What’s In Your Camera Bag?

27871282612_8a010a8ab5_k

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

Walk This Way 1200

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.

27932918051_f062447929_k

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?

Diana 1200

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.

27378415873_e5c6571c42_k

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

27868430500_c52ebbc745_k (1)

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

16391071734_017f3c0ac2_k (1)

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.

16955449800_5b351db54e_k

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.

17201107472_6e07e7c547_k

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

17007294390_4dd1f3cca8_k

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.

16851588989_64a8038836_k

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

16988040785_c23b8ecb45_k

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.

16851599879_6282f68777_k

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

17061167321_27f2cfb3ba_k (1)

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

16844921820_8e91e96e88_k (2)

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.

17192978852_2f9fa7b701_k

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

17155326881_e4db49a25d_h

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.

Smartphones Will Not Replace Cameras Altogether

My friend Richard Binhammer forwarded me an article that theorizes that the new iPhone 6 is the harbinger of the end of the camera. I couldn’t help but think that this is true for point and click cameras, but not for higher end photographic equipment.

The theory has merit. MP3 players were replaced by smartphones. Before that pagers were replaced by phones. So it makes sense that phones would also replace cameras. After all, point and click just a basic function. You can see the result of basic point and click throughout Instagram.

The article theorizes that the new iPhone 6+ is the closest to replacing the standalone camera. It says “NETWORK+SOCIAL+APPS=CAMERA.” Meaning digital photography on phones embellished with apps is good enough to post now on social, effectively rendering the camera useless.

Yes, the smartphone marks the end of the point and click camera. Why bother spending $200-$500 on a camera that is marginally better than the small brick that’s already in your pocket?

A real photographer will want more. The fickle nature of serious photography demands more functionality than what basic point and click cameras offer. A real camera offers more.

Just start with RAW files that allow you to examine rich data assets about your photo. The way a camera interprets the light is often wrong. That’s why images don’t look exactly like you remembered them. A pro photographer or an amateur enthusiast uses more advanced equipment to capture how light refracts, and uses editing software to improve or interpret a photo.

The Photographer’s Mindset

16891646901_69b7c57251_k

The camera itself is but a tool. And all tools are not created equal. A Swiss Army knife is not a Shun blade. Nor is a Smartphone a full-frame camera, a high-end Micro 4/3 camera, or even a high end crop camera like a Nikon D7200.

High end cameras and their sensors are not things that you can bolt onto a phone. I am not sure why you would you want to do that. The same goes for the prime and telephoto lenses that you can use with a DSLR or micro 4/3 camera.

Frankly, a smartphone’s form factor makes it difficult to grip and shoot like a camera body. What is good for is a compact computational device to communicate with and play with various media. Much like a Swiss Army knife is handy to do

I agree that the iPhone OS is superior to the Nikon OS. But that’s about where the theory ends for me.

See, I have an iPhone 6+, and I can tell you there is no way any bolt-on sensor or lens modification will compare to my Nikon Df. The iPhone is incapable of giving me the clarity, light sensitivity, depth of field, or scenery data I need to edit a photo and make it beautiful.

Strapping on Lenses and Sensors on to an iPhone

16873670105_87e59759d3_k

The article cites, “for $200 you can add a telephoto and a wide angle lens from Moment.” Then it encourages you to look at the Moment Instagram feed. These are very, very good iPhone pics. In fact, they are as good as most point and click camera shots I see, and it’s clear they are taken by a real photographer.

But I know I can do better on my camera.

Once you mess around with a really good lens like a Zeiss Distagon or the Nikon 14 mm lens, you understand that all glass is not created equally. Great glass paired with a decent sensor interprets light in ways no iPhone in the next five to ten years will ever come close, too. Even the Nikon 1.8 50 mm lens is superior to anything the iPhone/Moment combo can offer (at least based on their Instagram feed).

The idea that you would want to post a photo right after taking it is also the mindset of a true novice. Once you learn Lightroom you never go back. I can’t imagine not futzing with a Raw file to see how I might interpret the scene. The above dawn scene is a direct result of opening the RAW file and processing the image. The camera’s interpretation of the shot (e.g. point and click) sucked, in my opinion.

This is why photography enthusiasts are going to demand more than what a smartphone offers. You simply cannot paint a portrait or a scene the same way with a jack-of-all-trades smartphone that offers basic point-and-click functionality.

Launching the 365 Full Frame Project #365FF

A couple of weeks ago I asked folks to consider the 365 Full Frame project. Today the project offically launches as a photo blog.

The project began publishing on Friday to help populate the site for today’s launch. The featured image for this post is today’s photo, a shot of McWay Falls in Big Sur. For the remaining 361 days starting tomorrow, the project will publish one high resolution full frame photo a day at 4:00 p.m.

Generally, these photos will be posted on the 365 blog, Pinterest, Google+, Twitter and a cropped version on Instagram. Facebook friends will only see some, but not all posts.

You can see the site has a minimalist blog design. It pretty much is all about the photos, and works well on mobile. That’s what made the most sense to me. Frankly, it’s nice to post because the images are worth sharing and for no other reason, a refreshing return to the old days of social media.

More on #365FF

14627598081_ae3a746961_k

In all, 12 supporters came together to raise $2700 to fund the purchase of a a Nikon Df sans the lenses. Each of them has select licensing rights.

Anyone can share the images. Folks that purchase licenses for the photos will help buy more equipment. Rather than become a true professional photographer, I’d rather trade photo rights for more gear. Seems like a fair trade to me, and it helps fuel my hobby.

Thank you to everyone who helped get me here, from supporters to good pals like Richard Binhammer (who may guest photoblog on 365) and others who encouraged me along the way. It’s cool to have an outlet for my photography.

Again, thank you for encouraging me!