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Nikon D810E (More info)

What an awesome camera, and I do believe wholeheartedly that this is currently as of Jan 2014 (and patiently waiting for the next generation of Nikon beyond the D810 model), the best landscape DSLR camera available at any price.  When I said “landscape” and I do mean that this camera is specifically suited for landscape purpose, however, it can also be easily used for other purposes, such as travel photography, which I used it on the trip to Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia and Thailand recently.  With the Nikon D800E, the images that I obtained have this 3-D quality that I was not able to obtain with my old Canon 1DSMK3.  Sure, the 1DSMK3 was no slouch, but the D800E saves me tons of time in post processing, especially when it comes to sharpness, color fidelity and cropping flexibility.  However, with the last item, cropping, it is still better to get the pictures composed correctly then relying on cropping in post-processing, especially when it comes to cropping too much from the original size (something was wrong with your composition or lens selection if you had to cut out that much!).  However, sometimes you do need to crop due to uncontrolled situations, and the crop images still look astoundingly good.

In terms of high ISO capability, the Nikon 800E is amazing too.  There are many images that I took using ISO 6500, which, after some noise reduction in the post, still look so good, about 80-90% of the regular images using low ISO settings.  Recommend noise reduction software to use, which would leave the least amount of side-effects is Noiseware. This software, after using all other equally impressive ones, from other vendors, such as Topaz, and most notable, Google Nik Define, I still have to say, Noiseware is my favorite, which does the least amount of damages to a noisy image.

The difference between the 800E and m previous Canon 1DS Mk3, which is still an excellent camera by any mean (and from what I’ve heard, is either similar to the new 5Dmk3 in terms of the sensor), is when you view the image in Photoshop at 100% size, the 800D image is still sharp with less noise and artifacts.  If you plan to print your images very large, then the 800/800E are for you, otherwise, at sizes that are used to display on the web, it does not look that much difference.   The Nikon does require a lot more memory storage and disk space due to its sensor size, 36MP versus 22MP.  Also if you’re used to having many layers in Photoshop for post processing your images, you’ll experience slowness and crashing more often with Photoshop, and I’m using the latest CC version.   My hardware is no slouch:  Quad-core CPU, turbo-charged to 3.8Ghz, 32G RAM.   My recommendation is that you’d need to close other image-companion software such as Bridge, Lightroom, DxO, etc… while working with your images in Photoshop.  Oh, also, if you do a lot of pano work like I’m doing now, this makes it 10 times worse :).

Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR AF-S Nikkor Lens
Very versatile lens, light and quite sharp, but may be a bit soft at the corners, especially at 24mm and when used wide open.  This lens is basically a steal with its VR and lightweight, perfect for travel photography where you’re not too critical with your landscape images.  What that said, I have gotten some pretty nice images hand-hold, for street photography.  Can’t complain on both the price and the weight.  If you’re really a pixel peeper, then this lens might not be for you.  I can consider myself also as a pixel peeper but not to the extremes, however, I do look at my images at 100% in Photoshop.

Nikon 16-35mm f/4G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor Wide Angle Zoom Lens

Can’t believe that this incredibly sharp lens is on sale right now at Amazon for only $957 with free shipping!  This is one of the best lens that I have in my tool kit, and on my camera most of the time for landscape and some street photography.  Buy it now before the price will go back up to $1260.  Sometimes in post processing, I think that this lens might be TOO SHARP and needs no more sharpening in post processing.

Nikon 70-200 F/4 ED VR Nikkor Zoom Lens

Please see my short review on this lens in my blog section.

Nikon 50mm F/1.8G AF-S FX Lens

Great lens and price makes it a no-brainer.  Buy it and use it, you won’t regret it.  It is very sharp.  In fact, I’m using this to cover my 50mm range in landscape more than for portrait or people.

Nikon 85mm F/1.8G AF-S FX Lens

This lens I intend to use it primarily as portrait lens.  It is even better than the 50mm lens for that purpose, however, it is not as versatile as the 50mm in my opinion.  But I did use mostly and solely the Canon 85mm F1.2 in my trip to Japan with many keepers, so it depends on where you travel, it could be the only walk-around lens that you’ll need.  I will try that again, using it as a walk-around lens, when the right situation calls for.

Nikon 20mm F/1.8G AF-S FX lens

Awesome lens for landscape AND other purposes as well, such as creative images!  Don’t leave home without it, it is light and extremely sharp from corners to corners, albeit with some color fringing issue at the edges which is easily corrected in Lightroom or other RAW converter software.

Zeiss 21 F/2.8 Distagon ZF,2 for Nikon

Any discussion about the sharpness of this lens and its butter-smooth manual focus system are true.  Buy this lens and just be satisfied, even if you only use it less often than other Nikon zooms.  The thing is that once you have it mounted, you just want to go out and shoot with this lens for any purpose…it is addicting.  I will be having some sample images on my next trip…soon.

Zeiss 35 F/2 Distagon ZF.2 for Nikon

The same can be said about this lens as the 21mm version above, however, at 35mm, it is not as versatile as the 21mm, in my opinion.  You only have to use this to know that I mean.  I would keep this one as well, even though it is not often used lens as the 21mm, but the F2 and 35mm would be great as a walk around lens for street photography than the 21mm.  Again, it might be my shooting style and habits more than the fault of the lens.

Zeiss 50 F/2 Makro ZF.2 for Nikon

I have waxed enthusiastically about this lens in another blog of mine.  This lens basically has changed my attitude about using it as a landscape lens, with its incredible sharpness and color contrast.  I think you should just buy it and use it for a while before you’ll realize what I’m talking about here.

Markin Q3 Ball Head

One of the lightest and still able to hold almost anything!  However, I’ve been using this ball head and the lighter Gitzo 1524T tripod on recent travels from Italy to Mount Rainier National Park, with lots of hiking, street-walking.  This ball head and the new Gitzo tripod sets a new standard for light weight and stable supports, which is making me wonder if I’ll ever need the heavier one that I still have, the Gitzo 2541 below and the RRS BH-40 ball head!

Gitzo 1544T Carbon Tripod

Read a bit of write-up here a while back.

Well, as I said above, this one is my current favorite one!  It would take some serious thinking from me to switch back to the Gizto 2541 now.  This new light tripod can support my D800E and the 70-200mm F4 without any issue.  That is about as heavy as I want to carry now.

Gitzo 2541 Carbon Trip (More info)

This one is a great tripod to take with you if you hike a lot since it has a balance between weight and stability. I’ve never had any issue with it when using it with my current heaviest setup, the 70-200mm, even under windy condition. A heavier one would be impractical to use on a long hike, at least for me. You know how important this is in getting sharp pictures and this one does not disappoint. This Gitzo is so well designed and built that I used it in desert sand (Death Valley), snow, near ocean, on beaches, in mud, etc… so far for the last 3 years, and it has not given me any issue. Just clean it up with a damp cloth and rinse its feet and you’re all set for the next photo trip. I removed the center column and just mount the ball head directly on top to reduce vibration, and most times, I don’t need the center columns anyway.  With no column, it also allows me to get really low to the ground for certain shots. Buy a good one and keep for good, cheap out and you’ll pay more later.

Arcaswiss Z1 ball head (More info)

This is another one that I can’t recommend it highly enough. I used it in all different weather conditions, rain or shine, and nothing is wrong yet. It is as smooth as butter and a joy to use.  Neither a need to maintain, just occasionally, I air-puff the dust around the ball, and that is it. Wow! I wish everything is built like this, no wonder Swiss-made watches are also considered the best in the world. I did compare this to the Really Right Stuff BH40 and I preferred this one better, just personal preference, but could be happy with either one. This one I have does not have the flip lock, just the regular screw lock, and believe me, it works fine without any issue so far.

Other miscellaneous stuffs:

Nikon 800/800E remote shutter trigger

RFN-4s Wireless Remote Shutter Release for Nikon DSLR. If I tell you that this one is the best remote trigger for my Nikon 800E, if you can find anything that is better, write to me!  Of course I would prefer that the Nikon 800 has the built-in receiver so I don’t need to mount any external gadget to my camera body, but this one is second to that dream of having it built into the camera body.  By using this exclusively for all of the landscape shots from my last trip to Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, without a hitch while using it, it pretty much summed up how it performs and its consistency in not missing even one click!  Battery life is also excellent provided that you don’t forget to turn it off while using it.  It also is unobtrusively mounted on my 800E body without hampering other operations too much either.  I’m happy with it, compared to multiple external remote shutter devices that I bought, which I ended up not using or threw away, including the cable shutter releases.

Lens cleaning stuffs

B+W filters — B+W 77mm Kaesemann Circular Polarizer with Multi-Resistant Coating; this one is one of the best filters that you can get.  Upon screwing it onto your lens, you know immediately that this filter is special, the feel of it going into the lens and the coating, just awesome to look at.  The pictures of course did not tell you that there was any issue with it on your lens, except that the sky was bluer and colors are more saturated, and that is what you want a filter to do, be invisible where it should be.  One more thing, this filter is very easy to clean and it was not damaged when I used in on my 77mm lens compared to the other  cheaper brand for my other lens.  This filter was totally destroyed due to the steam from the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park visit that I made last Sept 2011.  I will have to fork out money now to buy this one instead, the B+W 82mm slim-line Kaesemann Circular Polarizer with Multi-Resistant Coating.  Not cheap, but as you already know, at the end, it costs me more to cheap out.

** I always buy things from Amazon or B&H whenever it is possible, just because of their return policies, with which, I could return something quite easily if there is something wrong,  even if the prices were slightly higher than other places.

Adobe 2015 CC

Various plug-ins

X-Rite EODIS3 i1Display Pro

Dell U2711 Wide Gamut Monitor  –  The more I use it the more I think it is an amazing monitor which allows you to see the pictures as you want to see them.  Very accurate colors at a very reasonable price.  Apparently I had seen it on Amazon for less than $800, which is a lot less than what I paid for them few months ago.  The price fluctuates from time to time, so check back very so often to get the best price.

and lots of patience!

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