Here’s a list of my top gear. I don’t own everything (someday, maybe). But I have used them all and highly recommend them. If you are ever in the market to purchase any of these items, I personally guarantee their amazingness.
Full frame: There are a bunch of new models. The best cameras, as with all tech, are the ones that are the most recent. Canon and Nikon’s new full-frame cameras are excellent. They offer outstanding high ISO noise control, excellent performance, and excellent image quality. The best full-frame DSLRs are Nikon’s D4 or Canon’s 5D MkIII.
Crop Sensor: Again, Nikon and Canon. I love these two. Although it is difficult to choose between the two, I do enjoy both. The mid-range crop sensor DSLRs are fantastic – excellent ISO performance (for the 1.6 crop sensors), fast shooting speeds (especially with the 7D), and an extremely affordable price – if you’re not ready to go full-frame yet, the Canon 7D or the Nikon D7000 may be the right choice.
Prime lenses are my preferred choice for most of my work. They have fewer distortions, are sharper and faster than zooms. Prime lenses can also make it easier to take better photos.
An excellent selection of primes is essential for either Nikon or Canon. For me, the ideal range would include a 20mm lens, a 28mm or 35mm lens, a 50mm lens, and an 85mm fixed focal length. If you have more than one lens (or none), you should consider a specialty-purpose lens. I don’t know enough about you to recommend a prime lens. However, I would suggest a wide-angle zoom or telezoom lens if you are looking for something super wide or telephoto.
To get the effective focal length and to see what you see through the viewfinder, if you have a crop sensor, you need to multiply your lens’ focal length by at least 1.6. For Canon, I recommend:
EF 24mm F1.4 L II USM (pricey but high quality if you are looking for it)
EF 50mm f1.4 USM (superb lens – best 50mm lens I’ve used)
EF 85mm f1.8 USM (excellent value)
AF-S24mm f1.4G (pricey as all wide-angle primes, but a great lens).
AF-S50mm f1.4 G (the Nikon equivalent of the 50mm f1.4 – excellent)
AF-S 85mm F1.4 G (pretty costly, but it’s worth it).
The Tamron 17-50mm F2.8 zoom is excellent for standard range photography. It also comes in Canon/Nikon mounts.
Micro Four Thirds
This compact DSLR is my favorite format. These cameras are compact, shoot in excellent image quality, and have good ISO performance…definitely get one of these if the size is a concern. If I could, I would get the Panasonic Lumix DMC–GX1 today. You might be tempted to wait for the Olympus OM–D E-M5… I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks great from what I can see.
One word: Leica. Okay, so that’s a brand. A Leica is a great rangefinder. You can choose any of them. The Leica M9 is your only choice for a digital rangefinder. Are you going to film it? Any Leica, from the old M3.. to the M4…MP..M6..M7…like I said, go for any one of them. Fantastic build quality, optical quality, and mechanisms. It’s unbeatable. It’s worth it.
Point n Shoot
Some point-n-shoot cameras are pretty new, although they are not as new anymore. They have the same size as a regular compact camera but offer superior image quality and manual controls. My favorite is the Panasonic Lumix DMCX5 The Canon Powershot S95 also excels, both at the same price point. The Powershot S100 lacks a few key features and has a poor upgrade. I don’t recommend it. Save your money and go with the S95.
Built-in flashes don’t work very well. If you are interested in flash photography, an external flash unit is the best choice. Canon’s 430 EXIIis an excellent place to start. Or, you could go for the flagship 580 EXI II if your budget allows. Nikon users should check out the SB700 and SB900, as well as the latest SB910
Your free tripod comes with your new DSLR. But if you are serious about night/low-light photography, you should get a tripod. Manfrotto tripods and heads are highly recommended. I have used them a lot. The tripod is the 190XProB, and the head 496RC2 are great. Gitzo makes excellent tripods, but I find their products a little too expensive. Manfrotto is the best.
A free filter is no better than a tripod. There is no way. You don’t want a free filter. It’s a piece of cheap glass you are using instead of the expensive, high-quality glass lens you have paid hundreds of money for. If you have to use a filter (protective or UV, CPL, ND), make sure it is good. I use B+W. B+W is the most expensive brand, but it’s for a good reason. They are of excellent quality and cause very few lens flares or other optical problems like some filters. I haven’t noticed any difference.
It is often forgotten how important a good camera bag can be. It is essential to have a bag that you can carry comfortably, which can hold all or most of your gear and protect it. Lowepro is my preferred camera bag, with the Slingshot series my favorite. It can carry a large camera body, up to three or four lenses, accessories, and more, depending on its size. You can check out their website to see the incredible design. You might also find other bags that are more appropriate. Their bags are top-quality, and I recommend them. You will see the All-Weather (AW) sign on your bag. This means that it has a protective cover that pulls out and completely covers your bag. It saved me many times during a sudden downpour.
That’s all I can think. I hope it helps.
Sorry for being limited to Canon and Nikon. I do know that other brands can make great stuff, but these are the ones I have used most, and I recommend them without reservation. I hope you guys understand!