What’s In Your Camera Bag?

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I visited Cuba, Ocean City, NJ, and Denver, CO over the summer. The three trips presented the opportunity to revisit what equipment I carry in my camera bag.

The real challenge for me — just like every other photographer — is to figure out which lenses to pack and which ones to leave behind, as well as what accessories do I really need. There will always be a photographic opportunity that the limitations of a travel bag will prevent you from meeting. It won’t allow you to bring all of your equipment. This is when the photographer must prepare well for the journey.

Think Scale

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First of all, I use a sizable journalist camera bag, the Oberwerth Heidelberg. It’s an ideal bag that allows me to carry two Nikon full frame DSLR bodies, three lenses, a speedlight, and a variety of other equipment. The pockets give me plenty of room for smaller devices like triggers, flashlight, chargers, raincoat for the camera, extra camera and AA batteries, and a cleaning kit. Finally, I carry a collapsible tripod in my carry-on bag.

I usually bring one utility lens, a fixed Sigma 35 mm or Zeiss 50 mm that can be used for all situations. Then the other two are specialty lenses that I use for specific situations. One is usually a long lens, either the Meyer Optik Trioplan 100, my Nikon 85mm, or Meyer-Optik Trimagon 95, and the other is my Nikon super 14-24 mm lens that I use for architecture shots like the above staircase.

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This combination of lenses lets me scale down and go out on individual shoots with one body and one lens (utility) or a combination of my long lens, and the utility or the wide angle lens.

Now I have to be honest. I am a big man, and I used to be able to carry my bag everywhere, all day fully loaded with no problems. But with my middle-aged back issues, it’s too heavy for long periods of time fully loaded. So now I think what I can bring in the bag for the whole trip and what can be unpacked at the hotel, and repack based on situations. For long trips I might even pack a second smaller camera bag like a Garmisch for short day trips.

Usually, I leave my back up Nikon body at the hotel or house rental. Then I decide which lenses to leave behind. In addition, I unpack back-up triggers, any extra filters, several AA batteries (leaving two in the bag in case I need to change the ones in my meter or flash), chargers, and extra camera bodies. All of these might be useful in the bag, but they won’t make or break most photographic opportunities (barring a camera fail).

I almost always keep the flash in the bag unless I know I am only capturing landscape/cityscape shots. You never know when you can use the flash for a portrait or to provide fill light, particularly if you have to photograph in the middle of the day. I also keep the camera’s back-up battery, extra SD cards, and the camera rain jacket.

Why One Utility, One Long, One Wide?

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The utility lens has obvious value. I always bring a lens that can address most situations. If the situation is wide, and I only have a 35 mm or a 50 mm, I can always stitch together two or three pictures. On the other hand, if I need a tight photo I can always crop in or move unusually close to the subject.

The long lens is helpful for a variety of situations. Yes, portraits and close-ups like the above shot I took with a Nikon 85 mm are obvious. But even in a landscape situation you need to focus in on specific areas of the subject. The opening sunrise photograph of the Ocean City, NJ beach was taken with a Trioplan 100. Could I have moved closer with a 35 or 50 mm lens? Sure, but the sun would have looked horribly small in comparison.

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The above parent/child elk photo was also taken with a Trimagon 95 mm. While an unconventional use of the portrait lens, it was another situation where a tight focus was needed to capture the animals as a primary focal point.

Finally, the 14-24 mm works well for me as I like capturing all sorts of architecture and corrosion shots. So this is something I use more frequently than most would. It is for my own art. You may have an art lens (like the Trioplan 100) that you prefer.

Don’t Forget the Tripod, Triggers and Flash

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Many people choose to forgo the flash, trigger, and/or tripod on their trip. I think that’s a big mistake. If you are serious about making your vacation or trip a photographic adventure, you will want these items.

Without a tripod and trigger, you lose the opportunity to take great low light photographs (like the sunrise/sunset pic) with long exposures. It also becomes difficult to photograph portraits and people unless you have a flash. Even in broad daylight, you want fill light like the above shot (taken with a 35 mm lens), which was shot at two in the afternoon. The sun can come top down and provide really harsh light and dramatic shadows and hooded eyes. You’ll either need a bounce or flash (used above) to resolve these situations. A flash is less awkward.

I’ve been out on enough photography trips to know that I need a second body (yes, I had one fail in the middle of a trip). I have also needed a rain jacket for my camera when a storm blows in. It’s understandable to see why some choose not to bring these items on their travels. Those are individual choices.

But no matter what, don’t forget to bring your tripod, triggers and flash. Yes, they weigh more. In my opinion, these items provide the difference between good and great photography portfolios for your travel journeys.

What would you add to your travel kit?

You can learn more about Geoff Livingston and see galleries from his Cuba trip on geofflivingston.photoshelter.com.

Originally published on the Meyer Optik blog.

Thoughts on Hawaii Pics and Equipment

I’ve had a chance to go through some of my Hawaii pictures (you can see the whole set to date here). Below find my thoughts on the various pieces of equipment that LensRentals provided.

Before I begin, I should say that equipment is great, but it doesn’t make a photographer or a great photograph. Cameras and lenses are but tools limited by the skills of the person who wields them, and to a lesser extent the technology used to forge them. In some cases, it was clear that the limitations of my skill set hurt the photos, and not the equipment. I’ll make note of those instances.

Nikon D810

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I was delighted that LensRentals included the D810 as I was looking at it as a potential replacement or second body to augment my Df.I was doubtful, though, having shot with its predecessor, the D800 before.

Photography is not my primary business, but I get paid more and more frequently, and expect to gross five figures this year from the effort. My Df is getting battle worn after nine months of the 365 Full Frame Project. Getting the right body matters.

The Pacific Ocean at Night

The coming D5 is interesting, but way out of my price range given the relatively low amount of income photography garners for me. I like the Nikon D810 a little better than the D750, as I take a ton of landscapes and architectural shots as well as periodic portraits. Plus I already own a D7100 so I am not overly impressed with the 24 Mp sensor. So in my mind, it was a second Df body or a D810.

I found the D810 to be a fantastic camera. The refinements over its predecessor, the D800, were significant enough that I enjoyed using the camera. It was fast with processing speed kicking the daylights out of the Df. The camera worked extremely well in low light situations, including night shots.

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When I focused well, the resolution was fantastic. The 36 mp allowed me to capture shots from afar and crop them significantly.

All of these are improvements over the Df. My one real knock on the D800 is that the sensor lacks some of the ability to pick up some light colors, particularly reds, magentas and purples. This was particularly true during the golden and early blue hours, when these colors tend to be subtle.

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Don’t get me wrong, I was able to pull some of this color out in Lightroom and when something was obviously red (see snail pic) it came out well. But in comparison to the Df sensor (which is the same as the D4), the colors just did not render as well. This was clear to me as soon as I got home and started taking pics with the Df again, too. Of course, that’s what the D4S (and eventually the D5) offer — the best of both worlds, plus some additional speed and capability.

In the end, I decided to buy the D810 for professional situations. I’ll use the Df still for sunset and sunrise pics as well as for macro pics of flowers. Poor me, two great cameras to rock pics with.

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 ED

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This is a fantastic lens that empowered me to get some great pics. Just really flexible and adaptive to situations, and the pics were rendered in a superior fashion. I have rented the 14mm Nikon and the 15mm Zeiss Distagon before, but I really enjoyed the ability to zoom with this lens.

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I decided to buy this as wide angle shots are a forte, and I am not so happy with my 20 mm 2.8 AF-D lens from Nikon. My current lens creates symmetrical imperfections in tight situations, which is bad for architecture shots.

Zeiss ZF.2 50mm f/1.4

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I can’t rave enough about this lens. I loved it. It was just a beast, great for both portraits and landscapes in some select situations, as you can see from both of these shots. The only issue was my lack of experience focusing manually which produced some blurred lemons (none of which will see the light of Internet day). I soon overcame this as you can see.

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I currently use the Nikon 50 mm 1.8, and it does a decent job, but I expect to upgrade at some point, and when I do it will be the Zeiss lens. A big huge thumbs up.

Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S

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Another fantastic lens that yielded a great result. I was thoroughly happy with this lens. I do own the 1.8G version, and found that while a little faster this rental lens did not offer enough of an improvement to warrant an upgrade. I think anyone with the 1.8G will be as happy with that lens as they would with the 1.4G. They’re both great pieces of glass.

Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED

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I requested this lens for some very specific purposes. I wanted a long telescopic lens to shoot volcanoes from a helicopter and to go whale watching.

In practice, I found the lens to be so big that it was hard to wield without a tripod. And it is a slower lens, so that didn’t help me in the mobile situations produce more shake.

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For example this whale was 300-400 yards off the bow of my boat. Focus/sharpness here is my issue, in large part because I was unused to handling the 80-400 mm lens. This is the type of lens real pros use for sports photography and to take pictures of wildlife. Frankly, using it well requires practice, and in my opinion stabilization in the form of tripods.

I already have a 28-300 mm lens, which is much smaller. Given how little I shoot in these scenarios, I feel like my existing lens is sufficient for telescopic use.

What’s Next for My Photography

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A big heartfelt thank you to LensRentals for letting me try out this equipment. I really appreciated it.

I have another three months left in the 365 Full Frame project with spring ahead. I’m looking forward to making the most of it. After that, I have signed up for a Santa Fe Photographic Workshop on lighting and portraiture. There is much to learn, and this is the area where I am least happy with my skills. Onward.

P.S. LensRentals provided the equipment to me at no charge. I was not paid by the company, and my reviews are direct and forthright. I have used LensRentals and some of its competitors before. I found the LensRentals experience to be excellent, and intend to use them for my future rental experiences.

A Photographic Adventure

We’re en route to the Big Island in Hawaii. It’s our tenth anniversary trip, truly a remarkable achievement. We made it.

When we were dating, I told Caitlin, “I’ll take you to Hawaii, babe.” Finally, that foolish boy’s promise has become a reality. I’m very excited for her to enjoy Hawaii, a place I have visited twice with great delight. And Soleil is with us, too, as she is only four and too young for a two-week visit with the grandparents.

Like all families we have our own interests. Caitlin wants to snorkel. I want to photograph the volcanoes and the Milky Way from atop Mauna Loa. Soleil wants to go whale watching, which I understand you can do from the beach (we’re not putting her on a boat).

How can I use this trip to create exceptional photos, some of my best yet? Let’s make it a photographic adventure instead of the usual Joe Tourist holiday and Facebook album. So how does one do that?

Gear

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First of all, I don’t own ideal equipment. Some of the lenses and my Nikon Df are very good, but there are some weaknesses. The good news is I have some help. My friend Philip Robertson connected me with the folks at LensRentals, who sported me a rig for the trip (I have not been paid, just given free equipment). Here is what they sent me:

  • Nikon D810
  • Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 ED
  • Zeiss ZF.2 50mm f/1.4
  • Nikon 85mm f/1.4G AF-S
  • Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED

The two telescopic lenses and the Zeiss 50 mm lens are superior to anything I own. They will produce exceptional images (provided I frame them and use the camera correctly). In addition, I needed the telescopic lens for my helicopter excursion over the volcanoes.

The 85 mm lens is more of a test for me. I own the less expensive 1.8f Nikon lens, and have always wanted to see what the difference was. I hope to put this to test in some low light situations, and see how the lens performs.

The D810 camera is a 36 megapixel beast. I have rented its predecessor, the Nikon D800, and opted to buy the Df instead. I liked the sensor a little more on the retro camera.

But as time progressed and my craft evolved, I came to appreciate the need for a faster, more versatile camera. Having a quicker shutter speed, better low light focusing, and sharper images would help in a wide variety of scenarios.

Many pros who shoot with Nikon equipment have told me the D810 is the best bang for the buck. I am considering the D810 as a potential next camera. Now I get to test it in a real scenario. Thank you, LensRentals.com for the opportunity to check all of this fine equipment out.

Commitment to Quality

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The other trick is to commit to quality. It would be really easy to walk around all day and shoot, and load a ton of images to Facebook. I don’t think that’s ideal, for you or for me.

What I’d rather do is post one great photo a day, the best of the best. That means 1) editing one photo a day, which can take 15-45 minutes based on my current workflow. The rest can wait until I get back.

And 2) I’d rather be intentional, setting aside certain times for photography, and spending the rest with my family. I know the gold and blue hours (one hour before and after the sunrise and sunset, respectively) are the best times to shoot. I intend to make the most of them.

Last, or 3) when I do shoot during the day it will likely be with the 50 mm or the 85 mm unless I am in the volcano shooting or whale-watching. I plan on daytripping with a lighter entourage. Then when I take a photo it will be to record a remarkable scene, not just because I happen upon a macadamia farm or there is a turtle on the beach. Unless of course that turtle is remarkable.

Most importantly, while I intend to take great pics, I’m most focused on having fun. After all, it is a vacation, and a special one at that.

You can see the pic a day on the 365FullFrame website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or on Google+. I also intend to start a Pinterest board. If I do happen to post more than one photo a day, it will only be on Flickr.

Let’s see where this goes! Mahalo.