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The Standard Gear

Clouded Sulphur

© jmillerphoto.com – Clouded Sulphur butterfly

In the About the Image section, I often mention “The Standard Gear.”  For a long time it didn’t matter if it was birds, butterflies, or dragonflies, I had a setup that I used almost exclusively.

Starting in mid-2015 and culminating in early 2016, I added a couple more pieces of equipment and now what I shoot with varies by what I’m going to be shooting. The equipment is listed below, but the Standard Gear is broken down by what I’m shooting:

Dragonflies, Butterflies, and/or while hiking:
Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 300mm f/4 IS USM L Lens w/Canon EF Extender II 1.4x, Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 Tripod and Manfrotto 322RC2 Tripod Head

Birds (especially from inside a blind)
Canon 7D Mark II, Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD, Manfrotto 055XB and WH-200 Wimberley Head Version II

Camera:
Canon 7D Mark II:
Images made after June 2015 were made with this remarkable camera. I soul-searched really hard before buying this one instead of the 70D. But I really love this camera. Very rugged. Wonderfully bright viewfinder.  Super fast burst mode.  And can still auto focus with lenses that have a minimum aperture of over f/5.6.  I love this camera.  I just wish I had more time to use it.

Canon 60D:
Images made before June 2015 were made with this very reliable, prosumer camera from Canon.  Not as good as the 7D, but for a few hundred dollars less I will deal with a slightly less rugged build and a smaller/dimmer eye piece.

Glass:
Canon EF 300mm f/4 IS USM L Lens:
This is a lens that I would never have bought for myself (because there would have been a death in the family–my bride would have killed me).  But she bought this for me as recognition of receiving my undergraduate degree and I wasn’t going to tell her no.  It has been mounted on four different cameras (10D, 30D, 60D, and 7D Mark II) and I expect it will remain in the arsenal until I finally drop the damned thing.

Canon EF Extender II 1.4x:
I bought this on a flyer about 4 years ago.  It is the last piece of Canon glass I purchased.  I honestly cannot tell a difference in image quality when it is paired up on the 300mm between having it on or not having it on.  I lose an f-stop, but the extra 120mm is well worth it.

Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD
I lusted after this lens for about a year before I finally made the leap. Quick focusing, sharp as a tack, and very reliable.

In addition to the standard gear, there are a set of other tools that I use to aid in my image making.

Manfrotto 190CXPRO4 Tripod and Manfrotto 322RC2 Tripod Head
After I broke my wrist a few years ago, I rediscovered the advice often given but hardly heeded: Put that camera on a tripod.  I was genuinely amazed at how much sharper my images were once I slowed down, put the camera on a tripod, and then started hitting the shutter release.  I have only had the tripod for a couple of years–it replaced an older, much heavier Bogen/Manfrotto 3021 Pro that I shot with over the years but just was not hike/travel friendly.  The 190CXPRO4 is a carbon fiber tripod.  It is light yet steady.  Part of me wishes I’d bought the next step up in terms of height only because I have to raise the center column more often that I would like, but all in all I’m satisfied.  The 322RC2 gives me an extra element of speed that I crave when I’m shooting dragonflies.

Manfrotto 055XB and WH-200 Wimberley Head Version II
This setup is much, much heavier than the 190XCXPRO4/322RC2 setup. But for working inside of a blind where stability is much more important than portability, this thing is incredible. Purchased second-hand from the best bird photographer I have ever met, I do not set foot into a blind unless I have this tripod/head combination with me. Why waste my time with anything else?

Manfrotto 334B Monopod and Manfrotto 3229 Head
When the tripod was too heavy, or still when I don’t have someplace to put up three tripod legs, this has been a very dependable performer in the field.  The Monopod is about three years old.  The head is closer to 6 and was part of the last monopod setup I had.  Both need to be replaced but neither are high on my list of priorities.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 31, 2013 12:47 pm

    Do your 300 mm lens and 1.4 extender let you come that close to the birds? I often see people carrying around those gigantic 600 or 800 mm lenses that I can never afford…

    • December 31, 2013 3:04 pm

      Great question. The answer is it depends on where I’m shooting and what bird am I shooting. As an example, my recent shot of a Western Scrub-Jay that I have in portrait format was actually a landscape format image that I cropped the center out of. In that shot, I took nothing off the top or bottom of the image, just the two sides. So what was originally a 5184×3456 pixel image became 2765×3456 pixel image. Had the bird been turned to the side I probably would have gone landscape with the image and it still would have occupied much of the frame. But again, this was shot in a bird blind so the birds are more willing to get close and thus I can fill the frame.

      • December 31, 2013 4:31 pm

        Thanks for your response. I am still amazed at the clarity and the amount of details in your bird shots.

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