It’s in the Bag

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For me, a camera bag is a constantly evolving beast, especially these days as I complete my transition to mirrorless video maven. I’m teaching a couple of seminars on travel photography for National Geographic Traveler in the next couple of  months, and so it was time to update the pictures of my latest gear configuration for travel. Here’s a breakdown of what I take on travel gigs these days…

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Point of clarification: sharp-eyed readers will have no doubt notice that the two manual lenses i.d.’ed in the picture are called “Samigon” while they are identified in the body of the post as “Rokinon”. The two brands are identical (in fact, they’re also sold under a third name that I can’t remember) and I do in fact have the Rokinon versions.

This is the beast fully loaded, and even at that, it’s about half the weight of my old DSLR setup. I will often leave the fisheye Rokinon behind. But it’s nice having relatively fast lenses like the Rokinon 12mm f/2 (18mm equivalent) and the 35mm f/1.8 (50mm equivalent) ready to grab.

Let’s go over the thinking behind this bag. For the first time I can remember, my outfit does not include two matching bodies…I never went out without a matching pair of compact Nikon DSLRs..but that was before the advent of mirrorless cameras of the RX10‘s quality with a built-in Zeiss lens that is the 35mm equivalent of a 24-200mm f2.8 on the camera’s one inch chip.

Think of that; a super sharp, reasonably fast 24-200mm with a constant f/2.8 lens. Oh yeah, the full frame pixel peepers are going to go on about the chip size but for both still and especially video purposes, in my opinion, this is the best shot-grabbing, all-in-one travel camera ever made (there, I said it). With the latest firmware upgrade that got us out of the awful compressed AVCHD codec and into a broadcast quality, 50mbps X AVCS codec, Sony has just knocked this out of the park.

But one camera can’t do everything and one thing that the RX10 doesn’t do too well is that soft-background creamy bokeh full frame look (it’s a matter of sensor size, not a design failure). And the images can get noisy above ISO 1600 (which is still an excellent high ISO threshold for a smaller chip camera). And while 24mm is wide enough for most things, I love an ultrawide look too.

And that’s where the A7s comes in. It’s a lowlight monster, and is usable in two modes—full frame, and APS-C mode. I use it primarily in the latter mode for two reasons. First, most of my Sony lenses are for the NEX series which were all APS-C sized chips. And secondly, because in video mode, the APS-C mode is less prone to rolling shutter, that phenomenon that can create a wavy video image if you’re moving the camera around too fast (which you shouldn’t be if you’re shooting video, but hey, sometimes you’re not as stable as you want to be).

Recently, in Iceland, I shot video with the A7s at ISO 25,400 (or something like that) in a shepherd’s hut lit with a couple of little candles and it looked fabulous. I don’t know how they did it, but this camera shines at ISO’s so high that you really need night vision goggles to see what the camera can see.

So on this camera, I have my 10-18mm (which in APS-C mode is equivalent to a 15-28mm approximately). I also carry the sharp Zeiss 16-70mm f/4…what a nice lens; Optical  Image Stabilization, and a range (35mm equivalent would be a 24-105mm) that will cover almost everything I usually need in any given situation.

For low light and nice bokeh, I’ve got the tiny, sharp, optically stabilized (way to go Sony, offering stabilization in fast primes!) 35mm f/1.8. It’s great for those face closeups with good bokeh, like this one:

_DSC2262The rest of the gear is pretty self-explanatory. The table top tripod doubles as a kind of chest or belly brace for handheld shooting. I come from the “time before selfies,” so I don’t really shoot them, but the selfie pole and the mic extension cord allow me to mount the ultra light Smartmyk mini shotgun on it and do a one-handed boom mic arrangement for impromptu interviews.  The Olympus audio recorder is for capturing ambient sound.

The camera raincoat, the bag o’ batteries, the cable release are standard issue items. But the result is a bag I sling over my shoulder (bandolero-style so the bag rides in the small of my back until I need to get something out of it), that I can carry all day, every day, and be ready for just about anything!

Next post: The Computer Bag!

14 thoughts on “It’s in the Bag

  1. Very interesting article responding to questions I have about the weight to cary around and the heaviness of it all! When I have my car near the shouting place, its all right with my Canon MIII and the lens with it. But during a trip and long walks, I find it very difficult to carry around in my back pack. You seems to have a superbe solution and answer to my reflexion 🙂

  2. Bob, this is a great post and really helpful. It has me rethinking (and dreaming) about switching my gear from a heavy DSLR. Thanks for taking the time to show us all what’s in your bag – I always find that helpful and fascinating.

  3. Dear Bob.

    I have DVD’s of you showing me how to use my D90, and you can’t believe how excited I am that you have posted this blog. I would like to share with you my goldilocks story if you would be so kind. 2 years ago I tried m43, 1 year ago I tried D800, 3 months ago I picked up an a6000. I have that “old man” BSN (Back Shoulders Neck) problem, and the D800 was way to heavy, the m43 didn’t have the image quality I was looking for but the Sony line with the A6000 and A7s are absolute marvels. My kit ( save a few things still waiting on the sale of the D800 kit ) is very very similar to yours. I’ll put in a plug for an alternative battery supplier you might be interested in trying : DSTE brand ( Link: http://amzn.com/B00CQF4TH2 ) which are 1700 Ma and seem to last much much longer than any other brand I have tried, especially great for night photography and video which seems to eat the regular FW50’s. Well, time to get to the day job, for now I just wanted to share with you how excited I am to read about your newest exploits. Maybe one day I’ll make it to one of those Nat Geo Traveller tours.

    Dennis.

  4. Hi Bob

    Great work.

    I am in the process of ditching an entire Nikon D3s/D3x kit and replacing it with a pair of Sony A7s bodies, Sony glass and an A6000.

    Carrying that bag of huge bodies and f2.8 lenses around SE Asia for 2 months this year was the last time I do that. Nikon must be mad not to be producing something in an FX mirrorless.

  5. Very insightful article. I learned some great tips from someone who obviously has thought through how to balance productivity and creativity. I had never hear of the MyMyk product before and it looks like an economical and flexible tool. I’m wondering how it fits into the overall work flow vs an XLR shotgun mic. The simple gain settings look like a novel way to quickly change the sensitivity which is pretty cool.

    Are those variable ND filters on the Sony lenses? Just curious as it would seem necessary for the A7S (I too find great utility in the built in ND filter of the RX10).

    Thank you for sharing these tips!

  6. Thanks for the great post!
    I still have Bob’s book on travel photography from a long time ago…
    I am well into the process of selling / trading in my full complement of Canon gear for lighter weight Sony gear, which includes an A7s, an RX100 iii, an RX10, and an X70 camcorder. My lenses are different, being the full frame series:

    FE 16-35 f/4 OSS ZA
    FE 24-70 f/4 OSS ZA
    FE 70-200 f/4 OSS ZA
    FE 55 f/1.8 ZA

  7. Your focus on “lightening ship,” gear-wise, has given me courage to try a little of it myself, which I’ve done with a new RX10, replacing my big SLR and two heavy lenses for all travel shooting, with happy results so far. So, thank you.

    Query: I upgraded the RX10 firmware so I can use the X AVCS now, but can’t find a video editor that supports it. I’ve tried Premiere Pro and iMovie, but they both say no. Any suggestions?

  8. Bob:

    With the case swung around to the small of your back, have you ever encountered pick-pocket issues as you travel the globe? For the Event Messenger bag, do you use just the buckle to close the flap, or the buckle plus the velcro closures?

    1. I have not encountered it with this particular bag, but I do try to buckle it on crowded streets, and the velcro would make quite a racket if pulled. I did experience an attempted theft of a body and lens from an unzipped sling bag in St. Petersburg a few years ago, but it was my fault for not zipping it closed, and I got the camera and lens before he got too far away. But it made me more cautious.

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