I’ve put this page together to provide info and answers to frequent photo gear questions. Plus, I know the value of referrals and recommendations! When I was shooting as a beginner and amateur, I constantly sought the guidance of established pro photographers whom inspired me. I wanted to know what photo gear they used to capture their amazing images… before I quickly learned that it’s not all about the camera.
Rather than just an uninformative list, I’ve added some background to my photo gear and why or how I use it. I’ve also linked some of the kit to their manufacture’s websites. I buy all my photo gear from just a few retailers: Wildlife Watching Supplies, WEX Photographic, Really Right Stuff and Amazon (I think you probably know the web address for this).
Cameras & Lenses
I have used Nikon since 2011 after switching from Canon. My current kit includes both the Nikon D800 and D800E. I use the D800 for telephoto lenses and the D800E for shorter lenses, macro and wide-angle. The addition of the little Nikon D3200 enables me to have a dedicated DSLR body for my camera trap system, plus a 24MP back-up for my safaris and expeditions.
My choice of lenses covers a versatile focal length without covering every single millimetre. The super-telephoto Nikkor 600mm 𝑓/4.0 VR is my ‘go to’ lens. It is huge, heavy and cumbersome, but the image quality and ability to diffuse backgrounds make it an essential for my kit list. I love this lens! On safari, a camera body is permanently bolted to this lens.
The 70-200mm 𝑓/2.8 VRII doesn’t get much use, but it is great to have in the bag, especially as it is a fast 𝑓/2.8 with VR. I use it for my hide work, contextual nature shots and landscapes. I often use a telephoto zoom for scenics as you can isolate distant compositions, essential for landscapes and seascapes from an expedition vessel.
My 16-35mm 𝑓/4.0 VR replaces a 24-70mm 𝑓/2.8 as I just needed a wider angle when working from the expedition vessels – 24mm was simply not wide enough to capture the ship’s bow, seascape and sky. With VR, I can also capture pin-sharp images at very low shutter speeds, even handheld. With my work for Silversea Expeditions – where videography skills are a prerequisite – the 16-35mm VR is incredibly useful for handheld filming from zodiacs and walking about the ship.
The latest addition is the Nikkor 50mm 𝑓/1.4. I’ve been shooting with it wide open or stopped down to 𝑓/2.8 for context wildlife shots and travelogue style images. It’s great to have so small! I love the image quality and bokeh. The Sanyang 14mm 𝑓/2.8 prime super wide-angle is amazing quality for the price. The distortion can be a fiddle to fix but for a camera-trap lens, it’s just awesome.
My trusty Gitzo 1325 Series 3 tripod accompanies me on almost every photo tour. The Gitzo has travelled thousands of miles and has seen all conditions from the arid dust storms of East Africa, to being submerged in caustic soda water or partially frozen in Antarctica. I use a BENRO full gimbal head for the big glass and Really Right Stuff (RRS) BH-55 ball head for scenics. All my lenses and camera bodies are fitted with RRS quick-release plates. I’ve replaced the lens foot on my Nikkor 600mm with the RRS version to drop the height and help stabilise the lens when mounted on a gimbal.
The latest addition to my support kit is the Gitzo Carbon Monopod “Series 4” 6S. I needed something to support the 600mm while guiding in the small Gypsy Suzuki jeeps in India. If I’m guiding, I can’t just throw my beanbag wherever I want, so this gave me eye-level support from a fixed seated position. It worked a treat! The large base foot adds to the stability of the rig, with my gimbal bolted on top for manoeuvring my 600mm.
For shooting from my 4×4, I’ve invested in an Eckla Eagle door support system. This is a precision-engineered platform for mounting long lenses on a car door, ideal for wildlife photography. It is extremely well-built and rugged. I mount my gimbal and 600mm on this and it remains rock-solid and very stable. As much as I love the versatility of the trusty double beanbag (of which I have many), I’ve nearly lost my lens over the side too many times! With the Eckla, I can bolt it on and just turn the camera inline with the car door and drive on – no need to even remove the camera rig. I will probably invest in a Really Right Stuff levelling base to ensure a quick level on uneven terrain.
Photography Hides & Camo
Apart from a couple of cheap pop-up hides, my one-stop-shop for all my camo gear is Wildlife Watching Supplies. I have dome hides that have been out in the field for years and probably repaid their investment ten times over. I also use their lens and camera covers to protect against dust, rain and salt-spray when out in zodiacs in the Arctic. I always treat my gear respectfully and it is is regularly serviced. However, to help retain the resale value of my kit, I have chosen to cover the telephoto lenses in a plain black neoprene LensCoat – you don’t need the camp stuff on safari! The LensCoats perform well protecting the paintwork, but don’t expect them to weatherproof or dustproof your lenses!
Camera Trap & Remote Cameras
I invested in a new rig for my camera-trap system which consists of a Nikon D3200 DSLR, Nikkor AF-S DX 35mm 𝑓/1.8G lens, plus the Hähnel Inspire Wireless LiveView. As a camera-trap, I use the CamTraptions trigger. It’s simple to set-up and reliable. I used to use the advanced Trailmaster, but this is a really complicated set-up – perfect for researchers, but overkill for a fox or badger.
If I am on-site, I use the Hähnel Inspire as I can remain hidden away in a hide or even my vehicle (up to 100m away) while still being able to view the scene through the lens. I then have direct control over the shutter release, rather than relying on luck! To assess a new location before setting up the camera trap rig, I usually install a remote scout/trail camera with a PIR sensor to record all movement. This stays in position for a week so I have plenty of data to go on.
Lightroom Computing & Storage
When away from the office, I use an Apple Macbook Pro 15″ to review and edit images, storing them on Lacie 1TB Rugged firewire drives. The office workstation comprises of a high-spec 27″ iMac with an additional BenQ 24″ display. I use a variety of RAID hard drives to store my images including an 8TB G-technology G-RAID Thunderbolt drive to serve as a primary drive backed-up (via eSATA) to an 8TB 4-drive Netgear ReadyNAS 104 system.
I have only ever used SanDisk memory cards for the simple reason that I have never had an issue with them, unlike Lexar. So my reasoning is “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and am perfectly happy with the performance of my Extreme Pro CF and SD cards. As part of my back-up contingency planning, my hi-res images are also hosted online by PhotoShelter and Amazon S3.
Photo Gear Accessories
For lighting, I use Nikon SB900 and SB400 along with three Canon EX550 units controlled with generic wireless flash triggers when used with a Wildlife Watching Supplies infra-red camera-trigger. I often use the Hahnel Giga-T Pro to fire the shutter from a distance, or even in conjunction with Live View when shooting macros and scenics where absolute critical sharpness is required.
The Wimberley “Plamp” comes in very useful for holding flowers in breezy condition. It is normally clamped to my tripod when I’m shooting with the Nikkor 200mm Micro, or attached to a small fishing bank-rest which opens up the working distance for when I need to pull back from the subject. I use this in conjunction with a home-made version of the Plamp to grasp a Lastolite reflector. My only gripe with this Wimberley product is it can be really noisy and squeaky – it’s good job plants don’t have ears.
Water-to-go sent me a water bottle to review and it worked so well, I simply kept it. It is a great addition to the camera bag. OK, it is not strictly equipment, but it is great to be able to carry your own water purification system on the go. Believe me, this works. I have drank water straight from the Danube Delta and tasted as pure as rain water. You can use this bottle to drink from lakes, rivers, ponds so no need to haul bottled water everywhere.
Bags & Cases
To transport my gear around the world I use a combination of LowePro backpacks, including the Vertex 300, LensTrekker 600 and Outback 200. For secure carriage in airplane holds and rough safaris, I also use a Pelican 1510 rolling hard case.