What's In The Bag? - An Update On My Lenses

July 15, 2016  •  2 Comments

What's in my bag?

I recently went through an anti-GAS phase - not sure if that’s a thing. If you have never heard of “GAS” before, it's an acronym that stands for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. In short; you see cool photography stuff and then you buy cool photography stuff, whether or not it’s necessary to further your craft. Luckily, I learned early on from some helpful mentors, the woes of going down this path of potential financial ruin and lack of promised inspiration from said gear.

My trip last fall to Alaska was a catalyst for parsing down my gear bag, re-evaluating myself as a photographer, and a lesson learned in traveling with (less) gear. Having traveled little as a photographer, I brought way more equipment than I needed - way more - which was a valuable lesson all on its own. On the trip I rented a super telephoto lens and it ignited my passion for wildlife photography, and re-ignited my lifelong love of raptors, particularly Bald Eagles. Along the way I discovered that I didn’t really *need* some of the lenses I had brought, like, at all. So when I got back from my trip I sold off a few things, bought the wildlife lens, and haven’t looked back.

I also made the decision to sell off one of my full frame Canon 6D (refurbished) cameras and replace it with a crop sensor Canon 70D (refurbished) body, to extend the reach of my telephoto lens for wildlife, and have a better auto focus experience in those same situations. I still love my 6D for weddings, portraits, astrophotography, landscape… and pretty much everything else.

Below is the lens selection I ultimately landed on and I’m putting together this blog post because I don’t foresee any big changes happening anytime soon. I’ve included sample images taken with each lens for reference.

Rokinon 14mm f/2.8

When I need to shoot super wide photos of the night sky, this lens will do it and does the job well. Because it has no front filter threads, I can't use my landscape filters - so this lens is definitely my most niche, and used for night skies only. But it's reasonably sharp wide open and the hard stop infinity focus makes it a great tool for astrophotography. When shooting meteor showers, I will leave this lens on the second body all night, capturing as wide of a scene as possible to maximize captured meteors.

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Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II

This is arguably the most used lens in my kit and has been for the past several years. From weddings to night sky to sunsets, I don't leave home without this lens. If it was a fixed 16mm lens I'm not sure I would miss the zoom much, aside from being able to do some trick zoom shots. I'm usually able to scoot forward and get the framing I'm after without using the zoom, but that's not to say I haven't used it a few times. If I have to make the decision between this and the Rokinon 14mm, I choose this lens because of the front filter threads.

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Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art

If I'm taking playful photos of my kids, capturing wide angle wedding moments, snapping lifestyle work, or wanting to get a closer look at the Milky Way, I head straight for this lens. It's so sharp at f/1.4 that it puts most of my other glass to shame. Although this focal length is duplicated in my kit, the f/1.4 aperture is a necessity for being able to get specific shots of the night sky that I am simply not able to capture with the 16-35mm Canon.

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Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art

This is a workhorse lens and is sharp, sharp, sharp, just like the 35mm Sigma above. I shoot most of my portraits with this lens, including wedding, senior, family - you name it. I'll routinely use the 50 for an entire (small) family shoot or senior session without switching lenses. The focal length lends itself well to medium crop portraits at a comfortable distance and just works great for what I want. As soon as Sigma launches an 85mm Art, I'll be first in line to get that closer portrait without getting all up in my subject’s business. In the meantime, I'll stick with this beauty to get the job done.

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Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS Version I

I bought this lens used on eBay in 2010 I believe. It's been through the ringer and has the battle scars to prove it. I won't shoot an event or wedding without this lens in my bag. On a full frame camera, the 70-200mm range is just about perfect for most situations when ‘meat and potatoes’ photographs are on the menu. I'll frequently pair this with the 16-35mm lens on a second body, especially when shooting news or similar events and that gives me everything I need and then some. Mine also has, what I think is, a unique flare to it if you catch the sun just right. I’ll probably be buried with this lens.

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Sigma 150-600 Version C

This lens is near permanently affixed to my Canon 70D camera - a perfect kit for daytime wildlife photography. I originally fell in love with this lens while renting it for my Alaska adventure last fall, when I used it for capturing Bald Eagles. As soon as I returned, I promptly sold off some bits and pieces of gear to make way for this beast. I almost exclusively handhold this lens and with the built-in stabilization, I'm able to achieve sharp images at insanely slow shutter speeds. Tip: check Sigma’s refurbished website and it will really drive the price down.

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Honorable mention: Opteka Auto Focus DG EX Macro Extension Tube

I used to have a dedicated macro lens and it sat in the bag much more often than not. So I sold that lens, took a small fraction of that amount and purchased a macro extension tube that offers autofocus. I have to say; it works much better than expected. I'm able to get my wedding day ring shots and the occasional nature close-up and I don't have to feel guilty about having "wasted space." It's great.

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I realize to some this still might seem like a lot of equipment, but each tool has a use. Although after writing this, the Rokinon 14mm lens might have to go. Do you have GAS? Have you de-GAS-ed? Share your GAS stories in the comments.

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