Want to know what’s in my camera bag for 2023 and beyond? This post shares the Nikon lenses, mirrorless camera, and DSLR that I use at Walt Disney World. Once an annual “tradition” this time of year in response to reader questions, this post is back for the first time in three years. It comes as I made the first major changes to my lineup in that span and we just completed our first long international trip in that time.
It’s actually been so long that the overwhelming majority of you are probably no longer here for the photos…or even know that I am a photographer. I’d be lying if I said inquiries about my camera bag were still common–they probably don’t crack the top 100 of questions we are asked by readers.
For those of you who are newer to the site, once upon a time, this started as something of a photography blog. Along with trip reports, ‘photos of the day’ were the primary focus of this site. Camera and lens reviews were incredibly common, too. Things have changed a lot since then–commentary, news, and planning advice have become more prominent. Nevertheless, I do still put a lot of time and effort into photography.
Not to wax poetic too much, but the evolution of the site has also changed my approach to photography…sort of. I still take just as many photos as ever, it’s that I seldom do anything with 99.5% of them. (This is one of the hallmarks of a middle-aged photographer, or so I’ve heard.) I used to return from a trip and immediately begin organizing and post-processing, excited to post my favorites on Flickr, Smugmug, or Instagram.
I haven’t posted anything on any of those places in years, in part because two of them are dead (more or less) and the other has mutated into something unrecognizable and scary to me. I long ago stopped learning about new post-processing techniques, and while I’m incredibly envious of the talented photographers I follow who have kept up with the latest techniques, I have no desire to return to the days of spending hours per day editing photos.
For me, the enjoyment is in the ritual of photography itself. I love getting up before sunrise, running around at sunset chasing that fleeting light, or staying until the bitter end of the night in Magic Kingdom as the park clears out. I don’t particularly know why, but I find peace in the photography process, and more connected to the world around me. (I cannot say the same about editing photos–I already spend too much sitting at the computer.)
During our recent trip to Japan, I spent hours photographing temples, was the last one out of Tokyo Disneyland numerous nights, and found myself sprinting around Hakone as I chased a photo of the moonset over Mount Fuji. A lot of effort and lost sleep went into photos that no one aside from me will ever see. I have zero regrets. Racing around taking photos is when I feel most alive, and I’ve returned from the trip reenergized despite the serious sleep deprivation.
Standing on the shore of Lake Ashi, freezing waiting for sunrise, it was just me and the fishermen. I realized we have a lot in common…perhaps I should trade the camera for a fishing pole?! I could do most of the same things I do now, but be productive in the process! (If only I could fish in Magic Kingdom without being asked to leave the park.) But I digress.
Getting back to the point, I once again went mirrorless this year. For those keeping score at home, this is the third time I’ve switched to a mirrorless camera, with the change not “sticking” before. (In my defense, the second time I made the change, the intention was to use the mirrorless camera as a secondary option for ‘gear-light’ days. I continued to do exactly that, using that Sony up until this summer.)
This time, I did more research and extensively tested out mirrorless gear, a process that began last year. I finally made the plunge several months ago, buying a Nikon mirrorless camera, several lenses, and an adapter. I waited until now–after a lengthy trip with extended, exclusive use of the mirrorless camera–before sharing just in case I changed my mind again.
To be sure, I don’t completely love mirrorless. I still prefer the optical viewfinder and feel of my Nikon D850, but there are a number of undeniable upsides to the mirrorless system, from features to autofocus improvements to the lens lineup. There’s also the reality that camera manufacturers aren’t really focusing on DSLRs anymore.
Size and weight are also big ones, especially as the doctors tell me I’m not getting any younger, and the 25-pound DSLR camera bag I used to carry is just too much now. Suffice to say, I’m “happy enough” with mirrorless and hope it continues to evolve.
Anyway, thanks for indulging me with this long and rambling preface. Now let’s dig into what’s actually inside my camera bag for this year and 2023. (To really show the range of the camera sensors, lenses, and stabilization, none of these photos were shot while using a tripod.)
Nikon Z 7II – In many important regards, including dynamic range, high ISO performance, and color depth, this is the best camera I’ve ever used. It also has in-body stabilization, exceptional autofocus, and a range of features that are unique to the mirrorless system. Even after using it for months, I continue to discover new capabilities of the camera that wow me.
For me, one of the critical qualities is the Nikon layout and interface. It’s very similar to my beloved Nikon D850 in this regard, and while a matter of personal preference, the camera is a great ‘fit’ in my hands and my muscle memory from the Nikon DSLRs mostly transfers over.
As noted above, I still don’t love the viewfinder. However, I recognize this as mostly a “me problem” and likely will take time to overcome as I’m so used to the optical viewfinder. (Now I know how film diehards felt at the advent of the digital era.) When viewed objectively, the Nikon Z 7II is far and away the best camera I’ve ever used. I like it more with each passing day, and suspect that’ll become truer as I unlock its full potential and continue getting more comfortable shooting with it.
Nikon 14-30mm f/4 – This lens is a big reason why I opted to take the plunge with Nikon’s mirrorless in the first place. While Sony has an exceptional 12-24mm and Nikon’s 14-24mm is still the gold standard, I wanted my most-used lens to be lighter and smaller. After doing a ton of research and field-testing all three, this was my pick.
I’ve owned over a dozen different ultra wide angle lenses over the years, and the Nikon 14-30mm is the most well-rounded of the bunch. In addition to its size, this lens is seriously sharp and the ‘long’ end of the zoom range is good enough for regular field of view photos.
It’s definitely not the best overall ultra wide angle on the market, and the f/4 aperture makes it a poor option for dark rides (but not necessarily low light, thanks to the Nikon Z 7II’s IBIS), but it’s far and away my most-used lens, and one that delivers for me in a wide variety of settings. If I were a more creative photographer or still willing to lug around 25 pounds of lenses, I’d pick something different; as it stands, I’m very satisfied with the Nikon 14-30mm.
Nikon Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR – When assembling a light mirrorless camera bag, “compromise” is the name of the game. This superzoom is the stereotypical ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ lens…or is it?!
In assembling my camera bag, I decided to exercise restraint and not buy the flagship Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8. I tested that lens and absolutely loved it, but not the size and weight. That narrowed my decision down to this or the Nikon 24-120mm f/4. Aside from the aperture, I found the Nikon 24-200mm edged out that lens in every regard. I was shocked. Prior to this, I was using the Sony 24-240mm, and this lens absolutely blows that out of the water.
Suffice to say, the Nikon Z 24-200mm outperforms its superzoom stereotypes in just about every regard. It’s shockingly sharp, distortion is minimal, and autofocus is relatively snappy. Obviously, compromise still comes with the territory–it’s not as good as any of the individual lenses it would replace. But as a superzoom? It’s unparalleled.
Nikon Z 40mm f/2 – One of my ‘mandates’ when going mirrorless was assembling a lightweight camera bag. This lens advanced that purpose, with good optical performance at a reasonable price and a best-in-class weight. It delivers shallow depth of field and sufficient speed to work well on dark rides or in other low light handheld scenarios. If I so desire, this gives me a trio of lenses I can take to Walt Disney World or Disneyland in a small and super-light camera bag. Mission accomplished, right?
Not exactly. While this lens is perfectly fine and furthers that ‘mission,’ it also leaves me with a camera bag without much personality. To be sure, I use it when wanting to keep things simple (you’ve already seen dozens of food photos taken with this lens over the last few months–it’s great for being less conspicuous at restaurants!) but most of the time, I choose the next option.
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 – The first Sigma Art lens is still the best. The bokeh is beautiful & buttery, the lens is insanely sharp, and the photos have a distinct “look” to them that pops straight out of camera. I cannot articulate what makes this lens special, but it has a certain je ne sais quoi that I’ve never found in any other prime lens.
It’s also the perfect focal length for walk-around shooting if you’re going to be using a prime, and is insanely good for dark ride photography, with snappy autofocus and that wide open f/1.4 aperture. I find myself reaching for the Sigma 35mm Art lens almost as much as my ultra-wide. I can’t say enough positive things about this lens, and it’s one of the few lenses that I think belongs in every full frame photographer’s camera bag irrespective of their style and what they shoot.
I’ve had this lens since it was released almost a decade ago, and despite trying many similar lenses during that time, have never found anything that comes close to its unique quality. At this point, I’ve given up. No prime lens is ever going to top this one for me. Here’s my full review of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens from back in 2013.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII – I love everything about this lens besides its weight and size, which is like saying I love Hummers minus their mileage. Those are not minor asterisks, they’re pretty major! While making such an effort to cut size and weight from my new mirrorless lense, I continue to carry this around quite often. Which sometimes makes me question why I didn’t buy the Nikon 14-24mm and take the hit on size and weight there?
With that said, I only carry this lens about 25% of the time or less, whereas the Nikon 14-30mm literally never leaves my bag. It’s great for detail-oriented photography at Disney, parades, and its versatility is surprisingly strong. On the days it comes out with me, I really go crazy using it, pushing the creative uses for what might seem like a limited lens.
If Nikon ever gets around to releasing a Nikon Z 70-200mm f/4, I’ll consider “downgrading” to that, but I’m apprehensive about adding another slow lens to my bag. Probably better off sticking with fantastic beast a quarter of the time!
Nikon 85mm f/1.8 – This lens ends up in my camera bag about 50% of the time, exclusively on days when I don’t carry the Nikon 70-200mm (it’s always an either/or situation with these two lenses). The upsides to this lens are that it’s faster and lighter, but I don’t like it nearly as much.
Perhaps I’m expecting too much from this budget prime lens based on my experiences with the Sigma Art line, but it just doesn’t have personality. It performs exactly how you’d expect on paper–it’s perfectly sharp, bokeh is decent, as is the autofocus. But somehow, it just seems lacking. Maybe someday I’ll upgrade to the Z version, which I’ve heard has considerable character and better performance.
Rokinon 12mm Fisheye – When I first started in photography, the fisheye lens was my signature style. I used it more than just about any other lens, which, in retrospect was way too much. Much like overcooked HDR, I now look back at my photos that gratuitously and unnecessarily use the fisheye and wonder, what was I thinking? (This is also part of the reason why I haven’t bothered with new post-processing techniques. What’s popular and “looks good” now won’t necessarily age well.)
This cheap and small manual focus Rokinon fisheye is more than sufficient for my now pretty limited use of fisheye. I really enjoy its sunburst, but honestly, wish they were even more over-the-top. If you’re going to use a fisheye, might as well go all-out! Regardless, I’d recommend spending as little money as possible on a fisheye lens (this fits the bill there), or not buying one at all.
Nikon Mount Adapter FTZ II – For years, I resisted mount adapters, telling myself (and others) that I’d fully commit to a system and buy/sell lenses accordingly. That was before selling, buying, selling, and rebuying DSLR gear. It was also before knowing that Sigma would never (seemingly?) make its Art lineup for the Nikon Z mount.
As a result, I use this a lot. The balance is odd with both the Sigma 35mm and Nikon 70-200mm, but that’s not really the fault of the adapter. Nevertheless, it definitely “feels” better with the Nikon 85mm f/1.8.
Nikon D850 — I still love this camera, and even after going mirrorless, would probably buy its successor if Nikon ever releases another DSLR in this line. As a landscape photographer who prefers the optical viewfinder, the Nikon D850 is flawless in every important regard from autofocus to resolution to dynamic range.
For now, this is relegated to my “backup” camera. I still took it with us to Japan in case the Nikon Z 7II got stolen by a monkey or destroyed by a deer (these are not jokes), but didn’t use the camera at all. Similarly, I haven’t used it at Walt Disney World since moving to the Nikon mirrorless system. When I use the D850 now, I find myself fumbling a bit with the controls–something that never happened while I was shooting with the Sony a7 III–because I’ve now fully moved over to the Nikon Z 7II.
LowePro Flipside 300 AW III – The move to mirrorless also allowed me to trade down camera bags. Previously, I was using the LowePro’s Turtle in a Half Shell, which is easily the dorkiest camera bag on the market (quite the feat if you’ve seen just how dorky camera bags can look), as it looks like a turtle that went to a military surplus store.
By contrast, this bag is excellent. It’s not stylish, but it looks a bit more normal and has space for everything I carry–including a laptop–and can serve as my personal item when flying. I do wish the outside pouch had a bit more room and better organizational pouches, but it’s still way better than looking like a tactical terrapin.
If you do want to purchase new photography equipment, we recommend the following trusted & authorized retailers. Buying via these referral links from these retailers helps support this blog, and doesn’t cost you a thing:
If you want more in-depth reviews of a broader selection of equipment, the best place to start is Tom’s Ultimate Disney Parks Photography Guide, which covers a variety of topics from links to tutorials, tips, and tricks to recommendations for point & shoots, DSLRs, lenses, and more. (Many of these are pretty old and haven’t been updated in a while, but the underlying ideas and principles still apply.)
What do you think of the gear in my camera bag? Have you taken the mirrorless plunge? Sony, Nikon, or something else? What’s in your camera bag? If you use any of these cameras or lenses, what do you think of them? Any questions? Hearing feedback from other photographers is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!