After photographing seriously for 30 years, I’ve tried to constantly refine my setup and the amount of gear that I carry. Everything must have a function that directly supports the endeavor of photography or the activity of being outdoors.
I currently have two camera setups – one based on the Sony alpha mirrorless cameras and one on around the Linhof Technika IV 4×5 large format camera. I usually don’t mix the two, as each set of gear fills a large backpack. The Linhof goes into a Lowepro Photo Trekker AW and I use a Osprey Aether 70 backpack for the digital cameras. The Sony cameras are primarily used for time lapse sequences and nightscapes and the Linhof for landscapes. There is an overlap between the two setups, as items like filters, tripods, lens cleaning, flashlights, toilet paper and more are useful regardless of the camera format. Below I discuss the choices I’ve made over the years that brought me to these two setups.
Digital Camera Setup –
My digital setup has evolved over the years. When I started shooting with large format cameras, digital photography was still relegated to the confines of engineering labs or uses like one NASA space probes. Good digital cameras have always been very expensive and it wasn’t until 2005 when the first affordable consumer full-frame sensor camera was released (the Canon EOS 5D with 12.8 megapixels). I was used to the resolution camera controls afforded by large format, so I used digital for snapshots only.
My first digital camera was a Nikon Coolpix 990 (E990) which I bought in 2000. It was 3.2 Megapixels – enough resolution to make a reasonable looking 8×10 print. The Coolpix 990 had a unual split-body design where the lens could rotate 180 degrees relative to the display on the camera. I’m sure it was a popular feature for the selfie crowd, but I found it useful for being able to hold the camera away from your eye and still see the LCD screen. I also had a 180 degree fisheye lens. I’d long been a fan of super-wide angle photos, and it was fun to have a chance to make them.
When my daughter was born in 2006, my little Coolpix 990 was simply not up to the task of capturing the fleeting expressions of an infant. Pressing the button only to wait one second from the shutter to trigger lead to a lot of missed moments. As I had been a Minolta 35 mm camera user, I looked in that direction for my next digital camera only to find that Minolta (Konica-Minolta at that time) had been bought by Sony and I found that they had just released their first DSLR – the well received Sony DSLR-A100.
Although it was not a ground-breaking camera and was based on the Konica-Minolta MAXXUM 5D, it had the appeal of being able to use over 25 years of lenses from Minolta’s autofocus line of cameras. At 10 megapixels, the A100 was a nice step up from the Coolpix 990.
Shortly after buying the A100, I ran across and article describing how digital cameras had advanced enough to have relatively low noise when using high ISO speeds. It was after sunset so I grabbed my camera and tripod and headed out to enjoy a nice summer evening and test my camera. Unfortunately, the A100 had issues with the sensor heating too much during long exposures which left a distinctive purple flare on one side of the frame. With a new baby, I put off my desire of capturing the Milky Way.
In 2013, my father was heading to the local race track to run his vintage Lotus 30 race car in several historic auto races. I figured there were better cameras available than my A-100 for racing photos and wanting to stick with Sony, I bought a Sony SLT-A77. It’s a 24 megapixel DSLR with an innovative semi-translucent mirror design that allows continuous shooting at 12 frames per second. That’s still a respectfully fast frame rate, especially fast for a camera that cost just a bit over $1000. It worked great for shooting at the track. When I went camping later that summer, I brought it out and tried a few Milky Way shots. It was way better than my nearly decade-old A-100 and it actually captured stars without all the sensor bloom. It was hard to see what was going on in the viewfinder, but after a few shots, I found it did nice job. I looked up what lenses were available what were faster than my kit lens and bought a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 which has an excellent reputation for astrophotography.
In 2015, my family and I travelled back to the desert Southwest for the first time after our daughters birth. I sold my A-77 and bought a Sony ILCE-6000 / a6000. At that time, it was one of the highest ISO-speed rated APS-C cameras. Other than one Nikon camera which appears to use the same sensor. The only cameras that had higher low-light ISO ratings were full-frame cameras, and I it just wasn’t in the budget to get a full-frame camera. Since then, I’ve added a couple Sony a6300s.
I made the move to full frame (FF) with the mirrorless Sony a7R. I used it for most of 2017 and found it to be a great camera. It has lots of resolution at 36 megapixels and does a great job at capturing the Milky Way. I sold the a7R at the beginning of 2018 after I heard the a7III was going to be released. Since I don’t make giant prints, the 24 megapixels of the a7III would be fine for me. And the larger pixels and back-side illuminated sensor promised to be even better for low-light photography.
Sony alpha Mirrorless Setup
Sony alpha Cameras:
- a6300 x 2
- 24mm f/1.4 GM for Sony E-Mount FF (SEL24F14GM)
- 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS for Sony E-Mount FF (SEL90M28G)
- 24-105mm f/4 G OSS for Sony E-Mount FF (SEL24105G/2)
- 16-70mm f/4 Sony Vario-Tessar T* E ZA OSS for E-Mount APS-C (SEL1670Z)
- 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Sony G OSS FE for Sony E-Mount FF (SEL70300G)
- 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS FE for Sony E-Mount FF (SEL200600G)
- FE 2.0x Teleconverter for Sony E-Mount FF (SEL20TC)
- 14mm f/1.8 Sigma DG HSM Art for Sony E-Mount
- 35mm f/1.4 Sigma DG HSM Art for Sony E-Mount
- 8mm f/2.8 Rokinon UMC Fisheye II for E-Mount APS-C (RK8MK28-E)
- 12mm f/2.0 Samyang NCS CS for Sony E-Mount APS-C (SY12M-E-BK)
- 16mm f/2.0 Rokinon ED AS UMC CS for Sony A-Mount APS-C (16M-E)
- 24mm f/1.4 Rokinon ED AS IF UMC for Sony E-Mount FF (RK24M-E)
- 35 mm f/1.4 Rokinon AS UMC Lens for Sony E-Mount FF (RK35M-E)
- 85mm f/1.4 Samyang AS IF UMC for Sony E-Mount FF (SY85M-E)
- 24mm f/2.8 Minolta MD
- 50mm f/1.4 Minolta MD
- 135mm f/3.5 Minolta MD
- 500mm f/8 RF Rokkor-X Minolta MD
- None, of course! But I use the following software packages for “developing” my digital negatives:
- Adobe Lightroom – an image editor and organizer.
- Adobe Photoshop – an image editor that allows changes to photos down to the single-pixel level.
- LRTimelapse – used in conjunction with Adobe Lightroom to edit and render time-lapse sequences. This is by far the best time-lapse editing solution currently available as it allows keyframing and grading of RAW-based image sequences.
- PTGui Pro – a graphic panorama creation and image stitching program.
- HDRSoft Photomatix – for controlling high contrast scenes by merging multiple frames with several different exposures to create a single image with a reduced contrast range.
- DeepSkyStacker – used to overlay multiple images in order to reduce noise from the camera, remove uneven field illumination or vignetting, among other functions.
- Sequator – Image stacking software.
- Split Density – 2-Stop ND Soft transition X4, 100mm, Breakthrough Photography
- 6-Stop ND X4, 100 mm, Breakthrough Photography
- 10-Stop ND X4, 77mm, Breakthrough Photography
- Polarizer – 77mm, Tiffen
- Polarizer – 3-Stop Dark CPL X4 in X100 Magnetic mount, Breakthrough Photography
- Tiffen Color Enhancing, 77 mm – I still haven’t taken daytime shot with this filter that I actually liked better than without it, but I bring it along in case I find the right situation for it. I plan on trying it as a light pollution reduction filter.
- Cokin Professional Filter System Holder
- Breakthrough Photography X100 Magnetic Filter Holder
Linhof Technika IV Large Format Setup
- Linhof Super Technika IV 4×5 – made the early ’60’s
- 75 mm f/4.5 Rodenstock Grandagon-N
- 90 mm f/6.8 Rodenstock Grandagon-N
- 125 mm f/5.6 Fujinon-W
- 150 mm f/5.6 Fujinon-W
- 240 mm f/9 Schneider G-Claron
- 355 mm f/9 Schneider G-Claron
- Fujichrome Quickloads – I gave up traditional sheet film shortly after Kodak came out with the Readyload film packets back in the early 1990s. I find that the complete absence of dust on the film to be more than worth the extra cost for these films.
- The color film I currently most is Fujichrome Provia (RDP III). I find it is the best all-around transparency film available for my type of photography. Occasionally I use Fujichrome Astia 100F (RAP 100F), Velvia 100 (RVP 100), Velvia 100F (RVP 100F), and even tungsten-balanced RTP II.
- For black and white work, I used to use Kodak T-Max 100 Readyloads, but in 2005, I switched to Fuji Acros 100 Quickloads.
- Fuji Quickload Film Holder – As I switched to all Fuji films with the availability of Fuji Acros 100 in the Quickload format, I finally bought a Quickload holder. A Kodak Readyload Film holder is carried in the car as a backup.
I used to use a Minolta Flashmeter IV incident meter or a Pentax Spotmeter V for spot readings. In 2004, I upgraded to a Minolta Flashmeter VI which is both an incident and spot meter, allowing me to make comparisions between spot and incident readings.
Linhof Multifocus Optical Finder for 4×5:
This is an extremely hand device. It covers lenses from 90 mm to 360 mm and allows you to preview what the field of view will be for each focal length. I use it both off the camera in my hand to determine the best location for the camera and tripod, as well as on the tripod-mounted camera to keep track of what moves in and out of the frame without removing the film as I wait to make the exposure, i.e clouds. The Multifocus Finder saves a lot of time. It allows me to preview what the subject looks like through the camera without having to spend the time to actually set up the camera. This device will save several minutes when setting up a large-format camera.
Gear Common to both Setups
I’ve been a longtime user of Bogen/Manfrotto tripods. I bought my first one, a Bogen 3040, in 1986. The 3040 was comprised of a 3046 tripod with a factory installed 3047 heavy-duty three way pan & tilt head. It is one solid tripod and I still have it. The center column of the 3046 braces to the legs. This tripod is more than sturdy enough for my vintage 8×10 camera. It’s rated to hold over 25 lbs., but the down side is that it weighs about 11.6 lbs.
After a couple of years, I bought a Bogen 3021 tripod again. Tripods by Lester Bogen – currently a 3020 tripod with a 3047 3-way tilt head.
A couple years ago I bought a Feisol CT-3342 Tournament Rapid Carbon Fiber Tripod. It has leg 3-sections which I find to be sturdier with less flex than legs that have 4 leg sections. Along with it I bought a Feisol CB-40D Ball head which is Arca-Swiss quick release compatible. I’ve since been converting all my gear to use Arca-Swiss type plates as it is a much more flexible system than the Manfrotto plates.
I recently bought a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer tracker for photographing the 2017 Great American Eclipse as well as Milky Way and astrophotography. I use the Bogen 3046 legs as it is very sturdy and can easily handle the weight of the Star Adventurer, camera, and lens. The 3047 3-Way pan head has been replaced with the Star Adventurer wedge. The star Adventurer sits on the wedge, with a second tripod head on top of that. I’ve been using a Manfrotto MHXPRO-3WG 3-way geared head. On top of that, I had a Sirui Monopod head and finally the camera. It’s a tall stack of gear, and not light. There’s no way I’ll be backpacking that setup very far from the car…
- All filters made by Tiffen unless otherwise noted.
- Split Density – 2 stop
- Heliopan Center Filter, 0.45 ND, 67/86 mm (for 75 mm Grandagon-N)
- Polarizers, 58 mm and 67 mm
- #11 Green, 58 mm and 67 mm
- #12 Yellow (minus blue), 67 mm
- #23A Light Red, 58 mm
- #25 Red, 67 mm
- #81B 200K Warming, 58 mm
- Tiffen Color Enhancing, 77 mm – I still haven’t taken a shot with this filter that I actually liked better than without it, but I bring it along in case I find the right situation for it.
- Assorted Tiffen Thread Adaptors
- Diopter Set: +1 , +2, +3
- Cokin Professional Filter System Holder
- Black Diamond Head Lamp – Storm model
- Swiss Army knife
- Peak 8x Loupe, with Fujinon 7x Loupe as backup
- 18″ Cable Release
- Photoflex LiteDisc – Small, Silver/White
- Zeiss Lens Wipes – cleaning solution and wipe all in one!
- Lens Brush
- Lens Wrench
- Suunto Compass
- Matches – 2 books
- Pens – Ball point, Sharpie
- Several Ziplok Bags
- Toilet Paper – you never know when you’ll need it!
- Business Cards