My Photography and Computer Equipment

December 24, 2010

Cameras

Currently I’m using Canon 5D Mark II bodies. The 5D is a full-frame digital camera with 21MP sensor. It’s a great travel camera as it has fantastic image quality but a relatively small body (at least compared to the professional 1D bodies). The only drawback I see is the relatively poor autofocus performance.

Lenses

I use a wide variety of lenses and pick and choose depending on my subject. For example, if I am shooting travel pictures I would take a three lens kit composed of the 24-105, 17-40, and a telezoom. With nature photography, I would make a core kit out of my tilt/shift lenses.

  • Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS. This is a great general purpose lens with image stabilization. I’ve probably used this more than any other lens in my kit.
  • Canon 17-40mm. I use this as my wide angle zoom. It is very sharp in the center but image quality degrades significantly towards the edges. I’ve gone through two copies of this lens and I’d replace it if could find a better one.
  • Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS. A very sharp telezoom with image stabilization. The main drawback is that 200mm is often not long enough for a full frame camera.
  • Canon 70-300mm IS. This lens has greater range than the 70-200 but the quality is noticeably worse especially towards the long end.
  • Canon 24mm II tilt-shift. This is a fantastic tilt-shift lens that is very sharp. The lens has a rotator mechanism so that you can change the directions of the tilt and shift independently.
  • Canon 45mm tilt-shift. Another great lens that I often use especially when flat stitching several pictures together.
  • Nikon 85mm tilt-shift. I use this Nikon lens with an adapter on my Canon bodies. Although the center sharpness is ever so slightly worse than Canon’s 90 TSE, the lens is much better when shifted.
  • Nikon 105mm AF micro. I also use this lens with an adapter on my Canon bodies. This macro lens (Nikon calls them “micro”) is very sharp and the lack of autofocus is not an issue with live view.

Tripods

I use a tripod whenever time permits and I have several different ones depending on the nature of my travels:

  • Gitzo GT3541LS. This is a heavy and sturdy carbon fiber tripod that I use this as my main camera support. (3.8lbs, 21.1″ folded, 4 section)
  • Gitzo GT-1541T. An extremely lightweight carbon fiber tripod that I use when both weight and space are an issue. (2.1lbs, 16.1″ folded, 4 section)
  • Velbon el Carmagne 640. A medium weight carbon fiber tripod. It is a nice compromise between weight and portability. (3lbs, 17.7″ folded, 4 section)

Although image stabilization (or vibration reduction) is very useful for fast paced travel photography, I’ve started to use my tripods much more often for the following reasons:

  • I’ve found that as megapixels increase in DSLR camera’s it is more difficult to take pin-sharp images handheld even with image stabilization. With the older lower resolution cameras (e.g. the original 5D at 12mp) I could take sharp images handheld at speeds several times slower than the 1/focal length rule. With the 5D II at 21MP I like to have speeds up to twice as fast as suggested by the focal length rule.
  • I have been taking many more images that involve compositing of multiple frames. For example, most of my panoramas are created by stitching multiple frames together to get a wider angle of view. I may also bracket an exposure and blend the images in post processing to provide similar functionality to using neutral density graduated filters (but with more control).

Ballheads

  • Really Right Stuff BH-55. The BH-55 is the Cadillac of ballheads and has extremely smooth operation with no creep. Although it is fairly heavy (1.8 lbs) it has replaced my Acratech ultimate ballhead (1.0 lbs)
  • Markins Q3T. A lightweight ballhead that I use for travel. (0.83 lbs)

I primarily use RRS L-plates but I also have a variety of lens plates from Wimberley and Acratech. All of these manufacturers make a high quality product and there is not much difference to choose from.

Camera Bags

You can’t have too many camera bags and I have several that I use depending on the situation:

  • Think Tank Urban Disguise 35. A great bag for traveling with a small kit (1 body, 2-3 lenses) and a laptop.
  • Mountainsmith Day Pack. Although this was not designed as camera bag, you can fit a surprisingly large amount of gear in it. I use this with the backpack straps and it is very good as a daypack.
  • Lowepro micro trekker classic. A medium size photo backpack that can easily hold two camera bodies and 4-6 lenses.
  • Gura Gear Kiboko. This bag is extremely lightweight and is large enough to hold multiple bodies/lenses with space for non-camera gear.

Panorama Gear

Most of the time I make single row panoramas with the camera in the vertical position. This doesn’t require a full panohead setup and I can get by with minimal gear:

  • Really Right Stuff MPR-CL II. This is a nodal slide which lets you rotate the camera/lens around it’s optical center to eliminate parallex (6.8 oz). I have taped a piece of paper with the correct distance settings for each of my lenses directly to the rail.
  • Acratech leveling base. This provides a quick mechanism to level the base of your ballhead for panning. (8oz)

My basic process for taking a panorama photo is

  1. Place the leveling base under my ball head and level it.
  2. Mount the camera on the nodal rail in the vertical position.
  3. Mount the rail on the ballhead clamp.
  4. Point the camera at the middle of my scene and tilt it to set the horizon where I want it.
  5. Take a series of pictures while rotating the camera with the panning base.

Computer Hardware

  • Mac Pro (8 cores, 10GB RAM). Having the additional cores/memory is extremely nice for batch processing in Lightroom and/or stitching with panorama software.
  • Macbook pro laptop. I was pleasantly surprised that my laptop could churn through Hasselblad H4D raw images (39MP) and still be responsive.
  • Apple Cinema Display 24″. This screen has very good colors and calibrates easily with minimal adjustments. The only drawback with this monitor is that it takes a long time for the brightness to stabilize from a cold start.
  • XRite i1 Display 2. The i1 is a colorimeter that I use for calibrating and profiling my display.
  • HP Z3200. An excellent 24″ large format printer that uses pigment inks. I use the Z3200 for fufilling most of my print orders.

Computer Software

  • Adobe Lightroom 3. I use LR3 for almost all of my RAW processing, initial captioning, and keywording.
  • Metadata Wrangler. A plugin for Lightroom that lets one control the meta-data stored with exported images. I found this plugin invaluable for generating thumbnails with small file sizes.
  • Adobe Photoshop CS5. I use CS5 for more complicated pixel level editing when Lightroom won’t suffice. I also use Photoshop for stitching multiple images from tilt/shift lenses.
  • DxO. I use this program for lens corrections such as removing distortion in architectural photos. However, a similar capability was added to LR3 and as a result I’m using DxO less and less.
  • Expression Media 2. I use EM2 to manage all of the metadata (keywords, captions, author information, etc.) associated with my images. EM2 can export text files which I use to populate the database that drives my website.
  • Autopano Pro. A great program for making panoramas. Many of the automated processes (like picking registration points) work extremely well and I’ve had much better success than with programs like Hugin.
  • Photomatix. I use Photomatix for creating high dynamic range images from a set of bracketed exposures.
  • Quickbooks for Mac. I use Quickbooks to manage the accounting records for my photography business.

Backup Strategy

I backup my files using bare SATA hard disks that I plug into a USB docking station. In addition to my working drives in my Mac Pro, I have at least 3 backups of my important files at all times:

  1. One local drive that is stored unpowered and disconnected.
  2. One offsite drive that I can easily access on a daily basis.
  3. One offsite drive that is in another state.

I rotate between 1 and 2 on a regular basis and I update 3 perhaps once a year. Because I am extremely cautious with my data, I also have additional backups of my RAW files on older hard drives that are too small to work with conveniently.

Website

I created my website by myself using custom development with HTML, CSS, PHP, Perl, and mySQL. I used to use ImageMagick to generate thumbnails but have recently switched to using Lightroom for this process.

My blog is running on WordPress with the Thesis theme.

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