If you were only allowed to have 10 pieces of photographic gear, what would they be?

â¦that was a question posted on my Facebook page by Are Knudsen, a photographer from Norway.

Why the question? Well, I kicked off a new monthly Q&A column in Shutterbug magazine a few months ago (they named it “Ask a Pro”), but essentially I answer questions posed by Shutterbug’s readers along with questions I get throughout the month on my blog or social media, and the column has been a lot of fun for me (and I’ve been a reader of Shutterbug for many years, so it’s also really a kick to be in their pages).

As I was working on the latest installment, I asked the folks who follow me over on my Facebook page if they had any questions they’d like to consider for the column, and they came through with enough great questions to fill out the rest of the year, including this one from Are (above), but I couldn’t fit it in the Q&A column because I would have only been able to answer that one question, so I thought I’d tackle it here.

OK, back to our story
So, I was working on the latest installment, and I asked the folks who follow me over on my Facebook page if they had any questions they’d like to consider for the column, and they came through with enough great questions to fill out the rest of the year. One in particular that stood out to me was the headline you see above, posted by Are Knudsen from Norway.

I can tell you this – it’s a harder question to answer than it would appear
Especially for someone like me who shoots three different categories (Sports, People and Travel). After lots of thought and careful (read as painful) equipment cutting, I got it down to the 10 things I personally would need, but again these are what I would need â” your needs would certainly vary depending on what you shoot. The fact that I shoot sports really puts a strain on my choices (and my wallet), because I need extra expensive lenses, but that’s what he asked, and that’s what I do, so I kind of have to roll with it.

To make this more helpful to a wider range of photographers….
Let’s do two versions. One for what I’d use today by cutting down my existing gear, and one if I was starting over from scratch and had to buy it all at once, so budget would be a big consideration. With that in mind, here’s the first one (cutting down my existing gear). So, here we go:

Q. If you were only allowed to have 10 pieces of photographic gear, what would they be?

A. Here’s what I’d choose:

1. A Canon 1Dx camera body
If I had to just go with one body, why not go all the way. The 1Dx is larger, and heavier than my other go-to body, the 5D Mark III, but it’s high-ISO performance is insane, and at 12-frames-per-second it would more than cover me on the sports side. So, I’ll be lugging around a bigger, heavier camera, but at least it is the best body I’ve ever used, so I’ll deal with it if I can only have one. (details)

2. A Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens
This is my go-to lens. I use it for portraits almost exclusively (yes, I’d be giving up my 85mm f/1.2, which I do use here and there), and I use it as my 2nd body for sports, and I could, and have used it for travel, but it’s kinda big and draws attention to itself. That being said, it’s an outstanding lens with legendary sharpness. Couple it with the 1Dx and I’m definitely going to be developing some upper arm strength. ;-) (details)

3. The Canon 11-24mm super wide angle zoom
I just started using this (I don’t actually own one yet â” I’m using a short-term loaner from Canon), but even at that it’s my all-time favorite wide angle lens, and what I took most of the shots from my recent trip to Paris (there’s only one fish-eye shot in the entire gallery â” the first shot). It’s sharp as anything, wide as anything, heavy as anything. I’m going to look like Schwarzenegger when I’m done hauling this stuff, but no pain, no gain. (details)


4. Elinchrom Quadra ELB 400 Two Action Heads To Go Kit
If I had to get down to just one lighting kit, this would be the one. It has two heads (with just one battery pack that is super small and lightweight), and I can use it in the studio or on location anywhere. It accepts nearly all of Elinchrom’s soft boxes and beauty dishes, and even their ring light. (details)

5. Elinchrom 53″ Midi Octa Softbox
If I had to pick one main softbox to go with my Elinchrom Quadra ELB kit, it would be this one. It’s so big. So gorgeous. So well-made, and very portable. I super-dig it. (details)

6.  Elinchrom 20″ x 51″ Rotalux strip bank softbox
I need a 2nd light. The Ranger Quadra comes with 2 flash heads, and I can’t have that 2nd one being a bare flash, so I’d go with the 1′ x 3′ strip bank. It’s a perfect shape for a 2nd light, and I could still shoot automotive detail shots using it, or product shots, or as my kicker light for portraits. A real workhorse. (details)

7. 3 Legged Thing EVO3 Punks Rick Carbon Fiber Tripod
I started using these 3-legged-thing tripods last year, and I really love them! Great build, very sturdy, and not too heavy, which is good since I’m lugging lots of heavy stuff. Now, I’m kinda “sneaking one past the goalie” by including a Really Right Stuff ball head as if this were just one item, but I can’t use a tripod without a ball head, so they kind of go together. However, if you think that’s cheating, then I’ll just go with one of 3-legged-thing’s Mohawk ball heads that comes with the tripod (but the Really Right Stuff ball heads are, in my opinion, the best on the planet). (details)

8. A Black Rapid Curve strap
I would have probably gone with an “Upstrap” (which I dearly love, since they don’t fall off your shoulder at all), but since I’ll be doing sports as well, I have to go with the Black Rapid because it’s hard to beat when you add sports into the mix. It goes across your body, rather than over your shoulder, so you’re ready to fire in an instant, and it’s great for travel (safety-wise) as well. (details)

9. a Canon 200-400mm f/4 zoom lens
I only need this for shooting sports, but if I want to work, I’m going need something longer than 200mm, and while I love a 400 f/2.8, the 200-4oomm is really flexible, plus it has a 1.4 tele-extender built-in, so I can jump to 580mm with a flick of a switch. (details)

10. A Westcott 30″ 5-in-one reflector/diffuser
Quite honestly, I rarely use the reflector, but the diffuser is a MUST! In fact, I could probably just go with their $20 1-stop diffuser (for natural light shooting), but since they make a version with reflectors and a diffuser, why not go with it, right? (details)


OK, now for the budget version:
The stuff above is a version of what I already own (bought over the years, not all at once). If I had to start over today, and buy it all from scratch, here’s a budget version (but all still good solid stuff!).

Q. If you could only buy 10 pieces of photographic gear today, what would they be?

A. Here’s what I’d choose:

1. A Canon EOS 7D Mark II
Although the 5D Mark III would be my immediate first choice because it’s such a really great body for the money, but the fact that I shoot Sports also would probably sway me to the Canon 7D Mark II, which is the little brother of the 1Dx, but since it’s a crop sensor, it gets me closer to the action without losing megapixels, which is a good thing, and the 10 frames-per-second thing pretty much seals the deal. Although I think of it as a sports camera, it’ll take a great shot of whatever you point it at, so I’ll have to go with it. (details)

2. A Canon 70-200mm f/4
OK, so I lose a stop of light going with this one, instead of the f/2.8 version, but it’s a lot cheaper, and a lot lighter, and it’s still very sharp. I’ve used this lens before and I was very impressed.

3. A Canon 16-35mm f/4 Wide Angle Zoom
While it’s not as sharp or as awesome or as wide as the 11-24mm, and it’s an f/4 (versus 2.8) but  it’s still a really solid lens at about half the size and weight and 1/3 the price. (details)

4. A Yongnuo YN-560-II Speedlight
It’s not a high-end speed light for sure, but it’ll do the trick  (details), although I would need the Yongnuo YN650-TX Manual Flash Controller as well (details).  (Hey, the Elinchrom kit I mentioned earlier comes with triggers).

5. Westcott 50″ x 50″ Mega Apollo Softbox for hot shoe flash
It’s big and beautiful, but honestly you could even go with their 7′ white diffusion shoot-through parabolic umbrella for just $99 and you’d be rocking it. Hard to beat either one of those.  (Apollo details & Parabolic details)

6. Westcott Apollo Strip Bank 16″ x 30″
It’s not a whole lot cheaper than the Elinchrom strip bank, but it’s made for Hot Shoe flash, and it’s very portable. (details)

7. Oben AC-1361 3-Section Aluminum Tripod with BA-117 Ball Head
I’ve used Oben tripods from time to time and they’re surprisingly solid for the money, and a great alternative to more expensive tripod and ball head combos. It’s not Carbon Fiber, but it’s not Carbon Fiber priced, either and it only weighs 1/2 pound more than the Carbon Fiber. (details)

8. A Black Rapid Curve strap
I’d still go with this strap because the price is still reasonable and there isn’t a great alternative. (details)

9. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5 to f/5.6
I shot an NFL game with it last year, and I was surprised at what a good job it did (and how nice it was to shoot with just one body, one lens, and no monopod necessary). Plus, it’s under 1/5 the price of the 200-400mm f/4, and less than half the weight. (details)

10. A Westcott 30″ one-stop Diffuser
It’s $19.90. Can’t beat it. (details)

OK, as you can see, we can shave a lot off my “dream list” of stuff.

The stuff I had a cut to reach my 10 item limit (sniff, sniff):

1. A Cable release (I can get away with using my camera’s self timer, but I would have liked to have a real cable release, but I had to make some tough choices).

2. Any filters. (I would have chosen a 10-stop ND filter for long exposures, so I guess I’ll be giving those up. I don’t do as much landscape photography as I used to, so I’ll get by without it, but I sure would have liked to include it.

3. A Hoodman Loupe. (This one I’ll really miss, especially at day games and while traveling, but something had to go.).

4. Gaffer’s tape. (I use this for all sorts of stuff all the time. I’ll have to borrow some from the guy next to me).

5. My 8-15mm Fisheye lens. (This was a hard one to let go, but the 11-24mm is so wide at 11mm, that I felt I could cut it loose, but I’m not happy about it).

6. My 24″ Joe McNally Signature EZ-Box. (I couldn’t go with three soft boxes, but if I had, this would be the other one. Great for quick location shoots).

7. My Wacom tablet. (I going to count this as “post processing” and not a camera accessory, because I have to have one for my retouching and editing, so although it’s not on the list, I’m not cutting it either).

8. All my Tethertools tethering gear. I shoot tethered as often as I can. I guess now I’ll just be sitting it on a table or on the floor. Ugh. Not happy about this one either, but I can work around it.


OK, that’s quite a list (for a Monday anyway). :)

Hope you found that helpful, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow for some news (spoiler: I’m announcing a new book. Whoo hoo!!).



  1. Some great choices there, Scott. I have that 3-Legged Thing Rick tripod and it rocks! Fits easily into my Think Tank Airport carry-on, and it’ll be coming to Vegas with me.

    MIght the book announcement be for the one advertised in Photoshop User magazine this month? Ssssssshhhhh…I won’t tell! :-). BTW, this issue of PSUser magazine is excellent. I’ve been shooting more architecture and the articles in there are very helpful to me!! Kelby One class in the future, maybe??

    Have a super cool Monday!

  2. Excellent List Scott.
    I don’t have a 7D Mk II, just the 7D. I still love it though! As far as the lenses go, I’m on a real budget and use the Tamron equivalent to the first two lenses you mentioned. I Love, Love, Love the Black Rapid Strap. I completely agree with your Wacom statement. I don’t know what I’d do without it!!
    See you soon!!

  3. Hi Scott,

    Great article, thank you. I am in the process of purchasing a higher end camera and lens and this article was helpful. My camera options were down to the 6D or the 7D mark ii with the aim of purchasing the 70-200. Mainly going to start working with my dad and help him with his event photography and work my way towards building my own professional portfolio. I started on a Nikon system but as my dad already has Canon gear I am thinking of switching now at the start before I end up investing loads more. I think I would go for the 7D mark ii, but in regard to the the f4 that you have recommended is that the one with the IS or without. The price factor for me is almost double when I go for the f4 lens with the IS at £805 and the one without the IS is at £439. In regards to quality which can one do you recommend would be better for events / wedding photography?

  4. And what about if you were only able to buy just one Monopod for the next 10 years, what would you choose?
    Which brand, model, material, monopod head, or only a quick release clamp.
    Have a great day!

  5. Do you think it would be wisest to invest in a camera body with a better sensor/sharper performance at high ISO, or a more powerful lighting kit?

    I already have a Canon 7D but am always wary of hiking up the ISO due to the grain. My current light kit consists of two Neewer Led CN-126’s (about $30 each on Amazon http://amzn.to/1VJdYDe) and
    they’ve been great – like, I can’t believe how great for the price – but not very powerful and they need 6 AA’s each (ouch!), and one 430EX Speedlight (which also eats up AA’s). The LEDs have been great for product photos (I do really love constant lighting) where I can use a slow shutter on a trigger, or for shots where I can get my subject super close to the lights, but adding diffusion like a softbox to increase the size kills the output. The single 430 Speedlight is nice for small action, kicker, or fill but it is too small of a source to be an even main-light and too weak to blast through the diffusion of a softbox.

    I’ve been pining for a flash kit that is portable and powerful like the Elinchrom you mentioned but that price tag is kind of a deal breaker and it makes me wonder if I should just scout out a used 5DMkIII and keep the cheap light kit I’m already working with.

    Thanks for your time. And thanks for all of the great content, Scott. Really. You and the KelbyOne crew have changed my life and I feel a little like I’m living my photography dreams right now, yet I’m only a few years in and also feel like I’ve just begun <3

  6. To be fair, get some of the other brand users to chime in on their choices. Nikon, Sony, Fuji, m4/3, for example.
    And maybe different types of photo work, wedding, sports, nature, portraiture, adventure/travel.
    Names? Moose, Bob Krist, Elia Locardi, Dave Black, Doorfman(sp), for example.
    I think I have just written the next couple of months of columns for you.

  7. Scott some great choices i just finished the FIFA Women’s World cup and got some amazing shots on the loaner from Canon of the 200-400 f/4 but at almost 12 g’s outside my price range.
    I shoot the 7d mkii and can attest to its abilities, from sports to concerts it is an amazing piece of equipment. Still have to try some of the other pieces llike the 100-400 which woul be a great extension of my other 2 gotos, the tamron 70-200 2.8 and the Canon 24-70 f/4 which i stole (300.00) when the 7d mark ii came out. I am lucky enough to already have the 430exii plus trigger. So next would be the westcott.

    You are breaking my pocketbook.

    Thanks for a great write as usual.

  8. Great post, just curious but how well does the camera work without Memory Cards… 8^)

    Just kidding… But I have to agree with Roger Botting’s comment that it would be interesting to see other Kelby One instructors take on this question. It would be perfect for a series on the KelbyOne blog.

    Can’t wait to when you bring your Reloaded seminar to Charlotte.


  9. Curious, Scott, about your choice of the Action head rather than the Pro head on the Quadra set. Can you let us know why you chose that? I just got the Pro head, thinking that normal flash duration would be fast enough for most action, and the Pro head supports hyper sync. Your thoughts?

    1. If you dont mind me interjecting – I own the Action head because the flash duration listed on the Elinchrom is t0.5. Which means you take the listed flash duration and you divide it by about 2.5 or 3. So at the moment my Action head does about 1/1900 of a second in terms of equivalent shutter speed at the sacrifice of white balance consistency.

      My issue with Elinchrom for a long time is the fact that their flash duration numbers (like Profoto) have always been a bit misleading. Unlike Einstein heads which at low power can go past 1/6000 of a second at t0.1 which does not require an equivalancy.

      Then again – I also have one PRO head and the main use for it is for location fashion as it has a better recycle time, I think it also uses less battery power and offers, as you say, a fast enough flash duration for my needs.

      The only time I use my Action heads are for skaters, splash effects and other very high speed uses that require 1/4000 or faster at t0.1

      Hope that helps

  10. Since the alternative cost version was a 7d mark2, then would not the 10 – 22 be a better choice then the 16 – 35? also how about the 2x mark III to use with the 70 – 200 instead of the 100 – 400? I know the 100 – 400 is obviously better, but what is your opinion as an alternative to cut down the cost considerably and still maintain good quality shots and lens reaction?


  11. Scott, you carry TOO much heavy stuff. Cut out one item and add Brad to your list. Some small stuff such as remote, small roll of g tape, extra cd’s, batteries, lens cloth, etc. can be stuffed in pockets and thus do not count as part of gear kit. My most essential don’t leave home without it piece of gear after a camera and lens is a tiny retractable microfiber cloth in it’s own pouch attached to every bag I carry and to the ac grill of my car.

    How about a list of items for travel to fit into the new smaller carry-on bag dimensions. I recommend an Olympus OMD m 4/3 body with hand grip(holds second battery), the Black Rapid strap, hand grip for unobtrusive walking and for no-tripod situations, sm travel tripod, remote w timer, 20″ reflector set, and 3 lenses:1 pancake (Panasonic 20mm or Oly 17mm), 1 med range telescopic and Oly 75-300(=150-600mm) with a hood attached to either one of the tele lenses- they are both the same size. Actually, I carry all this except the tripod and reflector in my “purse” which is a Lowepro Passport Sling. It also holds my girl stuff, keys, $$, id, travel documents, credit cards, extras such as: spare batteries, sm roll of gaffer tape, a folded 12″ sq of black foil, a flashlight and a water bottle in the side pocket. This is my everyday purse – I vary lenses if I know that I wont need all 3 and sometimes leave the speed light home. If I am traveling, battery chargers, Wacom, computer, spare parts, lighting modifiers, tripod, etc. go in my carry-on (a Portercase) which can double as a gear bag after arrival.

  12. OK: The above is what “Scott” will have if he had to choose ten items. I am not sure debating that will change the items “he” chooses to use.

    To me it is about where I go and what I do….if I go to the beach, theme parks, walking on trails those 10 items will have to fit in this backpack….

    If I go on a photo shoot I’ll have my Pelican case…but I mostly use 2 lenses 16-35, and the canon 100 macro…so, the rest of those ten items include the clothes on my back! hahahahahahahah Kidding…remote release, won’t leave the house without it, ND/Polarizer filters, cards, batteries, and my tripod…I can get a lot of good shots between those two lenses.

    Scott, next article we should reduce it down to 5 items one can’t live without. Too bad we can’t pack “composition, lighting, and concepts” too! LOL

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