Photography Gear

Here's the photography gear that I use and my honest opinions on everything. Each item on this list I own, I like, and I think is worth buying. But that doesn't mean it's perfect. So I'll tell you what I use, why I like it, as well as anything that don't like about it.

Glorified Assistants

In the days of film, the camera wasn't much of a contributor to image quality. Think about it: The light flowed through the lens and was projected onto the film, while the camera just held those items in place and handled the shutter.  The lens and film determined image quality while the camera was sort of a glorified assistant, at most providing some functional features to facilitate getting the shot.

But that's not the case with digital. The camera's image sensors and processors are major contributors to image quality, and so the camera actually matters beyond ergonomics and function. That said, all the major manufacturers have been producing excellent cameras for awhile now. If you can't take a good photo with a modern camera, regardless of brand, the problem isn't the camera.

And so although I'm a Nikon shooter, I could very easily live with another brand. But I've made a large enough investment in the Nikon system that I'd like to avoid taking the financial hit of switching.

  • Nikon D7500 – I bought my D7500 several years ago. I've wrestled a lot with the idea of going mirrorless, as there are definite benefits to doing so. But I decided to delay that migration because currently there is no Nikon upgrade path that I find both compelling and reasonably affordable. All the mirrorless DX models have about same image quality as the D7500 (because the sensors are essentially the same) but are missing key features from the D7500 that I depend on (flash commander mode, sensor cleaning, exposure lock, and several others). Going to FX is an obvious solution, but would involve upgrading most of my lenses in addition to the body and that's a lot of money. I'm hopeful, albeit not confident, that Nikon will create a better DX upgrade path for D7500 and D500 shooters eventually. But for now, I'm fine with what I've got. As the final prosumer DX DSLR, the D7500 is the peak camera of its class. All the kinks got worked out over several models in the series, so the D7500 is robust, stable, speedy, and captures great images. But more importantly, I know my way around it really well and I've assembled a great set of lenses to support it. So I feel more limited by my talent than by my camera. But I realize that at some point, I'll need to upgrade. If Nikon doesn't have a good option for me by that time, then I'll probably go to a different brand since my lens investment will be lost anyway. (Nikon, I'm sure I'm not the only one who needs a higher-end mirrorless DX option to make me jump. What I'm not sure about is if you're listening.
  • Nikon D7000 – The D7000 is my backup camera. It's definitely long in the tooth nowadays. But I'm very comfortable with it and I don't have any problems getting results that I'm proud of. It makes a great backup or the camera I don't mind putting at more risk than my main camera.

The Holy Terror

The Holy Terror

I've been mostly happy with the DX format, but one source of FX envy has always been the so-called Nikon Holy Trinity, that trio of Nikon FX lenses, covering 14-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm, all with a constant maximum aperture of f/2.8, blazing autofocus performance, and superb optics. Unfortunately, putting together a comparable set on DX is impossible without some compromises.

My 3-lens set, which I call the Holy Terror, is the closest DX equivalent in my opinion. It is compromised by some gaps in focal length coverage, especially at the long-telephoto end. But what I get in exchange is fantastic image quality, super-fast constant apertures, and comparable depth of field to the FX Trinity in the all-important portrait range (moderately wide to moderately telephoto). If you value image quality and low light performance more than reach like I do, this is a very worthwhile trade.

One thing you'll notice: I have no aversion to third party lenses. I think people make way too big a deal about that, paying a premium for a false sense of security. I started out with all Nikon lenses, but buying my first Sigma opened my eyes to a lot of new possibilities. Not only do third party lenses work fine, but it's simply not possible to put together a Nikon-branded DX Trinity that doesn't have bigger compromises than the Holy Terror in my opinion.

  • Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM | A – I got the 18-35mm Art lens several years ago. It was, and still is, a revelatory lens for me. It's not perfect, but all things considered I think the 18-35 is the most compelling DSLR APS-C lens ever made. At the time of its release, even some full-frame shooters envied it. Best-in-class speed, ridiculous sharpness, low distortion, superb colors, and a lovely bokeh. At a full-frame equivalent of 27-52.5mm, it has a somewhat narrow focal length range, but its speed and optical performance across that range make it an very credible replacement for three common prime lenses – the 28mm, 35mm, and 50mm. And that range happens to cover the heart of my photography needs perfectly. And as I explained in my review of it, its fixed f/1.8 maximum aperture is a genuine game changer for APS-C cameras
  • Sigma 50-100mm F1.8 DC HSM | Art – The 50-100 Art lens is the telephoto companion to the 18-35. It has Sigma's singular f/1.8 constant aperture, and comparable or better levels of image quality and performance. And like the 18-35, it has an unusual focal length range. But it's fairly comparable to the venerable 70-200mm zoom on full-frame cameras, covering most of the same effective focal length range and offering a similar depth of field. The only significant knock I have on the 50-100 is that it doesn't have image stabilization, although its speed somewhat compensates for that, and my uses for this lens typically involve fast enough shutter speeds to obviate the need for stabilization.
  • Tokina atx-i 11-20mm CF f/2.8 – I just love working with ultra-wide perspective and gargantuan depth of field, and the 11-20 makes that a pleasure. It's sharp, even wide open, especially in the center- and mid-frame. And for such a wide lens, its optical distortion is very reasonable. While it doesn't match the Sigmas, f/2.8 is still quite speedy for a zoom lens. It doesn't have image stabilization, but if you can't handhold a lens this wide and fast without IS you really need to sort out your technique. The only real downsides from an image quality perspective are noticeable chromatic aberration and vignetting with certain scenes and settings, both of which are easily corrected in post. Obviously the 11-20 is great for landscapes, but its speed and optical performance also make it suitable for indoor architecture and astrophotography. It's not a perfect lens, however. It has some gotchas with respect to auto-focus and exposure that are made workable by the typical use cases for this kind of lens (landscape, cityscape, indoor architectural), which allow you to sidestep potential problems in those areas.
The Fixers

The Fixers

The Holy Terror covers 95% of my needs and those three lenses have permanent spots in my photography bag. But sometimes I'll in be in a special scenario that calls for something that the Holy Terror doesn't work as well for and I need a lens with a very particular set of skills. Then it's time for one of The Fixers.

  • Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM | C – If I need to pare down to a single lens to cover a wide and unpredictable variety of situations, it’s usually the Sigma 17-70. That’s because it is super versatile. The 17-70mm focal length covers a lot of shooting scenarios and it’s pretty sharp across most of that range. It auto-focuses quickly and decisively; it can deal with fairly low light; its image stabilization works really well; it has surprisingly nice bokeh; and its fit, finish, and materials belie its reasonable price. Sigma calls it a "macro" lens, but that’s stretching it. Its short minimum focusing distance is very handy, but you won’t be doing snowflake images with it. The bigger limitation of the 17-70 in my opinion is that the edges are a little too soft at the wide end of its focal length range and it doesn't improve much when you stop down. All things considered though, it’s the kit lens you wish were actually included in the kit. For me, it’s the ideal travel or walking-around lens.
  • Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro VC USD – The Tamron is one of the best macro lenses available for DSLRs, full or cropped frame, with superb image quality, 1:1 magnification, a 5.5" working distance, an f/2.8-32 aperture range, and a very rugged, weather-sealed build. It's also a fast, quiet, and accurate autofocuser with a very effective image stabilization system, which increases the versatility of the Tamron immensely by making it a very user-friendly mid-range telephoto lens. If I didn't already have the Sigma 50-100mm, I'd probably use the Tamron as a portrait lens quite a bit as well. It's a lot smaller and lighter than the Sigma though, which is nice.
  • Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR – It's funny. The 55-300 has always been my least used lens, but it's the one I've owned the longest. That's because replacing it with something significantly better is an expensive proposition. Now that I have the Sigma 50-100, which has enough reach for most of my modest telephoto needs, the 55-300 sees even less action. But I keep it because I don't have a lot of money tied up in it and every once in a while I need its extended reach. It has surprisingly decent image quality, it's wonderfully compact, and its image stabilization works really well. If you work within its limits (i.e. in good light and limiting it to about 200mm), it can perform quite competently. But I still would like to upgrade it one day.


This list doesn't include all the little stuff that you end up buying - memory cards, filters, batteries, and so forth.  Just the big stuff.
  • Benro Mammoth TMTH44C tripod – A tripod that can't hold your camera still is like a leaky cup: It's failing at its one and only job, so why bother? For that reason, I believe that at least one tripod you own should prioritize stability above all other considerations except budget. The Mammoth is my stability-first tripod. Big, beefy, and brawny, the Mammoth is a carbon fiber tripod with a modular (aka systematic) spider. I did an extensive review of it, but the bottom line is that it's super-stable and extremely well-made. The only knock I have on it is that it's a bit heavier than a comparably-sized Gitzo or RRS, but it's also way less expensive. 
  • Benro WH15 head – Although I was intrigued by the WH15, I hadn't seriously considered getting one because it's awfully pricey, and because it's a fluid head which I'd always thought of as being for video. But two things happened: First, Hudson Henry convinced me of the merits of using a fluid head for still photography. Second, I found a deal on a used, mint condition WH15 for less than half the price of a new one. So I took the plunge, and I'm very glad I did. The WH15 is basically a fluid head that Benro optimized for still photography by outfitting with an Arca panning clamp and a flat base. Compared to a ball head, it's much easier to do precise adjustments, it handles long heavy lenses much more capably, and it lets you take perfectly level and parallax-free panoramas very easily. It would also work well on a monopod, although it's a bit big for that. And because it's a fluid head and has a removable bar handle, it does beautifully smooth panning for video. You just get a lot more versatility for the small price of dealing with a couple of additional controls.
  • Mefoto GlobeTrotter – I got the GlobeTrotter as a birthday gift from my wife and I really like it. I use it for airline travel or when space is tight. It will easily fit into a backpack, carry-on luggage, or strapped to the outside of a camera bag. Obviously the GlobeTrotter is not a stability-first tripod, but if I avoid extending the center column and bottom leg segments when I can, it's plenty stable for the majority of my shooting situations. Operationally, it's got the right features and everything moves with a decent smoothness and control. It comes with a nicely padded, form-fitting carrying case and the included ball head is Arca-Swiss compatible. All-in-all, it's a good and not terribly expensive travel tripod.
  • Lowepro Whistler 450 AW II – The Whistler 450 is one of the most bombproof and weatherproof packs you can get. It will hold a ton of photography gear and a decent amount of other gear as well. The outer fabric is TPU-coated, so short of a full-on deluge, you don't even need to use its included rain cover. Lowepro outfitted the Whistler with a robust suspension system to manage weight, and a very stout internal structure and attachment system for strapping heavy stuff on the outside. Finally, there's a waterproof divider between the front and camera compartments so you can put wet gear in the pack without worrying about your camera stuff. Downsides? Yeah, there's always at least one. In this case, it's big and heavy (6.8 pounds before you even put anything in it). So the Whistler is the pack I use when I need a lot of gear and I have the luxury of carrying something big and burly.
  • Lowepro Photo Sport 200 AW – When I need to be light and nimble, I use the Photo Sport. It's essentially a hiking daypack with a small, side-access camera compartment. It has many features you'd expect to see in a technical pack: an expandable drawstring top opening with a lid, a water bladder compartment (can fit a small laptop), an external shove-it pocket, and lots of straps to secure things to the outside. I like its compact size, light weight, and body-conforming fit. And I love its inconspicuousness – it looks like a hiking pack, not a photography bag. The camera compartment will carry one body (full-frame) and two lenses (one attached and another lens up to 70-200mm). Any more than that, you'll need to overflow gear into the main top compartment, which is roomy but not padded. The "Ultra Cinch" feature is really clever: It's a straightjacket for the camera compartment, compressing it around your gear to keep it from jostling around in the pack when you're running, climbing, skiing, or whatever jostle-inducing activity you do. The Photo Sport's shoulder straps and hip belt look kind of thin, but they're completely adequate for the amount of gear the pack was designed to hold. So it actually carries very well if you don't over-stuff it. All in all, it's a nice pack for those times when less is more.
  • OP/TECH strap system – I use three different OP/TECH straps. The Utility Sling is my go-to strap for all-day outings. When you have to do it for several hours, its amazing how much more comfortable it is to carry a camera slung across a shoulder rather than around the neck.  Occasionally I want a regular neck strap instead of a sling, so I also have the Super Classic strap. Finally, I use a couple of Swivel Hook Connectors for a strap that hooks into the shoulder straps on my LowePro backpacks!  So, three different carrying options. All of these straps are inexpensive, but what's most cool about them is the Uniloop quick-release system lets me change straps, or move a strap to a different camera, in just a few seconds.
  • Westcott X-Drop Backdrop – The X-Drop is a portable backdrop system. At 5' x 7', it's only big enough for single-person, or maybe really cozy two-person, shoots. But that's exactly the sort of shooting I mostly do and my studio is too small for a full-size backdrop. The chief advantage of the X-Drop is that it travels and stores exceptionally well, collapsing down into a really compact package and setting up and tearing down very quickly and easily. I have the white and black drop cloths and they look and function exactly as you'd expect. The stand itself is a pretty clever design, stretching out the drop cloths to remove wrinkles, and stowing away into a handy bag when collapsed. However it's delicate in terms of build so I wouldn't recommend it to somebody who's tough on their gear and using it outside on a breezy day is just begging for trouble. But if your usual shooting parameters fit within its limitations, it's a terrific system.


I definitely identify with the strobist movement. That's somewhat driven by budget limitations, but I also love the portability of speedlights. Thank goodness for David Hobby, the pied-piper of strobism. The dude has taught legions of people like me how to conjure professional looking lighting from little speedlights. Having said that, I've nothing against studio flash and in fact any further investment in lighting gear will probably be in that realm.
  • 2 Nikon SB-700 speedlights – These are Nikon's mid-range speedlights. They have only moderate power, but a very nice user interface and a robust CLS implementation. They also have a really solid optical slave mode, which I use a lot. It even works well in sunlight. I generally don't use full-on TTL with the CLS system.  I find setting flash power levels directly in manual mode to be more intuitive than using flash exposure compensation with TTL, plus it's easier to get maximum power when using manual flash. However, CLS is awesome for manual flash too because it allows you to set flash power remotely at the camera instead of having to do it at each speedlight (which are often at the top of tall light stands). That alone is a huge hassle-reducer.
  • LumoPro LP160 speedlight – The LP160 is a great, straightforward manual flash. It dispenses with all the fancy TTL stuff, and gives you consistent, reliable, and powerful light at a great price. My favorite feature is its built-in optical slave, which is rock-solid reliable.  It just works.   There's even a setting that allows it to ignore CLS pre-flashes, so it integrates into my setup well.  If you want a powerful and dependable speedlight, but you don't have a lot of money to spend, this is the one you want. Unfortunately, LumoPro discontinued it, but they replaced it with the LP180, which improves on the concept by adding more power, an LCD, finer flash power adjustment, a high-voltage battery input, a more rugged build, and a number of other features. If it retains the LP160's reliability, then the extra $20 over the LP160 sounds like money well-spent.
  • Nikon SG-3IR – One of the biggest problems with triggering off-camera speedlights optically using the pop-up flash on the camera is that the camera flash can add it's own light to the photo and screw up your carefully prepared, off-camera lighting treatment. This gizmo slides into the camera's hotshoe and obscures the light to keep it from influencing the picture. However, any CLS or optical slave can still see the flash so all the triggering and inter-flash communication still works. A simple, inexpensive ($12 street), and very effective solution.
  • Yongnuo RF-603 N3 wireless triggers – Sometimes optical/CLS triggering just won't fire a remote flash reliably. Like when you're outside in bright sunlight, or when you're in close quarters and your light modifiers block the line-of-sight between your master and remote flashes. At that point, you have to use either a hotshoe cable, or a radio frequency trigger. The RF-603's are cheap (about $30), easy to use, and have decent range. They work in bright sunlight, around corners, even through walls. And unlike some cheap triggers, they fire quite reliably. I like them very much. But they don't support TTL or remote power adjustment. You have to set your flash power on the flash itself, which is a pain. Thus, I only use triggers when I have to.
  • Lastolite 24" EzyBox HotShoe softbox – Okay, now we get to the fun stuff in terms of lighting.  The Ezybox has two great qualities compared to a lot of other softboxes: One, it works with speedlights, and two, it's very easy to set up and tear down. It's also very thoughtfully designed and casts a terrific, soft light.  I appreciate the craftsmanship of it too. When assembled, all the fabrics are nice and taut, and the pieces fit together with reassuringly tight tolerances so that everything feels solid.  My only complaint is that it's fairly pricey for what it is.  The same can be said about most name-brand lighting products, frankly. But the quality of this thing is evident. It's a perfect size for head and shoulder portraits.
  • 48" Octagonal Softbox – This is my big softbox - big enough to shoot multiple people and 3/4 or full-length portraits. The one I have is an inexpensive e-bay item, but it's surprisingly well-made and performs wonderfully. It's basically a silver bounce umbrella with a diffusion panel on the front, so it's lightweight and collapses down really small. Like the Ezybox, assembly and disassembly is simple and fast. Unlike the EzyBox however, it produces round catchlights, which is nice. Most importantly, the light out of this thing is sumptuous - it's easily feathered and it casts extremely soft shadows. A very flattering portrait light. Mine included a detachable grid to control spill, which I've come to view as a necessity given the size of this bad boy. Downsides? Well, the biggest thing is that the strobe goes inside the softbox, which requires using wireless triggers, so power adjustments must be made by opening the softbox and adjusting the controls on the flash. I just leave the velcro on the diffusion panel partly unsealed so that I can easily do adjustments until I get it fully dialed in. Then I seal it up proper. The other downside is that a boom stand is pretty much mandatory for freedom of placement.
  • Neewer Magnetic Ring Flash – "The Donut" is an attachment that turns an on-camera speedlight into a giant, wonderfully performing, but slightly ridiculous looking, ring flash. It does all the things you'd expect from a good ring flash, including that unrelenting, shadowless fashion photo look with the characteristic circular catchlight in the eyes. It makes a perfect fill light for lightening shadows. And it even makes a pretty darn good softbox for head-and-shoulders portraits if you bring it in really tight on your subject. For $25 on Amazon, it is a steal.
  • LumiQuest Softbox III softbox – This is another speedlight softbox. It's considerably smaller than the EzyBox or octabox, so its light is not as soft.  But place it really close to the subject and it looks great - more dramatic with harder light/shadow transitions than the EzyBox. It has the added advantage of being remarkably portable and unobtrusive. I've shot great photos just holding my camera in one hand and the Softbox III in the other. In a clamshell configuration with a reflector or a bigger softbox on the bottom, it also does a serviceable beauty dish impersonation (except the catch light is square instead of round).
  • 2 Impact 43" White Translucent Umbrellas – Umbrellas are great when you want soft light and you either desire, or don't care about, extra light spilling around the scene.
  • Fotodiox 42" 5-in-1 Reflector – Reflector disks are another lighting classic. This is a 42" disk that can be used to reflect, diffuse, or block light depending on the cloth cover you put on it.  There are many applications for reflector panels. In fact, a lot of pros primarily use panels of various shapes and sizes (including giant 6' X 6' mini-walls) as their light modifiers of choice.
  • ExpoImaging Rogue Grid – A grid is an adapter that goes on the front of a light source that funnels all the light through a honeycomb-like filter. A light sieve, if you will. It has the effect of focusing the light into a tighter beam, reducing spillage of light outside the beam. A speedlight grid produces a light beam with more feathered edges than you'd get from a spot light or snoot. But it has absolutely no effect on the softness of shadows, however. It's all about controlling where the light falls, not the shadows it casts. A gridded speedlight works great as a key spot light, hair light, background light, or for situations where you want to throw light on something but don't want it to spill onto other things in the surrounding area. The Rogue grid is nice because it has interchangeable grid inserts that provide different spotlight sizes, and a clever attachment system that is both secure and easy to work with. It's also well-made and has a nice integrated look, instead of looking like a lab experiment.
  • LumiQuest FXtra and Rosco Strobist Collection gel kit – Gels are colored sheets of plastic through which lights are shone to change their color. They're used either to match the color of a flash to existing lighting, or to create some kind of special effect lighting color. The challenge with gels and speedlights is attaching the gel. The FXtra system is a clear plastic gel holder that attaches to the speedlight using a strap system that's compatible with the Softbox III. It works well, although a definite drawback of the system is that the gels fit really tight so it takes longer to get them into the holder than it should. The Rosco kit is a collection of 55 color correction and special effect gels cut to fit the FXtra holder. If you have the FXtra system, the price and comprehensiveness of the kit makes it a no brainer. And even if you don't have an FXtra, it's worth considering because you can just scotch tape the filters to your speedlight.
  • Impact Multiboom Light Stand and Reflector Holder – A simple, inexpensive, and effective boom stand that holds reflectors and small speedlight/modifier setups.  The boom lets you put a speedlight or reflector exactly where you want it. The ability to clip on a reflector is essential if, like me, you're working with reflector disks that have a tendency to roll away. I wouldn't trust a heavy light to it, but for reflectors or a speedlight with a small modifier, it's fine.
  • Light Stands – I have one Impact Air-Cushioned Heavy Duty Light Stand and two Proline Speaker Stands. The Impact stand is tall (9.5'), stable, sturdy, lightweight, and reasonably priced. It's kind of bulky, but that's the trade-off for sturdiness. I augment the Impact stand with a Cowboy Studio Boom which provides a lot of flexibility in light placement and extra height when needed. The Prolines aren't even light stands, they're PA speaker stands! I've had them forever from playing in bands and I decided to put them to use as light stands as well. They work very well for that purpose other than being a little short for certain situations. The upside is they carry 75+ pound speakers so handling speedlights and softboxes is child's play.
  • 2 Impact Super Clamps – A super clamp enables you to mount a light on pretty much anything, like a door, a table, a bookshelf, a car, or in my case, a PA speaker stand.
  • 2 Impact Umbrella Brackets – An essential gadget that mounts a speedlight and modifier onto a stand and allows you to adjust the angle of the speedlight.


I consider post-processing to be as critical to what I do as working the camera. That's not a hip thing to say as a photographer, but it's true. I don't mean to diminish camera skills (you can't polish a turd, after all) but just like a song recording really comes to life during mixing, a photograph really comes to life during post-processing. Transforms it from "That's nice" to "Wow!"

  • Adobe Creative Cloud Photography – In early 2015, I switch over to Creative Cloud. The Photography plan includes Lightroom and Photoshop, which are both industry standards. They're mature, highly evolved, and for the most part, best-in-class. I'm really glad I made the move. Now, the Creative Cloud subscription model is controversial among users, and it's not really "cloud" software, but from my point of view the Photography plan for CC is a no-brainer. I can't think of many other industries where the high-end, market-leading professional software tools are available at this low of a price (even factoring in multiple year ownership). Just skip eating out once a month and it's more than paid for.
  • Nik Collection – This suite includes Color Efex Pro 4 (a huge collection of absolutely killer filters covering a wide range of common and unusual post-processing techniques), Silver Efex Pro 2 (probably the best black & white conversion tool available), Dfine 2 (an excellent noise reduction tool), Sharpener Pro 3 (an outstanding sharpening plug-in), Viveza 2 (a selective color/tonal adjustment tool), and HDR Efex Pro 2 (an HDR app).  I use Color Efex Pro more than any other plug-in, and it alone is probably worth the price of the suite.
  • Topaz Labs Adjust – Topaz Adjust gives you amazing control over exposure, tonality, local contrast, and other elements of a photograph. The user interface is kind of quirky (and you can really make a mess with it) but it's incredibly powerful. Amazing tool, great price.