Gear Review: Post Europe

Me with all my photo gear. Photo credit Jennifer Gunther

Camera Strap, Camera Bag, Tripod

I thought it would be good to share some of my thoughts about my gear after traveling Europe for two weeks. I spent so much time in the pre-planning that I wanted to share what worked and what didn't work so maybe some of you would benefit from the information and I can better remember it myself for future trips.

Just to get us all on the same page its probably good to give some context and explain that this trip to Europe was a vacation with my amazing wife Jennifer.

The reason I'm explaining that is that I don't want to give the false impression that this was a photography trip or that I went to Europe solely for photography.  It was a vacation, first and foremost, and a chance to spend some quality time with my wife to celebrate our first year of marriage together. Lucky for me, my wife is amazingly supportive of my photography, and encouraged me to take time during our trip to do what I love most, which is taking pictures. I'm so blessed to have that support and I know that many of us fight to keep a good balance between both picture taking and our loved ones. I know I struggle just as much as anyone.....More on that subject later......

With that said though it provides an opportunity to explain how well I did with carrying around all my gear while still trying to enjoy site seeing like in typical touristy fashion


Me setting up at shot outside Buckingham Palace. Photo credit Jennifer Gunther

Camera Bag, Tripod, and Camera = heavy: I carried one camera shoulder bag(with three prime lenses) on one shoulder, a black rapid strap with a 5D and Lens on the other, and hand carried a carbon fiber tripod in my left hand and I was amazed how heavy this all was. After months of sitting in front of a computer walking around with camera gear all day was a real change. My back and neck both struggled the first few days getting use to carrying all this on my shoulders.  It took several days for this to become tolerable and eventually I didn't notice it as much. Even after getting used to it I was amazed at how uncomfortable this two shoulder bag/strap setup is and I think I might go back to a backpack setup to take the extra stress off my shoulders.

Carrying a Tripod: Even with a super light tripod, (mine is about 4.8 pounds without camera, 8lbs with), It still was pretty cumbersome and a pain to carry around. The 24L RRS is a little longer then I thought it would be and just a little too long to be able to lay it sideways on my shoulder bag and it be comfortable.  I did use it everyday which justified carrying it but I wasn't as happy as I had hoped. I did figure out a way to hang it off my camera bag so I didn't have to have it in my hands all the time but that put just a little too much extra weight on my shoulders then I liked. Overall there were times when I wished I didn't have to carry it and times when I was so thankful for it. I think every photographer deals with this dilemma.  If I had my choice I would have left it at the flat during the middle of the day when the light is bad and had it with me from golden hour on. Problem is that when your site-seeing you never know where and when you will be somewhere. was with me all the time and when I used it I was glad I had it.

Me shooting by Tower Bridge : Photo credit Jennifer Gunther

Looking like a photo tourist:This did bother me a little bit. I had so much gear around my body that I was a little self conscious of how touristy I actually looked. It also didn't help that my wife also had a camera and was stopping to take pictures as well so we definitely drew several looks our direction. Usually I like to keep a lower profile and be more like a photo ninja then tourist but sometimes you just have to go with it and enjoy what you love and not worry about what other people are thinking. However my photo touristy look did pose a little bit of a problem in some places where I really wanted to do some HDRs with my tripod but feared being harassed by security knowing that pictures were not allowed. Feeling like I stuck out like a sore thumb prevented me from being a bold as and I wanted to be sometimes.

Gear I didn't use: I purchased "the green pod" a bean bag tripod that I thought I would use in situations where I couldn't use a tripod. Unfortunately I didn't end up using it at all and it sat in my bag the whole trip. The other piece of equipment I got was an LED video light that I thought I would use while taking pictures at night for either portraits or to light up objects during long exposures. I didn't end up using it on the trip but plan to use it for other projects in the future so it wasn't a total waste of money. I also didn't switch lenses as much as I thought I would. I did use every lens at least once but I mainly had my 16-35mm lens on most of the time. I did use my 50mm more then I expected on this trip and also my 135mm f2 to capture people or closeups when I started to get bored of the 16-35mm. Overall I think using a backpack will be better next time since lens changes weren't very often.

Things I used all the time: My Black rapid camera strap! This was a big hit for me since I was able to use my strap and also keep on my RRS L bracket on at the same time. The strap was comfortable and easy to use. I love it! Everyone should own one of these.

Things that saved my butt:Rain covers! It did rain a little bit while on the trip. I was really glad that I packed rain covers for my camera and bag. They came in handy on the really rainy days when it was totally down pouring and there was nothing we could do but get wet. The camera covers I have are glorified plastic bags that were $5 at the camera store and work great. Plus they are small enough to not take up any extra room in the camera bag and are easy to carry around.

Things that went wrong: My favorite lens, the 16-35mm f2.8, broke a few days into the start of our trip. Luckily we were in a big city (London) and I was able to find a camera store that could take a look at it. It was a bit out of the way but easy to reach by "tube" and I was able to make it there without taking too much time out of our day. The store took a look at it and noticed that a screw had come loose and was locking up the auto focus system. Within 5 minutes the screw was glued back down and the lens was fixed much to my happiness. It is never a good feeling when something breaks at the beginning of a long trip especially your favorite lens. I'm really thankful I was able to get it fixed so quickly. The other thing that went wrong was that I lost one of the rubber feet to my tripod while site seeing in the "Tower of London". This was really frustrating since the tripod was brand new and with a missing foot getting the tripod level was going to be much harder now. I had some grip tape with me and was able to tape the bottom of the leg to prevent any scratches or damage with using it without the foot and made it through the trip like that. When I got home I was able to call up RRS and get some replacement feet for $8 each and I'm back in business now.

One of the few times I was really bold!

Photo credit Jennifer Gunther

Things I would do differently next time: Thinking back on the trip, I wished I didn't worry so much about getting in trouble for taking pictures.  Being in an unknown country I often worried about having a run in with security over trying to take a picture. Often I would see really cool HDR opportunities but wouldn't get the tripod out because I was worried about getting in trouble. I just didn't want to deal with that. My wife had a camera and not hearing as many stories as I have was much more bold and got away with a lot more pictures then I did. Next time I'll try and be more bold and go after the pictures I want until someone tells me other wise.

I still felt like I had too much gear. Its the boyscout in me I'm afraid but all in all I actually felt like I did better then I ever had before in this department. The extra planning really did payoff and going from place to place with all my gear really wasn't all that bad.

Next time, If I'm blessed to be going solely for photography, I might try to arrange a "Fixer". Sometimes trying to get the picture you're after is easier if you have someone who lives there helping you with the inside track. They can arrange photo permits or clear things with security before hand, or drive you to locations only locals know how to get to. Next time I might try this approach and see if it helps.

Overall it was a very successful trip and I had a blast. I'm still dreaming about French cafes, good espresso, macaroons, beautiful architecture, and the sound of French accents all around me. I miss London and the wonderful people and the beautiful tower bridge. I can't wait to go back! Hopefully it won't be too long of a wait!