“Hi. I am a gear junkie. I have been since 1985.”
– Photographic Gear Junkie Anonymous
One of my favorite things to do when I discover a photographer’s blog is to see if he/she has a camera gear page which I would eagerly peruse to see with what they’re shooting, what camera body, what lenses, what other equipment they have in their camera bag that are the tools of their trade. Doing so gives me an idea of what gear is appropriate for which type of photography.
My Style of Photography
I enjoy shooting travel, portrait, wedding, event, landscape, architecture (both interior & exterior). Having said that, I try to acquire camera gear to support these types of photography.
I have been accumulating quite a bit of gear over the past couple of years. My current main camera is the Nikon D600 full frame DSLR.
Accompanying this fine camera are an assortment of lenses, a flash unit, an umbrella light modifier and light stand, a few other miscellaneous gear, and a few camera bags in which to lug them around. These are listed and discussed below for your perusal.
Nikon D5000 DSLR
This was the family DSLR when we finally transitioned from digital point and shoots to a DSLR. My first camera was the Canon AE-1 Program 35mm film SLR. I loved SLR photography. But I was not so crazy about the cost of film and developing photos. When photography turned digital, only the point & shoot camera were affordable. After years of shooting P&S cameras, although digital, I was very frustrated with the P&S limitations. The countless out of focus pictures, the countless missed moments due to slow focusing and slow shutter response. Framing with an LCD screen with the lag. I was so happy to transition back into a SLR format camera again, with its optical viewfinder with accurate framing, crisp shutter release response, and a satisfying click of the SLR mirror.
The D5000 is a well performing cropped sensor DSLR. I enjoyed shooting with it. The 12 Mp resolution was satisfying. It is a good, basic camera to re-introduce me back to SLR photography again, although the digital element is ground breaking. As I pushed the limits, I realized the D5000 performance limitations with low light focusing and low light performance due to its cropped sensor (Nikon refers to it as “DX” format). This is where the D600 comes in. The D5000 is now used by one of my children, away for school. When it does find its way home, it serves as the backup/secondary camera for utilitarian shots (e.g., postings on Craigslist). With Nikon, it’s nice to be able to use just about any Nikon lens with this camera, DX cropped lenses or FX full frame lenses, and even some lenses from Nikon’s recent past.
Nikon D600 full frame DSLR
I bought it in December 2012, the first holiday season after its introduction in September 2012. My main reasons for buying this camera: its full frame image quality in low light, large and bright “full frame” view finder, weather resistant with its dust and moisture seals, dual SD memory cards, its relative small size and light weight for a full frame camera. Any smaller and it would not feel comfortable in my hands. After three years of frequent use, I am still very happy with this camera.
Admittedly, I was worried about the enormous raw file sizes associated with its 24 Mp sensor. While the file size is still a concern, I am addicted to its fantastic resolution and the re-cropping opportunities in post processing. I enjoy re-cropping it to 16×9 aspect ratio to fit on a HDTV for display, or even 2.6:1 for a facebook cover photo. The flexibility to do this without much loss in resolution is absolutely worthwhile.
The D600 is well known for its sensor oil spot problems. Yes, mine has this problem. I sent it in for cleaning once. Nikon cleaned it and promptly sent it back, and picked up the shipping costs both ways. After a while, the oil spots showed up again, especially with small apertures (e.g., f/8 or smaller). Luckily, I usually shoot with apertures larger than f/8, so this problems does not constantly plague my shots. I plan to send it in again for cleaning, but it is a great inconvenience of not having a DSLR around, if even for less than a couple of weeks. Hopefully, the next time, they will replace with the D610 shutter subassembly and rid of this problem once and for all. Supposedly, Nikon will honor the D600 oil spot problem and provide lifetime cleaning or replace with the D610 shutter subassembly.
Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S superzoom lens
This is a do-it-all superzoom that spans 10x, from a wide angle of 28mm to a telephoto of 300mm. Some reviewers question whether it really reaches 300mm telephoto focal length, claiming that it is closer to 250mm. I believe their observations are right on. As a “jack of all trades”, it does a wide range of focal lengths well, replacing a number of lenses. However, it is truly “a master of none” as the saying goes, meaning its image quality is short of stellar due to all the optical design compromises that had to be made. For example, the barrel distortion at is horrendous at 28mm, while the pincushion distortion is notable at 50mm. The build is “prosumer” quality, as it is way better built than the low-priced Nikon consumer lenses you usually find at Wal-mart and Costco (e.g., Nikon 18-55mm DX kit lens, 55-200mm DX, 55-300mm DX, 70-300mm, 18-200mm DX). The solid construction is reflected in its hefty weight.
This was the first lens I bought for the D5000 DSLR after the 18-55mm DX kit lens. On a DX format DSLR, the wide angle side is equivalent to 42mm which is barely wide enough, while the telephoto end is equivalent to 450mm which quite a nice telephoto reach. While the 28-300mm offered a very notable improvement in image quality over the kit lens, the prime lens that I bought later spoiled me. Nothing beats the 50mm or the 85mm prime lens when it comes sharpness, image quality, and low light performance. This became even more pronounced with my upgrade to the full frame D600 DSLR body. Nevertheless, for the travel photographer that wants to travel light with a full frame sensor DSLR, this superzoom deserve serious consideration as its focal length range is very useful (even if overstated by Nikon). This is my lens for the casual day-time outing with my family or for travel when room for camera gear is very limited. I frequently use it with the included snap-on lens hood. The DX shooter should only consider this lens, if he/she is planning to upgrade to the FX full frame format. Otherwise, it is not worth the cost and weight for a DX format camera.
Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S “normal” prime lens
50mm lenses are appropriately nicknamed “nifty fifty” for good reasons. They represent the field of view of the human eye (hence the term “normal” lens) and are usually fairly “fast” (f/1.4 or f/1.8), allowing lots of light in for excellent low-light performance. The side effect of large apertures are their ability to render nice bokeh (the quality of the out-of-focus areas). These attributes aptly earned the 50mm prime lenses their nickname. 25 years ago when I started by photography hobby, I had a 50mm f/1.8 for my Canon AE-1 Program. Today, the 50mm lenses are popular again and much sought mainly for their bokeh.
I enjoy taking pictures with my Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S. It’s light and compact on my DSLRs, it’s fast for low light work, and renders beautiful bokeh for portrait work. On my DX format D5000, it renders the equivalent focal length of 75mm, a nice slight telephoto range that is great for portraits.
Filter: usually none; occasionally in dusty conditions I would reuse the Promaster 1A filter, 58mm (from my Canon AE-1 Program SLR from 23 years ago).
Additional info: Nikon official site | Photography Life review | Trey Ratcliff review
Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S prime lens
I absolutely love this lens. My wife appreciates the pictures that it takes. It’s hard to take a bad picture with this perfect portrait lens. The bokeh is creamy smooth, melting the most distracting background away, so all you see is your subject. Most photographers use it wide open at f/1.4 for that reason. The optical performance on this lens is incredible.
Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S ultra-wide zoom lens
I purchased this lens used from Craigslist no less, from a fellow photography enthusiast who had only barely used it and cared for it really well. It was nice on my cropped sensor Nikon D5000. Obviously, I was not able to fully realize the super wide angle capabilities with the cropped sensor. Additionally, the D5000 had problems focusing the lens in low-to-moderate light. When I upgraded to the D600, however, the combo was another story. Wow! Wow! The super wide angle perspective of a full frame camera coupled with its 24 Mp resolution all in focus. Whoa. I find myself using this combo more than I ever expected.
Nikon SB-910 flash unit
This is Nikon’s top-of-the-line external flash unit. I frequently use it off camera with my D600’s ability to control the external flash unit via radio frequency (RF) using Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS) for full through-the-lens (TTL) exposure capability. It has the most power and recycling time is fast. I would love to get a second or even a third unit, though realistically I may have to go with cheaper but almost as capable SB-700 flash unit.
Additional info: Nikon official site
Nikon ML-L3 remote shutter control
Bought it for my Nikon D5000, usable on my Nikon D600. Gotta love that. (For some reason, this does not work with the more expensive D800 or D4.) I used it numerous times for long exposures, group photos (it beats having to set the timer and run into the shot), and the occasional self portraits. It does not work 100%, due to line of sight to the camera sensor window, infrared (IR) interference, or whatever, but that’s a minor nuisance considering this trigger is only $25.
OP/TECH Pro camera strap
I ditched the Nikon stock strap and opted for this more comfortable strap. It’s good buy at only $20.
Vintage Gitzo G126 Sport Performance aluminum tripod with Slik ball head
I picked this vintage tripod used on Craiglist for only $25. Great deal. An interim replacement for my Dolica tripod (below). Now if I can only upgrade the ball head to a Really Right Stuff BH-40 and a L-plate for my D600… Dream on.
Dolica 62″ Proline tripod
Nothing spectacular here. Just an el-cheapo tripod that sold for about $40. It weighs about 3 pounds and supposedly supports 13 pounds. Its weak points are the built-in ball head, the quick release shoe, and the stability of the legs. It works fine with small lenses like the 50mm. But when using the long 28-300mm superzoom lens or the heavy, bulky 14-24mm wide-angle zoom lens, the ball head cannot lock the camera/lens combo still (it droops constantly), the quick release shoe and locking mechanism is a little “soft” and gives slightly, and the legs will vibrate when fully extended if there is the slightest force on the camera. Oh well, you do get what you pay for. I suppose it is acceptable for cropped sensor camera with smallish lenses.
Photoflex 60″ white umbrella (UMRUT60)
It is a nice convertible umbrella that can be used in bounce mode or shoot-through by removing the black fabric. I usually use it in shoot-through mode. It is made with fiberglass composite ribs and struts for durability and rust-resistance. I got it as a buy-one-get-one (BOGO) deal. Can’t beat that.
Manfrotto 1004BAC 12-foot light stand
I bought this heavy-duty light stand as my first. I purposely chose a tall stand so I can experiment with placement. I also use it on outdoors as it is fairly heavy and sturdy. The Manfrotto is very well made and its nifty Quick Stack System allows you to carry multiple light stands by stacking them together.
Manfrotto 026 swivel Lite-Tite umbrella adapter
This adapter holds my Photoflex 62″ umbrella and connects it to my Nikon SB-910 flash unit and light stand. It allows the flash unit and umbrella to tilt to my needs.
So what do I carry these gear in? When it comes to camera bags, I guess you could say I am a super junkie. (Note to the astute reader: I don’t actually carry the umbrella and light stand in these camera bags.)
Lowepro Flipside Sport 15L backpack
My new bag for the outdoors/hiking, air and international travel. While I have not taken it out yet, I look forward to using Lowepro’s “flipside” design. With the zipper for main compartment access facing inwards toward my back, the bag should deter pick pockets during travel.
Think Tank Retrospective 30 shoulder bag
My new shoulder bag that is capable of holding all my camera gear comfortably, plus a iPad tablet. I love the blue slate cotton canvas material.
Sold: Think Tank Urban Disguise 35 v2.0 shoulder bag
This has been my bag of choice for most outings, from wondering around town, to road trips and long-distance air travel. It holds up to a 13″ laptop (e.g., 13″ Mac Book Pro), Nikon D600 full frame camera body, 50mm lens, 85mm lens, 28-300mm superzoom lens (or 14-24mm wide-angle zoom), SB-910 flash unit, and various small accessories. This bag has been discontinued. I sold this bag.
Think Tank Airport 4-Sight rolling camera bag
I bought this for the prospects of air travel and road tips, and wanted a form factor that meets the smaller international carry-on luggage size.
Sold: Lowepro x50 rolling camera bag
My first professional rolling camera bag. It has a second shoulder bag inside, so it’s actually two bags in one. It worked great for a family wedding shoot. I had to sell this bag to make room for the newer bags. You know how that goes…
That’s my gearset for now.
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