In this article I will break down exactly what I use on a (mostly) daily basis to create the images you see on my Instagram feed (instagram.com/michaelbmast).
And yes, I feel the below products are the “best” for me and my style of travel and street photography. I’m sure there are other options and I have tried quite a few, but four years into this hobby, I have distilled my gear down to some essentials that I keep coming back to.
My hope is that this helps you determine what gear might be right for you and your way of shooting and traveling.
The Most Asked Question…
One of the most common questions I get in my Instagram DMs is what kind of camera gear do I use. Amatuer/hobbyists (like myself) and/or complete newbies, can sometimes spend too much time worrying about gear compared to actually creating art.
I am guilty of this, like anyone else.
I’ve spent full days researching various cameras, expensive lenses and niche equipment; none of which would actually make me a better photographer, but there is just something fun about digging through specs and dreaming.
If you follow my work, you may know that I already have list of my gear on Kit.com and I even made a Youtube video a year ago with all the gear I was taking to Europe. Rather than make a retread of those pieces, I wanted to write a blog post (and a companion video coming soon) that not only updates the list of camera gear I use, but explains the reason why I jettisoned quite a bit of my gear over the past year.
So, if you’re ready, let’s begin!
A New Obsession…
I have an addictive personality and once I get into something new, it isn’t long before I fall into a deep obsession. As an example, In 2013–2014, sick and tired of being fat and out of shape, I rekindled my lapsed habit of long distance running.
Before I knew it, I was ticking off 7–10 miles a night (after work), had a closet full of the latest running shoes, popped endurance gels like breath mints, and began purchasing any little gadget that might give me an edge (GPS watch, hydration vest, compression socks, etc). I dropped a ton of weight and was feeling pretty good.
But like all obsessions, there was a down side.
Due to the weekly mileage, my age at the time (40), moderate to poor sleep and nutrition habits, my body was being completely run into the ground.
A knee injury sidelined me for weeks.
Which turned into months.
And then, eventually, I lost my desire to run, and haven’t done much of it since late 2014.
I needed a new focus, a new hobby, a new obsession.
In July of 2015, I moved to Chengdu, China for work.
My family was going to stay in California for a year to finish out school and make sure I liked living in China before making the move.
Which meant I had a whole lot of free time.
I also began to realize that my daily experiences in China were significantly impacting my worldview and I wanted to find a way to capture them.
I am an amateur writer, but I don’t like journaling. I prefer fiction or creative non-fiction. I wasn’t going to keep a diary of my daily Chinese adventures, but I did want to document the incredible experience I was living.
And then I thought about photography. I’d never seriously picked up a camera before, though I had owned a few in the past.
When my wife and I moved to Vietnam in 2006, we had invested in a decent DSLR with a kit lens, but never really learned much about it and shot every picture in Auto mode.
Thankfully, the camera produced great images all on its own, because neither my wife nor I knew the first thing about foreign sounding terms like aperture, ISO, shutter speed, depth of field and focal length.
We basically had a $1000 point and shoot.
I Moved To China…
Flash forward almost ten years and it dawned on me that photography (and eventually videography) would be an excellent way for me to capture my time in China and learn a new craft.
The first camera I purchased was the Canon 70D with the 18–200 kit lens.
It took good pictures and shot good HD video.
This was a perfect camera for me to learn a new art form.
Durable, capable, affordable and had an intuitive button and menu system.
I would grab that camera every Saturday morning, throw on a backpack and just walk; exploring my new home city of Chengdu, China, not much of a plan, just seeing where the day and the miles took me.
Around the same time I was learning how to take good pictures, the whole daily vlogging thing was really taking off. Content creators like Casey Neistat were producing professional looking videos at a crazy frequent pace and while they did this, invented a new form of media.
I realized that this genre would fit perfectly with what I was living day to day and aligned with my desire to document my life abroad.
I began a YouTube channel shortly there after in late 2015.
I didn’t daily vlog — I have a full time job so really can’t do that — but I tried to produce a video a month. Not gonna be rich and famous with that cadence, but remember, all I ever wanted was to document parts of me life, I wasn’t thinking of turning it into anything more.
Along the way, I taught myself Final Cut Pro X, Lightroom, and little bit about Photoshop.
I was hooked.
The familiar internal buzz of a new obsession was percolating.
I began buying.
New cameras, lenses, tripods, hard drives, ND filters, camera bags, microphones, battery grips, camera straps, and on and on and on.
At one point, I had 25 different lenses, the cheapest of which was around $500.
Obviously, I had gone off the rails, spent way too much money and had built a collection of gear that most professionals didn’t even own.
I had all the stuff, yet I was still a mere beginner, and to be honest, confused as how best to use all the technology I had invested in.
Around this time, and mentioned earlier, I made a video detailing all the stuff I was planning to take for a two week trip to Portugal and Spain.
It proved to be overkill; a back-breaking assortment of high end gear that, as it turned out, I barely used. I lugged the gear from one AirBNB to another, set it all up, plugged in and charged all the batteries, and for the most part, the tech sat and gathered dust.
Most of my video was shot on my iPhone and most of my pictures were shot with one of three lenses.
And I never even flew the drone nor used the 3-Axis gimbal.
So… That was all a warm up to prep you for the below list of stuff I do use on a regular basis for close to a year now. This is not a fulsome list of all my gear (I’ve sold most of the 25 lenses mentioned above), but is the main photography gear I use to create the pictures you see on my Instagram. It’s a small list, compared to where I began, but I swear by this set-up; its gets the job done and mostly importantly, it all fits into one backpack.
I will post a smaller article for video production here in a next week or so (although most of the gear below I also use in video).
- ) Sony A7RIII:
My main shooter is the Sony A7RIII. It is a 42 mega-pixel mirrorless, full-frame camera that produces gorgeous images. There is a lot of debate amongst photographers when it comes to the “best” brand. For me, when I decided to upgrade from the Canon 70D, I knew I wanted something that was small, light for travel and could shoot BOTH photos and video well. Canon really fell apart for me when I looked into their 4K video specs — I couldn’t really get something small that delivered what I was looking for. So, I initially bought an A7SII and fell in love with Sony as a camera brand. I quickly realized I wanted higher resolution so bought the A7RII and then the A7RIII a year later. And just last month, Sony released the A7RIV and I am debating if I need 61 megapixels… Probably not, but I’ll probably upgrade next year.
2.) Sony A7III:
Before I upgraded to the A7RIII for photos, I wanted to have one camera that did both video and pics extremely well. It would be the everything camera and the last one I’d ever sell. I need one body that did everything. The A7III is that camera. It combines the best of all the other full frame Sony models into probably the best overall camera on the market. It takes great pics, has killer autofocus and shoots low light video similar to the famous A7SII. My favorite camera. Period.
1.) Sony GM 24–70mm, 2.8:
This lens lives on my camera. I shoot almost 80% of everything on this lens. If you can afford just one lens, get a quality 24–70mm 2.8. With certain Sony cameras there is a technology built in called Clear Image Zoom that doubles the focal length of your lens. So as an example, this 24–70mm we are discussing, can be turned into a 50–140mm with a push of a button with zero quality of light loss (another reason to buy Sony, you can buy fewer lenses). Some people argue you will also need a 16–35mm, and I had the Sony GM version for awhile (and loved the image quality) but to be honest, I found myself living within the 24–35m range so often, I couldn’t justify keeping a $2200.
2.) Sony 55mm, 1.8:
This lens is small, light-weight, affordable (compared to the Sony 50mm, 1.4) and is incredibly sharp. I use this for street and portrait shots and because of its small size, its not obnoxious like the 24–70mm GM can be in some settings.
3.) Sony GM 135mm, 1.8:
This is my newest lens, released earlier in the year to much industry hype. And I’m happy to report, this lens does not disappoint! Beautiful color rendition and blurred backgrounds. The subject isolation and background compression are fantastic and it’s lighter and smaller than the lens I sold to buy this one (the GM 70–200mm, 2.8). Again, with the Clear Image Zoom, this lens becomes a 270mm at 1.8! I rarely need reach beyond this for what I’m usually shooting, so for me, ditching the massive and heavy 70–200mm, 2.8 for the smaller and lighter (though no one would describe this lens as small or light, just compared to the 70–200mm), was a no-brainer.
And that’s it for my photography lenses. I do have a couple others, but I use them for video only (and I’ll get to those in another article).
Other Assorted Gear:
1.) Profit A1X Off-Camera Flash Kit:
This is rather expensive, but it also has many features it’s cheaper competitors don’t have. The light it gives off is soft, even and the flash itself power cycles quickly for rapid shooting. I haven’t used this a whole lot, since I usually shoot street and use natural light, but I did experiment with it in Hong Kong recently and really liked what it added to the photo.
2.) Sony VG-C3EM Battery Grip:
This fits both my cameras and doubles the battery life, while giving the camera more real estate in which to hold it. The one negative of mirrorless cameras is that the camera itself is very small. This is great for travel, but sometimes, while holding it, some of us wish for a bigger grip, so our fingers don’t slid off the bottom. This battery grip fixes that issue. I have this on my camera 24/7 while traveling and almost never run out of juice during a full day of shooting.
3.) Peak Design Black Slide Camera Strap:
I love pretty much everything Peak Design makes. This strap is functional, looks cool and unclips quickly when I don’t need it. Highly recommended.
4.) Manfrotto Be Free Travel Tripod:
I rarely use a tripod, but I always travel with one. The only time I really use it is for timelapse videos, but thought I should include it here, just in case.
One thing I have learned over the past 4 years of consistently shooting is that the gear is just one piece of the puzzle. You must put in the time to learn and experiment if you want to see growth in your photography (or any endeavor for that matter). I learned this the hard way by over buying and getting overwhelmed with my tools. I didn’t know which item to grab, because I didn’t know any of them well enough. Now, I feel much more confident reaching for a piece of kit, because I’ve spent a significant amount of time using most of the items I detail above.
I hope this was helpful and informative. I’m not really a tech reviewer–there are far better places to get that info than here–but as I get so many questions about the gear I use, I thought an updated list of my daily photo tech may bring value to some of you.
Until next time…