Like watches or cars, cameras are a matter of taste and functional needs. On my side, my gear choices have been driven by travel and mountaineering usage, which can be summarized like this : “How much weight do I have to carry to get the shots I have in mind, without compromising image quality ?”
Preparation is a key. It’s never easy to pack a photo bag, but it’s a good exercise to imagine the shooting conditions and the pictures you want to bring back, instead of overpacking and figure out on the spot. It will save you some weight in the field, and also helps you focus on your work instead of being distracted by so many bodies and lenses.
Here is a quick review of the cameras and lenses I use most. If you want to see sample images, just search my website with tags like "Contax G2" or Fuji X10".
Film cameras in use (updated July 2016)
Nikon 28 Ti & 35 Ti
These two posh point and shoots look great, have stunning image quality and are the only ones in their league with matrix metering. I love the analog display on the top plate, which is actually very useful besides being fun to watch. Also, the exact shutter speed in the viewfinder is great compared to most other P&S cameras. The 35Ti has great bokeh ; the 28Ti is vignetting quite a bit, but has amazing sharpness and contrast that make it comparable to a Zeiss Biogon.
The main limitations of these cameras are a 1/250s top speed and of course a limited angle of view. What is also bugging me at times is the lens pop-out whizz noise at startup.
I regularly shoot with them, because they are so compact and also because I know I’m not wasting film - thanks to perfect metering.
When I want to travel light but without any sacrifice on image quality and possibilities, I pack the G2, which gives crispy, saturated images that will last a lifetime.
I use the G2 with three lenses : 21 Biogon, 45 Planar and 90mm Sonnar. This kit weighs about 1 kilogram and is just about what you need to take pictures : outstanding design, fast operation, great ergonomics, informative displays, best lenses around and good reliability. I took the G2 to Nepal, India, the Alps, South Africa… it performs well everywhere and usually gives me 30 keepers out of every 36 exp roll I shoot. I never need a tripod with my G2. You can get sharp shots as slow as 1/6 sec. My only complains about it are the noise when focusing, and the relatively dim viewfinder.
The Zeiss Biogon 21mm is a fantastic lens with no distortion and great sharpness. You need to attach a 21mm viewfinder which is very bright and comfy.
The Planar 45mm is a perfect choice for street photography, portraits and low light shots. It is widely seen as one of the best lenses in the world - even be beating Leica.
The Sonnar 90mm is a great portrait lens with great bokeh and gives you more reach with still a tiny lens.
Nikon F3 HP
On tough outings, like winter high altitude ski mountaineering, I love the Nikon F3 and its simple, sturdy design.
It has an A mode and a mechanical backup speed in case the battery dies (it happened to me on top of Kilimanjaro in 2006 !).
It also has a 100% viewfinder and a removable prism allowing to shoot from waist level.
The FM2, FE2 and FA are lighter than the F3 but I personally always preferred the F3 for its absolute pro quality and comfort of use.
When I can afford carrying a few more hectograms, I like to take out my F4, probably the most iconic Nikon camera, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro.
The F4 is a joy to use with its dedicated knobs and dials : program, metering, AF, drive, exposure compensation…
It has a lot of refinements, such as a tungsten shutter dampener and a mercury switch allowing the computer to adapt matrix metering to vertical or horizontal framing.
AF is primitive but fast. The F4 also recognizes any kind of Nikkor lenses, automatically switching back and forth A and P modes.
For outdoor shots in tough conditions, I may use this underwater camera.
It's built like a tank (actually it basically is a tank), waterproof and weatherproof (it was used both by Cousteau and Vietnam war photographers ...)
More unexpected, it has the brightest viewfinder around. Of course focusing is manual but easy to set and read - you just have to guess the distance.
When I need to control depth of field, and want to reach longer focal lengths than 90mm, I need an SLR.
After owning a D100 (back in 2003 !), a D300, then a full frame D700, my 4th Nikon DSLR is the Nikon Df.
With its old school layout, its knobs and buttons, it clearly reminds me of an old Nikon... but still not as good in terms of build quality of an F3 or even an FE2.
The real deal is beneath the surface. Great sensor, quick operation, good enough in high ISOs. And, it is lightweight.
Gets on very well with Nikkor AI and AIS lenses, cosmetically but also in terms of body/lens balance.
When I need to travel light AND digital, my fave is the Ricoh GR.
It has a fixed 28mm lens, great ergonomics, good dynamic and a lot of potential in the RAW files.
Its only limitations are the wide focal length and the somehow fragile pop-out lens mechanism.
There shall be no shame in admitting, as a professional photographer, that the iPhone sometimes does the job quite well.
Its ability to capture the moment just because it's always with you, makes it a great photo companion and sometimes even the best camera choice for a given context.
Its burst rate is better than the one of an F4, it's silent, and you can make decent prints as long as they stay small.
Of course the ergonomy is poor... a real camera cannot rely on a touch screen - and please, please use it without a selfie stick !!!
Among the many lenses I own or have owned, here are my favorites :
20mm f/4 AI : a compact travel lens made in the 1970s, it’s as small as a 50mm. It is easy to prefocus, and uses 52mm filters. Very convenient, especially to reduce the weight of your backpack when using a heavy body such as a Nikon F4 or D700.
17-35mm f/2.8 AFS : an outstanding and tough-built wide angle zoom with low distortion. Build quality is the best you can dream of. AF is silent and fast.
50 mm f/1.8 : a sharp travel lens that every travel photographer should probably own. Nice sunstars thanks to its straight-bladed diaphragm.
50mm f/1.4 AFS : unbeatable for handheld night shots.
35-105mm AF : an oldie, but as earlier Nikon lenses it’s well built and very good value for the money. It has a convenient range for street and travel photography. Optically, it has good macro capability and a very nice bokeh.
180mm f/2.8 IF ED : an optical gem that I’ve been using intensively since 1998 on more than 10 different Nikon bodies ! Saturation, contrast and low distortion are its signature.
Other cameras I have used so far
== film ==
Konica Big Mini 35
Fuji DL Super Mini
Konica Hexar RF
Contax TVS II
== digital ==