Is one really ever done setting up the perfect photographer’s kit? I’m not sure. I’ve been working on perfecting mine for the last 5 years… I started to work on it pretty much as soon as I realized I wanted to take photography more seriously than any Point & Shoot camera was letting me do. Got a DSLR and lenses and such and tried to make it work for me, but there was always something else that didn’t quite make it fit.
Fast forward to the point where I decided to get rid of my DSLR and go mirrorless instead. Smaller camera body, and smaller lenses. Smaller and lighter everything – but without compromising quality. Now that I found the perfect camera, I could finally work on accessorize and organize it to work with it, so the kit would work for me, and not the other way around.
1. Camera Bag
Something to put your stuff in.
There is no perfect camera bag. Forget it. Unless you only use your camera for one specific way of shooting, e.g. bird pictures on hiking trips in the mountains, you will need different bags for different occasions. Sunday afternoon outings with your family. Hiking in the mountains. Vacations in Mexico. If you bring your camera wherever you go, you will need suitable bags or backpacks. I own one camera backpack for hiking, one messenger bag with camera insert for outings and a camera insert for my everyday purse(s).
a) Kata Backpack 465 My backpack is different from your regular camera backpacks. For starters, it’s beige. For me, it needs to fit not only ALL my gear, but also other items such a bottle of water or a lunch. If I go backpacking, that means I’m out for a while, so it needs to fit everything I will need for an entire day. My Kata backpack is fairly small, VERY comfortable and fun (aka, not black). I love it dearly. Unfortunately, they don’t make it anymore… But so far, it’s holding up great, and I hope I don’t need to replace it anytime soon.
b) Rickshaw Medium Messenger Bag After searching for a long time and never finding anything I liked, I settled for a messenger bag that is NOT a camera bag. Pre-made camera messengers just weren’t my thing. Either the organization or the colours… something always was off. In comes Rickshaw. Rickshaw Bags is a small company located in San Francisco, and they make awesome stuff. The Medium Messenger is very comfortable to carry and fits a bunch of stuff. They make it for you with the colours YOU like. I picked brown. It’s just my favourite colour. Now obviously, it isn’t a camera bag, but with a couple of inserts, voila, you can use it as such. I’m a bit handy with needle and thread, and quickly converted the snap closure into a way to strap the tripod to the bottom of the bag. The bottom of the bag now wraps around the tripod, and since this curves the inside of the bag, I made a little padded bottom on which I rest the camera insert. Hard to explain, but very simple, really. Again, the bag needs to fit my gear and some other items, such as phone, wallet, lipgloss, etc. Waterproof, comfy, the exact colour I wanted… what’s not to like?
c) Hand bags (or man purses) My favourite brand of bags, Kipling, doesn’t make a camera ready hand bag. But since there are plenty of inserts to be had on Ebay, I bought a small one (brown, of course), and added it to my bags. The Ciesta insert I picked has little side pockets which fit a spare battery, lens pen, remote, filters, etc., so I can just lift the insert from one bag into the next and all the accessories remain in place. It’s a hot-swappable camera insert, if you will.
The proper support.
You need the perfect tripod. Is there a perfect tripod? I don’t know. I suppose there is, but I haven’t found it yet. The closest to perfect FOR ME is the Benro A-150 EXU for a measerly $ 66. What was important to me is that it is very light (1 kg/2.2 lbs), very tall (159.3 cm/62.7”) and not too expensive. There is a lot I like about this tripod. It it even has spiked feet that retract into rubber pods – good for indoors and out. The only thing I didn’t like about it was the ballhead. It’s ok, but not perfect. Unfortunately, this particular tripod doesn’t have a removable head. So out came the pliers and metal saw, and voila, I made my own Frankenpod. The head I used is the Joby ballhead Focus. Lovely thing, perfect size for my camera. Now the tripod is a pleasure to use and I carry it with me everywhere. And that's incredible, considering that two years ago I didn't even have one.
3. Remote Control
Your third hand.
There are many different remote controls for many different cameras. I have two: A cable release (when I use it for landscape shots it makes me look like a photographer in the 1800’s), and an iPhone app (Triggertrap). Both work well, and I carry both around with me often. I prefer the iPhone app (set it and forget it), and I just ordered a little iPhone bicycle mount so I can attach the phone to the tripod. Will report when I get it.
Reality is nothing without them.
There are a lot of effects in photography you can create through post processing these days. But some things you just can’t create afterwards. After long debate with myself and a bit of research (and everyone pulling me from one part to the other), I believe I have found my perfect filter kit:
a) Circular Polarizer I used to have the HD2 Cir-PL from Hoya. Not cheap, but also not remortgage-your-house expensive. It lets more light through than some of the others I’ve had in the past, so it will only do what you want it do to – remove reflections and intensify colours outdoors.
b) Black Glass Filter (ND filter) After a bit of research, and although everyone told me to go get a Lee Big Stopper. That puppy runs several hundred dollars, if you can find one. Instead I found a very economical one that doesn’t have nasty colour casts like some of the more expensive stuff, the Hoya X400 ND filter. It is a 9 stop filter that (in 58mm) comes in under $ 45 and does the trick.
c) Grey Graduated ND Filter This one I learned from my friend Cameron Siguenza, the man with the insane gear kit that contains simply EVERYTHING: If the ground is perfectly exposed but the sky is blown out, reach for a graduated filter (dark top, clear bottom). Suddenly it’s not so difficult anymore to expose the image properly! Who knew? Tiffen makes a great one called Graduated 0.6 ND Digital HT, and I snapped it up. With $ 65 not the cheapest thing to have, but VERY useful. There are others out there, for $ 12 or less, but I decided to forgo plastic and go with glass.
d) Variable ND Filter At first, I thought I wouldn’t really need it, but on the weekend in the forest I realized that sometimes you don’t need black glass. Different degrees of dark glass would be good, but if you don’t want to carry a whole array of filters, a variable ND filter comes in handy. Again, Hoya makes a great one that isn’t too expensive. () Probably not as good as a Singh-Ray, but for $ 105 I won’t complain. Nice and neutral, it worked quite well when taking that picture of the river on my birthday. The forest was just too dark for a 9 stop, and I didn’t want to have to expose the picture for 2 hours. I’m sure the variable ND filter will come in handy for other things as well, with the brighter light come summer, that’s why I also got myself a step-down ring from 58 mm (my wide-angle lens) to 52 mm (my “do-all” lens).
I recently switched to Lee Seven5 filters. Unlike their big cousins, the Seven5 filters don't cost and arm and a leg, and make for easy swapping. More on this in a separate post later.
5. Other Stuff
All the rest.
Well, you may need some other stuff too to make your kit complete. Here are a few items I have:
- Spare battery(ies)
- Lens pen & brush
- Lens cleaner spray and micro fibre cloths
- Spare SD cards
- SD card reader (because I’m hesitant to connect my camera to my computer for various reasons)
- Rocket blower to clean the insides of your camera
- Nik Plugins
- External flash
- Lightstand with soft box
- Wireless flash trigger
- Lots and lots of storage for pictures
- etc. etc. etc.
So here you have it. A little insight in my gear. Is it an expensive setup? Not as expensive as some people’s, but it’s expensive for me. Did I ever make a dime with it? Nope. But it brings me hours of happiness and joy. It takes me out there, let’s me meet people, be creative and enjoy life. And I think that’s what makes it a very good investment.