The first thing we spend money on. Contrary to popular belief, a more expensive model will not make us better photographers. They may, however, make certain tasks more convenient or even possible. I believe that all current manufacturers produce good cameras and all are capable of making fine photographs.
My cameras of choice at the moment are the Nikon D4s and the Fuji X-T2. The primary reason that I choose these cameras is for the extremely high quality image they produce. Along with its weatherproofing, durability, and high frame count, these cameras have excellent noise characteristics at high ISO’s and long exposures.
Lenses are one of the most important components of your system. A higher quality lens on a less expensive camera is better than a low-quality lens on an expensive camera. There are several things that increase the cost of a lens and not all of them may be important to your type of photography.
A fast lens( f2.0 or 2.8) for example, is almost always more expensive than a slower lens (4.0 or 5.6). Great for shooting night skies, but if you have no need of shooting in low light, perhaps speed is something that you can do without. Some lenses have a better coating on the front element which causes a higher quality light transmission. Others are better sealed against rain and weather.
Typically, you get what you pay for. If you see two similar lenses with dissimilar prices from the same manufacturer, the more expensive one is likely to be faster, better sealed and or have a better lens coating. The exception to this comes from the non-camera lens manufacturers. In general, they sell lenses that can produce very high-quality images. The difference here is usually in the “fit and finish”. They may be as sharp, but in some cases, their autofocus is not as fast, or they may not be sealed as well or a larger percentage of the construction is plastic instead of sturdier metal. However, if sharpness is the primary concern, many of these lenses are worth a look. dpreview.com will provide you with trustworthy lens reviews.
On my Nikon system, the AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G is my go-to lens. I use 80% of the time!
While I use it a bit less, I couldn’t live without my Sigma APO 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM for those longer shots!
On my Fuji System I currently have four lenses. My super wide is the FUJIFILM XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS.
My walking around lens is the FUJIFILM XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR.
When I need the length I use Fuji’s XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS.
For Macro work, I like the FUJIFILM XF 80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro Lens.
Tripods are an essential tool for many disciplines of photography. They not only hold your camera steady but they also slow you down which helps you focus on your composition. Look for a tripod that fits your needs. Typically heavier tripods (aluminum) will be less expensive. Lighter tripods (Carbon Fiber, Basalt) will be more expensive. If you backpack a lot, you may consider a lighter and smaller tripod. You can then loop your camera bag over the tripod to weigh it down. if you don’t spend a lot of time carrying your tripod, slightly heavier models can be less expensive. I have found both Gitzo (the industry standard for professionals), and Manfrotto (the solid workhorse), to be excellent tripods. Tripods can be sold with legs only or as a kit with a tripod head.
My everyday tripod is the Gitzo GT2545T Series 2 Traveler Carbon Fiber
My lightweight travel tripod is the Gitzo GIGT1555T Traveler Series 1 Carbon Fiber
The tripod head is the all-important link to the tripod legs. It is the mechanism that you will spend the most time manipulating. If you don’t like the head you get, you are far less likely to use your tripod. Buy a good one and you’ll have a lifetime of joy. My favorite tripod heads are the Acratech ball Heads. Lightweight, tight and dependable, they have never failed me.
I recommend getting a ball head that supports at least 15-20 pounds. If you often use longer or heavier lenses than I recommend the 20+ models. All of the Acratech heads listed here support 25 pounds.
Most folks like the convenience of Ball Heads. Inexpensive ball heads may not support the use of long lenses and will quickly break. As with tripods, I prefer to go with quality that is a pleasure to use and lasts a lifetime.
I use the Acratech GP with Lever Clamp as my main tripod head. Its paired with my Gitzo GT2545T Series 2 Traveler Carbon Fiber. While still being very light, it’s strong enough to use with my heaviest lenses.
Travel tripods-where the legs fold up around the head-benefit from using heads with a smaller base. Acratech as two such models. The Acratech GP-s Ballhead with Lever Clamp and the even smaller Acratech GP-ss Ballhead With Lever Clamp. I use the GP-s ball head with my Gitzo GIGT1555T Traveler Series 1.
When absolute precision is necessary ( (Architecture) I also use the Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Pan Tilt Head. This is a much heavier tripod head but brings absolute control.
There are countless filter choices for the photographer. Multi-Coated filters will provide a higher quality light transmission than the Single or Non-Coated filters. For filters that I use regularly, I purchase the Multi-Coating.
A similar argument can be made for the manufacturer of the filters. I find that B&W, Heliopan, and Singh-Ray make very high-quality filters. Tiffen and Hoya are less expensive alternatives. I personally use B&W Filters.
With digital cameras, we no longer have the need for extensive filter sets that were so necessary for film cameras. These days my set consists of a Polarizer, Neutral Density Filters, and Variable Neutral Density filters.
For my Polarizing filter, I choose the B+W XS-Pro Kaesemann High Transmission Circular Polarizer MRC-Nano Filter.
For my Neutral Density filters, I use the B+W XS-Pro MRC-Nano 810 ND 3.0 Filter (10-Stop).
For my Variable Neutral Density filter, I like the 2-8 stop density range of the Tiffen Variable Neutral Density Filters.
A cable release helps keep the camera vibration free when using a tripod. Although you can use your self-timer for the same purpose, it doesn’t allow you the same precision timing. A complete necessity for night photography!
Light Painting Tools
Light painting at night is a ton of fun. Especially when you are using the right equipment! I’ve found the Coast brand flashlights to be nearly indestructible, with a very even beam and no hotspots. They are also rechargeable. Bonus!
When I need a really bright flashlight the Coast HP7R Long Distance Focusing Rechargeable LED Flashlight is my go-to.
For situations that require lower illumination, I use the Coast HP5R Long Distance Focusing Rechargeable LED Flashlight.
For low-level landscape lighting, I couldn’t live without my Luxli Viola 5″ LED Light.