What’s in the Bag?
Whether I’m standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, or rafting on the Colorado River, everyone always seems to be curious about what is in my camera bag. Over the years I’ve owned a lot of equipment and I’ve hauled it with me into the wilderness, but nowadays I tend to shoot with one camera body and a few lenses.
Below is a list of the gear that I own, and, no, I don’t carry it all with me at the same time. In my opinion carrying too much photo gear leads to too many choices typically resulting in the photographer spending too much time trying to decide what lens he or she is going to shoot with; the end result is that you miss the shot.
I also share my thoughts on the equipment I use including lenses and filters.
I am a brand ambassador for several manufactures of photography related equipment including Really Right Stuff and Rollei. Really Right Stuff makes what I feel are hands-down the best camera support systems available today including tripods and ballheads. Rollei, you may remember their name because your dad possibly use their film cameras, is manufacturing beautifully made filters and filter holders. Both companies listen to what their photographers have to say when we provide feedback about the products, and share what we like and what we think could be improved. I won’t represent a brand unless I believe in their products and use them myself.
Does the camera make a difference?
Most people, at some point, have heard someone say “that’s a great picture, you must have a really nice camera?!” With that in mind, I consider the question of whether or not the camera makes a difference.
A camera is simply a tool that we use in an attempt to achieve our artistic vision. It doesn’t help us compose, nor does it have magical powers that know when the light is just right. Some cameras have better autofocus systems, others are capable of shooting up to 24 photos in one second, while there are still others that allow you to photograph scenes in near complete darkness. What I need as a nature photographer is a camera that is well built with dust and moisture seals to keep sand, dirt, and water out, and I need a camera that provides good image quality and can use a wide range of lenses. Nothing more, nothing less.
Can I still achieve my artistic vision with a lesser camera? Yes, I can, but I may not be able to print as large as I could with a “good” camera.
Oh, and one last thing…no one ever says to a chef “that was a great meal, you must have a nice oven.”
When it comes to photography equipment, there’s one thing that can truly make a significant difference in image quality and achieving your artistic vision, and that’s a lens. What lenses a photographer uses are a very personal choice that reflects who they are as an artist.
I own several different lenses, but I only typically take 2, maybe 3, lenses with me when I am in the field capturing the landscape. I always have an ultra wide-angle lens such as my Sony FE 16-35mm with me. Ultra-wide lenses allow me to include strong foreground elements in my composition. On the other end of the spectrum is the FE 100-400mm telephoto which I use in creating intimate landscapes and abstracts of the landscape. If my back is feeling good and I don’t mind a little extra weight, I’ll also take the FE 24-70mm lens to fill in most of the gap between the ultra-wide and telephoto lenses.
Why are you still using filters?
Simple, I like to get the photo as ‘right’ as possible in the camera. To do this I use both circular polarizer filters and graduated neutral density filters. The polarizer is used to remove unwanted glare and reflections from the surface of foliage or water. It has the added benefit of saturating the colors as well.
If you’re not familiar with them, graduated neutral density (GND) filters are rectangular pieces of glass or polycarbonate that are dark on top and clear on the bottom, They come in different strengths and are used to balance the light in the scene. An example of this would be a brilliant sunset over the Grand Canyon where the sky is very bright but the canyon is much darker. Our eyes are amazing instruments and they are capable of seeing the details in the bright highlights in the sky and the dark shadows of the canyon, but the same cannot be said of the camera. I use GND filters to overcome this limitation of the camera.
I’ve used lots of different camera packs over the years, but for a few years now I’ve been using those made by F-stop (this reminds me that I need to do an up-to-date photo to replace the one at the top of this page).
What makes F-stop’s packs so special? First, most of their packs open from the side that faces your back. This is important because it means that you are never setting your straps down in the snow or mud to open the pack. Second, their ICU system rocks! I could explain the function of the ICU system, but they cover the F-stop system pretty well on their website. Third, their packs are very light-weight compared to other photo backpacks in the market today. Weight matters, especially when you are hiking with the pack all day.
You will notice that I have three F-stop packs, the Loka UL, Ajna, and Tilopa. The Ajna is my primary pack and has 40L of storage and it’s airline carry-on compatible During the extremes of winter when I want to carry a couple extra layers of clothing with me, or during the monsoon when I want to carry an extra camera plus lightning trigger I may switch over to the Tilopa just to have plenty of space. The Loka UL serves as my light & fast setup for long hikes. It’s not designed to carry much weight, so I tend to stick with just one camera and two lenses.
A few more thoughts on gear…
I’m privileged that I get to share my passion for the art of photography with many workshop students every year. Many of them are looking for the next piece of gear that will make them a better photographer. The reality is that the most we can ask of any new piece of gear are that it encourages us to try something new. It won’t necessarily make you a better photographer.
Remember, the best camera is the one you have with you.
Sony Cameras & Lenses
- Sony Alpha a7R III
- Sony Alpha a7R II
- Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM
- Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
- Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6GM
- Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V
- Graduated Neutral Density filters by Rollei
- B+W XS-PRO Kaesemann High-Transmission Circular Polarizer MRC-Nano Filter
Camera Bags, Packs, & Cases
- F-stop Loka UL with a Medium Shallow ICU
- F-stop Ajna with a Large Pro ICU
- F-stop Tilopa with a Large Pro ICU
- MindShift Gear Filter Nest ~ filter storage case
- Think Tank Pee Wee Pixel Rocket ~ memory card storage case
Tripods & Heads
- Really Right Stuff TVC-34L Versa Series 3 Tripod
- Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Versa Series 2 Tripod
- Really Right Stuff BH-55 LR Full-Sized Ballhead
- Really Right Stuff BH-40 Mid-Sized Ballhead
- Really Right Stuff L-Brackets & Lens Plates
- Really Right Stuff LCF-101 Replacement Foot for Sony 100-400mm lens
Miscellaneous Photographic Equipment
- Vello Shutter Releases
- Canon GP-E2 GPS Receiver
- The SlideLITE by Peak Designs ~ an awesome camera strap
- Vortex Media Storm Jacket ~ camera rain cover
- MK Controls Lightning Bug Lightning Trigger
- SanDisk Extreme Pro Memory Cards
- Sony Dive Housing for RX100 series cameras
Camera & Lens Cleaning
- Sensei Bulb Air-Blower
- Sensei Microfiber Lens Cleaning Cloth
- Nikon Moist Cloths Lens Cleaners
- Sensor Gel Stick for most DSLR & Mirrorless Cameras
Hiking, Safety, Survival, Misc
Where do you buy your camera gear?
I’ve been purchasing my gear from B&H Photo for almost 20 years. They have consistently had the best prices, they always provide top-notch customer service, and they have a great return policy. You could spend your time shopping around on the web and wondering if you made the right decision, or you could buy from B&H.
If you find the information on this page, or any of the other content here to be useful, please consider supporting this site by purchasing your photo equipment through B&H Photo by using the links above, or by visiting the My Gear page on the B&H website.