How XEQUALS Is Staying Ahead Of The Curve — And How You Can Too

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We know, we know. Better equipment does NOT mean better photographs. Sheesh, we’ve heard it already.

But it’s hard to know which piece of equipment is worth your coin and which equipment is a waste. That fear can paralyze you into what we’ve come to know as analysis paralysis. It keeps you from making a decision, let alone making one with confidence.

For this reason, we created the XEQUALS Survival Kit. So you can have a reference to which equipment isn’t going to let you down. Everything in this resource page is something we have used extensively or purchased personally.

We could make this list a mile long and still not cover everything, so we’re going to focus on the things that are most helpful, whether you are a seasoned vet looking to update your toolbox or a fresh-faced recruit eager to build your studio, this is what we recommend for 2016.

Computing Power

Apple MacBook Pro 15 inch Laptop with Retina Display – Next to software, nothing happens without some substantial computing power.

  • 2.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i7
  • Turbo Boost up to 3.7GHz
  • 16GB 1600MHz memory
  • 512GB PCIe-based flash storage1
  • Intel Iris Pro Graphics
  • AMD Radeon R9 M370X with 2GB GDDR5 memory
  • Force Touch trackpad

We moved away from desktop systems a long time ago. The portability and power of the MacBook Pro has never let us down, or left us wishing we had more juice. Your situation and mileage may vary but we’re standardized on this platform and we’re rocking into the future with smiles on our faces.

Input Devices

Wacom Intuos Pro Pen and Touch – When it comes to hardcore editing, this pen and tablet use combination is pretty hard to beat – especially when you are spending long hours in the editing chair.

Cameras

  • Apple iPhone 6 Plus 64GB We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again; the best camera is the one you have with you. And since we’ve always got our phones in our pockets/purses/bro sacs these days, this 8-megapixel handheld is more than enough. Easy to use, quick to respond.
  • Fujifilm X-T1We’ve been around the block with cameras: Nikon, Canon, Mamiya, Rolleiflex, Hasselblad, Contax, blah blah blah. We never thought a 16MB rangefinder-inspired camera would steal our hearts, but it sure did. This camera rocks and the price point related to the aforementioned brands makes this piece a steal for the money.
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark III – A 22-megapixel full-frame sensor is just plain massive. Add in full capture HD video and you have yourself one heck of a capture device.
  • Canon EOS 7D Mark II – At 20.2 megapixels, but not full frame, the 7D still swings a big stick, and the HD capture is superb. We drag these around outdoors quite a bit too – a rock solid workhorse of a camera.

Glass

Primes and Zooms, we use both.

Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R – Fast, buttery, buttery bokeh … and sharp as a tack where it matters most.

Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R – See previous commentary.

Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM Ultra-Wide Angle – For those wide shots, this lens is hard to beat. Yeah, it’s pricey. When you see this lens in action, you’ll understand.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM – The absolutely, hands-down – perfect lens for portraits. At f/1.2 there is nothing else to say. It is insane.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM – We know what you are thinking: zoom lens, un-sharp, noisy, and crappy f/ stops … uhh … wrong.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Telephoto Zoom – See previous commentary.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4G SIC SW Prime Nikkor Lens – For you Nikon shooters, this is a fantastic portrait lens.

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor Lens – Oh my goodness, the vibration reduction (VR) on this lens makes it worth twice the price.

Bags

Timbuk2 Snoop Camera Bag – After 6 months on the road with this bag, we’re still blown away. As a low tariff alternative, if you just want to convert an existing bag you can simply pick up the camera insert!

Ona Bags The Brixton Camera Bag – Multiple cameras, multiple bags … we like a lot of options. The thing with Ona bags is they aren’t just functional. These darlings are so beautiful we’re afraid to take them out in anything but sunny weather!

Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home Shoulder Photo Bag – Lightweight, full of pockets and velcro. This is our pack-and-run bag … especially when the Timbuk2 is busy!

LowePro Outback 300 AW – This bag is pricey! But you get what you pay for – perfect for use outdoors in the rain and snow, more so than the Crumpler. Coupled with the included All Weather AW Cover and this bag will survive pretty much anything.

Storage

Drobo 5N – We set up some Drobo’s around the office and after 4+ years we’ve only had one failure that didn’t require anything more than switching out a bad drive for a new one. These folks got it right, especially with this networked version.

Our best advice to you? Use good quality drives for running your storage operations. Drobo has a praiseworthy resource for helping you make a choice. DO NOT go the cheap route and buy refurbished or like new drives on eBay or other sites unless you’re just begging for an “Oh sh*t” moment.

SanDisk 8 GB Extreme III CF Card – We run these babies through both our Nikon and Canon bodies. 30 MB/s read/write speed, a lifetime warranty, and rated for -13º F to 185º F! Why would you use anything else?

Kingston 19-in-1 Flash Memory Card Reader – We have these little gems all over the Place. They’re plug-and-play, PC and Mac Compatible, and the just work!

SanDisk Extreme PRO 32GB UHS-I/U3 SDHC Flash Memory Card We pair these with the Fuji XT-1 for smooth and quick storage!

Light

We’re strobists at heart, and we haven’t used a big fancy strobe kit in years. Personally, we’d shoot natural light whenever possible. But when we must, here’s what’s in our kit.

Manfrotto 7302YB Tripod with Ball – There are hundreds of different tripods you can throw in your kit. We like the 7302 because it’s lightweight and folds up nice and small.

Westcott 750 Light Stand – Remote light stands on the cheapy cheap.

PocketWizard PLUS II Transceiver – There are cheaper solutions to the PocketWizard, but they’re so darn easy to use, and we’re lazy.

Sekonic LITEMASTER PRO Light Meter – We still use a light meter, and when we do, it’s a Sekonic.

Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash – Need we say more?

Nikon SB-910 AF Speedlight Flash – Need we say more … more?

Opteka 5-in-1 Collapsible Reflector – A must have for the natural light shooter.

Vivitar 285HV Auto Flash – Cheap, durable, quick recycle time, and perfect for sequence shots. We also love this flash because when it falls off a tripod, gets wet, or just plain poops out; we don’t cry.

Color

ColorMunki Photo Monitor, Printer & Projector Profiler – Simple, easy, and accurate. You can go cheap and not get the results you need, or go expensive and pay for more than you need, ColorMunki fits right in the middle.

X-Rite Color Checker Passport – A nice set of color targets to help you bull’s eye your RAW color workflow from camera to monitor to printer.

Power (UPS, surge, etc.)

CyberPower 9-Outlet UPS – Every laptop, storage device, and critical system plug into one of these. It only takes one outage or brownout to make you realize what an obvious choice a UPS is.

APC Back-UPS 8 Outlet – For non-critical hardware like printers, modems, etc., this UPS outlet does the job nicely and on the cheap.

Software

Nothing happens without software around here. Here are some of the obvious and not-so-obvious software we use to get it done.

Adobe CC – First thing’s first. When it comes to editing, Nothing beats Lightroom and Photoshop. The Creative Cloud service has now made editing possible from anywhere. There are a few bugs, yes, and there was that whole ‘Import Module” debacle, but on the whole, we like having instant access to updates and new features. And it includes everything Adobe has in it’s arsenal.

XEQUALS Presets for Lightroom – We have our own set of production presets that we use daily. Extensive and stylish.

Carbon Copy Cloner – Need to create a bootable copy of your Mac? How about scheduling incremental backups of your working files to a local or Network Drive? Carbon Copy does it all, easily.

Freshbooks – Freshbooks rocks. Their application takes care of all the necessary business processes and back office duties required to keep us running smoothly and efficiently: invoicing, expense tracking, time tracking, and contractor management. Boom, click, done.

Dropbox – For managing current project data and collaborating with other team members Dropbox rocks. The icing on the cake comes with a set of mobile apps that just work – every time, all the time. Ease of use always wins.

Backblaze – Where do we house Terabytes of archival data because Dropbox gets expensive at these levels? Backblaze of course. In their own words: “Get unlimited cloud backup for your Mac or PC. Just $5/month” Done.

And for those looking smash their business model without smashing the bank …

{FREE} Trello – We’re using this online tool every day. We’ve been able to stay organized through some pretty demanding projects with collaborators around the world thanks to this visual organization dream. We like to think of it as a fully loaded digital version of sticky notes.

{FREE} Slack – Internal communication is a must when working with a team. Even as we’re putting together this resource page, we’re using Slack to message back and forth on what we should be including and what to drop. And the app has been super reliable when we’re out of the office.

{FREE} Adobe DNG Converter – We’re not going lecture you about using DNG, we already did that here, and here. For large-scale batch DNG conversion, we love the standalone DNG converter.

{FREE} Screenhero – This is the let me show you how to do this collaboration service. Share your screen with someone (that you trust, obviously) and you will work together with multiple mouse cursors and voice chat. It’s as close to being in the together in the same room as you can get without being in the same room.

{FREE} WordPress – If your business plan for 2016 doesn’t include a blog or website, you’re missing a huge opportunity differentiate yourself from the multitude of other photographers and studios out there. We’ll be writing more about leveraging WordPress in 2016 to make it easy for you to take advantage of this first-rate content management system without going broke. We run our entire site with WordPress. There are so many themes that can be used to turn WordPress into a portfolio, blog, or page-based site you’d be hard pressed to consider going with any other solution. If you’re still cracking open your site to edit individual HTML files, save yourself the headache and automate with WordPress.

Google Apps

It’s changed the way we do everything. We thought it deserved its own category since we utilize it so endlessly. The Google train still has plenty of room on it. And it’s all free … which is good, because we’d be lost without it.

Gmail – Seriously, if you use some ancient mail client that downloads everything to your computer or isn’t available anytime from anywhere, you’re in the stone ages. We manage all our mail from 8 different accounts and 4 separate domains using 1 common interface – available from anywhere. It’s like having a personal unicorn.

Google Docs – Create, edit, share, collaborate, and access from anywhere. From client proposals to studio documentation, we use Google Docs everywhere.

Google Sheets – Create, edit, share, collaborate, and access from anywhere. We work up price quotes and manage our general ledger in Google Spreadsheets. It’s just so darn easy to use.

Google Calendar – Create, edit, share, collaborate, and access from anywhere. See a theme here? One thing I will say is Google Calendar is a great shared calendaring system for organizing people and events. Sure there are more robust scheduling and calendaring applications out there, but we don’t require that much horsepower.

Google Hangouts – When we need to check in face to face, we throw a hangout link into the Google Calendar. It means we never have to wander aimlessly around the internet asking, “Where are you?”

Marketing Tools

How to get the word out in the quickest and most effective way possible.

Sprout Social – We used Sprout for a while to manage our social accounts and was super easy to use. Just load the Sprout Queue with messages you want to send and your social updates happen automatically! Just don’t forget to refill it once a month. Though we thought Sprout was awesome, we’re trying out a new managing system called Edgar. We’ll let you know how it goes, but the future is already bright.

{FREE} Twitter – Twitter rocks. Real-time conversations with all you fine folks, and an endless supply of great tips, tricks, and business lessons. If you’re not using Twitter to engage with others, you’re just being unreasonable.

{FREE} Facebook – Everybody’s doing it … and so are we. It’s a great place to carry on a conversation after our articles have been released.

{FREE} Instagram –  Instant likes on nearly every photo we post. And if you’re looking for a source of inspiration and creative ideas, spend about 5 minutes on it. Can also double as an ego booster.

{FREE} Pinterest – Another good source of inspiration and quick knowledge. We love the infographics and quick-hit how-to guides. And, let’s face it, pinning something is just so gratifying.

{FREE} Medium – A platform that makes itself available for anyone and everyone to have a blog. No need to worry about maintenance or hosting and all the readers there (and there are a lot) are into learning. But that doesn’t mean it’s boring.

Hosting

Media Temple – Over the past 10 years, we’ve worked with and helped others work with dozens of hosting providers. We gauge hosting companies on 1 component – transparency. If they’re down, having performance issues, changing their pricing, or working on a support issue we want to know quickly and honestly what the f**k is going on. At the end of the day, we settled on Media Temple. There are hundreds of hosting providers you can work with, just make sure whoever it is, they treat you like gold.

Printing (in house)

Epson Stylus Photo R3000 Wireless Wide-Format Color Inkjet Printer – When you factor in the price and performance of this printer, it’s an incredible deal for in-house printing. We’ve tried all the other brands; we’ve settled on Epson time and time again.

Printing (3rd Party)

Artifact Uprising – Amazing. Amazing. Amazing.

Adorama Books – We love photo books, and Adorama makes creating and printing them easy.

Whew!

Hopefully, this gives you an idea of what we’re up to, and how we get down to business over here at XEQUALS. If you have questions regarding any of the items above, or just want some advice on how to get started with a particular component (setup, strategy, ideas, etc.) just shoot us an email and we’ll help you out.

Brandon Oelling

Hi there! I'm Brandon Oelling, the founder of XEQUALS. My team and I believe deep in our hearts that inside every one of us is an amazing photographer. Our mission is to help you navigate your journey with the XEQUALS platform.