Tom’s Photo Equipment

camera equipment

This is actually what our hotel bed often looks like when I’m trying to decide what equipment to take on that day’s expedition. (Not pictured: the tripod that got left home this trip.)

Here is the camera equipment I have been using for the past several months to illustrate Travel Past 50 and get the Photo of the Day shots.

I’m sort of attached to most of this stuff, but at the same time, as you use various tools, you learn two things:

1) The tools don’t matter so much as the photographer. There’s no substitute for vision, technique, craft, and taking your time to get the right shot.
2) Every tool has its limits. Sometimes it’s weight. Sometimes it’s sharpness. Sometimes it’s obtrusiveness. Get over it. Unless you are willing to lug all of your equipment wherever you go, just make do with what you have on you. I’ve taken some very nice shots with my iPhone.

That said, here is what I’m currently using.

The Big Camera

Since February 2013, I’ve been using the Nikon D800E Digital SLR. That was an upgrade from my Nikon D7000 DSLR with the 18-105mm lens, which is a great camera (and a much cheaper alternative, I might add.) It’s also significantly lighter than the full frame D800E, especially since the lens that comes with the D7000 camera is so much lighter than the “normal” 24-70mm f/2.8G lens I’m normally using on the D800E.

I switched to the D800E for a couple of reasons: it’s full frame, which means the sensor is twice as big as the “cropped” sensor of the D7000, and also because it captures a ridiculously large 36 megapixel image.

Since I realized that most of the shooting I was doing was landscape-type stuff, the sharper the better, I figure. If I go back to shooting mostly people, like I used to do, I might switch back to the D7000.

(I opted for the D800E, which costs about $500 more than the straight D800 because the E model doesn’t have the anti Moire filter, and so is slightly sharper.)

In 2014, Nikon replaced the D800 and D800E with the D810. The D810 is really a slightly faster version of the D800E. It can shoot more frames per second, has a slightly larger buffer so you can shoot continuously longer, and it also eschews the anti Moire filter.)

I read up on all the literature on the lenses for the full frame as well, and the reviews of the 24-70 f/2.8 “normal” lens and the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 “wide angle” lens were spectacular. So far, I’ve been very pleased with the results. They’re both extremely sharp, and the color fidelity, especially with the absurd sharpness you get with 36 megapixels, is outstanding.

Add to those two lenses the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Zoom lens, which is not as fast, and consequently quite a bit cheaper, and I’ve got the kit I need for 99 percent of my anticipated situations.

To lighten my load as I trek around, I’ve also added the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Lens, AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G DX Lens, and Wide Angle AF Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D Autofocus Lens Nikon Prime lenses. When I’m in a situation where I know those will do the trick, and I’m doing a longish hike, I carry one or two of those lenses instead of the heavier zooms. If you are on a budget, the primes are a small fraction of the cost of the fast zoom lenses–in some cases less than $200, compared to more than $1500.

The Tripod

I’m using a MT190CXPRO4 Carbon Fiber Tripod with the 494 Mini Ball Head with RC2 Quick Release, only because I’m lugging this gear all over the world, and every gram counts. The reason it’s not pictured here is that I didn’t bring it on this trip, mostly because I know I’m going to spend most of my time in cities this go round and don’t want to carry it around all the time.

The Monopod

A smaller and lighter alternative to the tripod is a monopod. I ended up buying one in Japan because I’d stupidly left the tripod home and I needed something to help steady me in low light situations. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing. I think the ideal use is when you’re shooting a moving target with a long lens and need stability but also need to move around, such as sports or wildlife. I bought the Manfrotto 294 Carbon Fiber Monopod with 234RC Tilt Head for Monopods, with Quick Release.

One note on the D800E: it’s so sharp that you will want to use a tripod whenever you can, or at least crank your shutter speed up as much as possible. Camera shake is magnified when the image is so sharp. Even the tiniest bit is visible. Learn to handhold as still as possible if you’re not going to use the tripod.

When you are on the tripod, though, use this: Vello ShutterBoss Timer Remote for Nikon DC-2 Connection. It doesn’t make any sense to stabilize your camera, then introduce jiggle by tripping the shutter with your finger. This neat little device also is programmable to do multiple exposures, timed shutter release, and time lapse. Love it.

The Strap

I’ve written about this before. Get the BlackRapid Sport Strap or at least some other padded over the shoulder strap. The strap that comes with Nikon or Canon cameras are crap.

The Memory Cards

Get fast ones, especially if you’re shooting big files like I am. Get at least two of each, for backup and for those rare days when you’re shooting enough to fill up the cards at least once. I use San Disk, for no particular reason other than I’ve never had a problem with them. SanDisk 32GB CompactFlash Memory Card Extreme Pro 600x UDMA and SanDisk 32 GB SDHC Memory Card Extreme Pro Class 10 UHS-I.

The Spare Lightweight Camera for when I don’t want to carry the monsters

I’ve had the Canon PowerShot S110 Digital Camera and it’s predecessor the S100 for a couple of years. The perfect (almost) point and shoot when you aren’t feeling like a pack mule. It has a nice sharp lens, shoots raw files, and can be used in total manual mode. I love this camera.

The other Lightweight Camera I love

In October 2014 I got my first Fujifilm camera, the Fujifilm X-30. I debated a while on whether to get their full frame mirrorless X-T1 Mirrorless Digital Camera with 18-55mm Lens but ultimately decided on the Fujifilm X30 Digital Camera, mostly because it was a lot cheaper. I’ve been using it a lot, and I like it very much, especially for street photography.

The Computer System and Image Processing

You don’t need me to tell you about Apple computers. They’re the standard for image processing for a lot of reasons. I’ve got the top of the line Apple 13.3″ MacBook Air Notebook Computer. It has 8GB of RAM and 500GB of disk storage. It’s light and rugged, and as far as I can see the ideal traveling laptop. To go along with it, I’ve got two external LaCie 1TB Rugged Portable Hard Drives. I use one to make an instantaneous copy of all my images as I transfer them to the computer from the camera. The other is a pure backup of the entire computer hard drive.

The software I use for file organization and image processing is Photoshop Lightroom 5 Software for Mac and Windows (Download). You have no idea how to process your photos to make them really pop until you’ve tried Lightroom.

I highly recommend The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby on how to use it.

If you really want to organize and show off your photos (and maybe even sell one or two) I recommend checking out Smugmug. It’s easy to set up, and displays and organizes your photos. It also serves as a pretty good backup scheme.

The Bag

I haven’t found a bag that I’m totally satisfied with, but currently I’m using the Lowepro Pro Runner 350 AW Backpack. It’s a bit heavier than I’d like, but it has a great support system and it handles all the stuff I’ve listed above including the tripod and computer. It even has a pocket for carrying drinking water when you are trekking. It also has a built in rain cover. You could do a lot worse.

The Wish List

One of these days, I’m going to leave all this stuff behind and take one trip where I just take one of the new mirrorless cameras. I’m thinking the Sony Alpha NEX-5R Mirrorless Digital Camera, with this Sony 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS Lens just might be the ticket.

Finally, I’d like to recommend B&H Camera and Video as the best place to buy all this stuff. Ask any pro–and I’ve talked to them all over the world–and they’ll know B&H. Their web ordering system is the best I’ve encountered. The information that’s included on every product page is detailed and accurate. The reviews of products by pros and serious amateurs are very helpful and their customer service is great. Give them a try.

Here are easy links to all the products I’ve mentioned above. If you use these links, you’ll help support Travel Past 50. Thanks.