It has been a while since I did one of these posts, but I recently added a couple of new lenses to my kit so I thought it would be a good time. In fact, I haven’t done one of these posts since I switched from Canon to Sony last year, so this will be a very different looking kit this time around.
My Sony journey started with the a9 II in 2020. I loved that camera for its speed and incredible autofocus performance, but on occasion, I wished for more than the 24MP resolution. Sony answered that wish with the incredible Sony Alpha 1. In fact, they more than answered it. Not only does it deliver 50MP of resolution, but it also increases the burst speed to 30fps, adds 8k video and somehow manages to improve even further on the autofocus.
To say that this is the best camera I have ever used, would be a huge understatement. Every time I get it out of the bag, I marvel at how they managed to pack so much power into such a small camera body. Thinking back to the days when I used to carry the huge Canon 1-Series bodies around seems like a very distant past. Good grief they were huge and heavy!
And then we get to the files! The dynamic range is incredible, and the low-light performance is somehow on a par with the a9 II, even though that had half the resolution. The Sony Alpha 1 is quite simply a tour de force in camera making. When I made the switch to Sony I didn’t know this camera was coming, but I definitely feel like a backed the right horse now.
Sony a7S III
The long-awaited third version of the Sony a7S lineup came out in the second half of 2020 and was quickly added to my kit. I use this camera to take all of the review photos on this website, as well as shooting the reviews for our YouTube channel. On the odd occasion where I have a commercial client looking for video work, the a7S III is my go-to for its clean 4k S-Log footage. This past winter I also used the a7S III to create numerous time-lapses of the northern lights, as well as still photos of that beautiful aurora.
One interesting thing I discovered early on is that the low-light capabilities of the camera are so incredible, with its 12MP sensor, that you can easily interpolate the resulting files to a 24MP image and have them be almost indistinguishable from a natively shot 24MP image. In fact, if you are doing this to a northern lights photo, or another low-light scene, the interpolated file from the a7S III is often better than a higher resolution native file.
I used this trick to great effect over the winter to capture northern lights images for a tourism industry client. Despite the initial low capture resolution of 12MP, they were the best looking aurora images I have ever delivered to a client. The a7S III makes a great second body to compliment the a1, for photographers that shoot a wide range of stills and video assignments.
Sony 14mm f/1.8 GM
Living in the Yukon, I spend a good amount of time photographing the northern lights every year. Until recently, the go-to lens for this job was the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 ART. It’s a fantastic lens, but it’s big and heavy. Not something you throw in your bag unless you are truly sure you will need it.
In early 2021, Sony added their own 14mm f/1.8 GM lens to their lineup and I ordered it right away. Not only is it had the size of the Sigma it’s also half the weight, and incredibly, it’s the same price. With this lens, Sony continues an incredible run of lens making form.
Some of you might have noticed that I do not have a wide-angle zoom in my kit, such as a 16-35mm or a 14-24mm. This was a zoom I would always carry with me during my Canon years, but Sony’s wide primes offer incredible performance in relatively small packages. These days I’m happy carrying a 14mm prime and a 35mm prime instead of 16-35mm zoom. In reality, I almost always used my zoom lenses at the extremities of the zoom range anyway, and this way I get greater optical performance and a much faster aperture.
Sony 20mm f/1.8 G
I call this lens the hidden G Master, and probably the best value Sony lens in their whole lineup. I have never really figured out why they didn’t slap the GM badge on this lens design. From an image quality standpoint, it more than holds its own. All they would have needed was to add the red GM badge and the slightly more metallic lens mount and I guarantee there would have been no complaints.
This Sony 20mm f/1.8 G is every bit as sharp as the 24mm GM lens, and it actually performs far better in terms of flare resistance and the creation of sun stars. It has also created in me, a love for the rather odd 20mm focal length. When it first came out I thought it was a bit of an odd duck. Yes, it’s very wide. Noticeably wider than a 24mm lens, but also noticeably less wide than a 16mm.
Once you wrap your head around what it is and what it isn’t, though, you realise that its true strength is its lack of distortion. Landscape and travel photography images with this lens are superb in the way that they can show you a wide scene without getting into the realms of ultra-wide corner distortion. If I can only take one with me, I almost always choose the 20mm G over the 24mm GM.
Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM
Groundbreaking in its small size for an f/1.4 lens, the 24mm GM was the real turning point for Sony’s lens designs. Its realization played a huge part in my choice to move from Canon to Sony because I saw in this lens the ability to create lenses that are on a par, if not better than Canon L Series lenses, but also to create them in a small package. In a time when Canon, Nikon and Panasonic were all creating enormous prime lenses for their mirrorless systems, that were larger than their DSLR predecessors, Sony bucked the trend.
This lens is a great lens for travel photography and medium-wide landscape photography. It’s also the perfect second lens in an astrophotography/northern lights photography kit when you want to emphasize mountainous background elements a little more than the wide 14mm focal length will allow.
Sony 35mm f/1.4 GM
Like the 24mm GM, the 35mm GM is incredibly small for an f/1.4 prime lens. Out of all the lenses in my current kit, this is the sharpest. It also renders out of focus areas in a special way that I find very hard to describe. For years I had read about people finding beauty in the “rendering” of certain lenses. Until the 35mm GM came along, it’s not something I had experienced myself.
I have owned many great lenses. Many very sharp lenses, but none, until the 35mm GM, that allowed me to understand what people have been talking about when they waxed lyrical about out of focus rendering. There is something very special about this lens when shot wide open. The fall-off from the tack-sharp subject to the depths of the OOF background gives it a 3-dimensional feel that is addictive to the extreme. Some newer Sony lenses are good enough to consider switching systems for. The 35mm GM is one of them.
Tamron 28-70mm f/2.8
Amongst the array of top-of-the-line GM lenses, this Tamron 28-75mm lens might surprise people. This lightweight general-purpose zoom is optically on par with the 24-70mm GM lens. This is both good and bad. It’s good because when I needed a mid-range zoom lens it allowed me to skip the 24-70 GM and save a few dollars. But it’s bad because it highlights how desperately in need of an update the 24-70 GM lens is. For now, this serves my purposes for occasionally portrait use, and it also shoots all of the product review photos and videos for this site.
Sony 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G
Is the Sony 200-600mm lens the best wildlife photography lens on the market? Probably, yes. At least for most people’s needs when super-telephoto monsters like the 600mm GM are financially out of bounds. Autofocus performance is incredible with an a1 or an a9, and very good with an a7 III or a7R IV. Sharpness is easily on par with my old Canon 200-400 f/4 L that cost me $15,000! For a $2000 lens, that is saying something. In fact, I would have paid a lot more than $2000 for this lens and still been very happy indeed.
If you are primarily interested in wildlife photography as a hobby, this is another Sony lens that I believe is good enough to justify switching systems. Yes, Canon now has a very good RF 100-500mm lens, but the difference between 500mm and 600mm is huge when it comes to subject magnification. I wish I had 100mm less focal length, said no wildlife photographer EVER.
I use these on the 200-600mm lens. The 1.4x extender is very useable. It maintains a high accuracy with the autofocus, and there is very little impact on image quality. As usual, the 2x is a little more detrimental to AF and IQ performance, but it’s handy in a pinch. I love the small size of Sony teleconverters!
Lenses I’m Still Waiting For
I’m currently setting money aside for the Sony 600mm f/4 GM. This will be an important lens for me in the coming years for some of the projects that I have on the horizon. I would also love to see a 300mm f/2.8 GM from Sony. I don’t know why it is taking them so long to create such a staple lens for pro sports and wildlife photographers. When I was shooting with Canon gear, I also loved my 200-400mm f/4 with the built-in extender. I’d love to see something like a 200-400 or, even better, a 300-600 f/5.6 GM from Sony at some point.
Really Right Stuff TFC-24L MK2
Really Right Stuff Ascend 14L
This is the newest tripod in the RSS tripod lineup. It features a built-in head and a lightweight centre column that gives you the ultimate hiking and travel tripod. It costs a small fortune, I’ll give you that, but when you aren’t willing to compromise on travel tripod stability, the RRS Ascend 14L is the best there is.
I have been testing a lot of ball heads for this site in the past 12 months, so regular followers on social media might have seen me using a variety of other options. When it comes to my own choice, though, on a day when I’m out taking photos for photography’s sake, and not just gear testing, the Acratech GXP is the head I choose. For all the reasons mentioned in my GXP review. This is a phenomenal combination of stability and robust design. Please, read the review!
ProMediaGear Katana Jr. Gimbal
I tested a lot of gimbals for our gimbal head guide and concluded the PMG Katana Jr. is the best there is. What’s even better about this conclusion is that is not the most expensive, nor is it the largest or heaviest. It beats other gimbals in almost every category, so its choice as the best gimbal head was an easy one in the end. Love this thing!
My filter kit has been simplified. These days I usually carry just three filters, and all of them are from Breakthrough Photography. Their filters are the most colour-neutral filters on the market, and the only real downside is that they have become so popular that they are often out of stock. If you see one you need on their site, and in stock, don’t hesitate!
Breakthrough Photography X4 CPL
Breakthrough Photography X4 Dark CPL
The Dark CPL is a 6-stop ND filter combined with a CPL. This saves you from stacking two filters together which can cause vignetting with wide-angle lenses. I use this filter to get smooth water in photos of rivers, lakes and waterfalls.
Breakthrough Photography X4 2-Stop Soft Graduated ND
I used to carry many different graduated ND filters but found the 2-stop soft was the one that was used 80% of the time. I don’t find myself using this filter too often now that I have the increased dynamic range from my Sony cameras, but it’s an easy one to tuck into my bag just in case.
I review a lot of camera bags on this site. In any given week I probably use three or four different bags as I cycle between ones that I’m testing and ones that I always return to as my defaults.
Gura Gear Kiboko 30L
The butterfly design of the Kiboko V2 30L makes it possible to carry long lenses like my 200-600 attached to a camera body and ready to go at a moment’s notice. For simple long lens carry, there is nothing better.
Shimoda Designs Explore V2 25L
This bag is currently on Kickstarter for a nice discount, but I have used a pre-production one for several months and know that it will find a permanent place in my gear closet. It’s rare to find small(ish) 25L outdoor photo packs that are built to such high standards. Usually, when you drop down to smaller packs, they tend to be part of a lower quality, cheaper product tier. Not so with the Explore 25. It’s the smallest Shimoda Designs bag, but it’s every bit as robust and comfortable as the larger ones. Read the full Shimoda Designs Explore V2 review for more details.
Shimoda Designs Action X70
This monster of a photo pack is the biggest one on the market. Marketed at 70L, you can actually access an additional 10L of volume using the watertight rolltop. This is the bag I use when I need to carry everything, including the kitchen sink. Usually, I pick this one off the shelf for overnight camping missions with my camera, or when I need to carry underwater camera equipment and diving gear at the same time. Frankly too big for most applications, but often useful for gear heavy missions when everything else is too small.
Note: Use the discount code ShutterMuse10 to save 10% in the Shimoda store!
MindShift BackLite Elite 45L
For everything else, you can’t go wrong with the BackLight Elite 45L. This is a great all-rounder that can be used for everything outdoorsy, from wildlife to landscape and adventure sports. Check out the very in-depth BackLight Elite review for full details, including the product development story.
Peak Design Slide Lite
I tested a ton of straps for our camera strap guide, but I keep coming back to the Peak Design Slide Lite. I often remove my camera straps when working on a tripod, so a quick-release mechanism is very important. Peak Design has the best in the business with the Anchor Link system. I also don’t want a bulky, heavy camera strap. The Slide Lite is the perfect balance between width – to support camera weight – and minimal bulk when folded into my camera bag.
We also have a secret Peak Design X Shutter Muse special offer. We aren’t allowed to reveal the details publicly, but you can click the button below to get more details.