Gear Recommendations

I am often asked about the gear I use and/or recommend and of course when it comes to a recommendation, that is a function of one’s shooting interests and budget. So, I’m going to provide a link to the gear I currently own or have used (rented/borrowed) and would recommend if it fits your objectives/budget. I should disclose that these are affiliate links, which means that if you click on the site and purchase the product I get a very small commission. However, I am only listing equipment I highly recommend, like, and believe in.  While you will help me if you purchase through these links, my interest is in helping you by recommending gear that I think you will be very happy to own and use. Thanks and keep shooting.

Canon 7D Mk II (My current workhorse). This is a great all-around performer that I use for both wildlife and sports/action photography. It performs better at high ISO than I expected and in low light gym conditions, that’s been a difference between a keeper image or trash bin.

Canon 1D Mk II (My dream camera). While I still don’t own this, I had the pleasure of using it for one photo outing and I loved it. It is quite simply the best camera for my needs (sports/action/wildlife/low light). In time, this or its replacement will be mine.

Canon 5D Mk IV (a great full frame alternative to the 1DMkII). This camera is phenomenal and a less expensive alternative to the 1DMkII. It has less frame rate which might be a bit of a limitation for action photography but in terms of image quality, it delivers.

Canon EOS Rebel SL2 (A worthy option). This is a fantastic camera for a beginner or travel photographer that wants to travel light. It is a very small form factor but it packs the same image sensor as the Canon 80D (also recommended) so it produces quality images. However, my main interest in this is as a vlogging setup. The dual pixel autofocus system is fast and accurate and the flip out screen allows me to see what is being recorded. Should something happen to my main camera body, I know I can count on the SL2 for my photography needs. Other budget cameras in the Rebel line that are excellent choices for beginners include: Canon Rebel T7i, Canon Rebel T6

Canon 500mm. This is perhaps the best all around wildlife telephoto lens in Canon’s lineup. Don’t get me wrong, I am tempted by the Canon 600mm, but in terms of image sharpness, weight, cost, and versatility, this is my preferred option. I own the first version of this lens and it is no longer made but in time, I will upgrade to this lens. If you are a dedicated bird photographer, I would recommend the 600mm as when it comes to birds, that extra 100mm reach will be worth having.

Canon 100-400mmThe original version of this lens was a very versatile performer and for years, Canonistas asked for an upgrade. When Canon finally gave it to us, they sure delivered. This is a tack sharp lens and the focal range is among the most versatile for wildlife and certain sports (e.g. soccer and football). For those on a budget, pairing this on a crop factor camera body is a good starting option for a wildlife enthusiast that is saving up for the big prime telephotos. And, for those that do not need a 2.8 lens, this may be the best alternative.

Canon 70-200 2.8 II. Let me just state that there is not a 70-200 lens in Canon’s lineup that I wouldn’t recommend. These are all sharp and versatile. You can use this for landscapes, portraits, action, and macro. Canon recently announced the 70-200/2.8 vIII but if you own version II I don’t see a need to upgrade. If you are just purchasing today, I’d get the newer lens option. Now, if you do not need the 2.8 aperture, then opting for the 70-200 f/4 IS or 70-200 f/4 non-IS may be a better choice because these are lighter and less expensive. All are tack sharp so make your choice based on your needs. If you intend to use this lens for macro, you may want to pickup some Extension Tubes (Canon Version or Kenko version). I have owned and used the Kenko version for 15 years. Also you may want the  Canon 500D 77mm Close Up Lens to use this lens for macro. There are cheaper close up lens options but don’t skimp, you are stacking glass on glass so get the best.

Canon 1.4x Extender. I often pair this with my 500mm and 70-200mm when I need more reach. It is a necessary piece of equipment I would not do without. I don’t own the 2x extender but many of my photography friends do and they swear by it. I personally think 1.4x is sufficient. I HIGHLY suggest that you stick to Canon extenders if you are using Canon lenses. If you use another brand of lens, then get the extender made by that manufacturer. Don’t skimp here.

Canon 180mm Macro. I absolutely love this lens. While one may not need a dedicated macro since the 70-200 with extension tubes and/or a closeup lens can suffice, this lens offers two distinct advantages: 1) no need for accessories to get to a 1:1 magnification, and 2) working distance. When insects are your subject, having a bit of space between the lens and subject is necessary to avoid spooking them by invading their space. The Canon 100mm macro may be worth considering as it’s less expensive, and can pull dual duty as a portrait lens on a full-frame camera but for my needs, I can’t recommend the 180mm macro enough. If macro is your thing, you will love this lens.

Canon 24-70 f/2.8. Like the 70-200, I recommend any of these 24-70 lens options. The f/2.8 lens is ideal for portraits and indoor sports like volleyball. Gym conditions are horrible in terms of lighting so you need these big apertures and the focal range is ideal for both near and far court. If you need a lens for this particular purpose but want to spend less, consider the Tamron 28-75 linked below. Canon also has a 24-70 f/4 version that is ideal for landscapes and could suffice for portraits as well.

Canon 15-85 ef-s. An excellent walk-around lens dedicated for crop sensor cameras. I use it for landscapes and sometimes outdoor portraits. I’ve used it for indoor sports before but I’ve had to intentionally underexpose the image to get faster shutter speeds and then correct in post. That’s not ideal so opt for a f 2.8 zoom or prime with larger apertures if you are looking for an indoor sports lens.

Canon 10-22 ef-s. This is another lens dedicated for crop sensor cameras and this is one very sharp wide angle lens. Crop sensor camera users have a very strong landscape contender in this lens. For those using full frame cameras, the Canon 16-35 f/2.8 or 16-35 f/4 are excellent options.

Canon 50mm. Every camera bag should have a 50mm lens in it. I know that zooms cover this focal length but most of those are slower aperture lenses and these are much faster alternatives. Canon makes a less expensive f/1.8 version that you may want to consider. I have probably made as much money with my 50mm as I have any lens in my bag. It’s a great portrait lens and, I’ve also used it a lot for indoor volleyball action. With that large aperture, I am able to use faster shutter speeds and capture the action. If you don’t plan on using it much, opt for the less expensive version but when the time comes, you’ll be glad it was in your bag.

Canon 135 f/2. This is a forgotten lens rarely talked about anymore but it’s one of Canon’s best portrait lenses on a full frame camera body. It’s a bit of a specialty lens in that its best portrait application may be head shots but I know several photographers making a good bit of income specializing in that. The bokeh it produces is one of the best I’ve seen. While I use it mainly for portraits, I did experiment with it as a macro lens and I got a stellar image of a butterfly with it. I don’t recommend it for macro but for portraits, it’s among the best you will use. I don’t use it as much as other lenses, but I won’t dare part with it.

Budget Canon Lenses. So far, these lens choices have not exactly been cheap. I get that but the most important part of your gear comes down to the glass you use. So, you want the best you can get. If budget is very tight and you are wanting to shoot wildlife, try to get the 100-400 if you can and purchase a less expensive camera body. A worthy consideration is the ef 70-300 IS lens, which is a very good budget option for outdoor sports photography (soccer/football) on a crop sensor camera provided that there is good light (daytime games only, if you are shooting at night, you NEED an f/2.8 aperture or faster). The 70-300 can also serve dual roles as a macro lens when paired with the Canon 250D closeup lens. The Canon ef-s 18-55mm lens that often is paired in many kits is not the best option but if budget is tight, use it and keep shooting. It’s a great little lens for vlogging, but that focal range will work for landscapes and portraits. It will not compare to the quality of the other lenses I’ve linked here but if that’s what is available, maximize it.

Third-Party Lens Options. I don’t own any 3rd party lenses right now but I have in the past. I used to own Tokina and Tamron lenses and in the end I ended up selling them and buying Canon, which if I had done from the start, I would have spent less. Nevertheless, I was very pleased with the Tamron 28-75mm lens and it remains a great option for indoor sports (volleyball) because of its 2.8 aperture. Obviously with that focal range and aperture, this also makes a wonderful portrait lens.

Canon Flash Heads. You will inevitably need to pick up 1 or 2 flash heads. Canon’s flagship is the 600ex but I also recommend the 430ex. I do a lot of portraiture work with 2-3 flash heads and when I photograph hummingbirds, I use 5-6 heads. I will say that you don’t need 6 dedicated Canon flash heads for such work. You do need one dedicated Canon flash to act as a master that triggers the other heads if you are relying on line of sight triggering. Alternatively, you can use a flash trigger mounted on the camera and one on each lens to fire the flashes and this allows you to mix/match brands. I own 3 canon flash heads and 3 nikon ones (no longer manufactured) that I picked up on eBay and use the flash triggers to fire them simultaneously.

Tripods. Equally as important as any other gear you own. You need a sturdy tripod. I currently own and use 3 different Gitzo tripods that I have owned for over 15 years.  They don’t make the ones I own any longer but a solid tripod is often a one time purchase. Here are some current options that I would consider purchasing if I were buying one today: Gitzo GT0532, Gitzo GT1545TUS, Induro CLT303, Induro GIT303.

Monopod. Sometimes a tripod is too cumbersome because using it is slow and deliberate. However, when shooting sports like football and soccer, I need to be able to move quickly up and down the sidelines. Since many of these games are at night, having extra stability to hold the camera/lens steady can make the difference between a sharp and blurred photo. I see a lot of photographers handholding and you can certainly capture great images that way, but you’ll have more keepers if you use a monopod. I have been very pleased with my Induro Monopod and think you will be too.

Ball Heads.  You need something to support the camera/lens and ball heads are the most popular choice amongst wildlife and sports photographers. I own the following:  Kirk BH-1, and the Wimberley WH200 Gimbal (one of the most popular choices for large telephoto lenses). I used to own the Wimberley Sidekick and I loved it (but eventually upgraded to the WH-200). I once owned the Acratech Ultimate Ballhead and found it very nice when low-crawling on the sand as it was easy to clean by its design. And, I have always wanted to purchase the Arca-Swiss Monoball Z1 but my current heads fulfill my needs so I spend my money on other things I do need. Saying that, if I’m ever in the market to buy another head, this will be it. A less expensive alternative is offered by Induro and would be a worthy consideration.

Nisi Filter Holder System. I love this filter system. I know that Lee is the big name and most popular among landscape professionals, but the Nisi is simply the best design with its built in circular polarizer, which comes with the system. It also comes with three adapter rings (67, 72, and 77mm) so you get a lot for your money. With the Lee, you will have to purchase adapter rings (one for each size you need) and the circular polarizer that goes on the outside of their system and this causes a bit of vignetting. That problem is largely overcome with Nisi’s design.

Filters. Lets address the elephant in the room. Do you really need filters with today’s technology? With one exception (the Circular Polarizer), no. So why do I still use/recommend neutral density or graduated neutral density filters? Because I love the process of creating the image in the field. I rather create it there than spending hours behind the computer (I do enough of that already). So, in terms of neutral density filters, I like these and yes, they all fit in the Nisi Filter Holder: Lee Soft Grad ND, and I recently tried this filter from Haida and I was quite impressed with it. You might be wondering why I’m not using the Nisi filters since I like their holder system and it simply comes down to price. They are very expensive. I use two specialty filters that I really like for long exposures: Lee Little Stopper (6-stop ND), and Lee Big Stopper (10-stop ND).

SONY HDR AS300 Action Camera and External Microphones. In my mind, Sony’s action cameras are GoPro killers and that is saying something because I like the GoPro cameras. However, the optical image stabilization, what SONY calls BOSS, is by far the best among all action cameras. It has a microphone jack so you can use this as a vlogging camera if you like. I own the Comica CVM-M10 microphone when I want to record sound (another popular microphone option is the Rode VideoMicro).. I can’t rave enough about the quality of the video recordings that come from the SONY action cameras, nothing beats their optical image stabilization. However, the design of the camera has the lens protruding a bit so I highly recommend a lens protector, SONY AKA-MCP1. This lens protector saved me a few months ago. I often use this setup to record my daughter’s volleyball games since I can also control the camera remotely from my phone. One day a stray volleyball from another court hit the stand to which it was mounted and the whole thing hit the ground. The camera and lens were not damaged so I simply set it back up and continued recording. I do not need 4K recording but if you do, then I would get the FDR-X3000 from SONY.

Viltrox L116T LED Light Panel. I did a lot of research on lights I could use for a vlogging setup. While you can get some great budget continuous light setups with umbrellas or budget light setups with soft boxes for in home use, traveling with these can be tricky as the light bulbs are vulnerable to breakage. If you are leaving this setup in a home studio, you can save some money. But, if you want to travel with the lights, these LEDs are a great option. The viltrox has a hot shoe ball mount that can mount directly to your camera or on a light stand. You can control the temperature from 3300-5600K. As I mentioned, I did a lot of research before settling on these and I’m very pleased with the quality of light it produces. You are certainly not limited to vlogging with any of these light setups but that’s my intended use for these since I rely on my Canon flash heads for portrait and product photography.

Gimbals. These have become extremely popular among many vloggers and that is due in part to their affordability and the vastly improved quality of smartphone cameras. Why so popular? Because they allow cinematic and smooth video to be captured on a smartphone. The video quality is amazing. The shakiness of handholding a phone as one talks into the camera while walking is eliminated with these gimbals; and, horizons are kept level. I don’t want to admit to the amount of time I spent researching the following options: DJI Osmo Mobile 2, Zhiyun Smooth Q, FeiyuTech Vimble 2, and the FreeVision Vilta M. In the end, I chose the Vilta M but it was a close call between this and DJI. In terms of performance, it’s hard to say one is significantly better than the other as all do an extremely good job of steadying the video. So, it came down to other things. I really like the App from FreeVision, the 17 hour battery life, the fact that it comes with a carrying case, and a mini-tripod. DJI does not come with a carrying case or mini tripod. The downside to the Vilta M is that you can not charge your cellphone with the gimbal as the others can. However, none of them can charge while in use because of the cable. Thus, I can simply charge the phone with an external battery charger and I already own several of those so that wasn’t as big a deal for me. Again, all of them are solid performers.

Miscellaneous Items You May Need.

Compact Flash Cards. I prefer to use Lexar Professional CF Cards as these have a limited lifetime warranty and should something ever happen, Lexar will attempt to recover the images on a damaged card. However, before I knew that I accumulated several SanDisk Extreme CF cards. They have been reliable over the years so I still use them. You can’t go wrong with either of these but stick to the Professional and Extreme cards for reliability and write speeds. If you only do casual shooting, you can get an 8GB or 16gb card and that should suffice but if you are a heavy shooter, get the largest GB you can afford.

Kingston Digital Card Reader. Does what you need, reliably and fast.

Lightning Cables. It seems the lightning cables from Mac are constantly wearing out. Two excellent alternatives that seem to last a little longer are from: Amazon Basics and Anker.

Light Stands. I use these for their intended purpose, i.e. off-camera flash photography. BUT, I also use one of these for filming indoor volleyball sports with my SONY action camera. They are light, portable, and have a fairly small and adjustable footprint. Most importantly, they help keep video stable. I use an 8′ light stand but there are other sizes for those that think they need larger one. For indoor volleyball games, the 8′ fits the bill for me. I own some manufactured from Westcott and Impact and recommend both highly.

Mount for Action Camera on Lightstand – So you have your action camera and light stand, you take them to the game to record your child, and suddenly realize that you need a way to adjust the angle of the camera. Before this happens to you, make sure that you purchase this important piece of equipment. If you are only using an action camera, then any Mini Ball Head will suffice. Oben makes a pretty good one. But, if you are a photographer who uses off camera flash, then you will need a Lightstand Bracket for that work and can simply use it for dual purpose of mounting an action camera to record your child’s games.

External Hard Drives. These have become very affordable and if you are capturing lots of photos, you need to remove them from your hard drive onto an external one. Then, you need to back that up so purchase more than 1 based on the number of files you have. I recommend the following brands as they are reliable and rarely do people complain that they fail: Western Digital, and Seagate. Each of my drives has its own backup. I also have one dedicated as a TimeMachine backup of my MacBook. I’ve never had an external drive fail but my old MacBook once crashed; but, since I had an external drive backup, I simply restored that to the new Mac computer and EVERYTHING was recovered. Worth every penny. I hear about other brands failing all the time but WD and Seagate are simply reliable. I’ve never had one crash…knock on wood 🙂

Eneloop batteries AA/AAA. (simply the best and reliable slow self-discharge batteries that have no memory effect so you can charge them when they are fully or partially depleted.

Powerex Smart Charger (AA/AAA). This is the best battery charger I’ve owned.

Lens Plates. Wimberley P20 (fits Canon 70-200 f/2.8, 100mm macro, 180mm macro). Wimberley P10 (fits 70-200/4, 100-400 vII mounted in reverse), Wimberley P40 (fits 500/4 and 600/4).

Wasabi Battery Pack & Charger (for Viltrox LED Light Panel). I bought the 2-pack and they work as expected.

Wasabi Battery Pack & Charger (for SONY Action Camera). These are a great alternative to OEM battery.

CamKix Roll Out Bag. A must for keeping your action camera items organized. This is often around my waist when I am working a volleyball game.

Vintage Messenger Bag. I wanted a nice looking and functional bag for working the sidelines of football and soccer games. This one fits the bill and looks stylish.

Waterproof Dry Bag. I have an affinity for kayaking and this bag helps keep my gear dry when not in use. I own several of different sizes.

MPOW Waterproof Phone Case. When kayaking or around water, these are essential for protecting my iPhone.

North Star Life Jacket. When kayaking, this is comfortable to wear.

Pelican Catch 100x Kayak. Combining kayaking and photography is fun but with expensive gear, it’s a risk. Thus, you need a STABLE kayak and the Pelican Catch 100x is very stable. An equally stable but more expensive sit-in kayak-canoe hybrid is the Native Ultimate Fx 12. Wildlife do not mind (as much) being approached from the water so you can often get pretty close, much closer than if you approached them on land.

SanDisk Extreme 64GB microSDXC UHS-3 Card. I use this in my SONY Action Camera.

LifeStraw Water Filter. People often overlook something like this but if you are in a remote location, throwing one of these in your pack may be a lifesaver as it filters 99.99% bacteria from the water. Plus, I love that this company provides a needy child water for an entire school year with each LifeStraw purchase.

First Aid Kit. Too often, people don’t plan for the unexpected. You simply need to carry a kit whenever you are outdoors.

More to come so check back often….