Photographic equipment is a dynamic thing. Not that long ago, everyone was shooting film.
Nature professionals and those shooting for magazines shot slide film. Kodachrome gave way to Ektachrome. Landscape photographers switched en masse to Fuji Velvia.
Now, everything is digital. Even before film died, manual focus gave way to autofocus. More changes are coming. Mirrorless cameras are now in vogue, but I have not yet switched.
I list my equipment below, but one does not need a huge stockpile of professional equipment to get great shots.
Phone technology is good enough to produce high-quality books. If you think I am mistaken, then please consider That Tree by Mark Hirsch, a full color, 192-page hardcover book documenting a year in the life of a lonely Bur oak tree.
That said, the right equipment helps. Most of these images on this website could not have been taken with a phone.
Mish Equipment List
- EOS 5D Mark IV as of early 2017. Previously I used a Canon EOS 6D. Both are excellent cameras.
- Canon 16-35MM F4 L Lens: If I had to pick one lens and one lens only, this lens would be at the top of the list. I see things from a wide angle perspective.
- Canon 24-105MM F4 L Lens: If I had to pick two lenses only, this lens and the one preceding would be clear standouts. 80% of the images I take are between 16mm and 105mm. If you are into sports, or wildlife photography neither of these lenses would be at the top of your list.
- Canon 11-24 F4.0 L lens: This lens is a new replacement for the 14MM lens shown below. It is the best wide angle zoom lens in the world. Period. Yes, it is very expensive. It is sharp in the corners, little or no astigmatism, or other common zoom lens flaws. At 11-24 MM it is the widest zoom lens around and it is sharp.
- Canon 14MM F2.8 L Lens: This is a fixed focal length lens, not a zoom. If you think there is not much difference between 16MM and 14MM you are mistaken. This lens does not accept filters in the front, but it does have a gel filter holder in the back. I use a 3×3 Kodak Wratten 1.0 Gel Neutral Density filter which reduces light by 3 stops. You only need a tiny piece of the filter and will have to cut it to size. Neutral density filters come in very handy when photographing waterfalls. Click on the preceding link for an example.
- Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L Tilt-Shift Lens: This is a fixed focal length lens, not a zoom. It has tilt/shift capability that I primarily use in shift mode. If you are familiar with the unsightly effect of pointing up at trees or buildings, you can correct that distortion by shifting the lens up rather than pointing the camera up.
- Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens: This is a fixed focal length lens, not a zoom. It has tilt/shift capability that I primarily use in shift mode. As above, if you are familiar with the unsightly effect of pointing up at trees or buildings, you can correct that by shifting the lens up rather than pointing the camera up. This is a newer lens and better lens than the 24 MM above. It is an excellent architectural lens. If choosing between the two T/S lenses, take this one. You can always crop, but it is difficult to add what isn’t captured.
- Rokinon 24MM F1.4 Lens: This is a super-fast fixed focal length lens. It is entirely manual, including the aperture ring. Numerous photographers have gone to this lens specifically for night photography. It is far less expensive than a similar Canon lens, and it has less distortion, wide open. People are using this lens on Nikon and Sony as well. It is amazing that major manufacturers have not overcome these distortions, but they haven’t. For a discussion of this lens, please see Monument Valley: Yei Bi Chei Milky Way and Sand dunes.
- Rokinon 14MM f2.8 Lens: Similar to the above. Prose use this lens because it is better coma-corrected than Canon’s 14MM lens that costs far more.
- Canon 100MM Macro F 2.8 Lens: This is a fixed focal length macro lens. It’s excellent for butterflies and small insects. I like macro photography but as a landscape photographer, this lens actually gets little use.
- Canon 100-400 MM F 4.5-5.6 L Lens: This is my big gun. It would not be the top choice for most sports photographers, bird photographers, or big game photographers. It is heavy at 55.4 ounces. Add in the flexible case and it’s over 3.5 pounds. That seems very heavy but it’s nowhere near as heavy as faster alternatives. If you are using ball and socket heads (see description below), I strongly recommend the Really Right Stuff LCF-54 Foot for the lens.
- Filters: B+W XS-Pro Kaesemann High Transmission Circular Polarizer and a set of B+W Neutral Density Filters. My B+W ND filters are of strength 3.0 (10 stops), 1.8 (6 stops), and 0.6 (2 stops). The filter size for most of my lenses is 77MM. Please check before you buy. I also have a series of Sing-Ray (Galen Rowell) graduated neutral density filters. I have size 84MM x 120MM. If I were to replace them I would get the next size up, 100MM x 150MM. Before digital came along I would have labeled the graduated ND filters mandatory. Now I seldom use them unless the setup is near perfect (typically over water or a flat plateau). Use of graduated ND filters in most other conditions create as many problems as they solve. Digital Lightroom filters offer much more control, allowing someone to add stops of light while simultaneously limiting the effect in shadow areas. I see photographers using graduated filters all the time, when better digital techniques would serve them better. Still, these can be very useful at times. I hand hold them rather than use a filter holder. Canon’s 14MM lens does not accept filters in the front, but it does have a gel filter holder in the back. See the above discussion on the 14MM L lens.
- Tripod: Manfrotto MT190CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber Tripod. This tripod is easily sturdy enough for my longest lens. It has a load capacity of 15.4 pounds, extends to 63 inches, has a folded length of 24 inches, and can get within 3.5 inches of the ground. I prefer 2 segment legs and clamp style action which this model has as features.
- Ball Head: Really Right Stuff BH-30 Ball Head with Compact Lever-Release Clamp. This model easily supports my longest, heaviest lens. If you have super-fast, super-long lenses you may need something a bit heaver. RRS has excellent equipment, and it really is “really right”. RRS ball heads are expensive, but worth the price. To go with the ball heads you will also need a camera plate. I recommend Really Right Stuff L-Plates because they can be used in either horizontal or vertical mode. The plates are camera specific, so get the right one for your camera. If you have the Canon-100-400 MM lens I mention above, I also recommend the Really Right Stuff LCF-54 Foot for the lens. RRS also makes great tripods, but for my money, Manfrotto carbon fiber tripods are a far better choice for the price. I also prefer Manfrotto clamps vs. RRS tripod twist rings.
- Full Backpack: Think Tank Photo Airport Commuter Backpack. This is a fantastic backpack. It holds most of my equipment and it does fit in planes.
- Lighter Backpack: CamelBak Backpack. CamelBak makes a great hiking pack. The model I have is called HAWG NV. On B&H, the equivalent seems to be the Fourteener 24 22 L Hydration Backpack with 3L Reservoir. This is a wonderfully light pack and it comes with a water hydration system. It is well constructed and I am not worried about leakage. Pick one that meets your needs. In addition to 3 liters of water, the backpack will hold a couple of lenses, batteries, a flashlight, filters, ect., but not large lenses.
- Flashlight: Eagletac G25C2 Mark II Flashlight. That is my “light painting” flashlight. I bought the diffuser for it as well. If you are into night photography and light painting, try it. You won’t be disappointed. I also carry regular flashlights because I am often on the trail late, hiking back from obscure locations well after sunset.
- Printer: Canon PIXMA PRO-100 Wireless Inkjet Photo Printer. The PRO-100 prints at 4800 x 2400 DPI. An 8 by 10-page prints in about 51 seconds. If using Lightroom, make sure to install the plug-in. Don’t run out of Pixma PRO-100 Ink. I use Canon Glossy Photo Paper
I weighed all of the above items and miscellaneous things in my pack like batteries, a flash, flashlights etc, and the weight tops well over 40 pounds, not including the tripod or printer.
Equipment helps, but only if one can carry it to where one is going, and then get there on time.
Having a photographic eye and “being there” is far more important than any specific item.
While hiking, I usually have my EOS 6D with a 16-35 lens hanging around my neck via a neoprene camera strap. On my back, I have a Camelbak pack with a 24-105 lens, a flashlight, spare battery, polarizer, graduated ND filters (they are very light), perhaps a flash, perhaps a T/S lens, perhaps the Rokinon lens for night photography, and perhaps a sandwich. I always have water, which sometimes my wife Liz graciously carries, and sometimes in the Camelbak.
My packs have just what I believe I will need. In my hand, I carry my tripod. This is a setup I can hike with all day.
Canon’s EOS 5D Mark IV camera provides better noise reduction, better dynamic range, better autofocusing, better video capability, and 50% more pixels than mu EOS 6D. It is on my buy list for 2017.
George Lepp at Outdoor Photographer did a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Review on November 29, 2016. I have been reading George Lepp and Outdoor Photographer for decades and recommend a subscription to Outdoor Photographer.
Word About B&H
Every item on my equipment list came from B&H except the Eagletac flashlight, the ballhead and plates from Really Right Stuff, and the Camelbak backpack. B&H did not carry Really Right Stuff items when I purchased them.
In December of 2016, I joined the B&H affiliate program. That means I make a tiny percent if you buy from them, using the links above. But I did not join the program simply to make money. I joined the B&H program because I like the way they do business.
Elsewhere, you may see “unbelievable” prices on cameras and lenses. But you will never get such items at the prices promised. Unbelievable prices means unbelievable delays. Items at unbelievable prices will perpetually be out of stock, and the sales person will attempt to persuade you to buy something else that is “just as good”. Reputable stores do not play such games.
I tried other places long ago, but B&H is prompt, courteous, and has an excellent return policy. If you have questions, they will help you. For years now, if B&H carried the item I wanted, I bought from them. B&H’s customer service and return policy explains why.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock