Gear I Trust
Whenever I talk to friends, family, or even people I meet on the street the inevitable question arises: What camera/lens/flash/computer/software should I buy? The best answer that I have been able to come up with is itself a question, “What are you shooting?” I wish there was a magic answer that would solve everybody’s question, but alas, there is no genie in that bottle. With that in mind I’ve decided to compile a list of what equipment I use, and more importantly, why. So without further adieu:
I have a history of switching between Nikon and Canon since I bought my first camera. It took me a few transitions to really find what I was looking for in the form of Canon’s DSLR line.
The 1D Mark IV is a spectacular device. Shooting 16mpx images at 10 frames per second up to an astonishing ISO 12,800 gives a photographer a breadth of possibilities regardless of how low the light goes. Dual memory cards (CF and SD) utilize the latest in card technology and can be used simultaneously for RAW and JPEG captures with each click of the shutter. Even more, the camera is completely weather sealed (especially when paired with an L-series lens) so shooting in the sand, rain, or even sleet won’t cause any long-term effects. It is exceedingly expensive, but you cannot find a Canon camera that is more capable (yet).
The original 5D set the industry standard for (relatively) affordable full-frame cameras and the second iteration has only cemented its position. 23.1mpx offers image quality that rivals anything else on the market. The full frame allows for true wide-angle shooting and incredible depth of field. I know a number of wedding photographers who shoot with two 5D Mark II‘s due to it’s amazing versatility and image quality. With an ISO range comparable to the 1D Mark IV this camera is an absolute asset.
Canon L-Series Lenses
You know those white lenses you see at every single televised sporting event? The lenses that dwarf the photographer behind the camera? Those are Canon L-series lenses. Every L-series lens has the red ring around the filter mount and is sealed against inclement weather. These lenses are the glass that I turn to for almost all of my shoots!
I have so much fun with this lens! There are few others that can match the wide-angle image quality of the 16-35mm 2.8 L II. When zoomed in all the way the 16-35 offers pin-sharp image quality while maintaining a large, light friendly f/2.8 aperture. At 16mm, however, is where the fun starts. Distorting reality just enough, the wide angle performance of this lens when paired with the 5D Mark II is stunning.
This lens, above all others, is my favorite. It is an absolute workhorse. The auto-focus system is incredibly fast and reliable even in situations where light is at a premium. At 200mm this lens can produce intimate images while keeping me unobtrusively out of the way. If I had to choose a lens to be permanently on my camera, this would be my choice.
While the 24-105 f/4 is not the fastest zoom lens it represents a solid choice for area between the 16-35 and 70-200. “But Chris, why not the 24-70?” you say, because the 24-70 f/2.8 L is getting long in the tooth and is due for an update. Until then, this lens is sharp, agile, and the image stabilization works wonderfully. This is the only lens in my repertoire that doesn’t reach down to f/2.8, but it’s a fantastic performer.
SanDisk Memory Cards
There is a primary rule of thumb when it comes to memory cards: if the images matter, use a smaller card. When I am at a wedding, on a set, or at a festival the largest card I use is 4Gb; when the inevitable happens, limit the damage. If I’m just shooting for myself, however, the images aren’t as critical so larger cards are much more convenient. While I am very partial to SanDisk products, the newest professional-level cards from Lexar are looking very tempting!
Over the past few years the price of memory has fallen drastically. The only factor that limits the size of memory you should use is your comfort level. When I am on vacation I use SanDisk Extreme Pro 16Gb or 32Gb cards. I have never once had a failure with a SanDisk memory product, unlike those of other manufacturers. 16Gb on the 1D Mark IV is generally good for about 900 images, and 600 on the 5D Mark II.
The problem with guides like these is that no product listed here is a solution to a problem. Rather they are simply what works best for my own work flow at this particular moment in history. Software is an especially gray area as each program has it’s own merits, quirks, and eccentricities that work best with different people.
When I bought my first Mac I started post-processing on Apple’s own Aperture. It was a fine program but it didn’t fit me very well. A few months later Adobe released into beta their competitor, Lightroom. Adobe hit a homerun with Lightroom and it has only improved since the initial release. With the upcoming third version, Lightroom now integrates on a much deeper level with publishing services, Flickr, and a series of other leading products. While Lightroom does not have the built-in support for making books like Aperture does, it is simple enough to produce a book through a company like WHCC or Mpix.
For a long while I lusted after an Apple Cinema Display. These beauties had all the style and color correction I could want, but were consistently ridiculously priced. A few years ago I found out that Dell monitors use (at the time at least) the same physical panels as the Cinema Displays and were nearly half the price. Since then I’ve been a Dell display fanboy.
“What computer should I get?” is easily the most popular non-camera question I answer. It is also the most subjective. Beyond personal preference there are few things (in the photographic world) that you cannot do with either OS X or Windows. I prefer Apple’s Macintosh computers, specifically the Mac Pro. Workstation-class processors mixed with highly expandable memory and disk configurations make for a properly powerful machine for both still and motion editing. For portable computing, however, the MacBook Pro is a class leader.
Before photography came into the digital realm the most important element of a photographers life was a proper method of storing his or her negatives: If anything happened to those precious frames the images would be gone forever. The same rules apply today, with a little modification; instead of negatives, we have JPG’s, CR2’s, and NEF’s. I trust my “negatives” to the safe keeping of the Data Robotics Drobo S. This five bay, data redundant, eSATA equipped backup device is an absolute lifesaver, making my workflow faster and exponentially safer than ‘normal’ 1 or 2 drive backup systems.
Coming soon — more lenses, post-processing, and accessories!