D’Alise Photography – The Equipment

I sometime get asked what kind of photographic equipment I use.  Usually this is right after something like “Those are really nice photographs!!”

Mind you, I know the intent is good, but I will gently remind readers that it’s about as tactful as telling your dinner hostess “Excellent meal! Where did you buy it?”  or an artist “Nice painting!  Who helped you?”

I will grant you that equipment does make a difference.  I remember when my golf handicap (golf index) dropped from the low 20’s to the mid-teens.  Nothing changed in my swing, ability, or determination . . . all I did is upgrade from the $150 starter clubs I had been using, to an $1,100 set of fitted clubs (with decent grips).  I was pissed!  I might as well not have been there.

So yes, photography is also subject to the limitations of equipment.  But, as a suggestion, next time you want to ask a photographer what they use, ask them “Are you a Nikon user, or a misguided Canon user?”  At the very least you’ll get into a spirited discussion.

As a side note, even the cheapest point-and-shoots are, these days, much better than anything most people could afford as little as ten years ago (my D100, 6MP digital SLR was $2,000 in 2002 – today you can buy a D3100, with lenses, for about $500).  Heck, people are doing amazing things with the iPhone 4s, and its primary function is not even to be a camera . . . it’s to lend prestige to insecure people.  Er . . . unless you, my dear reader, own an iPhone; then it’s a well-deserved treat that has nothing to do with your self-esteem, or a sign you are susceptible to marketing.  Yes, I kid . . . mostly.

What?  Oh, right . . . equipment; what be the stuff I use?  You’ll be sorry you asked.

So, for those who have not dozed off, a few things.  That bag, as configured, weighs in at 15 pounds.  I can have it over either shoulder (the strap attachments slide to one side or another, as desired), and it can rotate to the front to easily swap out lenses. 

I can usually hike a number of hours before that becomes uncomfortable.  It took me a long while to find a bag I liked, and that is it.  I cobbled-up all sorts of stuff before it.

The equipment (in case you slept through the video):

Nikon DSLR D7000 camera:
I continue to be impressed with this camera.  It is a “pro-sumer” camera, meaning it does not have a large buffer, extensive bracketing options, and a few other bells and whistles I occasionally miss.  But, in all other respects . . . wow!

AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED lens
This is my work-horse.  I would say 80% of the time this is the lens that is on the camera.  Sharp, fast, and all-around a great performer.

Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM Wide Angle Lens
This is my “very wide” lens.  I would love to use a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, but at about $480 the Sigma is less than one-fourth the cost of the Nikon.  And it’s a great lens. And the Nikon is huge, and weighs a ton.

Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM FLD Large Aperture Standard Zoom Lens
I bought this lens to bridge the gap between the Sigma 10-20mm and the Nikon 70-200mm.  What I would really like is a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 ED lens, but again, that’s $1,900 versus the Sigma’s $620.  And again, the Nikon is larger and heavier.  I have not used this lens much this summer because I shot a lot of zoom and macro photography.  But I did use it a lot in Alaska.

AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED
I friggin’ love this lens.  Macro shooting with excellent results.  Sharp, responsive, and fast.  What’s not to like?

AF VR Zoom-Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED
Not in the bag, but usually with me when I travel, this lens was the go-to lens until I got the 70-200mm (and also a few months ago when the 70-200mm was in for repairs).  I like this lens, and the 600mm effective zoom (400×1.5) is often amazing.  It’s not as sharp, especially at full zoom, and it’s a slow-focus lens, but I’ve taken photos with this lens which would not have turned out with a lesser zoom.  The reason it’s not in the bag is that it weights 3.25 pounds (the D7000 with the 70-200mm lens weigh a combined 5.5 pounds).  If I could find a practical way to carry it and the 70-200mm both, I would.

Lest people think I compromised with the Sigma lenses because of the price alone, not so.  The performance of the Sigma lenses is very good, but more important, it’s a matter of having lenses you can lug around with you.  Those Nikon lenses I mentioned?  Big.  Heavy.  Great if you are in a studio, or shooting on location, but if you are hiking or strolling while on vacation, not practical.  And yes; for the money differential, I don’t see the difference in quality (I’m not a pro).

I would suggest anyone wanting to buy lenses, save your money and buy decent ones.  If you have to put your money somewhere, put it on the lenses. 

Hint: one good way to find out if you will like a lens (or camera), is to rent it.  Better yet, rent a couple to compare.  Places like LensRentals.com and ProPhotoRental.com. That is also an excellent way to save some money; by only renting equipment when you need it.  Were I to go on a safari, I would rent the $10,000 Nikon 600mm f/4G lens . . . for $500.  

Before I get to the accessories, I should mention my old equipment on display, shown below, and still in excellent working order.  I will just list the stuff, and those interested in any details about it can go look it up.

Old_Equipment - Good stuff I no longer use
Old_Equipment – Good stuff I no longer use

Kodak Instamatic Reflex (C126 film) 
Nikon N8008 (35mm film) 
Konica Big Mini BM-302 (35mm film)
Nikon D100 (Digital SLR, DX – 6MP) 
Nikon D200 (Digital SLR, DX – 10MP)

Lenses (A few of my early lenses are out on loan):
Nikon 50mm f/1.8 
Nikon 60mm f/2.8 Macro (earlier model, without the “G” or “D” designator)
I still use this lens for macro shots.  And I’m as happy with it as I am with the 105mm
Nikon 28-85mm f/3.5-4.5
Nikon 70-300mm f/2.5-4.5
AF-S Zoom-Nikkor ED 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G IF DX
AF-S Zoom-Nikkor ED 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF DX VR  

Astute readers might notice a host of other accessories among the equipment I listed.  I never throw away old stuff, and all my old stuff works.    . . . not that I’m likely to use it again.

People might notice a couple of the links are not manufacturer sites.  I highly recommends these places:

by Thom – lots and lots of good information, reviews, advice, etc.  I buy his camera guides (did so for both the D200 and the D7000).   Much better than the dinky manuals that came with the cameras.

photozone – lens reviews, other products review, forums, techniques.  Again, lots of info.

dpreview – my first stop when wanting to know the technical aspects of products (cameras, lenses, and more).  Again, lots of information.  Allows comparison between products.

OK, onto the rest of the stuff.  The movie above was shot with my Panasonic Lumix ZS3 compact camera.  I bought it specifically for movies, when the DLSRs I could afford did not have the option of shooting movies.  I still carry the Lumix with me on trips, and it takes a decent photo as well.

Lumix ZS3 (12x Zoom) and GorillaPod
Lumix ZS3 (12x Zoom) and GorillaPod

The shot above shows the camera next to the Joby GorillaPod.  Useful little flexible tripod, especially when taking shots of small objects.

Tripods and Ball-heads
Tripods and Ball-heads

My two tripods.  The aluminum Manfrotto is nicer than the Velbon EL Carmagne 540 Carbon Fiber, but it’s heavier and it gets very cold or very hot depending on the season and temperatures outside.  The two ball-heads I use are both pistol-grips for quick adjustments.  One is the Manfrotto 322 RC2 (about $120), and the other is the Opteka TS-1 TacShot ($30).  The RC2 is better constructed, but the TS-1 is easier to use and adjust.  The quality of the TS-1 is not visually apparent, but it is a very functional ball-head, and a heck of a deal.

I have the Nikon SB-900 Speedlight.  I don’t use it much.  I bought it for a wedding I was shooting, and never did master it . . . but I aim to, someday.

I am more apt to use the on-camera flash, and even that is rare.  When I do, I add the Gary Fong Puffer Diffuser (it mounts on the hot-shoe to position the diffuser in front of the flash unit).  But, the vast majority of my photos are taken without the use of a flash.

Finally, I would be remiss to mention something I have no hesitation to endorse.  The LensPen.  Being anal retentive, dust, smudges, and anything disturbing the pristine surface of my lenses would have me climbing walls.  For a number of years I used fluids, lint-free cloths, zero residue liquids, and anything which promised to get me a clean lens.  They lied. 

Only one thing ever worked, and continues to work.  The LensPen.  Even without the low price, and for all but extreme situations (if you spill syrup on your lens you should not operate camera equipment), there is nothing like it. 

Disclaimer . . . I get nothing for mentioning any of the products listed above.  Not a frigging thing.  Stuff I have and use comes my way by experience, word of mouth, research, and trial and error.  Stuff I use may or may not be your cup of tea, if you even drink tea.  I find it useful, I like it, I use it.  You, the reader, may have other opinions.

Thanks for reading my stuff, and I hope this has been as some use to those who did. 

BUT . . . while this covered the equipment I use, it did not touch on my shooting habits.  That will be covered in a future post.


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