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2011.07.07

Editor’s Choice is often seen for cameras, electronics and pretty much any product sold or given away. It gives the confidence that a product was chosen by an expert. Well, the basis of Neocamera is Buyer’s Choice, the idea that a product should fit the needs of the buyer and not the editor. Still, most editors are buyers too. So, without further ado, I present my own Editor’s Choice as a buyer of digital photography equipment.

To understand my choices below, it is important to know that my primary focus is travel photography where size and weight are issues, yet are not absolute. How much one is willing to take on while traveling is entirely a personal choice. My budget has limits too and  items get acquired over time, so there may be something better suited on the market today, but that is not when I bought it. Things get upgraded and replaced when budget permits and something sufficiently better has appeared. Things extremely rarely get replaced because they break, apparently I am careful with everything except filters! Finally, this is not all the equipment I own, just the ones I count on the most for travel photography.

Here is the list, along with a brief reason for choosing each one:

  • Pentax K-5 DSLR – Top-notch high-ISO performance combined with built-in stabilizations gives the K-5 the best low-light performance among current cropped-sensor digital cameras.  The weather-sealed body is a must and saved my camera several times already. Ideally another K-5 would be the backup, but for now a K-7 will do. The ergonomics of the K-5 are the most efficient of any camera other than the discontinued K20D.
  • Pentax DA 12-24mm F/4 Lens – This is as wide as you can get on a Pentax DSLR while maintaining extremely good image quality. Third party zooms starting at 10mm do not cut-it and the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 is not available in Pentax mount. This leaves me jealous of the Nikkor 14-24mm F/2.8 which I used on a full-frame Nikon D3.  Fisheye lenses are not my thing yet.
  • Pentax DA* 16-50mm F/2.8 SDMPentax DA* 16-50mm F/2.8 Lens– The perfect zoom range for 85% of my photography. It starts ultra-wide and zooms to a normal for closer shots. Very good image quality and the bright aperture lets me use it in moderately low-light.
  • Pentax DA* 50mm-135mm F/2.8 SDMPentax DA* 50-135mm F/2.8 Lens – For street photography and detail shots, this one is great. The F/2.8 maximum aperture is ideal to blur busy backgrounds and use faster shutter-speeds as street photography subjects rarely remain still.
  • Pentax DA* 60mm-250mm F/4 SDMPentax DA* 60-250mm F/4 Lens – Big and quite heavy, I carry this one when I expect to encounter wildlife relatively close by. When taking this one, I usually leave the 50-135mm behind to keep weight down. Pentax lenses only go a little longer, so for true wildlife photography I would consider a third-party offering.
  • Pentax DA* 55mm F/1.4 SDMPentax DA* 55mm F/1.4 Lens – For shooting in the lowest-light on Pentax. This lens is incredibly sharp, even wide-open. Also great for portraits, although the FA Limited 77mm F/1.8 is better-suited.
  • Pentax FA 31mm F/1.8 Limited Lens – The best performing lens in my arsenal. It is ultra-sharp from wide-open, very bright for low-light photography and gives a normal field of view. If only Pentax would make a 16mm F/2 of this quality!
  • Pentax DA 35mm F/2.8 Macro Limited Lens – Just in case for macros, which I rarely actually do. Quality is excellent and the lens is light enough that it does not bug me to carry it for nothing on most trips!
  • Pentax Remote Control F – Essential for tripod shooting when needing to be careful of moving subjects.
  • Hoya HD Circular Polarizer 77mm – Good for outdoor photography when the light is not optimal. The very best light transmission and quality with no visible color-shifts.
  • Hoya NDX8 77mm – For light trails and motion blur in low-light.
  • Hoya ND400 77mm – For motion blur in bright-light.
  • Hoya SMC UV-Filter 77mm – Only use it for protection in sand-storms and near splashing salt-water. For general protection, I keep the lens hood on and cap my lenses often.
  • Step up rings from 49, 52, 55, 58, 62 and 67mm to avoid buying more filers.
  • Velbon Sherpa Pro 645 Carbon Fiber Tripod – Sadly discontinued. One of the shortest folding length of any carbon fiber tripod capable of holding 6kg or more. Uses locking levers which are more efficient than twisting locks.
  • Acratech Leveling Base – Helps make the tripod level quickly to ensure panoramas are level.
  • Manfrotto 057 Ball-Head with Quick Release – This one replaces the model I use, looks different but specifications are virtually the same. Not too heavy but excellent support and a level is built-in to the QR base plate, so you can level without the camera mounted.
  • Memory cards, some 2GB Sandisk SD Plus cards,  16GB Sandisk Extreme SDHC, 16GB Lexar Profesional and slow-but-extremely-reliable 16 GB Kingston SD for backups.
  • Fuji Finepix S100 FS – Ultra-zoom with mechanical 28-400mm lens and the best image quality in its class. Still unbeaten by replacement models. Use as backup and to grab shot quickly when I have the wrong lens mounted on the DSLRs.
  • Fuji Finepix F200 EXR – Excellent ultra-compact for casual photography when leaving the heavy-duty equipment. Great for outings and meals after photography.
  • Two extra Pentax batteries. Plastic card with white-balance target on one side and 18% grey-target on reverse.  Two cleaning microfiber cloths, lens cleaning fluid, lens pen and disposable lens tissues.

That is it! Actually I certainly forgot some odds and ends. Now that it is all written, it seems like a lot but except for the tripod, everything else fits in two camera bags, one shoulder and one backpack.

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