As a hobbyist whose experience is mostly limited to my own equipment, I’ll try to refrain from “reviews” based on a sample size of one. Instead, I’ll simply offer my comments on what gear I’ve chosen to buy and how it’s worked out for me.

Pentax K-x (entry-level DSLR)

It was a great first DSLR. Small, high image quality, intermediate-level features, and the flexibility to use AA batteries. But its ergonomics don’t hold a candle to the K-5, and its plasticy build creaks a bit more with each passing year.

Purchasing decision relied heavily on DPReview review.

Pentax K-5 (enthusiast DSLR)

I’ve been extremely happy with this camera for nearly 7 years. It’s not perfect – autofocus in particular suffers from terrible precision whether using the viewfinder or live-view. But it’s really, really good. See full review.

Purchasing decision relied heavily on DPReview review.

Fujifilm X100S (fixed-lens compact)

Inferior to my Pentax in so many ways, but makes up for it with style. Focal length is perfect (IMO), colors are beautiful, and you never feel inconvenienced by carrying it around. But battery life is pathetic, and it really needs some kind of face-detection autofocus (a social camera’s not nearly as useful if you’re the only one who can take sharp pictures with it). It’s also quite expensive, especially compared to Pentax, and X-trans RAW files are so slow to work with in Lightroom.

Purchasing decision inspired heavily by Strobist review.

Oben CT-2420 (4-section carbon fiber tripod)

It works – no problems in the last 7 years, and I’ve put it through some abuse when backpacking. Provides plenty of height, but the center column makes it awkward to get low (need to invert the column and suspend the camera upside-down). Fits in carry-on luggage, but just barely. I probably could’ve gotten by with something cheaper and lighter for backpacking, especially given the size of my Pentax cameras and lenses, but after reading Thom Hogan’s guide, I wanted something all-purpose that would last a long time, and this tripod has been fine in that role.

Acratech Ultimate Ball-head

Talk about abuse – this thing lives on the outside of my pack, exposed to the elements, and never misses a beat. The touchpoints are great – chunky knobs with fast threads make every adjustment quick. It can be awkward to achieve your desired range of motion, though, since you need to pan the head to unlock elevation where you need it; this is particularly annoying when tracking a flying subjects with a long lens (like a rocket, for example). Also, the cheapest clamp has neither a bubble level nor any alignment markings; trying to address the former with a nodal slide will immediately be hindered by the latter. But these can be worked around.

Purchasing decision inspired heavily by Luminous Landscape review.

KatzEye focusing screen for K-x

The majority of my K-mount (and M42-mount) lenses are manual focus, and APS-C viewfinders aren’t the nicest things to focus through. This replacement screen was easy to install, maintained accuracy, and provided the focusing aids I was used to from film-era Pentax cameras (split prism and microprism). The size of the viewfinder still pales in comparison to those cameras, but the focusing experience was still much improved. I thought about getting one for my K-5, but its stock focusing screen was already better than the K-x’s, and I was starting to use more autofocus glass at the time, so I never got around to it (now that they are out-of-business, I regret that decision).

RRS Multi-Camera L-plate

Bought this for my K-x and it worked fine (though it blocked the battery compartment, which was pretty annoying when the camera locked up and I couldn’t find an Allen wrench). Have also used with my X100S. You can even try to use it as a short nodal slide, but you should not attempt to use it with a telephoto lens foot; other products (below) are much better suited to those two jobs.

RSS L-plate for Pentax K-5

Basically perfect. Sometimes the door covering the USB port can be a bit tricky to open all the way, and the bracket does add some weight, but it’s secure and it does its job. Center markings are provided in both portrait and landscape orientations (though neither indicates the film plane). Portrait orientation does move the camera 1cm back relative to landscape (apparently that’s a RSS convention whenever they need to make room for ports; makes it easy to adjust nodal slide measurements).

Pentax D-BG4 battery grip

A well-designed product – doubles battery life, enables use of AA batteries, provides storage for an SD card, contains holders for the weather sealing covers for both camera and grip. All the buttons and dials you expect are there, but they all have a slightly different feel to the main camera, which is unfortunate. The grip can also be attached very tightly to the camera, and it can be difficult to get enough grip on the screw-gear to get it loose. It’s also fairly heavy and prevents the use of an L-bracket. On the whole, great for event shooting, but not as useful for some other situations where you’d want the extra battery life (time-lapse, for instance).

Sunwayfoto DMP-140R (nodal slide)

Seems like the ideal nodal slide to me. It’s exactly the right length to stay out of the frame when shooting through the Pentax 15mm Limited lens in portrait orientation. Some notes:

* Markings are only on the top of the slide and don’t extend over the side; since the slide isn’t flush with the clamp on my ballhead, you have to fill in the gap when doing alignment * Markings on the camera clamp may or may not be visible with the camera mounted (with my K-5 and RSS L-bracket, they’re visible in portrait alignment but not in landscape) * The clamp’s knob is not as chunky or as fast as those on my Ultimate Ball-head, creating some cognitive dissonance

Sunwayfoto DPG-62R (universal quick release plate)

I bought this for the foot of my Pentax 300mm/4, and it’s the perfect size.

Lowepro Impulse 110 camera bag

I think this bag was meant for camcorders, but it’s the perfect size for small DSLRs like the K-x. Fits body and two small lenses (including kit lens), as well as spare batteries, a filter, and a lens cloth. Magnetic clasp is a nice touch.

Lowepro Nova 180 AW camera bag

The perfect size for my Pentax gear (not so much the 300/4, but everything else, and even that lens will fit in a pinch). Fits a camera body, multiple lenses, flashes and triggers, filters, cables, white balance cards and color checkers, lens cloths, batteries, memory cards, etc. And the weatherproof covering is clutch if you get caught in a storm (you lose access to some pockets, but you probably shouldn’t be reaching in there under those conditions in the first place). Unfortunately, it’s awkward to hike with; good for travel, though.


LensAlign Mk II (focus calibration system)

Pentax autofocus is too imprecise for this to be useful, unfortunately.

Cactus V5 wireless flash transceiver

These things are great! Each unit can be either a transmitter or a receiver. Receivers can act as remote camera triggers with the appropriate cable, including half-shutter-press support. Nice packaging with included batteries a several small cables (PC and 1/8” TRS). Can work with old high-voltage flashes that are unsafe to attach to your camera. Included base is more stable than some bases that come included with flash guns. I’ve bought 3 sets of 2 (unfortunately, one was left on a mountain pass in WA). They’ve gotten more expensive with time, though the newer units feel slightly different and have a chunkier base.

As far as core functionality, a half-press causes all active receivers to light up orange. The first 5 channels all respond to a trigger on channel 1, making it easy to see the effects of individual flashes on channels 2-5, then fire them all at once without having to change anything at the receivers. The biggest downside is batteries and the fact that the Tx/Rx/off switch is very easy to toggle in a bag; best practice is probably to remove batteries when not in use.

Pentax AF-360FGZ flash

I got this before I really knew what I was looking for in a flash, and a first-party option seemed like the logical choice. If you need TTL or HSS, it’s probably fine, but otherwise the control dial is stiff and hard to use, the flash doesn’t pan, it auto-sleeps rather quickly, “wireless” triggering is confusing, and on the whole it’s not a good choice for manual lighting. The hot shoe locking lever is great, though.

LumoPro LP160 flash

It’s big, it feels kinda cheap, and the controls are very simplistic. But it does its job well – it can be triggered from a hot shoe, and PC port, or a 1/8” port (all compatible with the Cactus V5 triggers), or optically with or without pre-flash. It also supports both pan and tilt motions. Recommended by David Hobby, and a fine recommendation at the time. In practice, my biggest complaint is the hot shoe locking dial, which is hard to get a good grip on.

LumoPro LP180 flash

Wow, what an upgrade! The slimmer dimensions improve the quality of the look (even though it actually grew in length over the LP160), and the material quality is phenomenal for the price. User interface supports more fine-grained control, and the filter “holder,” while finicky, is a nice touch. Also, the hot-shoe lock is now a lever! Basically, this flash is perfect – if you don’t need TTL, this is what you want.

Purchasing decision inspired heavily by Strobist review.

Joby GorillaPod

Very portable and quick to adjust, but your OCD will have you trying to straighten the leg joints incessantly. Coin-screw camera base is a nice touch. It came in handy on a few trips, but it honestly hasn’t gotten a ton of use.