My Go-To cameras and lenses and why I love shooting with them
I love cameras of all shapes and eras like all photographers do and I have quite a few but did I mention that “I love cameras”? More than a fact it is a statement.
My photography journey and first love with a camera started many years ago when my father gave me his Rolleiflex film camera, and at that time the brand didn’t mean much to me, I was too excited to have a camera to play with and take pictures with the spare few rolls of film that came with his camera. I had to do the odd jobs to save some money to be able to pay for the film processing and prints. When the first prints came from the lab I was torn between happiness and disappointment, so I decided to save more money to buy books, more film stocks, and learn about the art of photography as well as practice as much as possible. Everything that came in front of my Rollei lens was being photographed.
The first camera that gave me the photography bug!
The more the prints looked fine and properly exposed having applied all the rules that I read in my photography books, the more I was hooked on photographing more, and the result was… ? That camera followed me everywhere. At that time there was no internet or social media and I could only rely on my precious books that I was reading over and over again to acquire all the foundations and the skills needed to evolve quickly and take great pictures.
We are now in 2000 and I live in Canada where landscapes and the wildlife are just astonishing, any place you go is the dream place for any photographer regardless of its niche of photography. It was time for me to upgrade to a more up to date camera. After reading a few reviews about various camera brands in a photography shop in Toronto, my mind was set on a Canon EOS Elan 7 (that is its name in North America but is called Canon EOS 33 in Europe), still a film camera but I was over the moon to own an SLR with autofocus and all sorts of cool features.
Canon EOS Elan 7 with Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 from 2000
I still use that camera nowadays
While I was touring around Ontario and Quebec on my spare time, I literally abused my Canon as there were so many picture opportunities everywhere, urban, landscape and wildlife, there was always something to take a picture of and hundreds of film rolls have gone through the film chamber. It’s a great camera still producing beautiful images 20 years later, that I have recently rediscovered and included in my photo bag when I went on holiday last year to Santorini.
Since going back to film, I always have with me a 35mm or medium format camera (film) and a digital camera whether it’s on a shoot for a client, on holiday or for my own projects.
But enough with my camera history and let’s move forward in time to the current decade for...
My choice of camera and lenses for portrait work
The choice of cameras and lenses nowadays is so vast, it is like being in a desert looking at the map standing in front of you where it says “You are here” under a red dot in the middle of a… desert, where sand is all that you see. Where do you go from here in terms of choosing the right camera? There are no good or bad camera brands, there is only a camera system that suits you, works best for you and feels the most comfortable with when taking pictures, and obviously the main big names are still the most popular.
I have been a Nikon photographer for years now since my first entry level Nikon camera many years ago, I have over the years upgraded the camera bodies and lenses from APS-C sensors to full frame and I have been shooting portrait with all of them, but my trusted Nikon D810 is the camera that I’ve been using since 2016. It is a full frame camera meaning that the sensor is a 24mm x 36mm, the equivalent size of the old film cameras.
Nikon D810 35.9mm x 24mm Full Frame FX Format CMOS 36.3-megapixel with my Go-To portrait lens attached Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G
launched in 2014
I know this camera inside out, it is my workhorse that I use for studio and location shoots with natural light, speedlight and strobe flash outdoors or indoors. The resolution is high, it is fast with autofocus and responds well to my needs on a shoot depending on the lighting conditions.
That is the digital camera that I use for portrait work and weddings all the time, anytime. For portraits in the studio my choice of lenses is the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G as well as the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G, I just love prime lenses (not a zoom lens), I zoom in and out with my feet. For portraits on location and weddings I use the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G which is a wide angle and a telephoto lens as often I need to include the background outdoors and indoors or get wider shots.
Very recently I have been adding an extra Nikon camera on my portrait shoots in my studio, it’s a 135 film camera, the Nikon F80, and the great advantage is that all the lenses from my digital D810 can be mounted and used with the autofocus on the F80 though I use another Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D with it, which is an older version of the one I use with the D810: so I have two 85mm on both bodies when I shoot as I alternate digital with analogue frames when photographing a portrait. The 85mm lens is a short telephoto lens that is very flattering, it gives a lovely bokeh when wide open, it is very sharp and most portrait photographers have one in their camera bag.
Nikon F80 35mm film camera with the standard zoom lens 28-80mm launched in 2000 the same year as the Canon EOS Elan 7
To resume, for all my portrait work in my studio or on location, I use my digital Nikon D810 and Nikon F80 film cameras, both ideal with natural light as well as strobes, they are both very enjoyable to shoot with and suit my work very well. I won’t include some sample images from both cameras as I have too many to choose from, but you can take a look at the results for images taken with the D810 by following this link Digital Portrait Images , and this link Analogue Portrait Images for images taken with the F80.
Occasionally in the studio or even on location I will use a medium format camera that shoots film. It’s my Zenza Bronica SQai 6x6, it has a waist level viewfinder that is awesome. It’s hard work to operate as it is big, clunky and very heavy, yet it produces superb square images as it is a 6x6 medium format and takes rolls of 120 film (12 shots per roll), so I have to really perform when it comes to exposure as every shot is precious, everything is manual on that camera, focus, film loading etc... so it is indeed time consuming when on a shoot but I just love the images that it produces and my clients certainly do too!
I also use that camera for my landscape projects
With a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 120 and Kodak Portra 800 120 ready to shoot! But coffee first!
You can take a look at all the images taken with the Bronica in the “Analogue Frames” section on my website for both portrait and landscape. I use both lenses shown above, Zenzanon PS 80mm (50mm equivalent on a 35mm camera) and the Zenzanon PS 150mm (85mm equivalent on a 35mm film camera) for all portrait. For landscape the Zenzanon PS 40mm (23mm focal length equivalent on a 35mm camera) is my favourite lens.
On a location shoot with a client with my Bronica SQai medium format camera 6x6
With the waist level viewfinder, I need to look at the scene from the top and use the focusing screen to get an accurate focus
A photoshoot is usually a fast-paced environment and it’s easy to find yourself after a shoot with 200+ images to post process after a difficult selection of the best ones. That beast of a camera slows me down and helps me re-center myself on the true craft of photography, every single detail counts to not waist a shot.
My landscape projects give me the opportunity to take my time even more when making a picture which I really appreciate.
My digital travel companion and landscape image catcher is a small compact camera but the quality of the images is just amazing. It has all the features that I need, it is small and light, it has an articulated LCD screen that moves at various angles, it has an EVF (electronic viewfinder as it is a mirrorless camera), manual and aperture/shutter speed settings and it is very… attractive, it is my Fujifilm X-T100 with an APS-C sensor (cropped sensor 23.5mm x 15.7mm). A lot of critics came about that camera when it came out with more cons than pros but it works for me while travelling, people need a camera to work for themselves in different ways and I can’t complain about it as it gives me stunning travel images, and if it wasn’t good enough I wouldn’t be photographing the world with it. I couple it with a Fujinon XF18-135mm so no need to carry any other lenses as it is perfect from a wide-angle lens for sceneries to telephoto for closer shots in one touch, which is very handy when travelling around places.
Fujifilm X-T100 launched in 2018 with the Fujinon XC 15-45mm PZ that came with the camera as a standard kit
So, this is my choice of cameras and lenses for various genre of photography that I use in my photographer’s life. I do have many other cameras and they all have a purpose but they are mainly for my personal projects and all film cameras, but there are too many to list.
Again all the cameras that I have mentioned above are not the "best" cameras, they are the cameras that I enjoy working with and give the results that I expect in terms of photographic quality, besides as a principal the camera only records the image and what really is important is the glass (lens) as it sees the scene and that's what you need to record a very good image quality.
If you enjoyed reading that little insight about the tools that I use to create my craft, please hit those "Pin It", "Like" or "Tweet" buttons to share on your social media.
On the next episode I will be talking about various lighting that I use in my studio or on location so stay tuned...
Au revoir et à bientôt.