I’m Oli. I’m a documentary and wedding photographer based in Melbourne, Australia, working under my brand Briars Atlas.
Since my first feature here, a few things have changed – my gear and my name! Separating my name from my brand was something I’d wanted to do for a while, but as everyone who works for themselves knows, sometimes you get pulled into the vortex of ‘being everything’.
So I made sure to take a step back, ask what I wanted this all to look like, and that meant changes in name, and changes in my gear system.
Changing my name meant I could both lean fully into weddings and celebrating everything within that genre, as well as doing the same for my personal and documentary work. That meant also zeroing in on the gear that was best for each of those businesses.
For a long while I’d been looking at the mirrorless space, and initially leaned into it with a Fujifilm XE-3. I still believe that the camera sensor was at least five years ahead of every other DSLR sensor on the market at the time.
With Canon releasing the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and now the Canon EOS R series, the market is nearly filled with cameras that have caught up.
I had a few criteria for upgrades. My system had to be battle proof (since I’m not known as being the most careful with my gear), smaller, and reliable with autofocus and low light shooting. These might seem like obvious things to want, but when I began shooting with the Fuji, I realised that using gear you trust means you shoot much less.
Here are the five main changes I made, in another half decade of photographing professionally:
- I upgraded to a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, and a Canon EOS R. The Canon EOS R is me leaning into the Canon mirrorless system, and it’s blown me away. I will be upgrading to the R5 or R6 when funds allow. The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV has turned out to be an incredibly reliable workhorse for Melbourne weddings that feels like an extension of my arm.
- I retired my Yashica 635G. This came with me everywhere, including to Antarctica for a documentary project, which will be featured on my personal site soon. Retiring this has meant I’ve leaned back into my other favourite, the Hasselblad 500CM, which has always been my ‘serious work’ film camera. Kodak-Alaris has been incredibly active and successful over the last five years, so that’s been an ongoing joy.
- I found ‘the one’ tripod: The 3-legged thing. I was engaged for a project (Homeward Bound) in Antarctica for a month and had to bring gear that was reliable, sturdy and nimble. I searched high and low for the perfect tripod, and this was it. Intelligently designed, light, and because I’m a sucker for nice engineering, beautiful to look at.
- I went rechargeable, properly. Yeah, I’m late to the party here. If you’re buying for fast-action work that you need to rely on, then you buy the best. I bought a set of 12 Eneloop Pros, and I charge them in a Panasonic BQ-CC55 and store the batteries as sets of four, charged and ready to go, in Keepow Storage holders.
- I bought some knick-knacks to keep me entertained: a trigger for my Canons so I could create a stop motion project in Antarctica and a 3D camera.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV – This is my Melbourne wedding photography workhorse, and I can’t say anything about it that’s not said elsewhere.
Canon EOS R – What people don’t say enough about in regards to this camera, is what a beautiful piece of industrial design it is. I want to use cameras that aren’t just functional, but a pleasing object and this hits all marks. Wonderful tracking and the flip screen allows me to all sorts of things that I can’t with the 5D Mark IV.
Sony RX100 V – An incredible point and shoot camera that punches well above its weight.
Panasonic BQ-CC55 – The best AA battery charger. Nimble and charges batteries individually with an LED cue as to which are done.
KEEPOW battery holders – I rotate in sets of four, so these cheap cases are perfect.
Canon TC-80N3 – This is my stop motion trigger. I love this! Also lets me take portraits without having my face buried behind the camera disengaging with my subject.
Sandisk Extreme Pro cards – I use a 128GB SD and 128GB CF in each camera (except the Canon EOS R, for the moment).
3 Legged Thing Punks Corey – I purchased this to get me through the conditions at the South Pole and on a moving ship, and it delivered. Despite being entry level, this little thing is a beast.
Samsung T3 portable SSD – I have two of these in 512GB, they are absolute lifesavers on the road. They’re a little old now, so I’d upgrade to larger ones in a heartbeat. Beautiful, slim, perfect for on the road backups.
G Drive 24TB drives – I have a pair of these, one for weddings and one for commercial and personal. Each is also manually backed up into two other locations, but I love this DAS setup because it stores everything I’ve ever shot. Since I have multiple backups and store my Lightroom catalogues on dropbox, I use these in Raid 0 for performance.
Diffusion FX – For when I need an ethereal, misty environmental feel to a portrait.
Lucky Straps – I use these for all my cameras.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM
Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM
I also upgraded my machine – I like the idea of not upgrading workstations any more than every five years. Last year I purchased a new Apple MacBook Pro 15” maxed out. Which naturally had a release shortly after doubling the RAM, but these are the cards we play. I love that I can do everything on this that I need to.
Thinktank Airport Roller – Previously I used a brilliant Lowepro shoulder bag. Well, the act of wearing all my gear on my shoulders ended up wearing thin. I love that this bag holds absolutely everything I need, fits in an aircraft and is built as its name implies.
Hasselblad 500CM – My ‘serious work’ camera. I use this with the 80mm T* lens.
Crown Graphic 4×5 – A lightweight 4×5 option.
Nimble 3D Camera – I use this to make 3D gifs for my wedding couples.
I use Kodak Tri-X, Portra 400, Ektar 100 film, as well as Cinestill 800 film for beautiful cinematic looks.
www.briarsatlas.com | @olisansom
Hiya. I’m Oli, and I live and work out of Melbourne Australia. I photograph weddings wherever I can, and try to spend the rest of the time on other non-commercial projects: more recently trying out street shooting, and now some other projects that involve stop-motion & much more planning.
I don’t have any deep, profound, or arty segue into photography, despite growing up working as an illustrator/animator, and then a career as a creative lead at digital agencies. The initial attraction to photography, honestly, was the “blurred background” thing a few years ago (pretty high-brow, huh?).
What is this, how do I get it?
So I did a little research and wound up with a Canon 40D, a Canon 50mm f/1.8, and a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. This setup saw me through my first trip overseas, and enabled me to get my head around the DSLR & manual thing in late 2009. I took heaps of amazing images of selectively-focused cups of coffee on that trip.
Following that, I rode the buy-sell-buy-sell curve, trying out new kit and endlessly upgrading. Finally, I settled on my ideal digital setup 2x Canon 5D MKII ’s, a Canon 35mm f/1.4L, and a Canon 85mm f/1.2L. One of the MKII’s has since been upgraded to a Canon 5D MKIII, and there was a Canon 135mm f/2L purchase in there too (since lost/stolen… RIP).
I’m not really a purist, I use primes because I like stripping away layers that get in the way of taking an image. For me, zoom is one of those layers. Simplicity of gear lets me get more creative with the actual images. It’s for that reason that I’ve moved towards larger & slower film formats for non-wedding work.
Recently through a competition I won a Fujifilm X-E2 with a Fujifilm 18-55mm f/2.8-4 lens. I wasn’t sure, honestly, that it would fit into my workflow. After 5 minutes testing it out and scrutinising the files, I was hooked, and decided my Canon 5D MKII had seen its day. I since sold the Fujifilm 18-55mm f/2.8-4 zoom and replaced it with the Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4, and it’s now the perfect second camera to accompany the heavier MKIII. The focus is fast enough (certainly no slower than a Canon body with the amazing Canon 85mm f/1.2L), and the files are super clean.
Soon I’ll be looking to move away from larger DSLR’s completely, so I’m not yet sure if the Fuji system or Nikon DF will be the answer to that.
I recently sold my Macbook Pro 13”, and upgraded to a Macbook Air 11”. I always knew that it’d be the perfect size before buying it, and was happy to see that was the case when it arrived. The loss of resolution is minimal compared to the Macbook Pro, and the size & weight make it perfect for travelling. The more I travel to shoot, the more I’m keen on going about it as minimally as possible. I’m travelling for 6 weeks now with just a single backpack that I can take on the plane. It’ll fit clothes, all my cameras, and the new Macbook Air. Poifict.
It’s pretty amazing to think how this could be in a few years for the digital minimalist: Lugging around just a couple of mirrorless bodies, 2 lenses, and a hotshoe flash.
Here’s a rundown of my current gear. Lowepro Passport Sling: This is my bag for weddings & travel: it fits 2x SLR’s, my lenses, speedlite, and all the other bits and pieces. Incred.
Lowepro Fastpack 250: This is when I need to carry a larger setup, aka recently: a trip intestate with a bunch of film photographers. This fit my large 4×5 field camera and all the film I needed.
Canon 5D Mark II: I’m yet to use the Fujifilm XE-2 at a wedding, but until then, the Canon 5D Mark II is literally just my second-lens holder at a wedding. I’ll use it for about 5 minutes when the bride is coming down the aisle, but for the rest of the day, this is just used to hold the lens that isn’t on my MKIII. People look at me as if I’m a bit unhinged when they find out it’s just a lens holder, but I don’t like Shootsacs, so with the Fuji now in the mix I’ve gotta look at it as an alternative way of holding my second lens.
Canon 5D Mark III: my main wedding workhorse. I no longer use this for anything else really, apart from the odd bit of commercial work where digital is a necessity. Can’t go wrong with this, but I’m looking for gear that’s easier on the hands now.
Gundlach Korona 4×5: A wooden grand-daddy from the 1920s. Fitted with a Copal 165mm lens. On a recent 8-day trip to the Northern Territory, I decided to take just this. Not sure I’d do it again, but it’s a beautiful piece to have around. This camera repelled bad attention when out shooting the streets (people really have no idea what you re doing), and attracted the good attention – curious folk that engaged and then were happy to be snapped.
Crown Graphic 4×5: Recently back from a service, this is my go-to 4×5 now. Fitted with a Kodak Ekta 127mm lens. Speed graphic 4×5: Fitted with the almighty Aero Ektar lens. Not mine, but an extended lease from a friend.
Hasselblad 500CM: I have this kitted out with a Hasselblad 80mm f/2.8. This will be my main personal and travel camera. Square format is one of my favourites, and the 500CM is a beautiful thing to use.
Yashica 635G: Currently broken, but this was my main personal-work unit, now replaced by the 500CM. Truth be told i’ll probably fix this and sell it. It’s a brilliant TLR, but I’m now struggling to see how I’ll apply it. Super light, and pretty well engineered for what I guess is a poor-mans Rolleiflex.
Canon 135mm f/2L: RIP – I’ll be re-purchasing this ASAP. This is a quick lens with beautiful colours and incredible subject separation. I’m missing this enormously. If you have my copy, please return it. I have cookies and make an excellent poached egg on smashed avocado, and you really really want that.
Canon 85mm f/1.2L: Say no more. What a beast. Slow as hell, this lens makes me work harder than anything else, but I love using it at all points across the day. It’s also the perfect focal length for creating stitched images, and It’s a dreamboat to free lens with. It’s less fun watching time slow down as it heads south towards a marble floor after falling off my MKII, but fortunately, it’s a beast and, you know, can just handle stuff like a boss.
Canon 35mm f/1.4L: Old faithful, on my camera most during the day. I can’t wait for Canon to upgrade the body of it though, so we aren’t paying a premium price for beautiful glass in a plastic tube that’s about as resilient as a sundried decrepit eggshell.
Canon 580EXII: Yeah, it’s a flash. Does it’s thing super well. Flashtastic.
Pentax 67II: I have this with the 3-lens kit: 55mm, 105mm, and 165mm. I purchased this purely for a single project. Once that’s done, I’ll probably sell this too. I don’t need more cameras than I actively use. This is one of the most amazing systems i’ve ever used. The mirror throw inside it is insane, so every click is pretty satisfying. Ka-thunk.
Fujifilm X-E2: Ideally the only digital camera I’d used when it called for it. This will be my second camera for upcoming weddings. Fitted with a 35mm 1.4 prime.
Nexto DI Portable Backup Drive: Throughout the day I throw a CF/SD card into it, and it pulls off the most recent images. It has 500GB storage, is never physically on me when at a wedding, so if I get eaten by a swam of carnivorous earthworms getting “the shot”, I know my images are backed up onto this. My couple won’t know how to get the images off it, but I’ll be dead, so whatevs. Thanks Jesse Hisco for the heads up with this! if I die on the job, i’m tasking you with helping my couple out.
Lacie Rugged 1tb HDD: As well as backing up onto my NextTO when shooting away from home, a copy goes straight onto this, which is kept in a separate bag.
Hahnel Unipal Plus: I only got this because my local store was out of Canon chargers (i lose gear, often). Turns out it charges just about any battery, has a car adaptor, and a USB plug to charge my phone. Sweet.
All the rest: Almonds, batteries, sticky tape, lip balm, power conversion plugs for overseas shooting.
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Thanks for the feature you marvels <3