Home / State of my Gear 2018 Eddition

State of my Gear 2018 Eddition

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Back in early 2017, I put up a “state of my gear” post. My intent was to document the gear I used, so I could come back and see how it changed over time and with changes in my interests, style, and subject matter. A year has now passed, and I’m going to do that dance all over again since things have changed.

My intent is to look more introspectively into the craft in part by looking at how my evolution as a photographer has changed my perspective on gear. Additionally, I’ve found that the gear I use can have a material impact on the way I go about approaching my vision, and I want to see if I can identify trends with that too.

As an example, in reading through my article from a year ago, there’s been more than a few places where conclusions I made back then have been reversed, or at least I’ve gone off in a different direction. Certainly some of the expectations I’ve had for equipment in the past have proven out to be wrong when put into practice.

Finally, like the last time, this isn’t an extensive list of every bolt and nut of camera gear I own. Major things, and things I use a lot are most likely to be covered. However, there is no hard criteria for what does and doesn’t make the list.

Cameras

For almost as long as I’ve been doing photography, I’ve tried to have two camera bodies. Partially this is so I can have a backup body so I don’t end up traveling somewhere (which is always a costly undertaking) and coming home with nothing because my camera died. Additionally sometimes for the subject matter I’ve shot it’s necessary to have 2 bodies to quickly switch between.

As of my last edition, my primary camera was a 5D mark IV and that was backed up by my old 5D mark III. I’ve now replaced that 5D mark III with a second 5D mark IV.

Oddly, I think there’s actually a lot worth talking about here.

For starters, contrary to what a lot of discussion forums may lead one to believe, the 5D mark IV is very competitive against the Nikon and Sony alternatives like the D850 and A7R3. It certainly can be argued that it’s not best in class in many respects, but the reality is, it’s good enough that the skill and vision of the photographer is a far bigger factor than sensor performance. And honest, the 5D mark IV can be quite surprising if you know what you’re doing with it.

This is also the first time I’ve had two identical bodies instead of dissimilar ones. In the past, I’ve always had two different classes or generations of cameras. This was a result of upgrading to the new hotness, and keeping the old camera as the backup.

Having dissimilar cameras, whether they’re different by generation or by capabilities, does have it’s pros and cons. On the pro side, you can have differing capabilities that leads to having more options. E.g., having a high resolution camera for landscapes and a high FPS camera for action.

On the other hand, there can be a lot of drawbacks as well. Different generations often have slightly different UIs and decidedly different capabilities. This can lead higher cognitive loads when shooting (e.g., having to remember how different cameras are configured) and tough choices when choosing how to setup for a days shooting (e.g., which camera do I put on which lens or even which camera to take versus leave at home).

For me, at least, dissimilar cameras was never a real negative. At least it wasn’t until the 5D mark IV came and changed Canon’s performance and capabilities envelope around the way it did. What I had expected to happen based on my past experiences with dissimilar cameras, was that my 5D mark III would still get used some what regularly, in much the same way as my 1D mark III or 40D were used for various tasks after they became backup bodies in the past.

Instead what happened was that the combination of image quality, performance, and ancillary features pretty much killed any intent to use my 5D mark III at all.

For example, I had intended to use the mark 3 for all the product photography on my site. After all there’s no need for a 30MP file when the end result will be a sub-1 MP image on the web, and smaller files of course, safe disk space. However, the ancillary features, like the ability to tether and control the mark IV over WiFi made it so much easier to do that kind of studio shooting that it wasn’t desirable to go back to the mark III just to save a couple of MB of space.

Then there’s the improvements in image quality. The mark IV sees a nearly 2 stop jump in dynamic range at ISO 100[1], which is great for landscape photography. And while the lead diminishes to a much less relevant 1/2 stop past ISO 1600 or so, it never goes completely away. Likewise, at high ISOs, I find the finer pixel pitch makes the noise so much more palatable. With my mark III, I could make satisfactory A3+ prints at a ISO 1600–3200. With the mark IV, I’ve made as good or better looking prints from at ISOs as high as 12,800.

Combined these factors had pushed me to basically shelving the mark III and always using the mark IV for everything.

The other big ancillary feature that’s killer for me is the built in GPS. As more of my work is getting out into the field in national parks doing wildlife and landscapes, geotagged images is increasingly important to me if only for internal record keeping. While having 1 body with a GPS and one without isn’t world ending, having GPSes in everything is something I’ve found to be fantastically useful.

Long story short, combined with a good rebate deal, and some other unused gear, I sold the Mark III, and replaced it with a second Mark IV.

Now the big question out of all of this is; Is dual wielding identical cameras a good strategy?

I’d certainly argue that for me, under the current Canon product lineup, it is.

Canon’s 5D mark IV is an extremely compelling camera to me. I like Canon’s ergonomics and UI, and I have no interest at all in splitting my gear across platforms (i.e., one Canon body and one Sony body with an EF mount adapter). Plus when push comes to shove, there’s nothing that either Nikon’s D850 or Sony’s A7 series do so much better than the 5D mark IV that the costs and other negatives warrant switching.

With switching out, the question would then be what other Canon bodies are real attractive to me. I’ve already danced with the 1-seires, and while they’re fantastic cameras, I’ve already been frustrated with the situation that is running one of those and a 5D when it comes to batteries. Simply put, the 1DX mark II doesn’t really offer enough that I think it’s worth the frustration that comes with it.

The flip side would be an APS-C body, and while there might be some benefits from that, having gotten use to the image quality that comes out of a 5D mark IV, I don’t think I’d ever be happy with the image quality that comes out of a 7D mark II or even an 80D.

One final thought, which I’m writing largely so I can laugh at myself in a couple of years. On one hand, there’s a tiny voice in the back of my head saying that given the capabilities of the 5D mark IV, the 5D mark V is going to be a hard sell for me. At the same time, I know that as soon as Canon announces it I’ll want to upgrade to one and no amount of rationality is going stop that.

Primary: Canon EOS 5D mark IV(Buy from Amazon.com)
Secondary: Canon EOS 5D mark IV 
Battery Grip: Canon BG-E20(Buy from Amazon.com)

Lenses

In sitting down to write this article, I’ve been looking back over my last edition to see what changed and how. In the last article, I wrote this about choosing between the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM and the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.

Between the two, I’m convinced the choice is driven less by image quality and more by other factors (IS and especially weight). I didn’t get bit by weak corners that in the Southwest but I also didn’t shoot images where I had fine detail relatively parallel to the sensor over the whole frame. Never mind, the 24–70/2.8L is big and heavy, and after at least one day of hiking has my shoulder quite sore.

I’d love to replace both, but I’m not in love with any of the options. The new EF 24–105mm f/4L IS II USM is bigger and heavier which is a big strike against it, and not markedly better optically. The EF 24–70mm f/2.8L II USM is optically fantastic, and its lighter than the 24–70 I have, but its still the 24–70mm range which I find a bit limiting.

Subsequently, I replaced my first generation 24-70 f/2.8L with its second generation EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II successor. And in doing so, I’ve basically put my EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM in a drawer for image quality reasons.

That said, what I said about not being thrilled with the replacement options is still at least partially true.

The EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II is an absolutely fantastic lens. However, the 24-70mm range is not a range that I’m terribly enamored with. Even with that being the case, the lens is now my go to general purpose lens now. I would still love something longer, but I can’t argue with the image quality or, for that matter, the weight.

One part of this is that going from the 5D mark III to the 5D mark IV increased the demands the camera’s sensor places on the lens. And while resolution isn’t everything, it’s still not something I can dismiss either. When I was finding fault with the 24-105mm f/4L, I was only using a 22 MP sensor. Behind a 30 MP sensor, those faults are that much more magnified.

On the other hand, the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM just doesn’t do anything for me as an upgrade. The image quality isn’t appreciably better than its predecessor, the IS improvement is only 1 stop, and it’s bigger and heavier, which is exactly the opposite of why I replaced my 24-70 with the smaller lighter mark II.

That said, I can’t quite bring myself to sell the 24-105mm f/4L due to the image stabilizer and the utility that has when shooting video.

The EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM is still my ultra-wide of choice. I briefly looked at the new EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM. The 3rd generation f/2.8L’s image quality is significantly better than the f/4L’s, but the f/2.8 III brings us back to the same points about weight, size, and the lack of an IS system.

The biggest killer of the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM for me though is that I simply am not using a 16-35 as much as I have in the past. Instead I’m stitching more and more panos with the 24-70 or even something longer. With out a pressing need for a sharper 16-35mm lens, there’s little benefit to me for the cost of replacing the lens.

On the long end, the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM is still my workhorse. Though I have upgraded my teleconverter from the Extender EF 1.4x II to the Extender EF 1.4x III. The extender upgrade was largely a due to the 5D mark IV’s AF system have all points active with that combination (instead of only some).

I also still have my EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM — which I had at the time of the last post but didn’t mention. The 70-200 f/4 is again a very limited use lens for me, and honestly, it’s probably something I should consider selling as redundant. That said, its massively smaller and lighter than the 100-400, which is not a bad thing.

Rounding out the lenses and lens related stuff, I still have the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM that I mentioned in the last post, and an EF 40mm f/2.8 STM. These were mostly lenses bought on a lark (and for testing for an article on AF performance across different generations of cameras that I never actually ended up writing).

Speaking of the 50 f/1.8, I mused about using it instead of the 24-70 f/2.8L for panos since the IQ was better at f/8 (comparable to the 24-70mm mark II). Since getting the 24-70 f/2.8L II that never paned out. I simply never saw a point to carrying the 50 f/1.8 when I had the 24-70, or for that matter leaving the flexibility of the 24-70 at home to carry the lighter 50.

As far as macro goes, I mentioned last year I had a set of Kenko extension tubes. I no longer bother with a dedicated macro lens as I have in the past (a Sigma 150mm f/2.8). The combination of the extension tubes with the 24-70 or 70-200 covers my needs for things like product photography, and the 0.5x magnification of the 100-400 with a 1.4x TC has made that my go to for bugs and flowers.

* Newer version of product linked.
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM(Buy from Amazon.com)
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM(Buy from Amazon.com)
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM(Buy from Amazon.com)*
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM(Buy from Amazon.com)
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM(Buy from Amazon.com)
Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM(Buy from Amazon.com)
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM(Buy from Amazon.com)
Kenko 12mm, 20mm, 36mm extension tubes(Buy from Amazon.com)

Lighting

Similar to the last post, the lighting situation hasn’t changed at all. My primary flash is Canon’s Speedlite 600Ex-RT, complimented with a pair of old Speedlite 580Ex IIs for product/studio work.

Unlike last time, however, most of the time I’m shooting now I’m using Canon’s optical flash control system. A big part of this reason is that the 5D mark IV and 1DX mark II aren’t compatible with the ControlTL PocketWizards I have (Flex TT5 and Mini TT1), and can’t be made compatible with a firmware update. Instead I need to buy a new Flex TT6 PocketWizard, and that wasn’t, and to a large degree still isn’t, important enough to me to spend the money on.

As far as flashes go, Canon’s new RF system is really attractive to me. However, they’ve really made the transition an all or nothing affair, and a pricy one at that. The ST-E3 remote controller is oddly RF only, so there’s no way to use it to command the older Speedlites, even though you can do that from a 600Ex-RT. Moreover, upgrading two 580Ex IIs, which are perfectly functional flashes in every respect, and especially for my needs, to 600Ex-RT IIs is a massively lopsided proposition financially.

My other two lights, not so much for photography but for doing photography are a 2016 Black Diamond Storm LED headlamp and a Fenix LD12 LED mini-tactical light. In both of those cases, the lights have worked admirably and I haven’t had cause to complain. If there was one point I might make to complain about the LED flashlights, it’s that their color temp is very cool (daylight or bluer), which means you don’t get a nice warm glow if you use them for light painting at night.

Canon Speedlite 600Ex-RT(Buy from Amazon.com)*
Canon Speedlite 580Ex II 
Fenix LD12(Buy from Amazon.com)
Black Diamond Storm(Buy from Amazon.com)*
* Newer version of product linked.

Audio and Video

In the last update, I mentioned that I was in the process of adding a GoPro to my kit. I’ve since done that. It’s a Hero 5 Black, which was the top of the line at the time I bought it.

Oddly, for me the GoPro isn’t about having an action camera or a waterproof one — though being waterproof certainly is nice. It’s about being able to record sustained time-lapses of where we go when we’re traveling. Basically, when I’m on a road trip driving, I can’t really enjoy the scenery. Stick a camera in the windshield dash cam style, and now I can go back after the fact and revisit the places I was driving through.

Aside from some teething issues, namely trying to figure out the ideal frame rates and the best way to mount the GoPro, this has worked really good for me. Though like most things, when I get right down to it and spend enough time with the system, I have a laundry list of complaints about the GoPro that’s close to a mile long.

I’m also still rocking my first gen Rode Video Mic Pro, though like most of my AV gear, it’s not something I drag out all that often. That said, the new Video Mic Pro+ appears to be a massive improvement across the board. Especially in the power department taking 2 AAs or a proprietary declarable Li-Ion pack. Buying now, I would definitely spend the extra couple of dollars for the Pro+.

That’s not the end of my audio bag, I have an Rode NTG2, a Zoom H4n, and Tascam DR-60D, but it’s increasingly rare for me to pull that stuff out.

GoPro Hero 5 Black(Buy from Amazon.com)*
Rode Video Mic Pro(Buy from Amazon.com)
* Newer version of product linked.

Camera Bags

When I was first getting started with photography, I thought I would be able to do everything with one camera bag. HA! That may be the case when you have 1 entry-level body, a lens or two, and maybe a flash. Once you get to any appreciable collection of gear that goes right out the window.

I’ve gone through my share of bags, though oddly I’ve also very much settled down on this front too. My mainstay bags are my ThinkTank Street Walker Pro v1 and Airport Commuter, and my F-Stop Gear Ajna.

Personally, I prefer backpacks to shoulder or messenger style bags because they better distribute the weight of my heavy camera gear. But as I’ve said over and over camera bags are an incredibly personal thing. You have to buy what works best for you, and not what someone else says works for them. And as I’ve noted, this is very much a situational thing.

The small size of the street walker pro is ideal for when I just need a bit of gear for a day or a couple of days. But on a longer trip, or when I need multiple bodies and a lot of big glass, it’s not big enough to tide that over.

The Airport Commuter, on the other hand generally is. In fact, I think as far as packing as much gear as possible goes, the Airport Commuter is my most capable bag. Where I find it suffers in is all day comfort. That’s not to say it’s a bad bag, but it doesn’t fit me perfectly, and I can’t really adjust it to fit me well, and that’s more of an issue when you have it packed to the gills with camera gear.

Finally, there’s the F-Stop gear Ajna. The Ajna is a framed hiking pack for photographers. It’s easily the most adjustable backpack to fit me. That said, I’m still really annoyed at how F-Stop gear went with comparatively poorly padded straps — which I’ve complained about before. Camera gear is heavy; thin, relatively unpadded, straps have no place on a bad designed for photographers.

The only real modification I’ve made to my bags in the last year, was to get a new smaller Internal Camera Unit (ICU) for the Ajan. I had intended to use the smaller ICU on my Death Valley trip, but instead ended up just taking my StreetWalker Pro.

All that said, if there was one upgrade I would make, it would be to replace my StreetWalker Pro with the new V2 version. ThinkTank fixed my biggest fault with the bag, the tripod straps. They now attach only to the zippered lid, allowing you to open the bag without removing your tripod (previously the top straps attached to the body not the lid). Moreover, they’ve added a tablet/document pocket between the back padding and the camera compartment, which is something I think is very handy.

ThinkTank Belt System 
ThinkTank StreetWalker Pro(Buy from Amazon.com)*
ThinkTank Airport Commuter(Buy from Amazon.com)
  • F-Stop Gear Ajna w/:
    • Large Pro ICU
    • Small Pro ICU
(Buy from Amazon.com)
(Buy from Amazon.com)
(Buy from Amazon.com)
* Newer version of product linked.

 

Conclusions

As I said at the start, this is more of a meta post for me than maybe anything. Even over the course of just a year, I’ve already reversed course on some of the things I said from the early 2017 post. For me this is a very interesting observation, as I really didn’t feel like I was making any kind of meaningful shift in strategy or position over the course of the last year; well except for the second 5D mark IV part.

This time last year, I honestly wouldn’t have predicted that I was going to replace my 24-70, never mind that it would become such a heavily used lens. Likewise, I was perfectly happy with my 1.4x II teleconverter, and saw no real reason to upgrade it either — though admittedly, if I hadn’t been able to get a Canon factory refurb for under $300, I probably wouldn’t have.


  1. More if you use DualPixel raw files where you can recover a further stop of highlight detail from the way the data is stored in the DPR files. See ↩︎

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Comments

Philip Ngai

With regard to the Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter being RF only, I think this is not an issue if your camera offers Optical Master mode which even an old entry level camera like the T3i can do.

Jason Franke | admin

As always things are complicated. You’re right, the lower tier Canon cameras that have built in flashes can, and have for some time, been able to do remote flash control with their pop-up flash.

However, Canon’s higher end cameras (7D series, 6D series, 5D series, 1D series, 1Ds series, and 1DX series) do not have built in flashes, and I have Canon’s 5D mark IV. While I could put a small flash like the (Speedlite 90Ex) in the hotshoe and use that to control the other strobes remotely, with that flash I can’t disable it’s contribution to the scene (and it doesn’t have a rotatable head). Hence the problem.

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