Suggested Gear for Accident Reconstruction, Product Liability, and Testing Photography

Even before I started teaching Accident Reconstruction, Product Liability, and Testing Photography classes, I’ve often been asked about what photo gear works the best for those areas.

In response, I’ve created two wish lists at B&H Photo Video: one for Nikon Nikon Gear Wish List and one for Canon shooters Canon Gear Wish List. I’m a Nikon shooter, so most of my direct experience is with Nikon equipment. Here are some notes on the lists:

-1- I currently use the Nikon D850. It’s arguably the best all-around camera on the market, but I recommend the Nikon D750 for Nikon shooters for several reasons:
– Its files are more manageable in size, but are still plenty large.
– It still has the manageable body size and shape, and even has the really useful flip up and down LCD screen.
– It has a built-in flash to use to trigger the Nikon 4804 R1 macro flashes.
– The built-in flash isn’t terribly powerful, and can’t be rotated or removed, but can be used in a pinch.
– Right now, it is on a fantastic sale—especially with the 24-120 mm lens. You save $1,200 instantly.
– It’s been out for a while, and is tried and true.

There are similar advantages for Canon shooters with the 6D Mk II vs. the 5D Mk IV. If you have the budget, the Nikon D850 or Canon 5D Mk IV can’t be recommended highly enough. But they are not necessary for the work we do.

-2- The lists show both the ZEISS Milvus 50 mm and either Nikon 60 mm or Canon 100 mm macro lenses. I use the ZEISS, but also have the Nikon. I use my ZEISS Milvus 50 mm lens for most of my work photography, since it has a normal perspective. I also use the ZEISS Milvus 100 mm lens when I need to fill the frame with a macro shot, but can’t get close enough.
Advantages of the ZEISS are: Precise manual focus; amazing micro contrast; and, 50 mm is accepted “normal” lens that I use for almost everything.
Disadvantages of the ZEISS are: Manual focus only (but that is my preference); and, only enlarges to 1:2 (or half life-size).
Advantages of the Nikon: 1:1 (life-size macro); autofocus (but see note below); close enough to “normal” focal length; and, less expensive.
Disadvantages of Nikon: Not as easy to manually focus.
Note: When shooting macro images, you’ll most likely have to manually focus anyway, so having a more precise manual focusing ring is a real benefit.

Speaking of ZEISS lenses, four ZEISS manual focus prime lenses make up my work kit: the classic ZEISS 25 mm f/2 Distagon; the ZEISS Milvus 35 mm f/2; the ZEISS Milvus 100 mm f/2 macro; and, the aforementioned ZEISS Milvus 50 mm f/2 macro. I use the latter for 90 percent of my work. ZEISS makes lenses for Nikon, Canon, and Sony mounts. They have unrivaled sharpness and micro-contrast, and such smooth and accurate manual focusing that you’ll forget autofocus exists!

-3- A good tripod and head are the most valuable—and least appreciated—photography necessity after your camera and lens. They are also the two pieces of gear most people need to replace the most. I use a tripod for almost every image I ever make.

There are other less expensive tripods and heads that will work well enough besides the Really Right Stuff (RRS) TVC-24L tripod with RRS BH-40 ball head that I recommend. But the RRS models suggested will be trouble-free for a lifetime. I have (and use) eight of their tripods, and they are solid, dependable, easy to use, and trouble-free. (If you need advice on justifying more tripods, just ask me!) Of all the things in this Wish List, these are the two that I would buy regardless of what I already owned or might own in the future.

-4- LensCoat Leg Wraps make the tripod more comfortable to carry and to use in both hot and cold temperatures. Red wraps are on the list, but they also have yellow, black, and many varieties of camo.

-5- The RRS L-Plate is almost as essential as the RRS tripod and head. Each L-Plate is custom fitted for specific cameras, and work with all Arca-Swiss compatible quick release systems. The ones in the Wish List are specifically for the Nikon D750 and Canon 6D MkII, respectively.

-6- Like RRS gear, Think Tank bags are nearly indestructible. Their Airport Advantage should hold everything you carry, except for the tripod, which can be attached to the outside. The bag is designed to fit in the overheads of commuter planes. Here’s a link to Think Tank site that will reward you with a free shipping and a free gift: Think Tank Link

-7- Of course, you need a polarizer almost all the time for vehicles and accident scenes. There are two in the Wish List. Both are 77 mm for either the Nikon 24-120 mm lens or the 24-105 Canon lens. The B+W loses 1-to-1.5 stops of light. The more expensive Heliopan loses only one stop of light. I originally used the B+W, but switched to the Heliopan when it came out. Getting that extra light helps, especially when you’re forced to handhold the camera.

-8- I use the Nikon SB-900/SB-910 flashes, but they have been replaced with the $600 SB-5000. While the SB-5000 would be superb for Nikon shooters, for half price, the Nikon SB-700 will work perfectly for what you will typically encounter. Same thing for the 430EX III-RT vs. the 600EX II-RT for Canon.

-9- With either the built-in flash or with the SB-700, you won’t need the full R1C1 macro flash kit. That kit includes a transmitter, but you won’t need it. By getting the 4804 R1 instead, you save $250 and still have all you need. This is obviously not a required piece of gear, but is most useful for macro. I use mine several times a week. The Canon macro kit comes with a wired transmitter and only two flashes.

-10- Even though I almost never use it, I included the Nikon SC-28 coiled remote flash cord because I was asked about it. I rely on the built-in wireless IR system instead.

Right now, just in time for Christmas, B&H has excellent (and very temporary) sale prices on: the D750 camera with 24-120 mm lens; the Nikon SB-700 Speedlight; the ZEISS 50 mm macro lens; and the Formatt Hitech 10-Stop ND filter. B&H has similar sale prices on Canon gear.

Hope these lists help. Please contact me if you have any specific questions.