CAMERA GEAR: Inside our Camera Bags
Since we are frequently asked about our photography gear, we are maintaining a current list here. We take the following set of gear and supplies with us on any photography trip longer than a few days. Not all of these items go in our bags on every outing but we always have these items available to bring along depending on the conditions and focus on the trip.
Beyond the typical laundry list of camera gear, we annotate the list to help explain why we use some of these items. While a lot of these things will seem obvious to experienced photographers, we hope this compilation will be helpful to newer photographers who are trying to establish their photography kit for the first time. If you are looking for more in-depth information about gear for landscape photographers, we recommend The Complete Guide to Gear for Landscape Photographers, a very comprehensive and helpful ebook written by Justin Reznick. You can also read more about what other nature photographers bring along in their camera bags in this round-up of 16 interviews from Mighty Goods.
First, a caveat: Gear does matter... just not that much. While quality gear is an important tool for landscape photography, the most recent and expensive gear is in no way essential to making inspirational, high-quality photographs. As you will see below, we are using old cameras with fairly modest lenses and are both happy with our results. We encourage photographers to invest more in experiences, education, and getting out in the field over continually buying the latest and greatest. Your photographs will likely improve more than they ever would because of a new camera purchase. If you have a bunch of spare cash sitting around, then sure, buy the best system you can afford but don't expect it to make your photos magically better.
Unless we are backpacking or going for a long, difficult hike, we each take our camera and most of our lenses (usually choosing between the 70-200mm + teleconverter OR the 100-400mm lens). With our range of gear, we have lenses covering between 16mm and 560mm for our full frame cameras, giving us the tools necessary to take photos of a very wide variety of scenes and subjects. Since unexpected opportunities can pop up at any moment, we prefer to be prepared with a wide range of gear, even if an extra lens or two might make the bag heavier. Although it was not intentional, we each ended up with almost the exact same set of equipment so this list is representative of what we both bring along in our individual camera bags.
- Canon 6D full-frame camera body - Still going strong after five years of heavy use! This 20.2 megapixel camera is almost ancient by DSLR standards but is a solid piece of equipment that produces good-quality files (not as impressive as a Nikon D850, of course, but enough to make large prints and high-quality digital files).
- Canon 16-35 mm f/4 L lens - We have used both of Canon's other wide angle L-series lenses, the 17-40 mm f/4 and the 16-35 mm f/2.8, and the 16-35 f/4 is the best for our needs by a wide margin. It is fairly light, sharper than its two Canon companions, and produces a nice sunstar.
- Canon 24-105 mm f/4 L lens - An imperfect workhorse of a lens. This lens has a very useful focal range but has an infuriating design flaw (the lens extends on its own when pointed downward) and it isn't as sharp as its L-series brethren. If you are looking to buy a lens with this focal range, make sure you look at the more recent second version of this lens, which is getting better reviews than the first version that we use.
- Canon 100 mm f/2.8 L macro lens - This is a dream of a lens for macro photography, with the ability to closely focus on a subject and stay quite sharp through the range of apertures.
- Canon 70-200 mm f/4 L lens - This is possibly the best Canon lens deal out there. The lens is incredibly affordable for the quality and it is very lightweight, making it a great telephoto option for landscape photographers who hike a lot. Sarah has owned her version of this lens for eight years and it is still performing like new (purchased for $550, it has definitely earned its keep).
- Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary Lens (quite a name!)- The range of the lens opens up many opportunities for landscape photography and the quality is excellent for the price. Two related issues: 1) this lens does not have a tripod collar, and 2) you need to use perfect technique (mirror lock-up, remote release, and a delay after touching the lens/camera plus no wind) when using longer exposures. The autofocus also hunts a lot in lower light. Even with these drawbacks, we enjoy using this lens and would recommend it with the caveats above. The Canon 1.4x teleconverter discussed below does work with this lens. If you have more money to spend, the second version of the Canon 100-400mm lens is worth considering. We have a friend who uses the similar Tamron 100-400 lens with the optional tripod color and he likes it a lot. If we were to buy again, we would consider the Tamron plus the tripod collar.
- Canon 1.4x teleconverter - This teleconverter extends the range of the 70-200 mm lens to 280 mm, helping make an already versatile lens even better.
- Canon G7X pocket camera - This is a very small pocket camera that offers good quality files. It is great for scouting, taking travel/memory photos, and having along when bringing a full camera set-up is too cumbersome.
- Really Right Stuff BH-40 ballhead and L-plate (the much less expensive SunwayFoto L-plate also works for the Canon 6D but does not fit as snugly as the Really Right Stuff plate). An L-plate makes switching from horizontal to vertical camera orientation easier and more stable on your tripod. It might seem crazy to spend more than $100 on a small piece of metal but L-plates are a really useful piece of gear.
- F-stop Loka camera bag with medium Internal Camera Unit (ICU) - F-stop no longer makes the Loka but offers some similar bags. Based on our experience, their bags are great for photographers who want a camera bag that is comfortable for short hiking trips. The Loka also fits in overhead compartments on most airlines, which makes it good for traveling as well. If you plan to buy an F-stop bag, order it well in advance as they sometimes have long wait times for their products. This F-stop bag isn't great for long hikes, like more than 5 or 6 miles, with a full pack.
- Pack for long day hikes and backpacking: For long or hard day hikes, Sarah uses her Osprey backpacking pack instead.
- Filters, including a circular polarizer for each lens (like this one) and a few solid neutral density filters (like this 3-stop filter). A circular polarizer helps remove glare (wet surfaces, like foliage), enhance glare (like a reflection in a lake), enhance rainbows, and darken skies under certain circumstances (all effects that are difficult or impossible to mimic in Photoshop). A neutral density filter helps extend the shutter speed while leaving aperture and ISO the same (like allowing you to take a 1/4 sec exposure and turn it into a 1-second exposure without adjusting your aperture or ISO, which can be helpful when photographing a subject like moving water). We do not use graduated neutral density filters and instead blend exposures for dynamic range in Photoshop when necessary.
- Two extra camera batteries - When using live view extensively, an extra battery is necessary after a full day of photography with our Canon cameras. We always have a few charged spares in case we do not have a chance to charge batteries between photography outings or for backpacking trips when we need a few days' worth of battery power. At least for Canon, the more expensive Canon-branded batteries seem to last much longer than their off-brand counterparts.
- Remote release - While using your camera's built-in timer can work for certain situations, using a remote release allows for hands-free camera operation (potentially sharper files, especially with longer lenses) and more precise timing (like timing an exposure for the moment the wind calms down or when a wave hits a certain spot). Since the Canon branded remote releases and intervalometers are expensive but do not last any longer than the off-brands, we always keep a small supply of off-brand remote releases on hand.
- Portable 5-in-1 reflectors - We share 22-inch and 36-inch models. These reflectors, which collapse for easy storage, can be very handy for creating shade when photographing small scenes like plants or foliage. This tool helps make photographing small subjects possible at any time of day.
- Sandisk 16GB memory cards and ThinkTank Pocket Rocket memory card case - We each have one case for unused cards that stays in the photo pack and one with photo files that we each keep with us at all times while traveling. We both use 16GB cards, instead of 32GB or 64GB, to reduce the risk of a card failing and losing a large number of photos. We also back up photos to a laptop whenever possible while traveling to make sure that we do not lose files due to lost or corrupted memory cards (and memory cards do get corrupted, as happened to one of Sarah's cards that included files from a hike to Zion's Subway, a trip that isn't super-easy to repeat). Here is a long article about our back-up strategies for more information on this topic.
- Miscellaneous accessories including microfiber cleaning clothes, Kim Wipes for lens cleaning, Giottos Rocket air blower (dust removal and sensor cleaning), small brush for cleaning up small scenes,REI microfiber towel to cover the camera in light snow and rain (see photo at the top of this post), and a free hotel shower cap (sometimes a good tool for keeping the camera mostly dry since systems designed for this use are way too cumbersome in practice).
- Silica gel packets and large zip-lock bags for drying out camera gear that has been exposed to rain or snow. Since our cameras are weather sealed, we feel comfortable using them in light rain and snow. Still, water exposure can cause fogging or damage so when we expose our cameras to water, we try to dry them out immediately. While a lot of people recommend using rice for this purpose, rice can leave fine dust in camera gear (as we have learned from experience, with the line item of "cleaned for rice debris" noted on a repair invoice). Now, we use silica packs instead because they are cleaner and absorb more moisture than rice does, making them more effective and cleaner. You can collect silica packets from shoe box purchases or buy them in bulk online. If you use your camera in wet weather, also be sure that your gear is fully insured with protection for water damage.
- Allen wrenches/hex keys - One for your tripod and one for your ballhead/L-plate set-up. We always keep these small wrenches in our camera pack as a loose tripod leg or L-plate can make photography difficult or at least annoying. Having the wrench along equals an instant fix.
Hiking & Miscellaneous Items
- Gaia GPS App: In addition to being a good hiking companion, a hiking GPS is a really handy tool for location scouting, navigating to specific photography spots on mostly featureless terrain (like a specific spot on a flat, expansive playa), returning to specific spots for sunrise, or returning to your car after dark. We use the Gaia GPS app, which we discuss in detail in this post.
- Clothing - On most days, we typically have two jackets (North Face Thermoball insulated layer and an Arc'teryx Gore-Tex rain shell) and a wool hat stuffed in our backpacks. More extreme weather will mean bringing along additional supplies, like hand warmers, waterproof/insulated pants, extra socks, warmer jackets, etc.
- Hiking poles make hiking over rugged terrain with a heavy pack much more comfortable and less tiring.
- Walkie-talkies to help communicate when we are out photographing (since we might be in the same area but do not actually stay together when photographing).
- Small, lightweight foam pad. This kind of pad can be used as a knee pad or seat when out in the field. Since this only weighs about an ounce, it is a great little accessory to have along.
- Highly fashionable fishing waders for use when photographing the coast, rivers, and streams (like this pair with separate wader boots or Crocs fishing shoes). Even though the waders with separate boots are more expensive than the all-in-one versions, the separate wader/boot combination is more flexible and lasts longer in our experience. The waders by themselves are also light enough to carry on a hike, whereas the waders with integrated boots are really heavy and cumbersome. Neoprene socks and water shoes/sandals can also work under certain circumstances, as well. While some photographers are willing to go into cold water and get numb feet, we would rather be warm, be able to enjoy photography for a longer period of time, and keep our hiking boots in better shape.
- The Ten Essentials, plus other emergency items: first aid kit plus matches in a waterproof container, a mini roll of duct tape, a few large safety pins, Potable Aqua water treatment tablets, a small supply of Advil and Benadryl, sunscreen, and chapstick.
- Headlamp and an extra set of batteries.
- Water, food, and miscellaneous supplies depending on the day (plus a whole other list of things if we are going backpacking).
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