I bought my first Nikon in 1979, I remember it well as it was the Millennium of the Isle of Man Government and I had been a crewmember on a Viking ship called OdinŐs Raven sailing between Norway and the Isle of Man, but thatŐs another story. A good friend involved was a photographer and he used Nikon.
My first real camera was a Nikon FE; I bought it from Greys of Westminster from their advert in the AP. I had a couple of Vivitar Series 1 lenses and I shot mostly Tri-X film.
I was also very lucky to meet and be inspired by 2 yachting photographers that came to the Isle of Man around that time to photograph Nick KeigŐs Three Legs of Mann trimarans. Alistair Black and Christian Fevrier, from these two I saw that there was such a thing as a specialist yachting photographer. I was hooked.
Since then I have only ever used Nikon gear. FE, F3, F4, F5, F801, F90s etc. I still have an FM2 and an F5, film was either Kodachrome 64 or Fuji Provia 100.
So whatŐs in todayŐs camera bag?
When travelling on assignment I like to keep my equipment quite simple and as compact as possible. I am usually flying in for an assignment so to be able to carry it all on the plane is a great advantage.
My standard kit fits in a LowPro Omni Trekker bag that has the advantage of fitting a standard Pelican Box, useful when afloat in rough weather. It can also take a MacBook Pro at a squeeze as the airlines one carry on bag makes life very difficult.
2 x Nikon D700 bodies, spare batteries, chargers etc
17-35 f2.8 Nikon lens
24-70 f2.8 Nikon lens
70-200 f2.8 Nikon lens
300 f4 Nikon lens
1 or 2 SB800 Flash Guns
In a separate Brenthaven, computer backpack:
MacBook Pro 15inch Laptop
240v & 12v power adaptors
Lacie 500Gb Tough Drive
Card Readers Firewire 400 & 800
Compact Flash Cards. All 4Gb as that fits one card per DVD backup.
Small Swiss Army Knife with pen and torch built in.
Filofax diary and Rotaring Multipen
Mini Mag Lite
I may add a few more specialist pieces depending on the job:
Spare D200 Body
18-200 walk-around lens
16mm Fisheye lens
Fantasea Underwater Housing for the D200 <http://www.fantasea.com/>
ICOM Marine VHF Radio with helicopter comms adaptor.
Iridium Satellite Telephone.
For the assignment as Official Photographer for the Volvo Ocean Race I carried a lot of spares and redundancy equipment as we were travelling to some remote or difficult locations, India, China, Brazil etc.
BGAN Inmarsat Satellite Transmitter. Online anywhere on the planet at broadband speed.
Iridium Satellite Telephone.
Spare chargers for MacBook Pro, D700, ICOM VHF.
Spare batteries for D700/200.
Camera cleaning and sensor cleaning kit.
Nikon CoolPix 6000 compact camera.
Various cables and connectors and adaptors.
I am often asked what I think of various bits of gear that I use, here is a quick summery of my thoughts:
Nikon D700 review – Great full frame digital SLR with a superb CCD, the same as the D3. The slightly/lighter body suits me fine as I am travelling and when on the water I have two bodies round my neck all day.
The best thing is the ISO, which effectively gives you a third control on the camera. For the last 100? years of photography we have had aperture and shutter speed to dictate how we shoot, film speeds were 50, 64 or 100. Now we can shoot in all conditions at 200 or 400 ISO, and push higher when needed, 800, 1000, 2000 all possible with minimal noise (grain), mix and match on the same card.
I like a couple of other things on the D700. The built in flash works well for fill-in in daylight and is surprisingly good in the dark. Saves carrying a flash gun all the time, and gets you out of a problem when you suddenly need one.
The battery lasts well, and has the same charger as the D200, and D100, D90 (11 year old James has the a D90 now). I was recently caught out with all my cameras in service when another assignment came up in Miami. Nikon came up trumps with some loan gear. Sent it to me at the last minute, 2 D3Ős, all the lensŐs, great, but no charger! I hunted in the airport and again in Miami for a charger, lots of compatible D700 battery charges, but nothing for a D3. Fortunately the great guys at xxxx in Miami charged the 2 batteries between race days, and did it for free. Great help. It made the point though that I could have got a D700 compatible charger almost anywhere, if I ever lose or forget one.
So am I impressed with full frame DX. The quality of the images is simply great. But I am not as convinced as I had expected to be in the FX format, which has surprised me. Most of my shooting is long telephoto and I guess I had got very used to the 1.4 magnification on the DX bodies. I shot with the D2x from the day it was brought out until the D700 arrived. I tried the D3 a few times and liked it but not the price or the weight. But there is a plus side, I can use my D200 when I need a bit more reach, with the 300mm lens it becomes a very handy 450mm f4, and very sharp too, better than using a 1.4X converter. Also the 90% view finder of the D700 took a little getting used to. At first I found I was not filing the frame properly, but I soon got over that.
All in all the D700 is the best camera for me, and I would recommend it to any pro. But for the serious armature I still believe the D200 and D300 is better value for money for a camera that can do the same job. What it canŐt do is the high ISO numbers.
The entire lensŐs range I am using now are great, with each zoom having its range, really sharp and a joy to use. I used to struggle with my old 28-70 f2.8, It was just not sharp, I had it back to Nikon a few times and they said its fine but it was always a weak lens in my set up, with bad chromatic aberhasion, everything had a red edge to it? I replaced it with the new 24-70 and wow what a difference. The 70-200 f2.8 is just the best lens in the world, always sharp right through the range and wide open too. But my favourite lens is the 300f4. Many of my colleagues look at me a bit strangely when they realise that I am not using an f2.8, but the pictures are always sharp, and it fits in the bag. As I said above, put it on a D200, or D300 and you have a 450f4 for less then a thousand pounds.
The Iphone is another bit of kit that is now the choice of most photographers. being a committed Mac person, its another Mac. Its a brilliant piece of design, has a lot of great functions and is fun to use. I use it as a phone, for email, as an I-pod, a movie watcher, time zone checker, note taker and the calculator, but it can do much more.
In the Apps Store I have down loaded the Volvo Ocean Race link that keeps me up to date on the race progress. I gave also downloaded the GPS which makes the Iphone a fully specd hand held GPS. I use this a lot for plotting the positions of the race boats and navigating offshore in the helicopter to find them. This is one of the most user friendly GPS sets I have found, perfect for putting in a quick waypoint and going straight to it. Yes the helicopter has onboard GPS of course, but they cant access that until the heli is powered up, I need a distance and bearing to advise them when to power up.
The many other apps are a bonus, the Key Note control is just magic.