Friday, January 23, 2009

My Gear Pt. I

Let me begin by quoting Scott Bourne from This Week in Photography, "Nobody makes bad lenses or bad cameras anymore." That being said, I researched my camera gear very carefully before I purchased it in the fall of 2007. My decisions were based on the fact that we would be traveling to Europe in the summer of 2008, and I wanted to travel light. I also wanted to maximize the quality of equipment for the least amount of money (which is always more than you've budgeted when you are buying camera gear). I spent considerable time in camera stores, handling cameras from both Canon and Nikon. I didn't consider other manufacturers as I wanted to be able to access the large number of used lenses, speedlights, and other accessories available. I settled on the Nikon D80 because I really liked the way it fit my hands and the controls were intuitive to operate. My next decision after deciding on the D80 body was what lens to buy. I was tempted to purchase the inexpensive "kit" lens, but decided instead on purchasing the best glass I could afford. I settled on the Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4 and have been very happy with this compact, very fast and high quality lens.
I especially like the shallow depth of field that is achieved by shooting with a large aperture, resulting in a smooth, silky background. Whenever I purchase a new lens I also buy a high quality UV filter which protects the front element of the lens from dust and scratches.
I spent the next few months taking hundreds of photos with my new system, getting to know the controls, options, and settings. I found this combination of camera body and lens to be excellent for many types of photography, but found myself getting frustrated with not being able to "bring in" many subjects because of the short focal length. I knew that I would soon be looking for a longer focal length zoom lens. While I was saving up for my next lens I purchased several additional memory cards, an extra battery, and a remote shutter release so that I could take long exposure photographs with the camera mounted on a tripod.
In November of 2008 I began shopping for a zoom lens that would cover a decent range and still be compact and high quality. I did lots of research and after much consideration chose the Nikon 18-200 f/3.5-5.6 VR lens. I really like this lens. I've taken about 90% of my photos with this lens and it is as close to an "all-in-one" that you could hope to get. Having the full range of focal lengths from wide-angle to moderate zoom in one lens does not come without some sacrifice in sharpness, speed and minor darkening of the corners at 28 mm. With this pair of lenses, the 18-200 mm and the fast 50 mm I was almost set for travel photography.
To round out my gear I acquired a good quality circular polarizing filter to fit the 18-200 and a 120 GB Hyperdrive Colorspace, which is a portable hard drive with a screen and built in card reader. This device was perfect for storing my digital photos so that I could clear off my cards and keep shooting. This particular model is quite reasonably priced and the internal rechargeable battery can be charged with a USB cable, AC adapter, and a car charger. I also took along a second portable hard drive which I used to backup the Hyperdrive whenever I had access to a computer.
My last purchase before our trip was a good quality camera backpack. I looked at several LowePro bags but I wasn't happy with the quality of the stitching and velcro closures. I tried out one bag in a local camera store and as I opened a velcro tab, the stitching let loose. Not impressed. I ended up choosing the Customary Barge backpack from Crumpler. I like this bag because it looks like a regular backpack instead of a camera bag. The bottom half has storage for a SLR camera, an extra lens and some accessories. The top portion has enough room for my rain gear and odds and ends. It also has a full padded sleeve for a laptop which can accomodate my Toshiba Tecra laptop. About a month after I bought my backpack, I stepped on one of the buckles for the waist belt and broke it. I sent the good folks at Crumpler an email and they sent me a free replacement waist belt. I was very impressed with their customer service.

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