The bulk of the photography for the project was started in late 2009 and finished on 5 November 2023.


However, a great deal of the aerial photography of the moor was undertaken prior to this and was shot using colour negative and colour transparency film from Royal Navy Sea King and Merlin helicopters and British Army Lynx, Wildcat and Gazelle helicopters whilst Neil was a Royal Navy photographer and I was working on projects for 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery and other British Army units. Cameras used were Navy issue Hasselblad 500CMs fitted with 80mm f/2.8 Planars and 150mm f/4 Sonnars and Nikon F4S and Nikon F5 cameras usually fitted with a NIKKOR AF-S 80-200mm f/2.8D IFED lens.  


Later aerial work, prior to the 2016 ban on drone photography over the moor, was undertaken using a DJI Phantom drone I believe, although now long since crashed and lost. The majority of the aerial work post-2016 has been done from Royal Navy Merlin Mk3 helicopters from 845 Naval Air Squadron and more frequently from light, highwing monoplanes such as the Cessna 172 which allows easy unrestricted views downwards once a door has been removed. Nikon D3S bodies, followed by Nikon Z 6 bodies, were used with the aforementioned NIKKOR AF-S 80-200mm f/2.8D and latterly with the NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/4G VR lens. The advantage of the f/4 version mounted on a Nikon Z 6 with an FTZ Adapter is that it offers substantially less wind resistance than the bulkier f/2.8 version. This was recently updated with the new NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8S that offers a considerable advantage in quality over both, although the extra bulk may increase wind resistance a little. Where possible photography is undertaken soon after dawn or near to dusk to allow the contours of the ground to be accentuated by the low sun.


Working on the ground, often in atrocious conditions (like lying for two hours in the freezing River Dart at Hexworthy just before Christmas in this shot above), brings its own set of problems. Generally one is encumbered by basic survival kit before even considering what cameras to use, so unless a car is within easy reach a compromise often has to be struck. Additionally situations sometimes arise that mean the best camera to use is the one that you happen to have with you! This can often be the ubiquitous iPhone, but a shot on a camera of dubious quality is always better than no shot at all.


Early on in the project Neil shot with a Lumix digital camera before I encouraged him to transition to the outstanding Olympus Tough TG-5, later replaced by the TG-6 version. This is a brilliant all-weather camera and, as its name implies, is built to take everything that Dartmoor can throw at it. It also shoots in RAW which is an absolute must. As the moor is so wet it has been found to be the ideal 'grab it and run' camera when you'd hesitate to haul a case full of Nikons around. However, the sensor size is really too small and the lens quality is less than you'd expect from this well-known manufacturer for really critical work.


Nonetheless there are plenty of times when only the best will suffice and heavy kit has to be carted round the moor, well away from the luxury of roads. Then in the early days Nikon D3S, along with lighter Nikon D300 bodies, were used. As noted above, when the Nikon Z 6 appeared this eased things considerably as two bodies are the same weight as a single Nikon D3S. Initially a venerable NIKKOR AF 20-35mm f/2.8D lens, along with my NIKKOR AF-S 80-200mm f/2.8D lens were used the most.


As demands increased so the amount of equipment needed grew, and soon I was regularly packing a Fisheye-NIKKOR AF 16mm f/2.8D, a NIKKOR AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR, a NIKKOR AF 50mm f/1.4D, a NIKKOR AF-S 50mm f/1.8G, a NIKKOR AF 85mm f/1.8, a Micro-NIKKOR AF-S 105mm f/2.8G, a NIKKOR AF-S 70-200mm f/4G VR and a bloody heavy NIKKOR AF-S 200-400mm f/4G VR lens.


Along with a pair of Nikon Z 6 bodies I've added the brilliant NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4S S-Line and NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4S S-Line lenses. A new Nikon Z 9 was added in mid-2022, along with the NIKKOR Z MC 50mm f/2.8, the NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S-Line and the outstanding NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S-Line lenses. I sold all my DSLR bodies and F-mount lenses, bar a NIKKOR AF-S 200-500mm F/5.6E VR that I bought to fill a gap before the NIKKOR Z 180-600mm was announced. Then I purchased a superb Viltrox AF 28mm f/1.8 Z lens which fills a gap in the NIKKOR Z range and is outstanding in low light, being used first for a night-time smelt at Black Tor in late October 2023.


All this was further bulked out with GoPro HERO 3+, GoPro HERO 4, Akaso and Sorfola action cameras when underwater shots were needed (although I am really not impressed by GoPros any longer as they exhibit all manner of glitches), Manfrotto tripods, remote triggers, Nikon Speedlights and other miscellaneous kit that is always essential. I use both Think Tank and LowePro bags as appropriate for the kit and expected conditions.


I also had a Zhiyun Weebill-S hand-held stabilised gimbal that was outstanding for the video work that was shot to complement the book's accompanying web site, although lack of use eventually meant that it was donated to my daughter!


However, in its place we have just purchased the superb DJI Ronin RS 3 Pro gimbal and a Nikon Z30, which allied to the new Viltrox AF 75mm f/1.2 lens, will make filming for the soon to be released 30 minute documentary absolutely stunning.


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The Equipment