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Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Tools

I have been working with the digital photography medium since 2004. On this page I list the most important tools I work with. I think that using the right tool makes a world of difference not only as a means to an end, the production of the actual photograph, but also on the ease and elegance, if you will, of arriving at it. Thus, I posted my two cents based on my practical experience with my gear. Furthermore, I recommend three sites for competitive prices and great customer service, B&HJ&R, and Amazon.

Nikon D40

My first DSLR was the "state of the art" 6MP entry camera in the Nikon DSLR lineup in 2006. Since DSLRs go obsolete and discontinued every two years or so, the Nikon D5000 has taken its place these days. This camera has all the top functions of a great consumer camera. The frame rate, shutter lag, and autofocus were fast enough to feel snappy before I experienced my D300. It came with the Nikon 18-55mm kit lens, which is famous for its low price and great performance.

Nikon D300 (discontinued, replaced by Nikon D300s DSLR)

This camera is superbly built and robust. So far I’ve taken over 40,000 photographs and the camera functions like new. It was been widely reviewed and I can’t add anything else on top of the positive reviews out there.

Lumix DMC-LX5

Besides my Nikon D300, I use this camera for "recreational shooting" when I don’t want to carry my big camera and lenses around. It's the best. After getting used to its size and handling I would say that the LX5 approaches the usefulness of the D300 in terms of basic controls and functions. Plus, it captures HD videos. Another great feature which I like is the 24mm wide angle lens which offers extraordinarily large viewing space. To view some photographs captured with this camera click here.

Full-frame (FX) Lenses
Nikon 50mm f/1.8D

This is an excellent lens at an incredible price. The 50mm is a practical and intuitive fixed focal length lens every photographer should have in their bag. It is extremely sharp and fast focus. I use it for everything, including portraits, landscapes, events/weddings, and product photography. The lens is made of out plastic, is light and short sized; mounted on my D300 it feels small and somewhat unbalanced, but on my smaller D40 it fits just fine. With a 52mm reverser ring, it can be mounted backwards for Macro photography.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4G

This lens is sharp and focuses fast, it matches my 50/1.8 lens but I’m not convinced it’s much better in these aspects. However, it excels on low light just as expected, it has better DOF and better build, and these qualities may justify the cost difference.

Nikon 16-35mm f/4G

I needed a wide angle lens that would perform close to professional standards and decided to try this lens rather than the pricey 14-24 f2.8 (the 16-35mm lens is about half the price). A year later I’ve tried the 14-24 lens and in my opinion is hands down a much better performing lens.

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G

The 24-70mm f/2.8G is a general purpose wide angle zoom lens, of exceptional quality. I would say it is my go-to lens for most of my photography needs.

Nikon 70-200mm F/2.8
Sigma 150mm f/2.8

I use this prime lens mainly for portraits and macro photography but it can be used to shoot anything. The lens is superb, razor-sharp, excellent contrast, no CA. It has a very functional tripod collar that is easily adjusted (or removed). Mounted on my D300 this lens balances perfectly on a tripod. Since this lens does not have VR, if the camera is handheld this lens won’t consistently achieve the sharpness that it’s capable of delivering. The build quality is remarkable with a very sturdy feel to it.

DX Lenses
Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G
Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G

This is a versatile lens, quite handy when travelling (no need to carry around the lens bag.) It delivers sharp pictures for a zoom lens with such a wide range of focal lengths. Auto Focus and the VR function can be turn on or off. It takes great wide angle landscapes, portraits, and even macro shots. The distortion at 18mm is pretty pronounced but it's mostly fixable in Photoshop or Lightroom. This lens suffers from lens creep is when it is pointed straight down and it creeps from 100mm to 200mm. Predictably, this lens is not as sharp as my other prime lenses.

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8

I really like this ultra-wide angle zoom lens mounted on my D300. The build quality is excellent and the resolution is impressive at all the zoom ranges. I shot some great handheld HRDs with it.

Nikon SB-600 AF Speedlight i-TTL

I have upgraded to a S-600 from a SB-400 to obtain more fill flash and more range. I find this flash is more powerful and it has a pretty good recycle time and battery life.

LumiQuest ProMax 80-20 System - Six Piece Flash Light Modification Kit

I use this 80-20 product with my Nikon SB-600 AF Speedlight. Although it is made of plastic, this is a decent diffuser for indoor or night photography. It is more portable and versatile than a dome diffuser. I found that this product attracts attention and is a little flimsy when working with cameras off the shoulder.

Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 3-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs

This tripod is well designed, made of quality materials (100% carbon fiber in the legs, and magnesium castings), easy to use, and relatively lightweight. It has a hanging hook to add a center weight to make it more stable. I use the tripod with a Manfrotto 488RC2 head. It's a very nice combination, solid and light.

Slik Mini-Pro V Tripod with 2-Way Pan/Tilt Head

This mini-tripod is solid and lightweight. It's great for stabilizing my camera for special assignments such a macro, HDR, night photography, and obviously for light travel. It holds my D300 and my Sigma 150mm lens nicely. The telescoping legs and suction cup base make it more useful and versatile. The pan head control is very smooth.

Manfrotto 488RC2 Midi Ball Head with Rapid Connect 2 System (Quick Release)

The tripod head is perfect for me for four reasons: fits nicely on my Manfrotto tripod, it's stable and durable, it has a quick release, and it's reasonably priced. It holds my D300 and my 70-200VR lens tightly. I use it to shoot macro, HDR, and landscapes and I always find it easy to adjust it with a very smooth action at any angle I want pretty quickly.

TC27 Padded Tripod Case - for Tripod with Head, up to 27" Long

This case fits my Manfrotto tripod perfectly, it is well made, and the padding is sufficiently thick to prevent the tripod from getting dinged up under light to moderate use. Besides the protection and storage, using the case is frees up my hands to carry other gear and has a pocket for small accessories.

Western Digital External HD (1TB)

I use this portable hard drive exclusively to store and backup all of my photos on a mothly basis. Portable HD are fairly inexpensive these days and are a lot easer than burning photos on DVDs.

Computer Hardware
Dell UltraSharp U2711 27-inch Widescreen Flat Panel Monitor

I'm extremely happy with this monitor. The image, contrast, and colors are superb. Each color becames alive when wached in HD.

NETGEAR WNCE2001 Universal WiFi Internet Adapter

I use this adapter to connect any device with a network port to existing Home Wireless Network. This is a universal adaptor - it works with any network enabled device. Thus, no need to buy a WiFi adapter that only works with one type of device and I avoid long stringing cables all over my house.

Photomatix Pro

I use Photomatix to get the best possible results out of my images of the same scene taken with different exposures. The top three features of Photomatix include: (1) HDR functionality, it combines several photographs exposed for highlights and shadows into a single image, (2) it processes the tones of this single HDR image so that they look good, (3) it can take a non-HDR image and produce an DHR image by reducing the contrast between highlight and shadows areas.

Adobe Photoshop CS5
I use Photoshop, the most popular digital image editing application to alter or "fix" my photos.

Digital Photo Websites
I use a SmugMug Pro Account to store and display my work. SmugMug has millions of customers with billions of photos organized in online photo albums. This site is highly customizable, it protects my photos, and allows me to sell beautiful prints and gifts.

I'm using to create and print large format canvas prints (Giclees) and fine art prints.

Wood/Metal Framing
I'm buy most of my frames and related materials from a couple of online stores and

Buying online
I'm using EZSniper as my "auction sniper" to purchase used or new photography equipment (or anything else) from any major e-commerce web sites such as eBay, uBid, bidz, and so on. Give it a try, you will never miss an auction again!