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Our Camera Equipment

A lot of photographers will tell you that 'the camera doesn't matter' - it is the person behind it that counts.  What a load of bollocks!  In our experience the better the gear, the better the odds of making great images - great gear won't auto-magically make great photos but crappy gear is a barrier to creativity and sound workflow.  Great gear helps you fulfil your vision as a photographer.  Fortunately, almost all of today's DSLR bodies and lenses from Nikon, Canon & Sony are mind-bogglingly good, even in comparison to those on the market five years ago.

We have compiled a list of the gear that we currently use as well as some goodies that have moved on to camera Heaven - enjoy!

Cheers - Todd & Sarah

 

 

Current Nikon FX Camera Bodies & Lenses

Nikon D800E

 

The best image quality we have ever seen from a 35mm DSLR.  There are a couple of significant niggles with controls, but nothing too cataclysmic. Ignore all the bizarre colour cast paranoia inspired by a 'prominent' Nikon reviewer, we've seen no green cast and the LCD looks great to us .   Don't bother with buying the D800 'e' version - save your money and buy the standard D800 (like we did when we migrated from the Nikon DX line) as the resolution difference is negligible and dissipates above f/5.6 due to the sharpness robbing effects of diffraction.

Nikon D800 

 

Can't spot the difference between the D800 and the D800e product shots? That's because there ain't one, other than a tiny e on the model label.  You won't see any difference in image quality either if you are shooting above f/5.6.  If the 'e' version was the same price as D800 we would opt for it every time as it is just a little bit sharper when shooting wide open - but it is not worth spending extra $ on (in our opinion).

Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8D ED-IF AF-S

 

This lens is pretty much welded to Todd's D800e during landscape photography shoots.  Fuzzier at the edges than Charlie Sheen's head after a 6 day Vegas bender when used at f/2.8 - but superb edge to edge when used at 'landscape settings' f/8 - f/16.  Don't buy it though - get the much lighter, slightly cheaper, slightly wider, Nikon 16-35mm f/4G ED VR II AF-S IF  that Sarah uses (see below). We still use the 17-35mm simply because we own it and as this short comparison test shows - there is not enough meaningful difference between the two lenses to force an upgrade.

*Nikon 16-35mm f/4G ED VR II Ultrawide Zoom

This is probably Nikon's best ever ultrawide zoom lens, and that is saying something... It's lighter and sharper than the 17-35 f/2.8 and spectacular even when shot wide open at f/4 - it even has VR for improving handheld results.

Nikon 16mm F/2.8D AF Fisheye

 

A weird little lens with limited uses, but it excels at those uses - encompassing a seemingly endless field of view while adding funk and quirk to a scene with its twisted view of life.  It's also razor sharp edge-to-edge while producing the cleanest & sharpest sunstar of any lens we own.  Buy this lens if you are looking for alternative, creative options in your camera bag - or if you are a 22 year old urban hipster who shoots DJ's, graffiti artists, Vespa riders and long board skaters on a regular basis.

Nikon 24mm f/3.5D ED PC-E Tilt Shift

 

Probably the most exotic (and potentially erotic?) expensive and least used lens in our bag.  The plan was to make quick and painless panoramic images on our DX format D7000 and to add tilt/shift craziness to our bag o' tricks for portrait photography work.  Unfortunately, this lens has pretty crappy image quality out on the edges when shifted for panoramics.  It does produce some V.cool effects when tilted to the max, but then again, so does photoshop without the need for a $4,000 bendy lens. UPDATE: this lens has moved on to a better place.

Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S

 

I suspect that this lens has produced more frames than any other since it landed in our bag about a year ago.  It is our favourite travel & family photography lens and the 50mm field of view is super handy for panoramic stitching when used in the vertical aspect.  Razor sharp, lovely bokeh, compact, light, cheap and fast.  A must have lens for Nikonians.

Nikon 50mm f/1.2 Nikkor AI-S Manual Focus

 

This neolithic throwback of a lens is everything that the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G (above) is not.  It is a leaden hunk of gnurled metal, silver screws and visibly moving parts. It costs a bomb and when used at it's maximum aperture produces images softer than an over-ripe camembert that has been smothered in a tub margarine and discarded on the front seat of a drunken Frenchman's Citroen 2CV2 (on a sunny day).  This is every reason why the f/1.2 is a wonderful lens that produces dreamy, imperfect, contrastless images that keep you coming back for more.  If only I could work out how to find focus at f/1.2.

Thanks to it's status - as a status symbol - in Japan, this lens is still available for purchase - for now anyway....

Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S

 

Probably he sexiest lens that we own.  The 85 f/1.4 creates stellar portrait images with a bokeh so smooth (smoother in-fact than the aforementioned  camembert) that you may just want to lick your laptop screen.  85mm is a great focal length for making panoramic stitches so it gets a load of use for our landscape work too.  The chunky heft of this lens feels so good in the hand - If you were to buy one Nikon lens to make you feel like a 'real photographer' this would be our recommendation. 

Read our full review here

 

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S

 

OK, so this lens will also make you look like the 'real deal' as well. The 70-200mm f/2.8 is kind of the Dodge Ram of 200mm Nikkor Zooms, only this lens goes well beyond  just compensating for your genetic shortcomings - it actually performs.  The 70-200mm VRII is razor sharp from f/2.8 onwards and is endowed with stunning AF and VR innards.  This lens transforms great shots into incredible shots on the D800.  The cost of all this performance? Well, firstly, the cost - it ain't cheap and secondly the weight (you may want to consider that Dodge Ram for lugging this lens).  Avoid buying this lens unless you absolutely need the extra stop of light afforded by  this f/2.8 lens - buy the lighter, cheaper and optically identical  Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR instead (see below).

 

Nikon 70-200mm f/4G ED VR Nikkor Zoom Lens

This lens was years overdue in arriving.  Canon-ites have had the choice of two incredible f/4 70-200mm lenses for roughly a decade while Nikon left us with no choice but to buy the hulking f/2.8 lens (above) if we wanted ultimate image quality in a mid range telephoto zoom.  Anyway, better late than never.  This lens is a miracle, wrapped in a revelation and sprinkled with a dash of fairy-dust.  It is lighter, more compact, cheaper and optically identical to the 70-200 f/2.8.  If you own a high resolution Nikon DX or FX camera you need to buy this lens. Period. 

 

Nikon 105mm f/2.8D AF Micro-Nikkor

 

The only lens that in our bag to survive our transition from film to digital - way back in 2004. This lens is a fantastic all-rounder - sensational for macro work and a terrific portrait lens.  You cannot purchase this lens new anymore but we have not updated to the fancy new Nikon 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor simply because we don't do enough macro work to justify the cost of change.  Plus, we are old skool metal-lens huggers and the new one is contains more plastic than Mickey Rourke.

 

 

Nikon DX Cameras & Lenses

Our first Nikon DSLR was the DX (crop sensor) D2x and we were still shooting landscapes on DX up until late 2013. We love DX for its light weight, low cost and compact form factor and would happily recommend it to anyone interested in landscape, wildlife or nature photography.  Where DX comes unstuck a little is in portraiture where there has traditionally been far less lens choice at the traditional portrait focal lengths  - this combines with the addtional depth of field that the  DX format possesses (resulting in less background defocus for any given field of view).

Here is a list of some of the DX gear that was in our bag up until the big sell-off! 

Nikon D7000 16.2MP DSLR

 

This  hugely underrated camera has now been superceded with the superb 24.1 MP sensored D7100.   We made tens of thousands of images using the D7000 and we loved it - the D7000 is light, compact, well built, fast and responsive.  It also delivers terrific image quality from the 16 million pixels crammed onto that little sensor.  In fact, we have compared the D7000 to the D800e in crop mode on a side by side shootout and the results were practically identical. If you are after beautifully detailed files with surprisingly good noise handling at high ISOs consider bagging the  the D7100 - it is the last camera that you will need to buy.  Until you convince yourself that you really need to buy another camera, that is....

 

Nikon 12-24mm f/4G ED IF Wide Angle Zoom

 

Once upon a time this was your only option if you wanted a true wide angle Nikkor to sit on your DX camera body (back then FX format was just a night-sweat inducing figment of Nikon shooters collective imaginations).  This lens was our primary money maker for about 5 years and it is still in service on the D7000.  It produces a very nice image, although it requires heftier than normal doses of sharpening to get things print-ready.  Before buying this lens we would seriously look at the newer, cheaper and slightly wider  Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED AF-S DX alphabet soup zoom - it is probably the smarter buy (but don't trust us - we have never used one).

 

 

Nikon 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX ED VR Nikkor Zoom

 

If the D7000 is Nikon's unsung DSLR hero,  the 16-85mm is its invisible sidekick.  You never hear much about this lens and that's a cryin' shame - in fact, we had no idea that this lens existed, and only found out when trying to find a DX equivalent to our (now departed) Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM 'walkabout' lens for the Canon 5dmkii.  We never grooved on the image quality of the Canon lens but loved the zoom range - happily, on the 16-85mm Nikkor we love both the image quality and the (24-120mm FX equivalent) focal range.  

The only disappointment on this under-rated lens is the VR - it is slow to kick in and doesn't seem very effective compared to the VR II on the 70-200mm f/2.8.  If you are shooting DX and looking for that elusive, compact, light, and lethally effective swiss army knife lens this is well worth a look.

 

 

Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR DX (Original Version)

 

[Please note that the following relates to the 'First Edition' of this lens]

Maybe it was just our copy of the lens, but with the 18-200mm AF-S VR Nikon appeared to be hellbent on seamlessly merging appalling image quality with abysmal engineering to deliver the most disappointing Nikkor lens that we have ever owned.   We could elaborate but we will sound like bitter, angry people and that's just not Zen-like...

There is a new version (which the links point at) that apparently fixes this steaming pile of Bakerlite's flacid zoom and mushy image quality - it may well be the bomb, who knows...

 

 

Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR Telephoto Zoom

 

So why the hell do we own this lens?  Because when it is shot at 'landscape apertures', such as  f/11, the images from the $225 (US) Nikon 55-200mm VR are virtually indistinguishable from the $2,000  Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 (check out this revealing comparison between the hideous 18-200 (above) and the 70-200mm super zoom)  This means that the featherweight cheapy is the perfect DX long lens for overnight landscape expeditions where weight matters. DO NOT rely upon this lens as your mainstay telephoto zoom though - the compromises in build quality and IQ below f/8 make it a poor match for today's high resolution DXcamera bodies.

 

The Dearly Departed (Canon DSLRs and lenses)

Canon EOS 5D Mark II 21.1MP DSLR

 

The straw that broke the camel's back. When the 5d ii launched we were able to purchase this 21 MP full framed beast of burden and the three lenses listed below for $8,000 NZ less than a Nikon D3X body alone.  The Canon was a terrific business decision - a well-priced creator of large files that print beautifully up to 1.5 metres and beyond.  Unfortunately, there were some creative things that didn't gel for us - weird blues, overly warm tones, dreadful colour noise hiding in shadows, fiddly little mouse-nipple buttons and essential functions like mirror lock up buried deeply in menus (much of these problems were resolved in the  more expensive, but superb Canon EOS 5D Mark III ).  Our common-law marriage to Canon was on the rocks by the time the D7000 turned up. The divorce lawyers were called in the day that the Nikon D800 was announced.

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM Ultra Wide Angle Zoom

Canon is not exactly renowned for it's ultrawide zoom lenses, so we were pleasantly surprised by the performance of the 17-40 f/4.  It is easily the equal of our Nikon DX 12-24 f/4 with regards to sharpness across the frame when used at f/11 - f/16, which is to say that it is not savagely sharp, but still really, really good. This is the first ultra wide angle that we have used that produces enough distortion to be regularly noticeable in landscape images - don't worry though , it's nothing a couple of mouse clicks in Lightroom or Photoshop won't solve. We have not compared it to the more expensive and heavier  Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM but one would hope that the f/2.8 offers a step up in image quality for all those extra dollars.  For our money though the 17-40mm struck an excellent balance between weight, image quality and price.  Highly recommended.

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM

 

Yuk.  This lens is ubiquitous amongst Canonites by virtue of it's up-market 'kit lens' status for the past decade.  A quick trawl of the internet will reveal that the 24-105mmL IS suffers from serious 'sample variation' issues.  Some samples are incredible (apparently) and some are plain abysmal. Ours started out as acceptable (never great) and finished it's days (out of warranty) as unusable due to needing something called re-collimation.  So common is this issue that when we called our dealer to describe the issue he said "let me guess - it's sharp in the centre and blurry on the left third?".  We think that this is unacceptable for a lens that has been in production this long and sold at this price.  We wouldn't buy one again, but feel free to purchase ours :-)

 

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM

 

 

Yum!  This is probably the best zoom lens we have ever owned.  It is a study in intelligent design and manufacturing.  Let's list the 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM 's good points: It's so light you'd swear that it's white bits are made of polystyrene. It's about as compact as that guy who went through the woodchipper in Fargo. It's sharper than Stephen Hawking's love child. It's image stabilizer produces enough stability to get Lindsay Lohan back on her feet. And to top it all off... it's about (an American) grand cheaper than it's fatso f/2.8 sibling.  

What about it's bad points? Well, this lens does nothing for your ego - nobody will go "Wow!" when you pull this lens out of your bag on a tourist boat.  If that matters to you buy the awe-inspiring Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM  which cunningly packages the same image quality into a much bigger, heavier, and costlier package (yes, you get an extra stop of light too).  If you are like us, and value weight, space and money buy the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM today!

 

Memory Cards

Our cameras have both Compact Flash (CF) and SD slots so we use the SD slot as an in-camera backup (pairing cards of identical capacity).  As to capacity, we find 16GB to be the minimum working capacity for the Nikon D800 but we prefer the 64GB cards as that gives a couple of days worth of landscape shooting.  As to brand - we buy Lexar these days as it seems to always be a little cheaper than Sandisk and the performance is exemplary.

Lexar Compact Flash (CF) Cards

Lexar SD cards

Sandisk CF cards

Sandisk SD cards

*Lexar FireWire 800 CF Card Reader  

 

Much faster than USB 2.0 for older Macs (slower than Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 though)

 

 

Tripods & Ballheads

In the market for a new tripod? Read our tripod purchasing advice here.

Both of the models that we use are discontinued however, here are some similar tripods by the same manufacturers:

Induro CT-314 8X Carbon, 4 Section Tripod

This is tripod looks almost identical to the (formerly branded Benro) carbon tripod that I have used for nearly eight years. The great thing about the Benro range is that you can select the size that suits you from this single model designation - unlike Gitzo where you have to search for a new model number if you want a taller set of sticks (see below). All Induro tripods have a centre column - just hacksaw it off if you want to get low.

Gitzo GT2542LS 4 Section Carbon Tripod 

This is a 'systematic' model which I think means that it has no centre column - who the hell can tell with Gitzo? Anyway, this is a good place to start if you are looking for a superb set of legs that extend to only 150cm (59 inches) - perfect for more diminuitive landscape photographers..

Gitzo GT3542XLS 4 Section Carbon Tripod (Tall)

Gitzo's product planners apparently never read Goldilocks. If the 2542LS is too short this monster will surely be too tall for most people who don't shoot hoops for a day job - I couldn't find anything in-between. The XLS tops out at 200cm (79 inches) which is overkill once another 30cm of camera and ballhead is clamped to the top. Despite this, it may be a great option as you should be able to avoid using the skinny little fourth leg sections in most situations - leading to greater stability.

*ARCA-SWISS Monoball Z1

Arca Swiss built the world's best ballheads 20 years ago and Sarah purchased one for a small fortune back in the day. The original models were prone to locking up when moved into the vertical shooting position - which sucked badly.  Really Right Stuff melted Arca's Swiss cheese by producing a better mouse trap. However,  Z1 is a superb ballhead and those problems are long since rectified - well worth considering...

 Really Right Stuff BH-55

 

 The BH-55 is the bomb. That's all.

 

Filters and accessories

Heliopan Circular Polarizers

These are touted as the Mercedes Benz of filters due to their Teutonic lineage

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