The word gear has almost become a dirty word in my vocabulary. Like money, we often have a hard time delineating how much is enough. The search for more gear can turn into an obsession. I thought the best gear meant that I would quickly be multiples better at whatever I was engaging in, but what I learned was that more gear was often times just that - more gear. So while I curse the excess of gear, I am guilty of accumulating gear. With that being said, let me wane on the subject of gear a bit more.
Before I share my photography kit, I want to dedicate a few paragraphs dedicated to my current ethos toward camera equipment and gear in general. The short of it is that I believe it’s less about the camera body or the accessories, but the photographer and their dedication to the craft that makes great photographs. You don’t need the best gear to take great photos. In fact, I would advise against the best gear - for as long as you can. Let me explain.
I believe that there can be risks associated with stepping into a craft with the best gear. The greatest of which is the assumption that your photos will be inherently better because you now have the latest and greatest. This mindset is prevalent in the world of photography, as much as any other hobby/sport.
Don’t believe me? What is the first thing people ask you when they see your photography? Ok - the second thing, after they comment on how great your photo is. You get asked:
“What camera do you use for your pictures?”
This is like being asked what oven you used to make someone a wonderful dinner. It had less to do with the oven, more to do with the one who cooked it. The same concept holds true in photography - it is the photographer’s knowledge and skill that allows the photo to be captured, not just the camera’s ability to cook it… I mean, capture it.
What I’m getting at is that by having to have the best, we run the risk of doing ourselves a disservice - if we are new to photography. Stepping into the game with the best will only feed our, well marketed to, assumptions that a better camera will equate to having better photos.
“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” ― Epictetus
Endless pursuit of the best gear can create a false assumption that we will be good at photography once we have those pieces of equipment. New gear can inflate the ego, an ego can quickly erode our humility; and with it, our ability to learn and grow. Don’t get me wrong - there are many professionals who utilize their camera equipment to its max potential, that’s a whole different story. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think keeping up with the latest and greatest is the best way to grow as a photographer.
Prospectors only found gold when they were out panning. It had less to do with the pan than it did with showing up each day looking for gold. Photography’s gold is buried in the daily exploration of the craft, not in having the ultimate gear.
With all that being said, quality equipment is an important investment when in comes to photography gear. I personally aim to buy camera gear that is well built, lightweight, and functional for my needs. Below is a collection of the equipment I use on a daily basis. Each piece has been well loved and fulfills my personal criteria for my landscape photography needs.
Camera Body | Sony A6300
At just over 14 ounces, the Sony a6300 ($750) has been primary camera for the last two years. With a 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensor with 14-bit raw file output, continuous shooting at 11 frames per second, 425-point phase-detection with 169-area contrast detection system and 4k30/ full HD 1080p120 video recording capabilities this camera is quite the powerhouse for it’s size and value. You can learn more about the a6300’s features here.
All the technical bits aside, I’ve enjoyed using this camera for the last two years because it strikes a great balance between function, weight, and value. My version of the a6300 is starting to look worse for wear after a 5,000 mile bike tour, a 350 mile hike of the SALT during a tropical storm and two winters of daily shooting on Mt. LeConte. Let’s not forget all the photographs in between.
I guess the real beauty of this camera is that it not only produces beautiful images, but it has helped me grow as a photographer, while remaining light weight. It’s a mid-level camera that gives me high level features, manual control, all at an easy on the wallet price point. The low weight of these crop sensor bodies paired with light lenses has been a big factor in keeping me away from the full-frame alternatives. That may change at some point, but to have an extremely capable camera that I don’t hesitate to take on a run, really suits my self-propelled lifestyle.
Throughout the last six months, I’ve been testing a new method to expose and take images with this camera. I’m not sure if the system would be applicable on other camera platforms (Nikon, Cannon, Fulifilm, etc.) but I’m excited to share it with you all in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.
Lens | Sony Vario-Tessa T* E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS
Jack of all trades and a master of none, the Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS (11 ounces) covers all my general photography needs. Sony partnered with Zeiss Optics in creating this lens. The image quality is outstanding and the focal length is equivalent to a 24mm to 105mm on the crop sensor body of the a6300, covering my wide angle, standard zoom, and low-end telephoto needs, all with the added benefits that come with Optical Steady Shot stabilization. The f/4 aperture isn’t the fastest, but for my landscape photography needs (usually shooting between f/5.6 to f/11) the weight savings makes up for the slower glass. My back salutes you!
When I first bought the my a6300, I wanted just one lens that could live on my camera 95% of the time. I believe that I successfully found it; though I must admit, at a price point of $900.00, it is not a cheap investment for a APS-C specific lens. But if I had to do it all again, I would pick this lens in a heartbeat.
Lens | Sony E 35mm F1.8 OSS
Fast, sharp, and small - the Sony | E 35 mm F1.8 OSS (5.5 ounces!) has been an excellent prime for shooting city streets around town or shooting in low light. I originally purchased this lens because my buddy wanted me to help shoot photos at his wedding reception. I needed something a little bit faster than the f/4 lens above. With an equivalent focal length of 52.5mm, this is essentially my Nifty- Fifty, though not quite as nifty with a $400 dollar price point. The added bonus of having Optical Steady Shot stabilization in the lens is a plus for my a6300, which doesn’t have in-body stabilization like the newer Sony a6500. Would I buy it again? …maybe. Though every time I put this lens on, I remember why I love it - featherweight, tack sharp, and a fast aperture.
Manual Lens | Samyang 85mm F1.4 AS IF UMC
Manual Lens | Samyang 12mm F2.0 NCS CS
I recently picked up two Samyang lenses, parent company of Rokinon. The first is a Samyang 85mm F1.4 AS IF UMC - the other is a Samyang 12mm F2.0 NCS CS. These are both manual prime lenses. Much different than two technologically advanced lenses above. The beauty with these two lenses, besides covering new focal lengths on either side of the Sony 16-70mm f/4 lens discussed above, is that they are extremely affordable ($250), fast, and impressively sharp. So while I lose features in some areas, I gain in others. There’s no perfect world.
If you’ve made it this far and you are confused about what I’m talking about when I say prime lenses, etc. Read this short article to get caught up.
Why did you get these two lenses?
I purchased the 12mm f/2 for super wide angle landscape shots and astro photography. Again, the 16-70 f/4 is a fantastic all-around lens, but when it comes to capturing high quality images in specific categories, a sharp prime lens is better suited for the task.
The 85mm f/1.4 was purchased for some upcoming photography projects. On the APS-C crop body, the equivalent focal length of this lens is 127.5mm which is a solid medium telephoto focal length for my needs. There is a 135mm F2.0 ED UMC from Samyang that looks incredible, but the added weight kept me at bay, for now.
I can’t say much about these two manual primes quite yet, I just picked them up on Monday. So far, I am impressed with the performance of both lenses. I haven’t found manual focusing to be a problem at all thanks to Sony’s camera features like focus peaking and focus magnification. I’ll cover both of these features in upcoming blog posts.
Below are some of the critical accessories that I use on a daily basis. Some are obvious, like memory cards and a tripod. Others are unique and stem from sharing ideas with other photographers.
Camera protection and Lens Cleaning
No reason to over complicate this section. I live an adventurous lifestyle and benefit greatly by protecting my lenses and keeping them debris free.
Thanks for reading and please feel free to ask any questions you have in the comments below. Photography is an endlessly vast subject; I did very little to scratch the surface, but I hope you found some little gems along the way. Thanks again!