MCP’s Camera Bag: Equipment and Pictures from Past to Present

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As a follow up to last weeks post on “how expensive equipment alone does not make a great photographer,” most people were in agreement that just because you have expensive gear does not make you a better photographer.  Once you learn the fundamentals and build up experience, better equipment can further enrich your photos.

Basically your camera, lenses and other equipment are the tools. If you hand me the most expensive gardening tools: top of the line shovel, perfect soil and some flowers and bushes to plant, they probably will die left in my hands. Same goes for photography…

From this article, I still got a lot of questions on what equipment I own.  Readers wanted to know what gear I started out with in photography, what I use now, and where I shop.

When I started shooting, my 1st camera was a Canon Rebel 300. My 1st lens was a 50 1.8.  I loved it and thought my photography was amazing.  Looking back now I laugh – I had so much to learn.  Here are 3 of my 1st photos ever from when I got my SLR – note that I had no clue how to focus – and used the portrait and running man auto modes.  Oh, promise you will not make fun – I am really exposing myself here…

1st shots MCP’s Camera Bag: Equipment and Pictures from Past to Present
pin it4 MCP’s Camera Bag: Equipment and Pictures from Past to Present

Once the Canon 20D was announced and I sold the Rebel and bought the 20D.  I still have this camera – now for my 7 year old twins to learn using a camera.  When I purchased the 20D, I got the 17-85mm lens with it. I used this camera for many years. For low light I ended up getting the Tamron 28-75 2.8.  This is a great starting out lens.

Next up I bought the 40D. By this time I had started upgrading lenses.  I had a 50 1.4, 85 1.8 and got my 1st L lens – a 24-105L. I have bought and sold a number of lenses over time -so I may miss a few in this post.  Good lenses hold value well  (around 80-90% often times) and so when I decide to try something different, I sell and buy…  Kind of an endless cycle. These shots below were using 50 1.4.

Now for my current gear…  Over the past few years I have added to my L lens collection.  And mainly focused on primes. I now have the Canon 5D MKII (kept the 40D as a backup).  For prime lenses I have the 35L 1.4, 50L 1.2, 85 1.2, 100 2.8 macro, and 135L 2.0. My most used of these is 35L for street photography and general walk around lens (though the 50L gets used a lot for that now that I have a full frame camera).  I love the 85L for portraits and 135 2.0 for outdoor shots (LOVE this lens).

As for zooms, I recently sold my 70-200 2.8 (it was super heavy and it just did not get used).  I still have my 17-40 for wide angle.  Though I keep wondering if I should sell it and get the 16-35L.  Anyone have opinions on that?  And I have the 24-105L – This lens was my most favorite until I become a primarily prime shooter. And I just ordered the Canon 15mm Fisheye last night – this will be my fun times lens.

Here is a quick collage of pictures from 2009 using my most current set up of L primes, a macro and the Canon 5D MKII.  I see definite improvement over the years in my photography, understanding of light, better grasp on focusing and post processing.  The better equipment… well it helps – but only because I know what to do with it.  I assure you if you handed me this gear when I got my 1st camera it would have been a waste.  I would have had no “running man” to use – and would have wondered why the camera has no flash on it…

What else do I currently have in my camera bag?  I have white balance lens caps, lastolite ezybalance, Sekonic light meter, business cards and a pack of mint gum. Depending where I will be shooting, I carry the 580EX II and a Gary Fong Lightsphere too. Currently it is housed in my newest Camera Bag – the Jack by Jill-e rolling bag.

Where do I shop? My preferred stores are: B&H Photo and Amazon.

*** Now your turn: tell me – do you feel over the years you have improved?  If so, do you feel it was more the equipment or your skills – or a mix of both?  If both, I would love to hear what % you feel of each…

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 MCP’s Camera Bag: Equipment and Pictures from Past to Present

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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29 Comments and 1 Replies



  1. 1
    Mindy says:

    This post was so interesting! How cool to see how your photography has progressed over the years! You started out good, but WOW you are such a talent now! I would LOVE for you to do some type of post on focusing!!! I feel that I still struggle in this area and learning how to nail focus. Why is it that sometimes when I feel I’m focusing on something, I’m really not?! lol! I think I already know the answer to this, but focus has been the most frustrating part of my learning thus far. Does it just come with practice? I hate losing a great shot because it is out of focus or focused on the wrong thing! How do you do your focus? (focus and recompose? focus points?) Anyway, your posts are always SO helpful and I love watching your videos and using your actions! Thanks so much for all the helpful tips and sharing of your knowledge!

  2. 2

    I would have to say both! Better equipment certainly helps — but knowing what you’re doing with it is really much more valuable to getting you where you want to be!

  3. 3
    jen says:

    both as well for me, but i definitely think that seeing light and composition in a different way and how to manipulate that makes the most difference! and mcp actions and classes, of course. ;)

  4. 4
    Brenda says:

    I would say the majority of my improvement has been in skills. The new equipment just helps to take the way I see things and capture it to show everyone else.

    I started with a $50 point-and-shoot from Wal*Mart and most of the time, you could tell. Looking back now, I realize that my composition was usually terrible and it’s not like I had a good enough camera to make up for it.

    Then I got a Canon Powershot S3 and started shooting nonstop. I also started reading books, blogs, and websites galore to learn what I was doing. Plus, I took a course at the community college. I was the only one without an SLR in that class but I was getting better shots than some of my peers because I wasn’t using auto mode. [Yes, I got the S3 because it had the option to go fully manual and an AMAZING macro mode.]

    When my poor Powershot broke this fall, I upgraded to a Rebel XT and finally got an intuitive manual focus. I’ve also upped my website/blog reading to learn even more. I also stepped up my post-processing [ok, so I finally decided that post-processing isn't cheating and embraced the fact that Photoshop is addictive] to give my pictures an extra pop. And I am now making an effort to challenge myself and work on the things I’m not good at.

    I’ve had a chance to shoot with other people’s SLRs at various points in my narrative [and I'm sorry it's so long!] and my work with their cameras was comparable to my work on my own, lesser camera. That leads me to believe it’s more about skills than about equipment.

  5. 5
    admin says:

    Mindy – thanks for the compliments :)

    Focus – comes with practice for sure – you can see my earlier pictures were way softer. I change my focus points and put the dot over the nearest eye.

  6. 6
    megan says:

    for dslr, i started with a nikon d80 december 2006…and I still shoot with it. i look back at my first six months of shooting…and i cringe. there are a few things i know would improve just by upping my camera: low light photos (which even with a good lens, the d80 doesn’t do that well), for example. but really, my photography has improved not because of equipment, but studying and practicing. thanks for showing us your progression!

  7. 7
    Michelle says:

    Thanks for sharing your equipment journey! It’s so interesting to hear & see progress. :) I am on my first camera- a Canon 30D. Can’t wait to upgrade someday but for now I have upgraded to the 24-70L and use the 50 1.8 (would love to upgrade to the 1.4 or 1.2). Currently working on nailing exposure in camera in manual CONSISTENTLY, seeing Light and Composition. Have seen definite improvement in the past 6 months. Will keep working at it. Someday when the $ is flowing I’ll upgrade equipment but for now I know improving my skills is much cheaper than new equipment and will pay handsomely someday. :)

  8. 8
    Tina Harden Photography says:

    This is just crazy but I feel like I can almost cut and paste your blog in my story. Except for a few differences here and there (a lot less lens)it’s almost identical. I love my 5D Mark II and I will say this did improve my photos on it’s own. It’s also has inspired me to practice practice practice…. It’s an amazing Camera. I have started working with primes and really love them. I was torn at first but have yet to pick up my 24-70L since purchasing my 50 1.2L. Just got to move a little. The amazing thing about moving around is it forces you to adjust your composition and 9 times out of 10 you get something better then just zooming in and out. Afterall, we can do that on our computers if absolutely needed, right? I still have my 70-200mm. It’s a must for Football and Baseball games although I’m excited to try out the 135L this year during football season. Anyhow, great post Jodi!

  9. 9
    Shae says:

    I have to say that equipment had a lot to do with it for me. When I first started out I had a Canon EOS A2E *GASP* It was a 35mm SLR, which means film and lots of hours in the dark room. Because I was a college student I couldn’t afford tons of film so I had to be very selective about what I shot. When I finally got my Rebel XT, I was able to shoot like crazy because I didn’t have to worry about wasting film. The practice was great. Also, moving from a darkroom to a computer helped a lot too.

  10. 10
    Lori M. says:

    I started out with a $300 point and shoot about 10 years ago and caught the “digital” bug! I can’t seem to get enough! I read everything I can get my hands on and shoot about as much. I agree that both better equipment and knowledge have definitely improved my photography over the years but only because I know more about what to do with it. I agree that auto mode alone will not make a better photographer. As far as the quality of my images, I really started to notice a difference when I upgraded my lenses! I have been in love with zooms for many years but within the past 9 months or so I have “rediscovered” my Nikon 50mm f1.4 and now I’m in love with it. I was always frustrated with it before and felt it was inconsistent in focus and for some reason had a harder time with composition with it as compared to my Nikon 28-70mm f2.8. Recently I have really noticed an incredible sharpness about the 50mm and I think I’m turning into a “prime” girl! I’m not real sure what the difference is today other than I have a much better understanding of how to “see the light”. Thanks for a great post Jodi!

    I purchased the white balance lens cap after your recommendation but I have not had very much luck with it yet. I try to set white balance and my images come out blue or orange. I usually end of putting the camera back on auto white balance and fixing it in RAW post processing. I’m using a Fuji S5 Pro and I understand that every camera is different in setting white balance but would you go through how you set a custom white balance using the lens cap? I’m sure I can gleen some helpful information there that will help me figure it out on my own camera.

  11. 11
    Catherine says:

    Wow! I love to see that the best photographers started out somewhere. I adore that you opened yourself up that way…. it makes you real.

    I just got my first SLR in July 2008. I bought a Rebel… then a Mac in August and Elements with it. By October I upgraded to a 40D and some nicer lenses. For Christmas I got CS4 and in March a 5D Mark II. I also bought a 135 f/2L lens and a 24-105 f/4L lens to have nice glass. I’m ready and willing to do whatever it takes to learn… but I definitely wanted to be armed with the best equipment to learn. I feel like I get better every day and I learn so much from the internet and books. I’ve never taken a class (photography or photoshop). I need to. I’m one of those people who won’t stop and ask for directions, I want to figure everything out on my own.

    I really enjoy everything I’ve learned on your website! Thanks!

  12. 12
    Cristy says:

    I love your website as I am new to photography. I got a Rebel XSi in September. Read the entire manual, found as many photography blogs that I could found and just started shooting away. I use the Kit lens while I’m still learning but got a 50mm prime 1.8 too! I use the 50mm lens alot when photographing my two boys. Trying to push myself to only use Av or Manual modes but still have issues with getting both eyes focused! Curious on what you think my next lens should be? What do you suggest for traveling? I would guess one lens that has a big range? Also, I take lots of pictures of kids so I’m thinking an 85mm prime? Thanks for your help!

    • admin says:

      Cristy – hard to say – It depends – do you wish you could get closer or back up? if closer – then 85 – if backup – then a 35.

  13. 13
    Phatchik says:

    I’ve only had my dSLR since mid-February and I’ve already been able to see massive improvements! Especially when it comes to editing! Whoa – a light-hand is your best friend. But, I so agree about the camera not making the photographer. I had a point and shoot and took some amazing photographs. Some of my favorite photos ever taken were with my little point and shoot, in fact, so really it IS all about your skills as an artist and not how expensive the tools are.

  14. 14
    Tina says:

    You are so talented!! I can’t wait until I’m better at full manual (lots of adjusting while I’m shooting)

  15. 15
    Regina says:

    WOW! Jodi my how your work has blown me away. I have to 40D and now after looking at your work with the 40D I feel so amature. I also have just purchased the 50mm 1.4….still playing with it.
    I love how you showed us your work. Your great.

  16. 16
    Puna says:

    You mean you’re not supposed to use the running man mode?

  17. 17
    Jodi says:

    Lori – I just took a photo through the cap and then set the CWB. Wala… There was not much to it.

    Puna – you can run your camera in any mode you wish – but the more you learn – the more control you may want from shooting in Av, TV and Manual.

  18. 18
    Brad says:

    Well, like most everyone else here, I am continuing to progress in my skills, thanks to folks like you, Jodi, who openly share your talents, skills, experiences, PS Actions and training. Seeing your work and the works of other skilled photographers who share their vast knowledge has helped me to become a better photographer, but I’ve still got a ways to go. That being said, better camera gear, and mostly better lenses do make a difference; but like you said in your post, they can be a waste if not used skillfully. I have a Nikon D200, the Nikon 18-200 zoom, and a 50/1.4 prime (which is what I shoot with primarily). I have just begun shooting in Manual mode and use a WhiBal card to get my white balance set correctly (the WhiBal is a great little card that helps me with this…it also doubles as an exposure card for me when setting my shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings for correct exposure.
    Jodi, do you use your Sekonic light meter to obtain correct exposure for your shots, or do you use your camera’s meter mostly? I’ve been wondering about the Sekonic light meters, and whether they are worth the money. So far, I’ve just been using my camera’s built-in meter.
    Thanks!

  19. 19
    Jodi says:

    Brad – good question about the meter. I use to use it religiously. But now I have gotten to really know my camera meter. I also use the histogram most of the time as I shoot. As a result, I really do not use my meter much.

    BUT – when getting use to shooting in manual it really can be a HUGE help! I have a sekonic 358 (not sure if I mentioned that – but if not – surely I will so there it is :)

  20. 20

    Jodi,

    Big Thanks! for posting this. 2 months ago I bought the Canon 40D with Tamron 28-75 2.8. I have just read my manual, Peterson’s “Exposure,” and Kelby’s Lightroom 2 book. I can’t learn fast enough to get the “look” that I know is out there. Your post is so encouraging because I can see that with work I can get there.

    What was the best thing that helped you to leap off into manual??

    Thanks,
    Beth

  21. 21
    Jodi says:

    Beth – I wanted more control and less surprises :)

  22. 22
    Erica Lea says:

    Thanks so much for sharing – this is such an interesting topic.

    I have been shooting with an SLR for about 1.5 years. Thanks to books, the internet, photographer friends, and experience, I think I have learned quite a bit. Not just about actually composing and snapping the photo, but also about editing.
    I’d have to say it’s been about 5% equipment and 95% skill improvement. I started with a camera and two lenses. I have the same camera and lenses. I now own a remote shutter release, but it is not used all that often. Very handy, though.
    I feel like I have so much to learn. Thanks for providing a resource to further the learning process!

  23. 23
    Guera says:

    It’s great to see how your photography and equipment has progressed over the years; very interesting for those of us not as far along the path as you.
    I got my first DSLR in March 2008 – a Canon Rebel XTi with kit lenses and loved it! It was like a whole new world opened up and I learnt so much on that camera. I am trying to use manual mode more and more, but I need to get quicker, particularly when shooting kids. (Any tips for how to handle a fast paced shoot in manual mode?) I shoot in Av modes at high apertures 90% of the time at the moment – I love it for portraits.
    A month ago I upgraded to the 5D Mark II which was a big leap from the XTi but I figured I should get a camera I could grow into rather than grow out of. I’m nowhere near doing it justice yet, but it’s inspiring to learn more and practice more and I already see an improvement in my shots. Some of that is probably to do with the news lenses I got (Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 and Canon 70-300) which are much better quality than those old kit lens. Plus I LOVE my 50mm f/1.8 that I’ve had for a while. Once the finances allow I’ll upgrade to some L lenses…the wishlist is never ending! First thing on the list though is an external flash that I’m getting for my birthday (today!). I just have to decide between the 430exII and the 580ex.
    Thanks for posting this – always good to see how others have progressed. :)

  24. 24
    Rose says:

    HAH! I am just beginning, and am still using full auto mode, but for the most part a, pretty happy with the photos that I am getting. (probably just as you were back when you started!) I know there is huge room for improvement, but I’m learning :)

  25. 25

    I loved this! Thank you! Do you keep your white balance lens cap on all the time? The man at my camera shop told me I should. I just wondered.

  26. 26
    Jodi says:

    Yes – WB lens cap is on my lenses that have one all the time. I own 3 now – so if it is one of the three it is on – yep :) Bad for me is that I keep buying more lenses – hard to keep up and justify that many caps.

  27. 27

    Beautiful shot! They were truly remarkable. You actually made the color come alive.

  28. 28

    Thank you for sharing your gear! I’m a gear freak although my bank account does not allow me to indulge very often. I love seeing what lenses “pros” use and learning why. Thanks!

  29. 29
    photography says:

    i love this blog.. thanks for sharing..



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