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Photographic Equipment

I've read quotes from photographers I admire that basically state "photographers take great photos, not their equipment" and I certainly understand what they are saying, having myself had people ask me what I was using to get some of my photos like it was only the equipment that mattered. I therefore agree that planning, photographic technique, imagination and some luck have a lot to do with the results one gets. Having said that, it certainly helps to have good tools at your disposal to do your job.

Thoughts on some of the equipment I use in my photographic pursuits is provided below. It should be noted that my subjects are primarily landscapes and nature. I photograph birds and larger animals less frequently. On family trips in cities with interesting architecture or scenes I sometimes shoot cityscapes. Fast apertures are therefore not a requirement for a lot of what I photograph. I also try to use a tripod as often as possible, but time (not enough time to setup) or restrictions (buildings not permitting tripods) sometimes prevent their use and VR is a real advantage then.


Nikon D800

NikonD800imgMy first real camera was a Canon AE-1, which I used for family photos and occasional nature or landscape photography. When I got serious about photography in the late 1990's and decided I needed a replacement the choice between what system to use came down to two brands, Nikon and Canon.

The thing that actually decided it for me was Nikon's film bodies' ability to store exposure information that could later be extracted from the camera. It was a pain to mark your film canisters to sync up with the items in memory you downloaded to your computer but I wanted to record the information when I took my photos because I thought it would educate me.

My first Nikon film camera was a Nikon N90s, which worked well but I later decided I wanted a second body and I purchased the Nikon F100 after it was released. It was well built, fit my hands well, focused fast and true and its metering system was pretty good. I really loved that camera.

I enjoyed looking at slides created from my film bodies, but the opportunity to shoot digital was very attractive to me so I waited until a camera came along I could afford that I thought would provide something approaching my film cameras. That camera was the Nikon D100, which was actually quite an investment in 2002 for an amateur. The convenience of digital was compelling, but I actually liked the results obtained from my Nikon F100 better than my Nikon D100. Even with that being the case I took most photos with my Nikon D100 because it was so much more convenient and it provided me with an opportunity to review my work in the field.

I purchased a Nikon D2x in 2005. I didn't want to spend that much, but decided it would be worth it in the long run. The Nikon D2x was really well built. Besides the obvious difference in megapixels from the Nikon D100 (12 megapixels versus 6 megapixels) the Nikon D2x photographs seemed more film like to me. The only thing I had problems with using the Nikon D2x was its ISO performance. I never liked going about 400 ISO and I always tried to stay at 100 ISO if I could. Some of my best photos were taken with that camera, but I also wished for more megapixels because I wanted to print larger without as much compromise in sharpness.

When the Nikon D800 came out I purchased one immediately. I actually received mine in March 2012 when they were in short supply right before I went on a trip where I spent time in the San Francisco area and at Yosemite. The much greater detail the Nikon D800 provided was immediately apparent. The other substantial areas of improvement were in ISO performance and dynamic range. I was able to take shots that just weren't possible with the Nikon D2x. The largest photo I've printed with this camera is a 30x45 inch scene hanging above my daughter's fireplace. Until you get within a couple of feet of that image it looks incredibly sharp. Even on close inspection it isn't too bad. I think the Nikon D800 is an amazing camera and I enjoy it immensely. It certainly deserves all of the accolades it has gotten in my opinion. Its biggest drawback for me is that "live view" magnifications through the display are not indicative of what is really being recorded. I've considered upgrading to a Nikon D810 for that reason but I am waiting for the next big Nikon megapixel camera to arrive.


Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f4G ED VR

Nikon1635ImgI purchased a Nikon 17-35mm in 2001. It was well built and had a great feel to it. When used on my Nikon F100, Nikon D100 and Nikon D2x it always seemed extremely sharp, but when I purchased the Nikon D800 I began to notice the corners weren't as sharp as I would have liked. Perhaps I had a bad copy.

This was one of the reasons I decided to purchase the Nikon 16-35mm in 2014. The other thing that made it attractive to me was the availability of VR. Although I shoot mostly landscapes I thought VR could be a real advantage to me in certain situations, which proved to be true when on vacation I took interior shots inside historic venues like the palace of Versailles. I found the corners on my Nikon 16-35mm to be sharper than my Nikon 17-35mm, but the build quality of the Nikon 17-35mm was better and it had a more professional feel.

One of the things I was warned about before purchasing this lens was that it was sharpest in the 20-28mm range. I found that to be largely true, although I think it's pretty good down to 18-19mm as well. I try to stay in the sweet spot and at 28mm and above I use the Nikon 24-70mm.

I got the Nikon 16-35mm when Nikon was offering a $300 rebate. Had it not been on sale I might have purchased the Nikon 18-35mm that some people whose opinions I trust indicate is slightly sharper. The Nikon 18-35mm is also much lighter. Still, it's nice to have the VR and to be able to shoot a little wider if its absolutely necessary.


Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f2.8G ED

Nikon2470Img I purchased my Nikon 24-70mm in 2012 at the same time I purchased my Nikon D800. The potential failure of my Nikon 28-70mm focus motor (it began squeaking) combined with the age of the lens (twelve years old) prompted me to swap my Nikon 28-70mm for the Nikon 24-70mm rather than have it serviced.

The Nikon 28-70mm was about a half inch shorter and a little over an ounce heavier than the Nikon 24-70mm. The Nikon 28-70mm might have had a little more substantial fee to it. I'm not sure the Nikon 24-70mm is much (or any) sharper than the Nikon 28-70mm it replaced, but then both lenses are very sharp. In particular, I find the Nikon 24-70mm excels in the range between 28mm and 60mm. The Nikon 24-70mm has a nice quality feel to it and it stands up to bad weather. It also focuses quickly and accurately.

I probably use this lens more than any other lens I own. Still, I sometimes wish it was a little sharper, which I could probably accomplish if I wanted to use primes. What prevents me from doing so is that I don't like changing lenses and I like to be able to crop my photos to an exact point (which isn't always possible using primes). I waited for a replacement for this and Nikon eventually offered one with VR, but when I went in to trade this lens the price differential was too high for me, so I decided to wait. Probably just as well as Nikon has had some quality issues in its new releases. I have always used Nikon lenses (except for my Rokinion 14mm) but I may give the Sigma ART replacement for this focal range a chance if they ever release it.


Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f4G ED VR

Nikon70-200ImgI bought a Nikon 80-200mm lens in 1999. It focused quickly, was sharp and it gave me great results. What I noticed when I got my D800 was that it exposed a lack of sharpness in the corners, especially when you approached the 200mm range. I had also owned the lens for a really long time and when I wanted to pack light I would have to leave it behind. It also didn't have VR, which is something I could have used on various occasions.

I was very excited when the Nikon 70-200mm f4 was released. Reviews indicated it rivalled the newer Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 version in sharpness. It was much lighter and smaller than my old Nikon 80-200 and the availability of VR was something I wanted, so I purchased one in 2012. This lens is the sharpest lens I own and is much sharper than the Nikon 80-200mm it replaced. I especially notice the sharpness in the corners. Its VR, compact size and its weight are real advantages over the older Nikon 80-200mm. You could use this lens without a tripod collar if you wanted to. It's actually lighter than my Nikon 24-70mm, although its 1.8 inches longer. It's just as well Nikon didn't include a tripod collar with it, because none of the collars they have put on longer lenses I bought (the Nikon 80-200mm and 300mm f4) were any good. I bought a Kirk collar for it for use on my Gitzo, which works well.

I now pack this when I go on hikes and can carry it in smaller bags when I need that flexibility. The VR works extremely well and as I already mentioned this lens is very sharp. I highly recommend this lens to people looking for a Nikon lens in this focal range.


Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6G ED VR

Nikon80-400ImgI purchased a Nikon 300mm f4 lens and a Nikon 1.4x teleconverter in 2000. I rarely used the Nikon 300mm or the converter unless I was shooting wildlife. On my Nikon D2x the Nikon 300mm f4 with 1.4x teleconverter yielded an effective range of 588mm, which was useful when I photographed birds or other wildlife. I waited for a long time for Nikon to replace the Nikon 300mm f4 lens with a VR version and later decided a long zoom would be nice as i didn't really like using a teleconverter to get to 400mm and I thought the flexibility of a zoom could prove useful.

The Nikon 200-400mm was well outside my price range and I really wasn't excited about the weight and size of it. When I read some reviews of this version of the Nikon 80-400mm lens I decided to evaluate one. I traded my Nikon 300mm and teleconverter when Nikon was running a $400 rebate, so I thankfully didn't have to pay the full retail rate.

What I found was that I could handhold the Nikon 80-400mm lens down to shutter speed of about 125th of a second with good results, although I did better at 250th of a second and above. While I prefer to use a tripod there have been situations where I didn't have time to set up and being able to handlhold a long lens like this is extremely useful. I'm pretty confident I couldn't achieve the level of sharpness with my old Nikon 300mm that I do at 400mm with this lens when I'm handholding it. Some of this may be because my hands just aren't that steady.

While this lens isn't as sharp as some of my others like the Nikon 70-200mm, it still gives me very good images on my Nikon D800. I've been very pleased with this lens so far.

I should point out that like all Nikon lens I have owned with tripod collars, I replaced the one on this lens with a Kirk collar that works extremely well. I would heartily recommend this lens to someone looking for something in this focal range. Brad Hill wrote a review of this lens that I found very helpful to me so I would recommend you do a search for it and give it a read if you are considering this lens.


Rokinon 14mm 2.8 IF ED UMC

Rokinon14ImgI decided prior to a trip I was taking that I would look for a lens suitable for astrophotography. I read a lot of articles that spoke to field of view, sharpness and coma, and what combinations of lens speed and focal range would yield the best results.

The Rokinon (or variant like Samyang / Bower) 14mm was frequently mentioned by many as a lens that would perform well for astrophotography. Given that I didn't want to invest very much to pursue my interest (which ruled out the Nikon 14-24mm) it was nice that this lens was relatively cheap at around $350. I decided to purchase one in 2015. My only reluctance about the purchase was concern about getting a bad copy, as there were widespread complaints about sample variation.

I was glad to learn that the copy I purchased worked extremely well and exhibited none of the issues that people had complained about, with the exception of mustache distortion that is present in every copy of this lens that can be removed pretty easily in Adobe Lightroom. I had not used a manual focus only lens in a long time but the lens is easily and smoothly focused and there is plenty of throw to make small adjustments easier. It won't take any filters but that isn't a huge concern for me for astrophotography or most other situations I would use this lens.

I have only dabbled with the lens for astrophotography because there is too much light pollution near where I live and things didn't pan out with the trip I had planned, but I have used this lens for other purposes and believe it performs very well. It is also nice to be able to shoot at an aperture like f5.6 and still have a pretty wide depth of field. The only real disadvantage with this lens for me is its lack of automatic focus when not used for astrophotography. I can also see how lack of filter support could present issues when photographing foliage and water when I want to remove reflections or reduce glare.


SMDV FRN-4s Slim WIreless Remote Shutter Release

SMDVimgI have used the Nikon MC-30 remote cable release since the 1990's. The MC-30 never failed me and they last an extremely long time. In fact I have one I bought almost twenty years ago that still works well. Their problem is that they could be unwieldy and you had to be close to the camera to use it. I accidently pulled on it a couple of times, bringing my camera down once. I was also afraid of using it in water where the cable end might become submerged.

I decided a wireless remote could offer a lot of advantages. I did some research and this unit seemed like a good choice as it was easy to use and the manufacturer's quoted range is 320 feet.

I can confirm it is easy to setup and use. I leave the unit on the left that plugs into the 10 pin slot on the camera attached at all times. I haven't tried to use the remote from a distance greater than 100 feet, but I can confirm it reaches that far. The unit you hold in your hand has a nice feel to it and you can tell when the shutter has fired. The only issue I can see with this combo is the fact the antenna could block something attached to the shoe on top of the camera. If you are interested in a wireless remote I think this unit is worth considering.


Gitzo 3542XLS, Gitzo G1298

My first decent tripod was a Bogen I purchased in the 1990's. When I started to hike more I decided something lighter would be nice and I purchased my first Gitzo, a G1329 MK2 in 2002. It was lighter and I actually liked the way the leg locks worked. I used this tripod for over twelve years and the only thing I didn't like about it was the fact the legs locked up if you got them wet. I liked the flexibility of a center column but the camera wasn't as stable when I raised it very much.

I purchased a smaller basalt Gitzo G1298 in 2006 because I wanted something that was very compact that I could pack for trips when I didn't have much room. Its small enough I could put it in the back of my Barbour coat. This tripod works well, but it is not as stable as my larger Gitzo and doesn't absorb vibration as well. It was very useful on a trip to some large cities where I didn't want a large tripod to be visible when I was travelling around.

In 2014 I decided my Gitzo G1329 was looking a little worse for wear and I had a leg that was sticking badly. I was also interested in something that could be set up a little higher, as I'm 6'3". I read some reviews of various Gitzo models and went to a camera store and decided on the GT3542XLS tripod. This tripod is tad longer than my old G1329 when collapsed and a little lighter. It has 4 leg sections instead of 3, but I usually don't extend the lower leg section. The GT3542XLS doesn't have a center column, which allows the tripod to be setup lower.

The things I like most about the newer tripod are the fact the legs don't lock up when they get wet (with fresh water) and that the longer legs allow me to set up on an incline more easily because the legs extend much further. Some specifications on the tripods follow.

Gitzo G1329 MK2; weight 5.33 lbs., max Height 72.25 inches, collapsed 27.75 inches, center column, 3 leg sections, carbon fiber
Gitzo G1298; weight 3.4 lbs., max Height 58.30 inches, collapsed 19.3 inches, center column, 3 leg sections, basalt composite
Gitzo 3542XLS; weight 4.89 lbs., max Height 78.94 inches, collapsed 28.39 inches, NO center column, 4 leg sections, carbon fiber


Kirk BH-1 Head

I have been using the Kirk BH-1 since 2005 and I really like this ball head much better than the old pan and tilt heads I previously used. I can't believe I didn't make the switch to a ball head earlier. I put quick release clamps on all of my cameras and lenses and swapping them out is a lot faster and easier now. The Kirk BH-1 is extremely well built and still works beautifully even though I have abused it (I've dropped my tripod with it attached many times, sometimes in areas with jagged rocks).

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Photography Equipment
Nikon D800
Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f4G ED VR
Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f2.8G ED
Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f4G ED VR
Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6G ED VR
Rokinon 14mm 2.8 IF ED UMC
SMDV FRN-4s Slim Wireless Remote Shutter Release
Gitzo 3542XLS, Gitzo G1298
Kirk BH-1 Head




All material @ copyright by Phil Goble. All rights reserved.