Just like photographers we are all looking for new efficient gadgets and gear to get the job done. I wanted to share with everybody the tools I use to get the job done. Below I will split the sections up and list what and why I use the items that I use in the field and outside it. A lot of the main Items I have posted in an Image above for quick reference.
Camera & Lenses:
Nikon D300 - This is my work horse. I have upgraded from the D200 and it has provided consistent results taking all the hits and extreme environments I take it to. It's ability to fire at 6fps (8fps with other battery sources), crop factor to make the most of my lenses, controls (large buttons) where I need them, having a magnesium structure and weather seals, plus the 100% viewfinder and many more features have made it earned its place. Whether it be extreme humidity (Isla Holbox), torrid weather (Baja California), subzero temperatures (Wyoming Jackson to Yellowstone), or icy and wet downpours (Arctic Svalbard) it performs.
One other key feature that isn't mentioned too often is that the D300 and new 3 series lines automatically removes chromatic aberrations left on the edges of your subjects from the lenses. It doesn't have to be applied if you want using Capture NX2. It improves your images by a huge margin without effecting image quality in any detectable way (to my eyes at least.)
50-500mm F4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM (text talking about non OS-version I own) My initial reason for choosing this lens was for its reach. Although it is a massive 10x zoom range I was looking to minimize the distance at which I would be with my subjects by use of optics. I did a write up on it here. My first copy wasn't a real winner, but my second was a keeper in my mind. Although range wasn't a huge draw it sure is nice to not have to swap lenses in the heat of the moment. I definitely will enjoy using this lens until my next step up. One thing though I want to mention is that although I have apparently found myself swimming in third party gear. I did so not solely on budget. I feel all third parties have diamonds in the rough and these reflect that to me.
Nikon VR Zoom 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D - This lens is my wildlife lens that I use most of the time. There are two reasons I use this lens. First is its ability to be incredibly versatile. You can be out at 600mm or come in at 120mm for a mild telephoto and all with incredible sharpness. The second reason I use this lens is the best bang for the buck. In time I look for adding the Nikon 200-400mm to my lens collection, but at $5,000 I will wait. As many know it does have a slow autofocus motor. If Nikon would just upgrade that it would be worth a few extra pennies. Although this can be a problem and it definitely is a times, learning how to pre-focus will save you a lot of AF hunting. (No longer with us. I have decided to sell it and move on to the Sigma 50-500mm for now.)
Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Lens - Unfortunately it loses the standard perspective due to the crop factor. This is a lens from my film days (Nikon N75) which I loved to have mounted to it almost 24/7. It also pans out to be a great lens for portraiture now for 3/4 portraits and also as a cheap fast lens at certain up close kids sporting events. For the price and speed it is a given to have around. I have attached the Nikon HR-2 Rubber Lens Hood for its ease of use, protection, and great protection against flare.
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 Di-II AF Lens - I would say the Tamron qualifies as my walk around lens. Many seek Tamron as the light weight 3rd party lens competitor. I normally don't like their lenses due to a lighter construction. I prefer the heavier metal. Weight doesn't bother me much as I'll take quality over weight. I enjoy the constant 2.8 for simplicity without having to worry about my aperture being bumped as I zoom out, but more for the brighter picture I get in my viewfinder. Equates to less stress on the eyes. I have had it in some messy environments particularly a sandstorm as a tropical storm was crossing over the Yucatan Peninsula. Despite its lack of a close design (which I would have preferred) nothing appears to have made its way in. A solid performer with sharp images and snappy focus.
Sigma Telephoto 150mm f/2.8 EX Macro AF Lens - Many don't like third party lenses for a variety of reasons. Most feel that 3rd party implies 3rd rate quality too. While on many lenses from 3rd parties I could agree, with this lens I highly would disagree. I find that each of the 3rd party lens companies tend to have a few lenses that are diamonds in the rough. This macro lens was a gift from Dina and every time I pick it up it never ceases to amaze me. The amount of resolution is resolves is incredible and it focuses real fast for me. Some find it slow; I don't when you consider the range of focus when most people probably don't use the limiter switch. The only down fall is not the lens so much as it is the EX covering. After using it for a bit the finish can wear. Particularly the knob to remove the lens mount. I haven't tried to see if it is covered under warranty and the lens still consistently performs.
Sigma Super Wide Angle 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX AF Lens - This lens makes up for the cropped sensor size. I find it indispensable for obtuse landscapes. I would however use it with great caution. Many people think landscape and throw on the widest lens they have, but landscapes can be taken with wide angles and telephotos. This lens requires you to get up close to get that 'smack in the face' look. When using a wide angle it has a tendency to make those mountains look small. So although this is a landscape marketed lens it doesn't have to be. The 10-20mm holds sharpness and keeps distortion down to a minimum in those utmost stretched corners at 10mm. I also like that it's one of the widest lenses giving me more room to play. The aperture isn't an issue for me as I am normally always stopping down when using this lens.
Bags, Support, and Light:
Picking these items was done over a long period of time and via trial and error. Ive bought a series of things, then sold and re-bought upgrade and then sold and re-bought again. You never know what exactly will fit you until it is put to use. My recommendation is find a store with a great return policy and friendly understanding staff. All my items in my bag, on my bag and the bags themselves are there because they work and work for me. The goal is to find what works best for you and make the road to happiness a bit less bumpy. Reading about the horror stories and hopefully not experiencing them. :-)
Nikon SB-800 Speed Lights (x2 (1)) - These portable strobes work amazingly well with Nikon's wireless CLS lighting system. They take care of it all so I can focus on the subject at hand. I find working with these units more efficient over all and allow me to do more extreme lighting scenarios much more easily.
---I found this issue the other day that I personally don't think is well known. A lot of people complain (as I feel the same way) that you have to hold the "SEL" button for 2 seconds to get to the menu, then hit it again and choose your option (say selecting the remote option for example) and then you would have to hold "SEL" for another two seconds to get back to the screen you started at. Well once you tap SEL (by selecting remote for example) just tap the on/off switch and it pops right back. No need to hold that button down for an extra two seconds! Just think of the time saved?! After a few hundred times you can cook yourself a burrito! mmm burrito....
Gitzo GT-2330 Basalt Tripod - I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but with tripods you get what you pay for and there is no way around it. I have been down the road of cheaper alternatives with similar features. I worked my way through 2-3 tripods before Gitzo. I settled with he entry point Gitzo a bit as 1,000$ for a tripod is a bit insane. If I had the money to throw around, sure why not. For now this tripod is just rock solid and does not budge. It also comes with a limited lifetime warranty. The G-lock system is wonderful too when your looking to setup ASAP. With one quarter twist or so you can unlock all the joints on a leg. One quick note, be careful when working in snow and setting your legs into it. I pushed down for a solid foundation in about four feet of snow and all I heard was CRACK. As you could imagine I was super pissed being in Wyoming with no working tripod. Thankfully when I got back they shipped me a new one in perfect working order. I think the unusual opportunity for outward thrust of the legs caused pressure that would normally come from above and cracked it.
--- One neat feature as well is the ability to remove the top disc plate form and attach it to the screw/hook on the bottom of the pole allowing for low angle shooting and less cumbersome movement. Once you have it setup try turning the top tightening ring upward to put pressure on the platform disc making it rock solid.
Manfrotto 488RC0 Ball Head w/ L-Bracket - This ball head was a downgrade to save money (used to have the hydrostatic version). It gets the job done sort of. I wouldn't recommend it. If you can, spring for the Really Right Stuff Ball Head, I know it's the one I want. I have an L-Bracket for shooting verticals properly. You shouldn't slap the camera sideways just because there are slots/holes for it. The L-Bracket keeps the tripods center of gravity over the center of the tripod for stability. Plus you get to flip the camera quickly and immediately with ease.
Lowepro Toploader 75 AW- (link is slightly remodeled version) My most often used bag. When I am able to travel by car from my house this bag allows me to carry my camera with MB-D10 Battery Grip. It has the ability to hold a Nikon 80-400 or 70-200mm with the lens hood in reverse, no problem. I typically attach a thermos holder (for my Nalgene or SIGG bottle, because we don't use disposable type bottles do we?) and lens pouch to either side. Plus it has extra loops to attach a filter holder and rain coat. I never wanna pack to heavy, just what I need.
--- One neat thing I found out is that the outer pocket and the lower zip section are actually connected. If you put your hand down the outer pocket and feel around you will feel some velcro. You can easily peel it off and store even longer objects in the outside section.
Tamrac Model 5405 Superlight 5 Shoulder bag - When in need of an ultra light bag to carry a de-battery gripped d300 with a flash, walk around lens and extra lens this bag is perfect. I can attach a thermos holder (for my Nalgene or SIGG bottle or soup thermos!) and lens pouch if I want on the opposing side. It has a thin profile with a bunch of pockets and slip in sections to hold all I need on the go and when you want to be incognito.
Moose Petersons MP-3 - I have used big back packs from Lowepro and Tamrac. While good they tend to be very bulky and loaded with padding. For someone like me who needs a bag to fit on every plane I take it meeting every standard this bag works perfectly. You can fit so much gear in here it is insane. Especially when you lay it down and start packing them vertically (if Moose would include more dividers ;-) ey, Moose?) I didn't expect too much as it looks really simple. That is the beauty of it. For one you're not normally recognizable as a camera bag filled with big expensive gear. Also did I mention the amount of gear it carries? It's nuts! :: envision that question mark suit guy in big goofy glasses trying to sell a book of government loans:: haha. Check the link for more.
--- Two neat features are the ability to unclip the bottom of the shoulder straps and tuck them into a sleeve on the backside of the bag.
--- For an ultra water proof all weather cover try out the duck cover from REI. It is a great product and a perfect fit, plus really easy to clean. Came in handy being saltwater blasted on a small boat heading out to a whale shark sanctuary off of Isla Holbox in Mexico. Moose discusses it here.
As a photographer of any kind you tend to accumulate all sorts of tools, gear and other assorted accessories big and small. This section will have the most items as you could imagine. Some items may be brief and others a tad more detail to explain why.
Hoya Circular Polarizer (HMC) Multi-Coated Glass Filters - I have this filter in sizes 77mm and 67mm. For my Tamron, Sigma super wide angle and nikon 80-400mm if need be. I used to have a 77mm B+W but found them to be a bit grey and lacked a warming hue I tend to prefer. I had a 67mm in this size first. Once I got tired of the look the B+W was casting I bought one in the 77mm size. I find the quality does come in a higher grade filter. I have used Tiffen and I personally find them of a cheap build quality and don't have that smooth solid rotation. The multi coating might help, I wouldn't know how to tell too much. If I had to answer I would say yes based on the strong reduction in reflections over past filters and reduced flare/ghosting as well.
Hoya Ultra Slim NDX4 77mm Neutral Density Filter - This is an item I probably paid too much for, at the time being overly ambitious. It comes in handy if the scene is too bright or you want to run those waterfalls for a longer exposure. In hindsight I would have sprung more for a split neutral grade for something I would use more often. It is a great high quality filter, just not in constant use on my wide angles like my polarizers.
Dawntech di-GPS Pro - This little piece of equipment was an item I was always curious about, but held back due to price. Moose Peterson helped push me over the edge to make the decision. I had tried the caribiner clip GPS to try and tag my images on the computer, as well as trying to write down the coordinates from a handheld GPS (awful!). Having tried other options it would have better to just spend the money and buy it outright int he first place. So far it works perfectly. Nice short cable and incredibly fast sync times. It had a battery drain issue with the 2series of cameras, but that was due to a software issue that was taken care of in the new Nikon 3 series of cameras (when the meter turns off it does too, takes about a second or less to re-sync with the GPS.) Nikon now has the GP-1 of course since I only bought mine a few months ago. From the looks of it from Moose's review I'd go that route now. It also has a form of shutter release follow through which my basic version does not, even though I would need a specific cable release (extra expense.) Plus your customer service is based here in the US and the shipping won't be enormous. To be fair I ordered it and it was here to my door in one day from China (I hate buying foreign products without a choice.) and they were friendly via e-mail.
MAHA MH-C800S AA - AAA Battery Charger - Could you ask for a better charger? I have spent more money on bullcrap chargers then most people I know. I was in search of a lightweight (light weight adapter as well), solid build, fast, conditioning charger. This company builds some of if not the best. This charger has all the features of the top tear except that it doesn't charge the Ni-MH cells in 2hrs instead of 1hr. Big whoop! Especially for saving around twenty dollars. The conditioning will recycle and restore a lot of your batteries to much better working condition as well as top them off much more efficiently. I instantly found my cells working better after the day long conditioning. Pair this charger with their new MAHA IMEDION AA 2100 Mah Ultra Low Discharge batteries and you're in heaven. These batteries hold their charge up to 90% for six months and 85% up to a year! Finally we are in control and able to store our power. Not waste it. Ever have a want to go out and photograph on a whim and sick and tired of just charging your cells to have them charged, not any more folks!
Hyperdrive SPACE - This is my extra backup. Call me paranoid, but I always want two copies of my files while I am out traveling away from home. I once had a hard drive fry on me in an old HyperDrive HD-80 (along with the unit.) I prefer a unit without a screen as it costs less and hasn't presented too many problems. Plus battery life is much longer due to the lack of a color screen. I also always have my laptop so I can view it on a much larger screen later. I do own an Epson p-3000 when I got a huge rebate on it making it feasible. The storage on those units are so low and don't embrace upgrading. I have seen the new ones, but the price is insulting. I understand if you're making your living from it that it makes some sense. It does have an amazing screen and works very well. It may be big but it built solid. That being said have you seen the PRICE?! Also HyperDrive embraces upgrades and makes everything much more geek friendly. Keep in mind the HyperDrive SPACE I currently use only uses PATA (I've had mine a while.) Newer units have nice color screens and use SATA.
--- Just in case you were curious I use a Pelican 1020 Micro case series with their fill foam to house the unit. It is absolutely perfect. Lines with rubber and holds it all tight. I use extra foam to hold it in place just in case of a strong jolt. The cases are crushproof, waterproof, recyclable, and come with a lifetime warranty. What more could you ask for?
Nikon MC-30 Remore Trigger Release - For those ultra steady shots and also for star trails. It has a lock which is very helpful too. Have it in a continuous mode, lock her down and she keeps on shooting.
WRP Digital Compact Flash Wallet (9 Slots) - (This is a link to the 6 slotter to give you an idea, not sure where the 9 slotter went. Given Sharon a call and see. 6 is too small) This simple, light weight, USA made wallet holds 9 CF cards. It is perfect for those who like to carry lost of storage in a light form and have them displayed easily with a velcro enclosure. I have had the hard enclosures, but CF cards take so much abuse and have been found pretty darn weather resistant so this helps cut the bulk. Plus it does have a weather resistant material used just in case. A neat trick to know which cards are full or not is just to reverse the ones that are done. This way you will know which ones to grab and not possibly delete valuable images.
Verbatim ExpressCard|34 CF adapter - If you use a laptop as I do for portability and not wanting to be tied down to a specific location this product is phenomenal. It isn't all that expensive and puts a CF slot right into your PC. Plus it handles all your high speed cards (if installed properly.) And guess what? ..no extra cable to carry around! UPDATE: I have had horrible customer service with their device and highly recommend you looking elsewhere!
Large Microfiber - How many of those cheap free microfibers have you been given? After a few uses they turn to junk! You don't want to re-wipe what you just removed back onto your lens. Of course not! That is why I make sure to buy a nice big microfiber cloth to handle anything that comes its way.
Hotshoe Bubble Level - I use this to make sure my panoramas are level. Much easier then using a hand held one. Make sure it has a vertical and horizontal access measurement.
--- It also acts as insurance apparently. I mounted my camera on a trip up to Kaaterskill Falls and it was on my tripod over my should. Turns out it wasn't locked in. You heard SMACK. Dina and her dad froze just waiting for my reaction. It was chipped and so was the D200 batter grip at the time, but the camera was in perfect working order (so were the accessories, still use my level; sold the Nikon D200)
DK-22 Eyepiece Adaptor, Nikon DK-3 Rubber Eyecup , and Nikon Finder Eyepiece Combo - Unfortunately the D300 camera wasn't given a quality eyecup. I don't know how the heck Nikon can call the DK-23 an eye cup. Its a plastic wrapped stub! This combination on the D300 provides absorption of vibration, good external light isolation and at least on the D300 I don't lose any of my viewfinder in the process.
Arctic Butterfly Kit - I was shown these items and how to use them as part of Moose Peterson's Base Camp. I have gotten the 7x light up sensor loupe and of course my arctic butterfly didn't come with a light. They came out with that a month after I bought it, figures. This kits provides a wet and dry way to remove crud from inside your camera. Sometimes all those coatings and shakin' and jigglin' sensors we still find particles clinging to our precious sensor. It has chamber clean for removal from those metal particles formed every time you attach and remove your lens, sensor clean and anti-static wet cleaners to use with a swab for removal of grit and grime, as well as the arctic butterfly. What makes the arctic butterfly so great is that it allows you to remove particles in the field via a dry method with no mess. A real life savor when your out there and notice a spot that is going to ruin your photograph with no way to remove it, short of trying to shake your camera in futility. This kit is pricey, but answers a great problem that should not be solved by post production. Do keep in mind Nikon does not recommend you use any of these methods I share with you. So do it at your own risk.
Tenba RC-24 Rain Cover - Functional and simple. You apply some velcro to your lens hood and wrap it over the lens and camera body. I don't look through the clear plastic back I just stick my eye to the viewfinder. I use this as a general cover. In heavy downpours I might just opt out to be shooting. This also comes in handy for snow, wind, and sand. What I always carry with me is a free shower cap from the Hotels we all stay at. In a pinch with a short lens it can work as a rain cover so you don't get stuck wet.
Lens Clens 'Pink Juice' - This was a product recommended to me by Moose Peterson. It is a fast drying product that I use to clean my optics as well as clean down my gear. Make sure to drop it on a microfiber cloth first as it is a liquid. I have had it for half a year and haven't even used a quarter of the bottle. It is the pink bottle incase you werent sure ;-).
I hope you have enjoyed this segment. Feel free to let me know what you think or questions you may have. Drop me an e-mail and if it's a great topic maybe I can work it into a post.
*Do keep in mind that these products are just what work for me, do use your own discretion and use at your own risk*