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My Gear ...

Friday, June 24, 2016

Over the last couple of months I've had a lot of people ask me what gear I shoot portraits and weddings with, so I thought I'd bear all and show you my main 'daily-use' bits of kit.  

 

I'm no 'gear head' this just represents most of the kit I will use during a wedding to deliver beautiful images.  As you can see, I'm a prime lens kinda guy, I've never really got on with zoom lenses, I know there are many people who swear by the Nikon Holy Trinity, but they're just not for me.

 

I'm primarily a natural light photographer and as such I really love fast primes, as you can probably guess, I'm a bokeh freak and love the dreamy-creamy-shallow depth of field type images these lenses are able to produce.  I think to be honest these lenses have shaped the way I shoot and hence my style and look.  I would say that 90% of the time I shoot below f/2.8 and most of the time wide open at the corresponding lenses maximum aperture. 

 

Anyhow, I'm blabbering on now !  If anyone's got any questions please don't hesitate to contact me at mail@garethscanlonphotography.co.uk or drop me a line via one of my social media pages.  Here goes ...

 

Lenses

 

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art DG HSM

I find the 35mm focal length to be very versatile indeed.  I use it for a everything from group shots, architecture, ceremonies and just about everything else.  It's absolutely tack sharp at f/1.4 and as such it ends up getting shot wide open the majority of the time.  I felt that it outperformed my Nikkor AF-S 35mm f/1.4G  so I sold my copy, purchased this and kept the substantial amount of change !  This lens delivers a lot more for less ! Perhaps the bokeh is a tincy bit better on the Nikkor but this lens is just sooo much sharper wide open, so for me, at this focal length that's what counts. It is a truly amazing lens.  For weddings, I often to be found pairing this lens with my 85mm on another body.  Between both lenses it gives me the maximum flexibility between wide and telephoto looks.  They really are a match made in heaven.

 

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art DG HSM

I've had a number of 50mm lenses over the years, stretching back to the pre-digital days.  I've owned the Nikkor 50 D type versions in both f/1.8 and f/1.4 forms in addition to the more recent AF-S 50 f/1.8G.  I loved the 50mm focal length on film but fell out of love with it on digital.  It was just too long on an APS-C sensor DSLR.  When I upgraded to full frame I fell back in love with it.  I rented the Nikkor 1.4G version and hated it's softness wide open so elected to purchase the 1.8G version.  I used it a little but didn't fall in love with it.  Then ... Sigma released their Art version, already owning their 35mm offering above, I decided I just had to own this lens ... then I fell for the 50 focal length again.  It's amazing.  Even sharper than its 35mm brother it is a truly beautiful lens with fantastic bokeh.  If I was going to take one lens - this'd be it.  It's a general all rounder being very flexible - it can do anything the 35 and 85 can do, with caveats, but will never replace either in my bag.  I absolutely love it !

 

Nikon Nikkor AF 85mm f/1.4D

I've owned this lens for many years now, despite the release of the update, I just can't bring myself to get rid of it.  This is my most used lens at weddings, it's ability to throw backgrounds totally out of focus is truly incredible - it is dubbed in the industry as the "Cream Machine" for this very reason.  Yes, the newer AF-S 85 1.4G is sharper wide open, has less chromatic aberration and is quicker and quieter at focusing, but this bokeh from this lens is far superior in my opinion - I have shot them both back to back ! I also shoot a lot of film and feel that the newer G version is warmer, something I don't quite like on film, but having said that both of the Sigma's are warm too.  It is a truly stellar portrait lens that I use extensively for single person pics. My images published in my recent street photography book were shot exclusively with this lens.  I tend to shoot this lens around f/2 to ensure I really do nail the focus and achieve maximum sharpness which is very difficult in fast moving  situations such as weddings, where I do have the time to get it right, it regularly gets shot at f/1.4 with the depth of field can literally be measured in milimetres.  I also use this lens to shoot the majority of my Brenizer style images you'll see on my Home / Landing page.  It is an absolute belter !

 

Nikon Nikkor AF 135mm f/2D DC (Defocus Control)

The absolute hands down king of bokeh (perhaps the £4000 200mm f/2 is a little nicer !).  To those of you who read on-line lens reviews - don't believe what they say about the 135 DC ! First myth to dispell is that the defocus control feature is not intended to give that cheesy 80's soft focus look, it's intended to enhance and control bokeh in the front or real planes of focus.  This has the impact of giving the absolute best bokeh I have ever seen a lens produce - I mean, I own some very expensive and exotic lenses including the aforementioned 'Cream Machine' 85 1.4D, but this lens seriously blows everything else away.  Myth buster number two, does it lack sharpness ? No not at all, my copy is well within acceptable sharpness standards wide open at f/2.  Is it as tack sharp as my Sigma's ? No, now-where near, in fact I would say that it is 'much less sharp'.  Whilst I love my uber sharp lenses, I feel that this slightly less razor sharp look in portraiture is also one of its strongest points.  It fails to render facial lines and skin defects whilst still being able to keep eyes well within acceptable sharpness levels - absolutely perfect for bridal portraits.  Indeed Nikon 'tuned' the glass to specifically alter the red spectrum to enhance skin tone.  This lens just works - it's beautiful and classic rendering reminds me of the much newer (and not so much more expensive)  AF-S 58G.  It is however not without its problems.  Focusing is hard going with this lens, it is not ideally suited to fast paced shooting, it also doesn't like certain types of light - this is a 'shooting pressure free' morning and evening lens, it loves soft light.  It is expensive, exotic, rare, complicated, difficult to learn and therefore under used.   I believe it's just about to be discontinued by Nikon.  Buy it new now before it's used value doubles !!! But, if you persevere with learning and harnessing this lens, it makes the most beautiful portraits.  Indeed I see it a little as a mini 200mm f/2 (and much cheaper !).  It really is the Ferrari of lenses, when you can get it to start it really does perform like nothing else.  It is the very reason I use the below lens so little ...

 

Nikon Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II 

This lens is perfect.  It is very sharp, has a 2.8 'all the way through' aperture, has amazing VR, is incredibly flexible, hits focus every time and is built like a tank.  But to be honest, I have a real love hate relationship with it.  It is also very expensive, heavy and intimidating to those you are pointing it at.  I just really love my fast primes and can't get on with this lens.  I mean don't get me wrong - it is amazing, truly amazing, it's just that it doesn't really suit my shooting style.  I use it during ceremonies where I really need a longer focal length or as a walk around lens at outdoor events where it's flexibility comes into its own.  It is also able to produce sharp images at 200mm at 1/30 of a second which is absolutely astonishing, the VR II technology is truly excellent.  Some of the more eagle eyed among you will notice that I've managed to modify a first version (VR 1) lens hood to fit - I just prefer it to the included hood.  I love my 135 so much more, this often sits in the bag, but nonetheless, I won't be getting rid of it - it's just too useful.

 

Lens Maintainence & Protection

 

People who get in touch often tell me that they have great difficulty in using fast primes, particularly in achieving sharp focus.  I often reply that a lot of it tends to be down to individual technique and to keep practising.  However, shooting fast primes wide open, with incredibly shallow depths of field, can often show the mis-match in tolerances between a camera body and a lens.  All manufactured items are made within acceptable tolerances, so for example in basic terms your lens is made to -1 focus tolerance and your camera body is made to +1 focus tolerance - resulting image will be unsharp due to discrepancy in focus tolerances.  As I said earlier, shooting fast primes wide open at say f/1.4 can result in the depth of field being measured in millimetres, any focus mismatches here are going to stick out like a sore thumb and ruin a potentially beautiful pic.  To combat this, I ensure that all of my lenses and cameras are calibrated using fine tuning the auto focus - checking all my lenses against all of my camera bodies.  I do this religiously once a month to ensure that no bumps and bangs have upset any of the tolerances.   I always strive to deliver the absolute best quality images to my clients - this is a part of that process.

Bit of a sticking point amongst photographers, and in particular prime shooters is the idea of using filters.  Personally, despite the argument of "you buy the absolute best glass, and cover the front element with another cheaper made piece of glass that reduces image quality", I treat my lenses with care, despite this I've killed many in the line of duty as a pro photographer, but strive to give them the biggest chance of survivability I can.  To those that say it's difficult to smash front elements - trust me it's not ! I have smashed a few !  I have conducted tests on all of my lenses and see no discernible degradation of image quality between using a filter or not.  I use Hoya HMC UV filters to protect all of my lenses, this test shows them to be the very best.

 

All of my lenses irrespective of being in or out of my bag live in ExPro Neoprene lens bags to protect them from water, dust, scratches and damage.  They are cheap, easy to use and are an absolute no brainer in protecting your kit.

 

Digital Cameras

 

2 x Nikon D700

Ahhhh .... my trusty pair of D700's.  I've had them a long time, I love them dearly, they're like old friends.  They are truly fantastic bodies, although now surpassed in technology by a whole host of other Nikon full frame cameras, but they continue to make the most beautiful images.  I don't think they need any introduction, amazing cameras, I shoot them right up to ISO 5000 and get beautiful images in non-existent light.  They've covered over 70 weddings, won me multiple competitions, been exposed to rain, wind, snow and sand, they've travelled with me across the world from the US to Europe to South East Asia, they shot my own engagement and have captured thousands of precious and important family moments !   Amongst them they've taken over half a million images for me and they've never once let me down - true workhorses in every sense of the word. 

 

Sadly, they're now coming to the end of their life and are just about to be replaced by a pair of D750's.

 

35mm Film

 

Nikon F100

This is now an old camera, I purchased it in the early noughties, it was very expensive, it was Nikon's best pro-sumer camera.  In 2016 it still works slickly and flawlessly.  As I'm sure you can see from my images and style, I still love shooting film - it has a look that is both timeless and beautiful.  It is however now, a very expensive way of making images, but nonetheless I still love it.  Within reason I try and shoot it as much as possible, and do shoot film at weddings, it's fantastic for using as 'anchor' images to get my digital files looking as much like film as I can.

At the moment, I'm shooting a lot of Fuji Pro 400H and Kodak Tri-X 400 Black and White film.  I also absolutely love Kodak Portra 400 and 800 and Fuji Superia and Neopan 400CN.  After years of shooting, I still very much trust the meter in my F100 but where I absolutely have to nail the metering I use my trusty Sekonik L358 for ambient metering.  I also use it to set up lights for off camera and studio shoots.   Again, I've had it for many years and it continues to give very accurate readings.  I just can't be without it.  It's also very useful for metering digital images in hard to meter areas such as during beach shoots.

 

Conclusion

 

Like I've said throughout, moving forward, my D700's are soon to be replaced by D750's but kit wise I don't actually want for anything.  I could really do with a wide prime, perhaps a Sigma 20 or 24 1.4 but am not much of a wide shooter, where I find it necessary I often use the Brenizer Method to stitch files to get a wider perspective ...

 

Anyhow, hope you've enjoyed the post, like I said earlier, if you've got any questions please don't hesitate to contact me at mail@garethscanlonphotography.co.uk or drop me a line via one of my social media pages.

 

Thanks for looking ...

 

G

 

 

 

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