Camera Gear

Posted: July 9, 2014 in Planning & Preparation, Tricks & Gear

On our last trips, I carried my trusty Canon G11 point and shoot. It’s a super solid camera, shoots great pictures and can be easily carried in a travel bag or even a big pocket in a jacket or pair of pants. And it takes pretty decent pictures. But it only shoots SD (640×480) video and I found it limiting at times (not enough zoom, not enough wide angle, flash was kind of weak, etc.) so this year I decided to go back to carrying a dSLR and a more complete camera kit.

Of course I’ve been shooting so much with my Canon the last couple of years that I had pretty much forgotten how to use my Nikon d70 and it was getting a little long in the tooth anyways… so I decided I should upgrade my camera, and take an intermediate photography class, and buy a flash, and a couple of new lenses and something to carry it all in… Basically redo my entire camera kit and learn how to take pictures all over again.

It’s been a good experience. I can’t recommend Mitch Stringer’s photography class enough (he runs them through Camosun College’s continuing education program). They’re great value for the money and he’s an engaging instructor who provides an interesting mix of old and new technologies and approaches to picture taking. I learned a lot and am still experimenting with a lot of the stuff we covered… hopefully it translates into some great photos from this year’s trip.

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy (and $) figuring out what to take and how to carry it. I have a lot of experience backpacking with camera equipment and over the years put together a pretty good system… but this is different. I didn’t have to worry about bears stealing my camera (although we did have a bear steal a kid’s backpack once…) and I only used the camera intermittently while backpacking (often it was too rainy and miserable to even think about pulling it out to take a picture). This time we’re traveling to some places that are notorious for pickpockets and strap slashers and I’m planning to pack the camera gear around every day for 10-12 hours a day for 38 days and take thousands of pictures…

In the end, this is what I’ll be taking to take to Europe:

Nikon D7100 bodyIt’s a Nikon. It works with the lenses I already had for my previous Nikon cameras. I sort of know how to use Nikon cameras having owned a bunch of the years. It’s a DX photo 4crop sensor camera but I can’t afford a full frame camera anytime soon so this was the best I could afford. So far I haven’t found anything not to like about it… It’s built like a tank as far as hobbyist cameras go, has more features than I will ever be able to remember how to use and shoots great pictures (albeit freaking huge ones at 21 mega-pixels!)

Carryspeed FS-Pro Sling Strap: I don’t like the standard neck straps that come with cameras. I also don’t like any of the upgrade neck straps you can replace them with. I especially don’t like neck straps with heavier lenses… After a lot of research, I settled on the Carryspeed pro sling strap… I was worried at first that I couldn’t wear a backpack with a sling strap or that I’d look like a super dorky photo geek… But as it turns out, I can wear a backpack, the sling is amazingly comfortable to wear with any lens I’m likely to ever own and it’s also incredibly effective. For those who don’t know what a sling strap is, imagine a continuous strap running diagonally across your chest from your left shoulder to your right hip and back up your back. The camera is attached to a sliding loop on the strap (a more complicated proposition than one might think and the source of most of the variation in designs). When I’m not using it, the camera sits at my right hip with the grip right where my hand naturally falls d so I can rest my hand on the camera… sort of like a gunslinger in those old westerns. This provides good control over the for security from strap slashers and bumping into stuff and it means the camera doesn’t bounce about much (it doesn’t bounce at all with my hand resting on it). When I’m ready to take a picture, I just lift the camera up to eye level (it slides up the strap) and it’s ready to go. The one I bought also has a nice wide padded shoulder strap to spread the weight out and is rapidly adjustable to shift things around if it’s starting to get uncomfortable. So far, and it’s still early days so my opinion might change, I’m ranking the sling strap as one of the greatest inventions since sliced bread…

I still look like a dork but that’s not the sling’s fault…

Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G ED photo 1AF-S DX Zoom Nikkor lensI like wide angle lenses. I like being able to get the whole room into the shot or, better yet, the whole inside of the cathedral or castle or tomb or ??  I like the perspective ultra wide angle lenses provide and the unique distortion. Having said all that, I’ve shot a grand total of about 24 pictures with this lens so I’m looking forward to trying it out on the trip.

Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5 – 5.6G ED VR II AF-S DX Zoom Nikkor lensThis was going to be the only lens I brought with me. It covers a focal length from decent wide angle to acceptable zoom and has worked beautifully so far in the 6 months I’ve been shooting with it. The VR (vibration reduction) is amazing for hand holding shots at slower shutter speeds. The sharpness is good enough for what I do with cameras and it makes a nice combo with the D7100 in terms of weight and balance… I expect this will be the lens that’s on the body for most for the trip.

Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Lens: My other lens are a bit slow (because buying fasted lenses would have involved sacrificing a couple of limbs and or Caitlin’s life) and while there’s a lot you can do these days with digital ISOphoto 2 control, there’s still no substitute for having a faster lens. This one is super compact and makes for a nice compact setup if I’m trying to be a little less obvious about what I’m doing. And it’s spectacularly sharp. I could probably live without it on this trip but it’s such a nice little lens and it takes up no space at all so I figure I might as well bring it.

Nikon SB-400 SpeedliteI’ve just started experimenting with flash photography and am loving what it can do for my pictures. But my SB-910 is quite bulky and heavy and many, many places don’t allow flash photography anyways so it would just be dead weight to carry around 90% of the time. So I’m taking this little speed light to add a bit of bounce flash when needed and to provide a little more light output than the built in flash can provide. It’s very compact and light so I don’t feel bad taking it even if I rarely end up using it.

Additional stuff: Joby SLR Zoom Flexible Tripod with Joby Ballhead, camera remote trigger, spare memory cards (1x64mb, 2x32mb, 4x16mb), cleaning cloths, blower brush, USB cables, spare battery, chargers, etc.

LowePro Photo Hatchback 16L AW Backpack

I’ve spent far too much time in my life searching for the perfect camera bag… First it was trying to find a bag that would work with my huge backpack when I was doing a lot of hiking. It had to be exceptionally weatherproof, be able to protect the gear under horrible conditions and still be somewhat easily accessible. I never did find the perfect system and resorted to all kinds of workarounds… including having other people carry it so I could grab it from their pack without having to take mine off.

I’m not doing a lot of hiking anymore but traveling with camera gear presents it own suite of issues. First, it has to be comfortable enough to carry all day long – we are away from our hotel and on the go many days from 8am to 11pm and we do a ton of walking while we’re exploring. Any bag has to be comfortable enough that I won’t want to be heading back to the room early just so I can ditch the camera bag. Second, it needs to provide some protection from pickpockets and strap slashers, etc. who would like to help themselves to my shiny new camera equipment. And finally, it should have room for a lightweight shell jacket, a bottle of water and some other traveling odds and ends. photo 3

In the end I settled on LowePro Photo Hatchback 16L AW Backpack – it’s as comfortable as any daypack can be. The camera compartment sits against my lower back when the pack is on so it’s as thief-proof as anything is likely to be. I suppose there are ways a determined thief could get something out of the camera compartment while I’m wearing the pack but I think it would probably involve them grabbing a kidney while they were at it… There are two expandable side pockets and there’s just enough space in the top to hold a lightweight jacket, an extra lens and a few other odds and ends.

An added bonus is a padded tablet/notebook sleeve on the front of the pack that is just large enough to hold the 11″ MacBook Air we’re taking on this trip. And the subdued grey colour and design doesn’t scream “camera bag here come an steal me!”  – although I could have done without the prominent “Lowepro” logo but… For added security, all the zippers can be “parked” in one corner and I’m planning to secure them with a little combination travel lock if I get really paranoid about security. Hopefully my gear will be secure in even the most crowded and chaotic situations (think Paris subway at rush hour or Vatican Museum when the cruise ship hordes arrive).

We’ll see how it all works out in the field.

 

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