Camera Kit Updates

by Oct 31, 2019

It’s inevitable, of course, but since I wrote my what’s in my camera bag piece a few months ago, the kit has had some changes made to it. Until I have a chance to revise that piece again, I wanted to talk about those updates here.

The new bag


Tenba 20L Axis Backpack: as I was planning for my trip to the Art Wolfe Photo Retreat, I realized that I needed a good backpack bag. My old bag was simply too large for my mirrorless gear and so encouraged me to carry too much stuff. After doing some research I ended up getting the Tenba Axis 20 liter sized backpack, and I pretty much love it.

It is designed to fight the smaller, lighter gear of a mirrorless camera system. there is a pocket at the top and one on the side that you can open to pull out a camera with lens attached without opening the entire thing. When you do open the full bag, the lid is the part of the bag attached to the shoulder straps and your bag.

I can easily fit two bodies with my 16-55 F2.8 and 50-140 F2.8 (Fuji equivalents to the 24-70 and 70-200) attached to bodies and ready to go. I can also reconfigure it to home my 100-400 attached to one of the bodies. there’s room inside for the needed accessories and an extra lens or two, like the 60mm macro. For the Wolfe retreat, I carried the 16-55 and 100-400 in it with the 60mm macro and the 8mm fisheye, extension tubes and ND filters and the bag wasn’t at all cracked, and the entire thing fully loaded was about 17 pounds.

For those times when I really want to travel with all three of my big, heavy lenses, I added a Lowepro Lens Case which nicely fits the 100-400. It attaches to main bag with velcro straps, or I can just carry it separately, but it means everything is well protected in transit.

All in all, this was a nice upgrade and I’m really happy with it. It’s noticeably smaller and lighter than my old Lowepro backpack and the change saves me about half a pound in weight. I still use the Bihn Maker bag as my daypack where I’ll travel somewhere with the Tenba bag packed and then haul out the specific gear I need and carry in the smaller one, except when I’m doing longer hikes and want to have everything with me. I still try to unpack any gear I don’t think I’ll want for a specific shoot and leave it behind when I can to keep total weight down.

Shutter Remotes

When I wrote my bag piece I was really frustrated trying to figure out what shutter remotes to use with the X-T3. I’ve since resolved that and I have to admit to a bit of an own-goal on the problem. The problem: on the left side of the camera they changed the connector from micro-USB to USB-C. Most remotes for Fuji use either the micro-USB or connect to the 2.5mm microphone port. the X-T3 has a 3.5mm port.

What I didn’t realize until well after I wrote that piece is that the X-T3 also has a 2.5mm port for shutter releases. I’d blame this on not reading the documentation, but I did and it still didn’t connect. The reason? the 2.5mm port is not with the other ports, but on the other side of the camera in its own small enclosure on the right side of the camera near the card slot door.

Once I figured that out… I’ve settled on the JJC Intervalometer remote as my primary shutter release, although I also have a basic Fuji RR-100 that doesn’t require batteries for when I don’t want the added features and just want a button on the end of the cable.

Tripods

Coming back from the workshop, the one piece of equipment I knew I needed to change was the tripod. As I was trying to do more close focus and macro work, my tripod simply couldn’t let me get the camera where I wanted it to be, whether that was close to the ground or close to a tree trunk; I needed a way to stabilize a camera but couldn’t do so if the camera was stuck directly on top of the tripod between the legs.

Additionally, I found, to my sadness, my long-time favorite tripod head, an Induro ballhead, was slipping with the 100-500 attached, no matter how hard I cranked the knobs. It seemed like it was simply wearing out and couldn’t keep the grip any more (I confirmed this once I got home: age and wear had taken it).

I knew there were tripods that allowed you to take and shift the center column at angles, and so when I got back, I went tripod shopping.

I ended up buying the Vanguard Alto Pro 263AT Tripod for about $180 for the legs. As you can see from the photo, the center column can be shifted at angles or aimed down at the ground, allowing a lot more flexibility. I had originally planned on spending the money needed to get carbon fiber legs, but while Vanguard does this tripod in carbon as well, it was $80 more and only saved a quarter pound. In picking this up, unlike many tripods, it’s not immediately obvious that this is an aluminum tripod and not carbon fiber. The legs are rated for 15 pounds of gear, more than enough for what I put on it. Folded it’s 24″, fully extended at a bit over 5 feet.

To replace the ball head, I went with the Benro PU60 triple action with the arca-swiss style quick release. At $124 I feel it’s a good bargain and can stand up to large lenses, with a 22 pound rating for gear, and it weighs a bit under a pound. The legs and head together weigh about 5 pounds.

I haven’t used it extensively yet but I like this setup. It feels rock solid. The legs extend and collapse quickly and easily, the tripod head is easy to adjust and doesn’t slip, and actually has nicer knobs than my Induro did.

It will get good usage this winter in bad conditions and I’ll report on this in more detail later.

this makes me a 3+ tripod photographer, god help me. My second tripod, which also lives in the car, is used primarily with my birding spotting scope but sometimes holds my second camera with a wide angle lens for landscapes. That one is the Neewer Carbon Fiber, and at under $100 with a decent ballhead, is what I recommend these days as a value buy for people looking for a tripod without spending a lot of money. It does have some jiggle to it, but for the price, I haven’t found better.

I also recently bought a 3 legged things Punks Corey tripod. At $179 it’s my most expensive tripod, and there are aspects of it I really like, and aspects I don’t. This is a magnesium alloy tripod, not carbon fiber, and it feels heavy to me even though the specs say 3.5 pounds. It’s max extension is a bit less than 5 feet. It’s rock solid and I love the leg extension mechanisms, but in practice, I found it a touch short. On the plus side, it collapses to about 14″, vs 20+ for the other tripods, so it’s a great travel tripod where you want to stick it into your checked bag. I find I’m using it more here in the office with the tabletop studio, but I’m going to give it more of a workout this winter on some of my trips and compare it head to head.

New Camp Chair


It feels a bit silly talking about a camp chair as a piece of kit, but… with my knees, being able to sit down is the difference between a long shooting session and an aborted one. I’ve had a big, heavy chair built to handle 500 pounds for years, which is rock solid and comfortable, but, well, it’s really heavy, and that was something I really noticed during the photo workshop. I realized after I got back that, having lost a lot of weight, I probably had options that would handle the new, lighter me and be a lot less of a thing to have to carry around.

I was right. I ended up buying a Coleman Portable Camping Chair that is specced to handle 325 pounds for $40. It weighs almost half what my old, tank of a chair weighs, and that difference is quite noticable. In sitting in it it feels solid and stable and I don’t have any sense I’m stressing its capacity. We’ll see how it holds up over the winter in regular use.

At a bit under 8 pounds, it’s more than I want to strap onto my backpack when I’m out and away from the car, but it is something I can carry reasonably (unlike my older chair). In doing more research, there are actually chairs designed for backpackers that are closer to 2-3 pounds but able to handle 300 pounds, and when I lose a bit more weight, I’ll definitely give them a try. Right now, I think this is the right chair for me, assuming it holds up to use — which I’m betting it does.