Updated: Nov 28, 2020
One of the most important things about photography is gear. After all, you can't take photos without a camera — whether it be a fancy DSLR, a seventy-year-old film camera, an instant or disposable camera, a quaint little point-and-shoot, or just a plain old phone.
Most professional photographers these days shoot with what is called a DSLR: a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera. It uses a mirror angled at 45º inside the body of the camera to show the viewfinder exactly what the sensor will see, allowing photographers to get an accurate view of the field. When the shutter is activated, the mirror is lifted up (reflex) and allows light to hit the sensor through the opening of a shutter, which controls the exposure time. Mirrorless cameras are getting more and more popular and advanced these days, but many professional photographers still prefer looking through an optical (non-electronic) viewfinder as opposed to a digital Live View.I shoot with two cameras: the Canon EOS 6D and its successor, the EOS 6D Mark II.
The discontinued EOS 6D is Canon's best combination of light and versatile, high-quality, and well-priced, with a 20.2-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor and a current value of about $1000 CAD for a new body. In fact, when it was released, it was designed to be Canon's most affordable full-frame camera body. It's the first DSLR that I have shot with, and is extremely reliable. It doesn't lack in speed or ability and it has taken many a beating throughout the years, but still works perfectly fine. I've brought it on hiking and skiing trips in the past few years, and I don't doubt that I'll continue to use it for many years, if not decades, to come. The only thing I've had to replace was the mode selection plate that fell off one year that can be easily fixed, and a focusing screen that I've inadvertently scratched with my lens once.
The Mark II is a fitting successor for the original 6D. With a new, 26.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, and 45 cross-type autofocus points as opposed to only eleven straight-line-type AF points on the 6D. The high-speed ISO fares considerably better, with much less noise at speeds of 10 000 than its predecessor. It even has high-speed continuous shooting at 6.5 fps and compared to 4.5 from the 6D. Oh, did I mention that the Mark II has a fully-functional rotating touchscreen?
A camera is nothing without lenses. Lenses are what focuses the light onto the sensor and allows zooming and focusing, which are the factors which actually produce the image.
I shoot with many different lenses, from ultra-wide-angle to super-telephoto lenses. Different lenses get different things accomplished, and for a versatile photographer like me, the more lenses, the better. Most of my Canon lenses (all of the ones I use most often) are from the L-series, as denoted by a "L" following the aperture marking. The L ("Luxury") series lenses are mainly better than the non-L lenses in that they are much better built, making use of metal components rather than plastics, and to some degree, are weather-proof. These lenses also offer ultrasonic motor focus (USM), which is faster than the focusing mechanisms on the non-L lenses, which can be a huge advantage when shooting things like sports or moving animals.
My oldest and most reliable lens is the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. One of the higher-end kit lenses, the 24-105 has an incredible range from wide-angle at 24mm to telephoto at 105mm, making it great for shooting everything from landscapes to close up animals. Its decent maximum aperture at f/4 throughout the spectrum makes it great for shooting close-ups, pseudo-macros, and portraits. I love using this lens to shoot a variety of things on-the-go, such as on camping and skiing trips.
As a companion to my new EOS 6D, I got the new Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS II USM as a kit lens. Although it doesn't have quite the range of the 24-105, its 82mm lens diametre allows much more light in than the 77mm of the 24-105, giving the 24-70 a juicy maximum aperture of f/2.8, giving the lens a much better low-light performance, as well as a small depth-of-field. Using this lens in combination with my other lenses gives me an amazing range, in both focal length and aperture.
The most versatile and usable lenses in this list, I would recommend that any photographer, whether starting out, picking up an old hobby, or moving towards professional, have at least one of either a EF 24-105 f/4 or a EF 24-70 from the L series.
If you're planning on getting into DSLR photography for the long-term and you think that the EF 24-70 is the right kit lens for you, then I recommend getting a 700-200mm lens to compliment it. I use the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens, which, like the 24-70, has a full-spectrum aperture of f/2.8. I use this lens as a replacement for my old EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM. The f/2.8 Mark III has an improved autofocus system from all the previous L series 70-200mm lenses, and the wide aperture makes it ideal for shooting sports like swimming and close-by birds. The 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200 f/2.8 lens combination is one of the most popular and probably the most versatile, allowing a photographer to shoot everything from wide angle landscapes to larger birds in trees, all at a reliably wide aperture.
For super-telephoto photography, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM is one of the most popular and versatile lenses. Pairing well with both the EF 24-105 and EF 24-70, this lens offers an excellent range with great magnification on its 400mm end, and a small enough focal length to see what's going on on the 100mm. One downside is that it is an aperture variable. At 100-134mm, the camera is capable of apertures up to f/4.5, at 135-311, it can achieve f/5.0, and at 312-400mm, its maximum aperture is f/5.6. This can be frustrating in low-light conditions, especially if you're going to use an extender with this lens (more on that later). Nonetheless, it's still an excellent lens with the ability to shoot many different types of photos, with clear and crisp images.
Extenders are a (in)valuable tool for photographers who shoot distant subjects like wildlife or sports, who can't or don't want to invest in some of the most expensive lenses in the market: ultra-telephoto lenses. Extenders mostly cost a couple hundred dollars each, which is nothing compared to a fifteen-thousand-USD 500mm f/4 or a twenty-plus-thousand-USD 800mm f/5.6 ultra-telephoto lens.
Canon extenders come in 1.4x or 2x factors, which are directly superimposed over the focal length of your existing telephoto lens. However, there are some downsides to extenders. Firstly, not all lenses or cameras are compatible with extenders. Some lenses (such as wide-angle) cannot be used with extenders because of the lens' design, which is physically incompatible (meaning that it is not possible to connect them). Some cameras, like the first-generation EOS 6D, can be used with extenders, but then cannot use the native autofocus system with the extender.
In addition to multiplying your focal length, extenders will also multiply your aperture. That means that your 400mm at f/5.6, which is bearable in most lighting situations, will become a 560mm at f/8.0, which can be incredibly dark, depending on the subject. This, along with the points above (especially camera compatibility), is very important to keep in mind when thinking about extenders. This is why I always recommend the Canon Extender EF 1.4x III (which is what I have) over the 2x extender.
Sometimes, I take landscape or cityscape photos which just aren't right for 24mm. That's where ultra-wide angle lenses come in. The Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC is one such lens: it's a low-cost, OEM wide-angle lens designed for Canon EF mounts, manufactured by reputable South Korean cine lenses manufacturer Samyang. At 14mm, the lens is an ultra-wide-angle lens without fisheye, which in my opinion, makes images more comfortable to look at. The downside to this lens is that it has no autofocus, meaning that you have to focus by zooming into live view. Not to say that it doesn't work or work well, it's just a bit harder and time consuming. Overall, however, I've has some favourable results with this lens.
In addition to these L-series lenses, I also have two non-L lenses: the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM and the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II. The first of these two is a macro lens: it can be used at as close as a foot away from the subject, creating a clear 1:1 ratio of actual image to sensor image at a very close range, which is perfect for photographing things like insects and plants, and the wide aperture makes a great shot with a small field of focus. The second is another common kit lens, and one of the most popular prime (single focal lens) lenses around. Its 50mm focal length is the perfect distance for most portrait shots, and the extremely wide aperture of f/1.8 gives an extremely narrow depth of field, what some would call a "crispy bokeh", which can be perfect for photoshoots like portraits. I don't shoot with these lenses very often, but if you have a project in mind like a photoshoot or a macro shoot, let me know using this link. I'd love to hear from you, and I'm looking forward to working together!
No, not Instagram filters or VSCO filters. Physical glass filters. Every photographer should have at least two in their toolbox: a UV filter and a CPL filter.
The UV filter, or ultraviolet filter, is one of much debate. Many people say that it doesn't do anything for your image, or can even affect your image quality by causing lens flares. Personally, I believe that a good UV/Haze filter can have some positive effect on your image quality by reducing glare and haze in your image (UV/Haze filters do this more effectively by using a coating that blocks UV and decreases haze). Nonetheless, most photographers use UV filters to protect their lenses: If they accidentally drop a lens or drop something on a lens, the UV filter will protect the most vulnerable part of the lens: the glass. After all, it's better to smash a $30 filter than a $3000 lens.
The CPL filter is the most common for outdoor photography. The CPL stands for Circular Polarizing, meaning that it does an excellent job at reducing the glare of an image coming in through the lens. CPL filters can often add contrast and colour to your image that you wouldn't get without any filter, and it can cut unwanted reflections from glass, metal, and water. CPL filters come with a rotating wheel, which can be turned to change the strength of the filter's polarization.
ND filters are the third-most-common type of filter. Standing for Neutral Density, ND filters simply darken the image. These filters are ideal for people who want to take long exposures of daylight subjects, such as waterfalls or flowing water. Most ND filters come at individual stops, although there are some variable ND filters on the market. There are also graduated ND filters, in which half of the filter is darker than the other, with a smooth transition in the middle.
Some things to pay attention to when buying filters are the size, thread, and thickness, and manufacturer.
Firstly, the diametre of filters is foremost, since filters attach to the front of a lens. Lenses are typically marked with their diametres, which are most commonly 49mm (such as the EF 50mm), 67mm (like the EF 70-200mm f/4), 77mm (EF 24-105, EF 100-400), or 82mm (EF 24-70 f/2.8). Pay attention to these numbers, because if they're wrong, they won't fit.
Secondly, pay attention to the thread of the filters. Most male ends of filters are the same thread to be compatible with all lenses. However, sometimes the female end of the thread is made so that they're only compatible with filters of a certain brand.
Thirdly, the thickness of the filter, or aggregate thickness if you're stacking filters, is very important. If the filter is too thick, the walls may show up in your final image, cutting off some of the corners. This can be fixed by cropping in post-processing, but if your subject takes up the entire frame, this can be troublesome. Make sure you test the thickness with all focal lengths of your lens before using.
Finally, not all filters are created equal. Just like cameras and lenses, some companies create better filters than others, and even in those companies, there are higher and lower end filters. Bad filters or counterfeit filters can cause harm to your camera by scratching the lens surface or messing up the thread. Good filters often provide higher image quality and colour tone, as well as more smooth transitions in the case of CPL and graduated ND filters. Some of the most trustworthy filter brands include:
- Lee Filters, one of the leading filter companies;
- B+W filters by German camera-optics company Schneider Kreuznach, which is one of the earliest and best lens manufacturers, which has made lenses for Rolleiflex TLRs in the early 20th century and which have won many awards for their cine lenses; and
- Schneider filters by Schneider Kreuznach, which makes rectangular filters for oversized lenses like wide-angle lenses;
- Gobe filters, which plants trees for every purchase of filters;
- Hoya Filters, which has the largest filter catalogue in the world;
- Tiffen Precision Optics;
- Heliopan Lichtfilter;
- Nikon soft-focus filters.
Tripods, Monopods, and Flash
Of course, tripods, monopods, and flash are also some of the most important gear for photographers. For long-exposures, a tripod helps keep everything steady. Monopods help vertically support heavy setups to save the arms of photographers. Flash helps with lighting both in the studio and outdoors on shoots. Depending on what you shoot, you may want to consider remote flash triggers or a multi-bulb studio flash system. If you're just going to use a hotshoe flash, stick with flashes manufactured by your camera's brand. Make sure you know what brand for tripods you're gonna use, too. Good tripods can be really expensive — over a hundred dollars apiece. Watch out, though. Cheap tripods are often brittle, can't support weight, and don't lock in place. The best, most accessible tripod brand in the world is Manfrotto, with other brands like Gizto also being very reliable. Tripod heads come in ball, gimbal, and panoramic-head configurations, so make sure you know what you're looking for. Neewer is another third-party company that makes a myriad of film supplies, from microphones to tripods to flashes and intervalometers, and is typically the cheapest but still quality option on Amazon. I would recommend that a photographer get at least one sturdy tripod and a small, portable tripod.
In addition to digital photography with DSLRs, I have recently been experimenting with film photography. A few years ago, I bought my dad a Kodak Duaflex (circa 1950s) camera and a roll of film for $40 from my friend (a bargain!). The pseudo-TLR uses rare 620 film, which is simply the more common 120 film on a smaller spool. Now, I use scissors and sandpapers to modify plastic 120 spools to be compatible with my 620 camera. I'm also saving up for a Canon film SLR, which uses 135 film (35mm film canisters) and is compatible with by current line of lenses. Any support through projects or collaborations will in large part fund my growing inventory of digital and film photography gear.
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