Sunday, July 26, 2009

What I use ... and why

I was having a bite with a friend the other day and we were talking about equipment. Get two photographers together and usually the first thing they will talk about is gear.

Now Jim has been a shooter for many years and has recently ventured out on his own. He's got good gear, but wanted to know what he should get next. Don't we all want to know that. Well, in my magnanimous way, I quoted my one of my favorite authors, Zig Ziglar, who was fond of saying, "Everyone is entitled to my opinion." We laughed, but it got me thinking about my camera bag and what I have in it and why.

I have been doing this full time for over 22 years. I have things in my bag that help me to do my job better. I have things in my bag that help me do things easier. And I have things in there that do both. My way is not the only way. It is just the way I do things. And, I like the results I get. Do you have to get the stuff I have or use it the way I do? Of course not. But take a look and think about your situation.

Fast Nikon Glass
I admit that I am a Nikon Lens snob. I only use Nikon lenses. I have many friends who own OEM lenses and they all admit that they are "pretty good." When someone says, "they focus fast enough for me," that seems like faint praise. Nikon lenses focus faster than OEM lenses. And most lens tests I see show the Nikon lens to be sharper than the others. That's why I use only Nikon lenses. I had a friend recently tell me he was buying this particular OEM lens to use until he could afford the Nikon lens. He will pay more (even if he sells the first lens) because he has bought twice. I say just buy once and save money. But, that's just me.

I pretty much have all F2.8 lenses (except my 50mm F1.8 and my 300mm F4). As I told someone recently, the point of a 2.8 lens is not necessarily to shoot at F2.8, but rather at F4. You cannot do that with a zoom lens that goes from F4.5-5.6. Oh, you could shoot at F5.6, but that requires more flash power. It also makes your background darker unless you lower your shutter speed which could introduce camera- or subject-motion.

The fast glass also allows you to shoot in much lower light. For a wedding photographer, especially one doing a more candid, photojournalistic style, this is a big plus. Did I mention VR (vibration reduction)? My 70-200mm has VR and I can effectively hand-hold that big mutha at a 1/60th. My 300mm F4 is not VR and I need to be at 1/350 or higher to get a sharp image.

Side note Rule of thumb time. The slowest shutter speed to use hand-held is 1/focal length. So that would be 1/300 for the 300mm lens. And it is effective focal length, so using a DX camera, take into consideration the crop factor. That 300mm lens on a DX camera would effectively be a 450mm lens. So your shutter speed should be 1/450 or faster to get a majority of your images sharp.

My lenses are:
10.5 F2.8 Fish eye (the only DX lens I have)
50mm F1.8
14-24mm F2.8
24-70mm F2.8
70-200mm F2.8
300mm F4

I really loved my 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 but it was a DX lens that turned my beautiful D3 camera into a 5 mega pixel camera. I sold it because I didn't want to make the image size sacrifice. The FX sensor can be a curse and a blessing!

Professional Grade Camera - the Nikon D3
Did I mention the D3 camera? The best camera IMHO on the market right now. It cost an arm and a leg, but I will not be replacing it for a few years. The high ISO capability makes it ideal for wedding photography where I need to make images in dark churches and receptions. With the D3 I can photograph at ISO 1600 and not even have to use noise reduction. I can use ISO and 3200 and 6400 and just add the noise reduction in Lightroom 2 to clean them up. I love it.

Another benefit of the D3 is that it is a very comfortable camera in you hand. It just feels good. It is a very heavy camera, but it feels so good in your hand that you don't notice it. It is Nikon's Professional series, so it is built like a tank (hence the weight). It is dust and moisture sealed like no body's business, so it shrugs off bad environments.

Using the D3 and the fast Nikon Glass with the new "smart" SB900 flashes allows me to use flash techniques that other combinations of gear just can't. I can bounce the light from the on-camera flash to the side to create a direction of light and get a good exposure at F4, 1/60, at ISO 1600. I cannot do that with an 18-200 on a D300.

Those are two of the main elements in my camera bag. Next time I will delve into the accessories I have in there.

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