#778. What’s in my bag? (episode 1)

By Adrian | Review

Oct 19

Quick intro to this series (Pascal) :

There have been many writers on DS, some regular, some on and off . We though it would be interesting for us to describe what we carry around during our shooting sessions, to highlight the vast differences between all of our approaches to photography. One particular question is whether we use one type of gear or multiple types of gear, depending on a dichotomy in subject type or in intended use for the photographs (private vs client work for instance. Or travel vs home …) So here it is, what’s in the bags of the DS crew ?

Adrian was kind enough to volunteer for this first episode, so I’ll just hush now, and leave him the floor. Thank you Adrian !


My “serious” photography is split between general travel, combined with physique sports competitions, male physique portraiture, and available light reportage and street portraiture, with a little architecture thrown in too.  As a result I use a fairly extensive system, but since my photography is often conducted at the end of long haul travel, I have to try to limit the equipment I carry as much as possible to make it airline carry-on friendly.  Until recently my travel “system” has comprised a full frame Sony A7II and A7S, plus an APS-C A6000. A Sony backpack suitable for carry-on hand luggage gets my system and laptop between international airports, and day-to-day I use either the backpack or a small “Artisan + Artist” Gladstone bag made from ballistic nylon if I am travelling light.


Artisan + Artist Gladstone bag and Sony backpack


Pascal had asked us at DearSusan if we used different cameras depending on different uses for the output.  I don’t choose a camera this way, but I do use different cameras for different situations, such as a Sony A6000 for competition and event work and a Sony A7S for extreme low light work.  The purpose of the resultant image is generally the same, either printing, stock use or sharing on social media.  I find that different genres of photography benefit from the strengths offered by different camera bodies.


For stage event work at physique sports competitions I use my A6000 combined with the Sony FE 70-200mm f4 G OSS lens, as the APS-C crop factor gives an equivalent focal length of 105-300mm with excellent image quality in a small light package.  One of the strengths of the A6000 series is on-sensor PDAF focusing, with very good continuous focus and tracking performance combined with continuous shooting at up to 11 frames per second.  The focusing and frame rate of my A6000 opened up new opportunities to photograph some competition categories that were impossible with previous SLRs I owned.  For the price,  it offers tremendous performance and image quality, and is also an excellent general purpose camera when travelling light, with image quality surprisingly close to full frame models.


Physique model Chris Ng – Sony A6000 + FE 70-200mm f4 ISO 640


Men’s fitness Pornchai Tramasangwarn in flight – Sony A6000 + FE 70-200mm f4 ISO 1250


For any available light work I use a Sony A7S.  Without wishing to indulge in hyperbole, it revolutionised my ability to work in low light, since it can be used at ISO values well beyond any camera I owned before and produces photographs with low noise, good dynamic range, and nice detail.  When used at night with a fast prime such as the Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f1.8 or FE 28mm f2, it is almost as if there is no photograph that cannot be taken, as ISO 25,600 is well within the envelope of good quality results for A4 prints.  It is also excellent for available light portraits, and although the camera only has contrast detect focusing (CDAF) and isn’t the fastest focusing camera. the large pixels and weak anti-aliasing filter mean it can focus reliably in very low light (-4ev).  For me, it’s an excellent available light camera and also produces very nice clean files at “normal” ISO values.


Fortune teller – Sony A7S + FE 28mm f2 ISO 25600



Physique Model Halim Mohd – Sony A7S + FE 24-70mm f4 ISO 12800



Bodybuilder Hairul Izwan – Sony A7S + FE 24-70mm f4 ISO 6400



Armani Exchange – Sony A7S + FE24-70mm f4 ISO 100


For general photography, portraits with flash, and tripod based work I have been using a Sony A7II.  The mark 2 camera has in body stabilisation, some improvements to it’s auto-focus, and changes to it’s body shape that combine to make it feel a much better camera than the first version.  I feel it was an under-rated camera, always in the shadow of the 42Mp A7R2, but actually a very capable tool with solid image quality and performance at a quite reasonable price.  My most used lenses have been the Sony FE24-70mm f4, and the Sony Zeiss Vario-Planar FE 16-35mm f4 OSS, a very capable ultra-wide angle zoom lens.


Samui Sunset – Sony A7II + FE 16-35mm f4 ISO 100


For “formal” portrait work using flash, I switched from Sony/Minolta wireless flash to the Nissin “Air 1” system, with a pair of Nissin Di700 flash guns.  I cannot recommend them as they have been fragile and unreliable, and Nissin have been no help at all in resolving the problems I’ve experienced, which other users have also reported.  These are used with an inexpensive light stand, a flash bracket, a shoot through umbrella, and a number of light modifiers including small gates, a honeycomb grid, a snoot and some coloured gels.  I generally use a Sony FE 24-70mm f4, FE 90mm G Macro or Zeiss Batis 90mm f1.8 OSS for portrait work.


Physique model Ejal Jalal – Sony A7 + FE 90mm f2.8 OSS ISO 100 + Nissin Air 1 flash system


Last year I purchased a Sony A7R2.  It has some slight functional benefits over the A7II, and much better image quality as ISO rises, although at ISO 12800 and above I still prefer to work with the files from the A7s, which has better dynamic range and a “sharper” look at pixel level.  I have used it as a replacement for my A7II as the higher resolution and better high ISO image quality simply widens the shooting envelope, although I don’t think it is a “better” camera than the much cheaper A7II.


Atlas Bar – Sony A7R2 + FE 16-35mm f4 OSS ISO 1600



Alley Cat – Sony A7R2 + FE 24-70mm f2.8 G Master ISO 25600


I used to use Nikon 1 for “social” and very casual use, but the photos still got developed and printed in much the same way as photographs from other cameras.  I tended to use the camera in “auto” mode more than other cameras, or with less interest in changing settings beyond aperture.  The focusing and exposure were very good, making it quite well suited to street photography when the light was ok, as it just looked like a consumer camera and never attracted any interest that a larger camera would.


London Skyline – Nikon J1 + 18mm f1.8 ISO 100



Champagne cocktail party – Nikon V1 + 18mm f1.8 ISO 1100



Prince Albert jogger – Nikon V1 + 10-30mm f3.5-5.6 ISO 100


Back in the days of film I did use lots of different fixed lens cameras,  but it was mostly because they were more convenient to carry around than an SLR, or because I liked the “experimentation” of using different pocket-type cameras, but the final use for the pictures was still mostly the same.


Recently, I’ve started to use my Microsoft Lumia Windows phone for casual and social pictures.  This has mostly been influenced by the people I have been socialising with, who find social photography and selfies with camera phones quite normal.  The occasional quality of the results has surprised me in some cases, and whereas before I never really though about my phone as a photographic tool, it’s made me much more inclined to use it in those situations, as generally the only purpose of the picture is a memory or to share digitally.


Eye – Microsoft Lumia 640  ISO 125



Dancer – Microsoft Lumia 640 ISO 4000


Essential travel accessories with mirrorless cameras are an air blower and a LensPen Sensor Pen for sensor cleaning, and a travel friendly lightweight tripod.  I prefer OpTech neoprene wrist straps as they are comfortable in hot climates, washable, and more easily allow a camera to be carried discretely at my side.  I also use Sony’s in-camera apps that were supported by E-mount cameras.  The”Smooth Reflections” app is useful as it creates a single raw file from a large number of multiple exposures to simulate ultra-long exposures using high density ND filters, and the “Digital Filter” app simulates graduated filters by taking up to 3 shots with different exposures and blending them into a single raw file as if filters had been used across configured areas of the composition.



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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Interesting, Adrian. As I read through it, I found myself reflecting on the number of people in the group who love the Sony system – and the parallel I have with Nikon, in building a suitable range of gear to cater for the different subjects I like to shoot.
    Example – through my “birder” friends, I’ve found out that the Nikon D500 (which is a half frame) would solve a number of problems for me – adjustable rear screen, great AF tracking, and the image quality is much the same as my D7200. Early report on their new mirrorless Z series suggest that it’s still in the “pluses and minuses” league, with great features but – for some of us (me for example) – more suitable for gear heads, for the moment. So I could then cover practically all my needs with the D810, the D500 and the Canon PowerShot. And all the interchangeable lenses working perfectly, on the two Nikons.
    There are a couple of things I would add to the bag – my Sekonic light meter, filters, spare batteries, cards, remote release, and a few tools – but I imagine that’s a given and not really the subject matter of your article.
    Love the photos, BTW – great control over light/toning and colour – very impressive selection of shots! At the risk of disturbing tranquil waters, it struck me as being largely a different “travel photography”, with an emphasis on sporting events you see on your travels. A bit like my version of “street photography” which generally reflects a life long love of “candid photography” and consequently disappears from time to time off the street, to a location nearby – but still in my mind a type of variation on “street photography”. Who needs boundaries, defining and limiting the scope of creativity, anyway?

    • Adrian says:

      As a Minolta A mount user, I developed a love/hate relationship with Sony as I didn’t really like how they were developing the original Alpha system, but having switched entirely to E mount, I’m very happy overall with the cameras and their performance. They carry over some of the DNA from the Minolta system, and so work the same way, and although they are often perceived as “expensive”, my A6000, A7S and A7II cost less than a single “professional” body from the big two.

      Lots of people seem to like the Nikon D500, but for me it’s a large camera with a half frame sensor, which always felt like the worst of both worlds – but I fully understand other peoples needs and view on body size etc are different. However, that’s why I liked the A6000 – my first E mount camera – as it packed so much ability into such a small light camera. At the WBPF World Championships in Bangkok about 3 years ago, after a long tiring day, I remember resting the lens on the railings in front of my seat, and just using the read LCD with subject tracking AF to follow athletes around the stage, releasing the shutter as I went. It felt almost unprofessional and lazy, compared to the very serious approach of some of those using DSLRS, but my attitude is largely “whatever gets the job done” (at the right quality). Its the same with face detection for focusing – why bother moving your focus point around the scene to get it on a face when the camera can often reliably do it for you? I know this is heresy, but who moved the AF point to the right place in the frame isn’t what makes a great photograph of a person, it’s getting them correctly in focus that matters, and the right composition.

      I probably should have mentioned accessories a little more. Obviously, spare cards and batteries, chargers, an international adapter for any old socket I might come across, an App on my phone for remote release of the shutter… I don’t use filters, I used to own some and they never got used, and since all my lenses seem to have different filter threads, the 2 Sony Apps I mention do the things I need to do in the field without having to worry about filters. Again, I know this is heresy, but it works for me. I’ve never owned a light meter as the camera always has one! Again, sorry… For flash portrait work, I often set the flash power manually rather than use TTL, and tend to have an idea of the flash power I need given the aperture, subject distance and light modifiers used, plus a bit of maths in the head regarding guide numbers – it’s not perfect, but a couple of test shots and then a view of the histogram is how I do it – not very scientific, but again it gets the job done.

      As for “travel photography”, I dislike the term as it is so open to interpretation – it could be people, food, architecture, scenery, city scapes etc – but I take your point. I *do* photography quite a lot of travel but perhaps it wasn’t represented in the samples here, but often organise trips to coincide with competitions, so I end up with a very mixed portfolio. I think most people do think street photography is candid photography, although as you know from my previous articles about shooting street portraits in Asia, I don’t particularly like a lot of candid “drive by shooting” style – but I am often in the exception in preferring engagement with the subject, so what do I know – all the other internet self appointed gurus must be right?

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Adrian, to be perfectly sensible I think you guys have chosen an easier path. I committed to Nikon after abandoned analogue, and I’ve “invested” more than I care to think about, in glass that only fits their cameras. Financially, I can’f (now) switch to another system. So I just have to make the best of it.
      And once I face that one, the D500 all of a sudden seems quite attractive.
      I missed one – I carry a torch, for night work – some controls on these cams are only accessible with your own light source, and it takes very little room.
      I do use filters – not much, because there’s less need with digital – and I do carry a filter spanner, which again takes up almost no space.
      I take your point with the in-camera exposure measurement – but I still find a separate meter handy for some of my trickier available light night shots. Yes I can get an “acceptable” result by trial and error – but it doesn’t always make it to the target, when I want more info on shadows or highlights – maybe to work out how many shots for an HDR image, for example. (I don’t do many HDR images – but some things defy all odds, otherwise).
      And being an uncontrollable child, for the past 65 years at least, I’m perfectly OK with the gurus always being right. So long as they don’t do it near me. I take the photos I want, and their opinions have no relevance. As for labels – they don’t work all that well in catalogues (which is why catalogues now revolve around a multiplicity of tags for each shot) – and I don’t like being fenced in by labels, or genres, anyway. Down with rules that inhibit creativity! 🙂

  • philberphoto says:

    Your discussion of your gear lineup shouldn’t detract from gear critique, Adrian, and your picture of the Atlas bar dropped my jaw! Wow!
    And I like the logic that leads you to having gear that works for you under various sets of circs, for an amount comparable to having less, but higher-end gear. Results speak for themselves!

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