What's in My Bag

March 08, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

I get asked a lot what's in my bag, or what equipment I shoot with...or by very intuitive brides...do you have any backup equipment. ;)

I've shied away from this topic for a while now, at least on the old blog, because I believe that gear doesn't make the photographer; the photographer makes the photographer. An iPhone in the hands of a creative mind can sometimes be a better thing than someone who went out and bought a 25K medium format Leica. But at the same time, even though I like to think of myself as a somewhat creative mind, my iPhone might not quite capture that first dance photo in the way a bride and groom might prefer.

So below is a list of my current equipment, as of March 2015 (things are always changing), and a quick summary of why I made that choice. If you're not a photographer, you may want to skip my gear-geek-out descriptions and just jump from bold point to bold point. :)

Main Equipment:

Canon 5D Mark III camera body

(Backup: Canon 7D)
(Backup to my backup: Canon 450D)

This is Canon's flagship wedding/event/low-light camera. It's really everything you would expect in a camera of this quality. I used the 5D Mark II for a while before upgrading, as just because Canon comes out of with a new camera, doesn't suddenly make your current camera incapable of taking good photos. But what finally sold me on upgrading was the huge jump in the focusing system from the Mark II to the Mark III. The Mark II only has one cross-type focus point, as compared to 41 on the Mark III. Ya. With the Mark II, there is a lot of center focus, re-composing, and often times quick distance estimations and split second depth of field calculations. The Mark III relaxes you a bit. haha! However, that being said, I'm extremely grateful for the years of practice with on the fly depth of field calculations, as there is still rarely a wedding that goes by where I do not need that skill at some point, particularly in low-lighting.

One question I get asked a lot: why did you choose Canon over Nikon? Is the image quality better? Faster focusing? Better longevity? Honestly...I think both Canon and Nikon are fine camera companies. I chose Canon because I live like, two miles from their repair facility. Yep. That's the only reason. Super boring, practical, business owner type decision.

     
(Low-light focusing with the 5DMkIII. Click for full previews.)

Canon EF 50 1.2 L lens

I really can't say enough good about this lens. It's kind of pricey, so I understand why some are reluctant to make the leap, and opt for less expensive choices like the 1.4 non-L version, and the Sigma ART offering. And if everything you're doing is outdoors in bright light, you might only ever see just a subtle difference in the quality of this lens over the others. But if you shoot lots of weddings and low-light situations, this lens really becomes worth its price. It's not just fast to focus in low-light, but sharp, even at 1.2. I found the 1.4 version to really be a 2.2 in practical application in low lighting. Anything below that, and even when in focus, the sharpness was not passable enough to hand over to a client. With the 1.2, as long as you know your depth of field/distance ratios, you can shoot all night at 1.2 and be in the same ballpark as the sharpness you'd get at 5.6. I'm sort of in love with this lens...it's the first in my trifecta of 72mm lens opening diameter lenses. I'm sort of in love with those, too.

The 50 1.2 at 1.2 (Click for full preview)  
(The 50 1.2 at 1.2. Click for full preview.)

Canon EF 135 2.0 L lens

Alright guys, this is the second best kept secret in Canon's history. (The first best is a little further below...yep, I know all the secrets. ;) ) This is an L lens, and for some reason, not priced like an L lens. And it is possibly their fastest focusing one, at a great portrait focal length, as well as a length long enough to be a prime substitute for a zoom, and of course, that lovely 72mm lens opening diameter that for some reason seems to produce the most contrast and deepest colors. The only possible drawback to this lens is that in tight spaces, 135 can sometimes be a little long. But that can also force you to see details and perspectives you might not otherwise have noticed. I always encourage everyone to pick one of these up before Canon discontinues them and then opens up their own eBay account to sell them at $4K. ;)


(The 135 2.0 at 2.0. Click for full preview.)

Canon EF 80-200 2.8 L lens

Yep, you read that right. 80-200. The third in in my 72mm diameter trifecta. This lens is no longer made, and from the 1980's. Possibly the best-kept secret ever. It's nicknamed the magic drainpipe, or the prime-pipe. I acquired one after just not being happy with my 70-200 copy, and the first time I used it was at a rehearsal dinner. And I think I snapped a photo and then just stared at my preview screen for about 60 seconds. I could have promised you I was looking at a photo from a prime lens. I love this thing. No lens that I have matches this one in color depth. And surprisingly...it's a very fast focuser. The only drawbacks are that you have to flip a switch to go to manual focus, and that if it breaks and you take it in to Canon, the folks at the counter will look at you like you built your own lens and wrote 'Canon' on it. Yep, Canon will no longer fix these, so make sure that when you get one (notice I said 'when', not 'if'), take good care of it. Your wife or husband might not let you cuddle with it in the bed at night like you would a new toy when you were a kid, but at least you can keep it on the nightstand.


(80-200 in a moment needing instant capture. Click for full preview.)

Canon EF 24-70 2.8 L lens

My go-to walk around lens. Primes are wonderfully sharp...but brides and grooms care more about that spontaneous moment when her father puller her husband in for a hug, than that perfectly tack-sharp photo of the centerpieces for the third time. And a 24-70 is the perfect focal length to make sure everything is captured. Even when I have another lens on my camera, the 24-70 is almost always in my shoulder bag and on me at all times. This particular lens isn't the fastest focuser when the lights dim, so you do need to be sure you know your math well enough to manual focus at times.


(24-70 when you need those wider angles to get the moments as they happen. Click for full preview.)

Canon EF 85 1.8 lens

My one non-L lens. Why? Because the focus is like lightning on this thing. Sometimes this little guy is my secret weapon when focusing in the dark...it's sometimes scary how this guy can focus when I can't even see period because the DJ just killed every light in the place. (Which, I agree, does make for a great dance party at the end of the night.) The alternative is Canon's 85 1.2 L, which takes amazing portraits...but is confusingly slow to focus. The thing is, for me, this 85 1.8 might just as well have an L designation on it. Its photos are that good, and it's definitely one of my go-to's.

     
(The 85 1.8 for portraits, reception moments, and ceremony moments. Click for full previews.)

(Backup: Canon EF 50 1.8 lens) 

Lights:

Lights are definitely something I encourage every photographer to have in their arsenal, even those of you, like me, who are more concerned with photojournalism and making sure the moments are captured. When used well, the photos they produce makes people go, 'Wow! That photographer always gets lucky with super dramatic lighting." Nope...I'm just the guy hiding flashes in trees.

   
(Various off-camera lighting setups for portraits and receptions. Click for full previews.)

Canon 580EX II flash (3)

A wonderful flash for the price. I have three for full surround lighting setups. The best thing about these flashes is the high-speed sync so that you can use them in full sunlight to offset the harsh shadows.

Yongnuo 568EX II flash

I have this to compliment my Canon flashes. I go back and forth with the Yong's...I've burned out three of them, but yet...the price is still so good!

Genaray 6200t LED light

I can't stress the importance of having at least one source of constant lighting in your arsenal. This is a videographer's light, and you can mount it on your camera or a stand. Great for adding drama, or actually giving your camera or eye something to focus on in those crazy difficult situations where the only lighting is the reflections of the moving DJ spots off of the groom's boutonnière pin. ;)

Yongnuo 622C Flash Triggers

Radio-controlled triggers for off-camera flash setups. These little things are surprisingly consistent...moreso than some flashes with built-in signals I've owned in the past.

Matthews Lighting Stands

Little Burbank company that makes great stands that are light enough to carry, but won't blow over with the wind of someone walking by. That is all.

Generic Shoot-through & Reflective Umbrellas

I love the look of umbrellas when used correctly, and they transport super easily.

Manfrotto Tripod

Best tripod and old vintage intensely heavy tripod head ever. I don't use tripods during the ceremonies or receptions, but for those Pinterest-style overlayed long exposure sparkler shots, they're of course essential.

Enough cards, batteries, and flash batteries to last me basically a three-day non-stop shoot.

You can never have enough backups.

Backups

And speaking of backups, this is some of the most important gear you can have. You never know when something unexpected may happen, and the wedding is not going to stop for you. I encourage brides never to hire photographers without backups. My backups include a 7D backup body, and of course 3 Canon and Yongnuo flashes. I also have my "Dear Sweet Mercy" bag that never leaves my car, which includes a Canon 450D body and a Canon 50 1.8 lens. I've never had to use those...but they are there. Backups to my backups mean never being in danger of missing a wedding.

That was probably way too detailed...but there you have it. My bag.

Splendid.
Karl.

 


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