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What’s Your Dream Camera and Lens?

Let’s play a game. Your rich uncle just gave you his credit card and told you to buy whatever camera and lens (old or new) you want. What do you pick?

A lot of photographers love gear. I mean, modern cameras are pretty nerdy gadgets when you get down to it, and lenses enable you to see the world in ways not possible with the naked eye. Even older gear can be a lot of fun too for a variety of reasons. And while most of us can’t just open our wallets and plop down cash for those dream pieces of gear, it is still fun to fantasize about doing so, isn’t it? Here are my dreams. If any of our readers really like me, feel free to Venmo me a few (several thousand) dollars (please). 

Camera: Phase One XT With IQ4 150 MP Back

I will never be able to afford to even dream about this camera, so I will just write about it here (I feel like this sentence alone just cost me $100). This camera is everything someone who wants to disappear into the wilderness and spend their life nerding out while taking landscapes and cityscapes could ever want. 

Let’s get the obvious features out of the way first. The IQ4 back has a massive 53.4 by 40 mm sensor that outputs a whopping 151 megapixels (14,204 by 10,652 pixels), 16-bit color, and 15 stops of dynamic range. Are you salivating yet? 

The XT is a unique system. Whereas most top-level medium format systems are behemoths, placing functionality ahead of svelte form, the XT is compact, meant to be taken with you instead of permanently placed on a tripod in studio. In fact, there is a photographer I know who has one and takes it all over with him, creating some fantastic shots. All the controls are on a touchscreen to help keep the body size down. 

It is the more specialized features of the XT that really excite me. It has 24mm of rise and fall and horizontal shift through self-locking rear movements, allowing for in-camera perspective correction, saving you the resolution loss of correcting it in post and allowing you to correct issues no matter what lens you attach. Furthermore, given the design of the system, you can use it for panorama stitching with no issues involving parallax error and no need to find a nodal point. 

My favorite feature, though, is the automated frame averaging. This takes many images over time and then averages them together into a single raw file. This gives the effect of a long exposure without needing to use ND filters. What’s better, though, is that since frames are averaged, highlights are protected and random noise is canceled out, producing images with gorgeously clean looks and a ton of range in post. 

There is also the Phase One Labs program that allows IQ4 owners to beta test features such as Dual Exposure+, which takes an image at the settings provided by the photographer, then another three stops higher and combines the two into a single raw file, producing markedly cleaner shadows. 

Oh, and the system also pairs with fantastic Rodenstock lenses. Altogether, it is my dream setup.

There is only one issue with the Phase One XT system. It costs $56,990 with the IQ4 back. Alas. 

Lens: Sigma APO 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG

If you asked photographers what the longest consumer lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 is, I bet most would assume it is a 400mm f/2.8 prime lens, but they would be wrong. The longest consumer lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 actually reaches an astounding 500mm. Oh, and it goes down to 200mm at the wide (“wide” used in a very relative way here) end, because this crazy lens is a zoom. That is right, it is the Sigma APO 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG. The green whale. The Sigmonster.

This lens is a bit of a legend for a variety of reasons. It is pretty much impossible to find any more than just a few sample photos in the wild, which I am going to guess has something to do with the fact that this thing costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000. That kind of money will get a really, really nice full frame kit from pretty much any brand you wish or even a nice medium format kit with a few lenses. I don’t care. I want this lens. Don’t tell me how to live my life! 

Ok, so what does all of that money actually get you? The Sigmonster uses an apochromatic design with 17 elements in 13 groups, including two extra-low dispersion elements and one SLD element for reduced aberrations and increased clarity, a Super Multi-Layer Coating for reduced flares and ghosting, an internal focusing and zooming design (you know, so it does not compromise its compact design), and a nine-blade diaphragm for smoother bokeh. It also comes with its own battery to help move around those massive elements for autofocusing and zooming. Additional features include an integrated LCD screen that shows focal length and distance, rear drop-in 72mm filters (the size that most often goes on the front of lenses), and a dedicated 2x teleconverter that converts the lens into an equally absurd 400-1,000mm f/5.6.

One of the few photos actually taken with this lens you can find online.

If you ever get the chance to shoot with one of these behemoths, make sure you bring some really steady support, as the 200-500mm f/2.8 weighs a whopping 34.6 lbs (15.7 kg). Or maybe get a used copy and set aside the savings for a good chiropractor. You are going to need one. 

If Sigma ever updated the lens (it came out in 2008) with all of their new and spectacular optics, I would seriously consider selling my car for one. Or maybe a kidney. I don’t know. I’ll find a way.  

How About You?

If you were given a blank check for one camera and lens of your choice, with no regards for practicality, what would you get? Feel free to be as absurd as you please. 

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