I do 99% of my photography in the outdoors, so I place heavy demands on the equipment I use. This includes not only my camera and lenses, but all of the supporting gear I use which can often be more important than the camera depending on the circumstances. Over the years, I’ve come to rely and trust certain items that are a mainstay of my “field kit” and I thought I would share those with you here. This is not an exhaustive list of what I’ve tried or used in the past, but definitely what I grab when I’m getting ready to embark on a photo trip for a day or a month.
Many have asked me why I haven’t talked about gear and equipment in the past, and it’s simply because I prefer to focus on the “making” of images, and not so much the tools we use to make them with. Nonetheless, the quality of the equipment available today is amazingly good, and I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t prefer the convenience and creative options they offer today. So here’s my current 2009 field kit…
Cameras and Lenses:
- My main camera bodies are the Canon 1DS Mk III, and Canon 5D. I also have a Rebel XT which serves as a backup/extra camera that I bring on long trips. The 1DS Mk III is the best camera I have ever used, and combined with its bulletproof magnesium body and weather sealing, gives me the confidence to tackle the harshest conditions and weather. I really like its incredible dynamic range which allows me to capture fine detail even in deep shadows (something I tend to favor), very low noise even at high ISO’s (1000-1600), really great view finder, and live view (a preview of the viewfinder on the LCD), which helps when working in very tight spaces and awkward angles.
- My workhorse lenses are the Canon 17-40L, Canon 24-105L IS, and Canon 70-200L f/2.8 IS. I was fortunate to get sharp copies of all of them, and with lots of practice, I’ve become very familiar with each of their strengths and weaknesses. These 3 lenses cover the whole range of 95% of the work I do, and when I need a little more reach, I also have a Canon 1.4x II extender, giving me a maximum of 280mm. This is not a lot in terms of wildlife photography, but it works for my particular style.
- The only filters I use are B&W polarizers for eliminating glare from water and foliage, and darkening skies. I use Singh-Ray graduated density filters for tough exposures, but more and more I find HDR a viable alternative in certain situations.
- I have several tripod setups, my favorite and most used being a Gitzo GT3530, coupled with a Kirk BH-3 Ballhead. I love this combination for its strength and relatively light weight. I also have a Manfrotto 190MF3 together with an Induro DM12 Ballhead. This is a less inexpensive setup that I use as a backup, and for creating 360 virtual panoramas. For this I attach a Nodal Ninja NN mkIII panoramic tripod head.
- Camera bags and backpacks are numerous , but I rely on my Kata R-102 most of the time for its relative light-weight, compact size, easy access to my camera, and very well designed shoulder straps. When I’m doing a very long hike (6+ miles), I switch to my Osprey Stratos 40, the most comfortable backpack I’ve ever used. While not a dedicated camera backpack, the combination of comfort and support, plus all of the extra room for clothing, food, and other non camera essentials make it my favorite for long trips.
- For street and short walks, or in my kayak, I use packs from ThinkTank Photo including their very versatile ChangeUp. They don’t announce that you have a camera, and they are very functional and versatile. They also have a variety of harness systems that I’ve been curious to try.
- My latest addition is a Black Rapid RS-4 camera strap, which has completely replaced my traditional camera straps. Though I often use a tripod, I have always loathed camera straps, and this seems to finally be the solution I’ve always wanted. It provides good shoulder support, easy detachment from the strap, and best of all great mobility of the camera. I love this strap, and have ordered another one for backup!
- The Canon TC80N3 Remote Timer is a must have for long exposures, especially at night. Though I continue to use mirror lock-up and a timer for single exposures, this doesn’t work so well with multiple exposures of the same scene, as in HDR photography where any movement whatsoever can cause problems in the final blended image.
- A Garmin 60CSx hand-held GPS unit helps me find my way in and out of the woods. This has saved my rear end many times when I decided to wander off the trail and suddenly became disoriented or lost. I use it to mark favorite places when I’m scouting during the day, and this helps immensely when I return the next day before sunrise, may times hiking in the dark when everything looks completely different. Because it keeps a “trail” of where you go, I’m not as worried about exploring off the trail, especially when hiking in the snow. I’ve been using this unit for 3 years, and it’s the first thing that goes in my backpack.
- Finally, for storage and post-processing, an Apple Mac Book Pro 15″ with a OWC On-The-Go external hard drive allow me to download, rate, process, and share images while I’m on the road.
As with all technology, it all depends on how you use it, and whether it truly helps or hinders your efforts. Certainly great photography can be created without any of our modern tools and toys, but perhaps without the same level of safety and convenience we can enjoy today.