My gear changed — again — a lot in these last couple of years. Quarantine restrictions are finally a thing of the past, but I have now a kid that has become the subject of most of my photography. And my workload — stress aside, very thankful for that! — has shot up a lot, so I don’t have much time to spend in nature or to develop and scan film anymore.
I still love and shoot film occasionally, but rolls and sheets are just piling up on a shelf in the fridge, waiting for the day I will have time to actually take care of them—no good lab nearby.
Luckily, I finally found a few digital kits capable of giving me consistently, and without much fuss, the colors I wanted, at least most of the time. A couple of them are also really enjoyable to shoot with, on par with most of my beloved film cameras!
You will also notice that most of these cameras are relatively low resolution, in contrast with what we are accustomed to these days. This is for a couple of reasons:
- I find — for my taste — new high-resolution cameras way too sharp and clinical. Maybe because I’ve grown up using film, but in general I like better the results from low res cameras
- If needed, for really huge prints, I still like better the results of upscaling lower resolution files with the exceptional piece of software that is Topaz Gigapixel Ai. Word of caution: experiment with the various modes and most of all use it on a powerful CPU (I have a Macbook Air M1 and it runs smooth as silk)
Pretty much all of the cameras I now like have pros and cons, so I tend to use each of them on a case-by-case basis, according to the scenario I will probably be in. Some of them are exceptional in good light and terrible in poor light; some excel for people; some are small and portable. Finally, some like the D800 are jacks of all trades (but masters of none).
So here is the content of my actual photo bags. Like always, of something I have multiple copies, like flashes, etc. Obviously, I don’t take everything with me all the time; instead, I try to choose the right tool for the job depending on the assignment, the location, the light I’m likely to find, and so on. Some of this stuff simply lives in a particular place, like the car, my jacket during the winter, or in the panniers of each one of my bikes.
On average I carry just a couple of lenses (often just one, either a 28mm, 35/40mm, or 50mm) if I already know something about the place where I’m going to shoot; on a multi-day hike, or if I’m clueless about the location, I can bring up to 4 lenses and a couple of bodies. When I carry more is usually some kind of “special effect” lens, like a fish-eye or a long lens. This happens usually only if the location or the subject call for it, or if I’m working on a specific project for which the look of this kind of lens is needed. A tripod is almost always with me if I am shooting landscapes, and I keep a cheap, small, and super lightweight one in the car “just in case”.
Lastly: yes, I do indeed have too many lenses and camera bodies. Some I keep because different lenses and formats will give you different looks, like for a painter different shaped brushes, or because it is always useful the ability to choose the more appropriate instrument for each particular job; others quite simply because I like them. Remember: every art form is, at its core, not only a form of communication, but a form of play, so you better be having fun with toys that you like!
So here you are not going to find everything, just the stuff I use the most, i.e. for 90% of what I do.
Canon Eos 1Ds Mark II
I used to have a film Eos 1, and I loved it to bits. This gives me the same exact experience, but shooting digitally. By the way, this is why I choose the Mark II over the III or a more modern one. What’s more to say?
Canon Eos 5D Mark II
Had one years ago, and looking back at the pictures with modern software and much more experience I realized I utterly loved the rendering. Bought it back, haven’t regretted one bit my decision.
Once upon a time I bought the first X100, and I hated it. Flash forward many years, and once I tried the X100s it was way nicer. I use it for travels and vacations, mostly because my wife usually carries the Panasonic.
This is a camera I thought I would hate. Instead it has become one of my staple. Just looking through its amazingly beautiful viewfinder is enough to convince you. Yes, the interface is clunky especially if you need reading glasses to read the small LCD screen. The solution: set everything and forget. Mine is equipped with a “fat pixel” 22Mpx back. I don’t buy into the “fat pixel” myth, but still the results are simply wonderful in terms of colors and sharpness. It is a camera I would carry most of the time if it weren’t for the weight and size.
Leica M8 & M9
Bought both of them for a steal. The M9 has a slightly corroded sensor; I don’t care, it is still way easier to clone a few recurring bits of corrosion than to spot a dusty film scan! They are hands down — with the Hasselblads — my all time favorite cameras to carry around. It is like shooting with film both in terms of the experience and in terms of results.
UPDATE: the M9 broke, its sensor basically died suddenly. I since learned that M9 electronics have a bad reputation.
One of the nicest cameras I’ve ever used, it renders exceptionally well at least up to 400iso, with wonderful colors and a noise pattern, even at 800, enough reminiscent of film as not being too much obnoxious. Its files uprez beautifully in Topaz Gigapixel. In my mind it is the digital equivalent of a Nikon F4s.
Quite possibly the “Goldilocks camera”. It made me switch back to DSLRs from a fully mirrorless setup. A jack of all trades (but master of none).
Sony RX100 IV
Positively tiny, the perfect setup to carry when out on the bike or on vacation, if I can live with a limited choice of focal lengths – UPDATE: it broke, so I replaced it with a:
Panasonic Lumix LX15
All I’ve written about the Sony still applies, but the Lumix is actually better designed (much faster to operate and much more intuitive) and I love the soft shutter function.
Olympus OM-D E-M10
Thanks to the tiny m4/3 lenses form factor, the perfect setup to carry when out on the bike or on vacation if I might need longer or wider lenses.
Sigma DP1 & DP2 Merril
They work wonderfully either as a kit or just carrying one of them. In flat light and for natural subjects, you will be rewarded with the most stunning results. Sigma Photo Pro is a bit of a pain to use, but not so much on a M1 CPU. It is way more annoying the impossibility to import the files in Lightroom (workaround: import the converted TIFFs, and move manually the X3Fs in the same folder). Not so great in contrasty lighting or for people that moves. They are essentially my (almost) pocketable replacement for an Hasselblad.
Unlike its sibling A7r, this works as a charm — it’s terrific for black and white — and it has become a “digital back” for my lenses.
Contax 139 Quartz
Bought almost only because it was too cheap to pass over (it had no skin anymore) has proved to be one of the nicest cameras I ever used and earned a permanent spot in my toolbox.
Light, well made, nice to operate. The rangefinder patch is visible enough (not like a proper Leica M, but still eminently usable). Mine has a broken meter, a working one would be a nice addition. Works perfectly, also in terms of size and weight balance, when paired with a Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.2.
Bought one with the money from the sale of the broken M9. An exceptional camera, and an instant favorite of mine. Somehow just a tiny bit more difficult to hold, for my hands, than the M8 or M9.
“The camera”. Period.
An amazing tool. Small, well built, a joy to use, especially if paired with a nice small lens like the 50mm f/1.8 E Series (almost a pancake).
Contax 35/2,8 Zeiss
A superb little lens, on every metric.
Canon 50/1,8 EF STM
Super cheap, but exceptional in every metric.
Canon 70-200/4 EF IS L USM
One of the best lenses for portraits. Even if it is just an f/4 it renders bokeh beautifully.
Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8 Zeiss Planar
One of my all-time favorite lenses, period, alongside its Fuji cousin for Hasselblad H.
Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8 HC
One of my all-time favorite lenses, period, alongside its Zeiss cousin for Hasselblad V.
Leica Summicron-c 40/2
Another one of my all-time favorite lenses ever.
Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S
Not the sharpest on the D800 (especially wide open), but still more than good enough even for very large prints
Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 G AF-S ED VR
Surprisingly quite sharp, even on the D800, and VR works pretty darn well. You can shoot landscapes in decent light without a tripod and still get tripod-like results.
Nikon 50/1,8 AF
An old model, but it still performs amazingly well, especially on the D2x as a portrait lens.
Nikon 180mm f/2.8 ED Ais
Utterly fantastic lens.
Nikon Nikkor TC-200 teleconverter
It works surprisingly well in conjunction with the 180/2.8 for landscapes, as long as you stop it down a bit.
Olympus 14-42mm f/3,5-5,6 M.Zuiko
Excellent kit lens, a bit weak at 42mm but still competent enough to make huge prints.
Panasonic G Lumix 25mm f/1,7 Asph > Review
Lovely rendering especially at the widest apertures, smooth as butter.
Panasonic G Lumix 35-100mm f/4-5,6 Asph Mega O.I.S.
Basically as sharp as the f/2,8 version, but this one it can fit in a jeans pocket.
Voigtlander Ultron 28/1,9 Asph ltm
Beautiful rendering, quite sharp even fully open.
Voigtlander Nokton 35/1,2 Asph
One of my favorite lenses ever. It feels unbalanced on the Leica M8 or M9, but it is somehow a perfect fit for the Leica CL and the Sony A7.