What Camera Should I Use?

Other than “how did you get this job?” the question I get most commonly from readers is about my photography equipment. Now, I don’t claim to be a professional photographer—I’m definitely an amateur with a passion for visual arts—though more often than not these days I find myself taking the pictures to accompany my stories (thanks in part to magazines’ paltry budgets). Regardless, all the equipment I use is my own, rather than owned by a publication, so in a nutshell, I shoot with what I can afford so you won’t find a lot of overly fancy models here (though I’m always upgrading lenses when I have a tax refund here or an extra paycheck there to spare). Here’s what I use with links to all products and sample images taken with each:

The Body

I work with two DSLRs in the Canon Rebel series: I started out with the Canon XSi, then upgraded to the Canon T1i (cross referenced as the 500D) once it was released, as it has the same functions as my old camera with the added bonus of video capability and higher ISO at no additional cost. Like most photographers, though, my ultimate dream camera is the Canon 5D/Mark II. One day….

Lake Kivu, Rwanda (photo by Peter Stuckings)

Landscape Lenses

The very first lens I bought four years ago, the 17-85mm is the one I continue to employ for everyday use. It’s not too heavy, and it’s extremely versatile, i.e. I can shoot a closely cropped portrait or use the wide angle for landscapes. As I primarily shoot beaches, mountains, oceans and the like on my travels, oftentimes, this is the only lens I carry.

Rasa Ria, Borneo

Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania

Svalbard, Norway

The next lens I will buy when I save up the funds will be the 24-105mm, which is a similar model with better glass and added functionality. (Update: I bought this lens back in April 2011 and LOVE it!)

Wide Angles

My favorite fun, frivolous photography accessory is my 10-20mm. The super wide angle gives it almost a fish eye effect, making it perfect for cityscapes. It’s also good for dramatic effect, as evidenced by my camel friends below.

Negev Desert, Israel

Taipei, Taiwan

Tallinn, Estonia

Sydney, Australia

Close-Ups and Portrait Lenses

My 70-300mm is a Tamron, which isn’t the fanciest of models. Unfortunately, my Canon 70-300mm was stolen in Cape Town, so I had to make due with what I could find (and afford) as a replacement. My advice? Don’t skimp on this lens: Buy the pricier model for increased clarity. This lens is good for wildlife and on safaris, but the Tamron in particular requires a steady hand or tripod to utilize to its fullest.

Rasa Ria, Borneo

To be honest, a lot of times I only travel with my universal lens, the 17-85mm, which has a pretty good zoom if you’re within decent range of your subject.

Ruhengeri, Rwanda

Lake Kivu, Rwanda

Low-Light Lens

When I first purchased the 50mm/f 1.8 II, I was obsessed. I used it like crazy to take pictures of my baby niece, who was always on the go. It’s an easy lens for making an amateur look like a professional thanks to the lack of depth of field, and it’s also one of the only lenses I’ve been able to use without the flash in basically non-existent light and get a clear image. But I quickly tired of it, as there’s only so much you can do with the limited F-stop. Now, were I to invest in the 50mm/f 1.2, that’s another story.

Tullahoma, Tennessee

Underwater Shooting and Point-and-Shoots

When I started diving, I bought the underwater housing for my pocket camera, the Canon SD870. It was fine in perfect natural light, not so fine indoors and in low-light settings. When my sister went on her round-the-world trip, we gave her the Canon G10. I became obsessed with it, as it has a specific low-light setting and pretty advanced features for what is essentially a point-and-shoot (ISO up to 1600!).

Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas

Then, I became a more serious diver and needed a more diverse camera for the varying conditions underwater shooting poses. I didn’t want to fork over the money it would cost to buy the housing for my DSLR, nor did I want to have to deal with the bulkiness. As luck would have it, I had just enough reward points through my credit card company to get the Canon G11 for free, then purchased the housing for it for $185.

Mataking Island, Borneo

We also have a third wide-angle camera that can be used underwater. Prior to our honeymoon, SVV and I purchased a new product from a local start-up company, the GoPro Helmet WIDE. You can’t zoom, and it always gives a distorted view of your surroundings thanks to the wide angle, but you can strap it on your forehead and wear like a headlamp and the video function is really great. Plus, it comes in a protective case than can be submerged to as deep as 180 feet. We’ve been getting a lot of use out of it on the slopes. (It also takes some killer HD video footage.)

Lake Tahoe, California

Camera Bags

I have always used a slingback bag, as it’s more secure when traveling alone (i.e. you’re less likely to have someone try to swipe it off you). Many years ago, SVV bought me the LowePro Slingshot 202, and this remains my favorite bag. It only fits the body and two lens, a few filters, memory cards and spare battery, but I feel like anything bigger would start to hurt my back. (If you carry more lenses, there’s also the SlingShot 302.) I also have a Brenthaven bag that’s similar with more pockets and storage space for other items (wallet, chapstick, etc.).

Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania

Where I Shop

If it isn’t obvious based on all the links above, I purchase pretty much all my equipment from Amazon. Why? Well, truth be told, I’ve found the prices to be lower than anywhere else; plus, there’s free shipping if you spend more than $25. Also, if anything goes wrong, their customer service rocks.

When I lived in New York, I bought all my equipment from B&H. I still love everything about the company and would continue to shop in-store there if I were still a New York resident.


Well, there you have it: my photography equipment. Anything else I failed to mention that you’re just dying to know? Any favorite equipment you’d like to add to the mix?