Jack Nichols Photography
Night sky and landscape photographer in Seattle, Washington
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Gear List and Recommendations

Gear List

I get a lot of questions about the gear I use to make the photos you see on my site. On this page, you'll find some categorized lists of what I'm currently using, what I recommend, as well as some suggestions for kits to get started. Know that gear is a very personal choice, and the gear I choose to own and use reflects the work I do.

A quick note: some of the links below are affiliate links. That means at no additional cost to you, I earn a small commission when you click one of the links and make a purchase. It's an easy way to support me and my family, and costs you nothing extra!

What I’m using

This is the gear I carry on a regular basis. I categorize my equipment into two groups - always and sometimes - based on when it goes with me.

Always

  • Canon EOS R Body

  • RF 24-105/f4L IS

    • This is the standard general purpose lens for the RF mount. It’s an excellent lens, and in most respects better than the EF mount versions, especially version 1.

  • Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R

    • There aren’t a ton of RF mount lenses out, and this adapter is essential to using EF lenses on the R. There is also a control ring version, which I like a lot, but I bought my R this adapter was included, so who am I to argue with free?

  • Canon 16-35/f2.8L III

    • This is the 3rd version of the popular 16-35/f2.8, and the best one. The previous versions suffered from a lot of aberrations especially when shooting stars. They were still excellent, but this one is much better, and is what I use for the bulk of my night sky work. Stopped down on a tracking mount it’s awesome. I eventually plan on swapping this for the new RF 15-35/f2.8 L IS.

  • Canon 100-400/f4.5-5.6L IS II

    • This is the second version of the 100-400 and is a giant leap forward compared to its predecessor. This lens has been an excellent addition to my bag, and having 400mm of reach in a portable package is useful in a ton of situations. I used to carry a 70-200, but sold it after buying this as I often found I needed much more reach.

  • Vello Shutterboss

    • The Shutterboss is an inexpensive intervalometer that makes it possible for me to take pictures and include myself in the frame. My only complaint about these is that the cable connection to the housing can sometimes fray, so I usually wrap a bunch of electrical tape around this part to help reinforce it.

  • Induro Stealth CLT203 Carbon Fiber Tripod

    • This is a durable, lightweight, yet sturdy tripod that is a good value for the money. It’s a little more expensive than some of the entry level carbon fiber tripods, but adds a lot of strength and stability in a lightweight package. I like that it has foam around the top of the legs for more comfortable carrying in cold weather.

  • Arcatech GV2 Ballhead

    • I love this ballhead. It’s lightweight, durable, locks precisely, and looks like a Transformer. I went through 3 or 4 other ballheads before arriving at this one. Arcatech makes a few other models that are also excellent if you can’t find the GV2.

  • B+W CPL and UV filters

    • I’ve long used high quality B+W filters for both UV and circular polarizers. I try to buy the fewest number of filters possible to fit the lenses I’m using, and use step-up rings as needed. Today all of my lenses that I use regularly have either 77mm or 82mm filter threads, and I’ve settled on having a set of UV+CPL for both sizes, although I do have a step-up ring as I have a few esoteric filters in 82mm only.

I sometimes get questions about my choice of lenses slower than f/2.8, especially for night sky. There are a couple of answers to this. The 24-105 is only available in f/4 and it's a pretty versatile lens so I always have it around. I recently switched from using the 70-200/f4 to the new 100-400, because the extra reach is often helpful with some of the landscapes I do, and because I have good focal length coverage from 16mm to 400mm in only three lenses. Also, at night, f/4 or f/5.6 is often plenty fine at telephoto lengths as I'm not trying to achieve pinpoint stars at 200mm or longer, or I'm tracking.

Sometimes

Some of this equipment I don’t own, and rent as needed for special projects. I believe in owning the stuff you always use, and renting what you use occasionally, but there are a few things I use occasionally that it makes sense to own.

  • Canon 50mm f/1.8

    • The nifty fifty. Everyone has (or should) have one. I’ve used this lens for everything from taking pictures of my kids to night sky work. I don’t often use it for landscapes as the 24-105 is better at 50mm for that.

  • Canon 70-200 f/4L IS

    • This was my go-to tele for a long time, especially on hikes. It weighs nothing and f/4 is always enough for a hiking situation. I have since replaced it with the 100-400 as my needs have changed, but you can still make a strong case for this one.

  • Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

    • I don’t own this lens, but rent it periodically when I have to do some macro work. It’s a fun lens to play around with too. It’s also an excellent portrait lens.

  • Canon 1.4x III Extender

    • I probably should have bought this lens by this point, as I use it frequently with the 100-400 which turns that lens into a 140-560mm. Especially with the R, which can autofocus to f/11 across the entire frame (!!!) it’s a great pairing. I’m waiting for an RF mount teleconverter and 100-400 to appear though before I buy something like this.

  • Skywatcher Star Adventurer Tracking Mount

    • This is my preferred tracking mount for Milky Way work, and the basis for almost all of my Milky Way photography these days. It weighs about as much as a solid f/2.8 lens and has a learning curve, but helps produce some incredible images. If you want to learn more about tracking, I cover that extensively in my book.

  • Skywatcher EQ Base

    • This is an essential accessory for the tracking mount, that allows for easy polar alignment. It’s a shoddy design to be honest, but it does work once you get used to it.

  • LEE Big Stopper

    • 10 stop neutral density filter which is excellent for mid-day work.

  • Breakthrough 6-stop ND Filter

    • 6 stop neutral density filter which is what I pull out for a sunset or sunrise.

  • Breakthrough Night Sky Filter

    • I started using this filter a few years ago to help combat light pollution in some of the areas I frequently shoot Milky Way. This filter has the effect of eliminating most color casts from cities and other light domes, at the cost of about a stop of light. It’s useful at places like Mt. Rainier where there are light domes on all sides of the mountain. Because you lose a stop of light, you have to compensate somehow, and my usual answer to that is to track for another minute or two longer.

Recommendations

The lists below are my recommendations for various combinations of gear to suit different purposes. Your needs might vary, but these are a good starting point.

Budget Milky Way Kit

If you are looking to put together a Milky Way kit on a budget, here's a basic setup that will produce some great images. This kit focuses entirely on Milky Way at the expense of other forms of photography:

  • EOS RP + EF-EOS R Mount Adapter

    • This is the budget version of the EOS R. It’s most similar to the Canon 6d Mark II, which is a fine camera and produces some great images. You need the mount adapter to be able to mount the lens I suggest below, and also it’s just a good idea (and it is usually free on a promotion).

  • Rokinon 14mm f/2.8

    • I frequently recommend this lens as a beginner Milky Way lens. It’s fast and lets in plenty of light. It’s wide, which is pretty forgiving for longer shutter speeds and easy to get the whole Milky Way in. It’s only f/2.8. although isn’t as fast as a f/2 or f/1.4 lens, is pretty forgiving in terms of focus (the depth of field can be tricky on a faster lens and requires practice). Last, it’s pretty cheap, usually a few hundred dollars or cheaper if you watch for promotions. Note that there is an RF mount version of this lens coming out, and note also that this lens is fully manual focus.

  • Oben Carbon Fiber Tripod

    • I recommend this as an entry level tripod or if you are just on a budget. I used one for years and it held up well, despite some quirks. Get one in a kit with a ballhead if you are really on a budget. You may be able to finder other tripods that are cheaper, but a cheap tripod is often pretty useless for night sky work.

Note that I didn’t include an intervalometer on this list. The RP has a built-in intervalometer, which saves you an extra piece of gear.

Better Milky Way Kit

The budget kit above is pretty spartan. You can improve it by adding some of these items. Note that some of these items start to add non-Milky Way specific items, since you are likely going to be shooting other subjects too.

  • Rokinon 24mm f/1.4

    • This lens is an excellent second lens after you have played with the 14mm Rokinon for a while. It’s sharp, and wide open produces some great images, but stopped down to f/2 the quality is much better. I don’t recommend this as a first lens because f/1.4 is pretty unforgiving for learning how to focus, but once you have mastered that skill, this lens is a huge step up.

  • Vello Shutterboss

    • Even though the RP includes a built-in intervalometer, an external one is helpful as it also allows you to avoid bumping the camera during a long exposure.

  • RF 24-105/f4L IS

    • Get this in a kit with the RP. This gives you a general purpose photography lens to shoot when you aren’t shooting Milky Way.

  • RF 24-240/f4-6.3 IS

    • This little lens has a huge reach and a small size, at the cost of a relatively narrow aperture. It is definitely not a Milky Way lens, but it is a great all-around lens and the size matches the RP really well. Note that this is not an L lens and it is not weather sealed. You can also get this in a kit with the RP.

Advanced Milky Way Kit

Once you have some more experience, a much better kit can be put together by adding of these items:

  • Canon EOS R Body

    • Compared to the RP, the R offers a higher resolution sensor, better noise performance, better weather sealing and overall durability, the touch bar, and a battery in common with the 6d, 6d Mark II, and 5d DSLRs. It’s also a little bit larger in the hand, which I find more comfortable.

  • Canon 16-35/f2.8L III or RF 15-35/f2.8 L IS

    • Despite being zoom lenses, these are excellent choices for Milky Way and will serve your needs in many other situations too.

  • Skywatcher Star Adventurer Tracking Mount and Skywatcher EQ Base

    • Adding a tracking mount opens up a world of possibilities for Milky Way work, both in terms of higher quality images as well as the ability to use longer focal lengths and narrower apertures. There is a learning curve though, but I cover tracking extensively in my book.

Alternatives

At this point in time, I strongly suggest choosing the Canon full-frame mirrorless system over the mirrored alternatives. This is where Canon is sinking all of their money and the result is some great lenses for the RF mount, and almost nothing new for the EF mount. However. you might not be ready for mirrorless, or might have other requirements that mean it isn’t right for you. Here are some substitutions you can make to the above lists in that case:

  • Canon 6d Mark II instead of Canon EOS RP

    • I used the original 6d for years as my primary camera, and it’s pretty great. The Mark II makes some technical improvements and can be had for a good value. The RP uses almost the same sensor as the 6d2.

  • Canon 5d Mark IV instead of Canon EOS R

    • The 5d4 is the equivalent of the R in DSLR-land, but has some features that might make it appealing over the R for some shooters, like dual card slots. It’s a great camera.