People ask me a lot about my gear and about gear they should get, so I'm going to do two posts to cover that. This post is about the gear I currently use.
Research & Buy Gear
I buy almost everything except fresh groceries from Amazon. I will sometimes make big photography purchases at local stores to help support them, but the prices can be considerably higher.
I have two main resources for research and learning. There are a lot of other great sites out there, but unless you are already a serious photography nerd, these should cover far more than you need to get started.
Comprehensive Reviews: https://www.dpreview.com
Laboratory Lens Tests: https://www.dxomark.com
My Experience With Gear
I've been a photographer for 25 years. I've worked as a journalist, academically in high school and college, I've worked as an artist doing work privately and publicly, and I've studied photography both in and out of school. Photography is mostly a life long hobby of mine, but like all my hobbies I enjoy learning about it as much as engaging in it. For that reason, I tend to know a lot about the gear. I started upgrading to new equipment in June of 2015, so my notes are based mostly on that experience and timeframe, but modern digital camera gear tends to have a good competitive lifespan with newer models, and anything you buy today should still be great for decades.
I've been a Nikon guy for 20 years.
All the big brands are awesome, though, and modern digital cameras all have a lot of features to differentiate themselves. Any brand you go with will be great, but keep in mind that if you are familiar with a brand, you'll be at least somewhat familiar with that brand's other cameras and gear. Further, if you have old gear, you can often use it with new gear. Nikon is probably the best at this, still allowing you to use lenses from 50+ years ago on their most current cameras. Although lenses and flashes and some other gear will work decades apart from release, there are often trade offs. Old lenses will likely require manual focus, and many features on old flashes will typically not work right with a current camera. You can still take great pictures, but some of the automation and advanced features of modern digital photography will be lost.
I currently shoot with the Nikon D750. I occasionally still use an older D100 for some specialty photography (mainly infrared), and I also have a Nikon Coolpix AW130 waterproof camera for shooting in liquid.
The D750 has just about every feature you could imagine, is endlessly customizable, takes photos you can blow up on the side of a building, and is rugged enough to drag through the jungle where it's wet and muddy. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best camera ever made for the price, and a lot of other people have said so too. It's overkill if you're new to photography, and you might get overwhelmed with it's features quickly.
Some of the major selling points for me were that it's got a full frame sensor, it's weather sealed, it takes pictures in near darkness (a stop or two darker than most of it's competitors) giving it fantastic dynamic range, and it has a full line of manual features.
This review will tell you more than I ever could.
Buy the D750 on Amazon (you won't beat the price).
This is a great waterproof camera with a big sensor compared to others in it's class (generally, meaning better images) . It's missing a lot of features I love to have on my cameras, but so are all in this size and class. Getting a waterproof kit for an SLR like my D750 can be thousands of dollars, so ... currently, it's out of my budget.
This is my primary lens. It's on my camera almost all the time. using a fixed focal length lens is not for everyone, and I encourage new photographers to try out different focal lengths, but the 50mm f1.4 will work for almost any situation and this particular lens takes some of the most buttery images that I've ever seen. It's awesome in low light, has incredible depth of field, and is small and light when on my camera. Buy it used or refurbished for $250-350.
Tamron SP 70-200MM F/2.8 DI VC USD | BUY
I almost always use this lens for my professional portrait work. It zooms from 70mm to 200mm, and takes crystal clear, low distortion, buttery as hell, delicious images. It's got fast autofocus, and image stabilization. Nikon makes a similar lens but it's twice as much and arguably the same quality all around. You can get this lens in great condition, refurbished or used for $700-900.
This is my Macro lens. It's from the same brand and line of lenses as my 70-200mm above. 1:1 macro lenses let you reproduce the thing you are imaging at life size on the camera sensor. That means, I can get in really close to tiny things and blow them up with extreme clarity (think photographing a small insect and then putting him on a billboard).
It feels like you've been shooting with a microscope when you zoom in on these photos!! Macrophotography photographs literally open up a whole new world. This is not a necessary lens for general photography, but it allows many new perspectives to be explored visually. This lens is not available new everywhere anymore, but you can get it used in great condition for $350-450.
Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC | Buy
This lens is very cool looking with a big rounded front element. It's heavy (lots of glass), it's manual, and there is tons of distortion around the edges of it's pictures ... That being said, its as wide angle as you can get without going fisheye, and it lets in TONS of light when capturing big skies full of stars.
I use it a lot for fun because 14mms is just so strange for a human to peer through, but I bought it primarily for landscape photographs with lots of sky and astrophotography photographs. Here's a great article on astrophotography and lens selection.
As a side note, this manufacturer also sells under the brand name of Samyang. I think they are the same lenses
This is an awesome lens at a good price if you want a full-frame ultra-wide angle zoom. It's light, has low distortion for such wide angle, takes crystal clear shots, and has a pretty fast variable aperture for a zoom. I didn't use this lens very much, so I sold it, but I still highly recommend it for what it is.
Tripod / Monopod
MeFoto Aluminum A1350Q1RWB Roadtrip Travel Tripod | Buy
This is the best value tripod you can buy, hands down. It's very durable, constructed with extreme precision, has a ball mount quick release top with a swivel base for panoramic or video pans, and one of the legs comes off to become a mono-pod. It's not the lightest tripod, but you often don't want that. It even comes in a bunch of colors.
This is a modern, fully auto, computer controlled, super intelligent, AI driven Nikon Flash. You can put it on your camera and pictures will look great every time. You can control it off camera via magic messages sent from your on camera pop up flash ... cool!! I use it when I need a single good flash and I don't have time to set up lighting (think sports, candids, party pics, and just generally in the dark).
I am generally overwhelmed by features on this flash, and find the menu somewhat unintuitive because of that, so I usually just put it on full auto and hit the shutter release.
I have three of these. They are inexpensive, fully-manual flashes. You have to really understand lighting and exposure to use these effectively, but they have magic of their own. They work on-camera like any other flash, but they can ALSO be wirelessly controlled at hundreds of feet via an on camera wireless controller. All three of these flashes plus the wireless controller cost less than the single SB-700 above.
I use these for portrait work and artistic work when I need amazing lighting. I can toss them on flash stands, inside umbrellas, behind trees, under tables, etc... and get all kinds of crazy lighting setups in a hurry. These are incredible at twice the price.
Octagonal Umbrella Softbox | Buy
This is my go-to when I need artificial light, indoors and outdoors. Lighting can be as complex as you want, but having one of these setups will get you stunning photos every time, and for a total of about $150, you can get the softbox, a Yongnuo Flash & Controller (above), a flash stand, and a flash mount. Then you'll have extremely inexpensive professional level lighting anywhere you go. You can pay a LOT MORE for much better equipment but I'd gladly travel the world with this setup and be fine.
This is the light meter I use. Since digital SLRs now have great big screens, instant image metrics, and infinite shots for free, light meters are less necessary. If you're shooting really complex scenes with very dynamic lighting, then you'll want one of these. If you really want to nail subtle colors and lighting in portraits or still lifes, you'll want one of these. Generally speaking, however, I'd say you can usually do without it.
Rogue Colored Flash Gels | BUY
These are amazing and add tons of great color to any flash you put them on (They fit just about any standard flash). Gels are traditionally very expensive and have wonky mounting mechanisms. The rubber band holding solution in this kit is top notch!!
If you're going to do artistic flash work, these are a no brainer in the impulse buy range of <$30.
Audio / Video Accessories
I'm a very amateur videographer, but I have a few accessories that make a big difference when recording and that won't break the bank.
Audio-Technica ATR3350iS Microphone for Smartphones | Buy
This is a great lav mic that captures good audio into your camera, or more likely into a smart phone in the pocket of your subject. It's inexpensive and has great reviews.
Neewer 24"/60cm Handheld Stabilizer with Quick Release Plate |
With a little practice, this will allow you to capture pretty smooth motion shots. Without it, any video where your camera is moving will look horrible ... there's no other way to put it!!
Other Accessories of Note
You'll need and want some of these too.
Vivitar EN-EL15 Battery and Charger Kit for NIKON DSLR | Buy
These batteries work great and are half the price of the Nikon Battery. I get plenty of life out of them. Save some money.
SANDISK EXTREME PRO 64GB SDXC FLASH MEMORY CARD WITH UP TO 95MB/S | BUY
High speed at a great price. I can store ~1,100 RAW photographs on one of these on my Nikon D750.
When I was a kid, I used to regularly carry 24 rolls of Kodak Tmax 400 Black & White negative film around at a time. At 36 shots per roll, I could capture 864 "reversed light" images in a backpack.
The technological shift from light sensitive film to digital sensors has completely changed the art and brought it to billions of people with phones in their pockets.
Actual BILLIONS of photographs are posted to the internet every day (1,000,000,000+). It used to take days to develop negatives and photographs, now you can capture and share pictures and video in seconds. Excuse me while I take a selfie and then instantly update my profile picture for the entire world see.
PEAK DESIGN SLIDE CAMERA STRAP SL-2 | BUY
A little pricey for a neck strap, but it's extremely well made and well designed. Good quick-releases, attaches to a bunch of different spots on the camera, multisided, smooth / grippy, and easily adjustable to a bunch of lengths.
PEAK DESIGN CLUTCH CL-2 QUICK-ATTACHING, QUICK-ADJUSTING BLACK HAND STRAP | BUY
I had never used one of these. Now that I have one, I'll never go back. Having a secure grip on your camera when you don't have a neck strap on it is awesome, freeing, and reassuring. Neck straps are surprisingly annoying now.
I almost moved to Sony's Mirrorless Digital Cameras ...
I was on the fence between Nikon and Sony when I was upgrading my kit a year ago. I was extremely interested in the Mirrorless design. I think this is probably the direction professional digital cameras will all go, but the tech has some limitations at the moment and the cost was 50-100% higher for the same gear ... so I stuck with the classic SLR from Nikon.
Check out Zengineering Podcast
This is my podcast. We did a recent episode on Digital Photography, Cameras, Sensors, Lenses, and Optical Physics. Woo Hoo!!