Our Favorite Photographers Tell Us Exactly What Gear To Splurge On For The Holidays

I’m a big proponent of saying “It’s the wizard, not the wand,” with regards to camera gear. I firmly believe it, too. Unless you focus your efforts on understanding light, framing and general composition, you’ll be hard pressed to capture something enticing. You could have a top of the line $50,000 setup but still be an infant in regards to visual literacy and your work will showcase that.

That being said, once you spend the time to understand the basics, you’ll also formulate a need for better gear. In short: A good wand never hurts. With that in mind we talked to two of our favorite Instagram photographers to figure out what their go-to’s are. Mitch Cox, Craig Hensel, and I all weighed in about the gear that gets us off. What camera body nabs the best star-trails? What lenses expand the space in the perfect way? What camera bags hold up to a life on the road?

We answered these questions all in an effort to get you our your favorite photo-nerd out there and shooting this holiday season.

Craig Hensel


What are your favorite camera bodies right now?

I use my Sony A7rii ($3,198) primarily for landscapes and astro photography. Couple reasons for this, focus-peaking has been a life saver in dialing in tack sharp images. Second, the dynamic range is pretty unreal. In almost all landscapes, I expose for the highlights and pull the shadows to what the I remember the scene to look like. And for Astro, the sensor is made for this stuff, allowing for a lot of light to hit, bringing out detail in the Milky Way and just as important, the foreground.

I learned on my Canon Canon 5D Markiii ($2,499) for surf, food and everyday stuff. I trust the autofocus on this camera more than the A7Rii, so for surf, accuracy and servo mode is critical. For ballerina photos, I can shoot fast with no lag. The A7Rii tends to slow down, process the images after about six photos taken in sequence. Basically, I like to have multiple tools in the toolbox. Every camera serves its purpose.

What are your go-to lenses?

Canon 70-200mm 2.8 V2 ($1,899) This is such a versatile lens. It’s my go to for surf, landscapes (think big mountain shots at a distance) and even portraits. It throws a pretty nice bokeh [too].

Canon 35mm 1.4 ($1,699) Classic lens that can be used almost for everything. I’ve switched up my Astro from a 16mm to the 35mm because I like how it pulls in the sky (compression) into the scene.

What’s your tried and true camera bag?

I’ve had my Timbuk2 Espionage for over two years and love it. Just the right amount of gear space. It’s often my only carry-on for 3-4 day trips.

Mitch Cox


What’s been your go-to camera body?

The Canon 6D ($1,499) is killer because it’s got the low light capabilities of the high-end Canon full frames but it’s half the size and weight. It’s also built like a tank and survived two swims the ocean and a dozen nasty falls.

What about your go-to lenses?

Canon 17-40L ($749)
Canon 70-200 f4L ($599)
Samyang 24mm 1.4 ($467)
Samyang 14mm 1.8 ($329)
Sigma 85mm 1.4 ($679)

The Canon 17-40L covers my most used focal lengths, it isn’t real sharp but I’ve had it for years and it’s held up well to some serious abuse. It’s the lens I have on most of the time and hence its the lens which I’ve used for 90% of the work I’ve sold. I’d just like to let people know you shouldn’t be scared of third party lenses, but most of these images were taken with the Canon 17-40 or Canon 70-200, been loving that combo lately!

What’s your tried and true camera bag?

The F-stop Lotus ($229) is the only camera bag I’ve owned that I’d be happy to actually take on a hike. It’s got attachment points for tripods, water bottles and even sleeping matts, plus it’s super comfy and customizable to suit your needs. It also looks pretty cool.

Parker Hilton

@ParkerHilton or @TogetherWeRoam

What’s your go-to camera body?

For the last year or so I’ve been using the Canon 6D ($1,499). It’s held up, more or less, to my time on the road but the major selling point was the price and the size. You get a full-frame body, with awesome low light capability, and it doesn’t bog down a good hike or break the bank.

On the smaller end I’m a huge advocate for the Fuji X100T ($1,099). I’ve carried that body around and thrown it through the ringer and it still delivers every time. It lacks some versatility with a fixed lens but that’s a fair trade off. These days it’s slipping further and further back on my shelf but when I’m in a pinch I’ll always reach for it.

What are your go-to lenses?

For the 6D I’m usually between the Canon 16-35L ($1,399) and my Sigma 50 1.4 Art Series ($949). If you look at my website or my Instagram feed those two lenses cover 99% of what I’ve shot. Occasionally I’ll use my fiancée’s Canon 70-200 2.8 V2 ($1,899) but I’m usually tempted to step closer to a subject rather than using a long lens.

What has been your tried and true camera bag?

Right now I’ve been digging the Think Tank Photo Perception Pro ($149). It’s not your run of the mill black camera backpack and it fits an insane amount of gear. The people at Think Tank really plan out their designs and it shows big time.