Photography gear, photo editing software, and more! This is the stuff I use and/or recommend!
I have been sharing some of my favorite things on the blog here for a while, but they are scattered across multiple pages and generally tied to reviews of a product. So in an effort to simplify and consolidate, I wanted to get everything on one page. This is that page. Wow, sounds impressive, huh? :-)
I do get questions about this stuff, so that was another reason to put it all together. In other words, I get lazy and don't want to write things twice. :-) And while this is mostly a site about photography, travel is a major component of what I do (and definitely something I love), so I included everything I could think of from the standpoint of getting somewhere as well as what equipment I like to use while in the field (and the office, for that matter).
DISCLOSURE: Many of these links are AFFILIATE links with the provider. YOUR PRICE IS THE SAME whether you buy through this link or not. However, if you do purchase through these links, I receive a small commission which I reinvest in the ongoing maintenance of this site, and which allows me to continue generating this content at no charge to you.
These are all products that I know, use (or have used), and/or recommend - whether I get a commission on your purchase or not. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions, and I really do appreciate the support. It goes a long way and is much appreciated!
So without further delay, here are all my favorite things (plus various other things that I don't have, but are good to know about and worth investigating), along with clickable links to get you to them. Enjoy, and have fun out there! Let me know how it goes for you!
I have done my best to include various options and recommendations for you, because everyone has their own idea about what the "perfect" setup is for their own needs. Hopefully this helps my friends!
Cameras, lenses and related gear:
I have shot with several brands over the years. First was Nikon, then Olympus, and now Sony - and I have never had a bad experience, otherwise I would tell you about it. All of the products below have been great to use, and depending on what you are trying to do and are able to spend, all get a thumbs up from me based on real world experience. You can't really go wrong with the stuff I highlight below. A lot of it just depends on how things feel to you. Feel free to email me with questions!
Sony Alpha A7II Mirrorless Digital Camera - This is my latest camera (which you can read about here and here) and it is so incredible that I don't have enough space here to write about it all! Seriously, the dynamic range and image quality that this camera creates is unbelievable! I'm in love. :-) It's full-frame, has 5 axis in-body image stabilization, and delivers 24 megapixel images of incredible quality. I want to go shoot right now, I'm getting so fired up just typing!
If you really feel the need to spend money, then go ahead and get the Sony A7RII camera with the whopping 42mp sensor - but buy some extra storage, too! :-)
One other idea for you, in case you tend to shoot in low light (astrophotography, for example), is the Sony A7S which is their incredible low-light/high ISO beast. It's also known to be great for videographers. And of course, there is also the Sony A7SII which is the newer version.
If you want to explore Sony cameras further, here is a link to the Sony mirrorless camera page on Amazon. There are so many cameras that it can be hard to keep up, but I have heard only great things about all of them.
Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens - Wow, that's a name, huh? :-) This lens is quite nice and I am very happy with it. It's sharp and accurate and delivers for me, every time. It's a full-frame lens for the Sony E mount and works wonders on the A7II. Having used the 14-24 from Nikon for years (see below), I can say that I am equally happy with this lens and the results I am getting from it. It's wide enough without being too wide, and reaching to 35mm is a nice touch.
Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS Lens - Another long name, and yeah I just call it the 24-70 too. :-) As much as I love the 16-35mm for my wide shots, this one is just as great for the tighter shots. I could argue that this lens is actually more versatile, owing to the greater focal length, but my opinion is that you should have both, assuming your budget allows it. They are very different in terms of what you can "see" with them, but performance-wise they are both stellar pieces of glass. I use this lens ALL THE TIME.
Sony SEL24240 FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS Zoom Lens - I don't have this lens. I have (and use nearly all the time) the one above, which is the 24-70mm f/4 lens, and it's great. But I will admit there are times when a little more reach would be great, and that's when I think about this lens. Apart from the focal length, the other big difference is that the 24-70 is a constant f/4 whereas this lens is not. But I think that doesn't matter so much anyways. So, perhaps I will get this lens at some point. Certainly if I were to find myself needing more range, this would be the next purchase!
Sony FE 28mm f/2 Prime Lens - This is a great little prime lens, which I find really handy to have around. I have taken it on a few trips solely, opting for the slim size and light weight in those cases while leaving the other lenses at home. Being able to open up to f/2 allows me to fire off shots handheld in low light, and the semi-wide 28mm lets me capture a whole scene comfortably. Big fan! I also wrote up a review of this lens, which includes more detailed thoughts on it and a bunch of sample photos. Also, you can get a fisheye converter for this lens, which I have and it works great! You can find that here.
Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Prime Lens - This is another lens that I do not have but keep looking at and contemplating. I SO love the 28mm prime and maybe that lens just needs the 50mm prime for a playmate. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Reviews are generally solid, and the price is very affordable.
3rd Party Lenses for Sony - Voigtlander
One other idea for Sony cameras is to take a look at some of the other lens-makers out there. In particular, I have my eye on Voigtlander and they have quite a few options for use on a Sony camera (just be sure to get the appropriate adaptor, too, if needed). There are all sorts of options here - and no I have not tried them all - but I hear great things and many times the prices of these are much less than the comparable Sony-branded version. I have never been a "lens collector" sort of person, but some of these are quite tempting! Maybe I should start to build up my collection of glass.
Olympus cameras and lenses...
Olympus OMD EM-1 Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds digital camera - This was my camera for a good while and was my first experience with a mirrorless camera...and it was an awesome experience! Small, light, but very capable. Highly recommended! You can read my review here. I really only gave it up because I wanted to return to a full frame camera. If you aren't hung up on that idea, this makes for a GREAT travel camera.
If you would like a less expensive option, consider the Olympus OMD EM-10, which I purchased for my daughter. It's the perfect size for her - and for travel - and still offers up great performance.
You can find the entire Olympus mirrorless camera family here if you would like to review them all.
Olympus M.Zuiko 9-18mm f/4-5.6 wide angle lens - This lens is really wide and so small and light! It can literally fit in a pocket. It's great walking around with this little guy attached - particularly good for landscape and architecture. It was a standard lens for a lot of my HDR shots.
Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens - This is the first lens in the "pro" category for Olympus, and I freaking love it! I shot with it nearly non-stop for quite a while. It's incredibly capable and versatile - it makes it hard to take it off! You can read my review of it here. I walked around with only this lens on my camera many times and was never disappointed. Great performance, reasonably small and light, quick to focus - the list goes on.
Panasonic/Leica Summilux 15mm f/1.7 prime lens - Wow, this is one awesome piece of glass. It works great handheld in low light (thanks to that f/1.7 aperture) and as a 15mm prime lens (similar to 30mm on a full frame) it causes me to really focus on composition - which is a great thing! You can read my review of it here. This was my other favorite lens when I used the Olympus camera. I shot with this lens on several trips exclusively, I liked it so much. So fun to shoot wide open at f/1.7 in low light!
Olympus M.Zuiko 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 mid range zoom lens - I find this mid-range zoom to be a great all-around lens. It has enough range to cover a lot of what I normally shoot, though if you can afford it and just want one lens in this category, the 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens is a better choice.
Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/4-5.6 zoom lens - This guy has some pretty awesome reach! Great for when you are too lazy to walk any further LOL. I liked this lens, and it has great range considering the size of it. However, I often found that I left it in the bag in favor of the 12-40 Pro lens. Obviously they are very different, but that Pro lens was my go-to for general purpose photography. That is not a slight to this lens as much as it is a compliment to the other one.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens - I have used this lens although I never owned it. It's awesome. It's perfect for those wide angle cityscapes and landscapes and that f/2.8 let's you really open up if you need to. Wonderful product, well worth the money. I loved using it, but converted to Sony before I ended up buying it.
A little bit about Nikon...
As I mentioned above, I used Nikon in years past and always found them to be great products. The two lenses below are TOTAL WORKHORSES and I loved them both. The main reason I left Nikon was because I wanted a credible mirrorless camera, and I didn't feel like they had one. However if you are interested in a DSLR their family of products in that category is definitely worth looking at. You can find all of those here.
Nikon 14-24 wide angle lens - This was my go-to lens when I shot with the Nikon. I can highly recommend this one - very wide and very sharp! My review of this lens can be found here. I seriously had trouble taking this one off because I loved shooting wide angle so much. It's all I did a lot of the time.
Nikon 28-300mm zoom lens - This is a fabulous all-around lens for a full frame Nikon, and was my other lens when I used that brand. Very solid, great range, great quality. My review of this lens can be found here. When I did swap to this lens from the wide angle, I was always rewarded by being able to get such a different view of things. I really believe you need to have lenses for wide angle and zoom - it's the only way to do it.
Obviously, Nikon is also well known for their DSLR cameras. I have had two of them myself, and they both performed really well for me under varying conditions. Should you want to explore their offerings, you can follow this link to see a full array of Nikon DSLR cameras on Amazon.
Wildcard fun point and shoot camera with 4k video - Panasonic LX100
I never thought of myself as someone who would own (and talk about) a point and shoot camera, but the little Panasonic LX100 is awesome. Sure, it's not as capable as my Sony, but this thing is so small that you can easily carry it everywhere and capture great photos, even in questionable light. It's a micro 4/3 sensor and it has 4k video, so it's a very capable little guy to tuck into a pocket or for just general messing around. I use it a lot when I travel, when I am also shooting with my Sony gear. It's just quick and easy and fun to shoot with. If you are looking for a little camera for quick snaps on the go, this is a great option for exactly that!
Accessories and more!
- Memory cards - I have a mixture of Hoodman and Sandisk, and so far have had great experiences with both. I recommend getting at least 16GB cards, and preferably 32GB. And yes you need several of these for each trip! You really can never have enough. I have something like 12 or so memory cards. While I never fill them all up on a trip, they are available just in case. And truthfully, they aren't super expensive. More is definitely better when it comes to memory and storage! And while you are at it, pick up a memory card case to store them in, too. I'm a fan of the hard-sided cases, personally.
- Vu Sion Professional Filters - This is an incredible bunch of filters. I have the entire set - the drop-in filter holder, the neutral density filters, the graduated neutral density filters, and the polarizing filters. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THEM! They work great with my Sony camera and fit comfortably in my backpack. Seriously, being able to capture 3-4 minute exposures in daylight by using the 10-stop ND filter is just plain fun. It's a great way to kick up your creativity a bit. Capture silky-smooth flowing water, let clouds turn into blurs as they pass overhead - the creative possibilities are endless. I HIGHLY recommend this filter set. They are made with the highest quality standards and work very well!
- Sony RM-VPR1 remote release - I love this little remote release and it has worked great for me. I used it for my HDR work to hold down the shutter button through my exposures, or for longer exposure work as well.
- Giottos rocket air blaster - This little thing is great for blowing dust off your sensor, which can collect there when you change lenses. Small, light, and cheap! It does actually look like a rocket, hence the name. I have heard of photographers being stopped in the airport when one of these was in their carry-on bag (presumably it could appear to be a weapon when they scan the bag), but I have always put it in my checked luggage, so I haven't experienced that. Just FYI.
- Black rapid strap - This is a great strap to use when you want to just have the camera hanging on your side, but very secure and easy to grab and shoot. Wonderful for city walks and general travel use, and comfortable enough for all-day wear. It attaches via the tripod mount on the bottom of your camera and is a very durable item.
- MeFoto Roadtrip travel tripod - You can read my review of this tripod here. It’s a great tripod - sturdy, portable, and inexpensive. It’s the full package in a small size. Choose from a lot of colors! I used to use Manfrotto, but was seriously disappointed in their support. This tripod has been no trouble at all, and I have had it for a few years now. It's much smaller and lighter than the Manfrotto, and much less expensive too. Works great on my mirrorless camera, but I have also used it on a full frame DSLR with a big lens on it, and no problem there either!
- MountainSmith Spectrum camera backpack - The search for the perfect bag never ends. I’ve had so many bags that I have lost count. At this time, this bag is the most perfect for my use, and I’ve really enjoyed it. It will hold a laptop as well as a camera body and multiple lenses (DSLR or Mirrorless) and I even toss in the iPad and accessories and it all still fits. You can attach a tripod on the side too. Plus, it’s a backpack so it leaves your hands free. Win.
As you can see, the laptop fits in the rear sleeve compartment, while the camera gear fits snugly in the padded compartment at the bottom. That compartment currently holds my Sony A7II, the 16-35 wide angle lens and the 24-70 mid-range zoom lens. I could also slip in my 28mm prime lens and a couple of other small items if needed. On top of that is a large pocket in which I put a notepad, iPad, and all my little things like battery charger, memory cards, and more. This bag holds a LOT of stuff, believe me!
- Think Tank Photo backpacks and accessories - I have had 2 bags and a few accessories (memory card cases, for example) and I can honestly say that these things are built to last! In my old Nikon days I had the Streetwalker Hard Drive and it was awesome, although I will admit it is pretty large. But back then I had all my Nikon gear (listed above) and it was big and I needed the space. But now that I shoot Sony mirrorless, I needed a smaller bag and the Urban Approach 15 is the perfect size for me. It holds more than I can carry, honestly, but is still a small size and easily fits under an airline seat. It also holds my laptop and all my accessories, so I am a happy man with this thing!
- SwissGear backpacks - The other backpack brand that I am a BIG fan of is SwissGear. I've had a couple of these over the years (and still have them) and they are total workhorses. They usually have all these great little pockets here and there and while they are not designed specifically for photographers, you can definitely adapt them to work as a photography backpack.
- You can get some neoprene camera lens pouches and drop them in the backpack and it will work just fine. Plus they usually have a water bottle side pocket that can hold the base of your tripod - you'll just need to attach it at the top to secure it. It works, though!
Photo editing software:
Macphun Software - The entire product suite, known as Creative Kit, is just amazing. From Intensify for powerful processing options (see my review here) to Snapheal (easily remove unwanted objects), Tonality (black and white converter), Noiseless (for noise reduction), and Focus (creative focus effects), you just can't find a more powerful yet easy-to-use suite of products. I'm a HUGE fan. Their newest product is Aurora HDR Pro which is my go-to photo editor now, both for HDR and single exposure photos. It's incredible. Use the coupon code JimNix to save 10% on your purchase of any of their Creative Kit apps or on Aurora HDR Pro! You can find my full review and tutorial of Aurora HDR Pro right here. Click the banner below to learn more.
Also, I have an entire resource page dedicated to Macphun - so CHECK IT OUT!
Adobe Lightroom CC - I manage my entire photo library in Lightroom, as well as doing minor touch-up here too. It works well for me, and I find it highly capable and easy to use. In fact, I love it. I used Apple's Aperture product for many years, but am really glad I made the conversion - you can read about it here.
Nik Software - This entire suite of products is incredible, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Color Efex Pro, which I have used on hundreds of my images. It’s a collection of 50+ filters, and I just absolutely LOVE to use this stuff. While I have converted to the Macphun suite for all my image editing needs, this bundle is NOW FREE so if you are interested it's worth getting, even if you don't use it much.
Photomatix - I started using this many years ago, and it’s only gotten better. This is the software that I have used to create many of my HDR images. Use the coupon code NOMADICPURSUITS to get 15% off your order! While I now build my HDR photos in Aurora HDR, Photomatix is still quite good and if you use Windows, it's the best option for you.
Topaz Labs - Another great suite of products, though the one I have mostly used is Topaz Adjust. However, I also spend a LOT of time using their creative art filter products: Impression, Simplify, and Glow. They are worth checking out! The entire suite gives you a lot of flexibility to get creative with your images. Use the coupon code NOMADICPURSUITS to save 15% here as well!
OnOne Software - This is a great suite of products, best known for their product Perfect Effects. This is definitely worth checking out!
Laptop and other hardware:
Apple MacBook Pro Retina - This is the greatest laptop ever. Great retina screen and great performance when processing those photos. I love this thing. I have the 15 inch version and this replaced a large desktop iMac I had years ago. While sometimes I miss the larger screen, I love the portability of using a laptop instead. I guess I could go buy a large monitor to view my images when at home, but I tend to be a bot of a minimalist and thus far haven't felt the irge to drop money on such a thing. Who knows, maybe someday.
Western Digital 4TB hard drives - I have 2 of these guys, and they are great. Small, sturdy, and large enough to hold my library (and a backup copy). They connect via Thunderbolt and are powered by the laptop, which I like quite a bit. I wanted something to hold my library that was also portable, so I could take it with me when I travel. That way I have my library with me wherever I go and can edit photos from old trips if I am so inclined. This fits the bill perfectly. Note that it is pretty heavy, because technically inside it is 2 drives of 2TB each. I just reformatted to create a single 4TB volume.
G-Technology 4TB G-Drive with Thunderbolt - I also have 2 of these drives, and they are as sturdy as they come. I keep two extra copies of my library stored on these - you can never have enough, right? I had heard great things about GTech for a long time, and eventually curiosity killed the cat, so to speak. I use these as additional backups, which means I always have an original copy of my library plus 3 backup copies (Original library on a WD drive, backup 1 on WD drive, backup 2 & 3 on these GTech drives). Note that these come with a separate AC adapter - in other words, they are not powered by the laptop. That's ok with me, since these are my drives for storing stuff at home. They are also a bit larger than the Western Digital drives, but again they aren't for travel in my workflow so that's ok. I love the look of them, they perform well, and I am very happy with them.
iPhone 6 - I’m an Apple guy through and through, and I love my iPhone. It gives me everything I need, and a decent camera to boot! Instagram something! I am on my 3rd iPhone now and still loving it! I take so many iPhone photos these days - the camera just gets better and better each time. I share my favorites in this album on Flickr. I tend to post several each week, and more when I travel since I am out capturing new things! Fun!
iPad Mini - I started with a Kindle a few years back, but moved to an iPad, and eventually the iPad Mini. It’s small so it takes up less space and weighs less, but does everything I need it to do. Perfect for travel. :-) I have many books on it and of course you can do all sorts of web stuff, email, etc. Really a very useful thing to have around.
Yeti USB microphone - Part of my creative outlet is crafting YouTube videos, which I mention below. I use this microphone to get incredibly high quality audio for my videos. It's reasonably priced and just plugs into the USB port on the side of my MacBook Pro. It is literally plug and play, and I highly recommend it. I use it for Skype calls and more! It's fabulous.
Blogging and general online awesomeness:
Squarespace - I have used Squarespace as my blogging platform for many years now, and love the ease of use, flexibility, and built in security of their platform. It’s an all-in-one package and it works great for me. They have great built-in templates which vary wildly and give you an idea of what all you can do with their platform. But there are also a million ways to customize things so no two sites ever look alike. You can even do custom coding/scripting in you have the technical chops for that sort of thing. I don't. I would rather spend my time working on photos than learning that stuff. That's the beauty of Squarespace - you can do as much or as little as you like with it! Use the code GIMME10 to save 10%.
SmugMug - This is the gold standard in photo-hosting. Various plans are available, and you can easily set up a store to sell high-quality prints as well. Save 20% by using this link! Having hosted my portfolio on SmugMug for several years now, I can comfortably say that it is rock-solid, customizable, easy to use, very capable, and beautiful - all at the same time. I'm very satisfied with SmugMug and plan to be a customer for a very long time! As soon as I finish editing a photo, I put it in an album there. I can then rest assured that the photo is backed up on their end as well as all the copies I have of it locally. In other words, regardless of whether you sell a lot of prints or not, this service is basically another form of cloud storage.
Flickr - The original and largest photo-specific social network out there. I have met many great photographers here that have ended up becoming friends in real life. It's worth building a network here. There is a huge variety of photography to view here, and it's easy to while away some time just viewing all the amazing work. I also use this as a tool to help me find photo locations for upcoming trips. It's easy to search based on a destination and you can sort based on date as well as something they call "interestingness". Very fun and helpful site! Here are my latest pics on Flickr:
Some folks also really love the photo-sharing website 500px. I loved it at the beginning, but some things changed there and I grew disenchanted with it. While the photo quality there is very high - incredibly high, I would say - I ended up nearly canceling my membership altogether. While I did opt to keep my presence there, I rarely post anymore. If you want to read my thoughts on it, you can do that here. I don't mean to disparage the site - some folks really love it and get a lot out of it - but I guess I decided that it wasn't for me.
YouTube - I have started creating video tutorials illustrating how I process my images, and will continue to do so. It's great fun for me, and I love sharing any tips and tricks that I have learned through hard-won experience. It's also a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to create a finished image. Here's a sample video.
Pinterest - I have really grown to enjoy Pinterest. At first it seemed to me like a place for swapping recipes and other domestic goodness, and it took me a while to get accustomed to it and interested in it. But in reality it's a fabulous site for sharing photographs and a great place for discovery. I continue to add more and more there, and plan to expand upon that going forward. It's much better for driving blog traffic than Facebook (in my experience) and pins seem to have a longer shelf life than anything I post on other social sites. Here's my latest:
Instagram - I joined late, but I’ve enjoyed the site. While I don't post there as much as I do on Flickr (for example), it's fun. There’s some fabulous inspiration there, and I love the fun of grabbing a quick iPhone shot and sharing it with the world. Though I must admit that I have been posting more of my "real" photos there now, as opposed to my iPhone shots. Call it peer pressure - there are so many great shots there, and while I love my iPhone shots for the "fun" of it, I wanted IG to be a better representation of what I really do. Here are my latest pics on Instagram:
Travel miscellany - websites, books and more:
Rick Steves Guidebooks - Rick Steves is the master of independent travel and always advocates getting off the beaten path, which mirrors my photography philosophy. I find so many interesting things when I wander. Use Rick's book, maps, pocket guides, dictionaries and more to make the most of any European trip. His collection of books is so extensive that you can ALWAYS find something of interest.
Lonely Planet Guidebooks - I absolutely LOVE the Lonely Planet guidebooks. They are full of great information and I get photo ideas (plus endless inspiration) just looking at them.
Hotels.com - I use this site a lot. They tend to have great inventory, wide ranges of prices and availability, and some fabulous locations in cities around the globe. This is where I go to book my rooms. Added bonus: you get a free night for every 10 nights you stay. Membership has its privileges!
National Rail Enquiries (UK Rail) - For getting around the UK by train, this is your site.
Rail Europe - For getting around Europe by train, this is your site.
Pick your airline and stick with it - I chose American Airlines. Consistently using the same airline is the best way to rack up award miles for free trips. It's hard and takes a while, but it's worth it.