Welcome to the second part of this two part article on my new photographic equipment. Last week I introduced you to what I described as a cornucopia of new gear I acquired during April. I talked a little about my view on camera equipment as a tool vs the level of obsessiveness some of my fellow photographers can at times display. This is not to say I do not lust after the new and shiny but I just don’t let the perceived lack of anything get in the way of me producing images. As I noted last week “I much prefer to produce ‘something’ with what I have then to procrastinate over what I don’t have and produce nothing.”
I did however observe that there will come a time when the actual lack of something in your gear bag will become a limitation, particularly when you shoot commercially. It is at times like this that it does become prudent to invest. And I do view any spend I make in photography equipment as an investment; and therefore I expect a return.
See I don’t buy a huge amount of equipment and what I do buy I want it to last me a long time; the last time I made any significant investment in camera equipment was in 2009. Thankfully I don’t tend to fall in to the trap of upgrade-itis.
So last week I discussed 4 of the major camera equipment acquisitions I made during last month, namely a Canon 70-200mm f/4L USM, a Canon 24-105mm f4L IS USM, a Feisol CT-3442 Rapid Tournament Tripod and a Arca Swiss p0 Monoball. In this post I will step you through the remainder of the items pictured above.
Ah the perfect bag, the ultimate in elusive perfect gear. In bags I think photographers share an affinity with a great many women. I actually know photographers who own 10 or more camera bags! While I am always keeping my eye out for the potentially perfect bag I rarely pull the trigger and buy one. Actually up until now I have only owned two. Both of them being made by Kata. My 1st bag I quickly outgrew as it was a day bag built to carry just a single small body and lens. My next bag, a Kata R-103 however has been in use since 2008 and it is still in absolute perfect condition. Kata; who also make military grade protective clothing by the way, know how to make bags that last. However as all things come to pass I outgrew the bag which can no longer carry all my gear, yet is too big for just the pick-up-and-go kit.
And so another search was started. The problem with camera bags in general is that they are just that – camera bags. They are not designed to carry anything else. And that’s perfect if that’s all you need. However I need more and this is where I struggled with the Kata Bag. If I’m going on a hike, or traveling but don’t want to check-in luggage I need a bag that can carry more then just my camera equipment.
With that in mind I landed on F-stop’s website. Yet another company I never heard of yet once I found them I also found a large following of photographers who were passionate about the bags F-stop produced. After reading lot’s of reviews and studying the spec sheets of their bags I was convinced I had found potentially the perfect bag that would balance my needs of carrying camera equipment and all the other stuff I needed to carry whether it was for a back country hike or jumping on a flight abroad for a few days.
Why was it such a fit? In a word, modularity. The core of the F-stop bags are that they are back-country hiking bags; made of high quality water and rip proof nylon materials, weather sealed zips, aluminium frame, proper carrying harnesses, and super light. However what sets them apart from all the other BC bag manufactures is they are designed around photographers needs.
How? Well through what they call ICU’s or In Camera Units. Essentially these are a range of separate bags that are designed to carry your camera gear with the usual soft padding and dividers you find in all specialist camera bags.
Eh I’m not sure I’m following John, so they make two types of bags? Well kind of. However the ICU’s are designed to fit inside their BC Bags. They offer their ICU’s in a range of sizes to best meet your gear needs, or indeed allow you to strike a balance between carrying your camera gear and other stuff. I’m doing a terrible job of describing these so until such time as I write a complete review and provide pictures I suggest you pop over to their website for a better understanding.
After reviewing the sizes and options available I decided upon the Loka which was the exact size I can carry-on on the most stringent of European Airlines, Ryan Air. I picked up a Large Pro ICU which will allow me to carry all my photography gear along with extra clothing layers, snacks, etc when I am off hiking. I also however got the medium ICU which will allow me to carry a good bit of my camera equipment along with a lot more other stuff like laptop, clothes, etc if I need to jump on a flight and travel to somewhere for a few days.
I have only just started to use the bag and have figured out a workable layout with the large ICU. It certainly feels comfortable with great weight distribution between shoulders and hips. Build quality is also very high. The real test however will be long trips, fully laden in poor weather conditions; or jumping on a flight somewhere for a few days. You can expect a review at some point over the next couple of months.
Wow two bags in one go, that’s just greedy. Well this one is a bit of a cheat as I got it back in December. In fact Santa (my wife) brought it to me. I mentioned earlier that I had outgrown my Kata R-103 bag which was now too small to carry everything but too big to serve the needs of holding my pick-up-and-go kit. The F-stop above now serves the carry everything need and this bag will act as my pick-up-and-go bag.
So while I have had the bag for 4 months I have not really used it, or at least in the way I planned too. The reason for that is I was awaiting some of the items above in order to create my pick-up-and-go gear list; mainly the 24-105 Lens and the lighter Tripod and Head.
I have used it on and off however to carry most of my equipment and it has impressed. It is deceptively large inside and the build quality and attention to detail is 2nd to none. However its a sling bag and suffers from the same issues as all sling bags, too much weight gives you a sore neck. While the design allows you to alternate the shoulder the bag is hung from you are just delaying the onset of discomfort I have found. However it is unfair for me to judge it on this as that is not the reason I bought it, I mean Santa made it for me. While it is big inside I have a very specific list of gear I plan to carry in it and I will hold judgement until I have tested it with this gear alone.
Filters; this is another example of where the statement “gear doesn’t matter” is not always correct. If you need to manage reflections in water a Poloriser is the only thing that can do that and you do ‘need’ one. If you want to shoot long exposures or create that silky effect in water you do ‘need’ ND Filters. If you want to balance bright sky and shaded foreground in-camera you do ‘need’ ND Grad filters. No matter how many times photographers tell other photographers its not about the gear, it does get to a point where gear becomes important.
For me and my landscape work my Polariser, ND’s and ND Grads are a critical part in producing those final images. I decided after much deliberation to bite the bullet and purchase a 10-stop Neutral Density Filter. I landed on the Hitech version as I have used their 1, 2 & 3 Stop ND Filters for about 2 years now and have been very happy. I actually have a Lee ProGlass 2 stop filter and have done side-by-side comparisons and can find no differences in the final images. The ProGlass is definitely tougher and more scratch resistant then the Hitech’s resin based filters but I can replace a Hitech filter three times for less then the Lee ProGlass costs, and I am very very careful with my gear anyway. I also decided to bolster my Lee ND Grads and purchased a set of Hitech 1, 2 & 3 Stop Soft Edge filters. Finally to round out this collection I picked up a Lee 67mm Adapter Ring to fit the new 70-200mm f4L.
Reflectors are in the same boat in terms of gear requirements for my Macro Floral work. I use a reflector and strobe a lot in the field. I have used a 5-in-1 reflector I acquired years ago which worked well apart from it’s size. At 85cm when opened it is perfect for shooting portraits; however trying to walk around in the open during a windy day with it was a pain. The size was overkill for the delicate work of photographing flowers. So a smaller one was in order and so I picked up a pair of them. One is a smaller version of the 5-in-1 I have today, weighting in at a svelte 50cm when open; and I also picked up a Silver/Gold reflector with a diminutive size of 30cm.
So we close this two part post. I opened up last week by talking about Gear and it’s place in a photographers life. The fact that many photographers will state “Gear Doesn’t Matter” without qualifying that statement. For my part “Gear Doesn’t Matter” can be true, but not always. When you are starting out the object should be to just get out there and shoot, with what ever you have. It is about discovery; finding yourself as an artist. However as you progress from snapping everything and arrive at “specific intent” in your photography i.e. working on “creating” pre-visualised images, then gear may become important. But, gear does not matter that much! What I mean by that is there are always alternatives; if you want to shoot Macro but cannot yet afford a specialist lens you can buy cheap macro filters. If you need a reflector but cannot afford to buy it you can always make one.
So gear can matter, but never use the perceived lack of it for an excuse for not producing images. Equally if you have managed to acquire lots of wonderful camera equipment get out there and use it, stop obsessing over your next upgrade; step away from those MTF charts! It has taken me over three years to become truly comfortable with my Canon 5DII, my lenses and all my other equipment. I can now pick up anything I own and know how it works without having to think, it’s like muscle memory. A photographer must reach this level to be effective, to be able to focus their energies on their vision rather then fumble with their gear. You can never reach that level of comfort if you are constantly upgrading or adding to your kit bag.
I know I have a couple of years ahead of me to truly learn the 24-105, and how the f/4 version of the 70-200 differs from the f/2.8; and how best to use my new Feisol Tripod and Arca-Swiss p0 Ball Head. And I would be lying if I said it all wasn’t exciting, but I also know I have a core amount of equipment in my bag that is second nature to me and will form the backbone of my workflow as I slowly learn to use the new equipment. I look forward to sharing that journey with you.
Please feel free share your thoughts below, or to ask a question.
I have provided links to the locations I purchased these items. I have no relationship with any of these vendors at the time of publishing this article other than being a customer. This is not meant in any way as an endorsement of their services but it does reflect that I had a positive customer experience.