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My Top Ten Must Have Pieces of Photography Equipment

By Max Bridge on March 9th 2016

I used to buy so much rubbish! I think many of us do (at least, I hope many of us do). Thankfully, my habit was broken many years ago, but being a photographer, the temptation is always there. Oooooh, look at this shiny new thing. Is it prohibitively expensive? I must have it! To assist you in avoiding the “ooooh it’s shiny and new” mentality, here’s a list of my ten favorite photographic buys of all time (so far). Some are shiny and prohibitively expensive, but most are not. You can thank me later for lightening your wallets.

The Nikon D750

Let’s start off with a bang, shall we? I jumped ship to Nikon not too long ago. That’s right, not mirrorless. I like to go against the grain as often as possible – I previously had a Canon 5D Mark II so, in all honesty, any camera made in the last few years was going to be a drastic improvement, but the D750 blows most things clear out of the water. If it were a whale, it would be a massive white one with angry, borderline psychotic, tendencies which was the master of the seas. (Can anyone guess what film I saw recently)?

[REWIND: THE CURE FOR GEAR ACQUISITION SYNDROME (G.A.S.)]

My only issue with the D750 so far is that its Live View video output (in photography mode) is far worse than Canon. This won’t be an issue for 99% of people out there, but it is quite annoying for me. I shoot products a lot and often use the Live View function in Capture One to focus and light. It can be worked around, but it is a little annoying. Other than that, this camera is perfection. I love it.

You can purchase one for yourself here.

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A 70-200mm Lens

I’m going to get the expensive ones out of the way early. Trust me, most are below $100. After all, the majority of us don’t have bank balances comparable to Rupert Murdoch.

A 70-200mm lens was one of my first purchases, and I don’t ever foresee a time when I would be without one. I began using the cheaper f/4 version of this lens (both Canon and Nikon have one) but soon my gear envy took over and I ran head first toward the f/2.8 version. I have never regretted it.

A 70-200 is such a versatile lens. I use it for wildlife photography, it’s a little short but perfectly capable; take a look at my Deer Hunter articles if you don’t believe me. For portraits, it is just outstanding. At 200mm, f/2.8 and headshot distance, the depth of field is razor thin. Couple that with an ability to quickly go from 70mm to 200mm and you can drastically change your whole image in a couple of seconds. That ability is invaluable, especially if you’re shooting children. I also use this lens for product photography; why not? If you’re not shooting macro, then it’s perfectly capable and very sharp. You will not regret purchasing this lens.

Find the Canon f/2.8 version here , and the f/4 version here.

Find the Nikon f/2.8 version here, and the f/4 version here.

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Yongnuo Flashes Of All Kinds

From the day I bought my first ever Yongnuo flash, a YN 560 II (I think), I’ve been worried they would break mid-shoot. Even now, having had the MK III and IV versions of that flash, I’m still worried it will stop working on me. Why? Because they cost $69! How could they be reliable? Well, they are. I have never had a single problem. The YN 560 IV are manual flashes but for most of my purposes, that’s fine. If you want something a little more advanced, the YN 600 EX RT’s have also never failed me.

Full disclosure: I don’t shoot weddings. Most of the time I’m in my home studio, and they’re not getting what you’d call a “heavy workout.” That being said, I’ve not heard an abundance of reports from people saying theirs have broken. Once budget allows, I will replace them with something like a Phottix Mitros+. However, given they have never failed me, I may not be replacing them for some time.

You can find a selection of Yongnuo flashes here.

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The Most Versatile Flag Ever

Adding light is good and all, but flagging that light, using a scrim or adding negative fill, is where it’s really at. The Westcott Fast Flag is an empty metal frame. Exciting I know. But, before you dismiss this addition, let me tell you that I use this on almost every single product photo I create. It is an indispensable tool.

[REWIND: WHAT GEAR DO YOU REALLY NEED TO START A PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS?]

Using the correct boom, the metal frame is sturdy enough to be positioned anywhere and at any angle. I can’t tell you how valuable that flexibility is. And, to cap it all off, it’s cheap. If you get the accompanying scrims, it’s not, but you can always create your own.

Find the Westcott Fast Flag here.

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SLR Lounge Tutorials

I value education above all else. There is absolutely no point in having the best of the best (gear) if you don’t have the first clue about how to use it. I’ve written many articles about the value of education, so I’m not going to hammer that point home now. However, I will say that the content SLR Lounge produces is some of the best I have ever seen (I may be a little biased, but it’s true).

For certain genres of photography, you may find yourself better suited to other courses. But for those of you just starting out and for portrait photographers of all kinds (be that Wedding, Family, whatever) SLR Lounge cannot be beaten.

Head over to the SLR Lounge Store and find something to suit you here.

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A Membership To Photigy.com

We’ll call these two the education portion of this list. While SLR Lounge is amazing for the majority of photographers out there, Photigy cannot be beaten when it comes to product photography. As some of you may know, this year my focus is heavily targeted toward this avenue. Photigy.com and the Photigy community have become a crucial ingredient to my product photography progression.

Depending on your level of competency, there are two Photigy memberships to choose from: Basic and Pro. Each one comes with a couple of comprehensive tutorials, but the real value comes in the assignments and challenges. By completing these, your skills will rapidly progress.

Head over to the Photigy.com site to find more information here.

indispensable-photography-equipment

Boom / Extension Arm

I’m about to take delivery on my 4th one of these, and I foresee myself wanting more in the future. A Boom or Extension arm will allow you to do many things; the most common of which is to place your light at the end of the Extension arm. By doing so, you can light things from the top and place your light directly in front of someone (think clamshell lighting). For portraits, this ability opens up many possibilities.

Other than placing your light on the extension arm, you could use it in conjunction with the Westcott Fast Flag, as I do, and then be able to place it wherever you want. You could use them to make a quick and easy Backdrop Stand or a portable clamshell lighting kit; see this article. If you do a lot of lighting, these babies are wonderful. Although they are a little heavy and, depending on what you intend to place on them, you will need a suitable Light stand.

Find them here. Make sure you get two knuckles and a spare spigot.

most-useful-photography-equipment

The Underappreciated Softbox

For product photography, the Strip box is my most used softbox. However, it can also be used for portraits. Surround your camera on all angles with four Strip Boxes and you’ve just imitated a very popular headshot lighting setup. Words like ‘Shabang!’ and ‘squinch’ may be springing to mind. If you’ve not already guessed, I’m referring to Peter Hurley. Most of us cannot afford Kino’s, but four Strip Boxes are much more achievable.

I have four of these. Two are the longer 4-foot versions, which are good for portraits, and two are the 2-foot versions, which are perfect for products. Whichever tickles your fancy, don’t overlook the Strip Box. It’s an incredibly useful modifier.

You can find a selection of Strip Boxes here.

guide-to-photography-equipment

The Godfather Of Light Stands

If light stands were gangsters, the C-Stand would be Michael Corleone, or Vito (whoever floats your boat). Throw those cheap stands you get bundled with strobes out the window and buy some of these now.

In all seriousness, every stand has its place. Yes, even those cheap ones; they belong in the bin. C-Stands are the Godfather of light stands because of their strength, reliability and versatility. It’s not all roses, though. C-Stands are expensive and heavy. As such, they’re not the most portable of stands. However, as studio stands go, the C-Stand can’t be beaten. There’s a reason that in every professional studio and film set across the world, you will find C-Stands.

You can purchase your own here.

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The X-Rite ColorChecker Passport

Calibrating your monitors and maintaining an accurate color workflow is an essential skill that every photographer MUST learn. The ColorChecker Passport is the perfect tool to assist you in this. I use it constantly in my product photography to assure that I am reproducing accurate colors. I also use it for portraits to quickly gain white balance.

Color accuracy might not be the most interesting of topics, but please don’t let its dull demeanor fool you. It is such an important thing to learn.

You can purchase your very own ColorChecker Passport here.

I hope you’ve found some useful things on this list. I use every one of these on a daily basis and would find it difficult to achieve the results I get without them. But enough from me! What tools do you find indispensable? Tell me in the comments below.

If you found this article useful, don’t forget to share!

About

Max began his career within the film industry. He’s worked on everything from a banned horror film to multi-million-pound commercials crewed by top industry professionals. After suffering a back injury, Max left the film industry and is now using his knowledge to pursue a career within photography.

Website: SquareMountain 
Instagram: Follow Author

33 Comments

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  1. Peter Moeller

    Fair enough, that’s the ten top pieces of equipment for you… The list may apply for some of us, but not others. A fair few of those items are specific for you as a product photographer, but irrelevant for many other types of photography.

    And with many bits of gear, often you only know what you need after you used it for a while. I often buy cheap ebay stuff to start with. If I don’t need it or don’t like it, I simply sell it again, not much damage done. If I use it a lot and it breaks, I replace it with quality gear.

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    • Max Bridge

      Exactly Peter. I wanted to keep it personal to me. No point recommending stuff I don’t use.

      It would be great if there were cheap alternatives to everything. Then we could all “try before we buy”, as it were. Renting is also an option with many things of course.

      Thanks for commenting

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  2. marcel bauer

    Really great stuff here, thank you

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  3. Matthew Saville

    Unfortunately, as a full-time shooter who does 50+ shoots / events per year and puts thousands of “pops” on each flash per year, I’ve killed three of my four YN560 iii’s in the past 1.5 years, and one of my two 568’s.

    But I’m still gonna use them, because at $69 or whatever they cost, it’s still cheaper than paying for repairs on any other lens on the market.

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    • Max Bridge

      Didn’t notice your comment Mat.

      If I were using them for weddings I would definitely have my concerns. I’m glad you commented with your experience. Personally, if I did event based work I think my constant worrying that they would suddenly stop working would push me to a more reliable flash. However, for my purposes they’ve always be perfect.

      Is it just price that keeps you using them despite the fairly regular failures? I guess any flash would get a bit of a battering with weddings. At least with the Yongnuo’s you don’t need to care too much if one breaks

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  4. sam tziotzios

    @ Kyle Stauffer. Thanks for the info Kyle. It appears I can’t reply to your reply (there is no Reply button under your comment) so replying here.

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  5. Max Bridge

    I knew mentioning my switch to Nikon was a bad idea *hangs head*

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  6. robert garfinkle

    First off, I really think this will be a profound year for Nikon.

    Yes, the D750 does it for a lot of people, cool. for a while there I was considering it. But, like I stated I think this is a profound year for Nikon and having said that, some camera’s to consider…

    1. D500 – should take camera of the year. My guess
    2. DL24 – 500, the point n shoot of the year.

    And other considerations.

    Try the Microsoft Surfacebook, could be considered a strong on-the-go image editor, considering a semi-decent nVidia GPU sits inside the keyboard, powerful mobile processsor, and best feature aside from the most accurate color pallet, is the 3:2 ration (No Crop) screen.

    just to name a few

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    • adam sanford

      I believe the frenzy and hype behind the D500 is actually greater than that of the D5. If that sensor only 50% lives up to its hype (spoiler, ISO 1.6 Million won’t be usable), it will still be a smash success.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Just like the amount of “wow, I can’t believe they did THAT!” which followed the D300 and D3. The D3 was obviously the jaw-dropping game-changer, but the D300 was the little brother that nobody thought would be possible; a near-flagship body at under $2K.

      People often complained about Nikon’s lack of a D300 update, but keep in mind that it took Canon until the 7D mk2 to get around to ever putting flagship AF in an APS-C body!

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    • adam sanford

      Candidly, the 7D/7D2 line, the 100-400L zooms and the 400 f/5.6L have allowed Canon to dominate the starter-to-enthusiast birding/wildlife photography world. All three of those products are shockingly powerful gateway drugs to *far* more expensive gear.
      .
      Nikon, for whatever reason (to get enthusiast birders to move to FF and buy $$$ superteles? That’s a fantasy), left the D300 camp to rot. They’ve left an absurd amount of money on the table, so the D500 is long, long overdue — but in fairness, it certainly looks like a winner.

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    • Matthew Saville

      That’s basically it. Yes, the gap between the D300s / D500 was big enough to skip a whole number.

      But in reality, what did the 7D have that the D300s lacked? Nothing really, unless you shot video and wanted full 1080. Or the fact that you needed a vertical grip to get to 8 FPS, but that never seemed to be an issue for a serious sports shooter.

      The 7D had slightly better high ISO performance, maybe, but the D300s was already deep into Nikon’s reign as a DR champion, too. The D300s had flagship AF, plus dual card slots.

      The 7D2 simply beat the D500 by a little over a year at being a more modern version of an already killer high-end camera. However you could also argue that it took Canon forever to “catch up” to Nikon’s trend of putting dual card slots in consumer cameras, let alone flagship AF.

      All in all, both the D300(s) and 7D were killer cameras in their heyday, and I don’t think either of their updates were “late” by more than ~1 year, considering what the market could bear.

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  7. Matthew Saville

    One of the main complaints that Canon->Nikon switchers seem to have is live View. Really, IMO the issue is that Canon has over-simplified their live view, making it almost Apple-esque in nature, while Nikon gives you more raw data options.

    Simply put, I’d recommend setting Nikon bodies to 1-click 100% zooming during live view, and making sure they’re also set to specifically go to 100%, because they can actually go even further, and yes it does become almost completely useless for focusing if you zoom in TOO far. (The D750 has been much improved in this regard, though, I think it only goes one click past 100%, and even then it’s still kinda useful. Another suggestion is, to max out the in-camera sharpening. (Only if you never shot JPG or video because that would kill your JPG / video detail. But now you can set your video picture control separately anyways, so there’s that…) In-camera sharpening makes a huge difference for Nikon live view. I wish in-camera high ISO NR affected live view on Nikon, though, that’s basically the main drawback that shocks Canon users, the noise.

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  8. William Irwin

    Just out of curiosity, why do you think D750 is much better than Canon 5D Mark 2?

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    • Max Bridge

      I knew I was opening myself up to that question! There’s many reasons but I’ll summarize my main ones:

      1) focus speed and accuracy. I hated only using the centre point.
      2) Focuses better in low light
      3) Significantly better sensor tech providing much better dynamic range.
      4) I can go above ISO 1600 and it looks good!
      5) Handles noise much better at every level I use, 100-3200

      I could go on but I think those were the main ones. Biggest benefits were the focusing system and it’s abilities at higher ISO’s.

      Hope that helps

      Oh, I almost forgot. Having sold my Canon gear, it cost about £50 to switch. Whereas, upgrading to a Canon 5d mk III or 5DS, would have been hundreds.

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    • William Irwin

      Thanks for your response. I’ve been feeling that “is the grass greener on the other side feeling”. So I often ask people why they switch or what they like about their Nikon.

      I’ve been with Canon since 1997 or so with Canon Elan IIe I bought from a co-worker. I got the 5D when it first came out and recently the Mark 2. I am too heavily invested in glass at this point to consider switching unless something drastically changes.

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    • adam sanford

      Yeah, compared to a 5D2 it’s no contest. Your AF, high ISO performance and low ISO DR (if you shoot landscapes) will be far better.
      .
      If you don’t need the low ISO DR, I’d recommend you stay with Canon and get a discounted 5D3. You can keep all your lenses, snap away at ISO 6400 (depending on your medium, the wheels come off the bus shortly thereafter), and it has the 1DX AF system. It’s a great rig, but even as a Canon guy, I cannot refute the upsides the D810, D750, A7R II, A7 II, etc. have over it with respect to dynamic range.

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    • Matthew Saville

      At this point, I gotta admit I’d be scared to switch from Canon to Nikon in the next ~12 months because it does look like Canon is finally switching their sensor design to the ADC type that will significantly boost dynamic range, effectively shutting up that whole fanboy fight I hope. Combine that with the fact that the 5D mk3 is pretty damn good at focusing in low light, and you’ve got a killer system worth sticking with, if the 5D mk4 can deliver the AF and DR of the 1DX2, …and if you don’t mind lugging around a heavier beast.

      The main advantage of Nikon may no longer be their sensors, with Sony and Pentax and now Canon upping their game. The main advantage of Nikon will be the well-rounded system package that they can offer: The D750 for example has more in common, economically speaking, with a Canon 6D than a 5D mk3. And the chances that Canon will put dual SD card slots PLUS the 5D3 AF in a 6D mk2 are nearly zero, because that’s how Canon rolls.

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    • adam sanford

      Unless Canon gives the 5D4 the on-chip ADC and it *doesn’t* do the same for the 6D2.
      .
      I do not put it past Canon to nerf the 6D2 in such a manner. We already know they’ll do that on video, AF system, burst, max shutter speed, etc.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Also, Canon has a long, long history of “recycling” old parts / features from past models. They reused the “same” 18 MP sensor in their Rebels for about a decade, if I am not mistaken.

      If Canon has a warehouse full of 20, 21, or 22 MP full-frame sensors, you can bet they’ll use them.

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    • adam sanford

      The 6D2 will not get the 5D3 sensor — not a chance.
      .
      You can recycle APS-C sensors for Soccer Moms / Hockey Dads, but FF shooters read reviews. Recycling FF sensors would get them crushed in that critical, test-obsessive arena, esp. in light of everyone else’s sensor advancements.

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    • Matthew Saville

      I sure hope you’re right; but mark my word, there’s a 50-50 chance that at least one of the 5-series or 6-series will be “gimped” in its next update. The 6D 2 already doesn’t stand a chance at having flagship AF, though, so I’m rooting for BOTH the 6D 2 and 5D 4 to have the new sensor ADC and 15+ stops of DR… :-D

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    • Sean Goebel

      The 6D already has a better sensor than the 5D3 (in terms of DR and noise performance), so there would be rioting in the streets if they tried to downgrade the 6D2 to have the 5D3’s sensor.

      As a current 6D owner who has been waiting for even better ISO and DR performance, I personally would go throw a brick through the window of the nearest Canon facility if they did that.

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    • adam sanford

      Matthew, they 100% *will* gimp (I prefer ‘nerf’) the 6D2, but not with the sensor’s DR or high ISO performance.
      .
      They’ll nerf it’s AF points, burst rate, max shutter speed, sensor pixel count, number of card slots and video codecs. See the way Nikon has the good/better/best porridge with the D610 / D750 / D810 — they will do something like that with a caveat that Canon may merge that approach with a video-centric *other* 5D rig of some sort.
      .
      But both the 6D2 and 5D4 will STILL not be able to spot meter at any AF point, a feature Nikon regards as table scraps — even a D5500 has that feature!!!

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    • John Cavan

      The Nikon sensor advantage was generally already being shared by Sony and Pentax since Sony is making all of their sensors. :) The interesting question with respect to the next 12 months is whether or not Sony sensor tech will stand still while Canon advances. Not sure that will be the case.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Nikon has always held a slight advantage over both Sony and Pentax in various categories, even though the sensors “grow on the same tree” so to speak. Nikon’s high ISO performance was always 2+ stops better than Sony’s back before mirrorless came around, and now that mirrorless sensors are kicking butt too, they still lag behind Nikon in dynamic range by a stop or so. (Compare the 36 and 42 MP full-frame sensors.)

      The same thing was true for Pentax: APS-C has often (not always) lagged about a stop or two behind Nikon at high ISOs, even when sharing sensors, as has dynamic range.

      Now, however, Sony his hitting hard in the high ISO department, and Pentax is joining the full-frame market in a big way, and I’m definitely tempted by both systems.

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    • Dave Haynie

      Sony nerfed their cameras a bit, prior to mirrorless, buy using that digital-pellicle design. That was always going to cut down on the light reaching the sensor, just as it did when Canon did it in my first Canon EOS, the EOS Rt.

      Otherwise, Nikon has been getting the same Sony sensor as everyone else. I have not heard if they use their own color and microlens array, or get that stock from Sony as well. And since they control camera body and electronics design, there are differences in things like heat sinking, overall system noise (affects on-chip sensor noise), etc.

      They do use their own processor — the EXPEED series is custom made for Nikon by Fujitsu. There are quite a few things these processors do: Bayer filtering, demosaicing, image sensor corrections/dark-frame subtraction, image noise reduction, image sharpening, image scaling, gamma correction, image enhancement/Active D-Lighting, colorspace conversion, chroma subsampling, JPEG encoding, etc, depending on the mode. Still room for differentiation, and from what I’ve seen, I agree — Nikon pulls a little more from these than the others seem to do.

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    • Kyle Stauffer

      To ad to what Max is saying about incredible ISO performance…

      I shot this at 4,000 ISO on a D750. Really awesome low light performance for the $!

      https://bksimages.smugmug.com/Wedding/Bostorf-Wedding/i-PCjnM49/L

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    • sam tziotzios

      nice clean image at 4000 iso! what lens are you using on that one if i may ask?

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    • Kyle Stauffer

      Thanks Sam!

      It was the Nikon 85 1.8G. You can see all of the image data by clicking the Info Icon located at the bottom right of the screen.

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    • Korey Napier

      Those points are completely true! I had the 5D2 and switched to the D750. WOW! The dynamic range blows the 5D2 to kingdom come and back. I shot at ISO 12,800 for a couple shots at a wedding and ended up with great images! I was extremely impressed. I had no problem delivering those shots to the clients. Up until that point, I never would have dreamed of shooting at 12,800.

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  9. adam sanford

    This list will vary wildly depending on what you shoot.
    .
    For me, my ballhead/tripod/shutter release cable gets used 10x as often as my speedlite, and I don’t even specialize in landscapes. #iamnotapro

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    • Max Bridge

      yeah, this list would also vary hugely from photog to photog; even amongst those that shoot the same things. My only real hope was to point people in the direction of some useful items.

      I too love my ballhead but, these days, prefer shooting with a geared head. Again, comes down to what you’re shooting.

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