Gear

Yes, I am Indeed A Gear Whore

I’ve been described as an equipment whore without brand loyalty. Or, I think that’s what I was called, in any event, it’s a completely authentic description. I thought about it for a second, searching for a witty response, but I knew Matt was correct, so I just agreed – and held my head high. But now with Photokina 2010 starting, I feel a desire to explain my compusion (for myself as much as for the reader). You see, the key to being a successful equipment fiend is to do it on a budget and with wanton determination. It should go without saying that you only buy things you’ll actually use. Otherwise you’re just buying crap to make yourself feel better, filling up a gear closet so you’ll always have the possibility (in the back of your mind) of doing something interesting one day with all the junk you’ve accumulated. For this reason, I rarely buy anything new at full price. Even my Sony A900 was bought used from a pro shop in Zurich. The Sigma HSM lenses I bought new, but most of the Minolta lens I own were bought used from MapCamera in Shinjuku, Tokyo.


I also have something of a bag fetish. Not hand bags (although I’m sort of addicted to the Scaramanga label) but rather all manner of MountainSmith, Pelican, Lowe Pro, Think Tank, random messenger bags from Ortlieb and Dana Design, but I’m not totally addicted, I’ve avoided buying any of the North Face shoulder bags. I have to admit to having two of their expedition duffels – however, in my defense, they “were” the ideal bags to pack mountaineering gear in when I flew to Bolivia. Walking through La Paz, I really felt like I was in one of those North Farce ads in Rock and Ice, (my favorite climbing magazine of the day) and I couldn’t resist buying some bags in the tourist shops. But bags are cheap, I would never lay a finger on a Louis Vetton.

How Many Cameras?


Cameras are a whole other subject. People are always asking me how many cameras I have, and I always need to recount in my head. And, should I say one for the two Holga/Woca cameras? They’re cheap enough to count as one. I’ve bought all my cameras used (with a few exceptions) and in today’s used market, when you find a Fuji GA645 here or there for $350, how can you say no? From Ricardo.ch I got a Mamiya 645 Pro, which goes great with the used Maimya 645 lenses I got from Keh.com to adapt to my A900. And there’s no point in buying just one Sunpak 120J, you need at least two to feel good about yourself. Flashes work best in pairs anyways, and it feels professional to have variety. Then come the eBay purchases. My first digital camera was a Canon D2000, I figured it was good to start with a DSLR with horrible medium and high ISO performance. Then I would learn how to handle digital noise. I bought one Contax G1 with the 35mm lens because it’s a badass fotoapparat, but then I wanted to get more lenses, and scored another G1 with the 28mm, 45mm, and 90mm lenses plus the TLA-280 flash for less than $800. When one of the G1 babies died (probably corrosion from shooting on a sailing trip in Greece) I had another to fall back on (that’s called thinking ahead). I have two Fuji GA645 cameras (one needs repair after too much exposure in the Alps) and one GA645w. I’m always lusting after a Fuji 670, 680 or 690, and thank God I never bought a Polaroid modified 4×5 handheld.

Function Over Form


However, no camera can be considered beautiful if it’s a useless paperweight sitting on a shelf somewhere. I have no desire for a gold-plated Leica. I’ve used all my cameras at one point or another, and fully intend to use them all again in due course. The Contax G1 has been sailing in Greece, all through Zurich, shot many pics in Berlin, taken mountaineering in the Swiss Alps, and the 90mm Zeiss is a fantastic portrait lens. I recently picked up some Fuji Natura to use with the G1 to make some awesome low-light shots. The Minolta 7 film camera was with me in Bolivia, and for a trip through Eastern Europe and Germany. I shot every day with it for a month and my backpack was filed with one extra pair of pants  and boxes of 35mm and 120 Provia. The GA645 series have taken some amazing landscape images in Switzerland, been up Mt. Fuji and also gone through Eastern Europe and naturally been to Berlin. The Canon D2000 was, and still is a great DSLR for studio shots and parties. The D2000 enabled my first self-portraits and peaked my interested enough in digital to buy a Minolta 7D when they were liquidated in Zurich at a sweet price. The Ricoh GRD and Canon G10 are great mountaineering cameras to complement the GA645, and they’ve all found their place (although I sort of busted up the G10 ski touring). Now I’m shooting graffiti street and portrait images with my Sony A900 and couldn’t really ask for more from a well-exposed image. The picture is tack sharp from my Sigma lenses and you can see the definition of my softbox grid in the reflection on the eye of a person.


Never Obsolete


Now, why don’t I just buy and sell on eBay? Once you have these things you have to consider that you’ll make very little re-sale on the used market, so like old college text books, it just makes sense to keep them around. Or, I consider it a small resale value as compared with what I could do with the gear if I need to use it again. Although I’m a gear whore, I have no brand loyalty. I love Apple, but never got an iPhone because they’re over-priced for what they are (ok, the new 4th generation is a step in the right direction). I still use a dual 1 GHz G4 PowerMac because I didn’t want to drop $2000 (or more) on a new computer (when I could buy some Elinchrom lights instead), and I was getting along ok till now (a new iMac is on the desk). I’ll buy the camera which fits what I want it to do. I have a Canon G10 because it’s an awesome camera for mountaineering and travel, but love to pull out my Ricoh GRD for wide angle shooting and it packs better for sport climbing. I like the idea of North Face but buy my jackets from Mountain Hardware (on sale) and pants from Haglofs (they fit amazingly well) to complement my Osprey Exposure climbing pack. I love the North Face packs from the ads, but the Osprey Exposure fits me like a fine-tailored suit. Nothing which is useless can be beautiful to the user, and I love products with great design and are useful in real life (I’m also a UX/UI prima donna).


Here’s the thing about being a gear whore, you’ll never find the perfect bag or camera, so I don’t even try. Above all else, I use what I have to the fullest extent possible (or so I believe). I use the cameras I have till they break and am still amazed at how far I’ve been able to push my Quicksilver 2002 PowerMac. If you don’t have the right tools you won’t get the job done. True, I have more tools than I need, but it’s nice having too many flashes on hand because I can do whatever lighting setup I want. I don’t used my ice tools every year, but when you want to climb a frozen waterfall, they’re essential. Now, the blowtorch nozzle is a little extreme, but it’s getting a lot of attention in my latest photo shoots, and if needed, I’m sure I can sell it – (but probably I won’t). An effective living space is one with interesting things to play with and discover. This was as true as when I was five as it is now that I’m pushing 33 years of age. Photokina 2010 is opening, and a whole new line of toys is coming onto the market to fuel my gear compulsion.

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Pelican 1510 Photo Gear Case

Pelican 1510 Lighting GodWhen one gets deep into photography the inevitable question becomes, what can I store my gear in to keep it organized, accessible, mobile, bombproof and cool when jet-setting across the globe? The default answer is a Pelican case. Although now a cliche – Pelican cases are still the gold standard in photo gear protection. I bought a Pelican 1510 for various reasons, but the primary being that I needed a mobile case to house my gear for locations and for taking whatever wherever I desire without worrying about stuff breaking in-transit. I’ve used my 1510 for over half a year now, on planes, in my apartment, anywhere I decided I needed it to be (mostly my apartment).


I buy my gear used and don’t upgrade my DSLR every two years. I just haven’t seen the logic in stopping my acquisition of camera gear, and once you have a fine collection of cameras and lenses, the natural desire is to push it as far as possible on a given budget, and what better way to do that than buying a nice case to keep and transport everything in?


Additionally, I was tired of looking around for ways to pack gear, put some stuff here and other stuff there, and wanted to consolidate everything in one reliable, robust, portable container. The Pelican 1510 is perfect in this respect for a small production photographer (or random Flickr poster). It’s uber portable and aside from being checked by security nearly every time I go through an airport, it’s been a joy to use on the airlines. So far it’s been between Zurich, Boston, Detroit, and Zurich. In nearly each place I get checked at the security line. It must have something to do with the case, because on previous trips with more or less the same gear distributed in my carry-on luggage I was never pulled aside. Of course, it makes a bit of sense, with three or four flashes all lined up side by side, the case does no doubt look like some sort of munitions case on the X-ray machine.


Then come the inevitable question, “are you a photographer?” Ahhh, no dude, I just carry a box full of cameras and flashes because it makes me feel cool (ok, this “is” close to the truth). In Boston the TSA guy asked where I was going and recommended the lobsters in Baltimore…or maybe the chowder, I can’t remember. He also mentioned something about this looking like a lot of equipment for a hobby. My natural response to him was, of course, “well, you gotta have a hobby.”


pelican_1510-2My hobby sometimes includes hanging off of parking garage supports or skipping around abandoned factories in my Doc Martens, and photographing the concept images using off-camera small strobe techniques. This was the main reason I got the 1510, to roll around as needed in any given urban location. At any given time my Pelican 1510 contains 4-5 flashes with Gadget Infinity radio triggers, a DSLR (Minolta 7D), 2 lenses (20mm and 50mm), my Hyperdrive, maybe a Zoom H4 cable release, extra AA batteries, memory cards, plus a vertical grip, and Ricoh GR Digital or Fuji GA645w. In general, almost all of the above fits nicely in the 1510. I can grab what I need and shoot instead of worrying about gear organization. I just choose the light modifiers and stands I want to use and I’m off. Now I never need to look aimlessly around wondering where I put that extra hotshoe adapter or if I have some extra AA batteries somewhere. It’s all there when I need it and I can take wherever I want to go. The stock 1510 comes with pluck foam, but I opted for a version from B&H which came with dividers, and I added the optional photography organizer for the lid. This was an extra $40 or so, but I highly recommend it if you plan on using the 1510 as a traveling toolkit. It’s worth the extra few bucks without a second thought.


The 1510 with its rolling wheels is also handy around the house. People living in an apartment which doesn’t have a dedicated studio room often need to setup their studio and break it down before their husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend starts complaining about having the living room back, and it’s a breeze to roll the Pelican from one room to the next. This has changed somewhat since I moved into a big place with space for a small studio, but it’s nice to know the functionality is there.


There are cheaper options of course. You could, for example just get a clear plastic case and drop your assorted flashes and gear in there. It would cost less and still be nearly as functional. However, I like gear that can be abused if needed. Plus, you can stand on it in a lighting storm to insulate your body from extreme electro-shock therapy of Mother Nature during thunderstorms.


pelican_1510-3I like the security of Pelican cases and knowing that I never have to worry about the stuff I put inside them. The only time I ever opened a Pelican case to find the contents broken was when the TSA decided they needed to break open every fucking chocolate Easter bunny which I had packed in my 1450 (as checked luggage) as a present for my niece and nephew. Because, obviously if I wanted to smuggle drugs into the country I would do it in chocolate Easter bunnies which were still in the sealed packaging they came in from the store I bought them at in Switzerland. Which brings up another point, the 1450 is the perfect travel companion to the 1510. I can use my 1510 primarily for my lighting kit and then pack my Minolta 7D and assorted prime and zoom lenses into the 1450 (which is paired with a Pelican camera bag). The 1510 counts as the normal carry-on bag, the 1450 can counted as a camera bag. Since the 1510 is bomb-proof, it’s not light, and some people could run into the problem that it’s too heavy to take in the cabin. However, for myself it hasn’t been a problem.


So, if you’re in the market for a mid-sized bomb-proof rolling case for your photo-related mayhem consider a Pelican 1510 ?- I highly recommend it. If you’re weight consious I’d look to a rolling Kata bag or a backpack.