18 August 2017

What's In My Camera Bag?

The common adage is that the best camera you have is the one you have with you. I get the sentiment of the quote but I don't really buy it, especially with my technie/nerdie disposition (need for specs, high-end quality and the such). Smartphone cameras these days are blowing our minds, and rightly so as they can produce some extraordinary photos even in low light. But I would never substitute a capable 'proper' camera for one. After much researching and purchasing and testing these past few years, here is the gear that's usually found on my person when travelling.

Sony a6300

Without which nothing would be possible. Before my trip to Yosemite last spring, I had been anxiously waiting for Sony to ship this before my trip and thank goodness I got it, just a couple of weeks before flying out. Light, durable, top notch image quality, EVF, fast autofocus and 4K video recording = brilliant. It has its faults and drawbacks: no IBIS (in body image stabilisation) means that using non-stabilised lenses won't be as steady as Sony lenses with OSS; display is not touchscreen meaning tapping to focus is not a thing on the 6300; can overheat when shooting in 4K; and questionable battery life. Most of those issues are remedied in the a6500 (which was only released eight months after the a6300...) but I'm not upgrading any time soon - this is a great camera and will be at my side for many years to come.

I've been using mirrorless cameras for a while, November 2010 to be exact when I bought the very first Sony APS-C mirrorless camera at a Currys duty free at Gatwick airport (slight impulse buy...). Back then, I wanted a small, light body with excellent image quality. It definitely had its problems (focusing and tracking being the main ones) but Sony's mirrorless technology and cameras have come on massively. The a7S is becoming the camera of choice for wedding videographers with the a6300/6500 as a steady second camera, the A7R is being used more in professional shoots and the newly released A9 is beginning to convert sports and wildlife photographers.

I may sound like a mirrorless fanboy but in my opinion, the technology gains and now advantages that mirrorless offers over standard DSLRs from Nikon and Canon cannot be ignored. I probably jumped on the bandwagon a bit too early with the original NEX 3 but these cameras are now arguably the gold standard.

Sony E 35mm F1.8 OSS

The APS-C version of the full frame 'nifty-fifty'. The lens most often attached to my a6300, the 35mm is the lens closest to a 'normal' human perspective/field of view (30mm on an APS-C sensor, 45mm on a full frame). It's sharp, it's quick, it's pretty light, durable and has OSS (optical steadyshot for steadier photos and videos). This lens is a must have for any Sony APS-C E mount camera. It's a jack of all trades (landscapes, portraits and everything else), not quite perfect for everything but close enough and that F1.8 is great for low light work and even astrophotography. Final note: combine this lens with Clear Image zoom on newer Sony cameras and this thing can become up to a 70mm with little to no image degradation - marvellous.

Sony a6300 with Sony E 35mm F1.8

Sony E 50mm F1.8 OSS

Heavier than the 35mm but the sharpest lens in my bag, just beating the 35mm (DxOMark backs me up on this). This is what I use when I want to 'spy' on people when filming videos or for lovely portrait work. It's a bit too tight for normal situations but for specific situations, it's sharpness and F1.8 aperture make it golden. Finally, again, like the 35mm, use this lens with Clear Image zoom and you're pushing 100mm. 

Sony NEX 5R with Sony E 50mm F1.8

Sony E 10-18mm F4 OSS

Doesn't see as much usage is the 35mm or 50mm as it doesn't really suit street photography or portraits - it's more for 'special occasions'. Being super-wide, I usually use it for scale and context, to make photos more immersive, to capture the whole scene. It's not as sharp nor as fast as the two aforementioned lenses but the combination of a wide lens, F4 constant aperture and OSS make for a very handy lens in my bag.

Sony a6300 with Sony E 10-18mm F4

HOYA Pro Neutral Density ND16 Filter 

This is a must for me when shooting video. If I'm shooting in fairly bright lighting and have my shutter speed locked at 1/50 sec (to then use in 25p footage), my aperture will usually stop all the way down to F22 which will reduce speed, sharpness and introduce diffraction. Screw this on and you can bring that aperture down to a more bokeh-licious aperture like F4 and wider. The ND16 will bring a four stop light loss; F22 will become F5.6, F16 becomes F4, F11 becomes F2.8 etc. I went for HOYA, a good and reputable brand but there are tons of other good brands out there. Just make sure that you select a ND filter which is appropriate for your camera, lenses and needs (check filter thread sizes).

Sony NP-FW50 Batteries

The worst problem about the a6300 is battery life. Easily. This camera will eat batteries in one go. Gulp. Swallow. Gone. Next one. Okay, it's not quite so dramatic but with the large-ish sensor, EVF, mirrorless tech, fast AF, high resolution display and outputting 4K, don't expect this camera (or other similar ones in Sony's product range, including the A7 series) to do as well as their DSLR brethren. So yeah, definitely stock up on some batteries. Doubling annoying is that, unless you purchase a separate wall charger, you have to plug in your camera to charge the battery; which Sony exec thought that that was a good idea? I go for the official batteries - I tell myself that they offer better performance than third party alternatives (probably).

SanDisk Extreme Pro 64GB SDXC

I did a post a while ago about the importance of buying a good SD card (Buying a Good SD Card) in terms of buffer rates and recording images and videos to the card. This card does a stellar job of handling the 6300's 8 fps burst mode and I have no hesitation in recommending this SD card. It also comes in 32, 128, 256 and 512GB variants. 

Giottos Air Rocket

Never blow on a lens to get dust off: not only will you probably fail to get all the dust off that has been residing on the glass but who knows what other particles you might be transferring onto it...
Instead, get yourself one of these air blower/rocket things which will obliterate all the dust...sort of. It does a fantastic job removing almost all particles from your lens (and camera sensor for that matter). Tip: keep it in airtight bags to ensure that no dust enters the rocket itself.

So there you have it, the contents of my camera bag. I've been researching lenses and other gear and accessories to complement my kit for quite some time. I've looked at full frame E mount lenses for the a6300 but I can't justify spending so much on a full frame lens when it offers only marginal gains and would be better used on the a7 series with its larger sensor and higher resolutions. Some APS-C lenses don't offer OSS which is a no-no for me and a reason why my Sigma 19mm F2.8, although offering excellent image quality, has now been relegated to the bookcase, literally.

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