Desert photographer Michael Martin: My favorite Nikon lenses


Dusty affair: Michael Martin exchanging lenses in the Danakil Desert, Ethiopia.

Photo: Michael Martin

Michael Martin is one of the most famous professional photographers in Germany. When he’s not filling large halls with his multivision shows like “Planet Desert”, the Nikon Ambassador explores the remotest corners of the world. The great travel and nature photographer tells CHIP which cameras, lenses and other accessories he could always count on on his expeditions.

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Michael Martin is happy: Recently he was in the context of the re-launch of his autobiography “The world in the viewfinder” on stage in Munich. As the Covid pandemic eases, he can finally live againLectures about his travels adhere to the fascinating landscapes of this earth.

The likeable adventurer and qualified geographer not only talks about the special challenges and moments of happiness, but also freely reveals which equipment he found really helpful on his expeditions. He has been taking photos with a Nikon DSLR for years and always has an impressive arsenal of professional zooms and fixed focal lengths in his photo backpack.

Fast and reliable: Premium DSLRs from Nikon

Like many professional photographers, Michael Martin has been loyal to the traditional Nikon brand for years. The Nikon D5 is its main camera worldwide travel, This is also the case now for his current project “Terra – Faces of the Earth”, which is to appear as an illustrated book, film and multi-vision show at the end of 2022. He can always rely on the premium SLR, which is characterized by excellent autofocus and high continuous shooting speed. The camera is no longer available as new, but was replaced in 2020 by the Nikon D6, which is included in our Leaderboard full frame cameras scored “very good”. The innovations are manageable, however, so Martin sees no reason to switch to the successor model or even a DSLM.

“Even if the latest mirrorless system cameras have even better sensors and eye recognition for autofocus, I’ll hold onto my D5 for a while,” says the extreme photographer.

Michael Martin always has a second camera with him for emergencies, the Nikon D850. This DSLR also has a full-frame sensor and is a popular professional camera, for example for portrait photography. However, the desert photographer admits that he rarely uses this Nikon. the Nikon D850 is significantly cheaper and costs “only” around 2,500 euros, and it also scored “very good” in our test center.

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Zoom lenses for great landscapes

Michael Martin’s basic equipment includes four Nikon zooms with F-bayonet, which operate the focal length ranges wide-angle, standard, telephoto and super-telephoto. Three of them offer a continuous light intensity of f / 2.8, which means that this open aperture is also available at maximum zoom. That makes the lenses heavy and expensive, but also so valuable for travel photography: This light intensity allows the photographer to take photos without a tripod even at “edge of day”, i.e. even at dusk or during the so-called blue hour.

The magnificent specimen under its lenses is so large that there is no space in the photo backpack. The Nikkor 180-400mm f / 4.0 weighs a whopping 3.5 kilograms and comes in a separate lens case. “In addition to the standard zoom, this lens is my most important tool,” says Martin. In addition to the excellent image quality, it is characterized by an integrated 1.4x teleconverter that extends the focal length to a maximum of 560 mm. Unfortunately, the good piece is so expensive that it is now in the five-digit range, which is why it is actually the only lens in Michael Martin’s photo backpack that did not pass the standardized test by CHIP and is in the best list Zoom lenses for Nikon F bayonet is missing.

Important for extreme shooting conditions in the desert: All Martin zooms are protected by a rubber lip on the bayonet against the ingress of splash water or dust. Super tele, tele and standard zoom are also image stabilized. “That allows me to expose at least two steps longer than the reciprocal of the focal length would allow,” explains Martin. According to this rule of thumb, for example, you should only take photos with your hand at a focal length of 200mm if an exposure time of 1/200 seconds or less is set, as otherwise the picture could be blurred by blurring. Image stabilized Nikon lenses have the abbreviation VR (Vibration Reduction) in the product name.

All Michael Martin lenses are designed for full-frame DSLRs from Nikon (F bayonet), but they also perform very well on the popular, cheaper Nikon DSLRs with a smaller DX sensor. And with an FTZ adapter, they are also very suitable for Nikon’s mirrorless cameras with a Z bayonet, such as the Nikon Z5.

Prime lenses for portraits with bokeh

In addition to zooms, there are also three fixed focal lengths in the adventurer’s photo backpack. He uses two of them for portraits of people he meets on his travels: “With the 28 mm wide angle I get more of the surroundings in the picture, the 105 mm telephoto lens shows a narrower section of reality,” says Martin. “Unfortunately, I use the 105 mm macro far too seldom”.

The two portrait lenses offer a light intensity of even f / 1.4, which goes hand in hand with a particularly professional look. “When the aperture is fully open, the face is completely sharp, while the foreground and background recede with wonderful bokeh,” explains the professional photographer. These lenses are not image stabilized, which would make little sense anyway for moving subjects such as portraits.

What else could be useful

What else can be found in Michael Martin’s photo backpack? A polarizing filter is always included, which he often used on his analog cameras to make colors stronger. “Today it is much easier and faster with digital post-processing,” says Martin. The ND32 gray filter is also rarely used in the meantime. “I can use it to expose for several seconds, for example to blur the movement of water or clouds,” he explains. “Without a tripod, however, it is of no use”.

The carbon tripod with the Novoflex ball head is one of Martin’s oldest photo equipment, which he still likes to use. Due to the unusual construction, the ball head does not sit in a shell, but rather the camera rides on it. “This means that the ball head is always squeaky clean,” says Martin. “Unfortunately, only the blue anodizing has suffered from the many sandstorms in the deserts”. The Novoflex model from Martin is no longer available, the Magicball tripods have a similar design as the one Novoflex Triopod Travel MagicBall.

Martin has now completely banned the clip-on flash from his photo backpack. The experienced professional finds that it still made sense as an artificial fill-in light in analog photography, even if the result always looked somehow artificial. “Today the sensors are much more sensitive to light, and a flash would only destroy the mood in many subjects. Today, areas that are too dark can be brightened up in post-processing without much effort,” says the photographer.

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