Lots of photo blogs seem to have a list of all the things the photographer has in his or her bag. I’m going to follow that pattern, but over time I’m going to expand it to cover my whole kit and use it as a working list for why I have the particular item, so if you see a link inside the description it will be to a post with the larger story about that piece of gear or some aspect of it. Hopefully my thought process (or lack of it) on acquiring something will help you, even if that means you deciding to avoid the same purchase. You’ll also notice the term “bag” is a little bit of a cheat – I have three at the moment. It is situational. 😉
A couple notes – you’ll notice I’ve included links for places to buy many of these things (usually B&H). This is done to help, not because I’m making any money from it. It would be great to make money from this site, but at this point there is no ad or referral revenue coming from the site (or any kind of revenue, for that matter). Also, you can keep track with the latest posts and reviews by following this blog, “liking” the Enthusiast Photographer Facebook page or following Enthusphoto on Twitter.
The body – Nikon D300s: This replaced my Nikon D90 (which is still an extremely capable camera, and a terrific deal for what they are selling for used these days). Lots of “latest technology” bullies on the internet will say you should have the latest thing, but I’m loving it! It has the pro controls that put things like auto-focus modes, metering modes and more on switches instead of button combinations and menus. It isn’t the latest sensor, but the D7000 would have cost enough that I couldn’t afford my Tamron 28-75, and that wouldn’t be much fun at all. I’d rather be one generation back than have the latest body and be glass-poor.
- Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 (non-BIM): (aka “the Tammy”): This lens heightened my love of the D90 and D300s. It is the older model without a built-in motor (“non-BIM”). It delivers super sharp pictures in all kinds of light, and has terrific, contrasty colors. If you can’t get to Nikon’s 28-70 f/2.8 or more recent 24-70 f/2.8 (which are around $1,000 and $1500 used, respectively) or don’t want to handle their pro-glass weight, this lens is a flat-out bargain at $300-$350 used. The newer versions don’t seem to have the enthusiastic following this model does, but are still terrific bang-for-the-buck lenses. I love the images it helps me capture so much it stays mounted on my camera 90% of the time.
- Nikon 35mm f/1.8G: For shooting in low light or creating shallow depth of field, this “prime” lens (i.e. fixed focal length, in this case 35mm) is a key part of the kit. Think shooting by the light of only birthday candles or a nice, fuzzy background (“bokeh”) when you want to isolate your subject. This is a really sharp lens, too. If you want to see some f/1.8 handiwork, and the advantage it offers for shallow depth of field, check out my Touristy Photos post. (Nikon 35 f/1.8 at B&H)
- Nikon 50mm f/1.4G: The probable successor to the 35mm. Even better low-light performance and will work on a full-frame camera if I ever go that way. I got an amazing deal on a used one, so I grabbed it. Does everything the 35mm does but better – we’ll see if the 35mm stays in my bag. I think everyone should have one or the other.
- Tokina 11-16 f/2.8: Shooting DX means wide angle is hard to achieve. On Nikon, the 1.5X “crop factor” it means that the short end (28mm) of my 28-75 lens looks like a 42mm lens on an FX or film camera (sorta – it is really a “field of view” equivalent to 42mm, but that is a topic I inderstand but am hard-pressed to explain.) The next shortest focal length in my bag (18mm on my 18-200) looks like 27mm, which is still too wide for the room I have to maneuver in some situations, plus it is a “slower” lens. At 2.8 you have almost twice as much light to work with vs. the minimum aperture of the 18-200 at f/3.5 (and it gets worse as you zoom out). The Tokina 11-16 gives me a really wide field of view and a constant 2.8 aperture, so when I was in a bunch of old churches this summer during my vacation to Europe, I had lots of flexibility for zoom and light. (Tokina 11-16 at B&H)
- Nikon 18-200 VRII f/3.5-5.6: This lens has a huge zoom range, and delivers a lot of quality at the same time. It isn’t as good in low light as my f/2.8 lenses or as sharp as my primes, but is really versatile and pretty much the perfect travel lens or what to take when you can only take one. Not cheap, but does the work of a lot of lenses, and does it with a lot of quality. The older VRI has the same stabilization. It lacks the zoom lock which keeps the lens from creeping/zooming out while you’re carrying it around. The lock is useful since my lens does creep, but it seems like the used price is well over $100 less for the VRI models. That makes them a really good deal in my opinion…
- Nikon 70-200 VR f/4: Insanely sharp, reasonably fast constant aperture of f/4, snappy autofocus and a pound lighter than my old 80-200. What’s not to like? (other than the price tag, which is worth it…) (Nikon 70-200 f/4 at B&H)
- Nikon 85mm f/1.8G: This is the ultimate portrait lens for the Enthusiast Photographer. It is affordable, even sharper than the f/1.4 version that is three times more expensive and still gives you awesome low-light performance and lovely backgrounds. It isn’t a highly versatile lens – it is a little long to walk around with as a prime unless you’ve got some room to move and you need the low-light capability. If I can get away with f/2.8, my Tamron is a much more flexible choice. When I want to shoot portraits though…this is the lens. (Nikon 85mm f/1.8G at B&H)
- Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger bag with Snoop Insert: My do-everything bag. It carries my latop, my camera and all the…stuff…I’d ever want with an amazing amount of grace and good looks. I had it custom made, which was a lot of fun – you can do that, too. The more I carry it, the more I like it. So much to say I wrote two articles.
- Timbuk2 Snoop Messenger: My dedicated camera bag. Lots of the features of the Laptop Messenger in a smaller package. It means I don’t have to unpack my work stuff to go shooting. I do not have a bag problem. I don’t.
- Think Tank Urban Disguise 60 v2: (I really don’t have a bag problem – I have bag solutions!) This bag swallows up everything. Pretty much every bit of camera gear plus the ThinkPad, ThinkPad Tablet 2 and all my work gear. Impressive. Here’s my quick review.
- 2 x 16GB Lexar Professional 400X SDHC memory cards (Class 10): I trust Lexar as they have significant control over their chips and I have a better impression of their top-to-bottom quality in their product lines. Their Pro series cards also come with their ImageRescue software which helps recovery files from a corrupted card (which I haven’t had happen) or a card accidentally erased and/or formatted (I’m pleading the 5th…). For different reasons, memory and batteries seem like singularly bad places to cheap out. If you lose a card, you’re going to be one unhappy Enthusiast Photographer, and the difference just isn’t that much these days. I got a two-pack at B&H.
- 2 x 16GB Lexar 1000X CompactFlash cards (UDMA 7): My D300s has one SD and of CF slot, which can do a variety of things: Mirror/backup, one holds RAW and one JPEG or one takes over when the other gets full. I got a pair at B&H.
What do more X’s get you? Check out my post about the benefits of card speed.
- Nikon SB-700 Flash: Fairly inexpensive and very capable. An Enthusiast Photographer flash if there ever was one. More details later.
- Singh-Ray variable filter: This thing is so cool – it is Dial-a-light! It is a polarizer, but also has the ability to darken from 2 stops to as much as 8 stops of light! Why do you need it? If you want to do the “silky water” thing, extending your shutter speed is often necessary. It was also a big help in Charleston one morning when I couldn’t shoot in the direction I wanted to without overexposing big chunks of the sky (I was composing in the general direction of the rising sun) – I popped on the Sing-Ray, dialed up four stops and I was all set! So cool… (but, like most things cool, a little pricey…). Check out some additional thoughts on Serious Amateur Photography.
- 2 Extra Nikon EN-EL3e Batteries: I have a total of three batteries. Just like memory, if you don’t have batteries, you’re not shooting, so three doesn’t seem like too many. And also like memory, it is a poor place to economize. Knockoff batteries often have capacities lower than advertised (i.e. they don’t last as long as they should), have lower quality (they won’t last very long in your bag) or they don’t have good support. Many have all three issues. I have heard some anecdotal stories about SterlingTek being a good vendor. But we’re just talking about three batteries, and the difference just isn’t that much.
- Gitzo 2531 tripod: It is hard to describe how much more I like this setup than my old Manfrotto 190XPROB and 322RC2 head. I’m not saying the old setup wasn’t reasonable quality, especially for the money, but I can’t say it enough times: if you’re shooting from a tripod, invest in the best one you can afford. That doesn’t mean you have to buy a Gitzo or RRS tripod – there are lots of very decent products coming from China these days – but it is hard to go wrong with either of these brands for any of their products. Ball heads are a whole other world, too and a topic for another day.
- SUNWAYFOTO XB-44 ball head: I volunteered to review this head for SUNWAYFOTO, and I really like it. Enough that I sold my Really Right Stuff BH-40 head…
- Really Right Stuff L-bracket(s): I have one of these Arca-Swiss-compatible tripod plates for each of my camera configurations (with and without the grip). The big benefit of giving you a really fast, easy, stable and secure way to attach your camera to your tripod and quicky remove it as well. They also allow you a plate position to attach your camera in portrait or landscape mode, so you don’t have to use the less-stable and far less convenient drop notches when you want to shoot in vertical (portrait) orientation. They are also a key component of my Black Rapid rig…
- Black Rapid RS-7 Curve with my home-cooked Arca-compatibility setup and safety strap: The Black Rapid changes how you carry your camera, making it less obtrusive, more comfortable and more ready to shoot. You hear stories about cameras falling of of these, but I’m a firm believer that a massive majority of these are user errors. If you’d like to have one and are worried, just use the same safety strap I use in my setup, attached to one of the old camera loop mounts. I’m pretty sure you’ll love it.
- Nikon MH-19 Multi-Charger: This thing will charge two batteries at once, which is great. It has AC and DC cords, so I can charge on the plane or in a car.
- Vello 10-pin cable release: If you shoot off a tripod, you should get one of these (or a wireless equivalent). You’ll love how much crisper everything gets. Nikon charges big money for these things, and while there are places where I definitely believe in sticking with the original manufacturer or high quality provider (Lexar, etc.), the remote isn’t one of those situations. Under $10 vs. $60 for the Nikon-brand…
- Tiffen Filter case with my three Circular Polarizers: – a Hoya Pro1 Digital 77mm for the 80-200, a B+W 72e Slim polarizer for the 18-200 and a B+W F-Pro for the Tammy. The case has four slots, so the free one is used for the UV filter I pull off the lens to use the polarizer.
- Purosol Lens Cleaner with a MF cloth: I’m not exactly blown away here. The cleaner doesn’t seem to wipe away very cleanly. I generally seem more successful when I breathe on a lens and use the cloth, but the included one is inconveniently small.
- LensPens: To replace the Purosol cleaning, I picked up a couple LensPens while I was at CES. These things are really, really cool. One of those things you write off as a gimmick until you use one. Then you’re hooked. I have the Lens and Filter models (which just have slightly different heads – I got a package deal) as well as their new SideKick for tablets.
- 12’x12″ low-nap MF cloth: I swiped this from my own car-detailing kit for use on auto glass. It isn’t the cheap, taller nap cloths you see at Sam’s Club, etc. Those are terrible for glass and often have small nuggets of melted nylon along the hem that will scratch whatever you’re cleaning with it.
- Hex Wrenches: the ones used to tighen the legs on my tripod, attach the head to the tripod and attach the L-bracket to my camera. These are a pain in the butt to carry – until you need one.
- Giotto Rocket Blower: Cleaning is hard. This makes it easier. I use it when I’m trying to get rid of dust specks for product shoots, too…
- Swiss Army Knife – Officer model: A nice knife with a lot of functions. Room for improvement – see the WANT list below.
- Flashlight: After my recent mini-adventure in the darkness, I threw a cheapie mini-light in my bag as a just-in-case until I can complete my research on a high quality light. More coming here, too…
So that is it. I’ll take pictures, add to the descriptions and even create whole posts on some of these items. If you see one you’d like to hear more about, or are wondering why I don’t have something, shout out!
What do I WANT in my bag?
I’ll constrain this list to reasonable reality. If there is anything I’ve learned about photography, there is always some other lens, another gadget or some kind of upgrade you want. I’ve got three spawn, so I try to keep the list to a minimum. I’m unsuccessful.
- Fenix LD-20: As mentioned earlier, I want a really bright, rugged, small light that takes AA batteries. I’m still researching, but this looks like the safest bet so far. I’m looking at the products from SUNWAYMAN as well..
- Leatherman Curve TTi: I like my Swiss Army Knife, but the Curve offers a much sharper and higher-quality cutting blade, a cutting tool for seat belts, cords, etc, the pliers and much better usability – I don’t like how the tools on the bottom of the Swiss Army knife stick out from the middle. It severely limits the usefulness of the flat-head screw drivers and the awl – the corkscrew is the only tool that makes sense there. Lastly, all of the tools lock on the TTi, which is a much safer way to operate. And it is manly cool.
- Nikon D400: I know I don’t need it, but I do want it. I mean, what I’d really like to have is a D3s, but we’re staying real here… I’ll be dreaming about what the D400 is…]
- Filters: I’d like to have a Graduated ND filter
What WAS in my bag?
As I move things out of my bag, this is the place to see what I thought of the “old” stuff…
- Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 ED: This was the “two-ring” version, a venerable but still-in-production pro-quality long zoom. It used to be the pinnacle of the product line before the 80-200 AFS replaced it, followed later by the 70-200 VRI and VRII zooms. It delivers incredible optics, sharpness and low-light performance. It feels like a piece of military hardware – you can tell this is made for professionals. That is also code-talk for a big ol’ heavy lens, but it is completely worth it. I’d buy this one over any long zoom from Tamron or Sigma. If you can get one of the newer 70-200 f/2.8 lenses (which are both $1500 used) they are certainly better, but this thing is a steal for the money. I loved it, but ultimately the weight lead me to the 70-200 f/4.
- Flip UltraHD video camera: Quick and easy video – surprisingly good. At least it was until my son left it outside to get rained on… [UPDATE – after months of sitting in my office, my wife asked me to see if I could recover the video that was on the camera so we could throw it away. I wasn’t optimistic. When I put new batteries in it, it would power up briefly and then shut off. I plugged it into my ThinkPad, pressed the power button and to my amazement it showed up on the desktop. I copied all the movies, and since then it appears to work fine. Sound and video are just as good as before. Amazing…]
- Nikon D90: If there was ever a bargain for the Enthusiast Photographer, this camera is it. As I write this, they are selling for around $400 used, about $350 less than a used D7000 that replaced it. Sure the D7000 does pretty much everything better, but you can get a 35mm f/1.8 new or a used Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 for that difference and still have enough for a nice meal.