My Camera & Photo Gear -> The Full WheelingIt 2016 Set-Up
Over the past 5 months I’ve been quietly updating my camera gear. It’s something I do every 5 years or so and I usually don’t publicize it too much since I’ve always considered how you use a camera to be soooooo much more important than what camera you use (it’s the user not the gear my dear :)). But I always get asked this question, so I figured today I would give a few tips on how I chose my cameras and update you all on what I’m currently shooting with.
Tip #1 -> The Best Camera Is The One You Carry WITH You
Perhaps one of the things that surprises folks most when they ask me about my gear is that ~90% of the shots I take on the blog are taken with my hand-dandy not-at-all-fancy pocket camera. The reason for this is pretty darn simple and it’s got everything to do with portability. When I’m walking around town or biking or hiking in the mountains, I don’t want to be carrying 3 lbs of camera gear around my neck. I need something that fits into my pocket and that I can just whip out anytime I feel like it.
So, when folks ask me what camera to chose the first thing I always recommend is that they be honest with themselves about what they’re willing to carry around. If you buy a big DSLR will you be able to carry it everywhere with you? Or, do you need something light and compact? What about when you’re hiking? Biking?
The bottom line is that you can’t take great pics if you don’t have your camera with you, so the best camera to have is the one you’ll carry and use. It’s that simple.
Tip #2 -> You Don’t Have To Have The Fanciest Gear Out There
The second question folks ask me is about features. How many megapixels should my camera have? How about ISO? FPS? Camera junkies get into some serious discussions about all this kinda stuff and if you’re shooting specialized things (say, you’re a sports photographer, or you’re a dedicated night photographer) then specs really do make a difference. But unless you’re a techno-geek or pro, you probably don’t need all the whiz-bang features of the top-end model.
Personally I play with custom settings all the time, but good camera focus, great picture quality and how the camera feels in my hand are more important to me than many of the higher-end specs. Plus I’ve done OK with mid-level cameras over the years.
Just to give a real-life example, I actually started my own photography business when I lived in Hong Kong back in 2006 doing food photography. It’s a pretty specialized industry and some folks use a lot of specialized gear, but all I had at the time was my entry-level DSLR (a Nikon D80) and two lenses (the standard 18-200 VR kit lens and a 50mm prime). I bought a good tripod, a couple of desk lamps and some cheap extension tubes, but nothing else and I ran my entire business with that gear for several years. I came across some “pros” that laughed at me, but my customers were always happy with my pics. The point is you don’t have to have the fanciest gear to take quality shots, even if you’re doing it professionally.
My Pocket Camera Gear -> Canon Powershot G7 X
I started using Canon pocket cameras many, many years ago. For my tastes, they provide the best mix of custom settings (which I always use) and pocket portability (which is key). The latter is SO important for me that I actually test whether a pocket-camera will fit into my hiking pants side-pocket before I buy either one (the camera or the hiking pants!). If it doesn’t fit, I won’t buy ‘coz the whole point (for me) of having a pocket camera is that it is…well…pocketable!
For my first many years on the blog I was using a Canon PowerShot S100. Then, right before the ABQ Balloon Fiesta last year that camera zonked out (it had a “lens retraction error”, a common “death” method for canon pocket cameras) and I started researching what to buy next. Specifically I wanted a pocket camera with a step-up in specs from my old one, but still light enough to be carried around in my pocket. Picture quality was **key**, how much I could zoom was secondary (buying tip => pocket cameras with bigger zooms typically have the poorer picture quality).
After tons of research my decision came down to two cameras -> The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 IV or the Canon PowerShot G7 X. They actually both share essentially the same body size and sensor (1″, 20 MP), and offer very similar specs with just a few differences. The Sony is a tad lighter (by 0.3 oz) and offers a few specific features the Canon does not (e.g. in-camera panorama function, 4K video, faster continuous shooting), whereas the Canon has a slightly longer zoom (24-100 mm versus 24-70 mm) and offers a few things the Sony does not (e.g. touch-screen, longer night exposures). The biggest difference is price -> ~$950 for the Sony versus ~$600 for the Canon. Personally the few extra features of the Sony were not worth an extra ~$350 (for me), so I went with the Canon. I even nabbed a special $100 off discount at Costco so it ended up costing me $499.
I shot ALL my photos at the ABQ Balloon Fiesta with that camera and I’ve been using the Canon continuously (every single day) since then. So far no complaints at all and I’m very, very happy with my choice. Like my previous pocket cameras, I plan to use this camera until it dies.
My “Big Camera” Gear -> From Nikon D7000 to Nikon D750
I’ve been a Nikon girl for over 15 years. I’ve always liked the way they feel in my hand (I’ve got smaller hands and the Nikon’s have always felt more comfy than the Canon’s) and I like how they shoot. I’ve been using my trusty D7000 for years now (and still love that camera), but I’ve wanted to upgrade for a while.
This time around I actually considered non-Nikon cameras for the first time in my life, specifically because of the new “mirrorless” cameras on the market. I agonized over my decision for around 6 months before I finally pushed the buy button on my new Nikon. In the end mirrorless didn’t make sense for me. However if you’re new to this whole photography thing and looking at “big cameras” for the first time, you’ll definitely want to check them out. For that reason I’m going to discuss both:
What Are “Mirrorless” Cameras?
I’m going to tell you this up-front. I believe mirrorless cameras are the future, and right now they’ve got a lot to offer, especially in the entry to mid-level market.
The way to understand mirrorless is this -> DSLR cameras have an internal mirror that bounces your pic view to your eye-piece (the place you look into the camera) and flips up to expose the sensor everytime you take a shot. Mirrorless cameras don’t have this and instead expose the sensor directly each time you take a picture. The whole mirror function is bulky and the biggest draw of going mirrorless is that those camera bodies are significantly smaller/lighter than regular DSLR’s (just the bodies min you…the lenses are the same size).
So, instead of lugging around 2 lbs of camera gear, you’re only lugging around 1 lb of stuff. If you’re carrying your camera gear all day it’s a huge advantage. Also because mirrorless cameras offer on-chip focus, they offer much better video zooming than DSLR’s (none of that “blurring” motion when you zoom in). If you’re a serious videographer that’s another big advantage.
Currently Sony offers one of the nicest affordable mid-level mirrorless (their best-selling Sony Alpha a6000, with the upgraded A6300 just released 2 days ago) whereas Nikon doesn’t have anything comparable (yet). If I were buying my very first “big camera” today, I’d probably go with the Sony.
External Article -> Tom’s Guide on DSLR versus Mirrorless: which is better for you?
Why Didn’t I buy A Mirrorless?
So, this is kinda of a long answer, which I’m going to try to condense into a small(er) answer. There are basically two reasons I didn’t buy mirrorless:
- Full-Frame Specs -> I wanted a full-frame camera, and Sony’s full-frame mirrorless (the Sony Alpha 7 Series), although high in MP & nicely compact/light is not quite up to par in other key specs (e.g battery-life, autofocus points, ISO range, autofocus speed etc.). Sony is still behind the game compared to Nikon and Canon in full-frame IMHO.
- Wider Lens Offerings & Re-Usability -> Nikon has been around a long time and has literally hundreds of lens choices (both from Nikon proper and 3rd party makers), whereas the Sony camera system is still pretty new and has limited lens choice. I don’t buy a ton of lenses, but I like having the wide choice. With my new camera I’m seriously considering a dedicated wide angle and (possibly) a really long lens. Nikon offers lots of possibilities here. Also with my new Nikon, although I’d have to buy a new zoom (full-frame cameras really need full-frame zooms), I could re-use my old 50mm prime as well as some of my old camera accessories (extension tubes, tripod plate, external flash etc.). Not a huge advantage, but a nice one.
Based on these two things it didn’t make sense for me to switch to an entirely new system.
External Article -> Comparison specs of Sony A7R Versus Nikon D750
Why Go Full Frame?
So, I have to be honest here -> this is mostly a geek camera thing. The way to understand full-frame is that regular DSLR cameras “crop” the picture, whereas full-frame DSLR cameras shoot more like your old 35mm film camera used to. The biggest advantage of full-frame is superior picture quality and that’s the main reason I wanted one.
Since I shoot all my day-to-day pics with my pocket camera, I only ever lug out my “big camera” for my biggest and best shots. These are my specialty shots where I’m looking to push the camera to its max, and I’d gotten to the point in my photography where I was starting to see the limitations of my D7000 for those particular shots. I wanted more detail, faster focus, higher ISO ranges, less noise etc.
I didn’t “need” the upgrade, especially for the kind of photo work I do (mostly blog pics), but I really, really wanted it. My reason for going full-frame was pure, luxury photo-geekness.
External Article -> Understanding Cropped versus Full-Frame Sensors
Should YOU buy a full-frame Camera?
The honest answer is probably no!! Full-frame cameras are expensive and since you typically need to buy all new lenses (with a few exceptions) you’re talking a pretty serious $$ investment. Plus most folks just don’t really need the extra picture quality detail (versus entry/mid-level DSLR/mirrorless) that they provide. It’s kind of like drinking expensive craft beer when you’re the kind of person who likes to drink Bud Light. Unless you’re really into it, you won’t notice the difference!
Why The D750 And Not A Fancier Version?
As I mentioned above I’m rarely the person with the fanciest gear out there. I wanted a significant upgrade from the D7000, but I didn’t want a camera that was so bulky that it didn’t feel good in my hand, or that I didn’t feel like I could walk around with it. Plus I didn’t want to completely break the bank. The D750 fit the ticket. It had great specs, was practically the exact same size/weight as my old camera and coming in at $2,300 (with kit lens) it’s a decent price for a high-end camera. Plus I got 10x points when I bought it in December using my Chase Freedom Card.
Am I Happy With My New Camera?
Oh hell yes!!! My upgrade from D7000 to D750 has been like going from a Toyota Camry to a high-end BMW. Everything is faster, more responsive, pics are higher quality, sharper. It is da…bom!! I expect I’ll keep this camera for at least the next 5 years until I get suckered into my next big upgrade which (at that time) will most likely be mirrorless. Hopefully Nikon will come out with a good one so I can re-use all my fancy Nikon lenses, but at this point only the Camera Gods know.
My Other Camera Gear (Not Upgraded)
I have a few other items of camera gear that I literally haven’t updated in 10-15 years. The first is my camera bag (which may be 20 years old now), the second are my extension tubes (which I use for cheap macro shooting = really up-close shots) and the third is my trusty tripod.
The latter is an important piece of gear and something I recommend for every serious “big camera” shooter, but this is one place you shouldn’t skimp -> with tripods if you buy a crappy one, you’ll keep buying crappy ones (over and over), but if you buy a good one you’ll only ever need to buy it once!
When I researched tripods over 10 years ago I specifically wanted a medium-weight tripod that was solid/heavy enough to handle my camera gear, but not be soooo heavy I wouldn’t be able to carry it around. I ended up with a Gitzo Carbon Fiber Mountaineer GT2540. The manufacturer still makes the same tripod, just in an updated version. For tripod head I use Acratech Ballhead (also still made by the same manufacturer). I still love my tripod and have no plans to buy another.