Photography Gear: What Camera, Lenses and Accessories Do We Use?

taking photographs in Tent Rocks near Santa Fe

We sometimes get questions about the kinds of photography equipment we use to create our images. We also briefly touched on this topic in the Adventure Photography class that we recently taught at the REI in Asheville. As a result we decided to create a post that we can point people to! The following is all about equipment in an effort to answer the following question: what is the best photography gear for van lifers and content creators?

Update: As of the summer of 2022, we are both shooting with the Sony Alpha 7R IV Full Frame camera. And though we love the Fuji gear we used to use, the Sony gear has completely replaced our Fuji camera gear outlined below.

Camera Bodies

Sony A7RIV Full Frame Mirrorless Camera

This camera has a whopping 61 megapixels which we love. It means that you can crop your images and still retain a ton of data in your images. It’s also a full-frame camera which the Fuji’s (below) were not. For us, both of these things were a game changer. We both shoot manual almost all of the time and love that there are a ton of buttons that we can program in order to shoot fast and on the fly. It has two UHS-II slots which we like but the buffering tends to be very slow when shooting RAW and particularly in continuous (burst) mode.

Buy the Sony A7RIV Full Frame Mirrorless Camera

Fuji X-T2

The Fuji X-T2 is a hard-working camera that is great for content creators and photography enthusiasts. In particular, it’s great for those who love the outdoors due to it’s dust and moisture resistant body. It has 63 points of weather sealing and is freeze resistant to up to 14 Degree Fahrenheit. We loved ours and though we no longer use them regularly, they’re still great cameras.

woman taking a photo with the Fuji X-T2
Shooting photos with the X-T2 in North Carolina!

I love the quality of images that this camera offers. At 24 megapixels, there’s enough information in your photos to print them with confidnce AND print them large. It also offers 4K video for those of you out there that also want to be able to take moving pictures. This camera feels good in my fairly small hands and the controls are located easily enough so that you can manipulate them pretty quickly and with a little practice without having to take your eye away from the viewfinder.

Fuji XT-2 in Wichita Mountains, OK
Fuji X-T2 on location in the Wichita Mountains, OK

I also love that this camera has two memory card slots, is Wi-Fi capable, weather sealed and even shoots Ultra HD movies. My favorite feature of all though? The joystick that allows you to quickly choose your focal point. This is a huge upgrade from the X100S that forced you to use the arrows in order to control focal point, sometimes unfortunately causing you to miss shots because you’re fiddling with a small button. Not anymore. This joystick is intuitive and awesome whether your shooting portrait or landscape.

From an aesthetic point of view, I also just like the way the camera looks. People regularly ask if it’s an old film camera (it’s not) because of the design: square angles, rugged body and classic lines.

Most of all, this camera is just plain fun to shoot with and I already had confidence in the brand because of my experience with the Fuji X-100S.

Fuji X100S

woman taking a photograph in Beijing
The Fuji X-100S in Beijing!

I started traveling with this camera a couple of years ago. It has a fixed 35mm lens. It was my only camera at the time but now that we shoot full-time it feels more like a toy. It’s still a great little street camera in that it’s compact and can be used with an electronic shutter (meaning it’s quiet.) It does tend to invite questions by curious onlookers and camera enthusiasts though, so if you’re feeling shy it’s best to leave this one at home. Oh, and if you buy an adapter ring that goes onto the 35mm lens, you can attach a 24mm wide angle lens to it.

Fuji x-100s
Fuji X100S with the conversion lens

The X100S has been on numerous trips with me and continues to be a camera that I value and hold onto, even though these days I’m shooting almost 100% of the time with my Sony gear. It makes a great backup camera and is the one I reach for on fun, personal expeditions because of it’s compact size and low weight. For those of you looking for more of a wide angle lens, you can achieve that with the conversion lens pictured above.

Lenses

If you choose wisely, you may own certain lenses for life. Good glass really never goes out of style. And if you stick within a certain family, you may be able to use your lenses on several different bodies. For example, we can interchange our lenses on both the X-T2 and the X-T1.

Before investing, first determine whether or not you prefer prime lenses or zoom lenses. The debate about which photographers choose to use is a lengthy one but ultimately has to do with preference.

We shoot with prime lenses because we prefer to move our feet to get our shots, love the clarity and sharpness that prime lenses offer and also require really wide apertures that our primes give us. We have nothing against zoom lenses (like I said earlier, one of my favorite all time lenses, the 70-200 was a zoom lens) but for what we’re doing these days, we love primes.

Sony Lenses

Sony FE 50mm F1.2 GM Full-Frame Large-Aperture G Master Lens

This lens is one of our favorites. Simply put, the photos come out beautiful with crispy, sharp details, beautiful bokeh, and at an F1.2 can be used in very low light. Plus it’s compact, and for it’s size, fairly lightweight. It’s also dust and moisture resistant which is crucial since we shoot a ton of outdoor photography.

Buy the Sony FE 50mm F1.2 GM Full-Frame G-Master Lens

Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM Full-Frame Large-Aperture Wide Angle G Master Lens

Like the 50mm lens above, this 35mm G Master lens is another heavy hitter in our lineup. It probably gets about 50 percent of our workload, for much of the same reasons as the lens above.

Buy the Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM Full-Frame Aperture G-Master Lens

Fuji Lenses

Fujifilm XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR Lens

This was our go-to lens. Back when we used Fuji’s we shot a lot our work with this lens. It’s super-wide which allows us to share a lot of information about a place or space. It also does so without too much distortion. The lens gives you great bokeh (the blurry effect that people love!) and the aperture range goes from f/1.4 to f/16.

Buy the Fujifilm XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR Lens

Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R Lens

The 56 mm lens is a beautiful lens and is perfect for portraits and weddings and engagements where space is critical to making your subject(s) comfortable. It also does a great job separating the subject from the background and with the 1.2 aperture can give you some real creamy bokeh.

Buy the Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R Lens

Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 XF R Lens

This is also a great all-around lens. It’s a lot of people’s go-to lenses. If you are just starting out and only want to invest in one all-around lens, we recommend this one.

Buy the Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 XF R Lens

Other Photography Gear

Peak Design Travel Tripod (Carbon Fiber)

If you appreciate attention to detail and you love thoughtful design, Peak Design is the company for you. All of their gear, and we’ve tested a lot, is made well and is clever. Take this tripod, for example. Tripod’s have been around forever but this one is better than all of them. It packs down to about the size of a water bottle. It’s super lightweight thanks to the carbon fiber that it’s made with. Rotating it from landscape to portrait orientation is a breeze. There’s a dual hex-key that is actually housed on the tripod so you never have to wonder where it is. Oh and the legs expand almost instantly so you never miss a shot.

Buy the Peak Design Travel Tripod

Manfrotto Element Traveller Tripod

I bought this tripod a few years back and it’s been super durable and withstood years of careless abuse. It’s made of aluminum and though there are lighter ones on the market, this one isn’t too bad weight-wise coming in at 2.6 pounds. It also folds down pretty small and is quick to set-up. Not recommended with very large lenses or in high winds! You’ll definitely want something way more sturdy for that. It’s good though for most situations and if you want a good starter tripod, this is it.

Buy the Manfrotto Element Traveller Tripod

Camera Bags

Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L v2

If there’s two photographers in your home, you’d better get two of these Peak Design backpacks. Why? Because you’ll end up fighting over who gets to use it! It’s that good. Not only does it store your camera and lenses but it also has a sleeve for your laptop and tablet. It’s comfortable, too. One of our favorite things about the Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L v2 is that it’s weatherproof. The zippers, too. Which you can go for a hike or bike commute with it and not worry about the elements. It looks as good in the city as it does in the outdoors. The external pockets stretch to fit a water bottle or a tripod. Compared to the bag below, the Peak Design Backpack 45L, this is our go-to for day hikes, photo walks in the city, and smaller shoots when you need less gear.

Peak Design Backpack 45L

This photography backpack is a hero. We also sometimes use it for our video gear. On days when you’ll need to bring several different lenses, memory cards, your phone, snacks, tripod, water bottle, wallet, lens wipes, etc., this is your backpack. There are numerous ways into the pack with dual side zippers and as well as a way to get into the bag from the back. Plus, Peak Design’s Modular Bag system means you can swap out various sized cubes in order to customize how you carry your gear.

Buy the Peak Design Backpack 45L

Lowepro Tahoe BP 150 Camera Bag

We also really love the Lowepro Tahoe BP 150 Camera Bag. To learn more about it, click here. We’ve written a review specifically about this bag. It’s a bit on the smaller side for professional photographers, but it’s perfect for those who want to carry a camera body with a lens attached and one to two other lenses. Downside? It’s not weatherproof and has limited storage.

Buy the Lowepro Tahoe BP 150 Camera Bag

Photography gear recap

One thing we can’t over emphasize is that though the kind and type and quality of gear you have will have an impact on your photos, it will never supersede the actual person creating the images.

There are so many features and functions and brands of cameras these days but we’ve just chosen to highlight what we use and love. It’s by no means the end all be all of photography gear.

We recommend shooting photos with anything and everything you an get your hands on. If you have a phone and it takes pictures, shoot with it! If a relative no longer wants or uses a camera and wants to give it to you, try it out. You will learn something from every single piece of gear you use. The most important thing is to just get out there and shoot. It’s not the camera that makes the photographer.

What questions do you have? Please leave them in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer them. Are you happy with your camera gear? We’d love to hear about your experience even if it’s not something we’re currently working with.

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Published by Erin McGrady

Erin McGrady is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer exploring Asheville and beyond. My work focuses on sharing about LGBTQ safe spaces, camper van life, and the outdoors.

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