Podcast: Play in new window
In this podcast, I talk a bit about how important it is to follow your needs when buying gear and I use two recent examples of my purchases to illustrate. Here is a shot showing why I wanted a 150mm f/2.8 lens for close-ups:
And here is a shot why I wanted the equivalent of 24mm for close-ups:
The craft section is about why centering is a problem for composition and the nature section is about early spring signs.
I also promised a little more background on my past gear use. So often you see gear from pros and there is no context to help you understand why they made the choices they did. So I want to include that context – to understand my gear choices, you need to know a little background. My choices are far from arbitrary and reflect very real needs for my work.
When digital first started, I was working as editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. I got the chance to try out all sorts of gear from every manufacturer, but I could not afford to buy a DSLR at first (they were very, very expensive). So I started out with a Canon PowerShot G2.
The G2 was a compact digital camera that had every bit the capabilities of a DSLR but it did not have interchangeable lenses. I loved two things, the tilting “live view” LCD (this was way before the true DSLR Live View, but technically, it was live view because it was showing what was coming from the sensor), plus its built in close focusing capabilities.
Unfortunately, the camera had limited capabilities for its focal length range. I wanted to have the capabilities of shooting with more. This particular camera had an adapter that allowed you to add accessory wide-angle and telephoto lenses. This helped.
I found the optical viewfinder not of much use and so mainly used the tilting LCD. I really got to know the potential of using a tilting LCD. I loved it.
DSLR Live View
When DSLR prices came down, I definitely wanted a camera with interchangeable lenses so I bought a Canon Digital Rebel (APS-C). I could afford that, plus I had Canon lenses from my film gear. It acted like a film camera, which was okay, but I missed the tilting “live view” LCD.
Then Olympus came out with the first DSLR with a tilting, Live View LCD. This was perfect for me. Although they ran the Live View off of a second sensor, it showed pretty much what the camera sensor saw through the lens and now I had the tilting Live View. I totally abandoned my Canon gear and invested in this new Olympus digital camera system. I loved everything about it, so I stayed within the system and got an Olympus E-3 (Four Thirds). This had an even better, true Live View with a swivel LCD.
Change to Video
I had shot video professionally in the 1980s and 1990s, so when Canon came out with high quality HD video in their DSLRs, I went back to Canon. In the days of standard video, I never liked shooting nature because the image quality was never that great. With HD video, this all changed.
So I got a Canon EOS 7D. It was a great little camera, but I missed the tilting LCD. Then Canon came out with the 60D. This camera had the same sensor and internal processing as the 7D, but it had that tilting LCD! I bought it and quit using the 7D even though the build quality of the 7D was “better.”
Tired of Big Gear
Then I went to Costa Rica to do a workshop and photograph in the amazing rainforest there. I had all of my Canon APS-C gear on my back much of the time. I just got tired of dealing with it, including dealing with it going through the airport and flying. Costa Rica was fun, but the gear weighed too much!
At the time, mirrorless cameras were gaining traction on the market. Because these cameras have no mirror in them, the camera bodies can be made smaller and less expensive, plus lenses can be designed specifically for them that are also smaller and less expensive for equal quality.
I decided to try out the Sony NEX system, which was APS-C format mirrorless gear. I was able to get a camera with a sensor very similar to my Canon gear plus lenses and it all fit into a smaller, far more lightweight backpack. The cameras had tilting LCDs, too. I was not completely happy with the way the Sony handled, especially the way the controls were set up and were so dependent on the LCD. I also felt limited by the range of lenses and accessories available for the system.
My Present Gear
Because of my experience as an editor of a major photographic publication, I had the opportunity to try out a Panasonic Lumix GH3 with a couple of its latest and most modern lenses. I fell in love with this camera. It felt good in my hands, not unbalanced like the Sony cameras always did, the controls were accessible and easy to use, plus there was an outstanding selection of lenses available. This is a mirrorless Micro Four Thirds (MFT) camera. MFT has a smaller sensor than either 35mm-full-frame or APS-C, giving it a focal length factor of 2x compared to 35mm-full-frame. That means that a 50mm lens, for example, on MFT is equivalent in angle of view to 100mm on 35mm-full-frame.
The cool thing about cameras in the MFT system is that you can use lenses and accessories from both Panasonic (which includes some Leica designed lenses) and Olympus (which has long had a strong reputation for quality lenses). You can even get adapters to put almost any camera lens on the body. This gave me a wonderful range of lenses to choose from. And since this was mirrorless MFT, all of the gear was extremely small and lightweight. I no longer struggled with a heavy pack on my back when I was out shooting.
The GH3 had a high-resolution, bright swivel LCD for Live View, and it shot some of the highest quality video available from any DSLR at any price. In addition, this was a true pro body that was built to extremely rugged standards, plus there were Pro series lenses available for it as well. I had considered the Olympus OM-D cameras¾excellent, high quality camera bodies⎯but they didn’t have the video quality that I needed at the time.
So here’s my core set of camera gear:
Panasonic Lumix GH3 and LX100
The LX100 is a full-featured compact digital MFT camera with a fixed 10.9-34mm f/1.7-2.8 lens which focuses to 3 cm at the widest focal length.
Bower 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye (this focuses to 4 inches)
Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 (constant aperture zoom that focuses to 10 inches)
Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro
Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 lens
Nikon 300mm f/4 manual focus (an adapted lens with the equivalent of a 600mm f/4 lens on 35mm-full-frame for a fraction of the cost and weight)
Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff head (these are the smaller versions because I don’t need a heavy tripod with this gear)
MePhoto monopod with Really Right Stuff head
Why I Have to Have a Tilting LCD
I have always loved getting down low and right in there with my subjects, from landscapes to close-ups, two of the main subjects in my work. When tilting LCDs became available, I fell in love with them immediately. They enabled me to put my camera into places that was difficult to do otherwise. I could set up my tripod at any height beyond simply at eye level and not be uncomfortable looking through the viewfinder. Waist level, no problem! Higher than my head, no problem! This has become so much a part of my workflow in shooting in the field that I really cannot work without a tilting or swivel LCD.
My LX100 does not have a tilting LCD, however, it is very viewable at varied angles, plus it can link to my smartphone so that it can be used as the camera’s LCD. That makes the viewing through this camera very handy.
A lot of people comment about how hard it can be to see your LCD in bright light. While that is true, it is a lot less true today than it used to be. The newest cameras have very bright LCDs that are usable even in bright light. I always wear a hat and use my hat at times to shield the LCD when the light is giving me a problem. This is not as big an issue for landscape photography because a lot of landscape work is done early and late in the day when bright light on the LCD is not a problem.