The gear I use and recommend.
Tools. Just as a builder uses various tools to construct a home, photo gear is nothing more than the tools used by a photographer to create images. The carpenter and photographer both accomplish their work by the practice of craft, creativity, and ingenuity – with the assistance of their tools.
Cameras and Lenses
I made the switch to Sony with two A9 bodies in 2020, leaving behind 35 years as a Nikon user. The focusing on this body is amazing – tracks like nothing else, including the Nikon D5. Couple that with silent 20 FPS shooting, seamless network transfers, a smaller form factor and weight, and what seems like pretty good durability so far, and I’m really happy. It won’t pound nails like a D5, but my new kit is is nearly 10 lbs (4.5kg) lighter and works just as hard.
Sony FE 20mm/1.8 G
This lens is AMAZING! Discovered over the years that 20mm is my “sweet spot” lens for photojournalism and this lens is great at everything. No distortion, great contrast, weather sealing, and superb sharpness wide open. Better than any 20mm I’ve ever used and so much better than any zoom that covers this range. It lives on one of my A9 bodies most of the time. Getting into the action is the best way to tell the story and this lens performs every single time.
Sony FE 85mm/1.8
Half the size and weight of comparable f1.4 lenses, this Sony is the bargain of 85mm lenses right now. A great performer with decent weather sealing and a rugged yet balanced feel on the A9. If the 20mm is on one body most of the time, this 85mm is on the other. Not much more to say other than that this two-lens combo serves me well.
Sony FE 35mm/1.8
A good all around performer with a nice, compact size. If I need to grab one camera and lens to head out the door for a day of shooting, I’m likely to put this on an A9 body. When I have my full kit, this lens gets used more for video, but I trust it to deliver. Again, so much smaller than a 35mm f1.4 equivalent and I don’t miss the size and weight for the 2/3 stop difference. Weather sealing has held up in hurricane reporting, so it’s solid.
Tamron 70-180mm/2.8 Di III VXD
The least use lens in my kit was always the big Nikon 70-200/2.8 VR II. When I made the switch to Sony I contemplated getting their 70-200/4 lens, but settled on this Tamron after hearing good things from a few people. I’m not missing the extra 20mm at the end, and this is so light and compact in comparison to Sony’s 70-200/2.8 GM. A really good performer for the times I’ve needed it in the last few months. It’s a lens I’ll pack for assignments because it won’t weigh me down and comes in handy when needed.
One of Nikon’s best all-around cameras ever. It’s been in my bag for over four years and consistently helps make great photographs. High pixel count with beautiful tones. When the assignment calls for portraits, double page spreads, or landscape images, this is the camera I reach for. I’m keeping this Nikon and the following lenses around for product, portrait, wildlife, and landscape work (for now…)
I know it’s old. I know it can be noisy. I know it doesn’t have the newest technology or test well on the microscopic pixel-peeper charts. But this mostly metal little beast has the focal range that’s produced a full 50% of the images in my catalog: 20-35mm is my sweet spot for photojournalism, and I love the super-wide 17mm perspective when needed. At the end of the day, I trust this lens to deliver.
I didn’t buy a 50mm lens until I started shooting more video with DSLRs. The focal length really didn’t excite me. But then I started taking it out on assignment and found I really enjoyed pairing it with a 24mm or 17-35mm lens on a second body. It became my “telephoto” when working in close proximity. It’s sharp, light, and focuses fast.
This behemoth is the great bargain in super telephoto lenses. For around $1,200 (in 2019) you get a great focal range for wildlife and long-shot events with a constant f5.6 aperture. Sure, f4 would be nice, but the newest FL version of the Nikon 500mm/4 is twice the weight and 10x the cost of this lens. I don’t use it that much but it sure is handy when nothing else will do for photographing events, sports, bison or birds – even hummingbirds – and everything in between.
Tokina AT-X Pro 100mm/2.8 Macro
My only non-Nikon lens. Cuttingly sharp, 1:1 magnification, and solid construction. I’ve shot a number of magazine covers and double-page spreads with this lens. Very good – if almost too sharp – for portraits as well. When I need fine detail for product shots this is the lens I grab.
GoPro Hero 7 (and Hero 5)
When adventure sports assignments are on the line, the GoPros come out to play. Mountaineering, mountain biking, trail running, adventure racing, and more all benefit from these little technical wonders. While they have limitations (not so good in low light, limited field of view options), when you need them, you need them.
DJI Mavic Air
A great, light weight drone for aerial photos and video. Resolution on this drone isn’t the highest for stills but the 4k video is smooth and rich, and both the 2160p video at 60 fps or 1080p video at 120 fps are really amazing for slow motion. Easy to haul on adventures and gives a unique perspective when filming establishing shots.
Video and Audio
A great 4K video camera with pro file formats, including HD 4:2:2 for news and editorial footage. The feature set and lens range is optimal for spot news and standups, short documentary, and promotional videos. Paired with the Z6 and an external recorder, it’s a portable and powerful 2-camera combo with footage that matches well in post processing.
Blackmagic Video Assist 4K
Used with either the Nikon Z6 or Sony PXW-Z150, this external HDMI recorder creates files that contain more image data and detail than saving to camera memory cards.
Rode Wireless Go
One tenth the size of traditional wireless microphone packs, these matchbook sized transmitters and receivers auto-seek a clean channel and have delivered for me in difficult situations. I use the Rode Go Omnidirectional lavaliere microphone with the transmitter in most situations. Receiver output works equally well into a DSLR as it does an XLR-based broadcast camera.
Audio Technica AT875R
A great shotgun mic used on camera or a boom pole. Very directional with a good sound balance. Tough microphone, shorter than some shotgun mics, which makes it really useful mounted to the compact broadcast PXW-Z150 camera.
Software and Workflow
Photo Mechanic Plus
After a dozen years of using only Lightroom to manage my catalog, I switched to Photo Mechanic Plus. Its catalog feature is probably better than Lightroom and the metadata management needed for quick photojournalism work is built right in. The RAW viewer is fast so culling/selecting is super easy and moving files between archives and folders is seamless. Feels like I’m just scratching the surface of this software’s capabilities.
Adobe Creative Cloud (Photography Edition)
For around $10 per month I lease this mature set of photo editing tools that includes Photoshop and Lightroom. Since I switched to Photo Mechanic Plus I don’t use Lightroom much anymore, but do utilize the Adobe Camera Raw to edit RAW files into JPGs for export in Photo Mechanic.
Blackmagic Davinci Resolve Studio (Video Editing)
The free version of this video editing software can handle everything most working pros need. I bought the Studio version to import some advanced filetypes not supported in the free version. At $299 it’s still worth it: an efficient NLE, an intuitive motion and 3D graphics platform (Fusion), a comprehensive sound editor (Fairlight), industry-leading color correction tools, and simple project management all bundled into one interface. The Studio version also contains remote collaboration tools that make it simple to share projects.
In the Field
Cases, Bags, Etc.
- Domke F2
- BlackRapid Double Breathe Camera Harness
- Pelican 1510SC
- Think Tank Streetwalker Harddrive v2
- SKB Tripod Case
- Newswear Fanny Packs (Small and Large)
- MOZA AirCross 2 Gimbal