A Detailed Look at My Gear: What Do I Use and Why?

A Detailed Look at My Gear: What Do I Use and Why?

As a landscape photographer and videographer, here is a detailed look at my gear list, my preferences, and the reasons behind my acquisitions.

First thing first, there is no such thing as “best gear.” Each photographer needs to assess the pros and cons of the product he or she intends to purchase based on his needs and limitations. For me, the equation is relatively simple. I’m a one-man operation and my main activity consists of capturing time-lapse, video, and aerial photography. Therefore, my gear must be reliable, sturdy, and lightweight since I travel extensively around the world.

Main Photo Camera: Canon 6D

I currently own three Canon 6D cameras for time-lapse work. These cameras are dependable, offer good battery life, and take decent quality pictures for that type of use. The 6D is also relatively compact and lightweight compared to professional bodies like the Canon 5D or 1D X. The 20-megapixel sensor allows you to export up to 6K time-lapse video if needed. My only concern is the poor dynamic range offered by the Canon 6D. Unfortunately, the 6D Mark II is slightly worse than the Mark I in term of dynamic range. The sensor technology dates from 2012, and it was not even on top of the league when it came out at that time. Therefore, I usually expose for the highlights and raise the shadows in post, but the exposure latitude is limited. The low ISO performance is still good, though.

One of my Canon 6D camera capturing a time-lapse sequence.

Secondary Photo Camera: Canon 5D Mark III and Canon T4i

All my 6D cameras have recorded way more pictures than the official shutter actuation limit listed by Canon (100,000). One camera passed the half-million mark and still works fine. On the contrary, I had to change the shutter mechanism on my most recent body after 180,000 shots. The procedure only cost $350 at my local camera store. Not bad.

When I’m not torturing my 6Ds with time-lapse shooting, I use a Canon 5D Mark III for regular landscape and portrait photography. The 5D Mark III is another workhorse from Canon, but I was not very impressed by the Mark IV when I came out a few years ago. Perhaps Canon will wake up one day and try to compete with sensor technology from this era. Until then, I refuse to purchase any new Canon camera, and I’m actively looking for an alternative. But so far, none of the new mirrorless cameras have caught my attention.

Finally, my good old Canon T4i (crop sensor) still finds its way into my camera bag when it comes to B roll and dangerous work. By dangerous, I mean putting the camera at risk such as mounting the system over water, next to a cliff, or in a situation where I could lose the equipment entirely.

Main Video Camera: Panasonic GH5

Except for the autofocus technology, Canon cameras offer horrible video performance: heavy crop in 4K, lack of video assist features such as peaking and zebras, moire and aliasing, no high frame rates, and an outdated codec (MJPEG) just to name a few problems. Most of the video issues comes from the stupid Canon crippling department, but sometimes, Canon technology just lags behind the competition, especially on the sensor and processing side.

My previous GH4 camera was wonderful, but the GH5 is simply better in every aspect: better colors, high frame rate mode, fantastic IBIS performance, 4K60 recording without crop, 4K30 recording in 10-bit, and a lot of video assist features. The GH5 is a videographer dream, all that in a small and lightweight body, which is very important for my shooting style when I have to travel and carry most of my equipment in one or two checked bags. On the down-side, the micro four thirds sensor of the Panasonic GH5 offers limited bokeh and ISO performance. I usually never go beyond ISO 800.

I considered buying the a7S II, but Sony cameras always turn me off: horrible colors, bad user interface, and poor construction quality. However, I rent this camera sometimes when I need extreme low light performance.

Gimbal: Zhiyun-Tech Crane v2

Cheap, small, and light, the Zhiyun Crane isn’t the best gimbal out there, but it is enough to carry my GH5 camera. The initial setup procedure is simple, and the stabilization works fine up to 50mm. Beyond that, the jitter becomes noticeable. As with any gimbal, make sure to properly balance the camera on every axis.

Lenses

I have gathered a large collection of glass over the years, but I tend to use 20% of my lenses 80% of the time. Here are my most used lenses:

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS

I love the versatility of this lens. From ultra-wide angle to 35mm, it allows you to frame a great variety of subjects for my urban time-lapses. The sharpness is acceptable wide open and good past f/5.6. I rarely use the image stabilization (IS), but it’s there. Finally, this lens takes 77mm filters, which is extremely important for me, as I do a lot of long exposure photography during daylight hours. I opted for the f/4 version over the f/2.8 for two reasons: first, the f/4 is much smaller and lighter, secondly, I simply don’t need f/2.8 aperture for my work, as I own dedicated lenses for astrophotography.

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS

Another classic zoom range, this lens is optically mediocre but more than enough for the majority of the scenes that I capture, especially when I export my time-lapses in lower resolution. 4K resolution is only 8 megapixels after all. This lens traveled the world with me and took a lot of beatings over the years, but it performs flawlessly despite some sand stuck in the zoom mechanism, courtesy of the Atacama desert.

Sigma Art 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm f/1.4

When I need to export high-resolution files, the Sigma Art series is always on my side. The sharpness difference over a regular zoom lens is noticeable, especially when shooting 8K time-lapses with high-resolution cameras such as the Canon 5DS R and Sony a7R III. These lenses are beautifully made and perform very well even wide open. By f/2.8, the image quality is simply stunning. The Sigma 24mm f/1.4 is my go-to lens for astrophotography, along with the Samyang 14mm f/2.8.

Samyang 14mm f/2.8

Small, cheap, and fragile, the Samyang 14mm is a must have for astrophotographers. It offers acceptable performance for the price ($250). However, this is a full manual lens (aperture and focus ring), and the image distortion is quite huge, with a weird mustache effect, but it can be corrected in post-production.

Irix 11mm f/4

When wide is not enough, Irix can frame the entire scene thanks to this 11mm rectilinear lens. I reviewed this glass in detail a few months ago — an excellent product for the price. I don’t use this one on a regular basis, but it’s a lot of fun when I do.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS

Sometime, I need an extra reach, and this lens delivers great image quality for the price. I was able to buy the first version eight years ago for $350 on the internet. The build quality and AF are rather poor, but more than enough for my limited use.

Panasonic Lumix 12-35 f/2.8

My most used lens on the Panasonic GH5. I like the compactness, versatility of the focal range (24-70mm equivalent), and the optical stabilization. The version II of this lens doesn’t bring much improvement over the first version. Skip it if there is a noticeable price difference.

Panasonic Lumix 7-14mm f/4

A fun lens to use on a gimbal. Small and versatile, it produces great images. You just need to be careful of the image distortion and flare at the widest focal. Unfortunately, this lens doesn’t come with a regular filter thread, which would be nice for video use in order to respect the 180-degree shutter angle rule.

Sigma 16mm, 30mm, and 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary

Once again, Sigma delivers an amazing set of lens. This trio is priced very aggressively, and the image quality is excellent. The maximum aperture allows to mitigate the physical limits of small crop sensors by delivering shallow depth of field and keeping the ISO value on the lower end.

Panasonic 45-150mm f/4-5.6 O.I.S.

The image quality might not be the best for photography use, but this small $150 lens has no problem outputting clean video files in 4K resolution. A perfect companion for long focal video recording during daylight hours.

Drones

DJI Mavic Air

This tiny drone can produce good video files. I usually carry the Mavic Air when space is limited in my backpack. This drone is not larger than a regular 35mm lens. The downsides? The limited battery life and horrible radio transmission performance in urban and suburban environments. For more information, please check my detailed review of the Mavic Air.

The Mavic Air is smaller and lighter than most lenses. It's the perfect travel drone.

DJI Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom

I couldn’t decide which model I needed, so I ended up purchasing the two versions. The Mavic 2 Zoom is cheaper and more versatile than the Mavic 2 Pro thanks to its 24-48mm focal range. However, the image quality lags behind the Mavic Pro in terms of dynamic range, sensitivity, and bit depth but is slightly better when it comes to sharpness and moire because of the 1:1 pixel capture. As with the Mavic Air, the video displays noticeable noise in the shadows, even at low ISOs. On the other hand, the Mavic 2 Pro can record video files in 10-bit, and the image quality is much better thanks to the “large” one-inch sensor. Both drones have excellent flight times (20-25 minutes), and the OcuSync transmission technology is very robust, even in radio-polluted environments.

DJI Mavic 2 Pro with a one inch sensor.

Slider: Dynamic Perception Stage Zero and Sapphire Pro Head

I’ve been using this slider for years to create motion time-lapses. The build quality is outstanding thanks to the high manufacturing standard of this company based in Michigan. There are a lot of sliders out there, but the Stage is made out of carbon fiber, and the entire system is modular. The length of the slider can be extended at will with the addition of several carbon fiber tubes. Therefore, the system fits in a regular bag. The architecture of the digital controller is opened, and it can be connected easily to various third party accessories. I sometime add the Sapphire Pro pan and tilt head on top of the slider or use it as a standalone to create simple motion. The entire system is built like a tank and rock stable, even with heavy loads and vertical motions. It can also be used for regular video work, but I only do time-lapse with the Stage. Finally, the customer service of this company is simply outstanding. No useless calls here, all the employees are knowledgeable and will assist you promptly.

Tripods: Oben Carbon Fiber

Compact and light. Here is my first requirement when it comes to tripods. After a lot of research and trials, I decided to purchase several Oben tripods. I own four small CT2461 tripods and two heavy duty CT2491s. All of them are fitted with a BA-117T ball head.  After many years of beatings, they still work fine. I think that Oben offers a great value for the price, and I never really understood the need to purchase ultra-expensive tripods and Arca plates with ridiculous price tags, at least for my needs.

Filters

I have a large collection of filters. I mostly use ND filters (ND8 to ND64) to lower the shutter speed during video recording on my GH5 and my drones. For long exposure photography during daylight hours, I mount strong ND filters ranging from ND200 to ND100000, but my most used filters are the ND 200 and ND1000.

I already used Polar Pro filters on my drones before becoming a brand ambassador for this company. I now transitioned my regular camera filters to the QuartzLine collection, and the performances and built specification are extreme. I really enjoy the ND100000 for ultra-long exposures.

As for the size, I filled out my collection with 67mm, 77mm, and 82mm filters. Then, I adapt those on smaller lens threads with cheap step up rings.

Finally, I also have several polarized filters (CP) for landscape photography. They help to make the sky nicer, reduce the nasty effect of haze, and prevent unwanted light reflections over water.

Camera Bags

Camera bags are a commodity, and I own several types, but I rarely carry them beyond the airport gate, as these bags tend to be flashy and attract too much attention overseas. I usually revert to no-name bags once I arrive at my destination and stuff my equipment in there between t-shirts and boxers.

Camera bags are not discrete. In some countries, I carry my gear in bulk inside a generic backpack for security reasons.

Conclusion: Update Needed

My 6D cameras need to be replaced. The resolution and dynamic range are not enough anymore for some projects. I’ve been renting several cameras the past few years, but I can’t see myself making the complete transition yet for several reasons:

  • Nikon D850: it's probably one the best DSLRs at the moment, but Nikon is transitioning to the new Z mount and I don’t want to invest large amounts of money in a possibly dead system. I would need to purchase at least three cameras plus several lenses to replace my Canon gear. The investment would be around $15,000, even if I were to sell all my Canon gears. Of course, I can convert my Sigma EF lens to several other mounts.
  • Sony a7R: in theory, the a7R III (and now IV version) could cover my needs: high dynamic range and resolution, 4K video, decent battery life and a good selection of lenses. But I just don’t like Sony cameras. The horrible user interface and cheap feel of the buttons is disappointing. Furthermore, the system lags, and I'm not a fan of the colors.
  • Panasonic S1R: could be a good option, but the lens selection is very limited at the moment and the battery life seems to be on the shorter side. The alliance with Sigma is very promising for the future, as the company is going to create the full range of Art glass for the L mount. Unfortunately, this camera is gigantic and heavy.
  • Canon R: just another major disappointment from Canon. The resolution is not high enough for my needs. The video specifications are pitiful. Plus, it is positioned as an entry level camera with extremely expensive lenses. Once again, Canon delivered a half-baked camera by recycling outdated technology. I’ll pass.
  • Nikon Z7: could be appealing, but the system doesn’t seem very mature yet. The lens selection is rather poor, and some weaknesses, like the short battery life and the single card slot shouldn’t exist at this price range.

Therefore, I’m going to keep my 6Ds for a while and rent other cameras based on the projects until full frame mirrorless cameras catch up with DSLRs.

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50 Comments

Previous comments
Oliver Kmia's picture

Thanks. Yes, people should by whatever they want. I have very particular needs and I represent a niche in the photo/video industry.

If I were you I would buy the EOS R and call it a day, because although the sensor is likely the same one from the 5D Mark IV, sensor technology has come a long way. What I mean is SNR and AD converters have come a long way and although having the same sensor, the output and Dynamic Range is vastly improved! For example Nikon used the same D610 sensor in the D750, but with new SNR and AD converters which drastically improved the output. The same is true with the Canon EOS R. I would also update the 24-105mm F4 with a version II of the same lens which in my opinion is much sharper and better than the already good original. This way you could keep all of your other gear and stay with Canon. Ditto on the PolarPro filters BTW, excellent choice!

The EOS R's IQ is actually equal to and worse than the 5D IV's:

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/image-comparison/fullscreen?attr18=lowl...

https://www.dpreview.com/reviews/image-comparison/fullscreen?attr144_0=c...

Sony may improve their sensors and processing pipelines year after year, but Canon doesn't do squat. It's a known issue with them. Of the other choices the author listed, only the Panasonic S1R performs as poorly, though it has over 50% more resolution. The rest are all a stop or two ahead, as they all use similar Sony sensors (so does the S1R, supposedly).

Mike Hunt's picture

Sony's color still doesnt cut it. Id shoot with a canon 10d before I used any sony.

Oh ok I understand, I don't shoot Canon anymore and have not since 2016 except when I work for this youth sports company. They provide EOS 1Dx cameras to us, but I do know Canon sucks for Dynamic Range, etc. I would have thought the EOS R had better IQ due to SNR and AD converter advancements. Nikon does not make sensors, but they have excellent sensor tech such as SNR and AD converters like I mentioned. I love Nikon for this fact and I still shoot with two D4s bodies and a D810/D7200 as backups. They all have pretty great dynamic range and the D4s has excellent SNR and AD converters as well. All I need is 16mp most of the time so they work great for me.

Oliver Kmia's picture

True, the EOS R and 5D4 have much better DR than the previous Canon cameras but the video features are pathetic (heavy crop, bad rolling shutter, no video assist features, etc.). I need both photo and video for my use.

Huh, I don't do much video and I shoot Nikon but I also shoot the 1DX and 1Dx Mark II at one of the places I work as they supply Canon gear to us. I thought Canon was known for having great video, but I have heard about the terrible crop factor involved. I wasn't though aware they had rolling shutter, etc. The new Nikon Z6 is pretty good for video, but they really screwed up by having only one card slot. What camera's are you shooting with than?

Oliver Kmia's picture

When it comes to Video, Canon DPAF is the best and the colors are great for me. All the rest is bad.
I rent Nikon D850 for timelapse with Sigma Art lenses. Amazing camera, DR, super sturdy, excellent battery life.

When all else fails...article about gear.

when nothing creative to post, then articles of gear

Nikon D850: Dont want to spend on a dead system
A7R: great but dont like sony
SR1: "could be great" but.....
Eos R: "same old sh* about canon, bla bla"
Z7: Could be appealing? but... again....

Tell me, what do you need then if there is no best gear for you? hahaha

Nicolas Thulliez's picture

I want to invest on a slider, but I really don't know which one to choose...

Oliver Kmia's picture

Depends of what you want to do, your budget and the must have? Is it for video or timelapse? Is portability more important than stability?
Here are some of the best brands: Dynamic Perception, Kessler, Emotimo, Edelkrone, etc.

Nicolas Thulliez's picture

thanks for the answer !
I want to do timelapses, and mostly nightsky timelapses. so stability is very important. I will looking for the brands you named ;)

January Williamson's picture

Since I'm a Canon shooter, I enjoyed the article.

Mike Hunt's picture

Then you are a real professional. Carry on

Mike Hunt's picture

Great write up on a solid setup. Canon all the way. Probably should replace that GH5 and maybe get a freefly alta to carry a c300.

Instant lose me when the author says, I didn't consider brand X because of bad color - This has been proven over and over and over to be a bunch of cr*p as these people can't even accurately identify which camera produced which results when it's presented to them in double blind tests.

Oliver Kmia's picture

Color is a subjective point. This article is about my gears and preferences. It's not the universal truth. Blind test are fun but they don't necessarily prove much. I've edited hundreds of time-lapses captured on Nikon, Canon and Sony and there is something less natural in Sony colors (for me), just the blue of the sky for instance. Might not be apparent over one particular shot but it becomes obvious over an entire sequence of stills. In any case, it can be corrected in post but I'm lazy and I prefer to focus on other stuff.