Things I Recommend
I’ve set up this area to collect some of the things I recommend in various areas of the site like my camera gear page or my birding and bird photography recommendations.
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Two things really stand out to me in the changes from the X-T2 to the X-T3: the upgrade of the sensor from 24 megapixels to 26 seems relatively minor, but in practice, I find the added pixels and improved detail I see in images a big plus. As someone who’s photography often requires some cropping, it also gives me more flexibility in the crop without losing detail, which can effectively extend the range of the system when photographing distant birds.
The other big improvement is the Autofocus system, which is significantly faster and more accurate than the X-T2, which I really liked. I find there’s a lot less hunting, and once it locks on to a moving subject, it’s much better at staying locked.
Overall, this is a great, no-compromise camera body that is equally capable of doing long-telephoto birds-in-flight action photography and slow shutter landscape work. I really love it.
Given that it’s effectively an X-T2 inside, there’s very little compromise in image quality using an X-T20, I’m more than comfortable using it as my primary camera, and when my X-T3 was out for repair after I dropped it (ouch), I used the X-T20 and was quite happy with the results. My take is most people could use happily use an X-T20 or the newer X-T30 as their primary camera and never notice the missing features, while saving themselves a lot of money.
How much? I paid about $900 for the X-T20 with the 18-55 lens. The X-T30 with that lens is currently about $1300, while the X-T3 with that lens will set you back $1900. For the cost difference, I suggest most people take a close look at the X-T30 before deciding to buy it’s big brother the X-T3. The 18-55 is the “kit” lens, but I like it, and it’s small and light, so for a good carry-around system, it makes a good combo to have handy.
Fuji XF 100-400 Zoom Tele
That said, this is a big, heavy lens, like all super-telephotos. It’s not cheap: it’s close to $1900 at Amazon, and when you combine it with the teleconverter (another $500), this is an expensive lens combo that’s definitely not for the beginner bird photography.
And while it’s heavy — the equivalent setup I used when I was still shooting Canon (a 7DmkII and a Sigma 100-600 Sport) cost about the same, but weighed over 8 pounds compared to the Fuji setup checking in around 3.5. That’s the difference between slinging it on your side and carrying it around and attaching it to a gimbal and hauling it and the tripod with you. That’s a huge reason why I made the switch to mirrorless gear, and I regret it not one bit.
Fuji XF 50-140 Zoom Tele
Fuji XF 16-55 Zoom Tele
It’s not inexpensive at around $1200, but for wider angle landscapes, it’s top quality and I love working with it.
Fuji 60mm Macro
This isn’t a lens I’ve used a lot yet, but I’m starting to work with more and it seems a good, solid macro lens.
Rokinon 8mm Fisheye
Fuji XF 1.4 TeleConverter
I have experimented with the 2.x Teleconverter, and while I know friends who really like it, especially on the 55-200mm lens, I always found it softer than I liked, and I rarely have a situation where I can’t get a shot with the 1.4x and a bit of cropping, so these days, the 2.0x TC is sitting in my drawer waiting for me to have a reason to use it again.
Induro CT-113 Tripod
These are no longer made and I don’t have a formal recommendation, but the current equivalent from Induro would be the CLT104 at about $300, and while I haven’t tested it, it seems like it has the same capabilities as mine at slightly reduced weight.
Induro BHL2 Ballhead
Opteka GH1 Gimbal
My one criticism is that, like so many inexpensive tripods, the ballhead can struggle to lock down when a larger camera is on it. You have to be pretty careful to balance the weight when putting a camera on it, or you’ll get slippage, which can be frustrating, and there’s more flex in the head, meaning that when you aim and lock down, you often see your target shift out of the center of the composition, so sometimes getting the aiming just right can take a few tries.
I may well replace the ballhead at some point, but 95% of the time it’s fine for me, and the legs seem solid and well built and overall, for a $100 tripod, it works fine for what I need it for.
Tom Bihn’s Maker Bag
This both allows me and in some ways forces me to put my gear away at the end of a shoot (my lenses live on a shelf in my office) and also makes me consider what I am going to need and pack the bag based on that before I go out. It’s large enough to carry two bodies with my 16-55F2.8 and 50-140F2.8 attached, or the 100-400 with a second lens, but when fully packed like that it can get a bit heavy.
To protect the gear while in the bag I usually wrap them in some nice, fluffy microfiber towels, which can also clean gear off as needed. If I think they need more protection, I have a set of Altura Neoprene Pouches I can put the lenses in.
Because I don’t have a camera bag with 97 pockets to store gear, I’ve instead created what I call a support pouch, which I’ve packed my basic set of necessary tools and other useful items in, and it goes in the bottom of the bag when I pack it out. The contents of this support pouch is below, but it includes things like first aid items, flashlights, hand warmers and a multi-tool. This also means when I do pack out my bigger bag, I can simply drop in this kit rather than worry about having to pull everything out and repack it when I switch bags.
This was an experiment for me in trying to teach myself to see not carrying everything I own as a positive change rather than a worry about missing a shot, and so far, I’m quite happy with the results and the bag, and I’m glad I’ve made this change from the classic camera bag and the “hoarder” mentality I found it brought to me.
Lowepro Pro Runner BP 450 AW II
I’ve used this bag since 2016, and if you’re looking for a photo backpack that can carry a lot of hear, it’s quite a nice bag. It’s not a bag I’d consider using if your goal is to “go light”, but it’s not intended to do that. It’s held up quite well given my tendency to be hard on gear, and it’s a really good choice for the right situations.
Having the right accessories can make or break your photography. There’s nothing quite like losing an image because something failed at a key time, or because you didn’t have what you needed to fix a problem in the field.
I tend to be a bit of an accessory hoarder, but I’ve been working to pass along things I don’t use, and find the things that best work for me and work reliably when I’m pushing to get a shot made before the light fades. Below is a list of the items I use and feel I can recommend to you.
That said, my current strap is okay, but not awesome, and I’m planning to investigate options at some point and see if I can come up with one I really like, rather than tolerate. For now, other than saying “stop wrapping cameras around your neck” and to use a sling strap, I don’t have a specific suggestion.
Remote Shutter Release
And suggest that manufacturers PLEASE stop using random weird batteries in their units that have to be special ordered (AA or AAA please), or make them USB rechargeable but give me no way to see they’re about to run out of juice until it fails in the field on me. again.
Just sayin’. It’s almost like these people build things they never actually use themselves.
ND Filters and Circular Polarizer
The largest diameter lens I use regularly with filters is 77mm, so I bought my filters at that size. I then use the step-up rings to let me attach them to my lenses with smaller filter diameters. Before you buy ND filters, you need to decide what size to buy and what step-up rings you’ll want, since they will differ depending on what lenses you have. Buying step-up rings is a lot cheaper than buying a set of filters for each diameter lens you own, so it’s a smart way to leverage these accessories on all your gear.
I’m particularly impressed with the lack of color cast and the optical quality of the glass, as well as the machining of the the filter housing, with nice, serrated edges that make it a lot easier to attach and detach these filters.
I’m going to be adding a 10 stop filter soon, and I’m looking forward to testing it out and seeing if it’s as free of color cast as it’s less dense siblings are. These aren’t inexpensive filters, but I think if you are getting serious about slow shutter work, these are a great set of tools to have handy.
Memory Cards and Batteries
My current preference for an SD card is the Transcend 64Gb 700S, which I’ve found is big enough for a single card to hold my entire shoot for a camera even on days where I’m heavily depending on fast burst to try to capture a moving bird. I’ve yet to have one error out or fail on me, except in those situations where I do something silly like dorp it in a puddle or run it through the washing machine.
To carry my memory I use the Pelican 915 card case. It holds 12 cards, more than enough for my needs, and it’s waterproof and shock resistant to give the cards protection in rough handling.
The other thing you need are batteries, and if there’s one negative difference between mirrorless systems and DLSRs, is that mirrorless batteries don’t hold out as long as DLSR batteries usually did. I’ve gotten used to carrying a enough batteries that I don’t worry that I’ll run out of juice, and carry chargers that let me get them all recharged in the evening for the next shooting day.
With the Fuji X-T3, you have to be careful with 3rd party batteries because the X-T3 wants an upgraded version of the battery for longest life — the older batteries that work with the X-T2 will work with it, but because of the power draw, they run hotter and run out of juice faster, so you need to look for batteries that are compatible with the X-T3 — known as the NP-W126S vs the older NP-W126. When I was shopping for batteries few third party manufacturers had upgraed their batteries for the change, but I found some batteries from OAproda that claimed to be at a price that didn’t annoy me like buying extra batteries from Fuji does. My testing indicates they last more or less the same as the Fuji batteries do, and I’m paying $25 for two instead of $65 for one. I now have 7 batteries in my collection, and I typically use 3-4 in a given shooting day.
In researching chargers, I found that a lot of the lower-cost chargers don’t do a good job of regulating their charging voltages and can cause excess heat in batteries, reducing their useful life. I ended up buying the Watson Duo Charger which can charge two batteries at ones, gives me a status of the charging cycle, and which manages its charging voltages to protect the battery. It uses plates to configure for a battery, so you can buy other plates if you need to charge multiple types rather than needing to buy extra chargers, and it can run on both AC power and a 12 volt car charging connection.
To carry batteries I use two different cases: The ThinkTank Photo Battery case 4, which holds four batteries, and the Thinktank Photo Battery 1, which holds a single battery and a single SD card. I keep the latter in my pocket when I’m out wandering around in case I need to swap out either on the fly, and I keep the other batteries in my bag for when I need them.
The other thing that needs to be cleaned at times is the camera sensor, which can attract dust which shows up in your final image. I know a lot of photographers get squeamish about cleaning sensors, but I think once you’ve done it once or twice, you’ll realize it’s not that big a deal, as long as you’re careful. If you have a place you have your sensors cleaned, see if they’ll let you watch a cleaning so you have an idea what’s up, or find one of the cleaning videos on Youtube.
To clean your sensor you need various tools and fluids. This sensor cleaning kit from Movo is a good way to get the basics at little cost. You should make sure you get the right sized swabs for your sensor, whether APC or full frame. One reason I like this kit is it includes a sensor loupe, which you need to take a close look at your sensor and verify it’s really clean (or not). I’ve used one from VisibleDust for over a decade and it works fine, but it’s way more expensive compared to other products on the market these days, so I can’t recommend it.
I use the Datacolor Spyder5 to calibrate my monitors. I typically check them quarterly, or whenever I change the lighting setup in my office. It’s inexpensive — under $150 — and it’s easy to use, with pretty good software to help you get the calibration locked in.
When I moved away from the idea of a “camera bag” with lots of pockets and zippers and pigeonholes stuffed full of stuff you forgot was in there, I knew I needed some way to make sure I was carrying all the stuff I might need if something unexpected cropped up. At the same time, the idea of needing a written checklist of items and spending 30 minutes packing and unpacking them into bags made me shudder, so I decided to build out a kit of that stuff that is already ready and can be stuffed in any bag I happen to be heading out with.
I call it the support kit, and what’s in it? Basically, everything you might need but don’t tend to think about until you need it. What’s that mean? It’s where I keep first aid supplies, a flashlight, my multi-tool, gaffer tape, and that sort of thing.
Here’s the contents of my pouch right now. Since this is a fairly new concept for me, it may change as I get experience and find stuff I wish I had stuck in it…
The Storage Pouch
It is just big enough to hold what I need, not so big that it wastes space, and it keeps things in place so I can quickly open it up and find what I’m looking for without rummaging. And it fits nicely in all my carry around bags if I want it.
So, yeah. I am kind of a nerd about storage and organization. Why do you ask?
Amusingly enough, I was out on a shoot this morning (as I write this) and had both of my tripods randomly eject parts onto the ground as I was setting them up to use. With the multi-tool, I had both of them re-assembled and working in about five minutes, where without the pouch, I would have been trying to hand hold a spotting scope. I don’t recommend that.
Random Useful things
Pack this pouch in your bag, and you’re now ready for any emergency. Or at least some emergencies. More emergencies than you were ready for before you packed it, that’s for sure.
Here are the different products I recommend to people who are looking at getting into birding, or getting more serious about it. For more details on why I recommend these items, please see Gear Kit: What to carry when you go out and bird.
Beginner Spotting Scope
Beginner Birding Camera
Birding Camera Upgrade Pick
If you’re really interested in a “no compromises” camera setup for bird photography, see my camera page of this store, but it’s going to cost you at least twice the cost of this Sony bridge camera.
The other reason to wear a hat? You’ll know that first time you’re on the ground under 30,000 geese flying overhead…
Within the Frame, 10th Anniversary Edition
To me, it was the start of a new phase in my photography, one I’m still working through, of trying to create interesting images by controlling the content and light within them. The nerdy details are still crucial in photography to master it, but they should be tools used to implement a vision rather than, as they seem today, the primary thing a photographer thinks about. This is a great book to start that journey beyond thinking that the camera gear is what’s most important in your photography.
The Bayern Agenda
Yeah. It’s really good. I thought his first book was seriously good, especially for a first novel, and showed a lot of potential both in the writing and in the story/universe, but 2nd novels often step back a bit because authors can spend a long time polishing up the first book, but the 2nd is where they learn to write on deadline. This book shows me an author that has really matured into his voice and boy, do I want to see book 3 now. (dan, if you ever want a beta reader…).
The Consuming Fire
The best way to define this is that at one point Scalzi got tweeted by someone asking if he really needed to use the F— word so much in this book, and Scalzi responded that yes, he did need to. And in the context of the story and how it was part of his defining the characters and their reactions in the world, he’s absolutely right.
The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel
This was a book I nominated for a Hugo award.
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