Lightroom, it has improved my productivity dramatically.
Adobe Photoshop CS5 Moving to Lightroom has removed most of the need I had for Photoshop, but there are still a few things I need it for.
I’ll be creating a permanent page which lists all the gear I carry, photography and otherwise, and will be updating it as I