Technical or equipment related posts aren't everyone's cup of tea, but I hope are of interest for the photographers who follow the blog and interact on twitter. If there's one thing we photographers like to talk about it's our kit! We are an industry known for GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome - a diagnosis courtesy of Zack Arias), where it's too easy to get drawn into the latest developments, model changes, bags, camera straps, etc... Over the last couple of years, I have progressively slimmed down my kit bag to the bare essentials. Part of it is an appreciation and understanding of only using what is necessary to get the job done whilst delivering at the highest quality possible. Another key element to attaining the confidence to shoot with just the essential equipment is that I am now so much more aware of what I am looking for in an image, I then realised how much unnecessary kit I had and felt the need to reduce and simplify. It began with getting rid of my zoom lenses and switching to an all prime lineup (24, 35, 50, 85mm), and then gradually (still in fact) getting rid of any other superfluous kit, gadgets and gizmos.
I blogged in 2012 about my kit list for documentary photography, and again on the usage of the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and how that superb camera had found a place in my bag. Well, it's all changed again. In fact I have precisely none of the same kit I was using this time last year.
Out with the old
Upgrading camera bodies is something I schedule to do every three years. My kit gets used a lot, and hard, so three years is a good timescale for doing so. Equipment gets written off over that period, so any residual value in it just helps to purchase the next upgrade. I had been pushing the low light capabilities and focussing limits of the Nikon D700 for some time, and with the new D800 just released, and a lower D600 model on the way, it seemed like a good time to change whilst they still had some secondhand value left in them.
This is where the Nikon fans can turn away, as what made this an extra big shift is that I not only changed the bodies, but the entire system to...
Fujifilm X100s, f/2.8, 1/90, ISO6400
I have no passionate brand allegiance or particular love for camera gear (except maybe Leica). Ultimately, they are tools to do my job, and I'll use whatever the best tool is at a given time. I did some testing of the newer Nikon models, and alongside them the Canon 5D Mk3, which had been getting glowing reports and particular praise for it's autofocus speed and low-light image-making capabilities. I've said before, these are the most important aspects of camera performance for my work. I had previously used the 5D Mk2 and not been impressed. Sure, it was a pretty good camera but as a lifelong Nikon user the controls felt alien, and in the brief time I had to use it (I had no choice as one of my D700s was in for repair), I didn't like it at all. Given that most of my work is in low light, low contrast environments, the shockingly bad autofocus on the 5D Mk 2 really put me off it.
Based on the previous experience I was a bit apprehensive about how it might be using the new Canon. No need. What a camera. The controls, whilst different to Nikon (and still not quite as good in my opinion) were much improved, but the autofocus, low light performance and ultimately image quality were a revelation, way ahead of the Nikon D700s I had been using.
In with the new
After costing up a full switchover, it looked practical to sell all my Nikon gear and go Canon. I made the move gradually transitioning to a reduced lens lineup. I was switching from the 24/35/50/85 on Nikon to just a single body with a 35 initially, using my Fuji X-Pro with a 90mm equivalent as the second body. Since then I have gone to dual bodies with an 85 (I've long admired that lens - f/1.2 is pretty amazing) and a 17-40 for ultra-wide use and backup. All the lenses are Canon L series and are technical brilliance.
Fujifilm X100s, f/4, 1/40, ISO6400
Before I go on further, I will just say that there isn't much gap between the big main camera manufacturers now. It's shades of grey when it comes to performance and quality. I've never been a pixel-peeper and certainly don't appraise or write about kit in that way. It's more about usability, speed and overall dynamic ability. I need to be able to get the shot quickly and know that the final result will be good. I made a decision - business and technically - that the Canon 5D3 was the better option for me at the time. After 9 months of use, that decision is fully vindicated. I feel more brand affection now than I did with Nikon, but that's not to say I'd never go back. These are the perfect tools for the job, at the present time.
The first weekend of using the Canons properly, I was shooting at ISOs that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. Client images at 25600? No problem. Low light, barely visible - bring it on. The ability to handle challenging and mixed lighting conditions is really where this camera excels. Here's a few images from that first weekend of use at two fairly intense weddings - a great way to put a camera through it's paces!
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/2.8, 1/160, ISO100
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/2, 1/40, ISO12800
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/2, 1/25, ISO1000 (auto)
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/4, 1/160, ISO4000 (auto)
To really demonstrate the camera's low light performance, this next shot was taken of my son in his room, where the only light on was out of the door, round a corner down the hallway, it's actually near dark (was too dark to focus - barely even see), but at a staggering ISO25600 the image quality is incredibly good.
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/1.4, 1/50, ISO25600
It is an exceptional camera. They're well built, solid, weather sealed (I've been in pouring rain with them several times) and importantly they don't get in my way for making images - the handling, metering and reliability is excellent. Above all, the image quality is superb. It has superb dynamic range and handles extremes of exposure better than any other digital camera I've used. The files process beautifully and have a definite 'feel' to them. The only thing that stops it being my all day every day camera is the size. But that's no indictment of the cameras - just the obvious statement that different uses require different tools.
For most of last year, the X-Pro was my go-to camera. As a much smaller system producing comparable image quality to the old Nikons, and pretty close to the Canons (certainly still viable to use alongside for important client work), I preferred to pick up the X-Pro more regularly for personal image making. Before I fully went Canon with two 5D3s, I shot several weddings using a 5D3 / X-Pro combo. That made travelling a little lighter when I photographed a wedding in Switzerland in September, particularly during the 3 hour hike up the mountains.
The little Fuji aways performed admirably alongside the Canon and I am full of praise for what Fuji are doing in the professional market currently.
My working approach with prime lenses works best with two identical cameras, and I made the decision to add a second 5D3. From then on the Fuji was then getting even less use and when I did use it I was more aware of it's limitations in use; particularly focussing. Going to dual 5D3s was another step change for me and it became the superb combination I have been using for over six months now.
The Fuji had certainly earned it's keep as my silent stealthy camera, and enabled me to get images in situations where I simply wouldn't have been allowed to get with the noisy thundercrack D700 shutter. The 5D3 has a silent mode which put the final boot to the X-Pro. Recently I realised it wasn't getting any use at all, so made the decision to sell it. I was genuinely sad to see it go as it was fabulous camera (the one I had with me when my second son was born), but it's time was over and it's important to me to keep my kit line up refined and as productive as possible.
I sold the Leica as well. It wasn't getting much use either, so I decided to let it go to a new home. That I do regret. Ah well...
After the X-Pro went, I found a bit of a gap in my camera lineup, wanting something small, transportable, for family / personal use and still high quality that could work on commissions sometimes. I couldn't avoid hearing chatter about the new Fuji X100s which shares a lot of technology from the X-Pro (same sensor), and updated speed and performance from the older X100 which I had tested and enjoyed, but felt was let down by it's focussing. So a few weeks back I got one and again - wow. Fuji have listened to feedback and produced a simply outstanding professional product.
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/4, 1/160, ISO4000 (auto)
Other than a few test shots at home, I used it for the first time properly at a wedding. I was that confident in it's quality and ease of use (it's so similar to the X-Pro in many ways that it was an easy decision to use it). Superb. Images looked great in the edit and will be delivered to clients. And that, is as good a recommendation as needed for me. Fun to use, professional quality. Well done Fuji. That one is a keeper.
Other than a change in brand also for the flashes (to Canon of course - 430EXII if anyone interested), most of my supporting kit is the same. I now use a set of Phottix Odin TTL flash triggers which have performed brilliant on the (documentary) occasions I need to use them. In my opinon and for my work they function better than the previous industry standard PocketWizards. I bought a couple of new bags - ThinkTank Retro 10 for my Canons, and a Billingham Hadley Pro for the Fuji). The old Peli is indestructable and has travelled thousands of miles with me now by plane, train, and automobile. Also functioning as a seat, step, door jam, coat hanger, it's a lifetime purchase!
No more GAS
This is most definitely a lineup that I can see lasting. I think the kit is now at a level where increments will be minor rather than revolutionary over the last few years. I've yet to find a situation that the Canons haven't performed well in, or at the very least been able to get the shots necessary. With the X100s as a perfectly viable backup camera and for personal use, I have no frustrations with any of my kit and am completely enjoying using it. Which is a good thing as this year is already at the same number of weddings as the last, and looks to beat the previous record. Maybe I will need an early upgrade after all.
More images from the Canon 5DMk3
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/4, 1/125 ISO12800
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO100
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/4, 1/160, ISO1000
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/4, 1/2, ISO2000
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/1.8, 1/160, ISO2500
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/2, 1/160, ISO8000
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/2, 1/400, ISO100
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/2, 1/125, ISO100
Canon 5DMk3, 35mm, f/2, 1/320, ISO100
Canon 5DMk3, 85mm, f/2, 1/160, ISO200