I’m not normally one to expound on the virtues of gear, instead I usually like to reroute conversations about equipment back to what I actually care about: taking beautiful photos. But in some cases, I kind of have to tip my hat to my gear and recognize it for what it does well. It may be about the final image, but sometimes that final image wasn’t possible without my equipment.

When I got into photography I got the Nikon D60 as my first camera and learned on it in high school. At the time, I was only a little interested in photography and was doing it mainly as one of several hobbies. But when I went to college in San Francisco with a focus on web graphic design, I found myself taking more and more photos for my class projects. The more I shot, the more I realized I loved it. I picked up the Canon 5D Mark III as my first “professional” camera in 2010, and built my time-lapse career around that. Not long after, I bought the original Canon 6D and eventually put more shutter actuations on that than on the 5D Mark IV. It might be my favorite camera Canon has ever made.

As my career has progressed, I have stuck with Canon because I’ve been a huge fan of overall build quality, ergonomics and user experience. As much as I might want to switch to another camera purely for the sensor, that one thing has not been enough for me to want to give up everything else that Canon gets right. I love the battery life, the incredible durability (they’re very hard to kill), and the general longevity of their equipment. When I had the 5D Mark III and the 6D, it took me years to think I needed to upgrade. I was very satisfied with the the product. When I finally did decide to get new equipment, I decided that the 5DSR and the 1DX II would be a good combo for me.

The 1DX II kind of speaks for itself: it’s an incredible camera. Aside from being quite heavy, it ticks just about every box for me as a hybrid photographer and videographer. The photos are outstanding, it shoots 14 frames a second which is normally way more than I would ever need, and it comes with some very impressive video capabilities that I’ve used to grow my business from just a time-lapse and photo-based brand to full-on multimedia.

I wanted to pick up a high megapixel camera because I am moving a part of my business more into fine art prints, and the high megapixels means more quality even when the viewing distance is only a few inches away.

I have grown to like it more and more as I use it. It’s no secret that the 5DSR isn’t good at a lot of things. It’s a highly specialized camera. As you get used to it, you find better ways to use the device and knowing its limits. Once you know the limits, you know what you can and cannot do. Could I do more if I had different gear? Maybe, but experience and practice has let me know what I can make work.

So why not medium format then? I’ve owned medium format, and tried it. I love the quality, but in terms of the kinds of images I capture (outdoors, out of helicopters, airplanes and in the rough of the Alaskan bush) , a medium format is not going to be much better, if any better at all.

With the combination of the 1DX II and the 5DSR, I have a good balance. I can shoot with the 5DSR when I want high megapixels and tons of quality, but when a situation moves outside of what I know the 5DSR can handle, the 1DX II can slip right in and take over.

Where is this going? Well, specifically I used both these cameras to capture a once-in-a-lifetime project in conjunction with the CAF, the Commemorative Air Force, in Alaska. The whole shoot was absolutely incredible for me, with a lot of unexpected twists and turns (as shoots tend to go). There is a lot to the whole story, and for that I urge you to check it out on Planet Unicorn. In short, I was able to capture images that may never be shot again thanks to some beautiful aircraft and even more beautiful scenery.

When I accepted this job, I did so knowing that I could rely on my Canon EOS 1DX II to fill multiple roles. I’m primarily a photographer, so I needed a camera that met certain focusing requirements when things got particularly fast-paced. But I was also going into this knowing I wanted the option to make very large artistic photo prints from some of the shots, and therefore the 5DSR was going to be necessary.

In my previous shoots out of airplanes, I learned that the experience was very different than what I had been used to, which was shooting out of helicopters. Everything is moving a lot faster, wind speeds are even more apparent, and selecting the right kind of aircraft is even important (overhead wings are a must, for example).

When you see a job and the its requirements, it’s important to realize it’s not just about your personal skill and it’s not just about the equipment. In order to succeed here, I had to think about all of the pieces together.

When the time came to capture images, I alternated between my 1DX II and my 5DSR, using the 1DX II mainly for video but also for stills when I wanted those 14 frames per second. The fact that both my high resolution camera and my video/fast camera were both Canon meant that there was no difference between how they handled in my hands, and no mental strain I needed to put myself under to remember two different systems and how they operated all in the heat of a moment I only had one chance to capture.

After I landed and reviewed my images, I was overjoyed. I got exactly what I was hoping to capture in the way I had visualized capturing them. Like with all photographers and all jobs, the best equipment is the kind that allows you to be the best version of yourself. When I look at what I was able to do with those old warbirds flying over ancient volcanoes and the harsh landscape of Alaska, I’m filled with joy. I pick up a camera because I want to make beautiful images. In the end, that’s all that matters.