It’s fair to say my technical approach to photography has shifted. Gone are the days of lugging eight pounds of Nikon bodies and lenses across Europe. Or backpacks loaded down with Cirkut panoramic cameras. Or car trunks filled with 4×5 view cameras, massive tripods and film holders.
No, my gear kit is decidedly minimal these days. With my new emphasis on photographing my walking experiences—let’s call it street photography with velocity—too much equipment simply gets in the way. And it kills my back.
What I sling over my shoulder today is the result of a series of long walks: the Camino de Santiago, the Prague-Vienna Greenway, the Ireland Coast-to-Coast Trail and Japan’s Henro-michi. And then there are the shorter walks in Canada.
Six years. Thousands of kilometres. Months of walking. All seasons. Any weather.
Over that time my criteria for mobile foot photography has shifted very little:
- It all must be light weight. As in, it must add minimal additional burden to the backpack full of living necessities I carry on a long trip.
- It must be at the ready at all times. Ready for a quick snapshot on the trail.
- It must allow me to take pictures regardless of weather. Rain, snow, cold, whatever nature dishes out.
- It must not compromise quality or flexibility.
Here’s what I carry in my camera bag, 2018 edition.
Here’s a video overview of what’s in my bag.
Over the past six years I have used Olympus OM-D camera bodies, first the E-M5 and now the upgraded version, the E-M5 Mark II. It’s a Micro-Four Thirds (MFT) format camera with a sensor only slightly smaller than the crop-sensors (APS-C) of mid-range DSLRs like the Canon Rebels or Sony 6000 series. But the MFT lenses are significantly smaller and lighter and the Olympus OM-D camera bodies are light (400g) and small as well. Yet they still perform as well as the larger DSLRs with an image quality to match. My current Mark II version adds weatherproofing. Being able to take pictures in a downpour while on a trail is not to be feared with this camera. In fact, it is rather enabling.
Yes. That’s right. A singular lens. Six years ago, it was the diminutive, featherweight (122g) Olympus 14-42mm f3.5-5.6, a good but not outstanding zoom. Today, I use the Olympus 14-150mm f4-5.6 zoom. That’s equivalent to a 28-300mm zoom on a 35mm film camera. A whopping range. It weighs a bit more at 298g but it’s not much larger. I have version “II” of this lens which is weatherproofed. Image quality is very good. A lens hood is always mounted on this lens. Not only does it control light flare but helps protect the lens from scratches without needing a lens cap or UV filter. It also helps keep those rain drops off the glass. With a lens hood, weatherproof lens and weatherproof camera body, I have a versatile all-weather system. Nothing will stop me!
I’ve written at length about the stormproof Miggo Agua bags (see my review here). On a long walk, with rain pouring down, my camera sits inside the bag, protected from the onslaught. But, at anytime, I can lift the bag’s flap, draw out my weatherproof camera, take a picture and return it to its rainproof compartment with one swift, deft movement. Try that with other camera bags that either have no rain-proofing or rely on an awkward rain cover that must be pulled over the bag, rendering your camera inaccessible.
Even on dry days, I like that the Miggo hides my camera. I don’t look like a tourist with a camera swinging around my neck. Instead I can discreetly, quickly draw it out and take my picture and return it to its hiding place.
Photographers are easily smitten by their equipment. I am smitten with my Miggo Agua bag. It is the only bag I use these days, whether on the trail or touring around town. Mine is the mid-sized Agua 35 (478g), which comfortably holds my Olympus camera with the lens and lens hood attached.
The downside of the Miggo Agua bags are that they are designed to carry a camera and lens, and nothing else. Yes, there is a stretchy pocket for one filter and an SD card. But that’s it.
Here’s how I handle it:
I attach a small, waterproof AquaPac to the bag’s shoulder strap—just where the strap attaches to the bag—with a NiteIze Gear Tie Loopable Twist Tie. Inside, I pack two spare camera batteries, a spare SD card, a plastic filter wrench and a LensPen Mini-Pro. Total weight: 150g.
A B+W F-ProCircular Polarizer filter sits in the bag’s stretchy filter holder.
Two other filters—a B+W F-Pro 0.9 Neutral Density (ND) filter and a B+W NL1 Close-Up Lens— are held in a LensCoat 2 filter pouch The pouch weighs a mere 21 grams but its soft material helps protect the filters without needing the bulky plastic cases they are sold with. A small plastic carbine is attached to the pouch. I cut this off. The pouch is then jammed into the bottom of the Miggo bag, firmly nestled below the lens and lens hood (the camera fits lens-down in the bag).
Regarding filter choices:
- The ND filter (25g) is useful for long exposure shots. I like it for waterfalls or other motion blur effects.
- The polarizer (39g) can be used for darkening blue skies but I like it for reducing glass reflections and adding vibrancy to foliage where there is a reflective glare.
- My 14-150mm Olympus zoom lens does not have a particularly close focus range. This year, I will be testing the B+W close-up lens (34g), particularly on those all-important food shots.
Given the street-photography nature of my work, a tripod is not essential, nor a welcome added weight. Instead, I keep a Joby Micro Hybrid Tripod attached to the tripod mount of my Olympus camera. This minuscule 60g tabletop tripod folds under the camera and virtually disappears. It’s there for those times when Gail and I need a selfie or I want to do a time exposure shot.
The Back-up Camera
Something every serious photographer should travel with, right? A reliable backup plan if my Olympus camera gets stolen or dropped, you’re thinking? Well, for this ultralight weight photographer, that duty falls to my iPhone 8 Plus. Aside from its daily duties on the trail as map, GPS tracker and flashlight, the iPhone is a very capable camera. This year, I will be travelling with it, the Moment Photo Battery Case and the Moment wide angle and telephoto lenses that attach to the case and phone.
I will also carry a waterproof AquaPac. Although the iPhone 8 is water-resistant, I’m not curious enough to test its limits. And the Moment Photo Battery Case has no water resistance at all. An AquaPac helps protect the two in a downpour.
The total weight of my camera and lens, its bag and all accessories comes in at 1,505 grams or 3.3 pounds. That’s a bearable load when walking 20-30 kilometres with a 9,100 gram (20 pound) backpack. And I retain all the creative control and image quality of a larger DSLR with the added versatility of all-weather photography. It makes me pine for a rainy day on the trail. Almost.
The weight of the iPhone 8 Plus, all its Moment cases and lenses and the AquaPac comes in at 520 grams. But that assumes the iPhone’s only purpose is as a backup camera. It’s not, in my scenario, so the true camera-related weight is that of the two Moment lenses, 126 grams.