Whats in My Bag?
All of this is my own opinion and none of these links are affiliate links. I do not get any sort of kickback or payment from any of these companies for this write up.
After putting out articles each month for over three years now, I realized that I have not done an article on gear. Maybe its because, for the most part, I believe that the quality of an image does not lay in the gear that it was taken with but how the artist used that gear. Maybe it is because I do not suffer from GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), rather I have the travel bug. Either way, with all this down time and nowhere to go, I think this is a perfect opportunity to give you a peek inside my bag with photo examples of how I use each item.
I'm not going to get super techie with a ton of numbers or deep talk on the construction of the lenses. That's not me. This will be an overview of what cameras, lenses, and accessories I typically carry with me, when, and why I use them.
Note: I was recently honored in becoming a Tamron Pro Ambassador for Tamron Lenses USA. I use their lenses exclusively at this point. However, I have been using their lenses, along side Nikkor lenses for years now. The ambassadorship does not influence my usage or love of their products. This being said, I will be including some of my backup gear (gear I have in case of damage/loss of my front line, mostly older gear I have upgraded from) which will show Nikkor lenses as well.
Backpacks and Cases
To start, let's talk about how I carry my gear. I have four cases I use depending on the shooting situation. Three are backpacks and one is a hard case. Let's look at the case first.
Pelican Air 1535
So this has been the number one piece of equipment that has allowed me to travel via air while keeping my peace of mind. This model fits even the carry on restrictions (as of the writing of this article for those reading later) for airlines such as Frontier and Spirit. As currently configured with the pluck foam core, I can carry two camera bodies, my 150-600mm lens, 10-24mm lens, and 18-400mm lens with a few accessories such as cable release and a pack of 77mm filters.
Because of the Pelican Case's ruggedness, I don't worry if I am ever in the situation where it does need to go in the cargo hold on an aircraft or bus. I carry locks with me when in transit and allow the quality build to do it's job in protecting my equipment. As my kit grows, I will need to upgrade my travel case, but will be sure to get another Pelican. This will probably happen in the next few years before I head to Africa or the Antarctic.
Bonus: it gives me a place to stick all my stickers I collect during my travels!
Atlas Pack: The Adventure
This backpack is by far the best fitting overnight pack I have ever had! I have tried a lot of backpacks on through the years and bought many for both photography and general outdoor pursuits, and this to me has been the best of all the worlds. Not only can it carry my entire kit, from super telephoto to ultra-wide, but it has plenty of room for additional clothing and camping gear. If staying in a developed campsite or hotels, I can easily pack for over a week of adventuring in this one bag.
Many of you probably don't know that I have chronic issues with pain in one of my shoulders and both hips/lower back from my time in the military. Long hikes with heavy gear are a challenge, especially when I was dealing with ill-fitting packs. With the Atlas Pack, I can now carry all my necessary gear plus some on all day trips.
If you don't need such a large kit with you, they also make a smaller day pack called The Athlete as well. This will be my next purchase as I look to retire the other backpacks I am going to talk about. The Athlete still can carry a large photography kit and some additional trail gear. It also can be used as a carry-on bag if traveling by air as it will fit in under most seats. Very similar in fit to the Adventure, the only reason I didn't get that one first was because I was looking for a multi-day backpack at the time.
Check them out at https://atlaspacks.com .
Clik Elite: Pro Express
This was a popular backpack for several years and has always been super reliable. For me, it has been my go-to day pack. With a built in rain fly this pack has been all over the world with me, from the sands of the UAE to the rain forests of the PNW, and all over Japan and the USA. An easy carry, the downside has been that it has a hard time holding my full kit at this time. I still use it frequently though when I know I don't need particular lenses with me or too much additional trail gear.
Unfortunately, the producer, a small company closed a few years back for reasons unknown to me. Now Ebay is the place to get them if you want one.
Clik Elite: Jetpack
Now this bag is amazing and I'm don't think I will replace it anytime soon. Actually thinking of getting another off EBay in case something happens to the one I currently have. This is a small backpack that can hold a laptop or tablet, and can have a small camera insert put into the bottom (originally they came with this but it is hard to find one now that still comes with this accessory). I love this for flights. It carries my additional batteries and other items that don't go in the Pelican Air case.
The bag itself is sloped at the top, This makes it really easy to pull out from under the seat in front of you and place under your legs during the flight; giving yourself more foot room and easier access to whatever goodies you packed for the flight. The other use for this design I have found super helpful is when in a exit row, it allows me to bring it onto my lap and the shape allows for a comfortable place to take a nap. Also, it is a convenient size and color to blend in urban areas that doesn't scream camera bag. Can be used as a day bag too, you know, back when we would have coffee meetups or just wanted to get out of the house for a bit to edit in a different location.
Anyway, once again, at this point the only place to get these now seems to be EBay.
On to the hard gear and photo examples.
Camera body: Nikon D500
Backup: Nikon D7000
Both these camera bodies are awesome. I've been a Nikonian since I first started digital photography back in my teens. The D500, which I got back in 2017, has been a beast! Just top of the line quality with great low light capabilities, it is Nikon's top crop sensor body. Perfect for wildlife and bird photographers, the crop sensor allowed me to retain use of all the lenses I had before and take advantage of newer lenses that come out for this type of sensored body.
All of these examples below were taken with my Nikon D500.
My current kit includes the following lenses. The first three are my go everywhere, shoot everything trifecta.
Tamron 150-600mm G2 f/5-6.3
By far the workhorse of my bag as a wildlife photographer. It allows me to get up close and personal images without having to get physically close to my subject providing for the ability to capture images ethically. Sharp and well constructed, I use it in all environments since Tamron lenses are weather resistant through the barrel, not just at the mount as some companies do (big difference between the Tamron and the Sigma Contemporary 150-600mm for those comparing the two).
Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3
This is one of the newer Tamron lenses. I purchase this just last year and it is now part of my core kit. Lightweight with an awesome lens range, this is the perfect lens for scouting hikes or travel where I'm not sure what I will encounter. I can shoot everything from wide angle landscapes to wildlife to close-up details all with one lens. This is one that is specifically designed for crop sensor camera bodies.
Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5
Backup: Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8
This was my first Tamron lens I ever bought and the start of my love for their glass. As an ultra-wide lens, this allows me to give the viewer a more immersive experience with an image, making it feel as if the viewer could step right in due to the larger frame view. It also has a wonderfully close focus distance allowing for me to position the lens very close to foreground elements. Typically this is my go-to for grand landscape images. I have an older version right now. They have come out with a newer generation of this lens, but, as there is nothing wrong with the one I have, I have not bothered to upgrade.
I have the Tokina on standby as a backup and also for the rare occurrence when I want to play with astrophotography. It has a slightly wider aperture, making it more friendly for capturing the stars.
Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3
Backup: Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6
The sharpest lens in my kit, not that any are not sharp, but this one is just stands out for the extreme detail it can capture even at 400mm. My newest telephoto lens, the first time I used it was on my Japan winter wildlife this past February (2020). Light weight with excellent vibration reduction (VR), I used this handheld while photographing eagles from a boat and it gave me the perfect length when photographing the snow monkeys without needing to carry excessive weight on the several mile hike to the park. While not as long as the 150-600mm obviously, for medium range wildlife, this is the optimal lens.
The Nikon 70-300mm is my backup for this. Not as sharp, but this Nikon lens was the very first lens I ever bought outside the kit lens, so its been through a ton with me over the last 15+ years. However, between the Tamron 18-400 and the Tamron 100-400, this lens now is just a redundancy in my collection at this point. Note: I was using it regularly up until spring of last year (2019).
Tamron 90mm Macro f/2.8
Backup: Nikon 105mm Macro f/2.8 (1990-2006 model)
Especially during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place, my Tamron 90mm Macro has been a lifesaver for my photography. Stunning quality with fast and accurate auto-focus, this lens has been in my bag more and more as of late, if it is not sitting on my worktable next to my current indoor macro projects. Anyone who has been following my social media posts has seen first hand what I have been creating using this lens and I simply cant say enough good about it.
The Nikon 105mm Macro I have had for many years. Yet, while it is sharp, its slower and MUCH noisier when being used. I played with it in the past here and there, but never really got into macro as much as I have been as of late.
Breakthrough Circular Polarizer
For landscapes, especially those around water - oceans, rivers, or on rainy days - I use a polarizer to take the glare off the water and surrounding elements. This cannot be replicated in post production! So for me, this is an essential tool when focusing on scape shots. I use a 77mm and have step rings that allow for the filter to mount to lenses with smaller diameters.
Both rain and the river water caused glare on everything from the rocks to the leaves in this image. The use of the polarizer was the only thing to use in order to create a viable image in my eyes.
B+W Neutral Density Filters
These are just magic when used appropriately. They will turn midday into midnight practically at the 10 stop level. The various filters (4 stop, 6 stop, and 10 stop) allow for long to very long exposures which in turn helps smooth out movement in water or clouds. With the 10 stop, you need to focus before putting the filter on and then calculate how long the shutter needs to be left open in order to get a correct exposure. The others your camera can usually still pick up enough light and contrast to focus.
Use of a ND filter allowed me to have a multiple second exposure here, smoothing the ocean and showing motion in the clouds.
Zomei Z688 Tripod
In theory they tell you that you should buy the best tripod you can to avoid having to re-buy over time. Well, that is great in theory. For me, I bought what I could afford at the time, thinking I would need to replace it after a few years and at a time I could afford to do as they suggested. Well, I was highly impressed with the product that I received. Not only does this tripod fold up for easy travel, but it is lightweight and, at the time I purchased it (2017), under $100! I have used it in sand, snow, rivers, and forests without it faltering. That being said, I hand hold over 80% of my images so, the tripod goes with me a ton of places, but usage is not nearly as frequent as my actual shooting time.
One of my favorite landscape images from Japan. This is a panorama image of five long exposure images stitched together. Would not have been possible without the assistance of my tripod.
Overall, I have a kit that can do pretty much anything anywhere, photography related. Makes it easy when it comes to trying to decide what I want to invest in next. The answer is almost always travel! Can't wait to get on the road again. Fingers crossed that is sometime soon.
If you have any questions or comments on my gear list, please feel free to get in touch with me via email or on social media.