Photography is not primarily about gear, despite what manufacturers would have us believe. Photography is first and foremost about seeing. Having great gear helps, but is rarely essential.
It always amuses me when I hear someone saying while admiring a photograph: “I bet that photographer has a fantastic camera!”. Why? Because nobody says on tasting delicious food: “The chef must have a wonderful kitchen!” – or: “That painting is incredible – the artist must have used top-quality paint brushes” – do they? It is the photographer making the photograph: the camera, lens and all the equipment are collectively just the conduit for the photographer’s vision. To suggest otherwise is to do the photographer an injustice. Without the skill and vision of the photographer, the camera is just a dumb digital recording machine. Sophisticated and technologically advanced, yes. But soulless, and incapable of making art or evoking emotion. The soul and the emotion in a photograph come from the photographer, not the camera.
Most photographers – myself included – have a tendency to obsess far too much about gear, and too little about making photographs with it. Perhaps this is because photography – unusually among the artistic pursuits – demands a high level of understanding of the technically complex tools of the trade. Or perhaps it’s just because making great photographs is hard, and buying new stuff is easy. Painters have easels, brushes, and paints; writers have pens, paper and notebooks; whereas many photographers have an Aladdin’s Cave of cameras, lenses, filters, lighting and grip, monopods, tripods, a myriad of accessories and the perfect bag to put it all in (probably several). It’s hard not to fall in love with these shiny high-tech tools. It’s also easier to covet them, admire them and talk about them with fellow gear-heads and pixel-peepers than it is to put in the long hours needed to make beautiful photographs with them.
Given the above, publishing a ‘gear’ page could leave me open to a charge of further fanning the flames of G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). However, I have been asked plenty of times for advice on which equipment to buy, or what camera I use, and I want this page to be a useful resource for other photographers: maybe those just starting out, or trying how to choose from among the bewildering range of camera systems and equipment.
This is the gear I currently use. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter all that much what camera system you have. You can make beautiful pictures with almost anything. The most important thing is to learn how to use the camera system you have, get comfortable with it, and know how to make it do what you want. Then carry it with you as much as possible, and make as many photographs as you can. In the end, operating the camera should become second-nature: it should get out of the way, become an extension of your hands, and allow you to concentrate fully on expressing your photographic vision.
Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Olympus, Sony, whatever. It doesn’t matter. If the picture is good, no-one will care what your settings were or what camera you shot it with. They will just remember your picture.
Until recently, all I ever shot was a Nikon full-frame SLR camera. Marvellous image-making tools they may be, but since a large part of my photography happens when I travel, I was getting weary of being laden down like a pack-mule with heavy full-frame camera bodies and pro-quality f/2.8 zooms every time I headed off on a trip. These days I shoot exclusively with the mirrorless Fuji X system. The image quality from these little cameras is stunning, they are easy on the shoulders and the back, and allow me to shoot much more unobtrusively when I need to.
Do I miss my Nikon cameras? Not much. When it boils down to it, I miss two things: the speed and accuracy of the Nikon autofocus system when shooting a moving subject and/or in poor light, and the Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System) – specifically TTL control of off-camera flash units. (Yes, Fuji does sell TTL flash units for the Fuji X system which can be triggered off-camera using a Canon sync cord, but these flashes are not in the same league as Nikon’s proprietary speedlights, or similar-quality offerings from manufacturers like Cactus or Godox.) Most of the time I control my flash power manually – but every now and then, I wish I had the option to use TTL flash control, such as when I am secretly pretending I am Joe McNally, or when the contents of the frame are moving rapidly or erratically and manual flash will either leave my subject looking like they were lit buy a candle at a range of 30 feet or by a small thermonuclear device, or when I’m making a quick flash-lit portrait of someone I have just met on the street of a foreign city and don’t typically have the luxury of making a sequence of test shots to refine the flash exposure. However, that is all I miss, and there are a lot of benefits to the smaller mirrorless system which outweigh the disadvantages.
I currently use three Fuji X cameras:
Fujifilm X-T1 with Photomadd grip and L-plate
Fujifilm X-E2 with Really Right Stuff grip and L-plate
Fujifilm X100T with Photomadd grip and L-plate
The X-T1 is my main camera body. It offers interchangeable lenses, a flip-out LCD screen which I love, and is fully weather-sealed. It has a few minor quirks – D-pad buttons which are too flat (there’s a fix for this), and an ISO dial which can only be turned by simultaneously pressing a button in the centre of it (try doing that one-handed while holding the camera to your eye with your other hand) – to name a couple. But no camera is perfect, and the X-T1 comes pretty close for me.
The X-E2 is the first ‘X’-series camera I owned, and is now essentially a backup for my X-T1. It offers the same image quality as the X-T1 (identical sensor) in a smaller ‘rangefinder’ style body but with, to my mind, slightly inferior ergonomics. Occasionally I will shoot with both bodies simultaneously with a telephoto lens on one body and a wide-angle lens on the other in situations where I don’t want – or don’t have time to – change lenses. However, most of the time, I shoot with just the one camera body, as the whole ethos of the mirrorless system is ‘small and light’.
The X100T is the camera which I (almost) always have with me. It offers the same image quality as the X-T1 and X-E2 but with a fixed 23mm f/2 lens (35mm equivalent focal length on a full-frame sensor). It handles beautifully – my favourite of these three cameras in that regard – and is absolutely silent in operation, so ideal for street photography or any other situation where discretion is required. It has a built-in three-stop ND (neutral-density) filter, which means you can shoot in bright sunlight with the lens wide open. It also has a leaf shutter instead of the more common focal-plane shutter which means it will sync with a flash unit at 1/1000 sec wide open at f/2 – something not possible with any Nikon camera I owned. This makes it possible to overpower the midday sun with a puny speed light – pure magic.
I mainly shoot with prime lenses on my Fuji ‘X’ series cameras. I generally shoot with prime lenses as they are smaller and lighter and therefore fit better with the ethos of a mirrorless camera system for me. I also find that I often make better photographs with primes as they force me to think and move my feet more. All the Fuji primes listed here are highly recommended. The older lenses such as the 60mm 2.4 macro and the 35mm f 1.4 have a reputation for being slower to focus, but with the latest firmware updates to the ‘X’ cameras and lenses, focusing speed has been improved in most situations and is not a significant issue for the kind of photography I normally do. I am planning to add the Fujinon XF 16mm f1.4 R prime lens shortly which I envisage using primarily for street photography and environmental portraiture.
I also own two ‘X’-system zooms: the 50-140 f2.8 and the 10-24 f4. Both of the zooms are optically fabulous, and offer excellent image stabilisation which I find particularly useful on the telephoto zoom in low-light situations. The 50-140 is the only one of the Fuji lenses listed here which is weather-sealed. It is built like a tank, and is sharp right across the frame wide open. I love the out-of-focus rendition that this lens produces at f/2.8. It is a fabulous lens.
I still have my four favourite Nikon lenses although I no longer own a Nikon camera. If I ever shoot sports or action photography or feel the need for a decent TTL off-camera flash system, I will use the Nikon system again, and either rent or buy a Nikon body, which is why – for the moment at least – I am hanging on to my Nikon glass. Cameras obsolesce quickly, lenses don’t – so it made sense to me to sell the Nikon bodies and retain the lenses until I am sure I won’t shoot with them again.
Finally, I own the LensBaby Composer with macro kit and the super-wide-angle optic. I don’t shoot much with it, but I find it a fun lens to play with – it can re-ignite your creativity if you fall into a rut and the muse deserts you. Some argue that the effect this lens produces (a circle of sharp focus as opposed to a plane of sharp focus like a conventional lens) can be replicated in Photoshop. My view is that because the lens allows you to see the effect at the point of image capture, it enables you to see the world in a different way, and leads you to photography differently than if you simply attempted to create the same effect in post-processing. Added to which it is almost impossible to re-create the effect of shooting with a LensBaby in post-production. The LensBaby is the joker in the pack, and I am glad to have it in my camera bag despite the fact that it is only seldom used.
Fujinon XF 14mm f2.8 R
Fujinon XF 23mm f1.4 R
Fujinon XF 35mm f1.4 R
Fujinon XF 56mm f1.2 R
Fujinon XF 60mm f2.4 R Macro
Fujinon XF 10 – 24mm f4 R OIS zoom
Fujinon XF 50 – 140mm f2.8 R LM OIS WR zoom
Fotodiox Lens Mount Adapter Nikon to Fuji X
AF-S Zoom Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8D ED-IF
AF-S Zoom Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED-IF
AF-S Zoom Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
AF-S Nikkor 85mm f1.4 G
Lensbaby Composer with macro kit
Lensbaby Super Wide-Angle Optic
Really Right Stuff BH-40 ballhead
Really Right Stuff clamps and L-plates for Nikon and Fuji
Gitzo GT2531 6X Carbon Fibre Mountaineer tripod
Gitzo GM2541 Series 2 Carbon Fibre monopod
Nikon and Hoya HMC Circular Polarizers
Lee Foundation Holder with standard & wide-angle adapters
Lee .3, .6 and .9 Soft Graduated Neutral Density (GND) Filters
Lee .3, .6 and .9 Hard GND Filters
Lee Big Stopper 100mm x 100mm 10-stop ND Filter
Hitech 100mm x 100mm Prostop IRND 3-stop ND filter
Hitech 100mm x 100mm Prostop IRND 6-stop ND filter
Hoya ProND 3-, 4- and 6-stop ND filters
Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter
Singh-Ray thin Gold-n-Blue Polarizer
Hoya HMC FL-W Magenta filter
Tiffen Black Pro-Mist ¼ Filter
Nikon NC protective filters on all lenses
Lighting and Light Shapers
Nikon SB-900 and SB-700 Speedlights
Cactus RF60 flash units
Godox Ving V860c Lithium-Ion flash units
Lastolite 24″ x 24″ Ezybox Hotshoe Softbox with telescopic extension handle
Raya 24″ x 24″ Easyfold Softbox
Lastolite TriGrip 2-Stop Diffuser/Reflector
Photek Softlighter II 60″ umbrella
Westcott 43″ shoot-through umbrellas
Lumopro 22″ beauty dish and grid
Orbis Ring Flash adaptor and support arm
Westcott 32″ 5-in-1 diffuser/reflector
Photoflex 22″ Litediscs (silver/white & gold/white)
Impact 5-in-1 22″ diffuser/reflector
Lumiquest Softbox III
Rogue Flashbender grid spot and large reflector/flag/snoot
Honl grid spots, speed snoots and speed gobos
Roscolux and Rogue Flashbender gels
Cactus V6 radio triggers
Avenger and Manfrotto Grip
Lexar Professional and SanDisk Extreme 32 GB and 64 GB CF and SDHC Cards
Hoodman Professional 3″ LCD Loupe
Camera Bags and Carrying Systems
Computers & hardware
DROBO and LaCie digital asset management
Wacom Intuos 4 Medium Tablet
X-Rite ColorMunki Photo colour calibration system
X-Rite ColorChecker Passport
Printing & Paper
Epson Stylus Pro 3880 large-format printer
Breathing Color Optica One, Vibrance Rag and Vibrance Metallic fine-art paper
Moab Entrada Rag Natural 300 fine-art paper
Adobe Camera Raw, Adobe Lightroom 5 and Adobe Photoshop CC
Nik plug-ins: Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro, Dfine, HDR Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro, Viveza
OnOne plug-ins: Perfect Effects, Perfect Resize
Alien Skin Exposure plug-in
Topaz Plug-Ins: Adjust, Clean, Dejpeg, Denoise, Detail, Infocus, Simplify