Digital info for serious shooters: specializing in Nikon & Canon

Camera Gear:
What I carry in my camera bags and why:

When I head out in the truck or for most photo trips here is what I pack in my MP-1 from WRP:

Camera Bodies:

Nikon D2X with RRS (Really Right Stuff) L plate & D2H with RRS base plate:
At 12+MP the D2X sets a whole new standard for digital (see the homepage & articles pages for more). At 8fps and 4MP the D2H is a workhorse action camera. There is lots more information on it elsewhere on the site. Image quality is excellent and battery life is even better. Flash performance is also improved over older Nikon bodies, particularly when using the SB800. These cameras are finally the digital equivalent of the F5. A joy to use. For Canon shooters the 1D MkII will be the equivalent if you can justify the money.


Nikon 600f/4 AF-S II or 200-400f/4 VR AF-S w. RRS combined foot/plate:

For birds, the 600f/4 is the cat's meow. Many photographers now opt for the smaller and less expensive 500f/4, but if you want the perfect bird photo lens, it is the 600. I use the 200-400f/4 for large mammal photography, although anyone with a 500f/4 can use it to serve double duty. With more and more parks enforcing restrictions on how close you can get to subjects (a good thing for the most part) and the practical and ethical restrictions when working with threatened and endangered species, the 600f/4 and 1.4x Teleconverter combination provide nearly 1200mm focal length or nearly the equivalent of a 24x spotting scope. This is a great combination. Canon options are very similar, but include IS and the ability to stack teleconverters.

Increasingly I also use the TC-17E instead of either the TC-14E or TC-20E. It has the small size & image quality of the TC-14E with a loss of only another half stop of light provides more magnification.

Nikon 70-200f/2.8 AF-S VR w. RRS plate:

The big news with this lens for me was not the VR but the size. Smaller than the 80-200 AF-S, this version fits in my bag comfortably so I can travel with it. Fast and sharp, just like the prior 80-200f/2.8 it is a winner all around. The AF is very smooth and the lens handles very well hand held. The Canon equivalent is also a 70-200f/2.8 USM L lens with IS, but it is slightly more expensive.

Nikon 12-24:

Ultra-wides have been the province of prime lenses until recently. By producing a line of digital only (DX) lenses, Nikon has been able to produce a competent ultra-wide angle zoom. I've been able to replace my 14mm with this more versatile zoom, since I almost never need the added speed of the f2.8 on the 14mm. I really enjoy having an effective 20mm back in my bag with my digital without needing a separate lens for it. I don't know of an exact Canon equivalent to this  unique zoom.

Nikon 24-120VR or the new Nikon 18-200VR:

I'm torn between these lenses and the 24-85 which is smaller and fits nicely into a vest pocket. However, I really like having the reach to 120mm so I don't have to switch back and forth with my 70-200 all the time, so the 24-120VR is in my bag most of the time. This lens is head and shoulders above the older 24-120 in speed and image quality, but actually costs less. I wouldn't have paid extra for the VR capability, but when shooting with the Wimberly head on my tripod the VR helps for slow shutter scenic or macro shots by not requiring that I also lug around and convert to my B1 ball head before taking them. Of course if I'm out to photograph scenics I start with the B1 on my tripod and leave the VR turned off. Canon has a variety of lenses in this range, although I'm particularly intrigued by the new 35-350 "L" zoom. If the image quality is there it'd be a real productivity boon!

UPDATE 12/05: I really like the new Nikon 18-200 as a "travel" lens and may start taking it instead of the 24-120VR. Of course it is slow & has barrel/pincushion distortion, but within its limits it takes great images and is very versatile and fun to use.

Nikon 1.7x (primary) and as backup the 1.4x & 2.0 AF-I II Teleconverters

For quality glass I think it is worth the money to buy the Nikon AF Teleconverters. I own the TC-17E as well as both the 1.4x and 2x. The 1.4 or 1.7 are on my 600mm much of the time, and the 2x is available for when I need the extra reach and can afford the loss of light. Canon's options are very similar, although they do also allow stacking.

Gitzo 1548 tripod leg set and Wimberly head, Acratech Ultimate Ballhead or RRS BH-55 head for scenics
Gitzo 1325 tripod leg set with RRS BH-55 + Wimberly sidekick when using 200-400

I really like the Gitzo carbon fiber tripods. I've owned just about all of them but for the 600f/4 the 1500 series is the right combination of strength and weight. The 1548 is the 4-section version so it packs a little smaller. If you have the 500mm you can probably get away with the 1300 series. For a long lens head nothing works as well as the Wimberly. It makes a world of difference in getting the right shot compared to either my B1 or B2. When I'll be shooting a lot of scenics I carry my RRS BH-55 or the smaller, lighter Acratech. The B1 has a better friction system (variable tension) and nicer overall design if you don't mind the extra size, weight and expense.

NOTE: The Acratech and other ultra-light heads do not seem to work well with the Wimberly Sidekick. I recommend either using a B1 or RRS BH-55 (or equivalent) with the Sidekick.


Nikon SB800 Speedlight & SC-29 flash cord, SB-600 as second flash when needed

The SB-800  is the first flash I've found that really works with digital. The first to use Nikon's new iTTL, it is a major improvement over the SB-80. If you're using it with the D2H you can make use of the new SC-29 flash cord featuring an AF illuminator built right in to the cable for better alignment.

Wimberly flash brackets (for the Wimberly & for the Wimberly Sidekick)

If you use a Wimberly head then the Wimberly flash attachment is smaller and lighter than any alternative. Otherwise RRS flash brackets offer the same functionality if you have a more traditional tripod head.
Nikon R1C1 Macro Flash System

[On the way, results TBD]

Better Beamer Flash Extender

For flash fill at extended distances Walt Anderson's Better Beamer is a portable and inexpensive way to nearly double the distance you can project your flash. Basically a simple Fresnel lens on a plastic mount it is a must have for anyone doing flash fill photography on distant subjects such as birds.

Aquatech SportShields for 400-600, 200-400 and 70-200

I fold these up and put them in with my long lens. They double as padding so they don't take any extra space. Aquatech makes the absolute best all-weather covers, so if you shoot in inclement weather these are the ones to buy.

UV filters on all my lenses

I tend to like my images on the warm side, so I used to keep an 81a on all my lenses, but I'm switching to plain UV filters pretty soon--with the new WB sensors on the top of the cameras the 81a just confuses them.

77mm Moose filter (81a + Circular Polarizer) + 77mm adapters for lenses as needed

Rather than carry multiple filters, I now just carry adapters to 77mm and then carry 77mm filters. This didn't work well with film but with the smaller size of the digital sensor on my cameras I can get away with it.

Singh-Ray graduated neutral density filters & screw on holder

For high contrast scenes having a 2-stop and 3-stop ND filter allows me to fit the dynamic range of the scene into a single image. They scratch more easily than I'd like, but I don't know of any better ND filters than these.

Flash Cards

I tend to buy the largest and fastest Lexar, Kingston or Transcend card I can afford at any point in time. I do wait until the last possible moment right before a project to buy new cards, as there prices almost always go down with time.
Portable Storage
PD70X Portable Drive case with 100GB drive (that I purchased separately from newegg). I bought the device from EastGear. Doubles as a AA battery charger. Very slick.

Cleaning & toolkit including blower bulb, Wiha screwdrivers & hex wrenches, spare LCD covers and eye-cups, electrical tape, AA Batteries & chargers, etc. I've added a Sensor brush, which I love for cleaning the sensor.

Specialty Gear (often carried when I don't have the room or the need for my normal gear). Usually packed in my WRP MP-3c:

Nikon 300f/4 AF-S

An awesome flight lens. If I know I'll need the best flight lens I have, this is the one I bring.

Nikon 80-400VR

Large range in a small form factor. I bring it in my Lowepro Stealth bag when I'm going on a trip where I don't have room to carry the 70-200 plus a teleconverter.

For trips where I want or need to carry less, I make the following changes:

Nikon 200-400f/4 AF-S VR, along with Gitzo 1325 tripod, Arca-Swiss B1 head, and Wimberly Sidekick. See my Older and Lighter article for when and why I use this setup instead of my heavier one.

Substitute a WRP MP-3c bag for my MP-1 + Lowepro briefcase

Tabletop Gitzo tripod or Gitzon 1228 smaller tripod

What about my Bags?

I use an MP-1 from WRP as my main camera bag. I used to carry my Lowepro ProTrekker, but the MP-1 is much lighter and allows me to pack more in the same space. I've also replaced my Lowepro NatureTrekker with a WRP MP-3 for the same reasons. If you really need a heavily padded unit suitable for major backpacking the Lowepro packs are still unequalled, but if you'll be working in more moderate conditions the WRP packs are easier on your back and let you bring what you need. I also have a Lowepro Stealth that I use for short "city" trips where I just want to bring a minimal amount of camera gear.

NOTE: I received a LowePro CompuTrekker as a gift used it for my upcoming month in SE Asia backcountry. It doesn't carry as much as my MP-3c but it works as a full backpack. If you need more room there is now a larger version of the CompuTrekker that will comfortably hold a 200-400 on a body in the main compartment.

For special projects I also often use the following:

Lightning Trigger--For photographing bolt lightning

LPA remote radio trigger & receiver

Nikon SD-8a battery packs for 2 flashes when using dual flash. Alternatively I have a Digital Camera Battery, but the SD-8a is a cheaper and lighter solution if all you need is flash support.

Kenko Extension Tubes, although mine have never really auto-focused with my lenses, despite buying two full sets

Nikon WT-2 wireless with EA-1 antenna. D-Link Pocket Router for my laptop to serve as an 802.11g access point.

Non-photo gear:

North Face Kanapi Day Pack

Garmin Rino GPS units (double as walkie-talkies)

Is that all?

Is this all I own? Unfortunately not. I have a closet full of various other equipment such as dry bags, specialty lenses, flash units and powerpacks, etc, that I either use once in awhile or think I might use again someday. But the above list is the gear I normally work with. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what equipment you choose and why. Be sure to let us know what you think on our Photo Tools forum.

Computers & Software

Image Loading, Management & Cataloging

I use DigitalPro for Windows for all my image management

In a future issue I'll cover some of the computer hardware and software that I find essential to complete the picture--if you'll pardon the pun.




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