I like finding out what gear other photographers use. Not because I believe that gear is more important than the photographer using it, but rather I find it interesting to see the wide range of kits different people put together. I also like learning why someone may have chosen one piece of gear over another. I spend a lot of time researching photography equipment before making decisions for myself. Part of that research is learning what others use and whether or not they’re happy with it, if they would choose something else today, or if they love a product that maybe I haven’t even heard of. So, in the spirit of sharing, here's a list of the gear I'm using today, along with some mini-reviews, notes, and opinions.
I’d been waiting on a Nikon full-frame mirrorless camera for a long time and when the Z 7 was announced, it checked almost all the boxes on my wish list. For my needs, the advantages of a mirrorless camera over a traditional DSLR are: smaller size, less weight, more accurate autofocus, quieter operation, and the ability to do more with an EVF than the traditional OFV. I was worried about implementation though. I’d tried a Sony mirrorless camera and wasn’t impressed. The image quality of the Sony was fine, but the user experience was lacking—especially with the EVF. It seems that Nikon heard the complaints photographers had of other mirrorless cameras and tried hard to address them with their Z series. I love using the Z 7. The EVF is fantastic and the autofocus—while maybe a bit slower than my D750 at times—is perfectly accurate very nearly 100% of the time. My 24mm f/1.4, which was always difficult to focus on DSLRs, is like a new lens on the Z 7, even when focusing on frame edges. I love the extra 45.7 megapixel resolution too! I have so much room to zoom and crop! And because Nikon implemented image stabilization in the Z 7 camera body—all lenses are stabilized now, not just those with built-in VR systems. It’s a fantastic camera for someone who travels as much as I do and has replaced my D750 as my primary camera body.
If someone from Nikon were to ask me to choose the first prime lens I’d want released with a new camera system, I’d easily pick a 35mm f/1.8—and that’s just what they did with the Z series. For me, 35mm is a great focal length and the f/1.8 aperture keeps the lens relatively small and light—just what I want for a mirrorless body. The image quality of this lens is much better than the f/1.8 primes we’re used to from the DSLR F-mount days and, even wide open, has enough resolving power to stand up the Z 7’s resolution. This will come with me to restaurants and on nighttime photo walks when I want a light, handheld solution.
The 24-70 f/4 S is the first zoom lens Nikon produced for the Z series. Like the 35mm f/1.8 S, I applaud Nikon for choosing a focal length and aperture that results in a more compact lens which complements the mirrorless body. For me, this’ll replace the 24-120 f/4 that I used on my D750 and will likely be mounted most of the time on my Z 7. I do wish it had a bit more range but I’m fine with compromising here for a smaller and lighter lens with better image quality. (I also love how this lens can zoom down past 24mm and lock into a more compact size for traveling!) The image quality, like with the 35mm f/1.8 S, is superb, and is much better than the f/4 DSLR zooms we’re used to.
The D750 is a full-frame, 24 megapixel DSLR. As far as full-frame bodies go, the D750 hit the sweet-spot for me in terms of size, weight, handleability, and resolution. It is a great DSLR for traveling. There were a bunch of small improvements that made upgrading from my previous DLSR, a D610, worthwhile but the biggest for me was that it had one of Nikon’s most advanced autofocus systems at the time. Icing on the cake: one-button 100% zoom on playback, ISO up to 12,800, built-in Wi-Fi, and advanced metering. For sports and action, it might be faster to focus than my new Z 7. Even though I'm sold on mirrorless and the Z 7, it's still too good of a camera to sell so I'm keeping it as a backup for now.
I have a love/hate relationship with the 24mm f/1.4. On one hand, it's one of my favorites: the wide-angle combined with the large aperture can give such a unique look. On the other, autofocus is tricky and I even have trouble with it on the otherwise reliable D750. If I want to shoot anything wide-open and close-up with critical sharpness I pretty much have to rely on live view. That said, I love using this lens when walking around city streets at night when I don’t necessarily want to carry a tripod. On the D300s this lens was equivalent to 36mm on full-frame and was an excellent lens for food in dark restaurants (it’s a bit too wide for food on a full-frame camera though). It’s extremely sharp, even wide open, as long as I can get accurate focus.
I bought the 35mm f/1.8 primarily to be a food lens in restaurants. When I moved to the full-frame D600 my 24/1.4 that I used for food on my D300s was just too wide. I opted for the f/1.8 lens instead of the f/1.4 primarily for its more affordable price and smaller size. I try to shoot food at at least f/2 or smaller anyway if I have enough light—at f/1.4 almost nothing would be in focus! Also, it’s already a little awkward taking a big DSLR to a restaurant; having a smaller lens is an advantage. I’m finding that I like it almost as much as my 24/1.4 as a walk-around-at-night lens, especially if I’m tired and prefer to carry something light. The 35/1.8 is sharp enough from f/1.8-2 if the speed is needed, but it really starts to shine at f/2.8-4.
The 50mm focal length is not something I use very often, so I opted for the inexpensive 50mm f/1.8 version over its more expensive f/1.4 big brother. The f/1.8 lens is also newer, faster to autofocus, and some say sharper, than the f/1.4 lens. It’s small, light, a solid performer, and easy to throw into a bag “just in case”. I’ve used it at night, but honestly prefer either something wider or something longer most of the time. I tried using it as a food lens in restaurants too, but the minimum focus distance of 1.5’ is just a bit too long to be used comfortably.
The 85mm f/1.4 is an excellent portrait lens and, along with the 24/1.4, one of my favorites for walking around cities at night. If it’s dark and I don’t have a tripod, I’ll take both and be covered for almost any situation. It’s very sharp corner-to-corner, even wide open, and there’s almost no distortion. The 85mm f/1.4 is called the “bokeh king” by many photographers due to its ability to render smooth and creamy out-of-focus areas. I find that I do need to be careful when focusing in low-light wide open, but if the focus is spot on, you can create some beautiful shallow-depth-of-field images with this lens.
A fantastic macro lens and one that opens up a lot of possibilities for up-close shooting that you just can't get with a traditional lens. A macro lens was never super-high on my wish list but I had run across a number of situations when I just couldn't get close enough and get the field of view I wanted with the lenses I already owned. I also thought a macro lens would lend itself to some interesting creative opportunities, so I finally picked one up. Product, food, plant, and insect photography are probably the most common uses of a macro lens. Some reviews will say that this lens is also good for portraits, which I suppose is true, but it really wants to be a macro lens. The VR is somewhat useful if you don't have a tripod, but it's really not that helpful in macro situations. Still, when properly used on a tripod, this lens is ultra-sharp. It also has excellent AF accuracy, almost no distortion, and beautifully smooth bokeh.
On full-frame Nikons there are two excellent wide-angle options: the 14-24mm f/2.8 and this 16-35mm f/4. I chose the 16-35mm f/4 because it will take filters, it has VR, and is almost $1000 less than the 14-24mm. Now, I’d certainly try a 14-24/2.8 if someone were to give me one, but for what I do, the 16-35/4 is probably more practical. I like the range and I find VR to be extremely useful. I’ve gotten some great, hand-held, HDR images from this lens in dark buildings using VR. The f/4 maximum aperture doesn’t bother me as I typically shoot a lens this wide stopped down to f/9-13 anyway. It’s sharp in the center at f/4-5.6 and sharp on the corners starting at f/8.
When I switched from the crop-sensor D300s to the full-frame D600 I had to sell my much-loved, DX-only 17-55mm f/2.8 which left me without a standard zoom. The pro 24-70mm f/2.8 is adored by many but I decided to go for the 24-120mm f/4 for many of the same reasons I went for the 16-35/4 over the 14-24/2.8: it has a more useful range, has VR, and is about $1000 less. I find that I take the 24-120/4 whenever I don’t quite know what I’m going to encounter and want to be ready for a wide variety of situations; I appreciate the extra 70-120mm that I’d miss if I only had a 24-70. I’m always surprised at how sharp this lens is when looking through photos taken with it in Lightroom. My biggest complaint is that there’s a lot of distortion at 24mm—but if I have to be distortion free at 24mm I have two other lenses in that range I could use instead.
The 70-200mm f/2.8 is a workhorse for many photographers. It’s a fantastic, versatile portrait lens, and excellent for many sports. I love using it in cities for architectural details or to isolate subject from background. It is razor-sharp (probably the sharpest lens I own), very fast to autofocus, and extremely accurate. It works OK with teleconverters, but if I want something longer than 200mm I'll go with my 300mm f/4 (below) these days. It is big and heavy, but I wouldn't trade it for anything else in this range. In October 2016, Nikon announced a newer version of this lens. If I were buying today, I'd obviously get the new one, but my 70-200 is one of my favorites and I don't see a good reason to upgrade.
I bought the 300mm f/4 when looking for something longer than my 70-200mm. In all honesty, to get really close, I'd prefer something longer than 300mm on a full-frame body, but given that I'm not a sports or wildlife photographer, I decided to compromise. The new 300mm f/4 is truly amazing in terms of size and weight! It's smaller and weighs less than my 70-200, in fact, it actually weighs the same as my D750 body! I love that this fits easy into every camera bag I own and I just don't have to worry about the size if I want to travel with it (lenses like the 80-400mm or 200-500mm would be much more difficult to travel with). The image quality of this 300mm is fantastic and it works great with teleconverters too, especially the 1.4x variety.
Cameras and lenses are only part of the story. Here's a list of everything else I use, including tripods, lighting gear, filters, and post-processing software. I've also added recommendations for books that I found helpful and a few things I'm looking at right now to possibly add to my collection in the future.