Because I receive many questions
regarding the equipment that I use, I have provided on this page a brief
discussion of the technical aspects of photography, intended primarily for
My personal choice for film is 35mm. The reasons are cost,
convenience, and adequate quality. Relative to other formats, 35mm is
inexpensive, compact, light, easy to use, and modern films are so good that
35mm is adequate for almost any use. And, with the advent of high
resolution digital 35mm cameras, there is even less difference in image
quality between 35mm and larger formats.
A note on
digital cameras: In 2006 I switched from 35mm film to a digital
SLR. I now shoot with a Nikon D200. I chose Nikon because my
film cameras were Nikon, so I already owned several Nikon lenses that are
compatible with the D200. I am very satisfied shooting digital in
general, and with the D200 in particular. I recently sold a 40 x 60
print to a client taken with the D200, and the print was as good, if not
better, than previous 24 x 36 prints made from scanned 35mm film. If
you are buying a new digital camera, I would recommend a model with a
self-cleaning sensor, a feature that was not widely available when I bought
my D200, but many models have it now.
The digital field shooting experience
also has several advantages, the most significant of which is the ability to
check the histogram of each shot immediately. Also, the convenience of
not having to reload film. With two large memory cards (4GB), I find I
have plenty of storage space for a 2-3 day photo trip (typical for me)
without carrying a laptop or other storage media the field. Additional
digital advantages: instant feedback, proper exposure confirmation via the
histogram, immediate availability of images from a shoot (no waiting for
film to return from a lab), ability to switch film speed with each shot,
white balance settings more convenient that using filters, etc.
The digital learning curve was
relatively short (especially since I was very familiar with digital images,
having worked with scanned digital files from my 35mm slides for several
years). And, I found the D200 controls to be very intuitive and easy
All of the major manufacturers produce high quality equipment, certainly to
the extent that the differences in equipment are insignificant in comparison
to the ability of the photographer. I do advise that you stick with
one brand for controls familiarity and equipment compatibility. Stay
with one of the major photographic manufacturers, and avoid store brands.
If you switch from film to digital, I suggest staying with the same
manufacturer for a couple of reasons. One, your film camera lenses are
probably compatible with the same manufacturer's digital cameras (check to
make sure before purchasing). And two, there will be similarities in
the controls, hastening the learning curve.
What I use: Nikon cameras and lenses.
I advise any beginner to buy a camera that at least allows manual exposure
control, for two reasons. One, it is vital to the learning process.
To understand the variables involved in exposure control, it is necessary to
be able to take photographs in the manual mode. Two, there are
situations in which manual control is the only way to record a scene
effectively (or in more than one interpretation). Most modern
cameras have a myriad of automatic exposure modes, but I still shoot in
manual most of the time.
If you are new to photography and buying your first camera, I advise starting with a digital camera (as opposed to film).
What I use: Nikon D200 (digital
35mm), Nikon N80 (35mm film).
Buy the best you can afford. If money is a limiting factor (and isn't
it for most of us?), buy a less expensive body and better lenses. The
body is simply a film / sensor-holder -- the lens directly affects image
quality. Don't let a camera store salesman sell you an expensive
high-end camera body (which you probably don't need) and the cheapest
zoom lens (which will produce poor image quality). If you want to use
zooms, I suggest a 28-80mm and an 80-200mm (35mm equivalent), as opposed to
a 28-200 (touted as "do everything" lenses, but do everything as well as
one-size-fits-all clothing fits). For digital, something in the 18-70
or 18-135 mm range is very useful. A 70-300 mm is a good addition.
Buy a lens from your camera's manufacturer, or a lens from one of the major aftermarket lens manufacturers (Tamron, Tokina, Sigma, etc.) specifically designed for you camera. Stay away from store brands. In lenses, you will get what you pay for. A cheap lens will produce cheap-looking images.
What I use: Nikkor 28mm f/2.8, Nikkor
60mm f/2.8 AF Micro, Nikkor DX (digital) AF-S 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G ED, Nikkor
80-200mm f/2.8 ED IF.
You might not like this advice. It involves a piece of equipment that
you probably consider optional, is awkward and heavy to carry around, and
requires a considerable amount of time and inconvenience to use in the
field. Worse yet, it will cost at least $200. Buy a tripod.
More specifically, buy a heavy, high quality tripod and use it religiously.
A tripod will do two things for you. First, the obvious. Don't let anyone mislead you. At almost any shutter speed, and certainly at any shutter speed that you will use to produce the type of images that you see on this web site, you will get appreciably sharper images using a tripod as opposed to hand-holding your camera.
A second advantage to using a tripod,
less obvious but just as significant, is improved compositional control.
Using a tripod results in more effective compositions. It allows you
to analyze the scene and make precise adjustments in composition, ensure
level horizons, and check the corners of the frame for unwanted inclusions.
A necessary related accessory is a cable release.
I almost never take a photo without a
What I use: Bogen 3221.
(Although I now primarily shoot digital, the following advice is still
relevant to those shooting film). Film depends on your personal preferences
and intended use, but there are some general guidelines. If your goal
is prints, use print film. If you really want to learn the nuances of
exposure and have complete creative control of the final image, use slide
Manufacturer is a matter of personal
preference. Each film, within a manufacturer's own line, includes its
own unique characteristics. I like the saturated colors of Fuji Velvia
-- some photographers hate it (for the same reason). (Note that Fuji
Velvia is probably the most popular film among professional and serious
amateur landscape and nature photographers.) As a general rule, slower
film (lower ASA rating, such as 50) produces higher quality (less grain,
better sharpness, more saturated colors). It also requires slower
shutter speeds. Not a problem if you use a tripod (see above).
I advise you to stick with one film
for your landscape photography, as this allows you to learn that film,
become familiar with its characteristics and exposure latitude.
What I use: Fuji Velvia 100 ASA slide
film. Fuji's new Velvia 100 supposedly has the same color saturation,
and equal or better sharpness, as the original Velvia 50. I find that
to be true.
Filters are a useful accessory. There are literally hundreds, and
their use is a matter of taste. I only use a very few. My
primary use is to enhance what is already there, not to create an
artificial-looking effect. A filter used effectively improves the
image, but its use is not apparent.
What I use: When I shot film, the
three basic filters I used were split neutral density, 81B, and polarizer.
Now that I primarily shoot digital, the 81B (warming) filter is no longer
needed (replaced by the white balance control on the digital camera).
There is also less use for the split ND, as the digital technique of
shooting the same scene at various exposures and combining them in Photoshop
later can be utilized. I still use the polarizer extensively, as I did
The split neutral density (half
clear, half light gray, with a gradual transition) is useful in dealing with
a high-contrast situation (such as a bright sky, or part of a scene sunlit
and part in shadow) where the scene contains a range of contrast beyond the
exposure latitude of the film. The 81B (slight warming) is useful in
correcting the blue cast in open shade or on overcast days. However, I
use these two filters very seldom.
The most useful filter for the nature
and landscape photographer is the polarizer, and I use it quite often.
The most popular use is to darken blue skies, but I find it even more useful
for eliminating glare and reflections on foliage and wet rocks, therefore
letting the true colors show through. This can be especially useful
for fall foliage. I also like to use it in stream photos to let the
rocks on the bottom show. This filter is just as useful when shooting
digital as it is with film.
I would be happy try to provide brief answers to any technical questions regarding equipment, etc.