Essentials is a brand new series where we round up specially curated kits for different photographers in different situations. Other items could surely be substituted, but these are what we personally recommend.
When you’re headed into the great outdoors for the purpose of creating breathtaking imagery, you want to travel as light as possible, but still have the gear you will need. If at all possible, try to plan ahead so you don’t over-pack. It all starts with having a proper bag, then you load up from there. There are certainly a million other variations on what you could bring, but what I’m choosing to share is what works for me personally.
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
When I am headed out to specifically create images I will bring my Canon 5D MK II (Now discontinued, check out the 6D or 5D MK III as alternates) along for the hike as it’s still the best performing digital camera I own for landscape and general outdoor photography. You could just as easily substitute this with any other camera, this just happens to be the one that I possess. Without getting into a debate of Full-Frame over APS-C sensors, I just prefer the look of Full-Frame cameras and the lenses I prefer to work with make more sense on Full-Frame over APS-C.
Plus, the Mk II goes for a really affordable price now.
Canon 20mm f2.8 USM
Being a prime shooter, I try to limit myself to no more than three lenses when I’m hiking and by using primes, the weight is kept to a minimum, but image quality to a maximum. My selection rotates based on what I own at the time, but for the past year or so I’ve been using Canon’s 20mm f2.8 USM lens, which despite some unfavorable reviews around the internet, I find to be a great value and decent performer. When I’m shooting landscapes, I’m stopped down pretty far anyways, so it’s right in the sweet-spot of this lens.
Canon 40mm f2.8 STM
Usually with landscape shooting I’m stopped down, and rarely do I shoot a fast aperture like f2 or greater (unless I have a special shot in mind), and for this reason, I have absolutely loved bringing Canon’s diminutive 40mm f2.8 STM pancake lens. It weighs next to nothing, costs next to nothing and performs so much better than it should. Sometimes I will bring a fast 35mm in place of this lens, but usually the 40mm is the first one to go in the bag. It’s a great value, and easy to pack, what’s not to love?
Canon 135mm f2L USM
This actually would be a great time to suggest something like a 70-200mm lens, but alas, I no longer own one. However, I don’t let that stop me as I often do just fine with Canon’s 135mm f2L when I need a tighter composition. This is a great option for compressing the background, or for picking out selective parts of a scene to focus on after you’ve captured the broad image with your wide or normal lenses.
Cokin PURE Harmonie ND-X
I used to be a filter nerd when I shot primarily film, in fact I still have most of those old filters tucked away somewhere, but these days I just use a variable ND filter, like the Cokin Pure Harmonie ND X (the same one I use for controlling my exposure for video work). The reason for bringing along an ND filter is that it will allow you to slow down your exposure significantly to create that nice smooth flow of water in your image. There are far more elaborate systems out there with grad-NDs and glass square filters, but I try to keep the “extra stuff” to a minimum.
Feisol CT-3441T tripod + Photo Clam PC-36n Ball Head
Now, not everyone feels that they have to have a tripod when they’re shooting landscapes, but for me personally, it’s a crucial piece of equipment. I have long preferred the Arca-Swiss style mounting plates for my cameras as they are more secure and quicker to operate, especially when you have an L-bracket which makes switching between vertical and landscape orientation a snap.
I personally use Really Right Stuff L-brackets, but I’ve had just as good of luck with the ones from Kirk Enterprises as well. With regard to your choice of tripod, the lighter the better in this situation. I prefer carbon fiber legs such the Feisol CT-3441T as they are very stable but also incredibly light for a full-size tripod.
I also prefer to work with a ball-head (Personally I use the Photo-Clam PC-36n) in conjunction with the previously mentioned L-Bracket as it’s a very compact setup and easy to work with as well.
Canon TC-80N3 remote
One of my favorite accessories is the TC-80N3 from Canon that functions as an intervalometer for my cameras, as well as allowing me to easily set exposures well beyond the normal 30 second limitation. Additionally, I usually will have a couple extra bits like plenty of batteries and memory cards, a spirit level, cable release, and step-up/down rings for my ND filter. In addition, there is room in my bag for other essential things such as a light jacket, water bottles, or even small snacks. They are all things one has to consider when you’re going to be out on a hike.
F-Stop Loka Backpack
This is probably the most important part because if you don’t have a comfortable bag, you are going to be MISERABLE after a very short amount of time with your gear on your back. Let me stress how important this is – YOU MUST HAVE A COMFORTABLE BAG – and yes that did require all caps. My bag of choice for outdoor work is the unstoppable Loka from F-Stop Gear. They have numerous options for how to carry your gear with their removable ICU inserts (personally I use a medium size one as it leaves room for the other stuff I need to carry), and their bags are supremely comfortable, even when you’re big and tall like I am.
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