Portrait & Travel PhotographySubscribe Now

Gear

 

Camera Gear

I settled on Nikon gear when I switched from film to digital cameras. My logic was pretty simple.  I knew that I was going to buy either a Canon or a Nikon camera.  Either was capable of providing great results, and each one had a good collection of lenses.  Essentially, they were the two major players that provided complete systems.  What was the ultimate factor that made my decision?  I went to the store and held each one in my hand.  The Nikon felt better. That’s no little thing when you consider how much time you’re going to spend holding your camera. You need to let it melt away from your thoughts, so something that doesn’t feel right in your hand could become a distraction when you’re trying to take a photograph.

Over the years, I’ve become even more enamored with Nikon.  The Creative Lighting System (CLS) is a very useful tool to trigger off-camera flash while using TTL metering.  Although this wasn’t always the case, Nikon has lower noise at high ISO than Canon.  The Nikon lenses are spectacular and offer a wide range of possibilities. To top it all off, I just like the sound of a Nikon shutter click better than Canon.  It doesn’t make my photos any better (or worse), but it’s satisfying to me.

Nikon D700

Nikon D700

Nikon MB-D10

Nikon MB-D10

Nikon D700

Amazon: (link)
B&H: (link)

My main camera body is the Nikon D700 with the MB-D10 battery grip. It uses a full-frame sensor, which I’ve learned to appreciate much more than the crop-sensor cameras. There’s a bit of a myth that crop-sensor cameras give you more reach, or multiply the focal length of your lens.  That’s nonsense.   If you look at the same subject using the same focal length with a full frame and crop-sensor camera, the subject will not seem any closer to you on the crop-sensor.  Instead, you’ll see that it quite literally crops off a part of each side of the image before you take a shot. A full frame camera allows you more room for your composition. That room allows you to get closer to your subject, which can be a lifesaver if you’re shooting in a limited space. Another reason I like the full frame sensor is that it does a better job of limiting noise in high ISO images. I wouldn’t take my older crop-sensor camera above ISO 800 due to the noise problems, but I can get useful images up to ISO 6400 with the D700.

The battery grip solves a few problems for me.  The first is obvious, in that it provides longer battery life for shooting. With that extra power, the grip allows the camera to shoot at 8 frames per second, instead of the native 5 frames per second when only using the body. Finally, the additional controls allow me to keep a better body posture when shooting vertically.  Without the grip, I have to reach around to click the shutter, which moves my arm away from my body and reduces my support grip.  With the MB-D10, I can keep my arms close to my body supporting the camera to easily control my focus point and hit the shutter.

Nikon MB-D10 Battery Grip

B&H: (link)

Nikon P7000

Nikon P7000

Nikon Coolpix P7000

Amazon: (link)

The Nikon P7000 is a very compact point & shoot camera, but it retains many capabilities found in DSLR cameras.  It writes to RAW files, so I retain all of the information captured. The auto-exposure bracketing captures up to 5 exposures, which is perfect for HDR.  The focal length ranges from an equivalent of 28-300mm of a full frame camera. It has manual controls, so I can specify the exposure I want as opposed to relying upon some pre-programmed mode. This thing even has a built-in neutral density filter! The hotshot on top of the camera fits my Nikon flashes, and works fine with the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS).

The reason I like this camera is because I can capture great images in a lightweight package. Like all point & shoot cameras, it has some shutter lag.  It’s not something that will work for action scenes. However, it’s perfect for capturing landscapes and other travel scenes without attracting too much attention. There are some places that will refuse your ability to bring a DSLR because it’s a “professional” camera, but they’ll allow me to bring a point & shoot.  The joke is on them, because this thing takes great photos, too.

Nikon updated this model with the Nikon P7100 and discontinued the P7000. I haven’t felt a need to upgrade this one yet, but the P7100 does everything my older unit does and adds some improvements. The key for me was its ability to support manual exposure control and auto-exposure bracketing.

Nikon GP-1

Nikon GP-1

Nikon GP-1 GPS Unit

Amazon: (link)
B&H: (link)

Most of my photos are tagged with GPS information. Although I like the idea of seeing my images appear on a map, the purpose behind it is to help other folks discover where to get their own shot of the scene. I know some photographers are loathe to tell others where they got a great photo, but I take the opposite approach. Even if you stand in the exact same spot that I did, you’re not going to come away with the same photo.  The weather will change, the time of day or night may be different.  You’ll compose the scene in your own way, select your own aperture or focal length.  All of those variables pretty much guarantee that we won’t end up with the same result, so why not share?

It uses the 10-pin connector to attach to your camera and embeds the GPS data in your photos. You can attach a Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release cable for a shutter release, which is what I use for my auto-exposure brackets.

The GP-1 has a cold shoe so it can sit in your camera’s hotshot for convenience, but it doesn’t need to be there if you also want to use it with a flash, Pocket Wizard, or some other hot shoe accessory. It draws power from your camera’s battery. I haven’t found this to be an issue, but perhaps that’s another advantage I get from using the MB-D10 battery grip.

Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release

Amazon: (link)
B&H: (link)

Nikon Lenses

 

Nikkor-70-200mm

Nikkor-70-200mm

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

See my full review with plenty of sample images.

I’m not sure who names these lenses at Nikon, but that’s a mouthful to pronounce. I own the previous version of this lens with the original VR, but the 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II is the current version with an improved Vibration Reduction system and it corrects a bit of vignetting on full-frame cameras, as happens with my original copy.

I’m going to say something here that I can repeat on my other comments about Nikon lenses that I own – this lens is phenomenal! It’s wicked sharp! It focuses quickly. Using the VR, I can still get sharp images in low light or while bouncing around on truck shooting wildlife (OK, Disney wildlife).

This lens is a workhorse. Solid construction with a metal barrel, which means it can take some knocks, but also weighs in at roughly 3.5 pounds. You can extend the focal length of this lens using one of Nikon’s tele-converter, like the Nikon TC-17E 1.7 converter that I use to increase the maximum range from 200mm to 340mm. It maintains an f/2.8 aperture through the entire focal range (though the aperture drops a bit when using a teleconverter). The front element accepts 77mm filters, which is a common size.

Nikon TC-17E Tele-converter

Amazon: (link)
B&H: (link)

I use the 70-200 lens for portraits, action (concerts, sports) and landscape photography. The advantage of its long focal length compresses features together, which makes for more flattering portraits & landscapes.  Here are a couple of examples.

 

Classic Beauty Shot of Female Model

Wormsloe Plantation's Oak Avenue

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED AF-S

Amazon price: (Nikon 24-70mm lens)
B&H price: (Nikon 24-70mm lens)

See my full review of the Nikon 24-70mm lens.

The Nikon 24-70 is another phenomenal lens. Like the 70-200 mentioned above, it maintains its f/2.8 aperture through its entire focal range. It doesn’t use a VR system, but the the kind of vibration you get from hand-holding a lens is less pronounced as focal range decreases, so it’s less of an issue on this lens than on a telephoto lens.

This is my go-to lens in most circumstances. It’s wide enough to encompass a scene at the 24mm end of the zoom range, and 70mm starts to get you into the portrait range. That’s not to say that I don’t think of this as a portrait lens, but rather, I think of it as an environment lens. In other words, it’s good for capturing a scene or an environmental portrait where I want to show my subject in context with his or her environment.

The lens works great in low-light, thanks to its constant f/2.8 aperture throughout the focal range. It’s very sharp and doesn’t give me problems with lens flare. I find it’s great for covering events, since I can get a wide shot or zoom in a bit close on a subject, making it the perfect walk-about lens. Like the 70-200, this lens also uses a 77mm thread for filters.

Here are a couple of examples using the Nikon 24-70mm lens.

Female model in short dress reclining

A view of the French pavilion in Epcot

Nikon-14-24mm

Nikon-14-24mm

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S

Amazon price: (Nikon 14-24mm lens)
B&H price: (Nikon 14-24mm lens)

See My Full Review of Nikon 14-24mm Lens

The Nikon 14-24mm lens is an ultra-wide angle lens. It’s a specialty piece that I use when I want to show the grandeur of a place. Like the other two lenses mentioned above, this one also has a constant f/2.8 aperture through its entire focal range. It doesn’t have Vibration Reduction like the 70-200, but you hardly need it with such a short focal length.

One of the first things you notice when you hold this lens is the front element looks like a bulb sticking out of the casing. It won’t accept traditional filters due to its curved design.  There are some specialty filters on the market now to adapt to this lens, but I haven’t tried working with them.

As I mentioned, it is an ultra-wide angle lens, which means you can get very close to your subjects and still fit them into the photo.  That’s good when you have little room to operate on a large subject. On the other hand, it tends to show its lens distortion in the final image. For example, you can see objects on the edges lean in toward the center. It’s not quite a fisheye perspective, but you face some of the same kinds of distortion images. Some of that you can correct in post processing, or you can use it to creative effect in your photos.

As I said, I like to use it on grand subjects, so here are a few examples.

Enola Gay in the National Air & Space Museum

View from the top of Hoover Dam

The interior of NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building

Lighting Gear

One of the joys of photography is learning how to control the light on your subject.  Come to think of it, that’s also one of the biggest frustrations of photography – but it doesn’t have to be so! Lighting is nothing mystical. We can create beautiful light with small flash or larger studio units, so I have a little of each type.

Nikon SB-900

Nikon SB-900

Nikon SB-900 Speedlight Flash

B&H: (link)

I use Nikon SB-900 speed lights, but the current version is the SB-910.  Not to worry, it does the same thing.  It puts out a bright flash of light. I told you this lighting stuff was easy.

Why do I use Nikon Speedlights? It’s because of the Creative Lighting System (CLS). That allows me to use off-camera flash while still communicating with my camera for TTL exposure. The flash & the camera talk to each other as long as you maintain a line of sight between the sensor on your flash and your camera’s flash (or controller). For short distances, it works rather well.

These speed lights also have a PC Sync port, so I can attach a radio trigger to use them at longer distances, or in places that are not within line of sight. The difference is that most radio triggers won’t work with TTL, so you lose some of that automatic flash power adjustment.

When using CLS, I can control it from the back of my camera. That means I can set it to TTL and let the camera decide how much power it should output, or I can put it in Manual mode and specifically control how much power to flash. If I’m running around and changing my distance from flash to subject quite a bit, I’ll use TTL.  If I’m in a place where I can maintain my flash to subject distance, I’d rather go with Manual power control to maintain consistency. The Nikon SB-900 (or SB-910) offers that kind of flexibility in a powerful, lightweight package.

So how is the light? It’s just fine, but so are many other flashes. I chose this unit because of its capabilities to trigger and control it’s output. The light modifiers you use matter more for how the light falls on your subject, though.  Here are a couple of examples of light from this small flash.

Golden Retriever in black & white

Kelsey Royal Gindlesberger

 

Elinchrom BXRi 500

Elinchrom BXRi 500

Elinchrom BXRi 500 To Go Kit

Amazon: (link)
B&H: (link)

I tried using different studio lighting before I settled on the Elinchrom BXRi 500system. I bought a kit with two 500 watt lights, stands, small soft boxes and a Skyport radio trigger.  One of the main reasons I chose Elinchrom is because it has consistent color temperature at different power levels.  I tried some Alien Bees gear, but noticed that the color shifted as I changed the power level of the lights – not good.

Another factor that swayed me toward Elinchrom is the built-in Skyport radio receiver in each head. That meant I didn’t have to buy a PocketWizard or some other radio trigger for each light (adding to my cost), but it also provided another great benefit. You can control the power output of these lights from the Skyport transceiver on your camera in 1/10th stop increments. That doesn’t seem like much until you have the light in place and you realize that you don’t have to climb a ladder to change it, or worse, move the light out of position so you can reach it and hope you put it back in the right place. Power control on the camera is a wonderful thing.

Something I realized later is just how much I love the Elinchrom light modifiers.  The Rotalux soft boxes easily open & close without major assembly each time you use them – almost like opening an umbrella. They mount easily, too.  The soft boxes have interior and exterior baffles to give a good spread of light. Some, like the Elinchrom Beauty Dish, have a concave deflector that catches the light from the flash bulb, re-directs it backward into the modifier, and then allows it to spread evenly on its path to your subject – no hot spots in the center.

My Elinchrom Light Modifiers

Here are a few examples:

High Key Headshot of Female Model

Female Model in dramatic lighting

Elinchrom Skyport

Elinchrom Skyport

 Elinchrom Skyport Tranceivers

Amazon: (link)
B&H: (link)

The Skyport transceivers work with the BXRi lights, but they can also connect to any flash with a PC Sync port. They just won’t control the power output. I bought an extra pair of these to work with my Nikon SB-900 speed lights when I want to use them in conjunction with the Elinchrom lights, or when I need to trigger them by radio.

They’ve proven themselves easy to use & reliable.  You can adjust the frequency to avoid conflict with other Elinchrom Skyport users, which has happened to me a time or two. The transceiver uses a common battery you can find at Best Buy or Radio Shack, but the receivers have rechargeable batteries inside.  I’m not sure why they aren’t both rechargeable, but battery life hasn’t been a problem for me.  I can shoot all day without wearing them down.

 

Wacom Intuos5 tablet

Wacom Intuos5 tablet

Wacom Intuos5 Tablet

Amazon: (link)
B&H: (link)

See my review of the Wacom Intuos5 Tablet

I owned the Intuos4 tablet before this one, but the Intuos5 really raises the bar and changes how I interact with my computer.  That’s because it acts both as a pen & tablet, and also as a multi-touch trackpad. I used to love my Apple Magic Mouse, but it’s gathering dust now. There’s just no need for a mouse.  If I need precision, I use the pen on the tablet. When I want to use simple sliding or gestures, the large space of the tablet becomes a trackpad and offers much more room to control than the top of a Magic Mouse.

If you haven’t used a pen & tablet before, it may take some adjustment.  Yes, you have the comfortable feeling of a pen in your hands, but the part that requires some adjustment is your hand/eye coordination.  Unlike working with a pen & paper, you aren’t looking at the place where the pen touches the surface (unless you want to buy a CintiqHD).  Adapting to this aspect of tablet use took me a few days.  Once you get over that hump, you realize that the control offered by the pen’s pressure sensitivity and specific control is far superior to using a mouse.

The only question left is determining which size to buy.  That’s an individual preference. Although I had the Medium sized Intuos4 tablet, I decided to go with the Small size for the Intuos5. The difference has to do with what movements you make and how far you reach to move the cursor on-screen.  I find that using the Small sized tablet means I only have to move my wrist.  With the Medium, it was a matter of moving at my elbow. The Large size would require even more movement.  In my case, I like the finer control of the Small size.  Others find it too constraining. The right size depends upon how you like to move the pen.

On the other hand, the Small size is much more convenient to pack if you travel.  Some people have different sizes for home and travel.