What's in my bag?

I go through phases of gear-envy and wanting the next greatest thing but, over time, I've decided that there is a limit to what is actually necessary — for me, anyway. My last film body was a Nikon F100 — not the then-top-of-the-line F3. The F100 did what I needed it to do in a more lightweight and compact package. And that's the critical thing: it did what I needed it to do. There will always be compromises. You give up something that might be nice to have for something that is more important to you. No single camera is the perfect camera, and I think that is why many photographers keep chasing gear. We always think think the next camera will solve all of our problems. But you know what? It probably won't. Over the years I've become quite satisfied with finding gear that does just what I need and that will stand up to the abuse I'll give it (which for me isn't all that much abusebad weather and rain is usually my biggest issue although I can tell you what a brand new D700 sounds like when it hits the pavement).


above images from Nikon website


Truth be told, the last few years since digital came along have been rough for a guy like me that likes to hold onto his gear until it wears out. My first digital camera was an Apple Quicktake 200 that shot at a resolution of 640 x 480, if memory serves. Obviously, this wasn't going to replace film for me yet. I followed through a string of Nikonsa 990, D100, D200 and D300 — and currently shoot with a Nikon D700 and a D7000.

When I reached the D300, I really felt like I had what I needed and when I added the full-frame D700 as a second body, it seemed to be the perfect pairing. Both were of similarly rugged build but were fairly small and light, and both had controls in similar places making switching back and forth very easy. The quality coming from these cameras, and even the D200 before them, was finally to the point where I never thought about whether their images were "as good as film". And what made the D300 and D700 different also made them perfect together. The D300 has a "cropped", DX sensor while the D700 has a full-frame 35mm sensor (FX, in Nikon's terminology). In a way, this expanded the number of lenses I was carrying at any given time because they would (sort of) be 50% longer on the DX body.

I honestly would have been happy stopping there but something came along that changed my needsI began to require video capabilities. When the D7000 came along adding video to a camera that was otherwise fairly similar to my D300, I made the switch. I still have the advantage of carrying a DX and FX body, although some of the controls were moved in the design of the D7000, so moving back and forth is not quite as seemless as it once was.

So that's where the bodies stand for me today: a D700 and a D7000. The act as back-ups for each other but I also often shoot with both in order to reduce my need to change lenses.

And you might ask, why Nikon? I've been shooting Nikon since I migrated over from my old Olympus OM-4Ts. Nikons just seem to fit my hands well and I tend to like their control placements. Over time the menus have become familiar as well. I personally don't think any one brand is so superior to others that you can say it is the "best", it's just what works best for you and what you are most comfortable using.




A: Nikkor 10.5mm fisheye
This is a bit of a novelty lens for me. It's so small and light that I usually toss it in the bag, but I don't often sell images from it. I does have it's moments, but a little goes a long way.

B: Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8
Probably my most-used lens. This is left over from my old F100 kit and I stubbornly hung onto it hoping that Nikon would eventually come out with a full-frame digital body so that I could use it to its fullest again. The D700 has once again made this a favorite.

C: Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Small, light and with a fast 1.8 aperture, this is a nice lens for when I want to restrict myself a bit more or when I want to be a little less flashy on the street. The 17-35 actually attracts quite a bit of attention at times even though it's not all that large.

D: Nikkor 60mm Micro
My go-to lens for macro work whether that be food shots or trinkets in a souvenir shop. It can also make a decent portrait lens and isn't as intimidating as using the 80-200.

E: Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8
I often carry the 17-35 on the full-frame D700 and this 80-200 on the DX D7000 where it becomes more like a 120-300 due to the cropped sensor. With those two zooms, I'm good for both ends of the range which is where I typically like to shoot.

F: Tamron 18-270mm
I've always like to have one all-in-one zoom on hand for times when I don't want to take an entire bag of gear out with me. I had been using a Nikon 24-120 until Tamron asked me to try this 18-270 (Full disclosure: Tamron provided me this lens as partial payment for some ads I shot for them). The extra range was welcome and it's sharp enough for a lot of non-critical shooting. While I doubt one single lens will ever entirely replace my Nikkors and prime lenses, this one does cover a lot of bases when I need to go super-light.

G: Lensbaby Composer
Another novelty lens but can give some very nice effects when used well.

Those are the lenses that typically accompany me when I travel although on some days I may not take them all out in the field with me. I tend to pick and choose, depending on that day's itinerary.

H: Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 (not pictured)

This manual focus lens is a recent addition to my bag and I initially bought it specifically for working with very shallow depth-of-field, since my only other lens faster than 2.8 is my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8. After using the Rokinon for awhile now, I've found that it actually has a fairly unique look, even when stopped down. The out-of-focus areas are smooth and creamy and the contrast is very nice. It's not always convenient to go manual focus, but when I have the time and the situation is right, I've been finding this lens quite useful.


I very seldom use lighting in the field but there are times that it can be a life saver. I do carry a Nikon SB-600 which I can either use on camera or off, using the built-in flashes on my D700 & D7000 to fire it remotely. I also carry three diffusers balanced for daylight, tungsten and flourescent. There's also a small reflector that folds down to fit in my bag for times when I just need to bounce a little light onto a subject. Last but not least I have a few small flashlights that can be used to "light paint" objects or for finding things in my bag on night shoots.


I have a fairly compact Hakuba carbon fiber tripod to which I have attached a standard camera strap so that I can easily carry it over my shoulder. It's the one piece of gear that goes in my checked luggage when flying, everything else goes carryon. It's sometimes difficult to make yourself carry a tripod but it can be invaluable for shooting long exposures of fountains, waterfalls or just getting blurred traffic or crowds. Also, now that I'm shooting video it has be come even more critical.


Since the effects of most filters can be duplicated in Lightroom or Photoshop now, there are only a few that I still carry: a polarizer, ND and ND grads, and bi-color polarizers (blue-yellow and purple-orange). I no longer find a need for warming filters or white balance filters because much better control of those effects are now possible with softward. Polarizers are still indespensible, though. As are ND filters which can actually allow you to get a slow enough shutter speed for motion blur in bright sun.

Data Storage, etc.

I have two great little Gepe Card Safe Extreme cases for memory cards. They have inserts that hold a variety of formats so my SD cards can actually sit behind my CF cards, saving space. I have a dark grey one for unused cards and a red one for used cards. I also carry a small Apple laptop and two portable hard drives and try and back up my cards to both drives each night when travelling. I keep the two drives in separate bags in case one goes missing.


ThinkTankPhoto bags
above photos from Think Tank Photo website

The bag itself

Sometimes I think finding the right bag is harder than finding any other piece of photographic equipment. I've bought a lot of bags over the years but have lately been using only two and they are both from Think Tank Photo.

One is a full backpack, their Airport Ultralight 2.0. It holds everything I carry including my laptop and it built really well. It's perfect for travel days when I'm going through airports, etc., but don't need to shoot. I do use it in the field at times as well, but recently I've found that getting a backpack on and off everytime I need a new lens is too difficult.

That's what led me to my second bag, a Think Tank Sling-O-Matic. This bag is not quite as comfortable to carry when fully-loaded, but when you have a body or two out of it and are shooting, it's fine. Best of all, it swings around so that you can access its contents without removing it.

Scottevest Fleece JacketI should also mention one other bag-that's-not-a-bag that I've recently added and that's my Scottevest fleece jacket.

Scottevests are known for their many pockets and weight distribution system and I find that they are perfect for holding a variey of smaller gear. You probably won't want a 500mm lens in your pocket but there are plenty of places where small prime lenses and even mid-range zooms can be easily accomodated.

I've found that Scottevests are great for getting through airports as well. I can load up pockets with ipods, phones, portable hard drives, memory card cases, etc. and keep lots of those smaller items out of my carryon. This is good not only in case of a hand-inspection, but also for weight as I'm always pushing the limit with my carryon bag anyway. Most pockets zip or close with velcro, too, so you don't need to worry about things falling out of pockets when your jacket goes in the x-ray tray.





Bodies -
Nikon D700 (Full frame)
Nikon D7000 (DX with video)

Lenses -
Nikkor 10.5mm fisheye
Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8
Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Nikkor 60mm Micro
Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8
Tamron 18-270mm
Lensbaby Composer
Rokinon 85mm f/1.4

Lighting -
Nikon SB-600

Tripod -
Hakuba Carbon Fiber

Filters -
Circular Polarizer
ND & ND grads
Bi-color Polarizers

Data Storage, etc. -
CF & SD cards, 1gb to 16gb
Gepe Card Safe Extreme (2)
Apple 12" MacBook
Portable Hard Drive (2)

Bags -
Think Tank Airport Ultralight
Think Tank Sling-O-Matic


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