Speedliter’s Intensive – my all-day seminar on flash photography will travel to seven more cities before the end of the year. Use the discount code PX25 to save $25. San Francisco (Dec 1), Seattle (Dec 7), Portland (Dec 9), Philadelphia (Dec 11), Baltimore/Washington DC (Dec 13), Fort Lauderdale (Dec 15), and Charlotte (Dec 18). $150, $125 with code PX25.
Speedliter’s Handbook – nearly 400 pages of how-to and why-to about creating great light with small flash. About a third of the book is specific to the buttons and dials of Canon Speedlites. The other two-thirds are applicable to all brands of gear. Thanks are due to the 215+ Speedliters who have given the Handbook a 5-star review on Amazon. $30.
Lighting for Digital Photography – my newest book makes a great gift for the shooter who is learning the fundamentals of light and lighting: how to look at light, techniques for shooting in available light, flash, and multiple lights. $14.
Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite – the new flagship of the Canon Speedlite line features a greatly improved LCD screen and an interactive menu system—making it far easier to learn than previous generations of Speedlites. It is fully compatible with the optical wireless system used by the 500-series and 400-series Speedlites. The 600EX-RT is also the world’s first small flash to have two-way radio built-in. This makes wireless Speedliting with other 600EX-RTs easy and convenient. (The optical and radio wireless systems cannot be used simultaneously.) $575.
Canon ST-E3-RT Speedlite Transmitter – this low-profile radio transmitter features the same LCD and menu system as the 600EX-RT. So, once you know how to operate the Speedlite, you also know how to operate the transmitter. For shoots where I don’t need an auto-focus assist lamp or on-camera flash, I use the ST-E3-RT to control my off-camera 600EX-RTs because is it easy to see over and much lighter. $305.
Canon 430EX II – this is a great first Speedlite for shooters looking to grow beyond the limitations of pop-up flash. It is only 2/3 stop dimmer than the 580EX and the 600EX-RT (meaning that it is not much dimmer). It features a head that auto-zooms the flash tube to match the vision of the lens, just like the 580EX and the 600EX-RT. It can be used as a slave Speedlite. So if you have a camera with a pop-up flash that works as a master (7D, 60D, T3i, T4i, etc.), then you can control the 430EX II as a slave from the LCD of your camera. Will also work as a slave when you use the 600EX-RT, 580EX/EX II, or the 500EX as a master. $275.
OCF Gear is a little venture that Amy and I run from our garage. So thanks for your purchases. They help us pay the tuition bills for our three sons.
OCF Gear Coiled ETTL Cord – An ETTL cord (or ITTL cord if you shoot Nikon) is an extension cord for your Speedlite. It allows you to move your Speedlite off-camera so that you can add depth to the look of your shots (“look at the light and think about the shadows“). Your camera does not even know that the flash is no longer in the hotshoe because the wiring and the connections match the design of your camera brand perfectly. This coiled ETTL cord stretches from 1′ to about 3′. So, it is the one to use when you are going to hand-hold your flash (or park it in the RRS Flash Bracket that I describe below). $35.
OCF Gear Extra Long E-TTL Cord – For those times when you want to mount your Speedlite off-camera on a light stand, this is the ETTL cord to use. At longer lengths, coiled cords are a problem because they swag through the air and topple your stand when you try to stretch it to full length. The OCF extra-long cord is 33’/10m and straight. So it drops straight down to the ground, runs over to the camera, and then up to the hotshoe. There is little danger of pulling your stand over. Like the coiled cord above, the extra-long OCF cord maintains the full communication between the camera and Speedlite. Available in both ETTL for Canon Speedlites and ITTL for Nikon Speedlights. 33’/10m long. $48 or $65.
Oben CT-3520 Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod – I was amazed when I first handled this full-height tripod because it weighs less than a 2-liter bottle of water. As amazingly, the legs fold back 180º and tuck up against the ballhead to make a very compact 16.6″ kit (as shown above). For those shoots when you don’t need a full tripod, one of the legs unscrews and converts into a monopod. $470.
Monoball Swivel – Whenever I’m not using an Apollo softbox or an umbrella, I mount my Speedlites on a Monoball Swivel. This allows me to turn one knob and quickly re-position my flash in any direction. I assemble my monoball swivels from three parts: Manfrotto 014-38 Rapid Adapter, Manfrotto 492 Micro Ball Head or Vello Multi-Function Ball Head, and a Smith Victor Cold Shoe Mount $55.
Manfrotto 1005BAC Flat-Folding Light Stands – the unique design of the Manfrotto 1005BAC light stands allows the legs to fold flat so that several stands can be nested together for travel. Believe me, this is a great space saver when packing gear for travel. When extended, these full-sized stands reach to 9′. Use them to hold the Apollo softboxes and the other large modifiers that I describe below. $95.
Manfrotto 5001B Nano Stand – the unique design of the Manfrotto 5110B light stand allows the legs to fold up against the body — so the whole stand folds down to 19″, which makes it great for travel. When extended, the stand reaches to almost 6′. While it’s not as robust as the 1005 stands above, the Nano stand is sturdy enough to hold a moderate-sized umbrella or Apollo Softbox. $50.
Manfrotto 026 Swivel Umbrella Adapter – this is the robust swivel adapter that I use to mount Apollo softboxes to lightstands. For $10 more than the cost of a cheap plastic swivel adapter, you’ll have one that lasts for years and can take all kinds of
abuse tough love. Dump the short spigot that comes with it and add the 013 Double Ended Spigot below. $28.
Manfrotto 013 Double Ended Spigot – this is the spigot that you’ll want in all of your swivel adapters. It features a 1/4-20 thread at one end and a 3/8-16 thread on the other. I carry several extras in my kit so that I always have one on hand. $8.
Really Right Stuff Folding Flash Bracket – wedding and event shooters: this is the best flash bracket out there. The unique design positions the flash above your camera for both horizontal and vertical shots (which kindly drops the shadow behind your subject rather than to the side). Folds up flat for easy storage and transport. $170, requires RRS L-bracket.
The Pod – for those times when you want to position your camera in an special position that is not easily reached, use The Pod. It’s essentially a robust bean bag with a thread that screws into the base of your camera and a strap that reaches across the top of your lens. There are several sizes–so match the Pod to your camera. I find the Green and the Silver to be the most useful. $22 to $45.
Impact Quickbox – the 24″ Impact Quickbox creates soft light from your small flash by mounting the light on the included bracket at the back and then diffusing the light through two layers of translucent fabric. It folds flat into the included case for transport and storage. I mount it to my light stand with the Manfrotto 026 Swivel Adapter and the 013 Double-Ended Spigot shown above. $135 alone or $150 with stand.
Lastolite Ezybox Speedlite – This 8″ softbox straps onto your small flash, so it’s handy to use when you are on the go. For event photography, I hold the flash with the Ezybox attached in my left hand and connect the flash to my camera with the OCF coiled cord. Folds flat and stores in the included zipper case.
Strobros Beauty Dish V2 + Grids – my favorite way to create a tight pool of light (think spotlight effect) is to use the Strobros Beauty Dish and the three grids that come in the accessory kit (click through on both links above to see the details). $28 (dish) + $28 (grids).
Westcott 6-in-1 Illuminator Kit – this is the pro-grade reflector kit that I use. It includes two 42″ diffuser disks (that provide one-stop and two-stops of light reduction) and a zip-on cover that has black, gold, silver, and sunlight fabrics. For full-sun portraits, you can position one diffuser over your subject and then use the other as a reflector panel to bounce light in from the side (no flash needed!). The whole kit twists up and stores in the included carrying case. $100.
Westcott Apollo Orb Softbox – this is my favorite softbox for small flash—provided that you have a way to control the flash from your camera (like an ETTL cord or and ETTL radio system). The Apollo line of softboxes folds up like umbrellas, so they are easy to transport and quick to set-up. You mount the Speedlite inside facing backwards so the light fires into the metallic silver lining before it spreads out and flies through the diffuser panel. Even with a single Speedlite inside the 42″ Orb, you can create beautiful soft light. I use the Manfrotto 026 Swivel Adapter (above) to mount the Orb to my light stand. $130 or $150 with stand.
Westcott Pocketbox Set – Pocketboxes are a trio of Speedlite-mounted softboxes that fold flat for easy transport. The set includes the 8″ x 12″ Max, the 8.5″ Round, and the 6″ x 7″ Mini. It also includes an educational DVD that covers the fundamentals of lighting. $50.
Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella – this is the modifier that I reach for when I want to create a wide field of soft light. If you’ve seen my shot of the hurdler flying over the rock at the lake (here), you’ll know what I mean by wide field of soft light. You can light up this huge umbrella with just three Speedlites or with a single monolight or studio strobe. $100.
Rogue Flashbender Large – I’m a big fan of the Rogue FlashBender Large and often have three of them in my gear bag. It’s a 10″ x 11″ flexible panel that straps onto your Speedlite. It can be used as a bounce card, as a flag (blocks light from background), or rolled as a snoot. Rogue makes smaller FlashBenders. The Large is my favorite. $40.
Rogue Filter Kit – Rogue has assembled a wide range of color correction and color effects gels into a well-packaged kit that includes a case and dividers. The gels are large enough to easily work the large Speedlights. They attach to the flash via a rubber band (which is actually black in the kit, but I used blue here to make it easier to see). $30.
Rogue 3-in-1 Grid Kit –the folks at Rogue have come up with an innovative way to use two grids to create three difference spread patterns (45º, 25º, and when used together, 16º). The grids are held slightly off the face of the flashhead by a flexible strap. Rogue also sells a gel kit made specifically for use with their grids (which is a handy combination). $50.
Rogue Master Lighting Kit – This kit contains all of the great Rouge flash modifiers: 2 FlashBenders (Large and Small), the diffuser for the Large, the mini BounceCard, the 3-in-1 Grid Kit, and 2 Filter Kits (one for the flash alone and one for the grid kit). $200.
Bolt CBP-C1 Compact Battery Pack – an external battery pack is the easiest way to cut your recycle time in half. The Bolt CBP-C1 pack has all the functionality of Canon’s proprietary pack, costs $100 less, and runs on either 4 or 8 AA batteries. Plugs into the power port on the 580EX II or the 600EX-RT. $75.
Maha M801D Charger – this charger is so essential to my Speedliting that I carry two of them on the road. Of all the chargers I tried, the Maha M801D is the best because each battery is charged on an individual circuit—meaning that it gets just the amount of charge it needs. Other chargers put multiple batteries on the same charging circuit—which stops the charge when the strongest battery is filled. Safely charges batteries in 1-hour. Also has a deep conditioning cycle to restore the capacity of rechargeable batteries that have been abused by other chargers. $65.
Eneloop Rechargeable Batteries – all of the batteries in my kit are Eneloops because they are rechargeable and hold onto that charge for an extended period. Specifically, Eneloops are low-discharge, nickel metal-hydride batteries. It’s the “low-discharge” chemistry that makes the difference. Other NiMH batteries (like Powerex) may hold power more initially, but a week or so after the charge, they’ve lost much of their power. So, if you are not the type of person who pulls out the batteries and charger before each shoot, go with Eneloops. $10 for 4.
Powerpax AA Holder – these ingenious plastic caddies keep my batteries at the ready. I insert the batteries with the tips down just after charging and with the tips up when they are used. At a glance, I can tell which batteries to use. As importantly, the yellow color makes the caddy easy to find at the bottom of my gear bag. $6.
EOS-M Mirrorless Camera – Canon’s recent launch of the EOS-M, a mirrorless, interchangable lens camera (MILC), packs the functionality of a DLSR sensor into a pocket-sized camera. Use the compact EOS-M lenses or your current Canon lenses via the adapter. $800.
Canon 5D Mark III – the more I shoot the Canon 5D Mark III, the more impressed I am with the camera. The new 61-point auto-focus system (the same as the 1D X) is fast and reliable — a huge step forward for the 5D line. The image quality at high-ISOs (6400+) is also a huge step forward from its predecessors. $3300.
Canon 6D – Canon’s newest full-sensor camera comes at a price that typically has been the domain of crop-sensor cameras. So, if you are looking to step up to the benefits of a full-sensor camera (wider effective view through your lenses, shallower depth-of-field) the check out the 6D. $2100.
Canon 60D – In addition to my 5D Mk III, I almost always have the 60D in my bag for those times when I want a less-obtrusive camera. It also has a tilting screen, which makes it a very handy camera to have when shooting overhead in crowded spaces. APS-C sensor (1.6x crop factor). $800.
Canon T4i – This is a sweet, little HDSLR that is the perfect starter camera. It is the first Canon HDSLR to feature a touchscreen LCD (think iPhone control on your camera and you’ll have a good idea of what it’s like). Despite the T4i’s price point, this is a full-featured camera. APS-C sensor (1.6x crop factor). $800.
HoodLoupe Professonal – I always carry an LCD loupe so that I can see the details about the light and shadowing on my camera. The HoodLoupe is affordable and robust. When I’m shooting quickly and need to take a quick look, this is the loupe I grab. $80.
Zacuto Z-Finder Pro – the Zacuto Z-finder Pro snaps onto a plastic frame that you affix semi-permanently to your camera’s LCD (meaning that it stays there until you slip an Xacto knife under it and pry it off). All of my cameras have these mounting frames attached. The advantage of the Zacuto over the HoodLoupe is that it forms a light-tight seal around the LCD and frees up your hand from holding it. $375.
Tenba Roadie II Rolling Photo/Laptop Cases – the Tenba Roadie II series are made to haul gear around the globe. If you fly internationally, choose the Universal. If you only fly domestically, chose the Large which gives you a bit more space. Each will hold a couple of pro-sized DLSR bodies and many lenses/Speedlites. Unlike other suitcases that scream “expensive gear inside”, the Roadies’ low-key design will not attract a lot of attention. $315 – $335.
Tenba Messenger Photo/Laptop Bags – for on-the-go street photography, I like the Tenba Messenger bags. They look like conventional messenger bags, so they don’t attract attention. Yet, the top zipper provides direct access to the padded interior. Hold a camera and a couple of lenses/Speedlites. Available in many colors and a range of sizes. $95–$145.
Tenba Messenger Wraps – I use these padded wraps to provide a bit of extra protection for camera bodies and lenses. Available in several colors and sizes. $11–$19.
Tenba Air Case for 27″ iMac – in the past six months, my 27″ iMac has accompanied me on 10,000+ miles of highway driving and 30+ flights. Why? Initially, it was because I had to finish writing/shooting for my latest book (Lighting for Digital Photography). Now, it’s because I am addicted to having all that screen real estate. This is the case that makes all of the travel possible. To read more about my adventures with it and my iMac, click here. $655.
Tenba 48″ Rolling Tripod/Grip Case – my back recently demanded that I switch from non-rolling grip bags to something with rollers. Based on my experience with the Tenba iMac Air Case (above), I chose the Tenba 48″ Rolling Grip Case. It weighs just 12 pounds, which means that you can haul 38 pounds of light stands, mods, and tripods and still meet the 50 pound limit for airline baggage. As importantly, it rolls like a dream and my back is happy again. $330.
MEMORY & STORAGE
Lexar 1000x CF Cards – we often don’t think about the importance of our memory cards. Yet, I learned first-hand this fall that with a Lexar 1000X card, you can literally hold down the shutter button on the 1D X while shooting 14 RAW frames-per-second. If you are tired of the buffer on your camera stopping your shoot while the camera writes files to your memory card, then it’s time to upgrade to 1000X cards. $77 – $600.
Gepe Card Safes – I love these card cases. They come in a range of non-black colors, so they are easy to see in my bag. They are waterproof and crushproof. They float. And they hold 4 CF cards and 4 SD cards simultaneously. So I can keep all of my cameras fed while on the road. $16 – $25.
Western Digital My Book Thunderbolt Duo – I had read that the Thunderbolt connection was fast, but I didn’t realize how fast until I connected this drive to my computer. Wow! Blazing fast. The Duo features two drives that can either be configured as a striped RAID for super-fast access or as a mirrored-RAID for data redundancy. You can also use the drives independently. Swapping out drives only takes a second via the push-button access on the top. $380 – $800.
FLUORESCENT GAFFER TAPE
Rosco Gaffer Tape – all of my gear has little stickers with my URL and phone number on them. But, from a distance, I prefer to look for the bits of yellow fluorescent gaffer’s tape that I also affix to my gear. This makes it easy to find my gear—either because my bags all seam to have black interiors or because I’m shooting with a bunch of students at a workshop. Feel free to pick you favorite color from a wide range of fluorescent and standard colors. The 1″ width is best for marking gear. $4 – $12.
Follow Syl On Twitter
- My 'Crafting Dramatic Light' workshop on location @SFWorkshops #Impact Hexi 24 soft box http://t.co/ZWFOiPA279, Jul 22
- Great read. “What Pro #Togs Wish They Knew When Starting Out” via @Phoblographer > http://t.co/FO3idyY6wO, Jul 21
- It's done—the new 'Speedliter's Handbook! Take a look > http://t.co/2moc8if3Pe, Jun 21
- Finally Finished! Meet The New ‘Speedliter’s Handbook’ http://t.co/2moc8iwEGM http://t.co/tUPwZPTGfO, Jun 21
- Brian lights up Shanta on location with a Westcott Rapid Box 26" Octa at #RMSP flash photo workshop. https://t.co/ks44KeUcin, Jun 11
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