Here is a list of photography equipment that we use! I’m a bit of a shopaholic / gear geek… so if you are thinking about adding a new piece to your set of gear, hopefully these quick reviews will sway you one way or another. My rule of thumb has always been to get good quality gear upfront so you won’t have to waste money “upgrading” that same gear later on. I generally buy my gear online since it’s the least expensive (no tax in most stores yay!)… but be warned, only buy from trusted online companies… these are the ones I buy my stuff from when I buy online: B&H Store, Amazon, and Adorama.
If you have Gear related questions, feel free to ask us at our Contact page.
- Nikon D4s: Built like a tank, best focus motor/engine Nikon makes, perfect for low light, fast paced photography (weddings!). If you shoot more studio type work that require higher resolution files, the Nikon D850 would be more than capable. The main reason we went with the D4s is that it’s a workhorse camera, has the camera buffer to just keep shooting w/o having to wait on your memory card, and it excels in low-light environments.
- Nikon D750: This is Nikon’s “consumer” grade FULL-frame sensor camera. Trust us when we say, when it comes to portrait photography… once you go full-frame, you’ll never want to go back. Although its target is the general consumer and not the “pro”, it still offers A LOT of pro features. Aside from the high quality photos (especially in low light), the best thing about this camera is its smaller size (about the same size as the D90/D7000). Because of that, it’s become the perfect camera for Kay and her smaller hands. =) We actually purchased the D4s before Nikon made the D750. If you were to buy just one camera today for portraits and lifestyle work, I would highly recommend the Nikon D750. It has the brains of the flagship $6k cameras in a more prosumer friendly price point.
- Sony Alpha A7 III mirrorless digital camera. Our casual travel/scouting camera. Its small size makes it ideal to carry around hiking or just when you’re out and about with family. Sony has greatly improved on my main issues with the previous gen A7II: the battery life and viewability of the LCD display. My favorite feature of this camera? The amazing EYE-AF. It is seriously the magic button, keep it pressed and the eye is always in focus. Best thing about this? When you give the camera to a family member or stranger to snap a photo of you, it’s always in focus now! No more blurry photos of you. You photographers know what I’m talking about. Still would like a mirrorless camera but not something as expensive? Take a look at my review of the Sony A7II first. Go view our full video review Pros vs Cons review of the Sony A7II
Buying a good lens is the best way to invest in your gear… even though it can also be the most expensive, the lenses you buy will still be just as good 10yrs from now, while your camera body will have already been “replaced” multiple times. Generally, I try to find “affordable” lenses that give you the most punch for the money. Those that will produce good quality without breaking the piggy bank open. I also prefer to keep my gear unobtrusive and lightweight… which is why my setup is primarily made of single focal length (prime) lenses.
- Nikon 28mm f/1.8G AF-S: It’s the little brother to the super expensive 24mm f/1.4G lens. I love the newer Nikon G lenses because they’re much more contrasty and can acquire focus more accurately than the older D lenses. 28mm is a good focal length because it allows you to get wide but does not distort your photos as much as 24mm would. Being an f/1.8 lens, this lens is noticeably lighter than the 1.4 lenses. When you pack a bunch of gear, every little bit of weight savings will matter. This being an f/1.8G lens will be much lighter on your wallet too =). The only negative with this lens is, the manual focus ring is a bit too soft/loose for my taste. I prefer a nice firm manual focus ring.
- Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art: This is the best 35mm lens we’ve used, and arguably the best 35mm lens out there right now. Sigma’s new art series of lenses have redefined what quality is at this price range. At nearly half the cost of the flagship Nikon versions… Sigma is able to produce BETTER image quality. I can confidently use this lens wide open at f/1.4 and still get sharp crisp images. With our style of photography, to get that certain “magic” at the 35mm focal length.. you really need that wide open f/1.4 aperture. There ARE only two CONs to this lens. Because it is not a native Nikon lens, it has inconsistent focus acquisition. If your copy has this issue, send it in to Sigma for focus calibration… it greatly helped our copy. The other CON with this lens is that it is heaver than it needs to be. Some like that it’s built like a tank, I would prefer it to be lighter in weight. I’ve never done a drop test, but I’d imagine both would break the same if dropped. The heaver Sigma lens may fall even harder.
Alternative 35mm lenses:
Nikon 35mm f/1.8G FX lens (Buy here: B&H, Amazon). I love all of Nikon’s new f1.8G lenses because they give you the big aperture at a fraction of the cost of the expensive 1.4 lenses. Having tried this lens out a little, It’s just not as sharp as the Sigma 35mm Art when shot wide open. The best thing about this lens is that it is very lightweight.
- Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S lens. This is my recommended 50mm lens from now on for anyone just starting out in portrait photography. It has all the nice features (smooth bokeh, improved near silent auto-focus, upgraded flare resistance) of the 1.4 at half the cost. It’s even sharper and focuses a bit faster than the 1.4G!
- Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art: Ok now that we’ve got the recommended starter 50mm lens out of the way. Let’s talk about the best auto-focus 50mm lens out there right now. It’s this Sigma 50mm Art. What I love about this lens? The ability to trust it at a wide open f/1.4 aperture. This allows me to capture the dreamy portraits while still getting sharpness and clarity that is required for me to trust a lens. With the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, I couldn’t trust it under f/1.8… many times using it at f/2.0 to be safe. Again, this is not an understatement… this Sigma 50mm is our new goto lens. It’s easily the 2nd best 50mm lens out there. The very best? It’s the Zeiss Otus 55mm – but that lens is MANUAL focus only, and it costs $4000. Yikes! So what’s the only CON about this Sigma 50mm Art lens? I wish it wasn’t so heavy. That’s it. When you’re lugging around a lot of gear, every little bit adds up.
- Nikon AF-S 50mm 1.4G lens: With Kay often visiting her family in the midwest (and taking the trusty 50 f1.8) I needed to get a 50mm focal length lens for myself. What’s the difference between this 1.4G and the 1.8G? The 1.4G will give you 2/3 of a stop more light (translate: better photos in low light). What’s the CON with this lens? It’s not the sharpest lens at f/1.4. This is magnified when you are 10ft plus away from your subject. It’s still a good lens for the price, but I would only trust it from f/1.8 and up.
- Nikon 85mm f/1.8G (Buy this: B&H, Amazon). This is a great alternative for those wanting to get the dreamy look of the 85mm at 1/4 the cost of its beefy f/1.4 brother. It’s the perfect portrait lens to capture 3/4 body or head/shoulder photos.
- Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD : We use this lens for our closeup detail shots (ring, jewelry etc). It also doubles as a good telephoto prime lens too! The autofocus is super fast and silent. Although, when using it as a macro lens… you should be using manual focus. The Vibration Control (VC) works very well too. There is noticeable difference when using it handheld as a telephoto lens. Want to see the difference yourself? Hand hold your camera and switch it to live-view mode then turn on/off the VC to see the difference. The value in this lens is that it performs just as well as the Nikon brand, but $200 cheaper.
- Hoya 77mm Variable Density Filter: Ok, this isn’t a LENS, but it’s a lens filter. This is the “affordable” variable ND filter. The big-brand ones will cost you $300+. This ND filter allows you to block off up to 9stops of light. The benefit of a variable ND filter is the ease of use. You can rotate to let in light to focus easily, then rotate back to close off the light. We use this filter when we want to drag the shutter in broad daylight. You will lose a little bit of contrast with this filter on, but it’s easily fixed in post. Tip for ND filters: Buy one large 77mm filter size to fit your larger lenses, then use step-down rings to fit on your smaller sized lenses.
- Nikon SB-700 speedlight: nice lightweight portable flash units. Trigger these remotely and it opens up a whole new level of creativity. These lights are awesome, they have more than enough power for me. The only reason to get the more expensive units is if you need to get the most light out of a speedlight and to use battery packs for faster recycle times. The SB-700 does not have a PC connector and does not take a battery pack. I fire these babies wireless and don’t need the ultra recycle time a machine gunning photographer may need =p Besides, if you fire off full power pops too quickly, your flash will overheat and burn out. So for multiple reasons, these are great for me (at half the cost of the larger SB-900 units).
The SB-700 adds these nice features: commander mode (can now control two groups of flashes: A/B from the flash when it is on the hotshoe), can change the flash head pattern, comes with gels, updated easier menu system). What’s the difference between the SB-700 and SB-910? The SB-910 will have more “pro” features (slightly more power (but not THAT much), pc-sync cord option, battery pack option, a better Master flash controller mode: the SB-910 lets you set each slave flash mode independent of each other and independent of the master flash. Example: Master flash is TTL, 2nd slave flash is in Manual power mode, 3rd slave is in auto TTL. With the SB-700, the slave flash modes must be the same as the Master flash. Yes, this feature is a bit technical, but if you do a lot of off-camera flash, this info is good to know =).
Flashpoint eVolv 200 (aka Godox AD200) Pocket flash (Buy this: Adorama, Amazon).
Our go-to off-camera speedlights. This is a 3rd generation product that has been greatly improved. The Godox brand (rebranded as Flashpoint for Adorama) is easily becoming the favorite for photographers because their lights are budget friendly AND reliable. These AD200 are as powerful as 3 regular speedlights combined. They come with lithium batteries that last a full day. Just think of them as an ultra-portable mini-studio strobe. Another great feature is that this light has an interchangeable head – a bare bulb head and speedlight head. They also have a built-in radio receiver. So you can trigger them remotely with the Godox radio trigger system. These are our new go-to off-camera lights because we can easily take them with us when traveling.
- Vagabond Mini Lithium portable battery: What a God-send. These are the portable power packs we use to power our studio lights. Although we no longer use studio lights because of their bulky size, these batteries are still amazing for anyone who is looking to remotely power their traditional plug-in studio lights. They are efficient and lightweight and we attach them right onto the lightstands. Made by the same Paul C Buff company that makes gear with unbeatable value, performance and service.
- Phottix Strato II remote triggers: These are the triggers we use to control our reception lighting. It has the easiest to use group lighting on/off function. For example, if you have 4 lights (one light on each corner) You can set up 4 groups: A,B,C and D. You can now toggle any group on or off just by pushing one button. No confusing menus or anything, just easy on/off. That’s what i call simple! and that’s why we use these over other triggers! Not to mention, they’ve been super reliable and super affordable too! If you’re a Canon user, make sure you get the Canon version.. and not the Nikon version that we have. =) Wait.. there’s an added bonus, you can also use these to remotely trigger your camera shutter too! It even has the press half-way to focus function.
- Impact Digital Flash Umbrella Mount Kit : In combination with the external flashes, this will probably give you the most “wow” I can take the same photos as studios do feeling. Definitely something every newbie photographer should think about. In order of progression, I would start first with umbrellas (to give you an idea of “studio” lighting)… then work your way to softboxes (once you’ve fully realized the usefulness and limitations of umbrellas).
- Westcott Photo Basics 304 5-in-1 Reflector Kit – (Get it from: B&H): A good reflector to use indoors, but I find it difficult to hold outdoors when windy. Generally, I think reflectors are great tools when used with flash strobes… but when reflecting natural sunlight it really bothers the subject. The sunlight shines right in their eyes, they will be squinting quite a bit. For outdoor use, we mainly use it with the black panel and place it at the foot of our subjects to absorb light (reducing the green reflection from the grass to the skin of subjects).
- CowboyStudio 40″ x 60″ Inches Oval 5 in 1 Collapsible Reflector (Get this from: Amazon): I love this giant reflector because it also functions as a diffusor. It collapses into a small oval but opens up to a huge diffuser/reflector. It’s rigid and easy to handle. This is our go-to diffuser now
- TriGrip Diffuser, One Stop – 30″ (75cm): This reflector is better than the 5-in-1 for outdoor portraits. At a still very affordable price, it is smaller and much easier to handle in the wind. You need to buy the gold/silver/white/black panels separately though (TriFlip Reflector Fabric Set for LR3607)
- California Sunbounce Micro Mini 2’x3′ reflector: This is the reflector I primarily use now. It is more pricey than the others but allows me these extra benefits: 1) The collapsible lightweight rigid frame makes handling it outdoors super easy. Even in super windy conditions. 3) the fabric is very taught and firm for an ideal bounce surface 3) With an adapter, I can mount my speedlights to this for added “punch” (look at this outdoor shoot for example photos).
- Westcott Rapid Box – 26″ Octa Softbox: This is a very portable, very easy to set up umbrella type octabox made for speedlights. If you need something quick, easy and sturdy… this is it. It comes with the speedlight bracket and diffusion panels so all you will need is your speedlight and a light stand. We use this on remote sessions because it is easy to set up and more sturdy than the basic umbrella setup. We use it with our monopod or painter’s pole. The one negative to this octabox is that it does not support any grids to control your light falloff.
- Alien Bees Parabolic Umbrellas: For the price, these are the best “umbrellas” I’ve used. They have more ribs than traditional umbrellas giving your more light output than the usual. Their build quality is top-notched too. I use the 64″ umbrella along with the optional diffuser screen for my indoor portrait shoots. The key difference for these umbrellas is their construction. Their umbrella ribs are made of a tough plastic that is much more resistant to falls. Other umbrellas have metal ribs that bend or break when they topple over. Make no mistake, when you’re using umbrellas.. they’ll topple over if you’re not careful to sandbag them.
- 22″ Beauty Dish: Beauty dishes are typically very heavy and expensive. The Paul C Buff company has made a lightweight and very affordable dish. Why are they called beauty dishes? They’re often used in beauty/fashion shoots for their durability and quality of light. Beauty dishes are actually reflectors. The light from the strobe shoots into a reflector inside the dish, which then bounces the light back onto the dish surface, which in turns reflects the light back onto the subject. This multiple bouncing of light results in a more even beam of light with fewer hotspots than a direct strobe would provide.
Lighting Stands & Accessories:
- Manfrotto Quick Stack System Lightstand: A good balance between heavy and super light stands. Not too flimsy and not too heavy duty. I like how they click and stack nicely together, makes them more portable than typical light stands.
- Avenger Century Stand Grip/Boom Arm kit: This is the heavy duty stand I use when I want to boom a softbox directly overhead of the subject. The last thing you want is your flimsy stand to fall and smack your subject. Ouch! Avenger stands are top notch and heavy duty. Century stands (C-stands) generally are much stronger and more stable than typical “pyramid-leg” type light stands. Having done a bit of research before I purchased these, I’ve been very satisfied with the build quality of this stand / boom kit. The price is fair too.
- Giottos Mini Ball head: This is the perfect little attachment for a speedlight. We have a few of these in our gear bag. We use this to mount our speedlights directly to a light stand. Why does this one work so well? It is pretty sturdy and because it is an actual ball-head design, it lets you swivel your speedlight in all directions.
- Kacey Pole Adapter: This is the perfect little attachment for a painters pole. Your painters pole can extend up to 12 ft. When you screw this adapter on top of the pole, it makes it act like a light stand… except one that can extend. Best use? think of it like a boom arm. You attach a speedlight to the pole, then you have an assistant hold the pole overhead. Works great for places like the beach/lake/river where you can’t put a light stand in the water. Take a look at this Beach Session for an example.
- Shur Line Easy Reach Extension Pole, 4-Feet to 9-Feet : When we need an extension pole, this is what we use. Screw on the Kacey Pole adapter (shown above) and you have an instant 4ft to 9ft extendable light pole. The best part of this pole is that it has an easy push to extend function that smoothly extends and click-locks in the length you need. Other painter poles require you to twist a knob to tighten/loosen. You can also buy these from your neighborhood Lowes Home Improvement stores.
- Tamrac 3537 Express 7 Camera Bag: If you like shoulder bags, this is a good lightweight bag to think about. It has enough space to hold your camera and 2 additional lenses. However, if you are hiking around all day with your gear, I would advise a backpack instead; it will more evenly distribute the weight of your gear.
- Lowepro Flipside 400AW Backpack: The comfy backpack we put most our gear in when we go on-location. Sometimes though, I’ll pack everything into here and leave it in the car… then use the smaller shoulder bag to roam around in. On trips that require flying, I’ll pack all the essentials in here and use it as a carry-on. No way am I checking my bags in, all essential gear is carried-on. Cool feature of this bag? It is All-Weather proof… it comes with a pull-out rain coat that wraps snugly around the entire bag when needed.
- Lowepro Flipside 200 Backpack: A smaller version of the Flipside 400. This is the perfect size for 1 camera + 2 lenses. This is the bag we use when we need to be lightweight and portable.
- Think Tank Pro Speed Belt v2: When we’re covering an event where we do not want to lug around a backpack, we use these speed belts. You buy different pouches for your lenses/accessories that attach to the belts via a super strong velcro. The pouches are adjustable and can slide back and forth for comfort. I like this belt system because it allows me to quickly get to my lenses while still being super comfortable, but most importantly it does not get in the way as I’m snapping photos. Strap along a shoulder bag all day and you’ll quickly discover how uncomfortable it is to work with it on. These belts come in different S,M,L,XL sizes so make sure you get your size. I wear size 33″ pants and fit the Medium with room to spare.
- Think Tank Airport Security ver 2: This is the roller/carry-on bag we use when we’re flying. We consolidate both our gear into this suitcase. There’s plenty of room for 3 DSLR bodies and a bunch of lenses and speedlights, and it fits inside the overhead carryon bins. This suitcase also has built-in security chains and locks (a must have for events where you may need to leave your bag unattended). It has backpack type straps just in case you need to carry it up stairs. It’s not comfortable but it works in a pinch. The wheels are ultra smooth on flat surfaces, but they are small (may not work well in dirt or grass).
Credit Card Processing:
- Square Credit Card processing (FREE!!). This is the card swiper we use to process credit card payments. It’s trusted, secure and there are no monthly fees! The dongle is free, you simply pay a 2-3% processing fee per transaction. But click on the special link here and you get your first $1000 processed free of charges. Along with mobile credit card processing, you can also send online invoices via Square.
- Induro CT214 Carbon Fiber Tripod: Super tough and not as heavy as aluminum ones. If you plan to do a lot of night time portraits, a tripod is a must. I prefer the twist locks instead of the flip locks because they are more streamlined and less prone to accidental unlocks (yes, I’m paranoid when the tripod is supporting over $4000 in the equipment). Which brings me to a rhetorical question: Why would you trust your expensive gear on a cheap $50 tripod?
- Induro CM34 Carbon Fiber 4-Section Monopod: When I need stabilization but don’t want to bring a full-on tripod, I will use a monopod. With monopods the rule of thumb is: smaller portability = more leg sections. more stability = fewer leg sections. I went with the middle-road 4 section monopod.
- Sirui T-1205X travel tripod: This is our travel tripod. It’s super lightweight at under 2lbs and folds down to 13 inches which fits INSIDE our backpack easily. The rule of thumb for travel tripods is: DONT buy the smallest and lightest model of a particular brand because those are generally more flimsy when fully extended with load. So which to buy then? Buy the next bigger model up when looking at travel tripods. At this travel size, aluminum and carbon fiber weight difference is minimal, but thin aluminum will flex more, and carbon fiber will absorb vibrations better.
- Arca-Swiss Monoball PO ball-head: With any good tripod / monopod… you will need a good ball-head system. Basically the ball-head is what your camera attaches itself to, allowing you the full range swivel motion you need. How else will you tilt and swivel your camera on that tripod? One criteria for a good ball-head is its ability to hold the tilt position. Let’s say you need to tilt your camera downwards and have framed it perfectly… the last thing you want is your cheap ball-head to creep and ruin your framing and focus you spent 5mins perfecting. Arca-Swiss is a tried and true trusted brand when it comes to ball heads. This particular model allows me to adjust tension with a quick turn of just one ring knob. Twist.. swivel… twist. Easy.
- Rode VideoMicro on-camera microphone: This is the perfect on the go compact on-camera microphone. It is a mini-shotgun microphone so it is more directional therefore great for picking up vocals and reducing surrounding noise. It has excellent build quality, does not require a battery, and comes included with a furry “dead-cat” windbreaker to dramatically reduce wind popping in your audio when outdoors. Take a look at our video review of it here: Rode VideoMicro review
- On-camera Mini Condenser Microphone This is a tiny inexpensive omnidirectional microphone from Ebay. The best feature of this mic is that it is super cheap and super small, just plug it into your mic jack on your camera. It’s perfect for recording B-roll since it picks up everything around you very well. If you are recording vocals however, a directional microphone like the Rode VideoMicro would be more ideal.
- Really Right Stuff L-bracket: When you quickly want to switch from Landscape to portrait mode on your tripod, an L bracket is your best solution. The L bracket will also ensure your panning and center of gravity is immediately over your ball-head for more stability and precision.
- Hoodman Loupe 3: Tired of not being able to see your camera LCD screen when shooting outdoors? This will solve all your problems. See every picture as though you were in a dark room. You’ll wonder how you ever lived w/o it =) … or you can just string a black towel around your neck to every shoot ;p
- Hoodman Eye Cup for D700: replace your stock eye cup with these to block stray light coming in from the side as you look through your viewfinder. These will help you with your framing too, as everything is blacked out except for your frame. Make sure you buy the ones designed for your particular model. Most Nikon cameras with a square viewfinder will fit this one.
- Black Rapid RS-5 Camera Strap: This is the camera strap that your neck is begging you for. Lug around your hefty DSLR camera all day and your neck will be raw at the end of the day. This is a shoulder camera strap that will evenly distribute the weight of your camera across your body. The difference in comfort is night and day. Get one if you are tired of your neck getting beat up all day. This RS-5 strap has additional pockets to hold memory cards and even a cell phone. They also make one fit the special curves of women too: RS-W1
- Samsung 500GB T3 Portable Solid State Drive : This is the speedy external hard drive that we use when travelling. Can’t get any faster than an SSD hard drive. It’s so fast, we use it as a working hard drive with our laptop. It plugs right into your USB 3.0 socket and will be recognized as an additional drive right out of the box.
- Spyder5Elite Display Calibration System: Have you wondered why your prints never match up to how it looks on your monitor? Monitor calibration is an art in itself… but this tool will get you off in the right direction. A must for anyone who are tired of crossing their fingers and want color accurate prints. Load up the software, put the spectrometer over your LCD screen and follow the easy steps.
- Wacom Intuos 4 Digital tablet: Draw, paint and post process your photos with a pen and tablet. Pressure sensitive pen makes airbrushing feel more natural. It takes time to get used to the pen, but after you do… you may not want to go back to editing with a mouse. For retouchers, this is a must. I chose the “small” tablet because it was the most comfortable. I returned the “medium” tablet because it felt too spacious.. too much panning with my hands from side to side of the large tablet space. Sometimes bigger just isn’t better ;p
- Sanyo Eneloop AA rechargeable batteries: These are the only rechargeable batteries to get, hands down. Have you ever charged your batteries… then pick them up a month later only to have them dead? NiMH rechargeable batteries by nature slowly discharge as they are stored. These Sanyo ones will not discharge on you after a month, they retain their charge up to 80% after half a year of not using them. I use these batteries for all my speedlights. I can’t recommend them enough. They make them in AAA size too.
- MAHA 8-cell AA-AAA battery charger: A professional battery charger with an LCD display and different charging modes to prolong the life of your rechargeable batteries. Each of the 8-bays is a discrete charger, which means you can charge just one.. or all eight.
- Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Boxed Set, Volumes 1, 2, and 3
I highly recommend buying these books if you are a noob in the world of photography and have no idea where to start, like me (but I suck a little less now after reading and trying out his techniques, yay!). The books are great because they provide clear and concise instructions and tips on utilizing your camera and creativity as means for producing better results/images. The books have been very helpful to me. Just keep in mind they are more how to improve my photography and not dissect my camera features kind of books.
- The Digital Photography Book, Volume 2
Just get the second volume if you are fairly comfortable with using your camera but want to expand your knowledge and try out different techniques for yourself.
Sponsors & Affiliates
- B&H Photo: This is where I buy the bulk of my gear. Very trusted company that has both an online store and a HUGE retail store in NYC (hope to visit it one day). They usually have the lowest prices online and have a stellar return policy.
- Amazon: Great place to buy gear, especially if you have their Free 2-day shipping Amazon Prime account.
- Borrow Lenses: Worried about whether or not you will like an expensive lens? Have a big photoshoot over the weekend and want to use “pro” grade lenses? Why not rent it? The cost will vary depending on the item, but prices are very fair. Take a look at them if you are thinking about it, they’ll send it right to your door.