I was cycling to catch my train a few weeks ago and after I had folded the bike and stowed it in the luggage area, was pondering the things in life I couldn't live without. It was much to my surprise that, considering this question, I actually decided it was my bike (Joey). I use it for commuting, for shopping, for leisure; it is with me most days of the week, and without it, the impact on my day-to-day life would be dramatic.
It was then that I realized that not only was it a key part of my daily routine, but that it was that particular bike that I had such a close affinity with. In addition to it being a close companion, I was also familiar with its foibles and the things that didn't quite work correctly that needed the hand of experience to guide them. It reminded me of Biff in "Back to the Future," who was the only one who could start his Ford Super Deluxe.
So while the Joey takes pride of place in the everyday part of my life, I then wondered photographically what I couldn't live without. The things, big or small, that are essential to the oeuvre of my photographic canon. What have become carved in stone on my de facto scripture to image-making? And, in the spirit of brevity, I'll keep it to three.
Top of the list is my Nikon D700. Yes, I've shot with a D600, D810, F100, Leica MP4, Bronica RF, Fuji M1, Sony RX100 amongst others, but oh, the D700. It holds a special place in the way I shoot: my hands intimately know the curves of its body, the buttons are perfectly placed for control, and I instinctively understand how it is going to respond to different lighting conditions. It feels like a part of me and I still use it in preference to other cameras even with its lower resolution.
Second on my list is a Black Rapid strap; yes, a strap is up there! You can't shoot unless you have a camera and you can't shoot as quickly unless it is at your side, ready to go at a moment's notice. A camera strap therefore should be both comfortable and discretely position the camera ready for use. The Black Rapid does just that and I can use it comfortably all day, safe in the knowledge that not only can I readily access it, but that it is perfectly safe. If you haven't tried a sling harness, then they are well worth investigating.
Finally then (and it had to be) a lens! If I only had one lens, what would it be? For me, the Nikkor 85mm f1.8. First, the focal length is magical; for portraits, it is beautiful: wonderful bokeh, flattering, but not too unwieldy. Second, this is a sharp lens, but relatively small, light, and cheap. The aperture is the perfect tradeoff for these capabilities. It's not as fast as the f/1.4, but an unsung jewel.
Those surprised me when I thought about them. I really hadn't thought I'd pick a camera, because I know I can shoot with any camera, and I hadn't expected to pick a lens either. But the more I thought about the 85mm, the more I realized I love shooting with that lens. The images I produce with it are immensely satisfying. I had been expecting to pick accessories, so the Black Rapid was no surprise. Take a moment to think about what might make it on to your list and why? Like me, it might make you discover something about the photographer in you.