I subscribe to too many camera discussions where the premise is "what's in your camera bag?" Like watching car crash videos on YouTube, there's nothing good about this habit, but I just can't help myself. This is my own failing. But as much as I can't stop looking, I don't contribute to the groups. The reason is, while others throw everything and the kitchen sink into their bags, what I put in my camera bag is unimpressive – just one camera with a lens attached to it. Or if I want to splurge, there'll be an extra lens in the bag. Or, if we want to absolutely wild, and I do mean balls to the walls out-of-your-pants crazy, two extra lenses.
Back in the bad-old-days when I had just the one camera, I put it, and every camera accessory I owned, in a bag for storage and transport, and that's the bag I took with me when I wanted to use the camera. Since then, I have grown, as has my gear collection, and I have come to see the wisdom of having a home completely full of cameras and camera accessories. No longer am I burdened by having all of my gear possibly fit into one bag. Gone are the days of using the same camera for all my photograph making. No, I am now free! Free to trap myself in a world of indecision. A world with a gluttony of choice! So much choice, that no logic can guide photographic decisions, as the factors to weigh and compare are beyond the computational limit of even the most advanced computer. My camera bag runneth over! I have soundly defeated logic, handily defeated reason. I must surrender to emotion – let "feelings" arrest my free will, and give in to pure intuition.
So as I was saying, I have now have more cameras and accessories than can fit in a bag, and so when I go forth and take photos, I must first choose which subset of my gear to bring. And what I have discovered is that the less gear I bring, the better the photos.
This may seem counter-intuitive at first (it was to me), but with experience it comes to make perfect sense. Each time I set up the camera – pick a camera, set the image settings (or film type), and put a lens on the front – I am beginning to visualize in my head how the final image will look before I even push the shutter. And as the first few frames start rolling by, I get more and more "in tune" with the setup, and the images start flowing naturally, without me having to consciously consider each detail. As I get into the rhythm, and my brain re-orients itself to thinking like the camera, the resulting images get better.
But then go and make a fundamental change – switch films, change lenses, or even swap cameras – and I'll lose that groove. I have found this to be the case time and again. I need to keep re-teaching myself this lesson, though, because I am a gear nut, and I'm always looking for an excuse to throw some extra gear into the bag. Sometimes a lens change can be minor enough to not fully interrupt, but film and camera changes always disrupt me. When self-control wins, and I take only a minimalist setup, that's when my photos are best.
If you follow a similar philosophy to mine, there are some consequences, or benefits, depending on your point of view.
By "weird" I mean lenses at the extreme ends – ultra-wides, super tele-photos – and lenses with special features, like fisheyes, macro lenses, and soft focus. These weird lenses have far too narrow a use for me to waste the space carrying them around.
Zoom lenses give me too many options, especially standard zooms where the lens zooms from wide angle to long. I do use my telephoto zoom lens, but even then I have chosen the physically smallest option for my camera system. Yes, a standard zoom is convenient, so I do, at times, tolerate their presence, but to me, it's always a compromise.
Because I'm carrying less camera, I need less camera bag. This means I can get away with carrying around my camera in many types of bags, and don't need a giant "THINKTANK" branded backpack and fanny pack strapped to me at all times.
Literally oodles and oodles of these things. Any prime between 24mm and 50mm (full frame equivalent) is like gear catnip to me. They're everywhere around my home.
Unlike some other things I don't personally use, I actually respect flashes and am in awe of people who use them well. I'm not one of those people who says this having never spent the time learning flash, either. I did put in effort to learn the ways of the flash, and had brief glimpses of their power, but I never found a way of fitting them into my workflows. For my style, they're just too much to carry for relatively little gain.
I am a gear nut, but at home. While actually taking photos, I (believe it or not) try to focus on making good photos, and not on the gear. The fascination that camera gear holds for me is in its ability to create beautiful and meaningful images. My relentless pursuit of more gear is in the service of using that gear – of seeing the potential unleashed in new and exciting ways. If I can't use the camera to make dramatic images, then it quickly loses my attention. This is why this website barely even acknowledges my cabinet of broken "display" cameras. Those are dead, only useful as heirlooms or conversation pieces. Any camera I can make work, I do, and it lives in a state of readiness, not display.That SD memory card really ties the whole scene together.
The point of all of this is that what is in my camera changes all the time. What's actually in my camera bag? Most likely, it's a camera, some film, and one or two prime lenses with focal lengths between 24mm and 50mm (full frame equivalent). If I'm feeling zesty I'll toss in either a long prime, or a long zoom. For accessories, I try to remember a lens cleaner and my business cards and a pen. I usually carry a spare battery. On occasion I'll carry a circular polarizer, and if shooting monochrome film on the Leica I might attach a color filter. If I'm going to shoot long exposure (or the Kowa/SIX at any exposure length), I'll bring a tripod and a screw-in remote shutter release. If I'm shooting Kodak 120 film rolls, I bring scotch tape. On more delicate lenses, I do bring the lens cap.
So that's it, that's the camera gear that's in my bag. I don't bring bayonet-mount hoods (they're clumsy and get in the way), I don't bring extra memory cards (I just buy large cards so I never have to change them out), I don't bring neckstraps or bubble levels or UV filters or gray cards or flash tupperware or so much other junk that I was once guilty of toting along.
Travel light, my friends.
First published on 19 Nov 2016; last updated on 27 Jan 2017.
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