FAQ - camera gear

I am finally finding time to get to start answering some FAQ fellow photographers have been asking. Let me start by apologizing for not get back to all of you, or in a timely manner, or with tons of detail. please know I LOVE to help and want to have a one on one with each and every one of you and help answer all of your questions. For now I figured I would try to answer what I could on the blog, much easier than sending the same info to numerous people and then you can post comments/questions on the post and we can all learn together.

Probably the number one type of question I am asked is about camera equipment. What I use, what beginners should buy, what lenses are best for what, etc.....

Lets start by talking about what I use.

First, I have bought the following equipment at mainly two locations, B&H and Pictureline (and occasionally at Samy's now that I live in LA).

B&H is the superstore of photography equipment. They know their stuff, their prices can't be beat and their customer service is awesome. I trust them and know when I order through them I will get the best products.

Pictureline is also amazing on a smaller scale. When I lived in Utah they were the only store I bought and rented from. It is super important for any photographer to build good relationships with vendors and face to face help is priceless. The whole staff at Pictureline was extremely helpful and they helped me in many crunches. I will always be a huge fan.

My digital camera gear:

canon 5D (mine is an older version but was comparable in price)
rebel XTI (mine is an older version but this is similar
70-200mm f/2.8
85mm f/1.8
24-70mm f/2.8
17-40mm f/4
50mm f/1.4
speedlight 580ex
canon battery pack
photoflex- reflectors in soft gold/white
lowepro rolling bag
lowepro mini trekker backpack
tamrac shoulder bag
domke shoulder/waist bag
bogen tripod
a bunch of CF cards

I do shoot all Canon, but I started with Nikon. Both lines are great, I choose Canon because they had the full frame sensor body I wanted when it was time to upgrade. So I made the switch, invested in lenses and ta-dae! Here I am. Plus I kind of like Canon's look better (and it seems like Canon is usually a bit ahead with product development...lens upgrades etc.....could be wrong).

The 5D is the camera body I use 99% of the time. I haven't upgraded to the Mark II yet..decided to invest in a couple new lenses instead. Plus, I don't think I really need it yet. Only buy what you will use. I think it is pointless to make a purchase with all the bells and whistles if you are only going to use 1/16 of what it offers. Be realistic. Make your investment in equipment that can grow with you like lenses.

The rebel is a great camera. Don't be fooled because it's sold in costco. This is the only digital body I took to Columbia last year and it worked like a star. One of the negatives is DOESN'T have a full frame sensor like the 5D and once you shoot full frame it's hard to go back. Great back up or for a first time SLR buyer.
The 70-200mm f/2.8. Great for documentary story telling, candids and spytech shooting. Beautiful lens. Works great in low light.
85mm f/1.8 is a portrait and still life lens
The 24-70mm f/2.8 macro has been my baby for the last few years. Very versatile, and nice if you just want to lug around one lens. The macro make this a great lens for details.
The 17-40mm f/4 is best for landscape and wide shots OR if you want to create distortion on your subject by getting wide and close. To be used with caution. Not a "make a person look pretty" lens.
Hello there 50mm f/1.4!! You are my new best friend. Lightweight, small, great depth of field. You are my new favorite travel, out and about, gotta bring my camera lens. You don't always get wide enough for me and it sometimes bugs that you're not macro, because you know I love the details BUT I still love you for being so small and cheap.
Speedlight 580ex for when you HAVE to use a flash. I love myself the natural light, but sometimes the sun goes down (like every night) and I have to find other light sources. Mainly used bounced off ceilings or walls. Rarely strait on.
Nice little battery pack for when you have to fire off your flash over and over again. I think it has a 3sec refresh rate. Pretty sweet.
Love my light reflectors. Put your flashes away and create nice catch lights with some soft gold or white. A natural light photographers best friend.
A lot of my bags have been in use for so long I can't the exact ones online anymore. This Domke shoulder bag has been a God send (can I say that?). It's small and the perfect size to fit over my shoulder and hold memory cards and a couple lenses. I bought I waist strap for it as well that turns it into....well....a fanny pack. Dorky? Yes. Functional? Yes! Another plus of this bag, it doesn't look like a photo bag. Great for traveling. Domke has become a common household word round these parts.

There you have it folks. A brief rundown of what I shoot with and why. I do have film cameras as well....a Hassleblad, a Canon AE1 etc, but I am mainly a digital shooter. I'm not mad at film, I've just found a work flow that works for me. I still do love shooting film though. I starting shooting on film and use to shoot all of my weddings on my hasselblad which is a medium format camera. Those were the days.........

So, what should beginner buy that is looking for a SLR camera?

Think investment. Camera bodies get outdated and if you continue to grow as a photographer upgrading your camera body will naturally happen. I would recommend starting with a Canon Rebel body and investing in a all around good lens. Your lenses can grow with you, so make the investment there.

I recently was helping a good friend by her first SLR and in her price range we found this great multi purpose lens, 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6. For what she wanted to spend, this was a great match. Of course I wanted her to but the 24-70 f/2.8 macro, but there was a steep price difference and she is smart to test her commitment first before investing in equipment she may never use.

Beware of "KIT" packages where the camera body and lens come together. Most of the time they include a junky lens that you are going to want to replace anyway.

Remember, If you have the ability to compose and see light, you could take a really good photo with any camera. ANY. And that includes point and shoots. Gear is important, I'm not saying that, but don't get hung up with having the best of everything. I think it's more important to spend your time concentrating on how to make a good image and why, than showing off your big lens (these types of people suffer from "little photographer syndrome"). Find your reason for shooting first, and then buy all the delicious gear.

If you made it through FAQ part one, congratulations.