This is a list of the photographic equipment I use. I may not take all of it on a photographic outing; it depends on what subjects I expect to come across.
Canon 5D Mark II
I never knew I needed a full frame camera until my wife gave me this for Christmas. I fell in love with it, and use it quite a bit for landscape and macro where I don’t need high frame rate, or the extra reach afforded by the APS-C sensor of the 7D. I find that having the full frame sensor allows higher ISO settings and primarily use it with the wide angle lenses and the 150mm macro lens.
I had never purchased a camera as soon as it was released, preferring to wait many months to see if the new features would be worth the expense of replacing one I was comfortable with. I jumped at this one to join my 40D in my bag. Many new features at the time including a fast frame rate, reported good performance at higher ISO (it works very well at 800 and sometimes higher), built-in level and live view. A very capable camera.
Canon 17-40 mm f4L Zoom Lens
Before I added the Caon 5DII to my bag, I had the Tokina 12-24mm wide angle zoom, which worked very well. Post 5DII I wanted lenses that I could use on either the full frame or APS-c sensors and this fit the bill nicely. I purchased it used and I use for landscape images. The benefits of the f4 lens are it is much smaller and lighter than the 16-35mm lens, and takes the same filter size (77mm) as my other lenses.
Canon 24-105 mm f4L IS Zoom Lens
This is my default lens for my 5D II full frame camera. It’s the perfect walk around lens, and provides a great range for most landscape photography. The autofocus is fast and accurate, and once focused on a subject, the lens maintains focus as it is zoomed. Image stabilization allows handheld photography when needed.
Canon 70-200 mm f2.8L IS II Zoom Lens
I bought this to replace my Canon 100-400mm zoom after I learned it performed well with both the 1.4X and 2X converters which I already own. This lens lets me take advantage of the wide aperture for isolated focus, and provides a bright image when composing compared to the f4.5-5.6 of the 100-400. The autofocus of this lens is very fast and accurate and the Image Stabilization is very good.
Canon 50 mm f1.8 (ver I) Lens
This is a handy lens to have in the bag. I don’t use it much but when a bright lens is needed this is the answer. I mostly use this lens with one or more extension tubes for macro photography when I want to use the wider perspective to capture more background. This version has a few nice features which may make it worthwhile to find a used one; it has a metal lens mount and a distance window. The version II currently available has some very good performance (see this review) and is Canon’s lightest, shortest and least expensive lens. Everything except for the lenses is plastic down to the lens mount. Having a lens with a wider aperture is also handy when photographing at night as it is easier to see to focus.
Sigma 150 mm f2.8 Macro Lens
I love this lens. I had the Canon 100mm f2.8 macro (non-IS) for years and frequently used it with a 12mm extension tube and 1.4x converter to give me an effective focal length of 140mm at f4. This is the ideal lens for both full frame use, and the cropped sensor cameras that I have. There is a new OS version currently available and I bought my lens about a year before that was released. I probably won’t get the OS version as it is somewhat more expensive and I’d have to sell the one I have at a loss. Who knows, Christmas is coming.
Canon 500 mm f4L IS USM Lens
I’ve had this lens since 2000 and love it, although it gets a bit tedious carrying it with all the other camera gear. It has great sharpness and performs very well with either full frame or APS-C sensors.. Results with a 1.4x teleconverter are still outstanding. Using the 2x teleconverter usually presents no problems, and I’ve even used the 1.4X and 2X converters together on occasion with good results although not consistent. Sometimes it’s just worth the try.
1.4x and 2x Teleconverters
Teleconverters work quite well on a sharp, fast prime lens such as the 300 mm f2.8 and my 500mm f4. However, they also work surprisingly well with the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS II zoom, giving me an effective 140-400mm f5.6 IS lens which focuses reasonably fast. I’ve also used the 1.4X on my macro lenses, the Canon 100mm and the Sigma 150mm. In order for the Canon 1.4X to attach to the lenses, I use a 12mm extension tube which allows the two optics to be connected without interference. I plan to get the Sigma 1.4X, which mounts directly to the lens, one of these days as I no longer own the Canon 100m macro.
Kenko 12/25/50 mm Extension Tube Set
I bought these years for the cost of the Canon 25mm tube alone. The extension tube is a means of adding distance between the lens optics and the camera sensor which allows the subject to be closer to the front of the lens and it’s important that the tubes have the electrical connections that preserve the automatic functions of the lens. Stay away from the cheap tubes on eBay and some camera stores. If you look closely, they are just tubes; there are no electrical connections. The computer in the camera will no longer be able to communicate with the lens and much of the functionality of the lens, like changing aperture, will no longer be available. In addition to using these with my macro lens to get extreme close ups, I occasionally use one or more on my 500mm lens and quite often on my 50mm f1.8 lens.
Canon RS-80N3 Cable Release
A cable release is useful for avoiding camera shake when taking long exposures, or when the image magnification is so great that a small movement in the camera shows up huge in the viewfinder. This happens when doing macro with extension tubes or when I have the 1.4X and 2X teleconverters on my 500mm lens. While you can always use the self-timer of the camera for landscapes, it’s not as handy when the subject (insects, birds) is moving. I also have a remote cable that has a delay timer, intervelometer, and long exposure timer, but have yet to use it much.
Canon 580EX II Speedlite
This is a powerful hot shoe mounted flash. it provides a lot of control of the light it provides, and the settings can be managed from the viewscreen on the back of both my cameras. This is a lot more convenient that making the adjustments on the flash itself. The 580EX II can also control up to three sets of other Canon flashes.
Canon 550EX Speedlite
I’ve had this flash for ten years and would still use it as my prime flash except for the additional features the 580 offers me. I have also used this with a wireless remote to control a hummingbird flash set up where the wireless control triggered the 550 and the 550 triggered the other 430 flashes in the setup via its IR connection.
Canon 430EX Speedlite
I used to have four 550EX flashes and sold three of them to purchase four 430EX flashes used. The 430s are much lighter and provide more than enough power for hummingbird photography.
Canon MT-24 EX Macro Twin Lite Flash
I purchased this to add to the options available for close up photography. It has two small flash heads that mount to a ring on the front of the lens and allows the position of the flash heads to be moved around the end of the lens. I also made a flexible extension to permit mounting one of the heads further away and/or behind the subject. Additionally, there is a built in IR remote controller, similar to the one in the 580EX, 550ES, and ST-E2 controller, allows use of additional off-camera flashes in conjunction with the twin lite flash. This is useful for adding a back light on the subject, or lighting the background. Typically, if flash is being used as the main light, the background will be so far from the flash that it will appear black. By adding a second flash aimed at the background, it can be lit appropriately.
I have a couple of different size softboxes for the flash, but I find a reflector that velcros to the flash most useful for close-up subjects. It broadens the light source to greatly reduce shadows around the subject, takes virtually no room to pack as it folds flat, and is small enough to keep in my back pocket.
This is a must have tool for bird and mammal photography with a lens longer than 300mm. It focuses the output of the flash into a narrower beam, allowing three times the normal flash distance. This is important to add fill flash to the subject, whether it is in the shade of foliage, flying above, or in dim or flat lighting. Since the flash is concentrating its light, the flash typically recycles faster, and uses less power
Rechargeable Batteries and Charger(s)
In an attempt to be more green and to save weight when packing, I started using rechargeable batteries. I have an Everex four cell charger and a Power Ex 8 battery rapid charger, along with lots of batteries. If I am planning to use a lot of flash, as for high speed flash set ups, I’ll bring the 8 battery charger, otherwise I’ll bring the four cell charger.
I have two circular polarizing filters, one of which is a thin mount filter for my 17-40mm WA lens. I also have a Cokin split neutral density (ND) filter, and a three stop ND filter. I also keep a UV filter in the bag in the event I expect to be in a situation where nasty things may strike the front of my lens. All the filters are 77mm to fit most of my lenses. I also have a 55mm polarizer and ND filter for my 50mm lens.
Gitzo 1348 Carbon Fiber Tripod
This is the first carbon fiber tripod I purchased in 1998 and never felt the need to switch to a more modern version. I would prefer flip locks but not enough to sell this one and purchase new one. The 1348 is a four section tripod which works for me; it collapses short enough to fit in most suitcases without the ball head, and is plenty sturdy for my 500mm f4 lens. The bottom section of the leg is small in diameter, but I typically only extend it 4 inches so that the locking collar does not sit in the dirt or mud. If I were six foot four it might be an issue, but not for me.
Really Right Stuff BH55 Ball Head
I’ve had an Arca Swiss B1 ball head for 20 years and it served me well. The one inconvenience was that when I used the notch in the side of the head to point the lens downward, the control to loosed the head was on the wrong side. I should probably say that the notch was on the wrong side. The BH55 has two notches that gives me the flexibility I need. It is also rock solid and has a tapered knob that is easy to grip.
The Sidekick is suitable for the 500mm f4, contrary to the advice of many “professionals’. Composing and panning are easy, and it’s a lot easier packing the Sidekick than the full size Wimberley gimbal head. There’s a drawback of the full size gimbal head; while it is wonderful for shooting with the “big gun” it is difficult to shoot landscapes with smaller lenses. I don’t want to change my gimbal head for a ball head and back again from day to day, never mind every couple of hours. The Sidekick provides a suitable alternative. The ball head stays on the tripod, and I add the Sidekick as needed.
There are plenty of odds and ends to take along; raincovers, small tools, a multi-tool, a macro kit (small scissors and tweezers), lens cloths, small towel, three extra camera batteries. I have a few lengths of green parachute cord that I removed the inner nylon cords to make a flat braided cord useful for pulling foliage out of the shot, or for placing a perch in a more suitable location.
I have about 90 Gb of flash cards in 16Gb and 8 Gb sizes. I typically bring my laptop along with two Western Digital portable hard drives and a flash card reader. In the evening, I’ll copy any flash cards that I have filled onto the two hard drives. If I can, I will not reuse a flash card during a trip, preferring to have that extra level of duplication. I find that I don’t usually have a lot of time to edit images on a trip; I use the laptop to view the images and ensure that my equipment is functioning properly and that I am not making errors in settings.
My big bag (backpack) is a MP-3 bag designed and sold by B. Moose Peterson. I was looking for a bag that would accommodate my 500mm f4 and other gear, and not weigh a lot. Most bags this big have enough padding that it could be towed behind a car without damaging the equipment. The MP-3 is a “minimalist” bag in that it has closed cell foam padding on the back and the sides, but not in the “doors”, which have mesh zippered pockets. There are three compartments in the bag; one the full length of the bag and two on the other side. When I need some measure of protection on a section, I place a piece of closed cell foam I cut from a backpackers sleeping pad into the mesh pocket. There is enough room in the bag to carry all both cameras, all the lenses and one flash, with room in the pockets for batteries, flash cards, cable releases, filters, and other odds and ends. The Gura Gear Kiboko bag is really nice, and I would have chosen if had it been available when I bought the MP-3 in 2007. The Kiboko bag would fit my big lens with camera attached (the MP-3 doesn’t) and is also very light, but until I find someone who wants to purchase my current bag, the Kiboko is down low on the wish list. I could put more stuff in the Kiboko bag, but how much stuff can I carry? I am getting older.
For at least 20 years I’ve used two Domke canvas belt pouches to carry odds and ends like a flash, off-shoe cord, spare batteries, etc. or my teleconverters and/or extension tubes. Last year I purchased a Think Tank Skin Double Wide belt bag. . While I was prepared to strap the Double Wide on a belt, I used it with the two loops provided to use from a shoulder strap, finding this more comfortable, and easier to move around to get at things. The bag folds flat for packing as it only has thin padding on the belt side of the bag, and none anywhere else. There are two main compartments, two smaller pockets, and a pocket on the flap. One set up might be my flash, flash extender, brackets and cord, lens rain cover, extension tubes, and teleconverters if I was using my 500mm lens. On walks through the rain forest where I had my 24-105mm lens on the camera, I would carry the flash gear, reflector, a 150mm macro lens, and teleconverter. This year I purchased the Skin Chimp Cage, a utility bag and the Thin Skin Belt to carry the two bags. Think Tank also offers a shoulder harness compatible with their belts but it seemed too heavy duty for the way I’d use the bags. I opted to use a pair of clip-on suspenders to ensure the belt with the weight in the bags did not slip from my waist to my ankles. It wouldn’t be such a problem if I had a waist.