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.
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My main body these days is the Nikon D800 (now replaced with the Nikon D810). It’s a 36 mexapixel camera that creates wonderfully large images with excellent detail. The files take up a fair amount of space, meaning that you won’t get as many photos on your memory card as with some smaller resolution cameras, but the excellent detail of those images, not to mention the freedom of working with greater resolution, more than makes up for the extra space.
The Nikon D800/D810 is something that I call the thinker’s camera. It doesn’t have a fast frame-rate to keep firing off shots. If you want to shoot sports or events that require burst photography, look elsewhere. This is the camera you use when you’re carefully contemplating the final result. I rarely use it in burst mode. With all the data is has to write, it just wasn’t designed to be a spray and pray camera body.
However, it’s a remarkable portrait, travel, landscape and detail camera. The sensor does a great job in low light and picks up a greater dynamic range than any other camera I’ve used.
Paired with Nikon lenses, it usually tops the DxO charts for high quality results. It produces photos so beautiful that I just want to lick them.
Nikon MD-D12 Battery Grip
Believe me, you want a battery grip.
The battery grip solves a few problems for me. The first is obvious, in that it provides longer battery life for shooting. Typically, a battery grip also improves your frame rate for burst mode shooting. That isn’t as much of an issue for me when using the Nikon D800/D810, though.
Where is helps is due to 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-D12, I can keep my arms close to my body supporting the camera to easily control my focus point and hit the shutter.
My main camera body is the Nikon D700 with the Nikon MB-D10 Multi Power Battery Pack. This is an older model camera body. You can still get it at a low price compared to the new models and take some wonderful photos. If you’re looking for the modern replacement, I would recommend the Nikon D750 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body
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.
Nikon MB-D10 Battery Grip
You get the same benefits here as with the other battery grip mentioned above, the Nikon MB-D10 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.
As mentioned in the paragraph about the MB-D12, a battery grip really does help assist your posture and ability to support your camera.
Nikon Coolpix P7000/P7100
The Nikon P7000/P7100 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 COOLPIX 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.
The image below is a sample from one of my HDR photos using the Nikon P7000.
Despite having plenty of choices for lenses, I prefer using Nikon lenses. My experience with 3rd party lenses have generally shown some kind of issue that bothered me.
When I tried a Sigma 24-70 lens, it produced great results. The problem was the factors that annoyed me while using it. The auto-focus was loud and slow. It had to hunt a few times to lock onto my subject.
That just isn’t the case with my Nikon glass. It’s very silent, quick and effective. Are the images sharper? My eye didn’t see much of a difference, but the experience I had using the two lenses really made me appreciate my Nikon glass. It’s practically invisible where the Sigma was a bit of a fight.
I don’t want distractions from my gear while shooting, which is why I’ve stayed with Nikon.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor Zoom Lens
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.
Nikon TC-17E Tele-converter
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 of the Nikon 70-200mm lens accepts 77mm filters, which is a common filter size.
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.
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED AF-S
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.
Nikon recently announced a version of this lens with VR, just like it has on the 70-200mm lens. I haven’t tried the VR version, but here’s a link to it on Amazon if you want to consider getting a copy of this lens with VR. My experience with VR on the Nikon 70-200mm lens has been a great benefit and it works very well to get shots at slow shutter speeds that would otherwise be blurry.Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR AF-S NIKKOR Zoom Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras
Here are a couple of examples using the Nikon 24-70mm lens.
Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S
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.
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-910 Speedlight Flash
I use Nikon SB-910 speed lights. If you aren’t used to working with external lighting, don’t worry. 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 PocketWizard 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. Not so with the PocetWzard triggers that I use.. We’ll talk about them later.
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-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.
PocketWizard MiniTT1/FlexTT5 & AC3 Zone Controller
PocketWizard radio triggers have a solid reputation for reliability. There are different versions of the triggers, but the model I prefer is a combination of the MiniTT1 receiver and FlexTT5 transceiver.
Why two different models? It’s pretty simple.
The PocketWizard MiniTT1 is a transmitter that sits in your camera hotshoe. It understands the Nikon CLS signal sent from the camera via the hotshoe. CLS is the name for the process that meters your subject through the lens (TTL) and decides how much flash power you need to make a proper exposure, based upon your current exposure settings in-camera.
Unlike other radio triggers, the MiniTT1 understands CLS signals that tell it how much flash power to use when it fires. You’re no longer bound by line-of-site lightwaves to trigger your flashes with CLS. Now you can hide those lights behind objects, around corners and other obscure places with the confidence that they will still fire.
The PocketWizard FlexTT5 is a different beast. As a transceiver, you attach these puppies to each flash. It catches the radio signal and translates the CLS information to tell the flash how much power to use.
You also get more flexibility to use HyperSync, which allows you to sync your flash up to 1/8000th of a second shutter speed. Have you ever run into a scenario where you wanted to use flash, but you needed an ambient light exposure above the typical sync speed of 1/250th of a second? HyperSync lets you do away with that restriction. Even if I don’t have a line-of-sight issue, I’ll still use the PocketWizard triggers just for the combination of reliability and flexibility it provides.
The last piece of the puzzle is the AC3 Zone Controller. This little device allows you to separate your lights into three different zones, each with different flash power output. You can use CLS to drive your flash in TTL or Manual power, giving you complete creative control for the situation.
Canon users also have versions of these products from PocketWizard, so please make sure that you buy the product that works with your brand of camera. If you’re shooting something other than Nikon or Canon, it doesn’t look like PocketWizard has a version of these tools to work for you. However, you can use the PocketWizard PlusX or PocketWizard III with any type of flash and get great results in manual mode. Just remember that you need one on your hotshoe to trigger the other unit on your flash.
Elinchrom BXRi 500 To Go Kit
I tried using different studio lighting before I settled on the Elinchrom BXR 500 system. I bought a kit with two 500 watt lights, stands, small soft boxes and a Skyport radio trigger. You can also get the kit with a pair of 250 watt light. Elinchrom EL 20757.2 250/500 BRX Kit
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
- Elinchrom EL 26168 17-Inch 80 Degree Mini Softlite White Reflector w/Silver & Gold Deflectors
- Elinchrom EL 26185 Rotalux 39-Inch Deep Throat Octagonal Softbox with 2 Diffusers
- Elinchrom EL 26184 Rotalux 53-Inch Junior Octagonal Softbox with 2 Diffusers
- Elinchrom EL 26175 24 x 31.5 Inch Rotalux Strip Softbox
- Elinchrom EL 26141 8-1/4-Inch 50 Degree Standard Reflector
- Elinchrom EL 26051 8-1/4-Inch Complete Honeycomb Grid Set
Here are a few examples:
Elinchrom Skyport Tranceivers
The Skyport transceivers work with the BXR 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-910 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
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. The link I provided above is for a Small Intros 5, but you may prefer the Medium or Large size. It’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.
Think Tank Bags
Once you get a bunch of gear, you need a place to put it. My main bag is the Think Tank Airport Takeoff. I’ve tried a lot of different camera bags and nothing else compares to ThinkTank for quality and durability. My Airport Takeoff is as ugly as any well used suitcase can be, but it isn’t wearing out.
You get a plethora of velcro dividers to create whatever compartments you want for your gear. There are two see-through zipper pouches inside the cover. There’s room for a 15″ MacBook Pro on the outside pouch.
The wheels may not seem like an exciting feature of a rolling bag, but these are top notch wheels. They roll smoothly year after year for me. The only thing that would make this bag better would be to have four wheels instead of just two.
Thanks why I bought a Think Tank Airport 4-Sight bag. It’s slightly smaller than the TakeOff, but it has four wheels. Everything else I mentioned is pretty much the same. Rugged design, make your own compartments and beat the snot out of it for years while it protects your gear.
What’s so important about four wheels? It’s just an extraordinarily convenient way to glide through an airport. Let’s face it, photography gear can get heavy. Even with two wheels, you feel the weight of your bag when you lean it forward and start lugging it along. You’re pulling the weight.
When you use a four wheel bag, the weight stays centered over the wheels. You don’t have to lug the weight. Just get it moving and steer it around all those other travelers you have to dodge in the airport. It’s really a wonderful luxury that you accept right away. Every wheeled bag should have four wheels. Trust me.
Sometimes you just can’t roll with it. Think Tank makes a lot of different backpack style bags. Technically, the Airport Takeoff I mentioned above can double as a backpack. There’s a pocket to open on the top and you can pull out some backpack straps. Just because you could doesn’t mean you should, though. That bag gets awfully heavy when fully loaded.
When I need to go where the wheels don’t roll, I use my Think Tank Photo Airport Accelerator. Just like the other bags mentioned above, it’s tough, reliable, flexible organizable and downright awesome. The straps are padded and comfortable. They do a good job of distributing the weight evenly and are adjustable.
In case you can’t tell, I’m a big fan of Think Tank bags.
More To Come…
Thanks for checking out my photography gear. Please check back occasionally, because the list is always growing and changing. I’ll be adding some more sections with my Nikon Prime lenses and a few other tools that help me capture the images I want.
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