Lugging Stuff Around

I was “out and about” a bit today, and one of the things that I’ve been playing with, was the thought of yet another camera bag or equivalent.  The LowePro I recently got was a sling bag and it really is a nice bag, but it was getting pretty packed with just my Nikon gear.  I was able to get both the Nikon and Panasonic gear into the bag for a fashion shoot I just finished, but it took a fair amount of work to fit everything in.  Getting the Nikon SB700 flash unit took this bag over the edge for hauling two systems around in one bag.  I wanted to be able to carry both the Nikon and Panasonic gear with me if possible on literally any outing with one bag. This kinda got me thinking about bags in general.

I’ve talked about this in previous posts, but my thoughts around gear originated with mobility in mind.  To back track a bit, when I started to get more serious in digital (I used to be quite a serious amateur back in the 35mm days), I didn’t go the DSLR route.  I did this progression thing from pointy shooties, to travel cams, advanced cams, compact system cams and then to DSLR.  It wasn’t exactly in that order, but at the start, it was all about mobility and getting a good quality photo.  I do some “pixel peeping”, but not as much as one would think Smile

I’ve always taken a fair number of pictures over time, but compared to the 35mm days, it was very little. As I progressed, and started to get more serious, I started to acquire more gear.  Mobility was still important, but I was also looking for equipment to handle more specialized tasks.  Getting the Nikon D3200 and adding “stuff” to it was the next step for me.  Of course, with the acquisition of more and more gear, your carrying needs change.

I’m guessing that many people simply don’t own a lot of gear.  They have their camera and that’s kinda it.  Bigger question – do they have it with them all the time?  I’m also going to take a bit of a guess and say that the majority of people don’t but they will use their phones to grab those quickie shots.  Nothing wrong with that – it’s about capturing the moment, which is, in my opinion, more important in some respects than the gear the took the photo.  For most people, this is more than adequate.  At some point, a few start on this “journey” to get better gear and improving on their photos.  For me, I do own a lot of gear – actually, I own a lot of cameras.  It’s one thing to have a couple of cameras in your daypack, it’s a whole new thing when you start to get into more serious equipment.  When you start to hit that point, it’s not just a camera anymore.  You may have lenses, flash units, spare batteries, memory cards, etc.  Depending on how far you take it, one ultimately needs something to carry that stuff in.

I’ve started to accumulate this slew of bags for the the different things that I do.  For me, I would consider myself the average person when it comes to life in general.  I’m an IT consultant, but I commute back and forth to work. I go out and about, grocery shopping, and i even take the occasional vacationSmile  I do yard work and a bunch of other things. I’ve been trying to have a camera handy all the time.  Ideally, I don’t want to spend a lot of time assembling gear so I can go out unless it’s for some sort of event where I know I’ll need the gear. 

Let’s take a look at the various situations that I’ve encountered and perhaps my situations will assist in helping others determine a potential solution.  The intent here, is to always have a camera close to grab those shots. Also, on this post, I’m going to even include some photos Smile  I’m dying to really give my new flash units a try in a pretty normal setting – my living room couch….

To Take a Bag or Not

Before I get going – some parameters about how I look at situations and gear.  When I’m commuting, my preference is to always have two cameras.  One that handles low light and one travel camera.  I feel that I have all possible situations manageable with these two and they are both quite portable or mobile.  When I started to get more serious and got more gear, there were two possible situations that started to show.  First, was the fact that I would take one of more advanced cameras like the Panasonic GX1 or the Nikon 1 J1, which use interchangeable lenses.  The second was to be able to add to that with an additional camera or cameras.  The other piece were things like spare batteries, etc.  What I do like to do, is keep everything together wherever possible.  Soooo… ideally, if I do go out like this, everything goes with it.  Do I need a spare battery and charger on a short hop?  No, but then again, when I get home, I can just “drop the bag” and not worry the next time.  Dig out the other cams and good to go.  Sounds easy enough right?  Then along comes a DSLR – my D3200.  And then the prime lens, and then the flashes.  Along with that, spare batteries, etc.  A small explosion of gear, if you will.  One thing with getting into photography and getting beyond the “snapshot” stage, when you start in with DSLR’s and start to study the craft more, you can easily go into gear lust.Smile  Knowing what you “need” is important.  The biggest pitfall I’ve seen more times than I care to count, is someone getting something like a DSLR or even a Compact System camera is that they probably would have been better off with a travel camera or something that had a smaller chance of getting left behind when you head out that door.

Are there times when carrying all that gear isn’t in the equation?  Absolutely.  In fact, its highly like that most people that are in the pointy shooty crowd will stick their camera in a pocket or purse and off you go.  OR just leave with the smartphone.  And then there are the gear hounds like me Smile  BUT, in saying that, if I’m puttering in the yard, or out with the grandkids in the park, taking an evening walk – taking a bag isn’t always in the equation.  I have a number of pointy shooties that I can use for this.  For something like this, I would normally take either a Nikon S3400, or the Panasonic SZ1 – maybe on a stretch the Nikon S9400.  Tiny and pocketable is the name of the game here.    Yes, there’s always a chance that “the shot” will pop up, but you know, in reality, these are the times when you are enjoying the moment – that perfect shot isn’t important – getting the shot is.  Do I ever leave the house without a camera?  Not usually. 

Commuting

Ah…. commuting life.  Everything from driving your vehicle, car pooling, public transportation.  As a consulting Business Analyst, I tend to take my own set of “tools” to do my job.  That usually means my iPad, a notebook (an ASUS Zenbook), and of course, my cameras and all the matching accessories.  Over the years, I’ve been refining and refining to try and keep things in one daypack. It’s one thing to commute with your car, it’s a whole different matter using public transit.  Carrying multiple “things” on public transit can be quite a hassle.  Especially on a crowded bus.  Depending on the contract I have at the time, I have several daypacks with varying capacities.  My current one is a Targus one and so far, it allows me to carry my stuff without breaking my back Smile  Let’s also not forget if you have a company laptop to take – I got one on this last assignment, and this weekend, I needed to do some work so I brought it home.  Two items to transport – not so bad, but still….  Luckily, I won’t be bringing it home all that often.  Yet – anyway…..

With me, I don’t have a lot of spare time to just go out and take photos.  There is the odd weekend, but in reality, if I’m going to take photos, it’s going to be during noon hour.  A long while ago, I began to look for a sling bag that I could take with my on noon hour jaunts.  What I wanted to be able to do was take my ereader, iPad and a camera or two.  I also wanted something that looked “stylish” Smile  To me, that wrote off anything nylon – I was looking for something in leather or “something”.  After a bit of hunting, I found two that really caught my eye – one was a leather Mancini sling and the other was a Fossil canvas one.  The Fossil one was more money than I wanted to spend, and the Mancini was on sale, so I got it.  It was a little tighter for holding things than I liked so in the end, I got the Fossil.  It’s not that the Mancini one was bad, its actually a nice bag, but I wanted something with a little more capacity.  I went and bit the bullet on the Fossil.

Fossil_cameras1

This has turned into one of my favourite “grab and go” bags. I love this bag!! I usually have my Fuji XF1 and a travel camera in this bag.  Add an Ipad or Nexus 7 and away I go.  It has very soft sides and can expand when I buy those little things. As it gathers it’s scratches (the oiled canvas tends to pic up those scratches), it simply gains character.  It’s used typically for my noon hour jaunts, but for weekends, its also becoming my “go to” bag.  I’ve just started a new assignment and haven’t taken it downtown just yet, but soon…..  The new place, though, doesn’t have a placed where I can lock it up, so I may have to figure out a way to get it home every day – I dunno… still thinking on that one. I have some alternates in mind. 

Holidays

Depending on where one is in photography, taking photos on holidays and/or vacations can be a pretty hot topic.  I guess it all depends on perspective.  For me, there is no question that I’ll be taking photos – a LOT of photos.  Compared to what I had a couple of years to now is quite dramatic.  The bigger question – just how much gear would I take on the next one?  Smile  I’m going to answer “it depends” Smile  I’m not going to go on a holiday with the intent of taking photos.  The photos will be taken to capture moments of fun and the places that I’ve visited while I”m there.  I’m not going with the primary focus of taking pics.  Do I need more advanced gear to do that?  For me – no.  The biggest shortcoming on our last holiday was the lack of a big zoom camera.  The travel camera will resolve that on the next one.  My Fuji X10 was used to for most of the shots including the low light photos.  The pointy shooties were used by my wife and I for most other shots, like food, simple scenes.  This time around, it’s likely that I will take the X10 again, as I have enough spare batteries to shoot continuously over the span of a day, plus my travel cameras.    The bag?  The one I got for Hawaii was the Tracker sling.  It allowed me to take my X10, the iPad and my pointy shooty, complete with spare batteries, charger, my GorillaPod, etc. and room to spare.  Its one of those secure ones, so there are steel cables in the straps – the zippers can also be secured.

Trakker

There were days where  had this one me for 10 hours at a time, and it was not getting heavy.  If I’m going to a social event and planning to use the X10 or my Panasonic LX7, this is the bag that I take. 

Too early to tell yet about upcoming holidays, but right for the moment, I’m not planning a photo trip per se.  What the heck do I mean by that?  Well…. to me, this would be where the intent is photos first, fun second.  Very much so a planned shoot, for lack of a better term.  That would mean packing the gear where you are there to really “get the shot”.  You are there to take the best photo you can take and take the gear to match, if you have it.  For me, the plan is to add the Fuji XF1 to the X10 and then possibly a couple of travel cameras – most likely the Panasonic ZS25 and Nikon S9400.  The it looks right now, this will definitely be the plan.

The kicker would be if I have a chance to take a holiday AND I have some sort of social event, like a wedding in one spot.  AT that point – all the big stuff will tag along.  Most likely, the Nikon D3200 and the Panasonic GX1 – all the goodies in other words…

Getting a Little More Serious

When I acquired my Nikon 1 J1 and Panasonic GX1, the world started to take a more serious turn.  I happened on a sale for the J1 and it was worth getting to “stick my toe in” and see what this world held.  In reality, when it came down to function, my travel cameras could do more.  The bigger picture (no pun intended), was to see just how much better the larger sensors could do.  One thing with the J1 is, that it was actually meant to be used in its Auto Mode.  There’s not a lot manual about it, per se.  Even with the kit zoom and the bigger zoom, from a function standpoint, there isn’t a lot going for it.  HOWEVER, the metering is surprisingly dead on.  There’s this extra “richness” in certain photos that set it apart.  AND, it’s really not all that big.  And then there’s the Panasonic GX1.  I got this one to really look at the control side of things.  The J1 really got me intrigued and the GX1 basically was the next step.  I got the kit zoom and the bigger zoom.  The GX1 is a Micro Four Thirds camera at 16 megapixel and despite the fact that it’s a little complicated from the menu standpoint, it’s a pretty awesome unit.  I didn’t buy any more lenses for this one knowing full well a DSLR wasn’t that far away at this point.  Then there was the issue of carrying these things Smile

For both units, I had spare batteries, plus extra lenses.  What I wanted to do, was be able to carry these PLUS a travel camera as a minimum.  I really didn’t want a camera bag – I wanted something a little more substantial, and these ended up being a couple more slings.  For the J1, I found a Tamarac one and for the the GX1,  I got the National Geographic Explorer.  Both of these units have room to spare Smile

Tamarac_J1NG Explorer_GX1

Again, depending on what I’m planning to do, and usually it’s the GX1, I’ll toss a couple of smaller cameras in the sling and off I go.  In this instance, there is a very distinct intent to stop and take photos at some point.  Sometimes, it’s like that, sometimes its not Smile  The important thing here – one bag for everything.

And Then Came the DSLR

It took me almost a year to bite the bullet on the Nikon D3200.  A series of events took place that prompted me to get one.  The first event was a wedding.  It was my son’s friends wedding and it was a Chinese wedding.  I wanted to get a LOT of photos at this event – it went from about 2:00 p.m. to well past midnight.  I took 500+ photos with the majority being flash.  I used pretty well 3 batteries on the X10 and roughly 1/2 the battery on my Panasonic ZS25,  Then later in that summer, was a family reunion for my wife that ran over a weekend.  Again, lots of shots, used up battery power.  About a month after I got the GX1, there was a fashion show that my wife wanted me to shoot as a backup.  It was here where I found out what the GX1 COULDN’T do.  It wasn’t that it did bad, I found out very quickly that I didn’t have enough battery power and couldn’t control the built-in flash near as much I wanted. In the end, I did get a lot of shots, but at the same time, I did notice that the pro that was there, didn’t have the issues I had Sad smile  She didn’t need to swap out batteries, She was also doing bounce flash, which of course, makes certain shots super nice!!  More important, was flash cycling.  I was astounded at just how fast she could take shots.

The few months before I bought the Nikon D3200 and researched and researched.  Why the D3200 over more advanced models?  Well, in the end, it broke down to a couple of things.  The most important one was the fact that this was going to be a fairly low use camera (though that’s starting to change), so I didn’t want to drops tons of cash until I was sure.  The second was that it was newer technology.  The reviews were all kind of steering on towards one model up but last years model.  My conclusion was, that I would be able to use or see the difference.  The first step once I got the camera was to find a bag for it, of course.  I got the Nikon one.

Nikon Bag_D3200

This one was good for taking the D3200, charger, plus the usual accessories and had room to take another camera or two.  If I wanted to take the D3200 on one of my “out and abouts”, this actually worked really well.  BUT it didn’t really allow me to take say my iPad or even my Nexus 7, but not a big deal – I was usually in a vehicle.  The fashion show started to appear on the horizon.  I was toying with the idea of getting an external flash for either the GX1 or the D3200.  In the end, I decided it was going to be for the D3200 as that was the direction I was heading anyway.  Then it came down to which one?  I didn’t know enough nor did I have time to really research, but what research I did, was that IF I could find the SB400, which was discontinued, it would get me what I wanted and it would be inexpensive.  And it was Smile  It set me back about $130’ish.  If I had more time, I might have got the SB700, but I was a little paranoid about jumping that quick.  I found out that the shoot was merely days away not a few weeks like I had originally thought. In the end though, it probably save me a couple thousand dollars.  I was initially thinking of bumping up big.  A D7100 with the SB700 and the battery grip.  In the end, it was the SB400, a spare battery and a new sling.  For this shoot, I wanted to take both the D3200 and the GX1.  I was leaving from work, so there was also my daypack, so that took care of the extra cameras.  I had my Fuji XF1 and Panasonic ZS15.  The bag I decided to get was a LowePro Transit Sling. 

LowePro_D3200This one did carry both units quite easily with everything.  It took a bit to fit everything in, but it was no problem.  If I were driven to take the D3200 on a trip or something, lots of room just for it, plus other cameras if needed.  I then decided  to acquire the SB700.  The LowerPro could more than do what I was thinking of doing, but I started to look at what I was planning to do in the next few months and at least not have to worry about a new bag,.  The one I ended up with was the Kata 3N1 – 20 DL Sling Back Pack.

Kata_D3200_FlashThis is roughly the same height of  the LowePro, which is about right for me, but it’s got more room, so it’s more bulky but not bigger in the sense of bulkier.  It’s got more depth and that results in more room.

Both_D3200Both_sides_D3200

I really didn’t need this one, but I found it on a clear out Smile  Regular price was $129.95 and I acquired it for $49.95 – pretty hard to resist.  Yes, it took a bit to figure out the pocket configuration.  It has a bit of an awkward flap situation with locks in spots to spot the zipper from moving – safe, but awkward too.  For a big shoot where I needed to take a lot of gear, this is going to be a nice unit.  I’m currently using it just for all the D3200 gear to see how it works, and it is bulkier than the LowePro, but then again, it is a more serious bag.  For the moment, we’ll keep using it.

Staying Organized

One of the tougher things when your equipment starts to expand, is keeping things organized.  For me, I prefer to have my spare camera batteries and charger in the same bag all the time.  Basically anything related to the camera is going to be in that bag.  My SD card holder is about the only thing that will move between bags.  If I need to use one bag to combine systems, it’s all gotta be one place.  The upside – I don’t lose anything Smile  Yes, that means potentially more bags, but at the same time, everything is always in order. 

Setting It Up for Yourself – Lessons Learned

Ok – this is just a bit on my train of thought for equipment acquisition. Have I learned anything from this adventure to date?  Absolutely.

Technology Makes It Possible – When I was just taking snapshots, as long as I got something that looked good at 4 x6 inches, that’s pretty well all I thought about.  I pretty well ignored the technology for the most part.  I don’t know when I really hit that point where my interest really jumped up – I’m thinking when I got a Pentax Optio P70 or when my wife got her Panasonic FZ50, but that was when I noticed this HUGE difference in picture quality.  We still use both of these units today, though my wife actually uses a Panasonic SZ1 or XZ15 because she can fit them in her purse for the most part.  Her photos do get into newsletters, but the quality is more than adequate for that purpose.  When I look at the quality of photos from the majority of the equipment I own, I’m still astounded at what I’m getting for quality of photo.  Sure the bigger sensor cameras ultimately do a better job, but at 4×6 inch or even iPad size – well, it’s still pretty good Smile 

Personal Preferences Carves the Path – How far you take this is only for you to decide.  This isn’t just about gear.  For me, I’ve already done a lot from the 35mm days, so using digital equipment is a tool for me.  I carved my own path and still learning.  Just ‘cause you get a better camera or better gear isn’t going to make you a better photographer Smile  For me, I COULD have jumped to a DSLR a lot quicker than I did and probably saved myself a pile of dough.  I decided against that and leveraged the travel cameras to figure out the next steps.  Despite it costing me a lot more money, the things I learned, helped for future decisions.  There were a couple of hitches along the way – the Nikon 1 J1 came right in the middle of my travel camera buying spree, but it gave me a glimpse of a new class of camera that led to the Panasonic GX1.  I don’t use the longer zooms on either of these, and that ultimately led me to getting flash instead of a longer zoom when I got the Nikon D3200.  That doesn’t mean I’m not going to get one, there’s going to be a longer one attached to my D7100 Smile  When it came to getting a DSLR, the D3200 was a pretty definitive decision.  I wasn’t going to go big here YET.  Too much to learn, though I am learning very quickly. 

Studying the craft around photography is just as important.  Understanding yourself and the things you want to do with photography is every bit as important.  Get out there, take a bunch of photos, look at them.  Try all those various settings on that camera and let the camera reveal what it an do.  Don’t own a digital camera?  Moving from a smartphone to a digital?  Look at few reviews and then just buy one within your budget.  From my side – just go forward Smile  Take friends advice tongue and cheek – PLEASE…..   I give advice just as much as the next person, BUT I already have the gear and can prove my theories.  I’m still learning about DSLR’s but would never recommend one to someone new.  It’s tough enough learning the craft let alone all the buttons and dials.  You can read all you want, but you know what – nothing beats getting out there and doing your own thing.  See something in a mag or see a photo you like and makes you wonder how they did that shot?  Take your camera out there and see if you can reproduce it Smile  Don’t be scared to push your camera to its limits and find out what it can and can’t do.  If it can’t do something you want, write it down – when it comes time for the new camera, make sure it has that feature.  Look at other people’s photos.  If you have someone you know that is an avid photographer, have them look at your photos, look at theirs – find out how they took the shot.  Nothing teaches you faster than talking with someone who knows.  There’s nothing like learning and learning faster is not a bad thing – just remember to keep taking photos.  Learning is one thing, executing is another.  Despite what I know from my 35mm days, I still consider myself a newbie to a certain extent.

One of BIG pet peeves are the ones that keep telling me that the DSLR is the only way to go Sad smile  I keep asking “why” and guess what?  The answer is usually that it has better resolution, it has better control, or the most stupid one of all – “IT TAKES BETTER PICTURES”!!!!!.  Resolution I get – but how often am I going to be at 50% crop or better (this means you will be cropping out half your photo and still get a photo that is clear).  Yes, those instances do occur, but you know what?  If have something that zooms in 50% more to frame correctly, is there a difference?Smile  More important, if you are doing this consistently, you need a lesson in composition.  Control – well maybe, but you need to know what you are doing before you can exert control. The technology, to me, has brought high quality photos to literally everyone.  Moving to more advanced equipment requires some thinking and planning.  I know so many people who own DLSR’s but don’t take photos Smile 

The other one I hear a lot of is “You can always fix it in software”.  To me, to a certain extent, it tells me you did something wrong at the outset Smile  Yes, I can see using software if certain conditions stop you from getting that shot, but still, those, in theory, should be few and far between.  Yes, I’ve had situations where I knew ahead of time that I would have a lot of post processing, but I knew that going in and made sure my gear could capture at a high enough resolution that a 50% crop wouldn’t matter.  The rest – color and exposure were pretty well dead on.  My experience in 35mm taught me a lot about getting the right shot the first time.  It was expensive to get photos processed, let alone getting custom crops done.  Software today makes this easy, but that also means you shouldn’t depend on it either.  The goal should be to get that shot correct the first time. With the ability to preview with digital, there’s opportunity to get a better shot.  Until you are proficient, you can take multiple shots easily and then keep the best one.  As one advances and it does take time, you can get that shot.  Time – it takes time and it takes a lot of shots.

Example – my flash units.  Getting ready for the fashion shoot, I took over 500 shots just figuring out the flash unit itself and got confident enough to be ready.  I did get a couple of surprises but they were low impact.  Since then, I’ve also acquired the SB700 and have taken at least 500 shots with it and even more with the SB400 to compare. The shots in this post were taken with the D3200 and the SB400 with the sun coming in the window.  I did a bounce off the ceiling and then cropped a bit before converting the images down to web size.  I also used the Panasonic GX1 in the same fashion for the shots where my D3200 was “modeling”.  I used the built-in flash but still bounced the shot (The GX1 flash swivels so I can tilt it manually Smile)  It took a couple of shots to figure out the bounce angle, but in the end, it was all good Smile 

Another example – sunsets and sunny scenes.  The meters in today’s cameras are pretty good, but quite simply, in Auto Mode, they just don’t quite cut it.  Knowing your camera a bit can still get you that shot.  Most of today’s cameras have something called a Scene mode that can pre set your camera to get that shot.  The other way, is to drop the EV by –1.7 or –2.0.  Understanding exposure goes a long way here Smile  That Scene mode is actually pretty slick if you know how to take advantage of it.  I’ve found a few “gliches” though, and this goes back to knowing the camera.  Some don’t do snowy scenes so well, but underexposing will take care of that.  Depending on the camera, the sunny beach setting doesn’t necessarily bring out that clouds and sky.  Again, underexposing a bit can help.

Depending on where you want to take this, carrying you camera can be as simple as a pocket.  Many don’t advance or have any urge to do so.  That’s fine.  For the ones that do, it’ll become a juggling act.  My time constraints and the type of work I do, don’t allow me to have my higher end gear easily available at all times.  I also have a few “avenues” of interest.  Like everyone else, I do the family and social things and take photos there.  I like landscapes, architecture, and close ups.  I do renovation work with my properties and at home so I take a lot of photos of interiors and real estate and reno projects. I enjoy doing plant photography.  I also enjoy light box shots.  More recently, I’ve taken an interest in flash photography.  Is there one thing I enjoy more than another?  At this stage of the game – not really – I just like taking photosSmile  Will I ever turn pro?  Free lance ultimately, pro – probably not.  I have a couple of theories that I’m playing with but I’m expecting things to evolve.  More gear and more bags – no question that’s going to happen. 

Bottom line – as you move along your path, figure out a way to keep that camera with you all the time Smile

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About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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