Equipment Updated April, 2012

I bought my first Digital Camera, the Nikon Coolpix 900s, in November, 1998. It had a resolution of 1280x960 pixels, and got me started in the world of digital photography. Digital cameras are similar to computers in that the technology involved progresses rapidly, so new models continue to come out with capabilities exceeding those from just several months back, and usually at the same or better prices. Things have changed drastically in the past few years, and I've been fortunate to be able to take advantage of some very exciting advances. I went through the Coolpix series from 900s to 950 to 990, and left the "point and shoot" world and entered the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) a few months after the Canon D30 arrived on the scene. The following is a summary of the gear I'm currently using, or have used in the past:

1. Cameras

2. Lenses

3. Flash/Studio

4. Other Accessories

1. Cameras

After almost 8 years of relying on my trusty Mark II, in April, 2012 I upgraded to the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV.  This camera represents a few generations of improvements to just about all aspects of the camera: a 16.1 megapixel CMOS self-cleaning sensor with increased dynamic range, a much larger, higher resolution LCD, much improved image quality at higher ISO, Continuous Shooting Speed of 10 frames/second, with a buffer able to accommodate 26+ Raw Images, HD Video capability, ability to accommodate higher speed and capacity CF and SD cards, a new Lithium Ion battery system with superior performance, is slightly lighter overall, with numerous other operational and performance enhancements.  Ironically, Canon is soon to come up with the 1D X, with a full-frame sensor, a redesigned Autofocus system and other improvements.  But inexplicably they have apparently omitted the ability to use Autofocus with a lens/teleconverter combination at f/8, which I rely on extensively.  Further, the pixel density is actually less than the Mark IV, which is a significant disadvantage when using telephoto lenses and shooting small subjects like birds.  For these reasons, in addition to a huge step-up in price, the Mark IV seems to meet my shooting needs better than the 1D X.


As of May 2, 2004, I am shooting with the Canon EOS-1D Mark II. It is based on the prior 1D, but with substantial improvements: double the resolution (now 8.2 megapixels), it can shoot up to 20 Raw images (40 Jpeg), at 8.5 frames/second, in a single burst, has even faster AutoFocus, an ISO range of 50-3200 with dramatically improved image quality and very low noise at higher ISO, a significantly improved flash system dubbed ETTL2, a brighter and higher resolution LCD with zoom for image review, an orientation sensor to automatically rotate vertical images, half the power consumption resulting in double the battery life, and a number of other enhancements. It is second in resolution only to the Canon EOS-1Ds (11.4 megapixels), but is dramatically faster with superior high ISO performance. For the type of photography I do, the 1D Mark II is the better instrument, although if somebody wanted to donate a 1Ds for me to use in addition for when speed wasn't an issue, I would be happy to take it off their hands!


This was Canon's top of the line digital Single Lens Reflex camera when it was introduced: the Canon EOS-1D. It was delivered to my doorstep on April 25, 2002. It has a 4.15 megapixel CCD sensor, with a 1.3x "multiplier." It has Canon's most sophisticated autofocus, metering and white balance system, has an ISO range from 100 to 3200, shutter speeds up to 1/16,000 second, can shoot at 8 frames/second for up to 16 or 21 frames before its buffer is filled, offers a wide variety of custom and personal functions to individualize its operations, connects to a computer via a Firewire cable, and is built like a tank. For more comprehensive information on the 1D, go to Canon's Website.

The introduction of the Canon D30 really changed the world of digital photography, introducing a relatively low-cost digital SLR with extremely high quality images. This was at least in part attributable to its CMOS sensor (1.6x multiplier factor). It produces 3.1 megapixel images, and has an ISO range of 100 to 1600, and shutter speeds up to 1/4000 second. It can shoot at 3 frames/second for up to 6-8 shots. The main 'weakness' of the D30 was its autofocus and metering systems. While these are generally quite a bit better than any 'point and shoot' digital camera, and function well under a wide variety of shooting circumstances, it wasn't the best that Canon had to offer in this regard. This full potential was achieved with the introduction of the Canon EOS-1D. For more information on the D30, click here.

Somewhat reluctantly, I sold my D30 in May, 2002. I still include it here on my equipment list because so many images taken with it are featured in the various Galleries.

2. Lenses

Starting at the wide angle, this lens is the Canon 15mm/f2.8 Fisheye. It provides a 180 degree angle of view, which creates a unique perspective that can come in handy at times. It has a minimum focusing distance of 8" which can create some unusual close-up shots.


Next is the Canon 17-35L/f2.8 zoom lens. It is shown here with the Lens Hood attached. The L designation is for Canon's professional line of lenses, and superior optics. The f/2.8 is a nice, constant wide aperture throughout the zoom range, increasing shooting flexibility. I used this lens quite a bit on my trip to Southern Utah and Northern Arizona in May of 2001. Canon has recently come out with an updated version of this lens, the 16-35L/f2.8.

This is the Canon 50/f1.4. It's the 'fastest' lens I have, and comes in handy when I want to shoot without flash in low light conditions. It functions well as a portrait lens with either the 1D or D30, where their multiplier effects make this the equivalent of a 65 mm or 80 mm lens, respectively. It is also known as a very sharp lens, despite the fact that it's not an actual "L" series lens.


The Canon 28-135/f3.5-5.6 IS lens is perhaps one of the best single lens for general use with either the D30 or 1D. The focal length covers a very wide and useful range, and while it's not the fastest lens around, the Image Stabilization (IS) is quite effective, giving you perhaps an extra stop or two to work with. It is fairly small and light, and has decent macro capabilities as well. If I'm wanting to do some casual shooting, and travel as light as possible, this is the lens I'll take.

I sold this lens, along with the D30, in May, 2002. Time will tell if I'll regret this decision, but I replaced it with the 2 following lenses.

The Canon 28-70L/f2.8 is a fast, sharp lens, covering a reasonably wide focal range, replacing the lower half of the coverage of the 28-135. Though significantly heavier than the 28-135, it's still not too much to use 'casually' and I've enjoyed using it to photograph my grandchildren around the house.


Covering the longer end of the range of the 28-135 is a relatively new lens, the Canon 70-200L/f2.8 IS. This is also a fast, sharp lens, and very useful in low-light shooting - indoors, sports, etc. My first outing with it was photographing a High School soccer match, and as the sun set, I was very pleased with its autofocus capability, and the ISO and shutter speed options it provided. The IS is quite effective, gaining 2 to possibly 3 stops. it can be used with the 1.4x or 2x teleconverters, further extending its usefulness.


Serving as both a high quality macro lens, and a decent lens for portrait and other types of photography, the Canon 100/f2.8 Macro. It is considered to be one of Canon's sharpest lenses, and its macro capability allows up to 1:1 magnification, without requiring the use of any other accessories. At a relatively fast f/2.8, it can be used effectively in low-light conditions, and it can stop down to f/32, maximizing depth of field for macro shots.


The Canon 100-400L/f4.5-5.6 IS, shown here with the Lens Hood and Tripod Collar, is a fantastic telephoto lens, covering a wide focal range, and is extremely sharp. The IS is quite effective, and I've used this lens quite a bit for much of my nature and wildlife shooting. At a little over 3 pounds, it's a big lens to haul around, but it's still not too big to hand-hold effectively.


This is the famous Canon 600L/f4 IS, one of the Canon "big guns." Weighing in at a little under 12 pounds, it makes the 100-400 look and feel puny. It basically requires the use of a tripod or monopod because of its weight, but it's reach, speed, and sharpness are incomparable. It opens up new possibilities in bird photography, and I've been having a blast with it.


While not a lens in its own right, the Canon 1.4x II Teleconverter can be used to multiple the focal length of select telephoto lenses (at the cost of 1 stop of light), but can be attached to any lens with the use of a small extension tube. It changes the 100-400 lens to a 140-560 lens, and the 600 becomes an 840. There is a little loss of optical quality, but this is generally fairly minimal.


This is the Canon 2x II Teleconverter, which is used similarly to the 1.4x. Thus the 600 lens becomes a 1200 lens, but at the cost of 2 stops. Further, it can be "stacked" with the 1.4x, giving a 2.8x multiplication of focal length, so the 600 is now a 1680 mm super-telephoto! With loss of 3 stops of light, and some optical degradation, shooting technique has to be extremely careful and solid to yield useable results.


Again, while not technically a lens, these Kenko Extension Tubes can be used with any lenses to decrease their Minimum Focus Distance (MFD). The Kenko set consists of 3 tubes (12 mm, 20 mm and 32 mm) which can be used individually, or in any combination. I've used the full set in combination with the Canon 100/f2.8 macro lens, and achieved about 2x magnification. There is some cost in light (but no optical degradation, as there is no glass - just hollow tubes with the appropriate electrical contacts). I also use them with the 100-400, decreasing its MFD down to 3 or 4 feet, especially for photographing butterflies.

3. Flash/Studio

The Canon 550EX flash is the flagship model of Canon's ETTL series of flashes. It is a powerful unit that mates perfectly with the 1D and D30. It has its own focus assist light (a striated red color) that facilitates autofocus under relatively dim lighting conditions. It can be combined with the Canon ST-E2, and other 550EX or 420EX flashes for a multiple flash, wireless system. It can also be quite useful in outdoor photography, to "fill in" harsh or undesireable shadows created by bright sunlight.

Acquired in April, 2004, the Canon MT-24EX dual macro flash is an extremely versatile unit, enabling very sophisticated control in macro photography. Each flash head can be positioned and angled independently, and the power ratio can also be adjusted as well.


The ST-E2 transmitter shown here allows infrared control of up to 2 groups of compatible electronic flashes, such as the 550EX, with the ability to adjust the relative output ratio between the two flashes or groups of flashes. It also has an auto-focus assist light which is much more effective than the one built into the D30, and because of its red color, is much less distracting. This has come in handy with macro and bird photography, with the flash mounted on either the Combo2 or Sidekick brackets, and also with Portrait work, where I have a pair of 550EX flashes mounted on their own stands with umbrellas.


This is the "Combo2" flash bracket made by Wimberley. It attaches via the 'Arca-Swiss' mechanism, and allows considerable flexibility in attaching a flash to the camera, tripod, etc. I use this for getting the flash closer to the subject in Macro work.


The Sidekick Flash Bracket uses one of the same modules as the Combo2 bracket, and I use it for mounting the 550EX above either the 100-400 or 600 telephoto lenses for fill-in flash wildlife photography. I previously used the Combo2 unit for this purpose, which does work fine, but it's just more cumbersome to set up and get aligned properly with the telephoto lens. The Combo2 bracket is ideal for macro work where you need flexibility in positioning the flash, while the Sidekick Bracket is perfect for telephoto work, and sets up much quicker.


This is the Stofen Omnibounce flash attachment. These come in various sizes (and colors) to fit on a wide variety of flash units. It's very helpful in diffusing electronic flash when it's not feasible to set up off-camera flash. It reduces much of the harshness (and eliminates 'red-eye') that typically accompanies on-camera use of flash.


An unusual accessory, the "Better Beamer" is mounted on the flash, and through the use of the Fresnel screen at the front, enables use of the flash over much longer distances than usual. It can be effectively used for "fill-in" flash, especially with bird photography. I found out about this in the Avian section of the Nature Photographers Network (NPN) website, where there are some astonishingly great bird photographs.


This is the "PeoplePopper" by Photek. It is a portable background system, which I've used with the portrait work I've done with my family. It's relatively inexpensive, light and portable, and they have a large variety of background colors and patterns available. The only downside is that the size of 6x7 feet limits you somewhat, but for individuals, or small groups, it is quite effective.

4. Other Accessories

This is the Gitzo 1329 tripod. It took me almost as much time to settle on a tripod, as it did deciding on which lenses to get. For better or worse, the options are almost endless. In the end, I decided to go with the Gitzo 1329. The Carbon Fiber construction minimizes weight while maximizing stability. It can be used with or without the Center Column. It has 3 leg sections, verses 4, so is a bit more stable, quicker/easier to set up, but is a little longer when collapsed.


The Arca-Swiss B-1 ballhead is considered to be one of the best ballheads manufactured. It has exquisite control and stability, including the ability to quickly flip into vertical orientation. It has the Arca-Swiss quick release plate on top, and with adapters for various cameras and lenses, allows for rapid and secure attachment.


This is the Bogen 3449 Carbon Fiber monopod. It's pretty light-weight, extends quite high, and has 4 sections. I've used this most effectively with my Canon 100-400L, in conjunction with the Arca-Swiss Ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick, for butterfly and other work.


The Wimberley "Sidekick" shown here is used to provide a "gimbal" type of mount when using a telephoto such as the Canon 100-400L or 600L, on an Arca-Swiss type ballhead. When set up and balanced, it makes maneuvering and following movement dramatically easier and more stable, and has made a huge difference with bird photography. I really can't imagine using a telephoto on a tripod without it.


As I considered how I was going to haul around all this gear in the field, I received some advice to consider a system from a company called KinesisGear. It is a modular case, belt and harness system that can be easily customized to suit your particular gear and needs. The model on the left shows a typical belt and harness with a long lens case attached. This system has made it infinitely more comfortable to carry whatever gear is needed, and have it all readily accessible. I have bags for all of my lenses, and even one for my tripod, which can be attached to the backpack. Highly recommended. Further information can be found by clicking on their logo:


As with any digital camera, the images are stored on some type of memory card. The 1D and D30 allows the use of Compact Flash Types I or II. I decided on the 1 gigabyte IBM MicroDrive (CF Type II) for the high capacity and low cost/megabyte compared to regular CF Type I cards. It is basically a tiny hard drive, and as such is potentially subject to mechanical problems vs the no moving part solid state CF Type I. With reasonable care, however, problems are rare. I was so pleased with the first MD, that I added another one before my trip to Florida.


Inkjet printers have developed to the point where prints rivaling or exceeding that from traditional photolabs can be purchased at reasonable prices (see here to go to my webpage about printing). I'm currently using the Epson 1280, shown here. It can print at 2880x720 dpi, is a 6-color printer, with 4 pico-liter drop size, and can print "full-bleed" (meaning edge-to-edge printing) on paper up to 13"x19" in size. The quality has to be seen to be believed. You can click on the 1280 picture here, and you'll be taken to Epson's site giving more specifications on this printer.

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