Jean-Philippe's Recommendations

 

Photo Equipment

People often ask me for equipment (photo, travel, sport), book and travel recommendations.
I started compiling this list containing some of the equipment that I use or have used and was very pleased with. The rare pieces of equipment listed here that I have not owned, I have researched thoroughly and am considering purchasing for myself. Although I do link to a few retailers or wholesalers in this page, you don't have to use them to purchase your equipment. But I have purchased from them and have always been satisfied (the companies I have had problems with are not listed here). Some of these companies have sponsored me in the past or present, but sponsorship did not influence my input on this page (All expedition sponsors are listed on a separate page and NGO Corporate Friends on another).

Feel free to email me with any question or suggestion for better equipment. As I spend all of my time doing photo documentaries around the world or leading challenging expedition, I'm always looking for better gear, even I think I already have the best of the best. Contact J-Philippe


Cameras

Nikons, Nikons, Nikons: F5, F100, F80

I started as Canon user, but then over the years, when I became really involved in photography, I started to look at the Nikon lenses. When I needed to upgrade my equipment, the AFS lenses made the call for me. From EOS I switch to Nikon N90S although featuring old technologies, they are fine cameras. I later replaced them F100, the best travel camera I could think of. My wife uses the newer Nikon F80 which I highly recommend for entry level users (excellent metering system), but if your goal is to turn pro, the F100 will give you more flexibility. Now this is where I'll recommend one piece of equipment I do not own, the Nikon F5. Why don't I own it then? Because it's too heavy to trek around the world with. Because it's too bulky to wave in front of shy indigenous people. My F100 with the AFS 80-200 lens already looks like bazooka. So it is not practical for some of my shooting situations, but I was not traveling to places as remote, I would certainly own an F5. So if you carrying gear isn't your concern, I recommend the F5. If weight and bulk is a concern, the F100 for half the price is an amazing camera. If you're on a budget or do not need all the pro features, the F80 is a marvelous entry level camera (often used by the pros as a backup).

Lenses

AFS 80-200 f2.8

As I mentioned before, I switched from Canon to Nikon for the lenses, one in particular, the AFS 80-200 f2.8. A few years ago when I walked in the shop and tried a few 80-200 lenses, I decided instantly. The focusing speed of this smooth lens was astonishing. As you know I've dragged my camera gear everywhere (3 year sea kayak expedition from Mexico to Panama, months of Indigenous documentaries during the monsoon in jungles of the Mosquito Coast, dusty markets of the Altiplano of Guatemala. I dropped this lens so many times, in the sand, got it wet, banged it dozens of times and was always amazed to see that it always perfectly. Until one day I dropped from 6 feet high, head first on hard cement stairs. Such a shock should have destroyed all the inside glass and bent all the metal. Nothing bent, but the last glass element of the lens broke. I finished my Guatemala documentary work with the broken glass. The lens worked perfectly, the motor didn't suffer from the shock, I could still screw filters on it. When I thought that my documentary was over, it worked until the end. Today I bought the exact same lens and I keep the broken one as a backup for very rough conditions. Why do I love this lens so much, because the slides coming out of it are perfect, because it is fast, because it is smooth, because it holds well in the hands. I highly recommend it.

AFS 17-35 f2.8 and Tokina 20-35

Last year my second favorite lens was my Tokina AT-X 235AF (zoom super wide angle AF 20-35mm f/2.8). It is a very sharp lens and produces high quality photos. It is also very tough, maybe the toughest of all my lenses. I also dropped that lens on cement, and it slightly bent the tip of it. But all the elements of the lens remained unarmed. Although I love the Tokina it too became a backup lens. After three years around the sea and in jungles, I replaced it with a Nikon AFS 17-35. The Nikon lens is two times more expensive, so why didn't I stay with Tokina? It is smooth and fast like any other AFS lens, but with a wide angle, I use manual focus most of the time. I switched just to get that extra wide angle, with a 17-35, it covers the widest range I might need during all my travels. If you have the money or the need for a 17 mm, I recommend the Nikon AFS 17-35. If you're on budget, the Tokina ATX235 (20-35) f2.8 is a great pro wide zoom lens.

Tokina 28-80

Now I don't really love this lens. Not because it is not a good lens. It is a great lens and much cheaper than the Nikon AFS. It is as tough as the AT-X 235AF. But I just don't use this focal much. I found that in my photography, either I come very close and use my AFS 17-35 or at stay at a distance and work mostly with AFS 80-200. These are the two lenses attached to my two F100 bodies hanging around my neck. My 28-80 lens stay in the bag most of the time. Sometimes though the 28-80 is useful, so you want one. Because I don't use as much, I could not justify the difference of price between the Nikon and Tokina. Although I love AFS, I'll stay with Tokina for this one. Your choice depends on your budget.

Nikon AF Nikor 50 f1.4 D

Although I like the convenience of zooms, when the light drops or when I have more time to prepare my photos, I use this 50mm. Beautiful optics and I should probably use more often.

Nikon TC-20E (2x Teleconverter)

Wildlife photographers use fix 300, 400, etc. lenses. These are very expensive and heavy. The TC-20E transforms my AFS into a 400mm but cuts the light by half. It allows autofocus, but is slow. It's a useful accessory to have in your photo travel bag, but not necessary. I rarely use, but again I don't shoot wildlife. If you shoot wildlife and cannot afford to buy or carry a 400mm pro lens, the Nikon teleconverter is nice to have. I would not consider any other teleconverters. You already loose some of your lens quality (and half the light) by adding the TC-20E, why loose even more by adding cheap pieces of glass made by other makers.

Flash

Nikon SB-28

This is the flash I use and I am satisfied with it. I don't know all the third party makers on the market, so I cannot compare it. I let you do your own research for this one. I'm now getting a second flash. I choose the new Nikon SB-80 DX to have a second flash I can use as a slave. The SB-80 DX works as a wireless TTL slave. I will write more about it after using it. 

Flash Accessories: LumiQuest Promax

Although I do not highly recommend the Flash I use vs other ones because I don't know the competition enough. The Lumiquest is the only accessory in its class. It is useful to diffuse the light from your flash and avoid hard shadows. It also allows you to modify the cast of your flash with white, gold or silver inserts. A nice kit to have in your bag.

Filters

I have a collection of filters I don't use and a few I love and use all the time

I laugh when I hear shopkeepers pushing to sell a cheap UV, skylight or Polarizer filter to protect your lens. Most filters do not really offer much protection, but they will cut the quality of your lens. If you spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on a pro lens, you don't want to put a piece of cheap glass in front of it. Use filters only when you need to, and only use pro multicoated filters from the best makers. I use almost exclusively the B+W filters because they are the very best I came across. If I had one on my AFS 80-200 when I dropped it on cement, it would probably have saved my lens. These filters are very tough, but you pay for it, they weight 2 or 3 times more than the competition. They are German made and you get what you pay for, high quality glass and tough filters but heavy and expensive. When I need a filter I use a multicoated B+W.

Filters I use most: 

Circular Polarizer (B+W 77E KR1.5 1.1x); (B+W 77E KSM C-Pol); (B+W slim 77E C-Pol MRC for super wide angle zoom)
81B

Filters I have and rarely use:

Tiffen 812; Hoya HMC 1B (Skylight); Tiffen clear-NDO6

Camera Bags 

Lowepro

I don't list Lowepro because they sponsor me, I chose Lowepro because I'm very rough on gear, travel to remote destination and need great comfort and protection. Lowepro were the only bags I was interested in. They are the only bag makers I approached for sponsorship and I am very pleased they accepted to sponsor me. They are two series I particularly like. The Trekker series and the omni series. The omni bag fits perfectly inside the Lowepro waterproof cases or the Pelican cases. For three years while kayaking 4000 miles, I carried all my gear using that equipment, and I would choose the exact same equipment to do it again. If you want practical camera bags that are comfortable to take everywhere and that will really protect you gear, I highly recommend Lowepro.

Tripod and Accessories

I use a medium size, weight and quality tripod and ballhead. Not worth mentioning. They are much better, lighter tripods (look into carbon ones from major makers). When I find my dream tripod, I'll recommend it here. If you would like to recommend me your favorite (pro, very light, sturdy, fold small but raises tall, durable) email me.

Batteries

If you're like me and travel a lot to third world countries, you know that it is nearly impossible to find good fresh AA batteries. You get expensive old and low quality batteries. These could run and damage your camera and if you shoot a lot of film you have to take a bag full from home, or waste a lot of money. The Rechargeable NI-MH batteries are the only option for serious photographer, but here is the catch. Camera makers know that.

I love Nikon, by now you know that. But like any makers, they try to make money on accessories and their optional battery pack is something I am not willing to pay for. If you need the extra speed for your F100 you might be willing to pay $150 for the MB-15 High Power Pack (it gives you longer battery life and a slightly faster motor drive). But then you will want NI-MH batteries and the charger. The MH-15 NI-MH Battery Charger for MN-15 Batteries cost $250 and the MN-15 NI-MH Battery Pack for F100 cost another $110 (you will want at least a spare one to replace your empty battery during a photo shoot). Your total battery pack for the F100 would be $620 (more for the F5). If you add the MB-15 to the F100, it becomes as bulky and heavy as the F5. The only advantage I see to the F100 over the F5 is its smaller size and weight so the MB-15 defies the purpose. Instead I use rechargeable NI-MH AA batteries. For a much cheaper package I can also use the batteries in my flashes (flashlights, and GPS). Not only it saves me much money, but it much more convenient to travel. I  keep a couple spare holders with fresh NI-MH AA batteries held together with a rubber band in my pockets. When I run out battery in the middle of the action, I just need to remove the rubber band and swap the holders.

Among all batteries, I recommend the Kodak Max Ni-MH AA batteries, for they offer the longest charges. They get great reviews and your only problem will be to find some. Most stores seem to always be sold out. I got my last set from Amazon.com, but I was kept on the back-order list for a while. 

Kodak Max K200 and K2000 Battery Chargers

The K200 Operates from 100 to 240 volts AC (it comes with US plug). It charges overnight and is great for travel around the world (you don't need a converter, just an plug adapter for the country you visit). The K2000 is a fast charger (3hrs), the best choice for use in the US or countries with similar voltage.

Films

I take 99% slides so I won't recommend any print film. My favorite is from far the Fujichrome Velvia 50. Not only it is the prefered film by most if not all Stock Photo agencies, the color saturation and the grain are the best. The only time I won't use velvia is when the light does not allow me to, or when I take portraits of Caucasian people. The white skin comes with a slight red cast so I prefer the Fujichrome Provia 100F for these situations. I use to hate fast speed, one because there was no good slide film faster than 100. Two because I just don't like negatives and large grain. That was before Fuji came out with the Provia 400F. Although I will only use it when I need the extra speed (low light or fast action situation), I found the color to be close to the Provia 100F (excellent and fairly neutral), and the grain is surprisingly good (for a 400). So these are the three types of film I usually have. When I need more speed I push the Provia 400F one stop. In my travels I might use 70% Velvia 50, 25% Provia 100F and 5% Provia 400F. 

Note: If you take slides and want to travel to third world countries. Make sure you buy your film at home (all you need). In most countries capital you might be able to find Pro slide film, but it cost two to three times more than in the States, and most of the time it is not kept refrigerated. Because camera shops sell so few, they often stay on the shelves for months. Not a good thing under the tropical heat.

Also I never, never, never process my slides in a third world country, nor do I process them in standard shop in the States. Be it in the US, Japan or France, I only use professional labs and advise anybody caring about their slides to do the same. Sometimes I shoot extra rolls of prints for villagers when I can process locally and offer them the photos. But I never keep these negatives. Make sure you take your film as carry-on luggage. Never leave them in your checked-in luggage. Much stronger X-Ray machines would damage them.

Where to get your equipment? Mail order or not?

Let's face it, mail order is always much cheaper, but you can never be sure the service will be good. Over the years I have used a few companies which I continue to use. I will not list here the ones I have had problems with (and there are a few), but when you pick-up the phone, make sure you feel good about the person you talk to. If they are rude to me, I hang up without placing an order. I might try to call a second time (talk with someone else) if they really have competitive prices. But I never give them a third chance.

So the companies I have used in the past without any problem are:

Cameraworld

For batteries, and small point and shoot, I recommend Amazon.com

 


Camping Gear - Trekking - Kayaking and Water Sports - Skiing and Mountaineering - Travel Gear - Cycling - Camera Protection - Survival - Health Food and Supplements - First Aid

 


equipment  comment  Where do I buy it from (link)
Pelican Cases The ultimate protection against water and shocks for photo and other electronic equipment. Heavily tested for 3 years of expedition (and 10 years before) during CASKE2000 REI, Pelican direct
Therm-A-Rest    
     
    Cascade Designs, Marmot, North Face, Cross-country ski, Green Lake Greggs Cycle, Performance, Seawards, 
    bodybuilding.com, vitalife, bodyshop, IDN, Powerbar.