Monday, 2 April 2018

My Photography kit List 2018 (PART ONE)

I am often asked why I choose the kit I am using and my simple answer is usually because it works. For years I have been a Canon shooter but recently made the seismic shift over to a Sony mirror-less system.

I have to say that this move was very much a test and therefor my current kit could be considered pretty cautious. I have used the setup now for a few months and I have not been disappointed and with this in mind I will be taking the full leap into this system later in the year.

Right, so why did I switch? Well for may years I have been a dual wildlife and landscape photographer. I found myself gravitating ever more to Landscape photography and the only potential issue I saw with a mirror-less system was an optical viewfinder. I was pretty sure this would be an issue for wildlife photography, but for landscape? My other love is keeping fit and over the years this has included cycling, running and triathlon. Because of my busy life I would often find that these training sessions had to take place early or late in the day, and I would often be doing a trail run or gravel bike ride and be wishing I had camera kit with me. Now, the Canon kit as much as I loved it was not light weight and there was no chance of riding or running with that setup. The Sony however is a different matter, and of course there has to be compromises but I thought it would be useful to list all my kit which essentially I use when going out specifically on a landscape shoot (the big setup) if you like, and then how this breaks down in to different kit setups for running and cycling. Got it?

(Note I will put affiliate links to each piece of kit (where possible) so that you can purchase them if you wish) If you use a link it does generate a small amount of income so please if you want an item of my kit use the link from this post. Also note that I will only link to the items I actually use and would advise any of my mates to buy. If somethings rubbish I will let you know!

Ok, so here we go. this is my current setup for when I am out doing landscapes and nothing else.

Sony A6000 with 16-50 kit lens -

This is now a well established camera and has in fact been upgraded several times. However, I took the decision that I didn't want to spend the £800 to £1200 pounds on a mirror-less camera if I wasn't going to get on with it. The cameras that superseded it have mainly minor tweaks and it it generally acknowledged that for a budget camera that punches well above its weight this is the one to get. Certainly if you are considering making the switch to mirror-less I would highly recommend this camera.

 Pentax-M SMC 135mm F3.5 Prime Lens

No link here because this is an old lens. As you may or may not know with a simple adapter the Sony can use many old manual lenses. My thinking here was again around the idea that I didn't want to spend a fortune on lenses if in the end I ended up reverting back to Canon. I absolutely love this lens and will not be getting rid of it. Obviously if you are doing landscape photography you do not need autofocus and with the focus peaking available on the Sony this lens works like a dream and is pin sharp. Cost? £35 quid off ebay and then another £25 for the adapter (which can then be used with all Pentax lenses) The image below was taken with this lens, and please bare in mind this is my first ever attempt at candid photography never mind using a manual focus lens. I think the result speaks for itself!

Pentax-A Zoom 28-80 F3.5-4.5

Again no link and to be honest if I had one I wouldn't give it to you. I thought I would give a zoom lens a chance on the camera and it is definitely less sharp than the prime lens. Certainly its a usable lens but i think ultimately if you know its not quite getting the image quality you want it tends to get left in the bag unless really desperate. I would not go for a zoom again but as far as legacy lenses go I think Yes Yes Yes, but stick to the primes! Also there are now a number of blogs and vlogs that will point you in the right direction for this high quality old glass. You may find that the desirable lenses are starting to rise in value.

Benro FTF18A Travel Flat Tripod and IN0 Head -

This is a recent addition and was bought simply because I had previously used a much more lightweight tripod which was fine when I did mostly wildlife but with the switch to landscapes I was finding the lack of height a problem. The reason for this tripod was again size but also price. I think this retails for about £200 but I got this one for half price (bargain) Its not the lightest as its not carbon fibre but its sturdy enough and its unique design means all the legs come together in a row and save space. The only change I will make in the future is to the head which is capable but does not have a separate control for panning. Read the link above for a fuller description of the features but again for a cost effective capable tripod I highly recommend it.

Vanguard Up-Rise 48 Camera Backpack -

I love this backpack and despite the fact that at the minute it can look quite empty with my new Sony setup I would not switch it. In fact I'm glad I didn't because since switching to Sony I have also taken to Vlogging my adventures on my YouTube channel

So I now carry another camera for vlogging as well as various sound recording kit etc. I will list my vlogging setup in my next post.

I think because Vanguard are not considered as one of the top produces of camera kit they seem to try a bit harder so you tend to get a lot for your money. Its very hard wearing and has never let me down. It used to carry my Canon setup with various lenses up to 600mm so as you can see its really up top the job!

Vanguard VEO 204AB Travel Tripod -

This was my tripod when wildlife photography was my main vice. And I have kept hold of it because it still does serve a purpose within my setup (full explanation later). This again is a cheap tripod but although its not carbon fibre its very light weight. It is also fantastic for macro work as you can swivel the central column right around and the legs splay very wide. I think it won a number of awards for its design and has never let me down. Again comes with a simple but usable ball head. As mentioned previously its a little too short for me to be used full time for landscapes so has been relegated to other duties! 

Cokin A system filter and Kood Equivalents

Again this is a perfectly adequate filter system. You can find the filter holders for a few quid on ebay and I have also used the Kood filters that are designed to be used with this system. I don't use a lot of filters because a lot of the effects they give can now be recreated in software, however, the ones I do use are circular polariser (this effect can't be done in photoshop) Graduated filters and 6 and 8 stop filters. To be honest I like to try and get most of the image done in camera and these simple filters allow me to see the almost complete image on the back of the camera. Everyone's different I know and some just love sitting behind a computer screen to achieve these results but for me I much prefer being out there with the camera! Anyway the filters can be got off ebay for £10-20 so won't break the bank.

NEEWER Hand Grip (L Bracket) -

This is a recent edition and now I don';t know what I'd do without it. Basically allows you to orientate the camera form landscape to portrait without adjusting the tripod. You basically take the camera off the head and flip it over as the groove for the head runs on two sides of the camera. It also allows you to access the battery and SD card with the bracket attached (some don't) Now again in my search for value and functionality this bracket cost under £35. You can pay up to £200 for one of these TWO HUNDRED! Well there was no way I was paying that, and you know what this is brilliant and does absolutely the same job. Enough said really!

Joby Gorilla Pod SLR-ZOOM -

Right, I've included this here because it does play an integral part in my setup which will come in part two of this blog and my vlogging setup. For some of the stuff I do I just cannot carry a tripod and not having one is a massive compromise, especially for a landscape photographer. So in those situations where I can't carry one it does provide  some sort of support. Now don't get me wrong for me its a multi functional item I can use it for photography and when recording my YouTube videos. However its a bit like the scissors on a Swiss army knife in an emergency they're great but you wouldn't want to cut ten metres of canvas with them! Its grippy bendable legs allow it to be attached on fence posts etc if you need the height otherwise your pretty much at ground level.

OK, that's my current kit list in 2018 that I would use if going out doing landscape photography. In part two I will go into how this kit breaks down for doing some landscape photography when running and cycling and some specialist bits I use to enable me to do this. I will also reveal my plan for how this kit is going to be developed later this year now that I am fully committed to the Sony mirror-less system.

Thanks for reading and remember to watch my website for part two, and please do pop across to my YouTube channel for more exciting content and don't forget to hit that subscribe button, your support is very much appreciated.

Monday, 12 June 2017

The Monday Blog (Blurry Eyed and not ready to go!)

I've decided to try and do a short blog every Monday to try and keep my followers updated on what I've been doing over the previous week and more usually the weekend. In the week the full time job tends to get in the way.

Last week was a bit of a mixed bag to be honest. I had one early morning start before work to try and get some images of the fox family again. I'm a bit worried about whats going on here as I haven't seen them for over a week now. As we live next to the A1 I am always concerned that mum could get hit if she crosses over the carriageway. In fact i was so concerned I had a check along the section of road nearest to us just to be sure. Obviously I will keep trying with this one, I'm not even worried about getting more images as long as they are all ok.

With visiting the foxes I had noticed that there is a female roe deer who seems to have laid claim to the small wood where the fox den is located. This is unusual for deer as in my experience they tend to move around daily and have always moved to another part of there territory the following day. The reason for this became clear in mid week when I changed my route across the field slightly and almost stepped on a roe deer fawn. We where both startled but although the deer ran off I can confirm it was back with mum later in the week.

When theirs nothing doing on the mammal front doing I tend to switch to using my macro lens. The warm weather seems to have brought quiet a range of insects out between the showers! I
also took delivery of a new field guide which I can highly recommend. Britains Spiders is a Wildguide by Lawrence Bee, Geoff Oxford and Helen Smith. For me this is the best guide on spiders I have had. I did have the Collins guide but found this very difficult to use as it really needed you to dissect the spider under a microscope to get an ID. This guide uses photographs of spiders in the field which is much more useful for me as a photographer. Most spiders I can get a reasonable identification accepting that there are lots that can only be positively identified with a microscope.

I had the weekend to myself as Mel and Leia where off to the Chatsworth flower show and the Newark Retro Festival respectively. On Saturday I got my long bike out of the way, the twenty miles of headwind on the way back was not appreciated!

Sunday saw me head off to Bleaklow in the Peak District. This is one of my favourite parts of moorland. Leia and me first explored it while looking for aircraft wrecks. I can highly recommend the Dark Peak Aircraft Wrecks by Ron Collier. The wreck site of the Super Fortress is particularly

I was up there early and on the look out for Golden Plover, Mountain Hare in there summer coats and was hoping I might see Short Eared Owl hunting. The wind was a big problem making it hard to keep the big lens steady. As it turned out Golden Plover where right on the top but just wanted to keep out of range of my lens, although I did get a few shots. I also managed to get close to another wader the Curlew but disappointingly I didn't see any owls. The hares as normal seemed content to snuggle down out of the wind. The only rapter I saw was a Hobby chasing a martin but at distance, still it was nice to see as I headed back to the car.

I was trying out my new Vanguard Uprise 48 and tripod on Bleaklow. Both worked really well although I would be grateful if any of my followers have recommendations for a small flask that doesn't leak. The Vanguard has a super space for personal items at the top of the bag. Unfortunately this means a flask is located above all the camera kit. Can anyone see the issue with this! Now I don't criticise Vanguard for this as all camera bags seem to have the same configuration. Anyway please get in touch with your recommendations for leak proof flasks.

More next week!


Thursday, 4 May 2017

My Photography Kit - And Why I Use It!

On my website I have a kit list of the kit that I currently use to image wildlife. A kit list is very nice but it doesn't really tell you anything. And for the aspiring photographer it might be of interest to know why I use a bit of kit or why I've switched from something else. The opinions here are my own and come from my experience of using kit over a long period of time. I am always interested in what other photographers think or if you require more information or detail on how I came to my decisions please feel free to contact me.

Ok lets get right into it.

Camera - Canon 70D

I have been a long term canon user since I first bought a digital camera in 2005. For me this was a game changer with the groundbreaking Canon 10D. I loved this camera and it was built like a tank, in fact I think its body shell was more on a par with the top end professional cameras of today. As technology progressed I moved to the Canon 50D and finally to my current body the Canon 70D.

I will admit to a brief fling with Nikon in 2013 when I switched to a Nikon D700. I am not a photographer who believes in this Canon/Nikon feud. The Nikon was a fine camera and my only issue with it was that for me although all the features I wanted where there, they always seemed a little difficult to get to compared to the Canon I was used to.

The Canon 70D is a lovely camera to work with. For me I find the touch screen a great asset, as is the ability to move the screen at all angles. This feature comes into it's own when you are crawling around doing macro photography. Build quality is good but I do look back with fondness to the tank like construction of the old 10D. Funnily enough I had the chance to get hold of an old 10D body the other week and it feels twice as robust as the 70D. I am actually due to upgrade to the canon 7D Mk 2 at some point but keep putting it off. I have to say the 7D Mk2 outclasses the 70D, as it should, however I find the swivel screen on the 70D such an asset I am reluctant to let it go for the fixed screen of the 7D Mk 2.

Big Lens - Canon 100-400 Mk 1

Where do I start with this one! I have had a lot of the sensibly priced telephoto lenses. I started with a Sigma 170-500. This was out of date when I bought it and I had my first encounter with a sparrowhawk with this lens. I thought I had some superb images only to find that they where all slightly out of focus. Apparently it needed re-chipping for a digital camera hence the OOF images. I wasn't pleased but it performed well enough after that.
I have also had a Canon 300 F4 with teleconverter Another excellent lens but slightly less versatile than a zoom.
Canon 100 - 400 Mk 1 Twice. Both have been good performers despite them getting mixed reviews. I think it may be down to the luck of the draw as to weather you get a good copy.
Nikon 300 F4 with teleconverter. Another great lens and I had no complaints.
Tamron 150-600. This lens was a surprise. The picture of the kestrel on the post was taken with it that leaps out at you when you enter my website. I don't think I realised how good it was until I upgraded to the lens below. This may also explain when I felt the next lens was so short after the 600mm. Build quality was not on a par with Canon and it felt pretty plastic in the hand, but it took some cracking images.

Canon 100 - 400 Mk 2. Now this might be controversial but I never got on with this lens. I know people rave about it but my first bugbear with it is the reach. Is it actually 400mm? I have seen loads of reviews that say its more like 370mm. Now to be honest a 400mm lens itself can leave you wanting a bit more reach on some occasions but to be using a 400mm that's short is a bit of a con. I also didn't rate the picture quality as hugely better than anything else I'd used. Anyway I would let you decide if it's really worth the £2000 price tag.
After having  a break from wildlife photography for a while I ended up getting an old Sigma 50-500 (Bigma) from a sale at work. It was now I realised the full value of image stabilisation! This lens was one of the first versions and didn't come with Sigma's OS system. Don't get me wrong it was capable of taking a nice image, but you had to have perfect conditions, and unfortunately as a wildlife photographer this is not often the case.

My current lens see's me go back to a Canon 100-400 Mk1 and to be honest at the minute you would do well to part me from it. I think I again must have a good copy. image quality is superb and the two stop image stabilisation has not let me down yet. It cost me less than a third of the price of the Mk 2 and doesn't feel short!

Macro Lens - Canon EF 100mm USM

This is quite an old lens and has no image stabilisation. Until recently it seems that an image stabiliser was not thought necessary on a macro lens. To be honest I have had an Old Tamron 90mm and a Sigma 105mm They have all performed well. Again the Tamron was a surprise as I picked it up really cheaply and it provided some lovely images. I would only say that the build quality of the Canon is great and is a notch above the other two. To be honest I would happily shoot with any of them!

General purpose Lens - Canon EFS 17-55

I upgraded to this lens from the kit lens that came with the 70D Build quality is good but not quite matching that of the professional range. It is a nice lens with a useful range. I really like it because for me it has never failed quality control when submitting to stock libraries. Now this may be a fluke but although I could see little difference I used to get regular fails with the kit lens.

And that is it for my camera and lens combinations. I don't keep loads of lenses because you don't use or carry them and I have found that this combination covers most of the situations I get into. Please feel free to contact me if you want to know more about this kit or which images on my website were shot with what. Next time I will look at all of my ancillary stuff that I use to take my images from tripods to bags and even clothing.

All the Best for your Photography!