Below I discuss the items that are currently in my bag or in daily use in my image management workflow. One should never take another photographer’s gear choices as gospel; every photographer’s needs and interests are different, and there is no one size fits all solution. That said, I have chosen my gear carefully to build a kit that serves me well for my style of tropical nature photography. You may notice that I don’t have the latest or most expensive version of every piece of gear. Why? I consider equipment to be a business expense; if a new camera or lens doesn't translate into increased revenue over a current piece of gear, I stick with what I have.
There are always lots of great pieces of equipment coming out but, once one has a good kit with quality gear, the limits to photographic success hinge more on the photographer’s patience, persistence, and creativity than on new gear!
As always, if you like and enjoy my Deep Green Photography website, I ask that you please consider purchasing your gear through some of the affiliate links on this page and my blog posts. They take you to companies that I trust and recommend. You pay the same, and I make a little extra to save up for the new Canon 400 mm f2.8 L IS lens :-)
I'd like to thank Gura Gear, Induro, Formatt Hitech, NatureScapes, and Thinktank for their support of my photography!
By the way, that's me with a bunch of gear trying to lure in an elusive cat to a remote camera trap setup. The chicken legs didn't work!
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT MY RECOMMENDED RAINFOREST GEAR PAGE AT B & H. YOU PAY THE SAME AND SUPPORT DEEP GREEN PHOTOGRAPHY AT THE SAME TIME.
I've chosen my cameras carefully to fit my style of shooting. The 7D II offers a great feature set, very good autofocus, and good high ISO performance. The files clean up nicely even through ISO 3200 and in difficult lighting conditions. I use it for much of my telephoto work, some macro, and wide angle closeups of small things with a Sigma fisheye lens.
The new 5DsR is a fantastic body, with incredible resolution and good dynamic range on its full-frame sensor as well as great autofocus and high ISO performance, which means I can use it for telephoto and wide angle wildlife work in addition to using it as my landscape workhorse. The 5DsR and the 7D II, which share feature sets and battery chargers, are a fantastic combination for someone who shoots everything nature as I do.
I also use the Canon 60D on occasion. The image quality is very good, and the light weight can be a real bonus in certain situations. The articulating screen is also very useful for low-angle shooting and video.
People often are surprised that my longest lens is a 300 mm f/2.8. Shouldn't I have a 600 mm or at least a 500 mm? If I shot birds as a primary interest, I certainly would have a longer lens. But since I like to include a wide canvas and hint of habitat for my subjects, the 300 f/2.8 serves me well. I love the shallow depth of field look that f/2.8 gives me, and the wide aperture is great for working in the low light of the rainforest. It's also an easy lens to use handheld. Recently, a friend wanted to buy my 300 f/2.8. I thought long and hard about it but simply couldn't find a long lens that would be a better fit for me. I shoot the version 1 of this lens and see no compelling reason to upgrade (though if you were buying today, the version 2 makes sense). Plus there's some sentimental value -- this lens was the payment for my first ever work with Canon!
The other lenses in my lineup round out my interests in landscapes, closeup photography, and night photography. The 70-300 is a fantastic lens for hummingbirds, snakes, flowers, and landscapes. The Sigma 150 mm is my macro of choice. The focal length and tripod collar make it long enough to do nice work from a tripod but the reasonable weight and size make it easy to use for handheld macro as well.
On the wide end, the new Canon 16-35 mm f/4 is the best lens for the tropical landscape photographer shooting Canon. The overall sharpness and distortion control is stellar. I thought about the new 11-24 mm zoom from Canon, which is getting great reviews. But, using a polarizing filter with that lens is cumbersome, and the tropical landscape photographer uses a polarizer for nearly every single image! The Rokinon 24 mm f/1.4 is great for night work and gives good performance at a much lower price than the Canon offering. Finally, the Sigma 15 mm f/2.8 fisheye is fun for landscapes and nightscapes and also for wide angle closeups, especially with a crop sensor body such as my 7D II or 60D.
Teleconverters are very important for any photographer doing long lens work. You lose some light (1 stop with a 1.4x TC and 2 stops with a 2x TC), some autofocus speed/accuracy, and some image quality. Nonetheless, modern teleconverters easily produce publishable work. I use mine with my 300 mm f/2.8 lens as necessary and without a second thought. Some people prefer to crop after the fact. I enjoy the challenge of composing in the field!
Extension tubes are also great to have as they can turn a telephoto lens into a great lens for closeup portraits of birds, small wildlife, and flowers. Again, I use these tubes with my 300 mm lens when I need to be able to focus more closely. And don't forget, you can combine a teleconverter and an extension tube to really gain magnification with a long lens. To gain maximum, just remember white-black-white. That is, mount your teleconverter on the body, then mount the extension tube to the teleconverter, and then the lens to the teleconverter. If you shoot Nikon, just remember black-black-black :-)
Filters seem to have fallen out of favor with nature photographers. I prefer to use them as I think they help me to get the best result possible in the field, and I enjoy the challenge! And, while true, that many filters can now be applied digitally, there is one that cannot -- the polarizing filter. You can't polarize light in the digital darkroom.
Those of you who are familiar with my work know that I use flash a lot. My main flash for everyday use, including fill-flash for birds and wildlife, is the Phottix Mitros +. It's like the Canon 600 RT but cheaper but also integrates seamlessly with the Phottix Odin transmitter/reciever system. I have a number of Canon 430 EX flashes that I use with this system. This lets me do any kind of setup, whether I'm using manual flash, TTL flash, and even high-speed sync flash.
For hummingbirds, of which I do a lot, I don't want TTL or high-speed sync. Flashes (such as the Yongnuo below) and transmitter/recievers (such as the Phottix Strato below) that support only manual flash are perfect and won't break the bank.
Finally, I use the Canon MT-24 macro twin flash with Westcott Micro Apollo softboxes for true macro work of things like ants and tiny flowers.
Getting one's flash off-camera and diffusing it is the key to pleasing flash work in nature photography. I use a number of different diffusers and softboxes depending on what and where I'm shooting. I use all of the light modifiers below in my daily work. To get my flashes off-camera, I use radio triggers (see above) or a simple TTL cord like the one below.
For telephoto work, where the flash is tethered to the camera, the Better Beamer is a great little accessory. It gives you about a 2 stop bump to your flash's maximum power output but another important benefit is the faster recycling time between shots, which is of course great for action. The job of the Better Beamer is not to change the quality of the light but rather to make your flash more efficient. There is a new flash extender on the market that reportedly gives better performance in a number of ways. Nonetheless, the fact that it's a rigid plastic box is problematic. The Better Beamer folds flat, making it easy to pack. The lack of portability/packability of the new model is a dealbreaker for me.
Bags and Cases
I've chosen bags that work for me. I don't have an airport roller type bag, but I don't fly that often with my equipment. My main bag is the Gura Gear Kiboko (now replaced by the Bataflae), which is the best field backpack around for the nature photographer. It's light, spacious, and tough. I use a ThinkTank bag mostly as a laptop and electronics travel bag, but it also does double duty if I want to head out for a day's shooting in a comfortable locale with just a small selection of gear. Finally, the Canon 200 EG is a real gem for heading out into the forest when you don't want to carry everything. At around $40 it's a steal!
I use Induro tripods and heads for most of my shooting. While I do enjoy a relationship with the company, I truly believe in their products. I think they are just as good as Gitzo and at a fraction of the price. My main combo is the sturdy CT313 with a BHL2 ballhead.
When I am doing telephoto work, I use the Mongoose gimbal head with the integrated low arm. Most photographers use the Wimberley head, but I love the light weight, easy packability, and sturdiness of the Mongoose. And the integrated flash bracket is so easy to snap in and out!
I've recently been using a super lightweight and portable tripod from Induro for macro and landscape work where I'm hiking and can really use the weight savings. It's an incredible little tripod, and I recommend it for when you're shooting involves walking and doesn't require telephoto lenses.
batteries and chargers
I use a lot of batteries in my own shooting and when I lead workshops as these often involve multiple-flash hummingbird setups. I've used a well-known brand for my batteries and chargers in the past, but I've issues with battery life and charger failure (and even an almost fire!). I've recently switched to Eneloop batteries, which are wonderful. I use the AAs for all of my flashes and AAAs for flash transmitters/receivers and for flashlights. I've recently come to like this Sunlabz charger. I use 2 and plug them in overnight. With 16 slots I'm set to go in the morning for two full multiple-flash hummingbird setups! And with a lot of battery use comes the need for a battery tester so you'll know which batteries are starting to fail you.
There are a myriad of cleaning supplies out there for our sensors. I keep it simple. I first try to blow dust away with a rocket blower. If that doens't do it, it's on to the SensorKlear. And if I need a wet-cleaning, the pre-moistened swabs from Eclipse are easy to carry and easy to use.
Here are a few odds and ends I've found useful.
First, I usually carry some light stands and small tripods if I'm going to be doing setup work or even off-camera flash for plants and the like. This Studio Pro light stand bag is cheap and keeps this collection of long things in line and makes it easy to carry.
Second, I've tried lots of rain covers but the Lenscoat, while not cheap, is the best if you're really going to be out in the rain shooting. For more casual cover up, the Storm Jacket is super packable and works great in a pinch.
Third, I recently was introduced to the idea of a panning clamp by my friend Jay Brooks, who actually has a special ballhead with this idea built-in. A big challenge for panoramic photography is keeping the horizon straight as you pan across the scene. Unless you are able to level your tripod by jockeying the legs around, you're going to have problems. A panning base is what most people but they have three drawbacks -- they're not cheap, they're fairly heavy, and they're stuck to one tripod. This Sunway fluid panning clamp allows you to simply level your ballhead and then take your shots by rotating the camera around the pan head. Since the Sunway clamp has an Arca-Swiss clamp at the base, I can drop it onto my ballhead whenever I need to take a pano and remove it when I'm done. By having the clamp along in my pack at all times, I have it available no matter which tripod I'm using!
I've used PC for years and have found no compelling reason to change to Mac. Even if I did, running a Mac office in Costa Rica is tough. The first issue is cost. Macs are more expensive anywhere, and because of import duties, the cost difference is multiplied even further in Costa Rica. Second, since Macs are a specialty item here, tech support is scarce, especially outside the capital city. If I had Mac, I would have to spend two full days in the capital every time something goes wrong. And my friend, a PC wiz, owns a computer store right in the town where I live. He's great, and any time I have an issue, I'll head to his place, grab a cappuccino at the bakery next door, and hang with him and learn a few things as he fixes whatever has gone wrong. If I need a new part or component, he'll get it to me and install it within a day or two or often the same day.
For my main desktop computer at my home office, I use a custom built PC that this same friend put together for me. I paid literally one third of what an equivalent Mac desktop would cost in Costa Rica and got exactly what I want. With 16 GB of RAM, a solid state drive for the OS, an internal 2 TB drive for images, a 3 GHz Intel processor, and a great graphics card, I'm set for even the largest of panoramic files with layers.
The laptop is the one area where PC users have been most envious of the Mac people as we really had no equivalent to the Macbook Air lineup. That has changed recently with a number of ultrabooks. I use the new ASUS UX 305 Crystal White Limited Edition laptop. With 8 GB of RAM, a fast new Intel Core M processor, a 512 GB solid state drive, a 3200 x 1800 QHD screen, and a fanless design all in a package that is slimmer and lighter than the 13" Macbook Air, it's easily the equal of the Macbook Air and probably beats it hands-down as a whole package. The new 12" Macbook looks nice but I like having 3 USB ports on my ASUS laptop.
Now, are Mac users going to switch to PC for this laptop? Of course not! Am I, as a PC user, happy to finally have a laptop that looks as good and works as well as a Macbook Air? You bet!
In my home office, I use a few other devices to keep things humming and safe. I've found the WD MyCloud to be a great way to allow me to access any file I could ever need while I'm on the road. A multi-drive CineRaid array works well for backups and is less costly than a Drobo (though it isn't as automated). (Note: I also use commercial cloud and off-site backups for my master images files). The little Moko USB hub below sits on my home office desk and is an easy way to plug in peripherals and to keep phone and tablet charged up. And the ColorMunki is a great, and inexpensive, monitor calibration device. I use it to calibrate my 27" ASUS monitor (a great value in a big, hi-res, wide gamut display) and also to calibrate my projector and laptop for presentations in the field during workshops.