Bjørn Rørslett - Professional Nature Photographer:
Equipment Area

  | Favorite equipment | Nikkor 300 f/2 | Tripods | Film scanners | Digital archiving | Home-made equipment |  


My current favourite Nikon bodies and lenses are as follows,

Nikon S3
(Love at First Sight)
21 mm f/4 Nikkor
28-45 mm f/4.5 Zoom-Nikkor
50 mm f/2 Nikkor AI
Nikon F2 Titan
(The Ultimate Mechanical Camera)
25-50 mm f/4 Zoom-Nikkor (A superb lens for nature and landscape photography)
105 mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor
(Arguably the sharpest of them all)
Nikon D2X
Nikon D200(UV)
Nikon D1X
Nikon D70(UV & IR)
Fujifilm Finepix S3Pro UVIR

(today's bread-and-butter cameras)

Nikon F5
(largely eclipsed by the digital onslaught, but a wonderful camera on its own)

AFS 12-24 mm f/4 DX Nikkor
16 mm f/3.5 Fisheye-Nikkor (AI)
AFS 17-35 mm f/2.8 Nikkor
AFS 17-55 mm f/2.8 Nikkor
28 mm f/3.5 PC Nikkor (customised as a tilt/shift lens, take a look here)
AFS 28-70 mm f/2.8 Zoom-Nikkor
50-300 mm f/4.5 ED Zoom-Nikkor
70-180 mm f/4.5-5.6 AF Micro-Nikkor (modified)
85 mm f/1.4 AF-IF Nikkor
85 mm f/2.8 PC-Micro-Nikkor (Tilt/shift)
105 mm f/4.5 UV Nikkor
200 mm Nikkor f/2 ED-IF, replaced by AFS 200 mm f/2 VR]
AF 200 mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor
300 mm Nikkor f/2.8 ED-IF
300 mm Nikkor f/2.8 ED-IF AFS
500 mm Nikkor f/4 P ED-IF
+ about 140 other Nikkors !
Nikonos V
Nikonos II
(going down under, just to have fun)
UW-Nikkor 15 mm f/2.8
plus the 28/3.5 UW, 35/2.5 W and 80 mm f/4 Nikkors for the Nikonos line
... and ... Canon TS 35 mm f/2.8 Tilt/shift lens modified for Nikon

Rodenstock 50 mm f/0.75 TV-Heligon
Rodenstock 75 mm f/1.1 XR-Heligon
(Extreme Speed, Extreme Fun)

(rotate your visions into wide, sweeping vistas)
Panorma camera with a 137 ° angle-of-view achieved with a rotating lens of superb quality. You get a lot of space into each frame, often including your own fingertips.
Voigtländer Bessa-L
(Beware of Retro Rockets, they may get you off-course)
With Heliar 15 mm f/4.5 lens. Retro looks, but not even a rangefinder is included. Heaps of fun to use, though. If only the build quality could match the usefulness of this setup, I'd be happy.
Hasselblad XPAN I'm a seasoned XPan user. Read the review here.
Photomacrography is conducted with a Nikon Multiphot and the Macro-Nikkor lenses (19/2.8, 35/4.5, 65/4.5, and 120/6.3). Plus the odd Zeiss Luminar lens.

For large-format photography, I use the following items
Arca-Swiss F-line 6x9, 4x5" (8x10" just arrived) Nikkor 65 mm f/4
Schneider 90 mm f/8 Super-Angulon
Nikkor 120 mm f/5.6 ED-AM
Nikkor 270 mm f/6.3 ED
Nikkor 360 mm f/8 ED
Nikkor 500 mm f/11 ED
Linhof Technika 6x9 Ultra-Micro-Nikkor 28 mm f/1.8
Olympus 38 mm f/2.8 Macro
(also for 35mm photography)
Pinhole contraptions 8x10" and counting


Statistics being a professional field for me, it is only natural that I can provide some numbers regarding my lens choices. The figures for Year 2000 are as follows,

22% AFS Nikkor 17-35 mm f/2.8 ED-IF
15% AF Micro-Nikkor 200 mm f/4 ED-IF
14% Nikkor 300 mm f/2.8 ED-IF
11% AF Nikkor 85 mm f/1.4 IF
9% Nikkor 50-300 mm f/4.5 ED
6% AFS Nikkor 28-70 mm f/2.8 ED-IF
5% UV-Nikkor 105 mm f/4.5
4% Micro-Nikkor 105 mm f/4
3% Nikkor 200 mm f/2 ED-IF
10% Some 20 different lenses, mostly Nikkors

If anything, this compilation sums up the fact that I tend to stick to a small array of long-time favourites which simply suit me and my way of capturing images.

That year, 89 % of my images were obtained using my Nikon D1 system, whilst 6% came from various Nikon SLR bodies, 3% from the Hasselblad XPan and 2% from my Arca-Swiss view-camera. Frankly, I had no prior idea that digital would sweep the floor this efficiently.

In 2001, the Nikon D1X arrived to replace my D1 as the bread-and-butter camera. Concurrently, the digital percentage rose even further and now stands at some 95% of my total shootings. I do however spend considerable time doing just "old-fashioned" large-format work besides the digital stuff. Just to keep my brain and mind fresh and receptive for any visual idea floating around out there. Recently, in 2002, I even added some special film-based cameras such as the Noblex Panorama and Voigtländer Bessa-L, purely for the fun of it. To show I'm not that easily steered off-stream with these analogue contraptions I recently purchased a Nikon D1H body, too.

Recently, I moved on to the D2H camera and the petite D70 as an inobtrusive companion. My D2X has been ordered and probably will replace the D1-series cameras in due time.

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Nikkor Lenses Galore

To be a successful nature photographer, you must realise that size does count. My 300 mm lenses range from the exotic f/2 ED-IF Nikkor (left, at 7.1 kg truly the ultimate "macho" lens), the splendid manual-focus f/2.8 ED-IF, f/2.8 ED-IF AFS, and the pedestrian f/4.5. Perhaps I'm a little crazy but I do have the opportunity to select the lens best suited for a given task ...
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Sachtler Tripods

All my cameras and lenses, be they light or heavy, are put to good use mounted on one of my Sachtler tripods. You never heard about the Sachtler? Pity on you - they are the lightest and sturdiest tripods to be found anywhere. Follow the link to find out why they are so attractive. My standard all-purpose tripod, a medium-sized Sachtler, tips the scales at 1.2 kg and supports a 600/4 with ease. This tripod has followed me around the world and an additional benefit is that I can carry it - recklessly slung over the shoulder - into any airplane cabin.

Recently, due to my renewed interest in long lenses and a bout of back pain (events in that order so draw your own conclusions), I have pressed Sachtler ENG 2 CF tripods into service as my main tripod. This newcomer is quite big so I now can have a better working position, but still it is very light (just 2.4 kg), has a load capacity up to 90+ kg, and is made of carbon fibre. Combined with the Burzynski ball head, I cannot wish for a more rock-bottom solid foundation for all my cameras. I liked it so much I purchased another, even heavier duty version ENG 2 CF HD, to complement the CF. The HD also is used with a Burzynski head.

My tripods would be much less useful without my customised "L" brackets for the camera bodies. Click here for a quick look at this deceptively simple, but highly versatile equipment.

Here in Norway the Sachtlers have evolved to become the inside tip for nature photographers. Funny though that by being designated as video tripods they are outside the scope of ordinary photography? Who cares as long as they work and that they indeed do - no more fiddling with recalcitrant Gitzos for me.

On top of each tripod there should be a high-quality tripod head. I much prefer ball heads because of their great operational flexibility, but getting a ball head of sufficient supportive strength isn't easy. For many years now, a heavy-duty Foba Superball has served me and my lenses well, recently to being superceded by the astonishing Burzynski head.

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Film Scanners and Computers

I do most of my scanning using either of two Nikon scanners, LS-2000 and LS-8000ED. In addition, there is a Nikon LS-1000 scanner mainly used for scanning negative 35 mm film, and a Polaroid Sprintscan 45 for scanning 4x5" slides. Each scanner device is connected to its separately dedicated PC workstation with plenty of RAM installed (NT 4.0 with 512 MB for LS-2000, NT 4.0 with 2048 MB for Polaroid 45 and LS-1000, and Windows 2000 with 2048 MB for the LS-8000ED). Operating speed is undoubtedly highest using the LS-1000 with its Silverfast plug-in for Photoshop, whilst LS-2000 is significantly slowed down by all its bells and whistles. Not to say that these won't come in handy sometimes - I especially like the dust-removal feature of the LS-2000 and its higher Dmax range. An in-depth review of the LS-2000 and its potential is found on Steve Hoffman's web site. The LS-8000ED is annoyingly slow, but makes up for this by its superb scan quality. Its Digital ICE handles dust and scratches even better than LS-2000, but the associated software is appalling.

The Nikon Twain driver for LS-2000 has an awful user interface, however, and a 16-bit program core makes it run slow on my NT machines. In fact, Nikon did even worse with the driver for LS-2000 than they managed with that of LS-1000, a feat I thought couldn't possibly be beaten. Even at release level 2.2 the Nikon Scan software is badly designed and buggy. Stick to lenses and camera design, Nikon! I now employ the new Silverfast module for LS-2000, which does allow unprecedented fine-tuning of the LS-2000 to extract the utmost details from the scanned images. This module runs using a SF-200 slide feeder to alleviate manual operation of my LS-2000. I have for the moment decided not to "upgrade" to an LS-4000ED scanner instead of the LS-2000, because the current setup works very well in providing me with a smooth and reliable work flow. I built a small NT4 box for running the LS-2000, and the entire system fits neatly and inobtrusively on top of one of my filing cabinets. There it stands, out of way, continously scanning and feeding the image files onto the huge scratch disks of my workstations. I even control the PC remotely using AT & T Labs free software WinVNC.

The Polaroid is operated with the Insight 4.51 software running under NT 4.0. This software is straightforward, simple to use, and delivers excellent quality scans from normal 4x5" chromes. The dynamic range of the scanner is a little on the low side thus it has increasing problems taking on images which are underexposed or having high contrast. The Polaroid by the way isn't endowed with world-breaking scanning optics either, so scans from anything smaller than 4x5" format are not really sharp.

In 2001, I added an LS-8000 ED scanner to enable me to scan images from 120 film, that is, 6x9 and (with some fiddling around) 6x12 shots. The LS-8000ED scans my XPan and Noblex panoramic slides directly, so saves me valuable time as well. I had to set up a Windows 2000 machine (dual-CPU, 2 GB of RAM) to accommodate the firewire connection, and satisfy the physical needs of the LS-8000 scanner. My prior low enthusiasm for Windows 2000 has not been rekindled. The system works, but Internet Explorer constantly and adversely interferes with the scanning, CD burning is confused to the extent of thrashing the CDs because the scanner masquerades as a SCSI unit but isn't, and network connections repeatedly are disconnected by the system although I have specified them to be permanently alive. To complete the picture, digitale file processing runs up to 40% slower than on NT4 machines with identical hardware. In short, Windows2000 is just a pain in the ass. Take all your bugs, bells and whistles, Mr. Gates, and stick them where they belong. My few, involuntary glimpses of Windows XP shows there is little hope for the near future.

From any of the scanning stations, digital images are transmitted over my Gigabit Ethernet LAN to be stored on the main photography server. This server has been upgraded repeatedly by adding more and more disk capacity to it, now up to over 1.500 GB. I have also added another server running the search engine (Index Manager) and Color Factory post-processing/routing on my photographic database, two new workstations with 480 GB temporary storage to hold digital files during their processing stages, a Linux proxy server, firewalls, a print server, and a back-up station which runs automated backups on all new or modified image files acrosse the entire intranet. These days, computers take up much more room in my offices than my traditional photographic equipment. Come to think of it however, computers are inseparable from today's photographic gear.

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Digital Archiving

My choice for digital archive has been ImageAXS. Several versions exist but some of the recent ones are difficult to run under NT, at least on my dual-processor systems. Patching the ODBC drivers helped in some but not all situations. I finally managed to get all my machines upgraded to running version 4.1 of ImageAXs, but please don't ask me how. I finally replaced ImageAXS with a new software package developed by myself (it's backwards compatible to the ImageAXS data base), to get a fully-fledged digital storage and achiving system. All images are retrieved using Code 39 and Code 128 barcodes and a CCD-type barcode reader. I have recently added FotoStation modules (Pro and ED) which co-exist with ImageAXS, utilise the same digital image files, but have the added advantage of high-speed indexing and searching through a search engine (Index Manager by FotoWare) on a dedicated server. The images and their textual data float seemslessly between the various data entry and retrieval modules, and I for one am quite satisfied for the time being with my setup. It works and it is blindingly fast.

A digital archive clearly needs comprehensive digital storage facilities. Until the last couple of years, I store my images on big SCSI (IBM) and MO (Fujitsu) disks. MO disks are far more expensive than CD-ROMs, but the medium offers great advantages by being much more flexible in practice and more reliable. Longevity of the MO disks is vastly superior to CD's and they stand handling far better. Currently I have more than 2.500 GB of image data stored on my system. To make headroom for more data and to cut future expenses I now employ inexpensive RAID solutions based upon IDE disks, which are much cheaper than their SCSI counterparts. IBM used to produce fast, reliable and quiet hard disks, but their "DeskStar" series really deserves their "DeathStar" nickname as I had nearly 10 of them crashing in a short while. I now have switched to Samsung disks instead. My new image server features 1.500 GB worth of these and its dual Xeon design with 4 GB of RAM has the raw power to shuffle image data at high speed. Five Yamaha and Plextor CD burners (SCSI) help churn out the huge number of CD discs that are needed to store all the image data from my D1/D2-series cameras and the film scanners.

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What else? Oh yes - Home-made photographic items


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Last Update 18 September, 2006