190615 Essentials - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

This is a gear post. Worse, it's a gear-list post. 

Some time ago I had the idea that I'd like to refine and reduce my core camera gear until it could fit in a small flight case. I didn't name it specifically, but I had the "Airport Essentials" from Think Tank Photo specifically in mind, which is a little backpack that's perfect to fit in little planes. Like a Dash-8, should it be necessary. So that's the excuse I'm using to avoid having a gear photo lead off an admitted gear post.

And while I may fly with this case at some point, its main use is for storage, which it handles admirably. 

So this is the actual gear that this post is about: I'm calling it my Essentials kit, for the dual reasons of that being the bag it's in and because it really is the essentials. It holds the cameras and lenses that I actually use, keeping them safe and protected instead of just jumbled on a shelf. Like everything else is. But Phase Two of my 'refine and reduce' plan is to have all of the other stuff – audio gear, LED lights, and so on – fit into a big Domke bag that I already own. Everything that I don't use and doesn't fit will go away.

It's good to have goals.

So this is my Essentials kit:

There are three Fujifilm bodies across the top of the bag – photo right – with the XH1 wearing the XF 16-55/2.8, and the naked XT2 and XT100 flanking it. The XH1 and XT2 both have tripod base plates on them, and are what I use when I'm Taking Photographs, while the little XT100 is for when I want a small camera that has surprisingly good battery life. And speaking of big cameras and battery life, the grip for the XH1 is next to the XT2. I rarely use it, but it's nice to have.

The tall 55-200 zoom and 80/2.8 macro fit in the middle of the bag, with the little primes beside them. The 16/1.4 is facing up because its petal hood is underneath it; I prefer the metal hood but need the plastic one if I'm stacking filters. The 50/2, 35/1.4, and 23/2 are all there, clearly labelled. I wasn't sure about the commitment of having dedicated tail caps for each lens, but the extra clarity has been worth it. And the one 'spare' slot holds my little blower, extra shutter release, and has the upright portion of the XT2's "L" bracket hiding under there. But since this photo was taken a 14/2.8 has displaced them, and that completes my XF lens collection, honest.

The other items in my Essentials kit is the only film equipment I've ever bought new. The bottom of the bag, photo-left, has my ZM Zeiss Ikon body. The other three lenses, unlabelled, are the 50/1.5 C-Sonnar, 35/2 Biogon, and 85/4 Tele-Tessar. There's also an adapter hiding underneath the ZM lenses that lets me use them on my Fuji digital bodies, which officially makes this all part of one system. Or one-and-a-half, maybe. But in truth I rarely use the Zeiss lenses on the Fuji bodies. The aperture rings turn the other way, which is confusing, and if I want the different look of those lenses then I'll use film. 

The train above was taken with the 50/1.5 at f/umpteen to make that lens behave normally. Wide open it's a wonderful portrait lens, with a really classic look and details that are rounded rather than definitively sharp or soft. By f/5.6 or so it turns into a fairly tame lens, but this was probably closer to f/11 to deal with the 400asa HP5 film. Classic film for a classic design. The other lenses, the 35 and 85, are more neutral and technical and are better suited to Ilford's Delta line.

Although film doesn't go in the Essentials – it's in the freezer until I need it. Not everything can live in the backpack.