Though most of the equipment I use has not changed since my first gear post in May, a few things have been added or replaced. Gear isn't everything, and this is not one of those 'look at all the cool and expensive stuff I have and how professional I am' posts. These tools alone do not make a great photographer. The best camera or lens is the best one you can comfortably afford, and as I mentioned in that earlier post, it is better to buy plane tickets than camera equipment. You'll notice that even though my bag contains some pretty neat stuff, much of it is at least a few years 'old.' It makes more financial and business sense to hold onto equipment for long enough for it to pay for itself (if not in paychecks, then at least in hundreds of great images). Work your equipment hard, wear it out, then replace it. It is much more practical than trading in last year's camera for the newest slightly-different model.
In this updated post, I'd like to mention a few pieces of kit that I've added that have made my photography life easier. Despite what I said above, good gear does make a bit of a difference to the serious or working photographer. However, some of the changes in my camera bag do not require going into debt to purchase. I'm all about inexpensive alternatives, and I have a couple recommendations for those on a budget. Without blabbering on, here's my current gear list (items I did not own in my original gear post are in bold):
Gitzo Mountaineer Series 2 6X Carbon Fiber Legs w/ Manfrotto Panhead/Ballhead
Sirui T-025X Carbon Fiber Tripod with C-10 Ball Head
Cleaning cloths, Q-tips, Domke lens wraps, waterproof hard case for memory cards, extra batteries, battery charges, protective UV filters (Hoya and B+W), shower caps for rain covers, headlamp, multi tool, rocket blower, etc.
As you can see little has changed in the last several months, but there are a few additions. I'm only going to elaborate on some of the "new" stuff. If you'd like to read more about the items that are not in bold letters, you can check out the older post here. If you'd like ultra-technical reviews with charts and graphs and sharpness comparisons, then I would suggest going to a different site altogether...those, frankly, bore the crap out of me.
I replaced my trusty Nikon D7000 with the D7100. Why not get the current D7200 you ask? Simple math! There are big differences between 2010's D7000 and 2013's D7100, but only one real insignificant difference (for me) between the D7100 and D7200. That difference is the D7200 has a bigger buffer: you can shoot more consecutive shots in burst mode without filling the buffer and having to wait for images to transfer to the card before shooting some more. That didn't really make a difference to me, but the price did. By going with the D7100, instead, I saved enough cash to afford another plane ticket to Iceland for this coming March. If I loved the ol' D7000 so much, why did I switch? There are a few practical reasons. More than anything else, my D7000 was racking up the clicks and showing some wear. The other biggie was that its buttons didn't match the D600 (my primary camera) and that always annoyed me since I switch back and forth between the two on nearly every shoot. The buttons on the D7100 match the D600, so I know where everything is without having to take the camera away from my eye and miss a shot while fiddling to find the right button or switch.
Why did I replace my "backup" and not my D600? The Nikon D600 is an awesome full frame camera for the money. It's been called a "consumer" or "prosumer" model, but why anyone would call any FX camera that is silly. The terms "beginner" and "consumer" and so on are just marketing terms that are supposed to convince you that your camera isn't top quality enough. Don't fall for it. The newer D610 is has no notable differences, and the only appealing thing to me about the D750 is the tilting LCD, but that's not worth shelling out an extra $500 for in my opinion (that's another plane ticket). The D600 has more stops of dynamic range than the Canon 5D Mark III with more resolution and several important features that no Canon camera has (easy to use time-lapse mode, buttons and dials in logical places, the ability to use Nikon lenses from the 1970s to today, and it's a lot less expensive). As far as other Nikon models, the D810 would be nice, and the new D500 is tempting, but the buttons on the back of those two don't match up either, and I much prefer the design and ergonomics of the D600 and D7100. Also, even if I could afford the flagship D5, I would still rather use that money for travel. I could take about six or seven international trips with what the D5 cost (and I'd make thousands of images and income from licensing them) and would not be able to see any difference between the D5 and D600 as far as image quality.
I also replaced my Nikkor 70-300mm VR with the 70-200mm f2.8 VR II. The 70-200mm is miles sharper (and it better be because it is far more expensive). The only drawback is it's heavy, and I like to keep my bag as light as possible. Nikon has announced a new 70-200mm 2.8 VR III, which is smaller and lighter, but that thing is even more expensive, and the fact that they switched the positions of the zoom and focus rings creates a problem for me. If all my other lenses have the zoom at the back of the lens and the focus at the front, why would I want one that was the other way around? That's confusing, and I don't have time for that. The 70-200 2.8 VR II is a solid professional lens. It typically lives on my D7100 where the DX crop factor makes it a 105-300mm 2.8 VR (1.5X the focal length). I would still recommend the 70-300mm VR; it was a great lens, and I made a lot of my favorite images with it. It's no pushover. It's light weight and great for travel. I just needed the extra light that the 2.8 lens lets in more than the extra 100mm.
My favorite "new" lens is the Nikkor 28-105mm f3.5-4.5 AF-D Macro. This lens was available in the F100 kit in the early 2000s. It's sharp, and the macro setting (between 50mm and 105mm) works great at a 1:2 ratio. Best part? I paid $100 for it. It's actually my cheapest and most versatile lens. I was looking into getting a dedicated macro when I decided it made more sense to get this two-in-one macro/wide-zoom. It's great for travel because it covers a wide range, eliminating the need for two cameras with two different lenses (most of the time). 28mm is wide enough for most situations on a full frame camera, and being able to zoom to 105mm is great for everything from landscapes to portraits to city travel. And did I mention it's a great macro lens!?!?
The Sirui T-025X Carbon Fiber Tripod with C-10 Ball Head is awesome. It's one of the cheapest carbon fiber tripods you can buy, and despite being produced in China, it is very well made. It weighs practically nothing and is perfect for travel when I really need to save space. It supports 13 lbs and only weights 1.9. It folds up to 12 inches and has a removable center column so I can get really low to the ground when I need to. It's foot print is very small, which was great during my last trip to Iceland. It really only has one drawback for me. Once you remove the pesky center column (I don't like center columns and have never used the one for my Gitzo), it doesn't extend very high. This tripod combo can go nearly to my eye-level with the center column, but only chest level without it. That's not a huge deal. It's actually pretty rare that the best composition is at a human's eye-level standing. If you're looking for a handy carbon fiber travel tripod that is of high quality, then this is it! My big Gitzo is still my go-to for the most part, especially for landscapes; it supports a whole lot more weight, but it is also bulky and cumbersome in travel situations. If weight and space are an issue (as it always is when flying Wow Air), then the Sirui is what I use- just check out the size difference between it and my Gitzo in the photo above.
Where to Buy Camera Gear*
Everyone has a store they trust for equipment purchases. I actually have several. I always shop around for the best deal possible and it's rare that I buy new stuff. In fact, the Nikon D7100 is the first new camera I've bought since 2008! I've only bought used camera bodies since my very first digital camera, the Canon Rebel XT, eight years ago. Time flies. Over the years I've had lots of stuff. I shot Canon for 7 years and switched to Nikon in 2015. I've had everything from a Canon Rebel to a 20D to a 50D and 7D. I believe I've even used most of Canon's pro lenses. On the Nikon side, I've owned the D90 and various DX and FX lenses. I'm pretty set with my current line up for the foreseeable future, however. So, where do I get my gear? Over the years I've learned who to trust and who to be cautious with. I don't generally buy things from the big NYC dealers (B&H, Adorama, etc.). I will on occasion, but only if they have the best deal or only they have what I need. Most of the time, I purchase used gear from KEH (based in Georgia). I have had issues with customer service and shipping with the big NYC stores, but never with KEH. It's easy to buy and sell gear with them and customer service legitimately cares. I also like Roberts Camera (based in Indiana); they have an online store called "Used Photo Pro." I actually bought a Canon 30D from them back in 2009 and have been a pretty dedicated customer since. Both KEH and Roberts have outlet stores on eBay where you can actually bid or make offers on their used stock. I bought the Nikon 28-105 AF-D from Roberts eBay store in excellent condition for only $100. KEH also has pictures of the actual items on those listings, but not typically on their official website like Roberts does.
As far as buying used gear on eBay goes, you have to use common sense. I only buy things from sellers with great feedback and a return policy. If they don't offer returns, I don't even consider it. They also have to have detailed descriptions and lots of sharp pictures of the actual item (no stock photos). A lot of photographers avoid eBay altogether. That's a mistake considering all the best camera stores (including the big NYC dealers) have outlet stores on eBay where you can get the same gear listed on their official websites for less (often with longer warranties). Just use your head when buying from individuals. Other photographers may bash eBay, but I've had no issues so far when buying gear and I've saved a lot of money.
*I am not affiliated with any camera dealer aside from being a customer, but I am part of ebay's partner program. The links to items for sale on ebay provide this blog with residual income if you choose to buy the item after clicking the link. This helps support what I do and helps keep this blog going, but by all means shop around for the best deal from a seller you trust.