My Gear Essentials
To maximize your photography - 2019
If you're looking for a quick overview of my gear essentials, click here. If you're interested in more details along with links to all the items I use and recommend then keep reading. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Sony A7R III
Main camera body, absolute work horse.
I've shot Canon, Nikon, and now Sony over the past 7+ years and I can tell you with 100% confidence that the brand camera you use does not make a huge difference; however, it's a topic and discussion people love to focus on. So here's how I think about it... your camera is a tool, and you need to determine the most appropriate tool for the job, but you can often complete the same job with a different quality of tool... For me, since most of my photography is outdoors - I'm often hiking and in potentially poor weather - my camera priorities are: light, high dynamic range, versatile, and weather sealed. I also need a camera that can perform across multiple styles of photography: Action, Portrait, Landscape, etc. These needs ultimately led me to the Sony A7R III given it checked most, if not all, of the boxes. To be totally honest, this camera is overkill for most people and why I typically recommend the Sony A7 III if you're looking for a great full frame mirrorless camera.
Holy Trinity; versatile for most situations.
In the past I've use all prime lenses (fixed focal length) frequently carrying only a 20/35 and 85 given how light and versatile this set-up is. After a while I transitioned to a combination set-up of prime/zoom lenses with a 20, 24-70, and 85. This set-up allowed me to capture a wide range of subjects; however, I always felt like I wanted a little more reach and subject isolation. That's what led me to my current lens set-up, "the holy trinity" lens kit built on a Sony 16-35, Sony 24-70, and Sony 70-200. This set-up is expensive, and hurts just to think about; however it gives me so much flexibility and I'm never limited by my kit. If there is one place I can recommend you over-spend, it's on lenses. Lenses are by-far the easiest way to drastically improve your image quality and provide you with new creative options. If you're on a tighter budget then upgrade your lens kit over time, and perhaps my second option of 2 primes and a medium range zoom, will give you the increased quality at a more affordable price.
Sony 16-35 f/2.8
Thinking about this lens makes me smile - it's that good. Everything from it's incredible build quality to focusing speed make it a dependable workhorse. I generally use it when I'm shooting vast landscapes with a strong foreground element; however, it's also great for urban, architecture, interior real estate, and close subject portrait shots.
Sony 24-70 f/2.8
Medium Range Zoom
If you're looking for a one-trick pony this is your stallion. Similar to the 16-35, the build quality and focusing on this lens is fantastic. You can have confidence that this lens will perform in all weather. This is my go-to lens when I'm shooting portraits, traveling, in a helicopter, or need more flexibility and medium range to capture a subject.
Sony 70-200 f/2.8
This lens is a BEAST. It's big, heavy, and incredibly reliable and crisp. If you plan on using this for portraits, as I do, then it's a great option; however, if you want to save a few pounds, about $1,300, and don't plan on getting a teleconverter, I recommend getting the 70-200 f/4 version which can produce a very similar results.
Sony 2.0x Teleconverter
Extended Range for 70-200
If you want more range than 200 I recommend considering a teleconverter for your kit. Not familiar with a teleconverter? It effectively adjusts your focal length by the magnification factor, so the Sony 2x teleconverter expands the range of my 70-200 to a 140-400 when mounted between the lens and my camera body. Now they are not perfect, so if your fist pumping, keep in mind the image quality and stops of light for your lens are both impacted when the converter is connected. Since I'm not a huge pixel peeper, this was a no-brainer for me allowing me to further isolate subjects, explore wildlife photography, and shoot portraits of American Buffalo without worrying my wife - trust me, that's always a bonus.
Carry on compliant and flexible
If you're like me you'll probably have to try multiple camera bags until you find the right one for your situation. You might even have multiple camera bags - I do - so you can build out the bag for your specific needs. Among many things a great bag is durable, protective, able to carry your required gear, and always able to fit in the airplane carry on compartment - never check your camera bag.
My set-up consists of the F-Stop Anuj, which I use 80-90% of the time as my primary bag. I can't recommend this bag enough if you are in the outdoor elements. At 40L the Anuj can fit all my camera gear, drone, extra clothes, snacks, hiking/climbing gear, is weather sealed, and very comfortable to wear all day. Additionally F-Stop has top notch customer support and has multiple products and Internal Camera Units (ICUs) that can fit all your needs. My other bag is for a much smaller set-up where I typically only need my camera and two lenses or other minimal forms of gear. Somewhat a glorified fanny pack, the Mountainsmith Lumbar Pack has been one of the best investments I've made. When in run-and-gun situations, skiing, or other type of action I can quickly access my gear and get any shots I need. I recommend buying an internal camera cube like the Ape Case Cubeze to give your gear an extra layer of protection. I also use one of these as the carrying case for my drone (able to fit drone, 2 extra batteries, controller, and filters!
Portable Aerial Powerhouse - DJI Mavic 2 Pro
Drones are awesome! Without getting into the spicy debate around drones I recommend if you fly, you comply. There is a lot of bad heat from a few bad apples, so lookout-for-the-cookout and comply with FAA regulations. I am amazed with the portability and various features built into the DJI Mavic 2 Pro making it the ultimate portable aerial powerhouse: multiple pilot modes, flight safety features, and multiple capture modes to name a few. Given it's size and light weight I never hesitate to throw the drone in my bag always having an alternative, aerial, point-of-view.
Enable More Creativity and Enhance Your In-Camera Images
Filters open up a lot of options for creativity allowing you to have longer shutter speeds, control light better, and better manage reflections. There are many options out there, but the quality of the PolarPro QuartzLine is hard to beat for any full frame camera. I typically carry the PolarPro ND64, PolarPro Circular Polarizer, and the PolarPro Step-Up Ring so I can use the same two filters across all my lenses.
The same benefits mentioned above also apply to the Hasselbad sensor on the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. PolarPro again delivers a great product for the DJI Mavic 2 with the PolarPro Filter Pack. I typically leave the ND4/PL on my drone at all time but carry the full set of filters so I have ultimate creative flexibility: ND4, ND8, ND16, ND4/PL, ND8/PL, ND16/PL.
A Creative Tool You Should NOT Leave At Home
Using your tripod effectively takes discipline and practice, otherwise it can quickly become an avoided piece of gear that you dread using and make excuses for why you should leave it at home. If you're interested in night photography, long exposure photography, exposure bracketing, panorama photography, or are fixed on having the sharpest images possible then having a sturdy tripod is a no-brainer to you. When looking for a tripod I recommend you handle them in person so you can get a sense of how easy they each model is to set-up and how heavy each model is. At the end of the day you likely just spent a lot of money, perhaps thousands, on your camera and lenses, so get a sturdy tripod that can hold the weight. I currently use a MeFoto RoadTrip Travel Tripod which is light, easy to carry, and a great first tripod. Upgrading my tripod is likely my next purchase as I look for something a little more sturdy in windy and tough conditions. When I need more flexibility, or a lighter support system I use the Joby Gorillapod 5K which is also great for vlogging and selfies!
Underrated Kit Items You Need
Camera Security, Vision, and Communication
Some Kit items are underrated, but you should really consider adding them to your kit. Here are three items that I use all the time and highly recommend you consider adding to your kit!
Peak Design Quick Release
If you haven't used the Peak Design Quick Release Camera System, try it. This system is incredible and makes it very easy to attach a strap, clip to a backpack, etc. The amount of time I've saved over the years is incredible. Peak Design
If you're into night photography get a headlamp. The Petzl Actik Core is rechargeable and allows me to find my gear when it's dark, and not break anything. Get a headlamp that has a "red" setting - it helps your pupils stay expanded for maximum night vision.
Communication is key
Communication is key if your hiking on the trail, skiing, in a separate vehicle, or in any way not in talking distance of your subject. Yelling is overrated and old-school, grab some Motorola MURS Radios to step-up your communication game.
Rocket Blower, Microfiber Cloths, Lenspen
As an Outdoor Photographer I am always working in non-ideal conditions and also try to keep my gear in top condition. A Rocket Blower has been incredibly helpful to blow dust off the senor, lens, or connections, eliminating any dust particles in the shot. To keep my gear dry, and remove any visible smudges I use Microfiber Cloths, typically keeping 3-4 in my bag at all times. These also work great as padding around you gear. If the blower and microfiber cloths aren't cutting it, or you need to clean the senor, I recommend picking up a Lenspen as an additional way to keep your gear in top-notch condition.
Affordable Professional tools
Once you've produced your image there is still one-step left - post production. Below are a few of the recommended items that I are a good mix of affordability with professional quality results.
Custom Built PC
Affordable High End Solution
Custom built PC in August 2016 designed for high-end photography use. Now, 3 years later the PC is still running like new and able to handle all the demands of Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. You may need a more portable solution, but if you're looking for a high-quality desktop I recommend using PC Parts Picker and considering a build - you can do it.
Adobe Creative Cloud
Affordable Pro Quality
Adobe Creative Cloud brings the professional tools to your screen at an affordable monthly rate. The learning curve is a little steep, but watching YouTube or video learning platforms like PHLearn really opens your eyes to the power of the software.
Protect your Assets
Yes, I have lost some images so I can honestly tell you how important backing-up your data is. I'm also sensitive to protecting the time and energy that go into creating assets I can sell to customers. There are many solutions out there but one product I've been happy with are the LaCie d2 External Hard Drives. Their quality built and work great across both Windows and Mac.