UPDATE: Soon, the ‘Photography’ category on this website will feature a few more in-depth looks into what I consider good equipment for safaris, action photography and landscape photo. It will also take a look at lenses and camera bodies separately.
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Hey buddy, can you recommend a camera?
Travelling and cameras go hand in hand, it seems, and my friends often ask me about photography. I honestly don’t know why, as I am not a photographer. If you can live with me not being a qualified expert, but just another self-proclaimed geek opening his camera backpack for you, you’ve come to the right place.
This was my second digital camera body, the Canon 5D Mk II. I started out with the first 5D in July 2006. So far it has given me some 155,000 exposures and it has rarely failed me. Today I keep it only as a backup.
First, I am not doing consumer reporting here.
I’m not fair. I’m not objective. I’m just telling you what I use. I started to use Canon in 1987 so I guess I am kinda stuck with it. Consequently, this is not a place for a heated debate about Nikon vs. Canon. I also recommend those of you who want to find out about other fine cameras, like the Linhofs and Contaxes of this world, to consult a more knowledgable forum.
This is what I shoot with.
Despite it’s habit of eating batteries for breakfast in cold temperatures, I find the Canon EOS system almost perfectly suited to my needs.
I am into wildlife photography, travel photography and ‘action’ photography (mainly skiing and surfing). My first digital body was the quite expensive 5D. I then bought a Canon 5D Mk II which was an improvement. And now I use the monster they call Canon 1Dx.
Wait. Stop. Halt. In my opinion, you don’t actually need a lot of expensive gadgets to take great pictures. Not if you’re into just snapping nice pics of your family, nor if you are an ambitious amateur. I can’t emphasize this enough: All images begins with your idea of what the photo should look like. Always. No camera will ever know what’s in your mind.
So what do I use to shoot animals and skiers and base jumpers and…?
My good friend Lasse, who is a real photographer, (a pro), told me that anybody who is serious about animal photography need to invest a few bucks in equipment. I agree with him. I started to rent those huge lenses and found them indispensable. Now I own them. But they sure as hell don’t make me a photographer.
HERE’S MY GEAR:
Canon 5D – the first digital full frame that didn’t come with the price tag of a car.
Canon 5D Mk II – it’s a much better camera than the 5D. It delivers more megapixels if you’re into that thing. It is way more useful in poor light. It doesn’t eat batteries to the same extent. Plus; I’ve started to explore the world of the moving image! Note: The 5D Mk II delivers razor-sharp HD movies and have already overturned the idea of what a film camera looks like.
Canon 1Dx – it really IS a leap forward as it combines frames per second/image processing/options for shooting/full frame format. It’s a wonderful piece BUT it’s heavy and I have noticed how much I love the compact format of the 5D Mk II. I may upgrade the Mk II to a Mk III as the more recent model shares a few of the improvements of the 1Dx. Only my wallet will be able to tell if it will happen.
8-15mm f/4L Fisheye– as fishy as they get. First I saw it as my least useful lens. I mainly use it shooting skiers going over kickers or on rails. But then I started to use it on the exit to shoot my base jumping friends + a little bit of architecture. I really want to try it close to some animals soon.
16-35mm f/2,8 L– rather lightweight and quite sharp for being a zoom. By far my most used everyday lens. The weird-looking lens hood adds some welcome protection but it will cost you a lot if you lose it. I will replace this lens with the new version as soon as I can.
85 mm f/1.2 II L– works fine in poor light. The sharpness is incredible. The manual focus is not so incredible). Keep in mind that this lens is heavy for its relatively modest focal length. Great for portraits.
24-70 mm f/2.8 L– quite heavy (950 g/2.1 lb) but very, very versatile. One of my favourite zoom lenses.
70-200 mm f/2.8 L– one of the best zoom lenses ever. A workhorse, especially for sports photography.
300 mm f/2.8 L – it delivers a lot of sharpness and there’s a lot of glass in this one. Quite bulky but weights in at 2,72 kg/6 lb, meaning that it’s not a super-heavy weight lens – in fact I’m often bringing it with me in my camera backpack while skiing to use it handheld. The image stabilization is quite OK. Its sharpness is what amazes me the most.
This has been a common set-up for me if going on safari in the open plains. The 5D MK II combined with the 400 mm f/2.8 and sometimes the 2.0x Extender. Those 800 mm may bring me too close to the animals, so I often take the extender off. No, it doesn’t work particularly well in the woodlands.
400 mm f/2.8 L – the weight of this beast is 5,3 kg (11.7 lb) and it is so large that it requires a backpack of it’s own. The main reason why I’ve been called “the guy with the lens” at many safari lodges.
Canon 2x II Extender – although it will bring down the optical quality, I like the idea to have 800 mm to play with.
Canon 2x III Extender – an improvement compared to version II. The Canon engineers have done a good job improving the optics. Just remember, they don’t work with all lenses. I prefer them with the large ƒ/2.8 telephoto monsters.
IMPORTANT NOTE: I didn’t buy the stuff overnight. The oldest glass I use now, is from 2003. Any expensive lens with the proper weather seal should be your trusted friend on the road for at least 10 years.
Buy bloody expensive stuff!
All my lenses are L-series lenses, which is Canon language for ‘bloody expensive professional stuff’. They are distinguished by a thin red line near the front. And yes, they are expensive, no question about that, but in my opinion good lenses will make a real difference when you’re out there.
So far I’ve never recommended anybody to buy cheap optics. Please, don’t mistake this for snobbishness. My 2 cents is that in the long run you will be happier with one lens of high quality instead of having three crappy ones. I started to buy these professional lenses in 1987 and I’ve never looked back since. Buying fewer lenses requires a little more thought before you actually make the investment… but if you just stop and think and for a few moments about what lenses you are REALLY using, and what your needs REALLY are, I think that you will come down to one or two quite soon.
Your body is much more important these days.
While everything was analog, the body was more or less just pulling the film forward. When I went digital, I soon discovered that there is a difference between camera bodies both in terms of focus systems and mechanical quality. But the full frame sensor is what separates the great stuff from just stuff. When you hear me talking about camera bodies, you should keep in mind that I rarely use the built-in presets, nor do I use auto-focus. I am a manual guy. Why? I think it’s mainly because I’m a control freak. I guess this habit also saved me from saving a six-digit number of awful shots. I might have missed one or two good ones, but I think I can live with the loss.
Here I am taking a hike in the rainforest of the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park in the Central African Republic. On my shoulder: The Canon 5D house and the 300 mm f/2.8 lens. Was it worth the hassle of bringing the gear all the way out there? You bet!
Buying at B&H Photo Video
I’ve written this to help friends and neighbors to avoid some pitfalls and point out some good things I’ve stumbled upon. Here’s one good thing: A lot of my equipment I’ve bought through B&H Photo in New York, either by going there myself or through their website.
The B&H Photo store is among the biggest in the world (possibly the biggest). Their physical store is located in Manhattan New York, on 440 9th Ave (between 34th and 35th st) a few blocks from Penn Station. If you’re around, go there and buy anything and you will be a witness to a unique retail operation. Customer service is either excellent or downright rude and grumpy. It’s a lottery and I find it extremely amusing.
If buying online, B&H have streamlined their VAT and customs handling. If you buy your stuff for private use, they handle all the fees and payments. If you buy your stuff as a professional, having a registered business, you have the option to take care of those things yourself, which means that you will not pay VAT.
The B&H Photo internet store can be reached by clicking here.
It’s the year 2014 and I’m going analogue. My 1Dx will deliver 12 frames per second. After returning home with way too many pictures, I decided to go in the opposite direction: This 1.7 kg-beast will deliver 20 mid-format frames ON FILM if I load a roll of 220. The cost of the roll, developing and scanning each frame is substantial; approx. $20 per frame. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.
A set-up that requires a lot of thinking before triggering the shutter. I will shoot base jumping with this. And landscapes. And unexpected things. It will get very interesting.
Here’s a comparison between the Pentax 67 II and my Canon 5D Mk II. I really appreciate the compact format of the Mk II and I am not surprised that it’s one of the most common cameras among professional photographers. The Pentax is intimidating. And heavy. And bulky. Did I say that I love it?
My latest addition to my camera collection feels like a small weapon. This is the Leica M9. I bought it used in the USA (any purchase in Sweden felt like money down the drain). This camera was introduced on the 9 of September 2009 (090909). Each frame is 18 MB of raw, undistorted camera science. The lens was bought new. A 21 mm, ƒ3.4 Super-Elmar M. It’s sharp as fuck. I have no other way of describing it. And for being a Leica-lens it’s cheap (it’s not).