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Best gear for New York Photography - Thomas Farina
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best gear for new york photography

Best gear for New York Photography

This morning I was reading a thread in one of the Photography forum I’m member of, a guy was asking which gear kit is the best for New York, and that triggered me for writing this post.

In fact, if you take a look at most of the photography forums out there, one of the frequently asked questions is: what’s the best gear for New York Photography?  Well, there is not an answer that is ok for everyone because, of course, that’s a matter of personal taste. By the way, I will try to give you my point of view.

I’ve been in New York two times in my life, the first one in 2008 with a point and shoot camera, and then back again in 2014 with my DSLR camera. That last time I spent about a week in the city and I wanted to bring home as much pictures I could. So, I brought with me all the gear I had at the time.

Actually I had all my gear with me because I was travelling around many US cities for a month, but at that moment I can guarantee that I would brought all the gear anyway. And I was so wrong!

If you are interested in my pictures, you can check out my American Cityscapes at Night project gallery portfolio.

By the way, my bag was filled with:

 

As you can image, that was not a light weight to carry around.  After the first day walking around for about 14 hours, that heavy weight taught me an important lesson: don’t bring with you all the gear you have.

So I decided to left something at the hotel: I started leaving behind the Vanguard Alta Pro tripod. That’s because it is big and pretty heavy, and not easy to carry around in the metro for example. Plus you can’t use it in most places like the Top of the Rock observatory or inside the museums. It can also happen that you are forbidden to enter in some places if you are carrying around a big tripod like that.

But that was not a big sacrifice for me, because I had the Gorillapod Focus that is a must have for me. Keep in mind that in the city, you can find many spots to place the Gorillapod and if you learn how to place it, you can have the same results as if you are using a full size tripod.

Setting up the Gorillapod
Setting up the Gorillapod in Roosevelt Island
Quensbooro Bridge - Canon 6D - Tamron 24-70 2.8 vc USD - Gorillapod Focus
Quensbooro Bridge - Canon 6D - Tamron 24-70 2.8 vc USD at 24mm - Gorillapod Focus

At this point I did not had my tripod with me, but I was still pretty loaded so I decided to sacrifice one more thing: after few decent shoots from the Empire State Building Observatory in daylight, the Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD stayed at the hotel with the Vanguard tripod.

Then I was going around with the 12-24 and the 24-70.

I’m not particularly addicted to street photography, but when you are walking in the Manhattan streets, it can happen that you see something you want to catch “on the fly”. For that reason it is important that you have the right focal length available, and already attached to the DSLR.

I think that the proper street photography focal length is between 24mm and 35mm, you can stay close enough to your subject and enter the scene at 24mm and, at the same time, you can frame a scene with a decent distance at 35mm.

So when I walked down the streets I was using always the 24-70, that I liked very much. This lens is very sharp and with the Vibration Compensation technology combined with the 2.8 maximum aperture I used it both at night or with relatively long shutter speeds.

Chinatown Fish Market - Canon 6D - Tamron 24-70 2.8 vc USD
Chinatown - Canon 6D - Tamron 24-70 2.8 VC USD
Pod39 Rooftop - Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 II DG HSM - Gorillapod Focus
Pod39 Rooftop - Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 II DG HSM at 12mm - Gorillapod Focus

Am I trying to say that you don’t even need a super wide angle lens and you can do all with the 24-70mm? Well, not really!

I think that a super wide lens like the Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 II is good, but only in few situations, and especially in New York. That city is big and the spaces are huge, a super wide angle most of the times gives its best in narrow spaces.

Then it’s not easy to use, I mean: when you have the right time to think about the proper shoot, prepare it, and concentrate, it can certainly give you outstanding results and very impressive perspective. Otherwise, most of the times you come back home with strange perspective and stretched buildings or maybe even with your feet in the frame! 🙂

Keep also in mind, that due to the fact that the spaces are huge, you can take the best skyline pictures at 35mm or even at 50mm. In fact the first picture of this article, the sunset from the Top of the Rock Observatory, is at 35mm.

Upper East Side - Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD at 50mm - Handheld
Upper East Side - Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD at 50mm - Handheld

Conclusions:

 

Based on my personal taste and experience, I personally think that the best gear for New York Photography trip consist in a full-frame body DSLR plus a 24-70 with 2.8 max aperture and a Gorillapod Focus portable tripod.

Then, if you really like extreme angles you can think about add something like a 14mm 2.8 Rokinon/Samyang fixed focal length lens to your bag. That kind of lens is cheap and light, plus very good in terms of quality. Due to the fact that the extreme wide angles are demanding experience to use them and a little bit of time in terms of preparation for the shoot, I don’t think that the fact that this lens is manual will be a problem.

I personally don’t recommend to carry many fixed focal length lenses in your bag, unless you are a street-photography addicted type of guy, and you also love that type of approach to photography. In that case you can even consider go out with a maniac setup, something like a fixed 24mm with big aperture like 1.4 for example.

What can I say regarding the long telephoto zoom like a 70-200 or even a 70-300?  Well, you can bring it with you of course, but only if you plan to go up to the observatories during the day. You can even bring it with you if you are that kind of photographer that likes to capture street scenes from the long distance.

I hope that this article can help you with your choice for the Best gear for New York Photography trip, let me know what you think in the comments section below.  I will be happy to talk about it with you and share our experciences together!

2 Comments
  • Claudiu Farcas
    Posted at 12:02h, 02 December Reply

    Hi, Thomas! Amazing photos! The top with view NY is made with Tamron 70-300mm? Thanks

    • Thomas Farina
      Posted at 12:56h, 02 December Reply

      Hi and thanks for the comment. Well, the first one is made with the Tamron 24-70 at 35mm

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