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In My Bag (Equipment Review)

6 02 2012

Today I’m doing something a bit out of the ordinary. I’m sharing a break down of some of my gear. A professional camera doesn’t make you a professional photographer, but at a certain point it really helps you up your game. The same goes for lenses and extra gear. You’ll notice all the gear I cover are clickable links. These links will take you to Amazon where if you choose to purchase there, it will help me continue to improve the blog. Using these links before buying anything on Amazon will help support the blog and new features so I’m very appreciative if you choose to use them. Enough of that, hope you enjoy what I have to say about my equipment. Share some feedback if you like or don’t like the article and check back soon for more pictures!

My Camera

Nikon D3S

Nikon has tons of amazing cameras. I fell in love with D3s because I’m the minority that likes to work without flash and demands a lot out of high ISO performance. If you don’t know much about ISO then you’re in the majority of casual photographers. ISO is a setting on your camera that most people seldom touch and even fewer really demand a lot out of. Using a high ISO basically lets you take brighter pictures in lower light. Most cameras sacrifice a lot of quality at the higher levels and the D3s does too at a high enough level. But it does go high enough to let me take very clear pictures at concerts without killing the mood of stage lighting with a flash. Good high ISO is great for photographers who work in a lot of low light but can’t/don’t want to use a flash, but not that important for everyone else.

Along with great high ISO performance, the D3s also shoots a quick 9FPS which is great for sports or children who only flash quick smiles.  I also love the ease of changing any setting I could want to adjust with convenient selection wheels and buttons located on the body as opposed to digging through menus to find what I want.

All that being said, it’s an expensive camera and overkill for most photographers unless you are a career sports/news/concert so below are a few great alternatives.

  • Nikon D700
    – This is a very smart camera and other than high action and (very) low light, your pictures will be nearly indistinguishable from the D3s. This was my second choice camera when I was shopping and honestly, I would love to get one now for less serious work since it’s significantly smaller and lighter. I recommend this camera for the serious hobbyist or a professional looking for a usable camera that produces great images.
  • Nikon D7000
    – This fantastic camera still puts you in the drivers seat in terms of adjusting settings without using a dozen menus (as does the D700) but this camera costs a lot less than both of the above. The reason for this is it’s a DX Format camera. Without going completely down the rabbit hole on the subtle differences, I’ll just say I prefer FX at a professional level but DX camera still produce fantastic images for the soccer mom and serious hobbyist alike.

My Lenses

Most of my Lenses are FX Format. This means they’re optimized to work better on FX Cameras like the D3s or D700. They’ll still work fine on a DX Format camera, they’ll just crop tighter.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4G

This lens is amazing. For those of you who aren’t as familiar with f-stop. A lower f-stop lets more light in. Letting more light in is important if you want to have a quick shutter speed (protects against motion blur and operator wobble) or if you are shooting somewhere low light (indoors, concerts etc.) This lens’ f-stop is 1.4. Most of my zoom lenses are f/2.8 which makes them about 4 times less sensitive in low light. Comparing f-numbers is complicated so I won’t do that here but I will link to the best f/stop article ever written.  This is a great go to lens for low light or for sports. If you need to save the money you can check out the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G, it’s another great lens and won’t hurt your wallet nearly as bad.

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED

When I need to get in close, I use my 70-200mm. This is a great lens for wildlife since most animals will either flea or eat you if they see you coming up on them. It’s also a great lens for sports since they won’t usually let you on the field with the players. 🙂 What you may not know is it’s also better to use a telephoto lens for shooting portraits. When you get closer to the subject, the relative distance from your lens to the subjects cheek and your lens to the subjects nose gets bigger and bigger. So basically your person starts looking distorted and has a huge nose. The human eye naturally fixes the distortion with the human brain so when you get close to someone you don’t realize they look distorted, cameras aren’t (quite) smart enough to do this (yet)  so your pictures look goofy and the human brain doesn’t do anything to help out once the face is a photo. Big explanation, simple point, use a telephoto lens for your close ups.

Why the big price tag? Great quality, quick auto focus, Vibration Reduction, and a low f/stop all make this lens worth the cost. This is one of my core lenses and I wouldn’t want to give it up. Want a cheap alternative for a DX camera? The 70-300 F/4.5-5.6 has a manageable price but you sacrifice a lot, especially the f-stop.

It’s worth noting this lens definitely makes you look like a professional photographer… or a creeper depending on where you use it. It’s a huge lens so walk into the studio, ball game, or concert with it, you’ll get noticed and most people will give you respect and space to work. Shooting squirrels at the local park? You may want to pick something less intrusive or risk the judgmental glare of soccer moms.

Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8D 

This is my wide angle lens. It compliments the 70-200 perfectly for weddings or events and it simply performs fantastically. It’s not a lens made for walking around and shooting with. It’s a wide angle lens so you should consider what your shooting before putting it on the camera for a day of shooting pictures of ducks. 🙂 Large groups, landscapes, and buildings are really a great niche for this lens. You will start to lose your straight lines around the edges if you’re on the 17mm end of the zoom but aside from professional architecture photographers, this won’t be noticeable most of us. It does get a big frown face for Bokeh, the quality of the out of focus part of the image, which is less impressive than I would like but less important than on a portrait or macro lens.

Nikon 60mm f/2.8G 

And now, the lens you’ve all been waiting for, my macro lens. A lot of what you see on ShootAbout was shot with this lens. I absolutely love it and can’t say enough good about it. I highly recommend everyone getting a macro lens. If you want to change your perspective on your surroundings, just see what everything looks like from a few inches away and you’ll be hooked too. You should also check out the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Micro and if you want to get even closer, take a peak at the Nikon 200mm f/4.0D , I’ve heard it’s amazing.

Nikon 135mm f/2.0D

This is a lens for a serious portrait photographer. The subtle difference this lens makes is immensely noticeable to a meticulous professional or an artist but won’t be directly recognized by most others. “DC” stands for defocus control which is a horrible translation from the Japanese Bokeh control. You’ve heard me talk a lot about Bokeh, this is the lens that opened my eyes to it. Bokeh control is about adjusting the quality and appearance of the out of focus parts of the image. This lens produces the most beautiful portraits and I cannot recommend it enough.

My Gadgets

Lens Pen Cleaning System
I had a recent reminder how important one of these is. It’s a handy “pen” from Nikon with cleaning attachments on both ends. It’s a great pocket tool for casual amateurs right up to catalog photographers to get rid of dust, debris and fingerprints. This one’s a Nikon pen but it has horrible eyesight so if you don’t tell him, he’ll clean Canon glass too 🙂

Giottos AA1900 Rocket Air Blaster Large – Black
The pen is great for the lens but sometimes you get a spec on the mirror. Here’s you solution. A quick squeeze and let it settle, a few more times and your all set to go.

Westcott 301 Photo Basics 40-Inch 5-in-1 Reflector
I love this thing for portraits. I’m not a huge fan of using flashes so when I can manipulate the natural light into doing what I want, I always go for it. This one has a variety of effects to choose from and I love it.

Nikon SB-910 Speedlight Flash
Not a lot to say here. I’m not huge on using flash but this one does the job when I need it. Check the reviews and find the one you like, this is the one I like.

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43 responses

7 02 2012
vitacaptus

Great blog post! I always like reading what others are using. I’m also a Nikon user. Still using my first DSLR (D100) since 2004. I have the same 70-200 f/2.8 as you. Best piece of glass I’ve ever owned!

7 02 2012
96arley

I completely agree, it really is remarkable

7 02 2012
davidoakesimages

Thank you. Nice to get anothers view on equipment in use. I was once told ‘never rush in’… that is to wait when new gear comes on the market. Prices drop but also lower cost options come along. A good example is the D3s and D700 as you suggest and I agree that for the very big majority of shots the results would be the same. Keep the cash as you save as you are bound to upgrade soon….if not the camera then the lens or the computer and of coursde that software you just have to have, it is never ending!.

7 02 2012
96arley

It really is. I’m trying to stick with what I have. I invested a lot in my gear so I haven’t even read the tech specs on the D4, I just can’t put myself through that 🙂

7 02 2012
lyndajeffersphotography

I use a Nikon D90, but have my eye on a D7000, I am also looking to get a SB910, but for both have to save up. Great post 🙂

7 02 2012
96arley

Thanks, remember when you buy if you get it through these links it will help support the blog. Same cost for you and I think they do some sort of shipping upgrade but don’t quote me on that.

7 02 2012
Francine Gassette

Thank you for this post. I am new at DSLR photography. I took a class on using my camera but didn’t get a lot of information on use of specific types of cameras and lens for different purposes. I shoot as a hobby but the more I shoot the more I want to do better. Appreciate your information.

BE ENCOURAGED! BE BLESSED!

7 02 2012
96arley

Thanks Francine, there really is so much to learn and way too much to teach. I’ll try to share more in the future once I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the other great equipment out there.

7 02 2012
Victor Ho

And today’s announcement – D800, D800E and the new D4. I last bought the D200 right before the D300 was released. I view the frequent upgrades as the trade off to all the money spent on film. (I developed my own.) Thanks for going over the gear. Until they make something better, I still use the 80-400 zoom. It gets me where I want to go (though reluctantly).

7 02 2012
96arley

That is a phenomenal DX format lens. That’s a great range to cover. You can pretty much get what you need between that and a medium zoom kit lens 🙂

7 02 2012
Karmen

Again, your information, and that of other commenters, is extremely valuable. I’m not the photographer in the family, I just take snapshots, but want to learn more. I am the ‘gatherer of information, however and these suggestions are definitely now on the list to “save up for.”

7 02 2012
96arley

🙂 Thanks Karmen, one of my favorite things about this blog is all the information I get from my comments and emails. I really have some great readers and it’s always nice to hear someone else that appreciates them 🙂

7 02 2012
brentwoodprop

You have some really nice lenses, I am a Canon user myself you have some great pic on you blog

Sysan

7 02 2012
96arley

Thanks, I’ve been fortunate enough to land a few contracts big enough to purchase my equipment and still manage to eat and find shelter most days 🙂 Glad you stopped by and I look forward to seeing you around

7 02 2012
Lois Farley Shuford

Great site – I like your focus as well as your photos! Its nice to find a photo site which teaches as well as exhibits. Really helpful! And thanks for liking my photo site!

7 02 2012
96arley

You’re welcome! It’s always good to hear someone learning from what I’ve got to say. Thanks for checking in!

7 02 2012
Bella Remy Photography

Thanks for you photo list! Well..I’m a Canon girl, the but lens lineup is super ! Have you looked at FredMiranda.com for used equipment or BHphotovideo.com for new?

7 02 2012
96arley

Thanks for dropping by. I’ve used B&H before but the other one is new to me. Thanks for sharing!

7 02 2012
Karmen

How do you (and everyone else) feel about buying used?

7 02 2012
96arley

I’m not a big fan of buying used. I’ve done it on Craigslist a few times but only when I can meet the previous owner and handle the equipment. I would probably be okay with buying refurbished but I’m a HUGE fan of US warranties. If I’m going to spend more than a thousand anyways, I’d rather pay a few hundred extra and know someone else hasn’t already gotten dust and debris in the focus ring that I’m going to have to fix out of my pocket. It’s a good way to get a good lens for a better price though and I know plenty of people who’ve never had any trouble doing it

7 02 2012
Mary Lou Rutledge

Great info. Very helpful. Thank you!

7 02 2012
96arley

Glad it’s helped you 🙂

7 02 2012
Gail Schechter

just nominated you for versatile blog
check out the blog post here
http://www.grs614.wordpress.com

7 02 2012
Mona

OK, this is dangerous. Now I want two new lenses and a new camera body! Kidding aside, this is a well-written and informative post. I will keep it for future reference. ~Mona

7 02 2012
96arley

Haha, I was salivating for a new macro lens as I was writing it. Had to remind myself I don’t make enough money off macro to justify the purchase with rent coming up 🙂

8 02 2012
Filipino Festival

Reblogged this on FilipinoFestival.com.

8 02 2012
96arley

Thanks! I appreciate it!

8 02 2012
Rebecca Booth

Great post and it’s nice to meet a fellow Nikonian! This information is very useful and interesting as i am looking to upgrade.
Thanks for sharing!

8 02 2012
96arley

Glad you got something out of it Rebecca. Good luck with your next camera/equipment!

10 02 2012
Ali Radwani

Amazing post, i like nikon to, great lenses …

10 02 2012
96arley

Glad you liked it!

10 02 2012
Mary Lou Rutledge

I have a Canon, want a Nikon and do not have most of this embedded in my brain but I’m learning. Thanks for helping me.

10 02 2012
96arley

You’re welcome Mary, glad to hear you’re learning!

13 02 2012
daphot75

I’m a D300s user. I like your lenses

13 02 2012
96arley

Great platform, love the dual slot with sd and the cf. Almost wish my D3s had an sd slot but I don’t know if I’d want to give up either of my CF slots 🙂 Great camera

13 02 2012
Golden Sunsets and Fat Man Pants « ShootAbout

[…] One of the biggest problems with having a great sunset like this is it makes us want to capture exactly what we see. This has always frustrated me. The biggest internal battles I have always faced as a photographer is my desire to capture what I see versus the desire to create art. ShootAbout is more about art. I want to capture pictures that require more than the right place and the right time. It’s certainly not an exact science, but it’s simple enough to take a few steps in the right direction. The tool that has helped me most so far, is my macro lens. […]

15 02 2012
msproductiveprocrastination

I’m so glad I found this because I just purchased the D700 and was having slight buyer’s remorse for not doing more research before I bought it. It’s great to get a pros opinion of it!

15 02 2012
96arley

I would encourage you to find a field guide if you haven’t already. I’ve never used one for a D700 since I’ve never owned the camera but here’s one by an author I used for my guide on my last camera. Think of it as a pocket reference that will REALLY come in handy when you’re trying to figure out how to do something. (This is an affiliate link btw) 🙂 http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0470413204/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=shootabout-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0470413204

20 02 2012
Keys to Properly Exposing a Photograph 2: f/stop « ShootAbout

[…] in excess of 3lbs. If you’ve got the money, (and the upper body strength) go for it. Here my equipment review post where I talk about mine along with the rest of my gear. I know what you’re thinking. […]

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