I know I have a dream job. I do all of the buying for Lensrentals, so I can justify spending large parts of my day looking for what’s new and great in the imaging world. And I’m spending company money. I don’t have to buy much camera gear. If I want to use something I check it out and use it.
We have lots of insanely great toys. I can shoot with a Leica S2, or put an 800mm lens on a 1D Mk IV to shoot 9 year old soccer games. Truth is, it makes me a bit jaded. I’m as likely to take a D7000 and zoom lens home for the weekend as a Leica M9. But every so often we get a piece of equipment in that is just great. Either it’s awesomely good, or it’s amazingly priced. I’ve learned not to get to carried away. Sometimes ‘awesomely good’ shows some weaknesses after a bit. Or amazingly priced isn’t so amazing when half of them fall apart after 3 months.
But once in a while, after the new toy feeling has worn off and I’ve become rational and logical, I still think “If I bought stuff, I’d buy that”. It has spread to the staff now. During our Monday morning staff meetings when we discuss new equipment “I’d buy that” is the highest praise we give. So I thought I’d share those items that have received my If I bought stuff, I’d buy that awards. When the revolt occurs and Lensrentals tosses me to the street, this is the stuff I’ll buy with my severance check. (One of the shocking things you learn when your little home business turns into a big business is you can own the company and still get fired. But I’ve got a good contract, so it would be a nice severance check.)
You’ll notice that this list has no rhyme or reason. Its not a “the kit I’d assemble for my own photography” article. I can’t even decide what brand I shoot, so how can I figure out what my kit would be? Its an “odds and ends that I think are great” article. Some cheap things are on here because they’re incredibly useful or great bargains. Some very expensive things are on the list, too, because they’re just so great at any price for those who can afford them. There are common things because everyone should have them, and some strange things because they’re the best way to accomplish certain tasks. The bottom line, for every one of them, is I’d buy it in a heartbeat if I had a use for it. Maybe even if I didn’t have a use for it.
The Usual Disclaimer:
I don’t (and Lensrentals doesn’t) do any of the usual kickback stuff that supports 50% of the internet these days (I say 50% because I read that 25% of internet sites are porn and 25% are sports and gambling. As near as I can tell, everyone else has a “click on my recommendation to buy it and give me a dollar” link). So no, I’m not getting a dime if you go buy 10,000 of these. I just think it’s great stuff.
For those of you thinking “If we go buy this, then we don’t rent it from you. Are you sure you should be in charge over there?” The truth is, most of you never listen to me anyway so I’m not too concerned. More to the point, we never have enough money to buy all the stuff we want to. So if all y’all ( That’s Southern for groups larger than 3. Y’all covers groups of 1 to 3. And yes, one can be a group. If you don’t believe me just listen to my mother-in-law talk to herself for an hour or two. ) Anyway, if all y’all stop renting these, I won’t have to buy anymore of them and can go buy some other stuff we don’t have yet. You’ll rent that stuff instead of this stuff. You know it. I know it. Lets just accept it.
What’s not on here:
You’ll notice there are no SLR camera bodies. Because almost all of them will be out of date in 2 years. I can’t go “I’d buy that” for something I probably won’t be using in two years. It’s just not my nature.
Buying a digital SLR is basically like buying a two-year supply of film on the front end. if you’re into photography it’s a very expensive, but eventually disposable, necessity. A lot of people spent $20 a week on film and developing back in the day. Some people a lot more. A $2,000 SLR that lasts two years is less than $20 a week so that seems a reasonable analogy.
There have been very few cameras that exceeded my two-year window over the years. My old Canon 20D hung around for a long time (partly because it was so good, partly because the 30D and 40D upgrades didn’t offer much more). The Canon 5D broke the two year barrier, too, as the full-frame for the rest of us. The Nikon D700/D3 is still going strong (partly because they were so good, partly because the “s” upgrades don’t offer much more). That’s about it.
There is one camera that currently gets my I’d Buy That Award, though: The Panasonic AG-AF100 video camera.
I consider it groundbreaking in the 5D / D700 way. It’s a very capable video camera with an SLR sensor. I’m a firm believer that SLR video is going to dominate the lower-to-middle video market and this is the first camera that lets videographers shoot the way they want to shoot. It has its flaws, of course, but if I bought a camera tomorrow, this would be it. And I don’t even shoot video. But its so cool I may need to learn. Canon, Sony, and the others better have something similar in the works or they’re going to get hurt. And I have no doubt people will still be shooting with this camera in 2 years.
The first lens on this list I actually will buy. I do that every once in a while when I know Lensrentals won’t be able to get enough copies and will be chronically out of stock. If I want to shoot with one I’ll need to buy my own personal copy (The second shocking thing you learn when your your little home business turns into a big business is it’s not your stuff anymore. It’s “The Corporation’s” stuff.)
So the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 is first on my list even though it’s a couple of weeks away from being released. It is just that good. (Yes, I’ve gotten to shoot with it already. Trust me on this one.)
Sometimes when a new camera or lens comes out I hear people say “people will change brands over this”. The next lens on my I’d buy that list might make me do that if I didn’t already shoot with everything. The Nikon 28-300 f/3.5-5.6 isn’t a fancy wide-aperture prime, a supertelephoto, or anything else spectacular. It’s a 10x, high-quality zoom for full frame cameras that weighs less than 2 pounds and costs around $1,000. This one is just a no brainer: If you’re thinking about it, buy it. A full-frame, one-lens travel kit that’s nice and sharp and doesn’t distort badly. Amazing. Remarkable. If it’s not a big deal, then why has no one ever done it before? And no, the $2,500, nearly-4-pound Canon 28-300 at twice the price, twice the weight and three times the length doesn’t count.
Just because its so much bang-for-the-buck I’ll put the Tamron 28-75 f2.8 on my list, too. Is it as good as the Canon / Nikon / Sony 24-70 f2.8 lenses? Nope. But it’s a decent-at-f2.8 normal range zoom for under $500. Let all the other candidates in that category stand up now. No others? I didn’t think so. Yes, I know there’s another normal range f2.8 zoom out there. I said decent at f2.8, not f2.8 zoom that’s decent at f4.
My awards are a little skewed because there are two wide-angle lenses on my list. The Nikon 14-24 f2.8 is probably the best wide zoom ever made. There’s nothing else to be said. I’d definitely buy one of those.
The other wide-angle I would buy would be the Canon 17mm f4 TS-E. It’s the sharpest thing I’ve shot at 17mm (including the Nikon zoom) and a phenomenal Tilt-Shift lens. Even I can do cool stuff with this lens. The Canon 24 TS-E is as good, but there’s lots of 20 something tilt-shift lenses. There’s not lots at 17mm. Plus the 17mm has that blowing-a-bubble looking front element that’s quite the conversation starter. The conversation usually starts with “Aren’t you worried about scratching that?”. To which I answer “It’s ‘The Corporation’s’ stuff.”
Also on my I’d buy that list are all of the 100mm Macro lenses. First, because everyone should have a macro lens, and 100mm is the easiest macro range to master. Which one? Doesn’t matter they’re pretty much all great. The Canon 100 f2.8 is an incredible bargain. The Canon 100 f2.8 IS L has amazing image stabilization. The Nikon 105 VR splits the difference – good price, good stabilization. The Sigma 105 and Tamron 90 are incredible bang-for-the-buck. The Sony 100 fits on Sony cameras (just kidding, Sony guys, it’s excellent too, and nicely priced).
And there’s one telephoto lens on the I’d Buy That list, the 200 f2.0 (your choice of Nikon or Canon) with a set of teleconverters. Because at 200mm and f2.0 out of focus areas aren’t just blurred, they’ve vanished without a trace. Because they make portrait subjects look like cutouts. Because they take teleconverters so well and are excellent 280mm f2.8 or good 400mm f4 lenses with the TCs mounted. Because they’re bulldog-squatty and just look mean. Because all the other kids have 300 f2.8s and we’re not followers, we’re trendsetters. Because it has the best Roger’s Take of any lens. And more than any other reason, because 90% of you who own 70-200 f2.8 lenses shoot all of your shots at 200mm anyway. Are they worth the money? No, of course not. But if you have a photography bucket list, this should be on it. It’s the Porsche of camera lenses. Nobody NEEDS one. Its not about NEEDING one.
If you don’t already have 4 of these, then you just need to go buy some. They should never rent because everyone should already have them. Manfrotto Superclamps are the most useful thing in a photographers bag. Reflectors, lighting, cameras, even small children can be hung from a table, shelf, pipe, you name it. It’s a beautiful thing, the Superclamp. Lightstands? We don’t need no steenking light stands.
Another thing I’d buy in a heartbeat is a Hahnel Giga T Pro remote release. Available for Nikon, Canon, Olympus, and Sony cameras for about $100. It is a remote wireless shutter release with 100 meter range (well maybe on a clear day out in the country), self-timer, interval timer, and can even control multiple cameras (if you have multiple receivers). Quite cool. Exceedingly useful.
The Manfrotto BHDV-1 is so one of those “why didn’t I think of that” items. Simple, straightforward, foolproof, and useful as all get out for anyone shooting SLR video. Or even just shooting SLRs. Great product and a bargain at under $300. If you can find one.
The Kessler Crane KC Light could have exactly the same description for those of you who need a crane. Its amazing they can make this for the price.
The Zoom H4n is small, inexpensive, and battery powered, which is always a great formula for product coolness. When you consider it has two high-quality built-in microphones, 2 XLR inputs, and records high-quality audio to SD cards, it’s a gotta-have-one purchase for anybody shooting video. Especially with new programs that easily sync audio and video tracks.
There you have it. Probably the most useless list I’ve ever compiled. Not even a camera to take pictures with (unless you consider footage to be pictures). And there are lots of necessities that aren’t there. Its just a few odds and ends that we think are totally great. If you are thinking about a purchase in one of these categories, these are things you couldn’t go wrong with.
Now, if I can sum up my courage and humility, for my next article I think I’ll tackle “Stuff I Wish I’d Never Bought”.
January 21, 2010
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