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Hey, what camera did you use to take that picture?

That's a question that I am often asked at my shows. Years ago I might have jumped right in and told them about the equipment, though recently I have taken a different approach.  I, in turn, ask them a question:

What kind of brushes did Monet use to paint his masterpieces?

Often that question will perplex the person, but it opens the door to the concept that it's not the camera or equipment (in general) as much as the photographer and what he or she brings to the photograph. Cameras don't have visions.

Yes, good equipment is very important and I will admit that I love the technical aspect of photography as much as most other people (and I come from a technical / engineering background).  But we will be better photographers if we spend more time concentrating on the art of photography rather than so much on the science.  Content is more important than minor technical nuances.

OK, so we all know (at least deep down) that creating great photographs isn't about what camera we use. Right?  Well, truth is, many photographers enjoy the hardware more than the actual process of making photographs, and we know that you are going to ask anyway, so we'll go ahead and tell you. Just remember it's not the camera but the photographer that creates the photograph. Cameras, lenses and film (and now digital storage media) are tools that allow us to create. And some of them are works of art themselves. And, yes, having equipment capable of producing high quality images is very important. 


Don's mainstay camera system for most of his landscape, scenic, commercial and people work is the Fuji 680 2 1/4" (6x8, 6x7 and now 6x4.5 cm) SLR system. Although this system is not very well known or often seen in use in the field (it was designed as a studio system), it is a wonderful interchangeable lens, interchangeable bellows system SLR with view-camera front-standard movements and motorized roll film backs. Don was frustratingly introduced to this camera by John Haley one early morning at the shores of Mono Lake. Don was photographing with his 4x5 and John with his Fuji 680. The pre-sunrise radial light was amazing and changing so quickly. John was able to easily capture frame after frame of this wonderful brilliance, while Don was able to capture only small number of images as he worked his view camera in near darkness. After a repeat performance that evening and then again the next morning, upon return from his trip Don purchased a Fuji 680 system . The camera system has proven to be a reliable and trustworthy friend, with excellent optics and, unfortunately, bulk and weight. It is also not light on the pocketbook. When the Fuji 680 is too bulky or heavy for some field work and tilt is not a requirement, Don is also using a Mamiya 7 6x7cm systems and loves the  extremely sharp optics, quietness and lightness of the system. 

For wildlife, action and some macro work, Don uses Nikon 35mm cameras including an F5, F100 and the old hard-to-part-with friends FE2 and FM2 and pretty much staying in the equipment cabinet. He uses lenses from 20mm to 500mm AF-I, including a 24-85mm f/2.8-4.0, 105/2.8 Micro, 300/4 Micro, 80-200/2.8 AF-S and a 80-400 VR lens.

Don also uses his Toyo 45AII field 4 x 5 with lenses from 75mm to 360mm, an ArtPanorama 6x17 panoramic camera, and various waterproof cameras for kayak, canoe and other wet-adventure trips.


The gear gets carried around in several different LowePro camera bags, depending on the mode of travel and the conditions. Main bags are the Pro Trekker AW, the Photo Trekker AW, and the Omni series for really wet brutal conditions. He has just added components from the new, ever-flexible Street and Field system.


Tripods. Don has upgraded tripods from the old friend, a Gitzo 341 to a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod with an Arca Swiss B-1 or a StudioBall head. For lighter travel, he uses a Gitzo 226 tripod with an Arca B-1 head and for "getting' down in the dirt" (aka macro) he uses a Gitzo like the 341 but a 2 series and very short legs and an Aractech ball head. Don also uses the Kirk window mount, Kirk King Cobra gimbal mount (the only type of head when shooting long lenses!) and quick release plates.


Always a big question at workshops and shows. I have just a few films that I use on a regular basis. As with cameras, film is a tool and each has its own characteristics and an appropriate application.

No one film does it all. And we have many good tools to create with.

My most common film was Fuji Velvia for landscape and scenic (non-people and non-commercial) work. The high color saturation and fine grain make an excellent nature / outdoor photography film. There are situations that Velvia does fall short. The film tends to mildly shift colors, and due to its high color saturation it becomes very apparent in certain circumstances. From direct comparisons with other films using the same scene under controlled conditions (the only good way to test film) I find that Velvia tends to shift yellows to orange, and orange to reds. Velvia also has what I call a cyan hypersensitivity (I will have comparisons on this website in the future). It shows up as a cyan / blue wash in photographs made in deep shade (I don't like this look) and also super-saturated blue skies (sometimes this is very helpful as in washed out skies but I do not like it if I am using a polarizer and have the sky in the image).

Kodak's E100 family (E100S. E100SW and the Vivid Saturation E100VS) are also excellent films for nature and wildlife photography. They have less color shift, give much cleaner flesh tones than and are a stop or more faster than Velvia. They all have excellent reciprocity on long exposures and have and push capabilities. Slightly more grain than Velvia, but excellent sharpness (in particular the edge sharpness of E100VS makes it almost look 3D. For the purpose of full disclosure, Don was part of the testing team for E100S and part of the development and testing team for E100VS films, Films are tools; each one has it's own characteristics and as such has can be used when appropriate.