I am often asked what equipment I use for my photography, so I’ve added this page detailing the kit I use and the reasons why. It also provides links to the manufacturers.
Cameras, lenses and flashguns: Canon
Memory cards: SanDisk
Light modifiers: Lastolite
Outdoor clothing: Paramo
Professional Insurance: Imaging Insurance
Below I will present some justifications for the kit I use. You may think of it as mini-reviews. If you have any questions, or would like to know more about a particular item, please drop me a line and ask!
A good picture starts with a good support. The best picture in the world will be ruined by a hint of camera shake, so it makes sense to invest in a solid tripod. Gitzo make them. I use a Gitzo G2227 which gives me the flexibility to get down to ground level, or use a 500mm f4 to track a bird in flight. It’s lightweight, tough, well-made and rigid. Vibrations are well damped and it’s easy to use. Although the G2227 has now been replaced, it is still a very capable tripod. I’m an especially big fan of the explorer range of tripods. The movable centre column makes it ideal for a whole variety of shooting – everything from long lens work to ground level macro shooting – and everything in between. It may not be the very best for some disciplines, but it makes so few compromises that it effectively does everything well.
A good tripod needs a good tripod head. The choice between a 3-way pan-and-tilt or ball head is a very personal one. I’m one of those people that likes ball heads. I find them more versatile than the 3-ways and they are just as steady – if you buy a good one. If there is a better ball-head than the Really Right Stuff BH-55, I’ve yet to find it or hear about it. This thing is built tough. It will take the abuse I subject it to and it holds the camera steady in all situations. I’ve used it with a 5D + 500mm f4L lens to shoot flowers at ground level and it’s fantasticly steady. It locks down with just a 1/4 turn of the knob and the friction control offers effortless adjustment to suit any combination of camera and lens. Add the panoramic base, graduated with laser etched markings, and you’ve got a tripod for all seasons.
If you don’t like carrying the weight have a look at the Acratech GP. The Acratech is a new purchase and was bought specifically for travelling with – when hold and hand baggage weight is an issue, the 800g of the RRS vs the 400g of the Acratech can make a difference. While I’m still getting to grips with the Acratech, so far I’ve been been impressed. It is very well made and capable of holding more than enough weight steadily. I’ve not had cause to try the panorama function yet, but I foresee no problems with it. It even functions as a pretty good gimbal head providing you keep the lens size below a 400mm f/4 – certainly saves taking a dedicated gimbal head with you when travelling.
I have now used the pano function of the head and even without a nodal rail, it does a very good job of allowing you to level the tripod head and then pan around a level base – certainly makes it easier than trying to level the head by adjusting each of the three tripod legs. Undoubtedly it would be further improved by the use of an L-bracket and Nodal Rail, but for now, it works pretty darned well as long as your subjects are a reasonable way off where the parallax shift is less obvious.
One thing will ruin your enjoyment of photography quicker than any other – not being comfortable in the clothes you’re wearing. This is especially true for anyone who spends time shooting outside in all weathers. If you want to get the best images, you sometimes have to put up with some inclement weather – that dark, moody sky with crepuscular rays doesn’t come on a bright sunny day! You need to be out in the wind and rain to experience the changing light and weather and then you have to be warm, dry and comfortable enough to be in a fit state to take pictures of it when those fleeting moments present themselves.
I know people who think a £15 waterproof from – insert your choice of cheap outdoor shop here – will perform just as well as something more expensive and designed with more care. The truth is they won’t. While you don’t need to buy the best, spending a decent amount of money on your outdoor clothing will enhance your enjoyment of photography and ensure you’re will to wait the extra hour to get a shot, even if it’s blowing a hoolie.
Over the years I’ve used a wide variety of outdoor gear. I’m a kit freak and coupled with a general enjoyment of the outdoors and time spent hiking and in tents or climbing, I’ve tried stuff from most of the major manufacturers. I’ve had a Paramo Velez in my cupboard for the last 6 or 7 years and have always been hugely impressed with it. The one downside is that it’s a bit heavy. At nearly 800g, I would only ever take it with me if I was going to actually wear it – the thought of carrying it ‘just in case’ was definitely a no-no.
I’ve tried many Gore Tex jackets and trousers, as well as eVent fabric (which I personally think is better than GoreTex) and also down clothing from Rab and PHD. All of it has been very good and functional for the uses I put it to. But it never worked together as a system. Since I take a system approach to my cameras – all EOS obviously – it seemed sensible to do the same for my outdoor gear. Having looked around, and already had good experience with Paramo, I decided to give it a go.
For those that don’t know about Paramo, they work with two principles – extreme breathability by mimicing the function of mammal hair, and overlayering to keep core temperatures comfortable and allow rapid, and easy temperature regulation. Recently Paramo released the Velez Adventure Light. It’s like my beloved Velez but a whole heap lighter – and I got it in Moss colour as well so I can blend in better when out shooting. I personally don’t like jackets – preferring smocks. I don’t think it’s a function thing as much as a style thing – you may think differently.
I also added some Cascada trousers, Torres Sleeves and a Torres Lightweight Gilet to the order. Combined with the Mountain pull-on I already have, I’m pretty much kitted out for most of what the UK weather can throw at me. My one last purchase for now will be a couple of Cambia baselayers for when I don’t want the Mountain pull-on warmth.
Since these are fairly new purchases, I’m not going to give chapter and verse on how great they are – I need more time with them in the field. But early indications are incredibly positive. It’s like my old (and still fully functioning) Velez, but lighter, and better fitting. And making use of the system approach, it’s so versatile too. And, as I’ve come to expect from Paramo, no matter how wet or windy it gets, or how hard I work slogging up another hill I stay warm and dry, from both the outside and in – the famous Paramo breathability really is the best out there.
Having spent four days in North Norfolk photographing a variety of wildlife, I couldn’t have been happier with the performance of my Paramo kit. On one morning, I sat in a hide with the ambient temperature around -2degC for several hours. I was wearing my Mountain Pull-on (fleece side in), Torres Gilet and Sleeves and Velez AL smock on top. Was I cold? Not a bit of it. Even my legs were toasty warm with the Cascada trousers. Later in the day the temperature got up a bit to around +6deg but because I was mostly static flat on my face in the mud, I kept the same layers on – and stayed a comfortable temperature! Even while walking with a heavy load of kit, I simply undid the vents on the front of the Velez to allow a little more airflow. The best part about it though is what may seem counter-intuitive to some – if I’m wearing so many layers, surely it must get a bit sweaty in there? Nope. Not in the slightest. Even when it got warmer and I was working harder, the directional system worked a treat, moving moisture out to keep me dry.
Overall, I’m as happy as I’d hoped I would be. There will be more of an update in a few weeks after I’ve had time to test it in South Africa, where the temperature is at the other end of the scale!
It’s not use having a bundle of the latest cameras, lenses, filters and other accessories if you can’t get them to the place you want to shoot. The obvious solution is a camera bag. However, camera bags are as complicated as cameras and choosing the right one for your needs can be a minefield. The first thing I’ll say about camera bags is that there is no one perfect bag and you may find you actually need a selection of carrying solutions to suit various different situations and environments. Personally, I currently have seven (yes, 7!) camera bags of various shapes and sizes. Of these seven, three are used regularly, one occasionally and the three hardly ever because they have been ‘replaced’ in my bag cupboard by one of the first four. Looking at the four main bags, three of them are from ThinkTank Photo and one is from Gura Gear. And they all fulfill different jobs. The ThinkTank bags are (in size order):
Logistics Manager – this is my biggest case. It holds all my gear including lighting stands, backgrounds and any other miscellaneous bits I may wish to take with me. It’ll even take my glidetrack for shooting HD movies with. I use it for commercial work where I may need to setup a portable studio for product shots or portraits.
ShapeShifter – My training/city travel bag. This bag holds a good range of kit as well as my laptop so I can use it when travelling to training events where I will be giving a presentation and demonstrating equipment. It’s a lightweight bag with thin but sufficient padding and it really does hold more than you think it might. It replaced the ThinkTank Airport Addicted I had and while they are quite different bags (and I do miss the Airport Addicted from time to time) it carries my kit and keeps it safe and easily accessible.
Retrospective 30 – A shoulder bag I use when I don’t want to take too much kit with me, or when I want to blend in without looking like I’m carrying an expensive camera bag around. I bought it for a trip to Costa Rica and it was brilliant. It’s a good size without being cavernous and it’s discrete enough, especially in pinestone, to not look big and full of expensive kit. It’s so far also proved durable and comfortable to carry. Since it does actually hold quite a lot, it’s easy to go overboard when packing and end up taking more than you need. The secret with this bag is to keep it simple. A camera, couple of lenses and a flashgun.Though anyone that knows me will know I have a tendency to ignore my own advice on this matter….! Here’s a video I made showing just how much kit you can get in there.
My most used non-ThinkTank bag is my Gura Gear Kiboko. This is the bag I use when I’m going out into the wilds, or if I’m travelling and need to take a large amount of kit with me. I’ve written extensively about this bag on my training site at www.eos-network.com so rather than repeat it, here’s the link for you to see what is so special about it and why I’m such a fan….