MY PHOTO EQUIPMENT

Photo Gear

Equipment I use for my photography

Me with my Pentax MZ-S and Sigma EX300 f/2.8 APO I started using Pentax cameras and lenses in high school, beginning with the famous K-1000 and a 55mm lens. After falling out of photography for many years, I began my comeback with a second-hand ME-Super. At that point I was buying Pentax gear mostly out of habit, because that's what I had always known, so it was really just a coincidence when Pentax, coming relatively late to the digital game, produced a camera better suited to my personal needs than anything else on the market.

The ist-D 6-megapixel DSLR could almost have been designed for me. It's small and light by DSLR standards. Its 6-megapixel resolution was standard for the day and its image quality is still more than good enough for most applications. Given my love of mountains and hiking, its ruggendess is a necessity for my photography, and its use of ubiquitous AA batteries for power has saved me on many an occasion. (For example, when my rechargable NiMH batteries died in the middle of a bicycling trip in France I was able to pick up some AA lithium batteries at the first village shop I came to — way out in the countryside with nothing but farms around.)

Now I'm using the K20D as my main camera, with 14.7-megapixel resolution and built in image stabilization (or shake reduction, as Pentax calls their version) that works even on my 30-year-old manual-focus lenses. My 645 medium format film kit has been replaced with a Sony A850 digital SLR.

Click here to find out more about Pentax products Most of my cameras and lenses are Pentax. Their lenses are of the highest optical quality though I do use a couple of third-party lenses for specific needs.

Pentax's compatibility of new and old cameras and lenses is unequalled in the photo industry: My 15mm f/3.5 lens from 1975 works on the latest digital cameras and I often use the legendary 43mm f/1.9 and 31mm f/1.8 Limited lenses (two of the finest lenses made for any 35mm camera) on my ~1978 Pentax MX.

Cameras

35mm Digital: Pentax K20D

That Pentax managaged to put 14.6 million pixels into a 23.4 x 15.6mm CMOS sensor and keep noise levels so low is quite amazing. Built-in image stabilization ("Shake Reduction" in Pentax parlance) and wide-ranging lens compatibility are icing on the cake. The weather sealing is crucial for the outdoor adventuring I like to do. This is my main camera at the moment.

35mm Digital: Pentax K10D

This camera has most of the features of the K20D (weather sealing and in-camera shake reduction being the most significant), but with a 10 megapixel CCD.

Medium Format Film: Pentax 67

This is the granddaddy of medium format SLR's. It's big and heavy, requires the use of mirror lock-up and a sturdy tripod for most shots and has no built-in light meter (though a metered prism is avalable). But it's really fun to use! I have only one lens for it, a 75mm f/4.5 (slightly wide angle for this format) and the size and weight of this kit mean I don't use it often, but the slow and methodical approach it necessitates is a welcome change from the hustle of "get it done as fast as possible" shooting I have to do when someone is paying me for it! Metering? I use a K10D or K20D, with detailed histograms on the rear-panel LCD, as a high tech light meter. This nails down exposure so well I rarely waste a frame. I do all my black & white film shooting with this camera, using Ilford film.

Ful-Frame Digital: Sony A850

I recently took the plunge into full-frame digital with the 24.6-megapixel Sony Alpha series A850. It's pretty much replaced 645 medium format film for me: A 645 negative/slide scanned at 4000 dpi yields an image of around 25 megapixels.

At this point I have three autofocus lenses for the Sony; a new Tamron 28-75/2.8 zoom, an old Minolta 70-210/4.0 zoom and a Minolta 24mm f/2.8 prime. I'm also often using a couple of old screw-mount lenses, the Super Takumar 35mm f/2.0 and the Super Multi-Coated Takumar 50mm f/1.4.

35mm Film: Pentax MX

I must admit, I almost never shoot 35mm film any more. But when I do I like to keep it small, light and simple. The MX is the king of all three categories :)

Lenses

My general philosophy with lenses is, "use primes when you can and zooms when you have to". This is as much about thought process and shooting style as about optical quality, because computer design technology has improved the image quality obtainable from zoom lenses drastically in the past 10 years or so. Regardless, I still enjoy shooting with primes more. The zooms come out when I'm shooting for a paying client and therefore have time constraints, and when I'm hiking and can't carry as many lenses as I'd like.

Zooms

Pentax FA*80-200 f/2.8

Pentax DA*16-50 f/2.8

A fast, sharp, wide angle zoom that's weather sealed for use in harsh conditions.

Pentax FA*28-70 f/2.8

Pentax DA 12-24/4.0

Not particularly fast, but stellar image quality. A great ultra-wide lens for crop-format digital.

Pentax DA10-17 f/3.5-4.5 Fisheye

What a great idea: A fisheye zoom! The angle of view at its extremes changes much more than you would expect from the focal length limits. And the barrel distortion for which fisheyes are known gets significantly less pronounced towards the longer end. This really lets you dial in the amount of "fisheye effect" to suite your needs.

Vivitar 70-210 f/2.8-4 Series 1

One of the legendary lenses that really is as good as its legend. Because Pentax DSLR's are compatible with older manual focus lenses this zoom is still highly sought after by Pentax users. Details on my Vivitar 70-210 page.

Primes

Pentax FA*300mm f/2.8

Sigma 180mm f/3.5 Macro

I don't use many third-party lenses, but oh what a gem this one is! It's not only sharp as a tack, it posesses two qualities that are rare in macro lenses: It works well at non-macro distances and it has great bokeh. It's built like a tank as well.

Pentax 77mm f/1.8 Limited

Pentax FA 50 f/1.4

A modern day classic, the 50mm f/1.4 is very sharp, fast and supremely versatile.

Pentax 43mm f/1.9 Limited

Pentax FA 31mm f/1.8 Limited

Pentax FA*24 f/2.0

One of my favorite wide angles. The wide maximum aperture makes framing & focusing easy, even in low-light conditions.

Pentax 21mm f/3.2 Limited

Pentax FA20 f/2.8

This lens is available in optically-identical autofocus and manual focus versions. I have the autofocus lens. Startlingly high resolution.

Pentax 15 f/3.5

A superb ultra-wide lens. Good on a digital SLR, amazing on film! 15mm is really wide and lots of fun to use :-)

Flash

Pentax AF540 FGZ

This is Pentax's current top-of-the-line flash and it's real treat to use. It has just about every function and capability you could imagine, but even more importantly, it's designed so that it's easy to use all these capabilities.

Sigma EF-500 DG Super

A great general-purpose flash with the K10D, it doesn't work as well with the K20D. There may be firmware updates available to fix this, but since I bought the AF540 FGZ, I haven't investigated this possibility.

Pentax AF280-T

This flash has been in Pentax's line-up for years and is still worth getting. It uses the older analog-protocol for TTL metering (so it works with my 645 medium format camera) and can be switched into manual or standard auto-flash mode (for my MX and K2 film cameras). In Automatic mode, using its own built-in sensor, it also works with the K10D and K20D.

Tripods

My main tripod is the Flashpoint F-1328 carbon fiber. It'll handle my medium format gear or a 35mm camera with 300/2.8 lens and it's still light enough to take hiking.

An strong, light Gitzo Mountaineer G1127 Mk II carbon fiber is my ultra-lightweight option.

Tripod heads: Bogen/Manfrotto 3055 and 486K2 ball heads and the "Nodal Ninja" panorama head. I'll probably break down and get one of the megabuck ball heads soon...

Filters, etc.

I have a variety of filters, but in this digital age, the only ones I use with any frequency are the polarizer and the split neutral-density filters (ND grad). (I use Hi-Tech ND grads in a Cokin holder.) Most of my filters are in the 77mm thread size: they will attach directly to my 17-35 and 80-200 zooms and to my other lenses with a filter adapter.

There are those who will tell you that there's no need for a split neutral density filter with digital because you can combine two or more different exposures of the same scene in Photoshop. Personally, I always prefer to get as close as possible to the finished image in camera as I can. This is expecially true when taking shots which I'm going to combine in a multi-image panorama.

I also usually carry a short extension tube (upper left in the photo) when I don't have the macro lens with me.

You Can Take it With You

How do I carry all this stuff? Well, I don't ever have everything listed above but I can haul a lot of it with my Lowe Pro Photo Trekker AW backpack. I keep a Gore-Tex jacket bungeed to one side of the pack and carry the tripod on the other. Sometimes I'll reduce the amount of gear inside the pack to accommodate food, water and rain pants.

Small and Light

When I'm packing light I have a lightweight kit that sacrifices no quality and little versatility for most of the work I do. It's built around the Pentax k20D (without the optional battery grip) and the 43mm f/1.9 Limited lens described above. For a wide angle I use the Pentax 21mm f/3.2 Limited. The telephoto is an old Vivitar 70-210 f/2.8-4.0 Macro Zoom which has become something of a cult item - very expensive when first made and still much sought after. It also serves as a macro lens, offering magnification ratios up to 1:2.5: extremely useful in this compact kit and a two-element close-up diopter takes it to around 1:1. (For more information, see my Vivitar 70-210 Series 1 page.) To carry this kit, I love the Tamrac Velocity 7 camera bag: They call it a "sling pack" because it's sort of a cross between a normal camera bag and a back pack.

Other essentials: Good quality hiking boots and socks. Don't leave home without them!

Computer Gear

A lot of my photography is done digitally now, but the overwhelming majority of my color printing has been done done digitally for many years now. Ordinary chemical printing offers nowhere near the tonal control of paper selection of digital and just doesn't compare in my book (at least as far as color photography is concerned; I'm still a big fan of silver gelatin printing for black & white).

My prints are made on an Epson 2200, using archival, wide-gamut Ultrachrome inks. My favorite papers are Hahnemuhle William Turner Fine Art Paper and Hahnemuehl Fine Art Pearl, both 100% acid-free, cotton-rag papera with archival properties.

My medium format work is scanned on a Minolta Dimage Scan-Multi II. It's limited to 1125 dpi resolution with medium format, but I can scale up to about double the file's original dimensions with Genuine Fractals and produce excellent results at print sizes up to 12 x 16 inches. When I need larger print and file sizes I send medium format slides out for individual drum scanning.

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Copyright © Mark Roberts

PO Box 302087, Jamaica Plain MA 02130

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