In 2019, I switched mounts, tried out some new gear, and built a new editing setup. Looking back at the year, there are some pieces of equipment I’d buy again in a heartbeat, while others weren’t even worth the cost of return shipping.
Nikon Z 7
I’ve shot Nikon for years, having gotten started with a D90, but this year, I switched (mostly) off the F mount. While I switched now for a number of reasons, including a great trade-in offer, this was mostly a positioning move for the future. Looking at the industry, it’s clear that almost every manufacturer feels that their future lies in mirrorless, and I think that for 99% of photographers, that’ll be true.
The Z 7 itself has been a mostly lateral move from my D800 series bodies. The body itself didn’t offer any massive advantages over the D810 and D850, but instead was the best mirrorless feature set for me. In the past, I shot extensively with a Fuji X-T1, and I knew that I couldn’t go back from the performance of full frame. With many years of experience using Nikon’s control setup and menus, the virtually identical setup was also a great fit, compared to the significantly different controls of Sony and Canon.
The body did offer a slightly higher megapixel count, along with a smaller size that was still comfortable. Cutting the bit of weight from the body itself wasn’t huge, but in combination with the next entries on the list constituted a major improvement in handling.
Overall, the camera itself wouldn’t make it onto this list, except for one crucial phrase: Z-mount. The native mirrorless mount for Nikon’s Z cameras really present the single best argument for mirrorless’ existence. The lenses that have been released so far constitute the best of their class, while being cheaper, lighter, and more ergonomic than their F-mount counterparts. Whether it's flange distance and mount diameter or something else, this mount has spawned some excellent lenses.
Nikon Z 24-70mm and 14-30mm
If you asked me a few years ago whether a Nikon kit lens would be one of my favorite pieces of gear for the year, I’d have said no way. Nikon’s F mount kit lenses ranged from nothing special to not very good, and for years, I put up with what was their top of the line midrange zoom. My copy of the 24-70 f/2.8 for F mount wasn’t particularly sharp, had loads of chromatic aberration, and just didn’t meet the standards set by a supposedly pro lens. On top of all that, my generation of lens lacked VR.
In Z mount, however, the story is entirely different. The Z 24-70mm is phenomenally sharp across its range, with low levels of CA and well-corrected (in software) vignetting. Extremely portable and just more comfortable to hold in comparison to the F mount zoom, the Z version is better in every way for what I shoot.
When I switched to Z, the deal presented was unbeatable. For only a little more than the cost of upgrading to the newest 24-70mm, I could upgrade my lens, camera body, and get an FTZ adapter. That this lens is the “kit” midrange zoom speaks to the performance of lenses across the line, with the newer Z f/2.8 further outperforming the F mount cousins.
All of those same reasons apply to the Z 14-30mm in comparison to the F mount 16-35mm and 14-24mm. Greater performance, at a lower price, with a smaller size that better pairs with the mirrorless kit.
While Nikon is still missing a Z 70-200 f/4 or similar, I was able to fill out my essential lens lineup with significant upgrades in just a few months after release. The lineup has continued to shape up, including the release of some well-regarded primes, and I'm hopeful to see where it goes in the next few years.
Sabrent Rocket Nano
My Sabrent Rocket Nano is a 1 TB external SSD, but it also comes in 2 TB and 512 GB. Performance is great, with files zipping along at 800 MB/s+. Importantly, it was a great value in comparison to offerings from Samsung and others, with mine costing under $100. Lastly, it offered a native USB-C connection.
This was the year of mirrorless for me, but it’s also been the year of USB-C. While the connector has been around for a little while, it’s been this year where it has started to become the predominant connector in my equipment. From my camera to headphones, to my keyboard and laptop charging cables, more devices have gone USB-C.
The biggest change involving USB-C for me was in my laptop. I switched to a Macbook Air for travel. I’d been getting away from trying to process in the field, instead just needing a way to backup files. To that end, the Macbook is perfectly competent, if not for its tiny stock SSD. I find it surprising that Apple can even find NAND in small enough sizes for their miniscule 64 GB phones and 128 GB laptops; fortunately, other manufacturers aren’t as consumer-unfriendly.
For its ability to store thousands of shots, easy connection compatibility without an adapter, and quality industrial design and performance, the Sabrent Rocket Nano has been the perfect travel computer accessory for this year.
Logitech G502 Lightspeed
I’ve always been a fan of gaming mice for use when editing. I feel that the higher-quality sensor and software support for macros make it a lot easier to edit compared to a more standard mouse. For the last couple years, my mouse of choice has been the Logitech G502. The latest version, the G502 Lightspeed, offers the design I’ve grown to love without the wires. Unlike other wireless mice, there’s nothing more to say: it’s a wireless mouse with none of the downsides. The rechargeable battery lasts for many days, charges in a coffee break worth of time and adds no weight (over the already somewhat hefty stock G502).
Logitech’s drivers aren’t flawless, but you can basically set the mouse up and uninstall; just make sure you’ve set the profile on the mouse to offline mode to avoid an annoying speed-ramp issue before the driver has started.
One last gotcha is the price, at about $150 versus the $35 of the wired version. Sitting above basically every other Logitech mouse, including their flagship oddly enough, the mouse is very expensive. For me, cutting the cord was worth it, especially for a tool that I use for many hours each day, but don’t count out the wired versions.
Overall, my favorite buys this year weren’t revolutionary. I didn’t switch to medium format, go back to analog, or commit to editing on an iPad. What these instead represent to me is a better match for my uses.
The Z 7 is all the quality and even higher performance than I had in my F mount kit, for about half the weight. It’s also going to be the path forward for Nikon, representing what I think will be a smart move when it comes to the investment in lenses.
On the post-processing side, not much has changed. Computers have gotten faster (honorable mention goes to my 3700X processor upgrade), while some standards have changed, but I’m still editing Nikon raw files in Lightroom. Small conveniences, like fast, portable storage, as well as a new mouse, make these tasks easier.
Going into the next year, I don’t expect any major purchases, but instead have some of my budget allocated to more travel, so I can actually use this gear, which is really what it comes down. These tools have made for a better experience in the field, but don’t replace actually being out there.
How about you? What’s your favorite photography-related purchase this year?