The Gear I Use and Why

April 09, 2018  •  2 Comments

Topping the list of commonly asked questions on my Instagram page is, "What camera and/or lens do you use?".  I will always answer with my current setup, even though very few of the photos were probably taken with that particular combo as it's new and hasn't seen much time in the field at that point but each new camera or lens I buy follows in the same path as the equipment came before it.  Before I answer the question though I always ask the question of, "Which type of photos are you looking to take mainly; incoming ducks or general photos of friends while out hunting?".  I'm going to focus this discussion mainly on the "duck photo" side of life but I will also touch on some aspects of general outdoor photography as well.

GEAR LIST FOR WATERFOWL PHOTOS

1.  Camera Body - Currently I am using a Canon 1DX that I bought barely used this past fall.  It is one generation behind the newest iteration of this camera, the 1DX Mark 2.  Prior to that I had a 1D4, and prior to that I had a 1D2, each which were one generation behind the newest version that was available.  I wanted to get the best possible camera I could afford at the time that was going to have top-notch focusing abilities and a heavy duty build/construction.  When shooting photos of a bird approaching you at 20-50mph the focusing ability is always my biggest concern.  Both Canon and Nikon will have very suitable cameras for this type of action, and some other cameras that I can think of off the top of my head that would work well also include: 7D Mark 2, 5D Mark IV, Nikon D500, Nikon D850, Nikon D4 or D5.  There's definitely others but these are the ones I would currently be considering that come to mind.

2.  Lens - My approach to waterfowl photography is perhaps different than what the textbook would say.  Most guys doing this have a 500mm or 600mm F4 lens and they mount that onto some form of a tripod and gimbal.  Undoubtedly that is a very stable system and gives a great platform for shooting photos.  Currently I don't enjoy that method and I use a much smaller setup, which I do for several reasons.  My current lens is the fairly small Canon 100-400mm IS USM Version 2 lens.  I am able to hold this combo easily with my hands and no need for a tripod.  Being able to do this has given me more flexibility in tracking birds that are more often than not, quite erratic.  So in place of longer reach with a bigger, less mobile lens, I have opted to work on getting closer to where birds want to be and work on hiding to get those birds in closer.  Both methods have yielded amazing images for those using them, I just prefer this way for now.  Down the road I imagine that I will have a big prime lens on a tripod, but I feel as if i will always want to have that 100-400 sitting next to me on a separate body waiting to go for when the situation calls for it.

3.  Extender - I do own a 1.4X Version 3 Canon extender.  I rarely use it.  No matter how good they are, there always seems to be some loss of image quality when using an extender so I only use it when I absolutely cannot get close enough to the birds.  Focusing tracking is also more difficult with an extender as well and you will undoubtedly miss more shots with one attached than without.

4.  Miscellaneous Accessories

  • Ghillie Suit - Despite the fact that I hate wearing it, I do wear a ghillie suit jacket in almost all circumstances unless I'm in a snow situation.  The degree to which they will hide you is pretty amazing.
  • Seats - I have three different stools that I use.  I have a MoMarsh layout seat, I belive it's called the Invisi-Lounge.  I made a custom aluminum frame for it since the hinges tend to give out after a few years but the seat it self doesn't soak up water and is fairly padded.  I love using this seat because it keeps me as close to the water as possible for a better low angle shot.  If the water is too high I then move up to a seat that would be considered a "turkey lounger".  It's a fold up chair that sits a few inches off the ground.  The idea is to stay as low as possible to the water's surface...this is both for hiding purposes and even more important for the angle of the shot.  The last option for when the water is thigh-high or more is to use a regular little blind stool.  With a lot of snow melt this year I have had to use this stool a fair amount and it's worked great for hiding in cattail clumps or similar.
  • Transportation - My main method of getting around this year has been with a small 12' canoe that doubles as a sled until I get to the water. The ability to get "to the other side" of a marsh is often critical in being able to shoot at any particular location, depending on wind/lighting conditions.  I also use a large Jet Sled to carry everything in in case the canoe just isn't feasible for that spot.  
  • Decoys - In the spring I will put out mainly diver decoys as it seems that everything decoys to them pretty well, and divers definitely come to the white decoys better than they would to mallard decoys.  My spread this year has been about 30 decoys up to about 50.

Getting Gear ReadyI'm playing around with video and trying to create a short movie here and there.

 

Beyond that list I of course use waders, typically Banded insulated breathables, gloves (wool with flip open finger covers so you can operate the buttons easily when needed), memory cards, camera bag, etc...but all of that is really just up to personal preference.

If your photographic interests tend more towards the lifestyle and general hunting photos than towards actual bird photos, your camera and lens choice will not need to be so specific towards focusing capabilities.  At this point, almost any dslr/mirrorless camera built from Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc will all be very effective at capturing scenes around the blind.  Wider lenses will be important so that you can capture what is going on around you, often in tight spaces and lenses with fairly fast apertures will be important as most of the cool opportunities occur at the times of little light.

The absolute most important advice about gear is: USE WHAT YOU HAVE!  There is no magic camera that is going to suddenly make you a great photographer.  New and more advanced gear is rarely taken advantage of by those who didn't master their current/previous camera.  There are a lot of people out there taking amazing photos with gear that is definitely not considered up to date, and there are a lot of folks out there with $5,000 hanging around their necks that may be better off with an iPhone in their hand.  

Leave a comment if you have any questions.

 

 

 


Comments

Adam Frick(non-registered)
Thanks for taking the time to do these!
Steven Moore(non-registered)
Very informative as always Phil, thanks for taking the time to do these.
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