Building a kit from the ground up....

... Isn't an easy task. Most photographer's kits slowly evolve over the course of years. I had to rebuild my entire kit from scratch, relatively quickly, once I decided to end my hiatus from photography and begin pursuing destination and travel photography full-time again. Once Covid hit, I decided to sell all my photography gear and abandon my passion; I cynically thought the world, and travel, would never be the same. I was premature in my abandonment of life-long dream, but that's another story, and lesson, for another day. At the time, I shot with Nikon D750s and prime lenses, and while they were supremely capable, I just never really connected with the Nikon platform.

Deciding on Canon....

I decided to build my kit around Canon, in part, because I loved shooting with my old 5D Mark II so much. I loved the 'color science' and the images it produced. I love the ergonomics and the intuitive menus. It always felt like there were fewer hindrances to the creative process for me when shooting with Canon. Mostly, though, I decided on Canon because of the RF 28-70mm f/2, the worlds first f/2.0 normal zoom. I was very attracted to the idea of replacing a 'bag full of primes' with a single zoom lens. Ironically, I never even ended up buying that lens.

Enter the RF 24-105mm f/2.8L USM Z...

As I was in the process of researching and buying my kit, Canon announced the 24-105mm f/2.8, another worlds first, the first 24-105mm with a constant f/2.8 aperture. It was a torturous decision, between that and the 28-70mm f/2.0. Ultimately, I decided that I enjoyed primes too much to give them up completely and I'd rather enjoy the increased utility of an increased zoom range on one camera body, while using the second camera body for specialized prime lenses, in a two body setup. So far, it's been wonderful. Almost all the pictures in my Latin American Portfolio Page have been taken with that lens. It produces fantastic images with lots of micro contrast and it has fantastic color rendition and autofocus performance. It has been absolutely perfect, save for the large size. f/2.8 has been a bit slow in some conditions, but in those conditions, I'd much rather have f/1.2 or f/1.4 anyway, not f/2.

THE RF 70-200MM F/2.8L

A staple of any professional photographers kit, this standard professional telephoto lens is essential to wedding and event photography and also portrait and street photography. It's even useful in landscape photography. It's truly one of the essential, must-have lenses of any professionals kit.

THE RF 16MM F/2.8L

This is such a neat and fun lens. It's tiny, relatively sharp, and super useful for dance floor and venue shots. It enables me to avoid carrying another heavy L zoom lens in the ultra wide range. Its tiny size makes it ideal for holding the camera above your head for great crowd and dance floor shots, too. It's a great and fun piece of kit, taking up hardly any space in the camera bag.

THE Canon r6 Mark ii and R8 Cameras

I decided on a pair of cameras, the R6 Mark II and the R8. Each has an identical sensor and autofocus system; the final outputs are the same and make for a unified and standardized post-processing workflow. The R6 Mark II has better battery life, IBIS, and dual card slots; it's the workhorse of the day. The R8 serves as my back-up and 'B' camera. It usually has a specialized prime on it for special and specific use cases. It's also my dedicated travel camera, given its smaller form factor. Both have incredible sensors, and nearly magical autofocus and dynamic range.

The SIGMA ART 28mm, 40mm, and 105mm f/1.4 Primes

I'd never used third-party lenses before. Even after Sigma released their fabled Art line of lenses, I was still on the fence, until they released these three lenses in 2018. They are three of the best lenses ever made, especially the 40mm and 105mm f/1.4 lenses. The sharpness, the bokeh, and character of these lenses make them virtually peerless. Especially since Canon lacks native RF wide and wide/normal professional primes. 35mm was always my favorite focal length, and I find that 28mm and 40mm together give the me the flexibility I was always missing with 35mm, while giving me very similar fields-of-view. With 35mm, I often felt I wanted to be a tiny bit wider or a tiny bit narrower, without going all the way to 24mm or all the way to 50mm. Having these two focal lengths solves that. And I've always preferred 105mm over 85mm for portraits, and having f/1.4 at 105mm is amazing and the results are simply phenomenal and magical.

A self-portrait taken with the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 shot at f/1.4. 105mm is the most flattering portrait focal length.

A portrait taken with the Sigma Art 40mm f/1.4, shot at f/1.4.

A night-time flower photograph taken with the Sigma Art 28mm f/1.4. Taken at f/1.4 in total darkness on a moonless night.

This amazing performance, however, comes at an enormous cost; these are some of the largest and heaviest prime lenses ever made. They're some of the worst lenses you can choose for travel and destination event photography, in terms of size and weight, but they're integral to my workflow and creative process. I could replace the Sigma 105mm and 40mm with the Canon RF 50mm and 85mm f/1.2, but the weight savings would be minimal, at best, and I prefer the Sigma focal lengths over the Canon. So, I'm stuck carrying them. At least there's baclofen and ibuprofen...

Speaking of Carrying Everything...

I manage, somehow, to carry everything in a Peak Design 30 liter Everyday Backpack and a shoulder bag. Fully loaded, it's ludicrously heavy, but I'll do anything to avoid using Pelican cases. Few things complicate travel and make one a target for thieves and customs officials more than Pelican cases. Nothing screams "I have something expensive in here" quite like a Pelican case. Airlines love to ask you to check them, too, if space is limited in overhead bins. Having used them for years in different capacities, I'll do anything to avoid them.


As far as lighting is concerned, I decided on Canon EL-5 Speedlites. Sometimes, I'll use Godox AD200 Pros, but I like the flexibility and features of the Canon EL-5s. Usually, they're powerful enough for indoor events and nighttime outdoor events.

It's an Evolving Process...

Building the perfect kit for destination wedding and vacation photography is an evolving process. It's never finished; it's never over. It will be pared down and built up over time, based on needs and constraints. Sometimes, tough compromises and decisions will need to be made, in terms of what comes and what doesn't. There is no one size fits all solution. For now, though, my kit is pretty much perfect and covers every use case I have come across or can even imagine. One thing is for sure, cameras and lenses have come a very long way since I was shooting with DSLRs years ago. It feels like magic now compared to the days of 'old'.