Ronno Tramper Photography

Important note: I no longer use any Nikon equipment, but I can imagine that the information below may still be useful to you.

What's in my bag and why

When it comes to equipment, I believe that less is more. Until 2003 I carried three camera bodies loaded with different types of film, a 2.8/300mm (which alone weighed in at two and a half kilos) and a ton of other fixed focal lenses. Not anymore! I've had some fun shooting my Nikon equipment with the Canon G9 compact. I can only hope Canon won't mind! Find out what's in my bag and why it's earned its place there.

Nikon D300 Digital SLR camerabody

Today, in may 2009, the D300 and D700 are Nikons high end prosumer D-SLR camerabodies. I don't think that the D3 and the D3x will significantly outperform my D300 in terms of image quality and reliability (although I haven't tested them side by side). I have used the D300 very intensively for more than a year now. The images can easily be printed up to 16 x 24 inches. Which is more than enough for my needs. The D300 is much lighter and smaller than the professional D3 and D3x bodies. Having the sturdiest but also the heaviest and bulkiest equipment is not going to help you much if half of the time you are not willing to carry it around.

Nikon D300 Digital SLR camerabody and AF-S VR Nikkor 16-85mm 1:3.5-5.6G ED

In 2003 I decided to trade my Nikon F3 and F100 bodies for a Nikon D100 D-SLR because at that moment I felt confident enough that the digital images from the D100 could match the Fuji Velvia slides I had been shooting until then. Since 2003 I have used a D100, a D2x, a D200 and now a D300. The D2x was too heavy and bulky for me. The D200 is still my spare body, but I almost never use it. Unlike with film you don't need extra camerabodies with a different type of film. You simply turn the ISO-dial or change the white balance setting (something I never do anyway because I shoot RAW images). The Nikon bodies are so reliable that I often don't even bother to carry the spare body in my bag. Since I started using Nikon bodies in 1991 Nikon left me standing in the cold with a collapsed shutter only once.

My expectations were not very high when I switched from the D200 to the D300. But, it turned out that the D300 has many advantages over the D300. The base ISO of 200, compared to 100 on the D200, gives you one extra stop. The D300 is practically noise free up to ISO 800. The self cleaning sensor unit seems to work reasonably well. For me, as a landscape and nature photographer, exchanging lenses in the open air all the time, that's an important feature. After a year and almost 10.000 exposures there are some specs on the sensor, but nothing serious that would justify cleaning it with a swab as I did almost every month when I used the D100. Also very important to me is battery life. The D300 battery lasts forever (1000 exposures) compared to the D200 (only 200 exposures; often even two batteries were not enough for a days shooting).

Don't ask me why I started using Nikon back in 1991. All I knew then was that I wanted something reliable and affordable. So I left the camerastore with a Nikon FE, 3.5/28mm Ai, 1.8/50mm E and 2.8/100mm E, all second hand. Once you have invested in a system and you own good lenses you are very likely to just stick to one brand.

AF-S VR Nikkor 16-85mm 1:3.5-5.6G ED

This is simple. Much less of a compromise than the AF-S 18-200 VR, which is too soft for my taste (I own one, but hardly ever use it). The 16-85 is sharp and solid, compact and light. And it gets me two extra millimeters on the wide end (on the wide end that's a real difference!). This lens has Vibration Reduction. For me that means that, more often than in the days of Fuji Velvia 50 and unstabilized lenses, I can shoot handheld. That gives you a lot of flexibility. However, I think a tripod and cable release are still indispensible accessories for serious landscape photography, especially in low light.

Tokina AT-X PRO SD 12-24 F4 (IF) DX

Tokina AT-X PRO SD 12-24 F4 (IF) DX

On my film cameras I had been using the Tokina AT-X PRO 20-35 F2.8. Solid as a rock and optically very good. For the DX format sensor of my D100 it wasn't quite wide enough. The 12-24mm has a constant F4 aperture, is all metal and much to my surprise sharper than the 20-35mm F2.8 I owned before. I see no reason to buy the Nikkor 12-24mm, which has a lot of plastic and optically is not significantly better than this Tokina (if at all). I find the chromatic abberation a lot of people complain about negligible and easy to correct in my RAW converter (Bibble Pro). The Nikkor is simply overpriced. In april 2009 Nikon has announced a new ultra wide-angle zoom: the AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24mm F/3.5-4.5G ED. I am very curious if it is any good optically. It may very well be that the extra 2 millimeters on the wide end have taken their toll on image quality. But perhaps I am wrong. We'll see.

AF VR Nikkor 80-400 1:4.5-5.6 ED

AF VR Nikkor 80-400 1:4.5-5.6 ED

I have had mixed feelings about this lens ever since I bought it some eight years ago. Between 80mm and 320mm it is very sharp as far open as F5.6. On a D-SLR body that means that you have the equivalent of a very good, reasonably fast 120-480mm lens. With the base ISO of 200 on the D300 you will get fast enough shutter speeds under almost all circumstances. On the other hand my specimen gets ever softer above 320mm, to such an extent even that I stopped using it over 320mm altogether. VR works, but certainly not perfectly. If you shoot burst of two or more exposures, be prepared for unsharp images after the first exposure. I still haven't been able to figure out why exactly that happens. Furthermore, this is just an AF lens, not AF-S. Autofocus is very slóóów. It is not a lens for wildlife running up and down in front of you. Even in a zoo it would give you a hard time. Also it doesn't focus very close (2.3 meters) making it less suitable for portraits. But, as I said, on a tripod with a cable release and the mirror raised in advance it is an excellent lens for non moving subjects, still life and landscape photography. Astonishingly sharp if you know how to use it and what to use it for. This, by the way, is very important. If you buy a lens, take some time to get to know its strong and its weak points. It will save you a lot of disappointments. You can get very good results with a mediocre lens as long as you know the limitations of your lens. I am not encouraging you to buy mediocre lenses of course. Just critically evaluate the lenses that you own. A lot of people who think their lenses are not sharp are actually seeing subject movement or camera movement. For critical purposes shooting moving subjects with shutter speeds slower than approx. 1/250 is just not a good idea. And neither is it a good idea to shoot this lens at the longer focal lengths without a tripod when shutterspeeds are slower than 1/250 - 1/500. VR will certainly help you to get a certain percentage of reasonably sharp images, but not every shot will be sharp and the sharp ones will not be as sharp as the ones taken from a tripod.

I have compared the 80-400 VR with Nikons 70-300 VR at 300mm here.

I replaced the tripod adapter of this lens with a better one from Kirk Enterprises (NC80-400). I had problems with the stability of the original Nikon tripod adapter. Also, when switching from horizontal to vertical the collar did not rotate smoothly enough. I think it's worth the investment.

Sigma APO MACRO 180mm 1:3.5D HSM IF

Sigma APO MACRO 180mm 1:3.5D HSM IF

I love long macro lenses for their large working distance and the evenly blurred out of focus backgrounds of the images. I find that much harder to achieve with a 105mm or 90mm lens. Ever tried shooting butterflies or dragonflies during the daytime when they are active? Short macro lenses are almost useless for that purpose. This lens is very sharp as wide open as F4. It's not just a good macro lens, it's also a fast, usefull tele (the equivalent of a 3.5/280mm on a D-SLR).

Nikon DR-4 Angle Finder

Nikon DR-4 Angle Finder

I know this is just an accessory. But to me it is very important. Of course, for the same result you can lie down in the mud an injure your neck to get off a shot from an unusual perspective. But would you really?

Nothing is as dull as shooting a wide angle lens from a tripod six feet off the ground. In some circumstances I use this angle finder for half of my shots or more. Nikons newer DR-6 will fit on the D300 without the Nikon DK-22 adapter I am using.

Cable release and tripod

Nikon MC-30 cable release

In low light you definitely need a tripod, cable release and a camera with the possibility of raising the mirror manually before you release the shutter. I own a Gitzo Carbon 1325 MkII with a 15 year old Arca Swiss Monoball that I bought second hand in the 1990s. Both are indestructable. Buying expensive gear and then saving on accessories that actually enable you to get the sharp images that you want is a bad idea. Expensive cameras may have a lifecycle of only two years, the accessories often last a lifetime and are well worth the investment.

I find myself shooting handheld more often than ever. With VR and a base ISO of 200 that is just very tempting. And sure, VR gives you a lot of flexibility but for macro photography and when you get slow shutter speeds a tripod is the only safe solution. There's no reason to become sloppy just because we shoot digital and we are not paying for film anymore.

Compatible with almost every nikon body since the F5 en F90x. The MC-30 works fine with the D200, D300, D700, D3 and D3x. For other Nikon bodies check the Nikon USA website. Some of the European Nikon sites have it all wrong or perhaps are out to sell you the MC-36. The MC-36 is more expensive. I bought my MC-30 second hand on the internet for 30 euros.

Anything else?

A 77mm circular polarizer with two step up rings. We have had the sunniest spring in years. I have rediscovered the polarizer in the past month or so. It is almost impossible to mimic the effect of a polarizer afterwards in the computer. A polarizer filters out the glare on leaves and other shiny surfaces, bringing deep, saturated colors to an image made under harsh sunlight. It darkens the blue sky and makes the clouds stand out.

A home made reflector for use in the field. Nothing more than a piece of cardboard covered with wrinkled alu foil in a plastic sleeve.

It all fits into a Lowepro Mini Trekker AW easily.