I’m often asked what cameras do I use and while I’m not a gear oriented kind of photographer, I do think you need the right tool for certain type of photographic work. No, you do not need a 1DX mk II to take pictures of your cat but you could not take pictures of people running in the night under a torrential rain with good results using a pink point and shoot that you got for Christmas when you were a kid.
The important thing is to completely understand what type of work you are doing and what you need to achieve the results you want. Do not buy a camera because “you think it’s good”. Get the camera and the lens you need if you know why you need it. Also, keep in mind that the visual aspect of your final image will come from the lens, not the camera. Spend more time trying different lenses and learn what style you want to achieve. Invest more in lenses than in cameras.
What you need depends of what you are doing. I once thought that it was vital to always have a tripod with me and when my mentor, a famous photojournalist here in Quebec said; “tripods are useless, would you ever ask someone to stand still while in the action of the moment??”. I thought he was crazy and that it made no sense until I started doing photojournalism. I don’t bring my tripod anymore and I don’t consider it a useful part of my kit. But that’s just for me, doing photojournalism and taking pictures of people. Don’t try taking a picture of star trails in the Arctic and standing still with a camera in your hands for 5 hours straight in the night (seriously don’t try, it could be really dangerous, frostbites and everything).
I like having two cameras with me at all times to have two lenses (meaning two different focal lengths) always ready. It’s also safer that way; if one camera breaks down, I still have the other one. I only use full frame cameras as I like the depth it provides and the authentic focal lengths you get. It’s also nice to have a big viewfinder to look inside.
So here it is, the gear I’m using;
Main camera: Canon EOS 5Ds
Yes I know it’s not a typical photojournalism camera and I’m aware you do not need 50 megapixels to print 800x800 pictures in a newspaper BUT I really print a lot and I like to show big prints in exhibitions. My future potential projects also involve REALLY BIG prints where the 50 megapixels will make a difference. All around, I like the camera, not much different from a 5D mk III besides more megapixels and slightly slower fps. The writings on the strap of “Canon EOS 5Ds” are also in gold color rather than the usual white color which makes me feel special.
Second camera: Canon EOS 6D
It used to be my main camera and I used to love and hate it. In terms of DSLR and image quality, it can’t get much better (at the time) for the price tag and the weight/size of the thing. It’s cheap, small, light and with a full frame sensor performing really well in low lights. HOWEVER, it’s supposed to be rugged and weather sealed but can’t compare with a 5D body and it’s breaking apart gradually (I think it did not like the earthquakes in Nepal). There is an actual limit on how much black electric tape can hold a camera together and its now allergic to water. The autofocus is really basic (one usable 2.8 cross focus) and limited after being used to the EOS 7D. I must add that the integrated wifi and GPS, without being crucial are still really useful sometimes.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L
This is my portrait lens and my all around lens for most situations. It’s a rather classic and natural focal length and I like the fact that you need to get really close to your subject to make a close cropped portrait. You get inside their personal space and it shows on the picture that the person is CLOSE to the viewer. As a photographer, you need to interact with your subject to be this close and this is what the image reflects. The really large aperture makes it a unique lens and the creamy bokeh (blurry effect of the out of focus part of the picture) is really unique as no other autofocus lens on the market provides this kind of aperture (except the Canon EF 85mm that is). As every other L lenses, it’s really tough and well constructed. I really like it.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
This is as good as a lens can get in so many different aspects. Tack sharp from wide to long focus and even at wide aperture. It’s beautifully built and almost indestructible. I love it for photojournalism, teleobjective focal length allows you to get the action without being completely involved. It gives you the possibility of taking a shot of the action without influencing the subject by your presence. I like it for photojournalism but even if it’s a near perfect technically speaking lens for portraits, I prefer shorter lens for more familiar portraits. Being closer to your subject, physically and emotionally shows in the pictures with shorter focals such as 35mm or 50mm. Again, technically, the lens is perfect and the results on the 50 mpx of the 5Ds are nothing but stunning.
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS
I really like this lens even though I’ll probably stop using it! I used to like the effect of wide angle lenses, especially in travel and landscape pictures but as I tend to do less and less of these, I don’t use the wider end as often anymore. The lens is mainly always at 35mm and as wide as possible. At this point, I just wish I had a 35mm f/1.4L, faster and giving a better bokeh. The 16-35mm is a very good lens though and always useful to have a wide angle in the kit, just in case. It’s light, really tough, and quite cheap for an L lens, sharp, fast focusing and the Image stabilization is useful as you can shoot hand held at extremely slow speed. All in all, I like the lens but its biggest fault is not being the Canon 35mm f/1.4L II I would prefer for photojournalism.
I also carry 5 batteries, loads of SD and CF cards, lens cloths, lens pen and all the usual.
My main bag for photojournalism mission is a Lowepro Pro Messenger 200 AW, it’s good and I really like it but it lacks some features of the “newer” generations of bags such as tablet/laptop compartment and such. Invest time, energy and money to find a good back that suits your needs. Don’t go for the cheap bag that will be unpractical while shooting and unsafe for the cameras. Save yourself some pain and broken gear on the long end.
Remember, gear is a tool, a mean to an end and not an end. A carpenter is not considered talented because he has a good hammer but he still needs the proper hammer to do his job correctly. Never, ever try taking pictures with a hammer, won’t work.