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What’s In My Bag: Craig Elson’s Kit For Landscape And Wildlife Photography


alpha-stormy

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@Craig A. Elson is an award-winning American wildlife, landscape and aerial photographer based in Los Angeles, CA. He has traveled to more than 60 countries throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and the Caribbean over the past 30 years. 

Craig switched to Sony from Canon in early 2020! His initial setup of just the Sony Alpha 9 and the Sony 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G lens for wildlife. Months later, his entire gear bag switched over to Sony. 

Today his bag is really two bags – one for wildlife and one for landscapes. And he says that that can cause some real packing headaches at times. We caught up with him to learn more about his current photography kit - keep reading as he shares what’s in his bag.

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His Cameras: 

Sony Alpha 1 (2): I have owned two Alpha 1 bodies from the day Sony released it and I’ve never looked back. They replaced the Alpha 9 II, my wildlife body, and the Alpha 7R IV, my landscape body. The versatility of 50 megapixels coupled with the ability to capture 30fps and its groundbreaking AF + Eye Tracking has allowed me to utilize the Alpha 1 for all shooting scenarios. Zebra technology for still images has proven to be a game changer as I no longer have to chimp or utilize the luminance histogram to nail exposure. High ISO performance is exceptional. The ability to fully customize the a1, and really any of the newer higher end Sony bodies, through the menu choices and programmable buttons has given me the freedom to instantly adapt to changing circumstances in the field without taking my eye away from the viewfinder. 

Sony Alpha 7R V: I recently purchased the Alpha 7R V primarily for my landscape and aerial photography. The 61 megapixels are a nice bonus when compared to the Alpha 1, but the features of this body that I coveted include the in-camera focus bracketing, the 8 stops of IBIS, and the 4 axis LCD screen. For all the touting of great technological features, the articulating screen might be the biggest gamechanger. The ability I now have with this camera to shoot wide angle landscapes handheld in low light and from low angles has given me so much more flexibility in my shooting style.

 

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His Lenses: 

Sony 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G: The 200-600mm is the first Sony lens I ever purchased. In my opinion, to this day, there is no lens on the market that compares to it in terms of value for your money. For anyone looking for a wildlife lens to start out with, this is the one I always recommend. You can handhold the lens all day long given its relatively light weight. The short travel of the zoom ring and the internal zoom mechanism are welcome bonuses. The wide range of the zoom creates tremendous versatility in your ability to capture birds and wildlife, especially during fast action, when framing could otherwise present a problem with a long prime lens. 

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Sony 600mm f/4 G Master: As a wildlife photographer, and one who likes to shoot birds, reach is always a major consideration in a lens. The 600mm f/4 G Master was the second lens I purchased after switching over to Sony. The constant f4 aperture married to the 600mm focal length has been vital to my success with wildlife in the low light situations in which I frequently put myself. The bokeh you can achieve with this lens utilizing proper technique is sublime. While by no means light, at 6.7 lbs. it is noticeably lighter and better balanced than the older generation of 600mm f/4 lenses. Consequently, I am now able to handhold it for much greater periods of time which allows for a more flexible shooting style (read: tripod stays home!)

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Sony 400mm f/2.8 G Master: The 400mm f/2.8 G Master lens is a lens I never thought I would want or need once I owned the 600 f/4 G Master and the 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G. But one of the professional wildlife photographers I respect the most implored me to get it, saying it would change my photography forever. I eventually decided to purchase it and now all I think about is how I wish I’d had it on every previous trip I’ve ever taken! It is, quite simply, my favorite lens of all time. The subject-background separation this lens delivers wide open at f/2.8 is something you cannot put into words until you see your images on a large computer screen for the first time. The sharpness of the lens is simply extraordinary. The extra stop of light with the 2.8 aperture coupled with the world class optics and the a1 body allow me to acquire focus instantaneously in what most people would consider “darkness,” so my shooting window is easily 10 minutes longer than someone who is working with an f/4 lens. While only slightly lighter than the 600 f/4, the balance on the 400mm f/2.8 is even better, allowing me to handhold effortlessly for long stretches of time. 

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Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master II: The 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master II is a lens I almost never leave home without. For landscape and aerial photography it is my long lens, and for wildlife photography it is often what I like to use to incorporate the environment into the shot. This latest version is noticeably lighter, and the AF is noticeably faster, than the previous version, which I owned for several years. It is also an internal zoom, which I prefer, and it can be paired with Sony’s 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters for additional reach when you need it. If there is a sharper zoom lens in Sony’s lineup, I am unaware of it.

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Sony 24-105mm f/4 G: While it is one of the older lenses in Sony’s current lineup, I still cannot bring myself to leave home very often without the 24-105mm f/4 G in my bag, regardless of the subject matter I will be shooting. Given the tradeoff of gaining additional focal length vs. losing a stop of light (when compared to the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II), I prefer the greater focal length for my style of shooting. In short, this is my general purpose “walking around” lens and my primary lens for aerial imagery because of its great focal length versatility and constant f/4 aperture. 

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Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 G Master: For my landscape work, my shooting style has evolved over the years to where I now find myself working at very wide angles. As such, the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 G Master is now my “go to” lens for landscapes. I chose the f/2.8 version of this lens to be able to handle my astrophotography pursuits as well. This lens pretty much lives on my Alpha 7R V these days.

Sony 1.4x Teleconverter and Sony 2.0x Teleconverter: While I would always prefer to not attach a teleconverter, sometimes you need to do so to get the shot you envision. Sony’s teleconverters perform better than any others I have used in the past in terms of sharpness and AF speed, so I do not hesitate to use them when necessary.

 

Share what’s in your bag and how you use your gear to capture wildlife and landscape.


 

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