What determines whether you are an amateur or pro photographer...the gear? the places you travel? your ability not to crack under pressure? being able to market yourself? being prepared for any scenario or disaster? the amount of money you make?
Photography is all about an individuals vision and creativity. I firmly believe that some things cannot be taught or bought. You either have the "eye" or you don't. There are pro-photographers out there that can create a beautiful image with a $5 pinhole camera. There are also those that create point-and-shoot images with a camera that's capable of so much more. So gear does NOT make the pro.
Having said that, sometimes the gear is important. Just as you wouldn't shoot a wedding with one camera/lens combo (you wouldn't right?!!! Please don't say you're relying on basic equipment with no backup to capture someones special day!!), the same goes for any type of photography. There is gear that will produce better quality images or sometimes gear that just makes your life easier.
So here's my top 10 "can't live without now that I have them" list:
1) Canon 500mm f/4 IS....when people say it's more important to upgrade your glass before your body, it couldn't be more true. This lens changed everything for me. While I looked at the Canon 400mm f/2.8 IS and the Canon 600mm, the 500mm was perfect considering size/weight restrictions for travel and just carrying around on a daily basis. Do yourself a favour and purchase a Lens Coat for any large lens, it helps protect the lens from minor bumps and scrapes but also is more comfortable to handle. And don't forget a Don Zeck Lens Cap!
2) Canon 1D4....There were a few things I didn't like about the Canon 50D. So when I decided to upgrade my choice was easy. I tried out the Canon 7D, 1D3 and the 1D4. There was no competition, the ID4 is everything I thought it would be, and more. I still love my Canon 5D2 but for wildlife this is always the camera that I grab.
3) Gura Gear Bag....Finally an end to the quest to find the perfect bag. I'm embarrassed to say how many bags I've purchased. But in my defence, none of them had everything I needed or wanted. Finally I've found one. The Gura Gear Kiboko bag weights under 4 pounds which is a huge bonus when carrying around lots of heavy gear. It's durable, easy to clean and can hold a 400mm-600mm lens on one side while using the other side for extra bodies,lens and misc. gear. It's got the most amazing harness system that can be hidden away when straps get in the way while on a plane etc. It fits in the overheads of even the smallest planes. Need I go on?
4) Think Tank Airport Security V.2....Think Tank makes great bags. They are well-made, well-designed and will last forever. If you are constantly toting around lots of gear, there are times that you want a good roller bag and this one has all the features that will make it a favorite.
5) HP Laptop DV7 Series....I7 CPU, 8GB RAM, I TB Drive and portable! I'll never own another desktop again. I would recommend having a 24" or larger extra monitor for home use and then you've got the best of both worlds. Another great addition to the setup is a docking station which allows you to just undo one connector and you're on your way. It also provides extra USB ports, speakers, easy controls etc. While you can argue about PC vs. MAC until the end of time, it's like arguing about Canon vs. Nikon and I can't see anything ever making me switch.
6) Rocketfish Card Reader....While I love my laptop, the one thing I'd love to see HP add is a CF card slot. But since that will probably never happen, this is the next best thing. I transferred photos from the camera to the computer for a long time and it just takes way too long. I tried a couple of card readers that I wasn't all that impressed with. Now the Rocketfish goes everywhere my laptop goes so I can dump my photo's onto the computer; freeing up my memory cards.
7) OP/TECH USA 18" Rainsleeves....Don't bother with expensive rain gear. Nothing beats these for cheap, quick and convenient protection against the elements. I carry these in my photography bag and my "oh shit" kit. That's for another post though.
8) Wimberley....Either the Wimberley WH-200 or the Sidekick are a must with the big telephoto glass. I use both.
9) Gitzo 3541L....I went through lots of tripods before I decided to invest in a quality system. Spend the extra and go with a Carbon Fibre Model especially if you're planning long hikes or lots of travelling. Pair it up with a ballhead that can support the weight of any lens you may want to rent or own in the future. I went with the Kirk BH1 Ballhead and plates for all my bodies and larger lens. It's big, heavy and will never let you down.
10) Singh-Ray Filters....Yes Photoshop is amazing but I love getting it right "in-camera". If you're buying filters, buy quality. The Vari-N-Duo is one of my favorite filters. Then there's the soft and hard GND's, and specialty filters like the "Blue & Gold" or the "Color Combo".
11) Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket....Yes I can count, I know I said "10 Favorite Things" but I couldn't leave this one off the list!!
12) Epson P-7000....160GB Media Viewer. Backup all your files in the field directly from your memory card. There are cheaper units but Epson makes the best!
13) Columbia Bugathermo Boots....another one to add, finally boots that can keep feet warm and dry even in a brutal canadian winter! They have built-in rechargeable heaters and you can choose between 3 temperature settings. Awesome. These "ALMOST" make me look forward to winter :)
14) Skimmer Ground Pod & Skimmer Sack....The ground pod is perfect for ground-level photography especially on a beach or around mud/water. Rugged and lightweight, it's circular design allows you to slide your equipment in any direction on many types of surfaces. The Skimmer Sack can be used in many different types of situations and becomes particularly helpful when shooting from a car. Put the sack over the window and then rest the ground pod with your ballhead right on top. Great stability!