The Gear Post

This is a different kind of blog post for me.  I’m not a gear head; I tend not to read gear reviews that focus on the technical nitpicking over whether a lens is “sharp in the corners” or has “chromatic aberration at” blah blah blah.  I don’t shoot test photos of charts or brick walls to try and find distortion.  Don’t get me wrong, I do my homework before I make a purchase (I’m great at “paralysis by analysis”) but when I research gear I look mainly at two things: 1) what gap can it fill that exists now, and 2) is the cost worth it?  In other words, do I need it because I need it? Or do I need it because I think I need a new toy?

What follows is a look at what gear I’m currently using.  No specs, no charts, but maybe just a little bit of why. And I’ll wrap it up with a few photos from the past couple of months that I think represent where I am at this point in time with my photography.

Camera

Nikon D750.  I get asked when showing my work, “What camera should I get?”  My answer is always this: “Every company makes good cameras now.  You really can’t go wrong.  Get something that feels good in your hands.  If it feels good in your hands, if it fits you, you’re more likely to use it.”  I got the D750 several years ago when I decided I wanted to step up from a cropped sensor to a full frame model.  I had to decide between several models and settled on the D750 thinking it was the best compromise between cost and what I wanted in a full frame camera.  The second I started shooting with it I loved the way it felt in my hands.  I loved the added weight and size compared to the camera it was replacing.  That was in December 2015, and I haven’t felt the need to replace it. It still does for me what I want from a camera.

Lenses – The Nikon “Holy Trinity”

14-24 wide angle, 24-70 VR mid-range zoom, and 70-200 VR zoom.  This was a no brainer to me.  Suck it up and buy the best glass Nikon makes.  I’m glad I did.

Lens – The Newbie

Sigma 150-600 Contemporary.  After travelling to the Dakotas last September, I got the itch for some longer glass.  I loved shooting the bison up there, but the 70-200 couldn’t get me as close as I wanted.  I’d love to own some of the big guns Nikon makes – but one look at the price and I knew that was just too much for something I’d pull out of the bag a handful of times a year.  So I did my research, talked to some fellow photographers, and got the Sigma 150-600 Contemporary lens.  It gives me the reach I was looking for, is sharp, and is light enough that I can shoot it handheld. 

A Note On Lens

I use clear UV filters on all my lens.  For me, any trade-off in sharpness (that I’ve never noticed) is worth the protection they give in covering the front lens element.  Same with lens hoods.  I always use both.  I have broken and cracked filters and hoods that show that extra protection is needed (for me anyway).

Support

I’m now using an Induro Stealth CLT303 tripod with an Induro BHD2 ballhead.  I wanted something taller than what I was using, that was solid, made from carbon fiber, and cost friendly.  This fits the bill and works great.

In My Pocket

There are a couple of things I always take with me when I’m carrying my camera: an extra camera battery, a LensPen lens cleaner (they’re cheap and great for brushing off your equipment), and Nikon Lens Wipes, in case you need something more than a brush to clean your gear.

On Occasion – But When I Need Them I Need Them

Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Cord so I can trigger the shutter without touching the camera (eliminating camera shake), a Garmin eTrex 20x GPS with a topographic map of the Four Corners region (for those rare occasions when I may be going off trail in the middle of nowhere), and a set of Tiffen Neutral Density filters – 2,3,4 stop – for longer exposures (like shooting waterfalls).

The Obvious – But Still Worth Mentioning

Hat.  I live in the high desert, and the sun is both a welcome companion and occasional foe.  I hate wearing hats but it’s a necessity, so I keep a baseball cap in every vehicle.  I also bought a broad brimmed hat with drawstring for those longer hikes where I’ll need maximum sun protection.  I look like a dork, but it’s light, comfortable, and folds or rolls up so it’s easy to store (REI has several inexpensive ones that do the trick).

Water.  Do I need to say more?  I will.  I don’t go anywhere without water.  I take a case of water in the vehicle when I go on a trip.  I wear cargo pants or cargo shorts so I can shove a bottle or two of water in the spare pockets.  I also use both a CamelBak, and a camera backpack with a 100-ounce bladder, depending on the length of the hike and how much stuff I want to carry with me.

Granola bars or whatever snack works for you.  You’re going to be out there for a while, and you’re going to want (or need) a snack.  Make sure you pack out the damn wrapper. And keep in mind that orange peels and apples cores are litter too – they take a long time to biodegrade.

The Digital Darkroom

I use a Macbook Pro, with an external hard drive that I use as a working drive (all files are stored on there, not on the laptop), and everything is backed up to two additional external hard drives, so there’s three copies of each file.  External hard drives are inexpensive these days, so I play it safe. 

Almost all of my image processing is done in Adobe Lightroom.  I have Photoshop but only use it for removing dust spots or very small objects from my images.  If I want to convert an image to monochrome, I use Nik Silver Efex Pro, and if I’m combining bracketed images for HDR, I use Photomatix Pro.

Like cameras, I don’t think it matters if you use Mac or Windows, Lightroom or Luminar or On1, or whatever.  And I really don’t think there is a right or wrong way to process images (now, there are good or bad images, but that’s another discussion).  Do what works for you.

In a nutshell, I think the often used phrase “What’s the best camera? The one you have with you” rings true. Now you know what camera I’ll have with me if you ever see me out there…

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon
Dead Horse Point, Utah
Boulder Mountain, Utah
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Theodore Roosevelt National Park (South Unit), North Dakota
Sangre de Cristos Mountains, New Mexico

If you’d like to see more of my work, my online portfolio (where my work can be purchased) is here.  I post photos daily on Facebook, share my photography journey on Twitter (@KSchafferPhoto), and share iPhone pics from the road and around the house on Instagram (kschafferphoto).

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