What's In My Bags & Lessons Learned
Notice how I said what's in my bags, as in plural. I know, I have a serious problem. I love backpacks but that's another post. Here I highlight my gear and the lessons learned along the way, maybe my experiences will help guide and save you money.
If you are motivated to take it to the next level or freshening up old gear, you're going to need to up your financial commitment, no doubt. My jump-off point was to find photographers whose work I liked and go straight to their "What's in my bag" posts to see what they found to be the best choice of gear. Surely if that gear supports shots of that caliber all I need do is buy the exact same stuff and good to go - that thought process could be costly. Blog posts and informational write ups should be seen as general guidelines to learn about brands and equipment available in the market. Imitation is not always the best practice and will not get you the same results. Please don't rush to spend big bucks to have it all delivered overnight expecting you’ll be satisfied in the long run. You’ll just overwhelm yourself and you’ll miss a lot of learning lessons along the way. Offer yourself time and be patient - it's paramount to really get into the craft the right way. Fuji, Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Panasonic, Olympus & Leica - are the big players and arguably there is no need to look outside these vendors. I have owned and/or extensively tested at least one flagship of each brand, recently I might add, here are my thoughts.
2021 even the basic $800 "entry-level" or "advanced" camera bodies are stacked with quality components, features and can produce pro results. Don't be afraid to start with today's entry-level or lower price points options. The price can range from $800 to $1,800 roughly for a camera body and wow; Canon M series, Fuji X series, Nikon Z series, just amazing tech to consider. Of course, you must invest in the len(s) as well. I suggest splurging on the len(s) from the get-go. I am also a big proponent of buying the len(s) to match the camera body brand even if it means more money. In other words, buy into the system and keep your equipment in the same ecosystem. But take note some cameras do have multiple lens mounts; I’ve oversimplified this somewhat however it is possible to buy entry-level and pro gear and not have to feel like you are managing two worldly different systems.
Furthermore, there are a host of 3rd party lenses whose cheaper price points will tease but arguably will the camera perform any better mismatching technology, will the pictures be better - I don’t buy it. You also have a handful of photographers who love to find a way to get their nostalgic 1963 Nikkor manual lens to work on that brand new Canon R5 body because “no other lens can produce the same results”. Really? Stop and ask yourself what I am doing and why am I so focused on making the unnatural fit work. Who can argue that matching the technology of a lens and body from the same manufacturer would not yield the absolute best results? Not to mention save the hassle of all the parts, pieces, connectors, and nonsense just streamline and simplify your life.
Within the lens topic - just buy one, yes one lens to start out... ok maybe two but only if you are experienced. Limiting the lens inventory, to start is good for the budget and your mental state. You do not want to get into the habit of overthinking lens choice, real-time, much less carry more than 2 lenses on location. Learn the lens’ capabilities and appropriate usage in the scenario then you appreciate having a stable of lenses as you gain experience.
Keep focused, learn a camera body and menu, and if you pick a major manufacturer many of them keep their Entry Level, Advanced, and Pro-form factors so tightly integrated these days that once you learn the system you can pick up any one of their cameras and quickly adapt. If you can't, I'd think twice about the brand. As you step up your game over time, that camera you have can and will eventually become your backup camera, your travel camera, or whatever you want to call it but it will have tremendous value and sentiment even if it goes unused a great deal of the time.
Of course, in a perfect world my suggestions to this point appear simple however there is always the factor of gear acquisition syndrome. Fear of missing out on the latest upgrade, feeling inferior with your tech and/or having the disposable income to buy the latest and greatest will always be in the forefront of your mind. Committing to a system can be tough. I have made a lot of purchasing mistakes and gear changes along the way. I’ll tell you I really struggled when I got back into photography and I was making the switch from DSLR to Mirrorless, it was a very confusing process with all the choice and marketing and strongly opinionated articles. Truthfully, the manufacturers out there should be ashamed - the frequency of their release cycles. Presenting new models and/or massive hardware upgrades every three months to create fear and demand. We know it's to stay ahead of the competition but as consumers it’s costly. Makes you feel self-doubt that depriving yourself of constant upgrades, somehow the quality of your photos rapidly declines. The research has allowed me to learn good lessons although costly but, in the end, if I had to do it all over again, I'd follow the advice I am offering here.
You will have to make a choice between DSLR (better value) or Mirrorless (newer tech) both capable of outstanding results. Then sensor size; APS-C, Full Frame, Medium Format, etc depending on the final image outcomes you are looking for. Just get your hands on a camera body, used or new, something that feels comfortable. I would suggest spending some time in a local camera shop or a big box retailer, a store that has a lot of inventory on display. Hold it, feel it and really go through the camera menu (hundreds of times), and appreciate the form factor. This leads me to maybe a more important point is how the camera feels TO YOU. It's the one thing that no matter how many articles you read, or how many photographers' YouTube videos you watch if the camera doesn't feel right in YOUR hands and the menu isn't intuitive to YOUR brain you will struggle with the camera no matter how much you use it.
It's so important to put these cameras in your hand and cycle through the menu over and over, think through scenarios where you’d be shooting on location and change settings to take test shots. See which brands do a great job of combining form and function and which deliver a menu that your fingers can manipulate confidently while one eyeball is glued to the viewfinder, approving settings, and the other eyeball is locked on a subject. Only then will you know which will be best for you. In my opinion, these cameras are Fuji, Canon, and Leica. Some may shutter from the Leica suggestion based on its price point, but it truly delivers a great experience. If Leica is out of the question, exchange that for a more appropriate choice, Nikon which I also love.
While we are on the topic of getting your hands on cameras - buy local, when you can. The luxury of a local camera shop (not big-box retailers who have a local shop) is priceless. It's 2021 and most local retailers will do whatever it takes to earn your business even if they must match prices to their detriment. Not advocating the haggle but don't go and use their time and then buy the camera at nyccamera.com because you can get it for $50 less. Just nonsense. The price is worth the relationship as these local camera shops have the knowledge, can assist with repairs and will help you look after your investment.
Ok finally, New or Used. The bottom-line is don't be afraid of buying used. I would say most of my gear has been used and it has saved me money and allowed me to try more gear than I ever could have thought possible if I purchased only new. I have never been burned on a used piece of equipment and I save 10-40% for items that are good as new, with packaging and many times an original receipt. Many good spots for used hardware; Local stores, MPB.com, KEH, Adorama, B&H, all have a great inventory of used goods with return policies of typically 30 days. The equipment is checked and verified and if you go the used route and just don't like it or find a flaw then simply send it back - no harm, no foul. Of these places, outside of my local shop, I absolutely love mpb.com. Their gear choice, quality, customer service and most importantly their pricing is outstanding. Selling gear back couldn’t be easier.
Do your research - There is an important correlation between your photography genre, sensor size and camera size. They all play together to determine how swift you can be, how well you can adapt and how successful you are in getting the shots you envision. Personally, I love APS-C & Medium Format for the size, yes, the size is both big and small. I have been in love with Fuji for the last 5 years despite my love for Canon my entire life. The right choice will come down to price, but also form factor, menu preference and once you select a camera body it will be all about the len(s). Owning the Fuji line up I only buy Fuji XF and GF lenses not just because everything integrates but because they are highly rated. Should you choose Sony, on the other hand, you’re gonna give yourself a headache choosing lenses. I really think the A lineup is amazing, however, Sony offers 4X the number of lens options compared to its competitors, not to mention the 3rd party lens options, the knockoffs and the wannabe up and coming lens companies, forget about it. You'll get frozen in analysis paralysis and once you buy a lens, you'll never feel good about your decision with so many other options.
With Fuji in mind, I really love the XF10mm-24mm (~16mm-35mm full-frame equivalent) and 55mm-200mm zoom. That’s it. The reason, I can get wide photos and grab the entire landscape the way my eye sees the scene and I can zoom in on a region and create the vision if I am not able to walk up closer to the subject. Now you might be asking, zoom lenses, why not primes? Primes are fantastic for landscape as they arguably offer sharper images. The bottom line for me - zooms are a better value and can help you create a shot in areas where you can’t get closer to the subject, not to mention a zoom with an appropriate range could take the place of two, maybe three prime lenses. The quality I see from zooms vs primes in the landscape is equally matched when staying within the superior brands.
Over time you will want and arguably need so much more depending on your genre. Things like accessories, power supplies, filters, there are countless gadgets of which are listed below. Just don’t buy it to buy it. Rather go out and shoot, look at your outcomes and understand why you need an accessory and the problem it solves. I like to keep the gear collection tight, and I buy quality now as I’d rather buy it once than five times over. Does that mean I hadn’t made mistakes, of course not but learn from a photographer that is keeping it real. I simply write to help you stay focused and use your time taking photos rather than sitting behind a computer overthinking everything.
What’s In My Bags…..
Fuji X-T4 (Purchased Used) Current - Use as backup and portrait photography
Fuji GFX 100s (Purchased New, no used market at the time) Current - Landscapes and Macro
Camera Body Accessories
Fuji Grips and cages with Arca-Swiss Rails for an easy tripod mount (Purchased Used)
4 Batteries - 2 Fuji OEM & 2 Wasabi - I appreciate the X-T4 and GFX 100S sharing the same battery makes life much less complicated
3 Battery Chargers - 2 Fuji kit chargers and 1 Wasabi Car Charger
Lenses - Fuji XF & GFX
GFX 30mm prime (purchased new)
GFX 120mm macro prime (purchased new)
XF 10-24mm zoom (purchased used)
XF 80mm macro prime (purchased used)
DJI - Mavic Pro
CaseMatix Hard Carry Case
2 Micro SD 32GB Storage Cards
6 - 32GB Sandisk
Tip - As larger storage capacity comes out the previous card standard becomes cheaper. Resist the urge to get the latest or largest 1 TB card because it can hold 20,000 shots. Seriously, those are a waste. Just go for the 32GB for $10 on Amazon and carry multiple cards with you.
Manfrotto BeFree w/ Ball mount and Really Right Stuff tab release arca-swiss connector plate (Purchased Used)
MindShift 18L - Small
MindShift 26L - Medium
Tenba - Large
Computer & Phone
Apple MacBook Pro 17" - Personal Preference
Apple iPhone Mini 12
Second Monitor - LG 32" 4K UHD
Smith & Wesson 9mm M&P Shield - Carrying over ten thousand dollars of gear, remotely, lends itself the ability to keep any opportunistic thieves away.
Luminar 4 & AI
CaptureOne for FujiFilm
FujiFilm Pixel Shift
Lens Filter System
Wine Country Camera
Insignia BackUp Battery Pack
LED compact Flashlight
Make-Up Brushes for dusting
Bose Portable Bluetooth Stereo
Cables, Cables, Cables
Tragic Waste of Money
Cleaning Kits & Wipes - all kinds of wipes!
Extra Lens Caps - Get hoods instead
Screw on filters = MONEY PIT
Hard Drives - 1 or 2 Is all you need considering cloud storage
High End Storage Cards