One of the most common questions people ask me about photography is about my gear. I started with a modest point and shoot digital camera back in 2006, when I used to shoot almost anything under the Sun. Then I slowly took interest towards nature and wildlife and got my first DSLR, a Nikon D5000 in 2009. As it is said composition and visualisation makes or breaks an image, but gear is important too. Particularly when I started selling prints, stocks and used my images for marketing collaterals then the images had to meet certain technical standards of sharpness, exposure etc apart from composition elements.Then with times and needs got my gear upgraded. However each person is at a different stage of a learning curve and has different gear needs. What I use may not be relevant to everyone else and vice versa. The purpose of this article is more to illustrate the ‘WHY’ behind my gear selection so that it may help you in YOUR gear selection.
To start with, currently these are the gears I have.
Nikon 14-24 F2.8
Nikon 24-70 F2.8 ED
Nikon 70-200 F2.8 VRII
Nikon 300mm F2.8 VRII
Nikon 600mm F4 FL
Nikon 1.4x TCIII
Nikon 50mm 1.4
Gitzo 5 Series base
Nest Gimbal Head
Manfrotto Pan Head
Nissin External Flash
DJI Phantom 4 Pro
Which camera I use for what purpose
Nikon D5 is flagship Nikon camera and it is not for nothing. The low light capability, frames per second it can click, the focussing ability are amongst the best in the market, or perhaps the best (I will not get into a Canon vs Nikon flagship comparison). D5 is my go to body for Wildlife action and for use during low light. The D810 is a very different camera and actually a better one for landscape pictures and portraits. For landscapes I use the D810, and also as a second body on my wildlife safaris.
Which lens I use for what purpose
For landscape pictures
For Widest end I use a 14-24mm Nikkor and for midrange a 24-70 Nikkor. These are the best lenses Nikon makes in this range. At the Widest end of 14mm, there is some distortion but to me it looks natural and good in Wide landscape images.
Portraits, Wildlife Habitats
Though am not much into portraits, but for Wildlife Habitats typically use the 70-200mm lens. It is a favourite lens of wedding photographers for close portraits. Habitat images such as the below are made with the 70-200 lens
Midrange lens for Wildlife
I had a 600 and 70-200 before and was at a crisis in selecting a midrange lens to cover the middle ranges. These ranges are very important in Wildlife Safaris of India and East Africa. Most of the Big Mammal shooting often happens in 200 to 600mm range and it is necessary to have a strong piece of equipment for this range.
I had to choose between Nikon 200-400 F4 and Nikon 300mm F2.8 for this range. The 200-400 offers unmatched flexibility of compositions for it being a zoom and is reasonably fast focussing and quite sharp. However for Wildlife low light shooting ability is one of key criteria for me so I like my lenses to have widest aperture as possible in its range, apart from that the 300 being prime gave unmatched clarity (it is one of Nikon’s sharpest lenses) and super fast focussing. Sacrificing the flexibility of a zoom, these points were deal clinchers for me.
High Range lens for Wildlife and Birding
Since I am into bird photography also apart from mammals, having a high focal length prime lens was a requisite for me. If I had to choose between a 800mm and 600mm, the later got my vote as its base aperture is F4 allowing me to operate it in tough light conditions. Also am not restricted to 800mm focal length and can use 600mm lens during my Wildlife safaris also comfortably. For small birds I can always use the 1.4xIII TC with very minor loss of sharpness.
Exceptions are always there on which lens to use for what purpose and actually there are no rules. Following are couple of examples
Flash is hardly used by me, except for occasional night photography. For Wildlife at night we prefer a torch or beamer over flash. The drone is used for aerial videography and some still photography from air. It gives some unique perspectives which are not possible otherwise.
One of the key advices I give to beginners is not to fall in the gear acquisition syndrome. Gear upgradation is a never ending process. More important is to spend time in the field with your existing gear. Once you have outgrown your existing gear or you start having professional needs, then certainly gear upgrades should happen.
Disclaimer – These are my personal opinions only and not of Wild Voyager as an organisation. Also this is not to promote any particular camera brand, but since I use Nikon from beginning so all my gears are Nikon. If someone is already invested in a camera family, I always advice them not to switch as both the manufacturers have a very similar product range at all ranges and there is very little to choose from. Even these days Sony and Panasonic are coming up with very interesting gears.