Tools of the Trade

The ever-changing list of my go-to gear

Most of the work I do is performed out of my (hand crafted) creative studio, behind the wheel of a heavily modified Land Rover, or through the viewfinder of a Canon. Many of the tools I use are custom fabricated by yours truly, sometimes because what I need doesn’t exist, or more often because I simply enjoy building things with my own hands.

I originally posted this on the about-me page at The Layne Studio after being asked “What __________ do you use?” once too often, but since the studio involves more than just me now it’s time this list moved to the blog proper. This post is just an overview, I might write up an in-depth with the how’s and why’s of each category if anyone would find it helpful. Read along for the details or just click here to skip down to the bullet list of links so your inner-consumer can run wild and free.

Camera Gear

The Big Guns: I shoot with a variety of Canon gear, but my go-to and favorite is the 80D. It’s durable, light weight, and inexpensive enough to take risks when getting the shot. I use three main lenses: a Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 Art (my personal favorite) for most portraits and some travel/vehicle/landscape work, a Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 macro-capable travel zoom, and a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 wide angle for grabbing wide vistas or interior shots. The Canon 10-22mm wide is due to be replaced…likely with Sigma’s superior constant-aperture variant. Yes, I’m a Sigma fanboy…because, science.

Rolling Light: I’m also very fond of Canon’s S line of cameras: they’re small enough to go unnoticed, reasonably sturdy, and produce RAW files that come surprisingly close to the quality of a DSLR. My old S95 sits in the studio for quick snapshots, and I usually have an S100 handy (there’s a reason the long-retired S100 still costs ~$200 used). When I don’t have a “real” camera, the HTC One M9 is always with me, which creates passable RAW files.

Computing Gear

Hardware: In the studio my workstation is a personally built Intel-powered, liquid cooled, quad-core PC tower. It’s currently clocked at a conservative 4.4GHz, drives multiple color-calibrated monitors (lead photo), and houses a RAID array large enough to eliminate the need for a separate file server. Communication and general office needs are handled by Google for Work, with weekly on-site and monthly off-site backups of all data.

In the field I use a custom modified ASUS X202E with enough solid-state storage to back up my cameras on a multi-week expedition. It’s small enough to hide under a magazine, fast enough to handle photo retouching, and durable enough to survive the torture I put it through. I also carry an external drive with a complete archive of all the data I have stored in the studio.

Software: I run Windows 10—it’s everything that makes Windows great harnessed beneath everything that makes an iPad a pleasure to use. My go-to software includes the Adobe Creative Cloud (Lightroom, Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator), Google Chrome, Edit Plus, and FileZilla. Evernote and Trello help keep me organized. I also use StarStaX for automating my star trail workflow.

Connectivity: Phone and field connectivity is provided by an HTC One (M9) running a custom compiled Android OS and serviced by AT&T’s 4G LTE network. The combination has proven to be the most rugged and reliable option available, and ensures broadband access where most devices fail. As a bonus, the quality of it’s built-in audio system eliminates the need for separate devices when I’m on the go (it is a portable speaker).


Camera Gear

  • Canon 80D — my go-to camera body; used for most of my photos taken after April 2017.
  • Canon 70D — my backup camera body; used for most of my photos taken before April 2017 (when the shutter failed).
  • Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 Art — a tack-sharp shooter that outperforms “L” glass thrice it’s price (and my personal favorite).
  • Sigma 18-300mm — an excellent jack-of-all-trades travel lens, with surprisingly smooth bokeh.
  • Canon EF 50mm f1.4 — small, fast (aperture), and good IQ makes this a decent “walkabout” lens; unfortunately it’s also very fragile so it sees little use.
  • Canon EF-S 10-22mm — my current wide angle, which I will likely replace with Sigma’s 10-20mm constant-aperture wide angle.
  • Canon S100 — a pocketable workhorse with a great IQ-to-size ratio.
  • GoPro Session 5 — the potato; my primary vlog camera (yes, I still film).
  • Peak Designs Cuff — because shoulder straps are cumbersome, and the 80D/70D is small enough for a wrist strap.
  • MeFOTO Roadtrip Travel Tripod — a sturdy and full-size tripod, at a reasonable price.
  • Sigma USB Dock — focus calibration is serious business, and Sigma lets us handle it ourselves.

In The Field

  • ASUS X202E — custom built for my mobile editing and storage needs.
  • HTC One M9 — one phone to rule them all…
  • Tamrac Anvil Slim 11 — my mobile studio bag; comfortably carries all of the photography, computer, and paper gear I need when traveling, and opens conveniently while strapped into the passenger seat.
  • 5.11 Tactical Rush 12 — my hiking kit; I prefer leather and canvas, but no one makes a good all-day hiker that comfortably hauls lunch, snacks, layers (mountain weather), enough water (Arizona), and a small camera kit so I had to “make” one.

In The Studio

  • Workstation — where most of the editing happens; nerd out on the details here.
  • SteelSeries Apex — the only sub-$100 keyboard that can keep up with my typing speed (faster than wireless) and can handle all of strange 4+ key shortcuts in the Adobe Creative Suite.
  • Wacom Intuos — the ultimate upgrade from Apple’s Magic Trackpad; equally friendly to stylus-users and finger-painters (like me). Intuos (small) is great on the go, but I recommend Intuos Pro (medium or large) for your desk.
  • Logitech C920 — studio video camera; mostly used for vidcalls, and has a pretty good built-in mic.
  • Blue Snowball — studio mic; used for voice-over work, vidcalls, and phone.
  • Epson Artisan 1430 Wide-Format Printer — beautifully accurate color reproduction; used for limited-run prints, client projects, and occasionally home decor.

Software

  • Adobe Creative Cloud — 90% of the work I do happens in Adobe; I use everything but the so-called “webdev” apps.
  • StarStaX — star trail compiler; there are others out there, but this one gives the best results with the least headache.
  • Google for Work / Chrome — for lack of a better option. I have nothing but loathing for Google, but the service integrations and development tools can’t be beat. For the moment.
  • EditPlus — a good old-school editor. There might be better options now, but if it ain’t broke…
  • FileZilla — one of the first reliable programs to support SFTP (SSH file transfer). If you’re still using regular FTP you should have your ‘puter confiscated and be banished from the internets.
  • Evernote — arguably the best virtual notebook around.
  • Trello — manages the chaos that my workflow would otherwise become.