Why I Use The Gear I Use
Years ago I had a conversation with a friend of mine that worked in Japan for Canon for many years. We were discussing the subtlety of images created by one lens vs. another and how differing philosophies from brands create different looks. With many years of selling high-end cameras on my resume at the time, I was able to relate these parallels we were talking about to the cameras I had used over the years. There are characteristics such as sharpness, contrast, how color is displayed (warm, cool, true), how uniform is the out of focus area (bokeh), along with a whole host of other things that give you the look a brand is known for. Until you can really put these all together though it plays out more on the subconscious level.
I am also the type of person that realizes that there is a tool for every job and photography is no different. The gear I use whether it‘s a camera, lens, tripod or something else, all has its place in my bag for a specific reason. In this section I will give you a look into my current camera bag (and even some former gear) and why I use each piece. These are not a gear review but more of an examination of the tool and my specific use for it. I am not promoting any gear in this section over any other brand; it is just my opinion of the gear I use and the reasons why.
Leica M-P 240
I’m not sure if it’s the feel of the milled brass camera body or the incredible color and dynamic range of the images it produces, but the Leica M-P 240 tends to be the camera I will gravitate towards if I have my choice. The simple layout and mechanical operation make it a very personal experience.
Before I enter an environment I am challenged to set the camera up for the conditions I am about to be faced with. If set properly, the Leica system allows me to immerse myself into the environment and in an almost meditative state, capture life as if unfolds in front of me.
Sony A7s MK2
I use this camera mostly for time-lapse movies and for filming video. With its 12 megapixel sensor it has unparalleled low light image quality and a RAW file size that lets me take a couple thousand frames for a time lapse without overwhelming my hard drive. With my love of night photography, the Sony A7s MK2 also is generally my camera of choice for shorter night exposures such as Milky Way shots.
This is my go to camera when I need fast auto focus, a long telephoto lens or a really long exposure. With its 36 megapixel, I have been known to leave the long edge of the image alone and crop the shorter dimension to make a panorama from a single frame. I have printed these almost 4 feet long and you can still put your nose up to the print and not be able to discern an individual pixel.
Lenses for Nikon
Nikon 24-70 2.8 af-s
I am always amazed when I look at the images this lens produces that it is a zoom lens. Fixed lenses generally have a sharpness and uniformity that is unrivaled, but this mid range zoom carries quite a few of those characteristics with it. If I am photographing an event, a product or walking around with my Nikon (both urban and not) this is the lens you will find on my camera.
Nikon 70-200 2.8 af-s VR II
Another stunning zoom lens! I not only enjoy using this lens for wildlife and portraits, but it is great for telephoto landscapes. Like its wider counterpart, Nikon’s 24-70 2.8 af-s, the look of this lens is sharp and has great coatings for intense lighting scenarios.
Nikon 500mm f4 af-s VR II
The monster of my bag. When photographing wildlife, there is nothing like a super-telephoto. This lens is incredibly fast to focus and with the sharp images that it renders you can see detail down to fur or pinfeathers.
Zeiss 18mm f3.5 ZF.2 (Nikon Mount)
This is my favorite lens to use on the Nikon at night. Sure it is great during day with both landscape and architecture, but the way this lens looks at night is otherworldly. When shot wide open it has a slight vignette that draws the eye through the image and creates a beautiful glow that I have found in no other lens. The fact that it is manual focus allows me to dial in exact distances so I am never second guessing if that little bush 3 feet in front of my is sharp or blurry.
Nikon 1.4ex III Tele Extender
When I need a little more range out of my telephotos this little guy will find its place. Like its predecessor it is sharp and has great contrast, but now also is weather sealed like the rest of my Nikon kit. This means if I am photographing wildlife in pouring rain I don’t have to worry about the inclement conditions damaging my gear.
Nikon 300mm f4E af-s VR PF
The newest lens in my arsenal, this will end up being my go to wildlife lens. Considerably easier to wield than the 500mm f4, I’m sure there will be a lot less hesitation when contemplating hiking a telephoto into the wild. Unlike other pro quality Fresnel lens based telephotos, of which I have never been impressed (used to make its small stature), this lens seems to be very sharp. More after I’ve owned and used it for awhile.
Lenses for Leica
Leica 21mm f3.4 ASPH
When it comes to lenses, there is a reason why Leica is regarded as the gold standard, and this lens holds true to that. It’s small size and incredible image quality makes it a great lens for landscapes and also architecture.
Leica 35mm f2 Summicron ASPH
When wandering around a city, I feel there is no finer optic to have on my camera. 35mm has a 90-degree field of view on full frame, which makes this focal range great for street photography. Slightly wide, yet still able to render a smooth bokeh this is one potent tool! Also not to be underestimated for landscape photography.
Zeiss 85mm f4 ZM Tele-Tessar (Leica M-Mount)
This lens is great for portraits as well as slight telephoto landscapes. I knew that when I got it, but the thing I didn’t anticipate was how much I enjoy shooting abstractions in architecture with it. Obviously it isn’t a great choice for broad expanses of buildings, but when sectioning out lines within the structure, it is a joy to play with.
Lenses for Sony
Zeiss 21mm f2.8 Loxia (Sony FE mount)
This lens is very even from edge to edge and has the same great qualities like sharpness and great color and contrast that I covet from my Zeiss glass for other mounts. I often use this lens during time-lapses and also for landscapes, both day and night. The fact it has a manually operated aperture means that I don’t get strange flickers during my time-lapse movies that occur with an electronically operated aperture.
Metabones Leica M to Sony FE mount Adapter
This adapter is utilized to mount my Leica M optics on my Sony mirrorless camera. This adapter is one of the better quality adapters I have found in the non-astronomic price range, and its tight, but not overly tight fit, acts as a reliable conduit between the two differing mounts.
Dynamic Perceptions Stage One Time–Lapse System
This is a great time-lapse system. It features parallel carbon rails that I can connect together, allowing me anywhere from 20 inches to 10 feet of travel. Because it is carbon, the total system weighs less than 7 pounds and is easy to backpack into remote locations. It has a controller unit that operates both the camera I am using at the time along with up to 3 motors on different axis’s for a myriad of movement options.
This is my go to tripod. It weighs under 4lbs and can meet my almost 6ft eye level. With its capacity it also can handle my ridiculously heavy 500mm with a gimbal head beautifully.
When I don’t need the height or extreme weight handling of my larger Gitzo, I reach for this little guy. With a weight of roughly 2lbs it is great for both travel and backpacking. Despite it’s small stature when collapsed, it can almost reach eye level on me when fully extended and still has the stability necessary for the long exposures I so dearly love.
Acratech GV-2 Ball Head
At just about 1lb, this ball head doesn’t add much weight to the tripod, but can support anything I own and want to put on it. Because it uses no lubrication and has an open ball design, I have had no maintenance on this head despite the fact it has seen every environment from high snowy mountains to arid hot deserts.
Acratech GP-SS Ball Head
Everything I said about the GV-2 head above applies here too. This on has a slightly smaller base though to fit my travel tripod more appropriately and also has a neat leveling function to it when you remove the plate and invert the head.
Really Right Stuff BH-30
I use this head on my time-lapse rigs carriage. It is a small head with great weight handling abilities which makes it perfect for this task.
Wimberly Gimbal II
This gimbal style head comes out when my 500mm is on the docket for the days shooting. It centers the weight of the lens over the tripod and allows me to swing that monster lens around like a gun turret to quickly follow even the most nimble of wildlife.