Equipment journal: from SD Card to output, 2014 edition

Years ago I wrote a blog post about the gear I use from day-to-day as a photographer. Six years later, a lot has changed but my formula for taking great photos has remained the same.

• Opteka Excursion Series C500 canvas camera bag. It’s a very cool-looking bag with a military/safari sensibility and is the same price as your basic black nylon camera bag. There are a ton of pockets and a water-repellent ripstop nylon cover is in a bottom pocket. However, even with the cover on, I would not want this bag out in any kind of heavy rain.

It’s an incredible value and it has held up to heavy use. I picked this up to hold a rangefinder camera and it’s was bit big for that task. It’s more suited as an SLR bag. A 6D with a bulky 16-35mm zoom fits, but it’s tight. It will hold an SLR with a small lens attached and one additional small lens.

It’s not very well-balanced in design. When you set it down with a camera in it, it wants to roll to a side (so be careful). When you use the hand strap it leans heavily forward. Though neither of these issues bothers me. The shoulder strap is comfortable and well-balanced and that’s important. There are plenty of straps to lash on an additional pocket or place a carabiner. All in all, I really think this is a unique bag. It’s got a rugged/adventurous look, but just don’t take it out in a monsoon or rafting.

• SanDisk Extreme 16 GB SC HC cards. I have several of these cards which are fast enough for my camera’s high speed motor drive as well as HD video. I also keep a spare ready in the pocket of my camera strap in case I need it.

• Canon EOS 6D. Great camera body in all lighting conditions. I often scale images down 50% to deliver to clients which is a more practical size for most needs (other than magazines or large prints).

• Canon EOS 5D. Was my workhorse camera body for many years. The 5D has since earned its keep as my backup body.

• 16-35mm f/2.8L. This is the wide angle glass I use use for landscape, travel, architecture, and large group photos. I’m happy with the copy I have although it can suffer from chromatic aberration and slight edge softness.

• Canon 35mm f/2.0 EF. This is my least expensive lens. Wide open it suffers from a multitude of minor optical problems on a full-frame sensor. Nevertheless I love the lens for reportage, band promo photos, group shots, exteriors and environmental portraits. This lens is super lightweight and has a nice low profile. I enjoy hiking and street photography with this one. The f/1.4 L version is a remarkable lens if you have the money.

• Canon 50mm f/1.4 EF. This is my workhorse. I rarely shoot below f/2.0, I don’t ever really need to. From f/2.0 on this lens really shines. Fast focus lock, tack-sharp, bright viewfinder and good color clarity. I can hand hold this down to 1/60 sec. and still get a sharp image which is key in low-light venues. A very useful focal length, my 50 is often my walk-around lens. Not a good choice for copy work-suffers from barrel distortion.

• Canon 85mm f/1.8 EF. Excellent portrait lens. Razor sharp from edge-to-edge, beautiful bokeh, lightweight design, fast glass. Since much of my location work is done in low-light venues, fast glass is absolutely necessary. Color saturation, image clarity and bokeh on the f/1.8 is not nearly as nice as the f/1.2L which happens to be one of Canon’s finest lenses.

• Canon 70-200mm f/4L. My favorite portrait lens. I use it on a monopod most of the time.

• Photo filters and fittings. I use circular polarizers outdoors quite a bit, they can really make a blue sky and clouds pop. My lens diameters range from 52mm to 77mm. I own a Hoya 58mm circular polarizing filter and a Hoya 77mm circ. polarizing filter and a B+W 4x neutral density filter and would like another darker ND filter.

• Kenko extension tube set. I ordered this kit for around 100 bucks from eBay from a respected seller in Hong Kong. There is no glass in extension tubes so optics are not affected. These work as they are supposed to for macro work.

• AlienBees AB1600 strobe. I have a bunch of these and use them with various modifiers: softbox, beauty dish, umbrellas, gels, bounced, etc. In a pinch I’ve used just the reflector dish and modeling light. I like my Bees but they are not perfect. Build quality is average, but it’s well-documented that Buff has unparalleled customer service. I do recommend the Paul Buff beauty dish, it works beautifully. I trigger my strobes with either 4-channel remote triggers or hardwired with the sync cord.

Zeus Ringmaster ZRM1 and a Dynalite M1000XR ringflash system. Ring lights are fun to use once in a while. Maybe not for the model since the light is so bright, but for the photographer, since the photos are so dramatic.

• 65W 5400k continuous florescent ring lamp light. A fun little ring light I use occasionally in the studio.

• DIY battery pack. On location I use a battery pack I constructed myself to power the strobes. I get nearly 400 flash bursts from one battery charge which suits me perfectly. Mine uses a 150W power inverter. I’d simply buy a Vagabond Mini Lithium pack if I were in the market for a pack now.

• Impact 10′ air-cushioned heavy duty light stands. They work exceptionally well with heavy softboxes and have a wide footprint for stability indoors or out. For light-duty work I use a Smith Victor RS75 Raven stand and an Impact IMLS8A stand which are compact and lightweight. I also use several Bogen Superclamps for mounting lights or gear to ceiling trussing, rails, or light stands.

• Yongnuo SYD-0808 64 LED continuous on-camera photo video light. I like this for a very subtle fill light when shooting outdoors.

• Canon SpeedLite 550EX flash. Dependable, works well as far as on-camera flashes go. I’m not crazy about using them as a primary light source unless I really have to. Tip: do not leave your AAs in the battery compartment of your flash during storage. Eventually the batteries will drain and leak acid all over your expensive flash. Sadly, I know this from personal experience. After I’m finished using my 550EX I simply remove the batteries and rubber band them together to keep them all in one place.

• Lowel Tota-Light (750 W) and Paterson Interfit 1000w variable-powered quartz hotlights. I rarely uses these anymore. Continuous lighting works does work great under certain circumstances, especially video. However, once the light is diffused (such as through an umbrella or bounced) it’s very tough to get enough light on the model or sitter. Even with multiple hotlights you can expect to shoot at 400 ISO or worse. The Tota is very light/compact and works very well for simple location shoots. The umbrella mount on it only works with a rather small Lowel umbrella.

• Slik Able 340DX AMT tripod with 3-way quick release pan tilt head. I use this for travel photography and for landscapes that involve a hike.

• My Slik 700DX tripod review.

• Adobe Photoshop CS6. I’ve kept my machine up to date with software updates to both the Apple OS and Adobe updates. No question about it; Photoshop is the ultimate in imaging/retouching software. All of the controls in Camera RAW mode are a godsend. The healing brush tools are extremely useful for digital photography retouching.

• Apple 27″ iMac with 12GB of RAM and a 2.7 GHz Core i5 processor.

• Canon MX410 printer. Seems like an economical little printer/scanner. I rarely use it for photo quality work, instead relying on photo printers like Costco or

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