I’m frequently asked what kind of photography equipment do I have. First, it is important to note that the equipment does not make the photographer. My wife has taken some great photos with her little digital camera. Second, I have more equipment than I intended when I started down this road. Over the years I have developed a wide range of photographic interests which requires more specialized equipment. Secondly, I seem to be a little accident prone and have had to replace some equipment.
When I retired six years ago from the University of Wisconsin-Stout I knew I wanted to spend lots of time outside. As a kid I spent almost every day in the summer and fall down at the local creek fishing, looking for turtles, looking for frogs etc. In later years I traveled all around the western United States and the world with a film camera. When I retired I didn’t want to spend money developing film and I also wanted more immediate feedback regarding the photos I was taking and the techniques I was using. Switching to digital cameras met both of those needs.
The first decision I had to make was what brand of camera to use. I was impressed by Canon and seriously considered the brand. However, I had been using a Nikon film camera for years and had a couple of lenses for the Nikon SRL camera so I decided to stick with Nikon. The first camera I purchased was a Nikon D70s. This lasted for a number of years until one day I had an accident. I had made my first trip to Willow Falls State Park in the winter. The ice on the falls was fantastic and I got so excited that I turned the wrong screw on my tripod head and instead of loosening the screw that allowed me to rotate the head I loosened the screw that held the camera to the head. When I picked up the tripod I saw the camera slowly falling off of the head. It landed in the water with the lens up. I grabbed it but it was clear there was water damage. What to do. I wasn’t sure I could get the camera repaired so I ordered a new Nikon D80. After thinking about it for a while I sent the camera into Nikon to see what it would cost to repair it. Turns out it wasn’t as much as I thought so I had it repaired. Now I had two cameras.
I found that having two cameras made it much easier. When I went out to photograph I could put the two lenses I was most likely to use for the day on different cameras. That way it could just swap cameras and didn’t have to change lenses in the field. Early on I found that changing lenses in the field under adverse conditions resulted in dust getting on the sensor. They can be cleaned but it is a pain. This approach worked well until disaster struck again. Last summer I was photographing and set the tripod down with the camera on it. The wind came up and blew a large branch into the camera and the whole thing fell over into a stream with a sandy bottom. What a mess. I tried to clean off the camera, lens and head but the camera and lens were toast. What to do. I wasn’t sure I could get the camera repaired so I ordered a new Nikon D300s. After thinking about it for a while I sent the camera into Nikon to see what it would cost to repair it. Turns out it wasn’t as much as I thought so I had it repaired. Now I had three cameras. Sound familiar?
It is entirely possible that subconsciously I am dropping my equipment in the water so I have an excuse to purchase something new. Now I have three camera and find that I continue to use all three. I generally keep a different lens on each camera. When I want to shoot I usually have the lens I need already mounted so I just grab the camera and head out. This is what I do around the house. Sometimes when I’m photographing from the car I will also carry all three cameras with different lenses mounted. Normally when I’m hiking I only carry two cameras with the lenses that I think I will be using that day. The big advantage of the D300s is that it allows me to shoot at a much higher ISO than I could with the D70s and D80.
When I purchased my original digital camera I also purchased aTamron 28-200mm lens and a Tamron 11-18mm lens. At the time I was primarily interested in landscape photography and I thought these two lens would cover the range of what I needed. They worked well but I found myself going back to an old Tamron 28-300mm lens that I had purchased with my film camera. I had originally purchased this lens because of its wide range and the fact that it was light. At the time I was hiking 15-20 miles per day and did not want to carry any more weight than was necessary. Currently I typically carry the latest version of the Tamron 28-300mm and the Tamron 11-18mm lenses when I’m doing landscape photography.
A couple of years after retiring I was sitting in the house watching the birds at my feeder and thinking it would be fun to photograph them. I found I couldn’t really get great pictures with the Tamron 28-300mm lens from my living room windows but discovered that if I went down to my basement I was able to shoot the birds when they came near the house to perch on a lilac bush.
I started looking for a lens that would give me more range and finally decided that a Tamron 200-500mm lens would give me a lot more reach. As a side benefit it was also relatively light so I could either pack it or carry it mounted on a camera mounted on my tripod. This has been my main birding lens over the years. I also frequently use it when I’m photographing flowers and butterflies.
More recently I purchased a Nikon 500mm prime lens and a 1.4 teleconverter for use in my bird photography. I’m not a large person and this is one heavy lens. I can only use it with a tripod or it I have a rest of some kind. At this point I use it to photography birds around the farm and when I go to birding locations where I don’t have to hike great distances.
When I’m hiking and doing bird photography I typically carry two cameras, one with the 28-300mm lens and one with the 200-500mm lens. If I’m shooting from the car I add the 500mm lens to the mix.
As I wandered around my farm taking pictures I noticed an increasing number of photos that would have been better had I had a macro lens. A couple of years ago I invested in a Sigma 150mm f-2 macro lens and a set of Kenko extension tubes (36mm,20mm and 12mm).
If I’m out shooting flowers I typically take my 150mm macro lens, extension tubes and the 28-300mm lens.
I normally use a UV filter mounted on my lenses as a precaution since I’m so accident prone. I also carry a Circular-Polarizing filter for my landscape and macro lenses. In addition I carry a two stop and a 3 stop Neutral Density filter for my landscape lenses. I use the neutral density filters to allow me to reduce the shutter speed to for waterfall shots. It is very helpful on sunny days when I’m out shooting and still want to get some waterfall shots.
I’ve had a number of tripods. I don’t even recall the brand of the first one. It was cheap and on a -10 degree day at the Apostle Islands Ice Caves it broke. I looked for quite a while and finally decided on the Bogan-Manfrotto 190XB. It worked fairly well but I’m short and it was even short for me. I frequently had to use the center column to shoot. I managed to break a clamp on one of the legs. After I repaired it I noticed that I had also bent the leg slightly. This year I upgraded to the Bogen-Manfrotto Pro Carbon Tripod 055CXPRO3. It is a much taller and heavier tripod. It provides a much more stable shooting platform. In addition, it has a built-in level and the center column pulls up and out to allow for better flower shots.
I’ve been using the Markins Q3 Ball head. This is the only ball head I have used so it is difficult to compare it with anything else. It seems to stand up to quite a bit of abuse. It landed in a stream with a sand bottom but after cleaning it up it seems to work fine. One of the things I don’t like about it is when I in portrait mode it only has a single slot to allow the camera to be rotated 90 degrees. I usually also have to rotate the head to shoot portraits. On the other had this comes in handy when I forget to tighten the ball and the camera and lens fall forward. The camera and lens usually fall only about 40 degrees rather than 90 degrees so I’m probably better off with a single slot.
I would be happy to answer and question you might have on the equipment I use.
My photography can be seen on my website.