Okay, admit it. If you’re a photographer, you came to this page first didn’t you? Thought so.
Many years ago, for my day job as an automobile engineer and forensic photographer, I bought my first film SLR kit: a Minolta X700 with a couple off-brand lenses. After a couple years, I graduated to a Nikon F4 with a couple better quality third party lenses, and a passable tripod. When the Nikon F5 came out, I traded in my trusty F4, and upgraded not just my camera, but bought all Nikon lenses as well. I also got my first Gitzo tripod. That’s when I started taking photography more seriously.
Initially, I resisted the digital revolution, consoling myself that I was practicing “real” photography instead. Even though I bought (and secretly loved) a 3.2mp Nikon Coolpix 990 in 2000, I steadfastly held out from buying a DSLR until acquiring a Nikon D1x in late Summer 2001. I promptly sold all vestiges of my film equipment, including my film point-and-shoot cameras. I’ve never looked back.
I’ve progressed through the Nikon pro-level DSLR cameras (D1x, D2x, D3, D3x, D3s, D800E), and now use a couple Nikon D810′s.
For both my engineering work and my nature, landscape, and travel work, I now primarily shoot with Zeiss manual focus prime lenses. It took less time than I thought to get comfortable with both manual focus (it’s truly precise and delightful with the Zeiss lenses) and primes instead of zooms. My Zeiss (ZF.2 Nikon mount) collection now includes: 15mm f/2.8 Milvus , 21mm f/2.8 Milvus , 25mm f/2 Distagon T*, 35mm f/2 Milvus, 50mm f/2M Milvus macro, 55mm f/1.4 Otus Distagon T*, 85mm f/1.4 Otus Apo Planar T*, 100mm f/2M Milvus macro, and 135mm f/2 Apo Sonnar T*. There really is something to the “Zeiss” look! Color rendition and micro contrast on all lenses are amazing. My Nikon lenses include the latest 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, and 80-400mm, along with the venerable 300mm f/2.8 VRII.
My essential field gear includes: Really Right Stuff TVC-45 Versa tripod (really tall and really stable) with LensCoat LegCoat covers; Arca-Swiss C1 Cube geared head (a treasure); a bunch of Nikon MC-20 cable releases; Tom Vadnais Photography weather-proof focusing cloth (now available from me—just e-mail); Lee filter holders with standard and wide angle hoods; and either Zeiss or Heliopan High Transmission (1-stop light loss) circular polarizers. If needed, I will also carry several Singh-Ray graduated ND filters; Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter; and several Lee neutral density filters, including the Lee Big Stopper. If I know I’m going to do any panning or subject tracking, I substitute the versatile Arca-Swiss d4 geared head for my Cube. My ever-present crushable black felt fedora is not only incredibly fashionable, but serves double-duty as an extended lens shade.
While traveling, all photo gear (except the tripod and fedora) is carried in a Think Tank Airport Security v2.0 rolling bag. (I use one of four different Think Tank rolling bags when smaller ones are needed.) When I get to my shooting location, I transfer what I am going to use in the field into a Think Tank belt system comprising a Steroid Speed Belt with a Pixel Racing Harness and a variable collection of Skin and Modular pouches, depending on the lenses and equipment I think I’ll need. Once you get used to carrying and working out of a belt system, you can’t go back to a backpack. It is fast, comfortable, carries easily, and never has to be set down. You’ll likely never win a fashion award while wearing a belt system, but since you’re on the other side of the lens, who cares? Besides, you can always hide under your focusing cloth, if it really bothers you!
The key to gear is, of course, to find the tools that help you to capture the image you envision. Extraneous useless trinkets, cantankerous tools, and poor quality equipment will only cause frustration, and will prevent you from concentrating on making the image. Buy the best, and you only cry once really applies to all photo gear. Even more importantly, make sure you’ll want and use any piece of photo kit that you carry into the field. If it doesn’t solve a specific problem, why are you carrying it? Why do you even own it? Pare down and eliminate the photo gear clutter. Then really learn to use the gear you have. You should be able to use it all without thinking about it. Now you can concentrate on making photos, not fussing with gear.