My Gear

Sony A7RIII with Zeiss Sonnar 55mm FE 1.8

Sony A7RIII with Zeiss Sonnar 55mm FE 1.8

Gear matters.

When people say to me, “You must have a great camera”, I have trained myself not to bristle at the implication (intended or otherwise) that it is all about the gear and not about the photographer and simply reply, “Yes, I do. And I’m thankful.”

And I AM thankful! My camera is superb. A Sony A7RIII. It is packed with state of the art technology (even though it has now been replaced by the A7RIV!). It takes great pictures when set up and handled as it should be. It has excellent dynamic range and facilitates large prints. It is reasonably compact and light enough for my sixty-six year old body to cope with. And Sony lenses are excellent.

A brief history of time (and money)

I had great fun learning photography on a twin lens Rolleiflex, back in the day. (It wasn’t so much fun for landscape photography.) This was preceded by a Pentax ME. Good for taking photos of the kids but not so great with landscapes. When I began to take landscape photography more seriously, after a gap of many years, I moved to Nikon. It felt better in my hands than the equivalent Canon, and a friend gave me a free lens! A series of Nikons followed, each with a little better resolution and dynamic range than the one before until I bought my first ‘full frame’ Nikon, a D800E which quickly became a D810. What a great camera! But bulky, especially for travel. Many photographer friends had switched to Fuji, so I added some Fuji gear to my kit, ending with the XT2. It handled superbly, travelled well and had great lenses. But I still used my Nikon for much of the serious landscape work as I preferred the higher resolution.

At that time I realised that it was all getting too much to cart around. Multiplying choices is not always a good thing. I needed to slim it all down and plump for one system. It was then my son decided it would be better for me to get a camera with better video features. (He’s a movie director.) The only choice, it seemed to him, was Sony. So I moved to the dark side. Sold all my gear and bought Sony. (Which my son has only used once…!)

That’s the story. Will it have another chapter or two? Possibly. I would love to try one of the medium format Fujis, but I’m probably too old (and would need to sell my car!). Might I even revert to film in my old age, and buy a Hasselblad (everyone wants a Hasselblad)? And who knows where technology will go next.

For now it’s Sony and I’m more than happy with that. I enjoy gear and find it fun. It makes it possible to take photos. But it’s only a tool. A brilliant and enjoyable tool - but just a tool. The best thing is when you know your gear so well that it gets out of the way and you can get on with trying to create good photos. I still have some way to go to learn all the features of the Sony. And learning to create good photos never stops.

Lenses and things

In my bag currently I have 4 lenses, although I often go out with only two. I have a Zeiss Sonnar 55mm which I recently purchased for taking photos of my grandchildren. It is a lovely lens to use: small, lightweight, fast and incredibly sharp. I’ve used it a little in landscape work but as it is often not possible to “zoom with my feet” in my coastal photography (without falling into the sea) I most often leave this lens at home.

For the large vista landscape work I do, I use the Sony 16-35 F4. It is excellent, sharp especially around F8 and quite light. I’m very happy with the results I get from it.

Four lenses and a spare battery

Four lenses and a spare battery

For medium and telephoto work I use the Sony 24-105 F4. It is the heaviest lens I own, although even then it isn’t too heavy, and is especially good for more intimate landscapes and for woodland photography. It is extremely versatile, and if I can only take one lens with me when I travel, this is it.

Finally, I have a Zeiss Batis 18mm F2.8. I bought it for astrophotography. It is light and insanely sharp. However the jury is still out as to whether the A7RIII/Zeiss Batis combination is the best for astrophotography. I need to do more, but we don’t have that many clear nights in Northern Ireland. I used it in Joshua Tree National Park early this year and it did a good job. However I have had some issues with multicoloured ‘hot pixels’ in long exposure shots at night. This, I think, is likely to be a camera issue and not a lens issue.

Orion’s belt hangs in the night sky over a Joshua Tree in Joshua Tree National Park, California (March 2019)

Orion’s belt hangs in the night sky over a Joshua Tree in Joshua Tree National Park, California (March 2019)

The eagle eyed will notice that I also have an L-bracket on my camera. This is a SmallRig bracket, an excellent company who quickly replaced the first bracket I ordered as it didn’t fit properly. This one has done the job but I would probably recommend paying the extra money and purchasing an L-bracket from Really Right Stuff. I find that the SmallRig version moves too easily and isn’t an exact fit.

The things that look like red tags, are attachments from a company by the name of Peak Design that enable the quick fit or release of any of their camera straps. Very handy and the straps are excellent.

Other gear essentials

The most important piece of kit next to a camera/lens combination is the tripod. I have two of these. One very light and compact carbon fibre travel tripod from 3 Legged Thing. It is great but it is not very stable in windy conditions. And I’m forever forgetting to tighten the legs properly as there are so many (4) locking rings to tighten on each leg! But very useful, and esssential for low light and long exposure photography. (I used it when taking the photo in Joshua Tree National Park above).

My rather weathered main tripod setup, with Arca Swiss P0 ball head and Really Right Stuff quick release lever.

My rather weathered main tripod setup, with Arca Swiss P0 ball head and Really Right Stuff quick release lever.

My other tripod is a Gitzo. It’s a bit of a monster, even though it is carbon fibre. I bought it in a sale in New York quite a few years ago and it is beginning to show signs of sea water corrosion (my fault). It is tall - extending out to well over two metres. I’m not quite that tall, but sometimes when shooting on very uneven levels, or shooting with one leg of the tripod in a river, this has proved its worth.

For a ball head I use an Arca Swiss PO. It is lightweight and brilliantly engineered and has coped easily with all of my camera lens combination, including the much heavier Nikon. Its unique design abandons traditional locking knobs and replaces them with a three element geared locking system. This system allows the head to be positioned at any angle. It also is an ‘upside down’ design, allowing use of the head for panning without adding any accessories. I use it with a Really Right Stuff lever release, which also works very well. When I travel, this is the ball head I take with me.

Of the making of bags…

Manfrotto ProLight messenger style camera bag

Manfrotto ProLight messenger style camera bag

… there is no end! At least according to my wife. The search for the perfect camera bag is futile when gear size and shape (and quantity) keep changing.

At the moment I switch between three bags. A small Manfrotto messenger type bag suffices for a one lens setup - when out with the family, for example. A slightly larger Manfrotto messenger bag works for a two lens set-up, especially for travel as it easily complies with all carry-on regulation. For landscape photography at home, especially if it involves any degree of trekking (and it usually does) I use a Mindshift (ThinkTank) BackLight 26L backpack. It carries all my gear, including filters and accessories and does a good job. If I were to add the 100-400 lens to my kit then I think the bag would struggle but until that happens, if ever, this is likely to be my bag until it falls apart (which it shows no sign of doing!).

BackLight 26L

BackLight 26L


Droning on…

This is a much longer post than I intended.

I have a drone. (Again, I blame my son who thought it would be more fun than another lens!) It is a Mavic 2 Pro. As drones go, it seems very good. Stable and takes surprisingly good still photos in addition to video. If I was more interested in video I think it would be essential but as it is I’m not so sure that I will have it with me for long.

Mavic 2 Pro

Mavic 2 Pro

There’s no doubt that a drone provides a unique perspective on familiar places. It also provides an opportunity to explore and photograph impossible to reach locations.

One of my very first drone photographs, taken in the early morning as I stood at my front door! The BBC used it for their weather forecast that day!

One of my very first drone photographs, taken in the early morning as I stood at my front door! The BBC used it for their weather forecast that day!


And it is a lot of fun, as long as it is used wisely, sensitively and within the law.

A drone provides a unique perspective on well known locations. Mussenden Temple.

A drone provides a unique perspective on well known locations. Mussenden Temple.


So why do I hesitate? For three reasons. First, I’m a stills photographer. Second, I prefer the ‘normal’ perspective for the vast majority of landscapes. Third, it ties up money that could go towards that 100-400 lens! (No really, I don’t need it….)

If I could start again…?

If I could do it all over again, as far as gear is concerned, what would I do differently? Probably nothing. I would most likely make the same mistakes again! I have a way of being able to persuade myself that I really NEED an item of gear, only to discover, once it has been purchased, that I don’t really need it.

However, I have a few observations, gathered over the years.

The first is that technology is not the same as creativity. Cameras record, Photographers make photographs. It is true that more expensive gear can allow a photographer a greater range of possibilities (not always a good thing) but a good camera is not synonymous with a good photographer.

Second, all contemporary cameras that I have encountered are excellent: Fuji, Nikon and Sony are the brands I have used. Many photographer friends use and love Canon. I have no interest in brand loyalty or in championing the cause of one brand against another.

Third, there is no perfect camera. Not yet anyway. So it can pay to think through what is most important to you. Is there a particular feature you can’t be without - such as the ability to do in camera multiple exposures, for example (Sony, are you reading this?). It is also important to ask what you intend to do with your best photos? If they are simply for your Instagram feed, you don’t need a full-frame or medium format camera. (But you may want to buy one anyway.) But if you are planning to print large (30x20” or larger) you might at least need to consider a camera with a larger sensor (although I continue to print up to that size from my Fuji XT-2 files without any difficulty.) Are you planning to do much astrophotography? Not every camera handles low light equally well. So, ask yourself and others plenty of questions. Buy, enjoy, learn and don’t look over your shoulder at what others are using!

Fourth, pressing the shutter button (or cable release - and I do have a remote cable release for the Sony) is only part of the process of creating a photograph. Processing and printing are also very important. While printing is perhaps best done in a professional lab rather than at home (I do both for smaller prints), processing is done on your computer. So it will require investment in terms of gear (a computer) and software (I use a combination of Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and NIK software from DXO.)

Fifth, (and finally) although this is not strictly a gear issue, investing in photography education and experiences are hugely important and beneficial. I have learned plenty from books and YouTube videos, but I’ve learned most from being in the field with photographers who are more experienced than I am. So before purchasing that additional lens, why not think of taking a workshop or taking a trip somewhere that will challenge your photography skills?

Gilbert Lennox