What's In My Deployment Camera Bag

My Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW

People often ask, "What's in your bag?" when it comes to weddings (for that click here), but from time to time I get asked how it's different when I'm deploying with the Canadian Forces.  My answer is usually, "As much value in as little space as I can."  Well as it turns out I'm flying out for a short bit in a couple of weeks, so let's talk about what I'll be dragging (and not dragging) with me to get the job done, and more importantly why I make those decisions.


In order of importance here's what I'm bringing along:

Nikon D4

This is the first on my list, and actually ranks higher in my opinion than my D810's for two main reasons: 1. It has a higher dynamic range.  I value dynamic range over megapixels every day of the week. 2. The increased frames per second are (occasionally) critical for achieving the types of shots that I need.  Sure the D810 brings with it a much higher resolution, but it's rare that I need that more than I need as much dynamic range as I can get.

35mm F/1.4 G

For what I do, and how I do it, this is the single best lens you can have.  Its super wide aperture allows me to shoot in incredibly low light situations, and its sharpness and shallow DOF are phenomenal tools to have in the arsenal.  The focal length allows me to frame wide shots, but also works for portraits with minimal distortion, most of which can be countered through the lens profile corrections in Lightroom.  With the crazy sharpness, and wider aperture, I actually don't even use my 24-70mm F/2.8 anymore.  Unfortunately, despite repeat success with this lens, the Forces won't issue me one, so yet again I guess I'm packing my own!

70-200mm F/2.8 VRII

This lens is a workhorse.  It's built like a tank, and it's pretty sharp.  It's fast focusing and though an 80-400 would offer more by way of length, I can't deal with the variable aperture.  Though I personally own (and prefer) the 70-200mm F/2.8E VRII, aside from the focus breathing and some of the sharpness, the other differences don't really affect me.  Plus if I'm going to beg for my office to supply me with anything in regards to new equipment, then I'm aiming for that 35mm F/1.4.

D810 (x Two)

Portraits.  I like taking photos of people more than anything else, and the D810 is just a better portrait camera, with higher resolution and more versatility when it comes to crops/adjustments in post (save for dynamic range).  It also allows for much larger resolution shots than the D4/D4s/D5.  It has a strong enough build to handle being tossed around and still keep shooting, and with the MB-D12 battery grip it can also use the same batteries I pack for my D4.  It's the natural choice for secondary cameras given how it fills the gaps where the D4 leaves off.

Rain Jacket

It sounds a bit ridiculous, but trust me, this single piece of kit is the biggest enabler I have.  Sure, the pockets are an obvious asset, but it's much more than that.  I need to change lenses at times in some really dirty or inclement environments, and I can't risk any of that getting onto my sensor, so I can use my rain jacket as a bit of a make-shift tent to protect my camera.  It also helps in covering the camera (obviously not me) when it's raining.  When I want to be free to chase the action, even if it means staying out overnight, at least I'll have the jacket to keep me warm.  My rain jacket folds nicely under the top flap of my bag, so it doesn't really take up any inside-the-bag real estate at all.

BlackRapid RS-5 Cargo

It's a beast that can take a beating.  It also stores memory cards easily, as well as batteries, and allows me the freedom of stowing memory cards.  Having a strap allows me the freedom to use both hands freely, and also to sprint in case I need to get out of the way or to chase some action.

SB-910

(w/ Gorillapod, and 2 x Pocketwizard III's)

I can't always use natural light, and this little powerhouse affords me a solid punch in a pinch.  The Gorillapod and Pocketwizards allow me to get the light off the camera in just about any situation.  I use the PWIII's instead of packing a second flash because bag real estate and weight adds up quickly, and though I may see the opportunity to set up a shot, my field time isn't the same as my studio time.  If I need a third light for whatever reason I'll simply improvise with one of my headlamps or a flashlight.

Garmin Fenix3 Watch

(Sapphire Edition)

Cell signal is unreliable a lot of the time in these scenarios, and the Fenix3 has a GPS tracker.  So when I get dropped in anywhere and track action alone on foot, I can manage my way back.  There's much to be said about how much freedom this gives you to take a chance and wander.  Last year at Maple Resolve I embedded with a stalking team who were tracking targets through the training area on foot for kilometres.  I was free to break from their pack and move towards other action, then hitched a ride back in a convoy of LAV's later on.  This particular model is the Sapphire edition, so the face doesn't scratch or shatter as easily as glass would, which is a great feature to have.  That's the kind of freedom I need to do what I do best.

Gorillapod

I know, I already mentioned this one in the Speedlight section, but sometimes Speedlights aren't necessary, but a tripod or a clamp might be.  Yes, I carry a Gerber and a knife, but these things are the camera multi-tool of choice for me.  It functions as a tripod, clamp, hangar, and a dozen other little things.  If you don't already have one, I'd definitely suggest buying one or two, they're incredibly useful, like the gaffer tape of accessories.

85mm F/1.4 G

It's a gorgeous piece of portrait glass, with my favourite feature: F/1.4.  But I know what you're thinking, why on earth would he put the 85mm F/1.4G so low on the list?  Well, put simply, it's not the best lens for in the Canadian Forces - at least not in field use.  Given the option the 105mm F/1.4, or the 105mm macro F/2.8, both make more sense than this one.  Don't get me wrong, I've been able to pull of some great shots with it, but it shines more as a portrait lens, not a functional field piece.  Think about it this way, everything so far on the list has a distinct function that none of the others cover.  I already have this focal length covered by the 70-200, and I have the 35mm F/1.4 for the aperture, which (with Lightroom) doesn't really have much distortion around the edges.  If the argument is to bring it as a backup lens, then I'd personally rather bring either of the 105mm lenses. So, yes, if I had to make the call I'd rather have a rain jacket or Gorillapod (assuming the rest of the lenses are already in the bag).

Hoodman Loupe

I need to see my screen in broad daylight.  It's small, light, and functional, everything I need it to be.  I've travelled this little tool through France, Germany, the Netherlands, Mongolia, and pretty much every other corner of the world I've travelled to.  It's never been a regret, and when it's in its pouch it also functions to protect my memory cards in a pinch if I'm dropping into rough activities.


The Rest

Then there are the little things.  Things like my passport, batteries, chargers, spare memory cards, Colorchecker Passport, filters, lens cleaners, etc., but those go without saying.  This post is just the core of my kit.  I have a few Pelican cases full of supporting gear like my laptop, wacom tablet, helmet and flack vest, etc. but even that's refined to a point.  Don't get me wrong, I'd love to bring my Profoto gear, but let's be honest, as portable as my Profoto B1 Location Kit is, it's not super realistic in the field on a live exercise.  Plus I'm already bringing enough of my own personal stuff, if the CF wants that kind of production value then they're going to have to put up the cash, y'know?  See you in a few weeks!

 
 

-Wes.