My Camera Equipment

This is not going to be easy, I have got stuff lying about all over the house LOL

Cameras:

I shoot Nikon (think I already said that in About page) and have two camera bodies, I started my DSLR life with the D40X and fairly quickly added a D80 to the mix. Well I say mix but they don’t get to mix very often, the D40x pretty much sits in the bottom of my camera bag taking up space for no apparent reason.

The D40X is by no means a bad camera, in fact its actually quite a nice camera. Its small, very light, and for most people will do pretty much everything you want it to do.

Obviously it’s a DSLR, so you can pick and choose your lenses. It doesn’t however have the focus motor built in to it like the D80 so lenses such as the Sigma 180mm macro (below) are unable to focus when used with it. It has a pop up flash which like all on camera flashes produces the worst possible light, by all means use it if you are a ‘happy snapper’ but if you want to take good photos forget all about it and educate yourself on The Strobist Blog

I now use my D80, the D40X’s bigger brother. It is slightly bigger, slightly heavier, and a lot better.

The D80 does have a built in focus motor so it can use all the lenses the D40X uses plus more, it has better metering, a top LCD display showing main camera settings, and more bells and whistles.

The D80 pop up flash is not quite as useless as the D40X’s because the D80 has a built in CLS commander mode, CLS is Nikon’s Creative Lighting System which allows you to wirelessly control an unlimited number of off camera flash guns using the pop up flash. The only problem is you have to purchase CLS compatible external flashes and the range can be a tad short in bright outdoor situations, but it is a very impressive system I have to say. I will give more details later when I come to the making light bit 😉

Lenses:

Next in the line up is lenses, I have to following in my light capturing arsenal:

  • Nikor AF 50mm f/1.8 D (latest acquisition for low light work and portraits)
  • Nikor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 GII ED (Kit lens, general use)
  • Nikor AF-S  55-200mm f/4-5.6 D ED VR (kit lens, medium tele for candid shots etc)
  • Sigma 180mm f/3.5 APO MACRO DG HSM D (My baby, superb 1:1 life size macro/ medium tele lens, I love it to bits)
  • Olympus something or other (used pre Sigma days reverse mounted on 55-200 for extreme macro)

You may detect a bit of favouritism showing through in the above list, I admit it I don’t treat them all equally – does that make me a bad mutha?

The Sigma 180mm Macro is absolutely outstanding! OK I admit my favourite style is macro and its my only macro lens, but what a macro lens it is..

The big boy on the little boyFirst it’s BIG, huge, massive, enormous… Stick that baby with its hood on yer camera and it looks like a camera, you know what they say about sports cars being a substitute for something, well this is just the same but not nearly as subtle LOL

It’s heavy and solid, when you pick it up it just feels quality. You just think quality before you even put it on the camera, and trust me that feeling does not go away once you do because the images it captures are absolutely outstanding, razor sharp, and at 1:1 macro a whole new world of miniature detail opens up before your eyes.

It does have a negative, but I love it so much I’m not going to mention it.. OK I will then, its not really a negative because its pretty much par for the course with macro lenses anyway (or so I am led to believe) but the auto focus is not too quick – it does have a focus limiter switch so you can focus through the entire range (go get a coffee while you wait) 0.61m to infinity (non macro, you wont have time to put in the milk and stir it) and 0.46 to 0.61m (macro range, still not exactly like lightning) To be fair I have only ever used auto focus in macro shooting once, and that was just to prove it worked rather than for necessity so its not really an issue.

If you are interested in macro work then go and waste money buy the macro dioptres, reverse mounting rings for reversing lenses and myriad of other macro on the cheap gadgets, and then when you have finished messing about save up and buy this baby.. Or you could just save up and buy this without wasting money, you definitely won’t be disappointed with the results 😉

Filters:

OK, that’s enough blowing Sigmas trumpet for them, to go with the above lenses I have a few filters, I am not a big filter user as yet but it may change 😉

  • 2 x ND8 Neutral density
  • 2 x circular polariser
  • 1 x 4 point star burst

I use the ND8’s when shooting water to drop the shutter speed for that nice silky blur you get with a slow shutter, the CPL’s to bring a bit of colour back in the sky and cut the reflections in glass and the star burst is for when I ever get out to do some night time shots of factories/ oil refineries etc – its in the looooong to-do list 😉

Tripod:

To keep the camera still, especially when it has the big ass Sigma sticking out the front, I have a Giottos MTL 8361B carbon fibre tripod with an MH1300-621 ball head. Now if you are going to buy a tripe don’t waste you money on any of that aluminium legs with cross braces to the centre column pish because you WILL regret it.

Tripod Karma Sutra #1Buy a decent tripod, and I have to say the Giottos is decent! OK the pros out there will probably say its ok but you can do better, but for a serious amateur or even pro shooter its pretty dam good. Adjustable leg angles (3 positions) 3 section  CF legs with foam leg warmers, a wickedly adjustable centre column which can swing out like a boom as well as up/ down, built in level on the legs and 2 on the head, rock solid quick release plates (which are cheap as chips to buy to boot).

I have used the Giottos extensively over the last 3 or 4 months and have only two very minor gripes I can come up with, and trust me I don’t usually have any problems finding faults with anything, one is the control to lock pano rotation does tend to creep a little (not every time, but enough that you have to watch out for it) and the ball tension control would have been much better if it had a ratchet instead of a smooth action.

I honestly cant recommend this tripod enough, it wasn’t ‘hellish’ expensive (OK it was compared to your average crap Kodak toy at 25 quid) but it is absolutely rock solid in whatever position you use it and it is capable of the full tripod ‘Karma Sutra’ and more – you wouldn’t believe the positions you can get this thing in LOL

So that covers the light collecting side of the equation, on to the light making stuff.

Making my own light:

Now I have everything I need to collect little packets of photons and organize them into files on my computer, so what I need now is something to make the photons so I can throw them at something and collect the ones that bounce back.

I already have one huge light I use quite a lot, its not the most environmentally friendly light source out there – in fact its responsible for 100% of the global warming on its own! It’s not too convenient either, being 93,000,000 miles away you need quite a long arm to pick it up, and it has an annoying habit of staying in one place while the rest of us spin round on a ball so half the time you can’t use it at all Grr

So, for those times where the sun (oh cummon please don’t tell me you never worked it out) has gone down on you, or just never got inside the building in the first place, you need some way of making your own light..

Flash Guns:

Most people with their happy snappy compact digital camera just point it in the direction of someone/ something and press the button, a little flash built in goes off and lights it up and the camera catches the god awful result complete with big nasty devil red eyes, harsh shadows, horrible ‘flat’ lighting and all. They then proceed to upload this to a computer and infect the world with this disgusting creation by printing it, emailing it to the world and his wife, sticking it on Flickr etc etc

Well, if that’s your bag then who am I to complain, but if you want to take good photos you need good light – and on camera/ pop-up flash is not going to give you any!

So enter the external flash guns:

  • 1 x Nikon SB80DX (non CLS)
  • 1 x Nikon SB800 (CLS compatible)
  • 2 x Nikon SB900 (CLS compatible)
  • 2 x 7 foot light stands
  • 1 x Sun (Non CLS and burns your fingers if you touch it)

The SB80DX is an old second hand flash I picked up at a local camera shop for £50 with a fast recycle external battery pack. This was my first flash gun purchased to start playing with my new found lighting knowledge after reading The Strobist Blog (have you checked it out yet, its soooo good)

Once I started using off camera flash it very quickly became evident that I was not going to be happy with just one flash gun, and after the purchase of the D80 camera I desperately wanted to play with the CLS system so next up was an SB800.

I guess I should explain the CLS system huh.. CLS is Nikon’s Creative Lighting System, this is a fancy pants system for controlling off camera flashes wirelessly by using the flash tubes to send coded messages to each other with ‘pre-flashes’ and allows you to have an unlimited (for lottery winners only) number of flash guns divided into 3 groups controlled and fired remotely without so much as a cable.

Utopia.. well not quite, the flashes all have to be CLS compatible – which means Nikon – which means EXPENSIVE – this also means pretty darn good quality 😉

So what can you do with CLS that you cant do with a built in flash? simple answer is take decent photos that actually do look good and are worth printing and sending to the world and his wife via email.

New Supermodel :)This shot for example uses 2 flashes, well 3 actually because the on camera popup was used to control the other 2 without actually adding any lighting into the photo. I used an SB900 camera left, cto gel (orange filter) to warm it up, shooting through a sheet of white paper to diffuse the light, and an SB800 rear camera right with cardboard snoot for a hair/ rim light. I also held a piece of paper front camera right to bounce a bit of light into the dark side.

The flashes were used in manual mode, which means I can set the brightness of each flash to my liking, and remotely fired using CLS. With CLS I can set the brightness of both flashes without having to move away from my camera, I just hit the menu button on the camera and go to the flash settings page where I can just dial in the brightness of each flash – first shot the main flash was way too bright and the one lighting up the hair from behind too dark, so just dial in new settings and fire again – no tripping up over light stands, camera bags, half drunk cups of coffee I just sit behind the camera and make the adjustment.

You don’t have to use manual mode, you can also use iTTL, which lets the camera work out how bright each flash needs to be and set them automatically. I very rarely use iTTL at the moment, but I am definitely going to try a few experiments with it after seeing a set of pictures on flickr taken with CLS/iTTL, they are really quite stunning!

Light Modifiers:

The trouble with flash guns of just about any sort is the light from them is hard, not hard as in ‘don’t mess with me’ but hard as in very harsh with crisp shadows like you get on a bright sunny day.

Some photos work well with hard light, most don’t and need the light to be softer. Portraits are a prime example of where soft light can make a picture. With a soft light you get much softer edges to the shadows which in turn gives a much more pleasing photo. Fortunately its easy modify the light to make it softer, you can just bounce it off a white wall or ceiling, bounce it from a reflective umbrella, shoot it through a translucent material, all sorts of possibilities.

I have a collection of modifiers to soften or restrict the light depending on my needs:

  • 2 x 32″ Silver/ Black reflective umbrellas
  • 2 x 42″ White shoot through umbrellas
  • 2 x 48″ Square white shoot through screens (home made)
  • 3 x Flash head diffuser domes
  • 1 x Light tent for product shots
  • 3 x Home made cardboard snoots to restrict where the light goes – check the Tutorial
  • 3 x Home made grid snoots – check the Tutorial
  • Anything else I find laying about that I can use to bounce, diffuse or restrict light – sheets, clothes, potted plants, bits of cardboard, aluminium foil, you name it I use it :)

snootMost light modifiers can be made from bits and pieces laying around the house, the grid snoots are next on my list of home-brew modifiers, there are several websites which detail how to make them and I have picked out bits from each that I like and will be making my own from black card, black drinking straws and rubber bands – details of the make will be posted on the main site with photos when I do it 😉

Other Miscellaneous Bits:

If only it stopped there it would be bad enough, but of course it doesn’t! There are a million and one other bits and pieces that I just had to have to make life worth living..

  • eBay radio flash triggers
  • Radio remote release
  • Wired remote release
  • PC sync cords
  • TTL sync cords
  • Extra batteries
  • SD cards + readers
  • Wet sensor cleaning kit
  • Dry sensor cleaning kit
  • Blower brushes
  • Duracell’s complete AA output for a month!
  • Tablet PC for easy photo retouching and tethered shooting
  • Rucksack to carry it all – as if it would even nearly fit in one LOL
  • External 2.5 inch hard drive to store photos on
  • Assorted colour gels for flash guns

I doubt for one minute that is the end of the list but I think you will probably get the idea, I believe I did say somewhere on this website I am becoming a tad obsessed with it. I have been Googling DSLR Anonymous but haven’t found a clinic yet 😉

Next thing on the agenda when I finally get my electronics head on again is to get my microprocessor camera controller/ intervalometer project into a fully cased working prototype, there’s still a good bit of work to do on the software for it and the working prototype on bread board has been dismantled when I recently changed address so I have to find the hand scribbled schematic I drew on the back of a fag packet somewhere. Rest assured that once I get it back in the running there will be complete build instructions on here with parts lists and software, I think about £60 to £100 will cover everything you will need to let the power of silicon take over the shutter release for you :)

Well that’s about it for this page I think, I will come back to it and stick in some more photos and anything I have missed sometime.

Enjoy the rest of my site and don’t be shy, say hello in the comments or even register with the site 😉

2 Responses to “My Camera Equipment”

  1. Alex Allen says:

    i always use leg warmers during the winter months to feel comfy.,-`

  2. we often need leg warmers during the cold winter months in our place. we prefer cotton or wool:`:

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