It’s the time of year when the avid traveling photographer should be thinking of dropping the necessary hints to loved ones of what might be the appropriate gift for the family shutterbug. Yes, dropping not-so-subtle suggestions about what you’d like could be seen as being somewhat uncouth or overtly self-serving.
But who else knows the technical subtleties of digital gear and gadgets as well as you, and geez, who needs another tie or scarf with cameras imprinted on it or a cute statuette of a photographer sitting in a sports car with a couple of cameras around his neck and a bumper sticker that reads, "Warning: I Brake For Pictures"?
Here’s a list of goodies that have caught my eye recently and that have passed the test of usability.
Small, Light, Strong
When Gitzo first came out with its carbon-fiber Mountaineer tripods years ago, it was a revelation. We now had a smaller, lighter tripod that had the rigidity and strength to be useable for professional applications.
I didn’t think tripods could get any lighter and still be useful or airlines could get any more stingy in their luggage allowances, but I was wrong on both counts! Domestic baggage weight limits have dropped from 70 to 50 pounds for a checked bag, and now, even transoceanic international limits have followed suit. Once you reach your destination, though, the entire weight limit for all your checked bags can be 44 pounds and the excess-baggage charges breathtaking.
Then Gitzo developed some new, super-sturdy leg locks (the Anti Leg Rotation system), a new, stronger formulation for carbon fiber, the 6X and, consequently, were able to make even smaller, lighter tripods. The GT1540T Traveler is incredibly light, small and versatile. It has a 180-degree flip on the legs that allows it to fold down to 15.4 inches, weighs only two pounds but supports up to 9.9 pounds, has a center column that reverses and also comes apart for very low-angle work, and sports a retractable hook on the bottom. (Want to make a two-pound tripod perform like a 22-pound tripod? Hang your 20-pound camera bag on this hook—an ingenious innovation I first saw in the Mountaineer years ago.)
This tripod can fit easily in your carry-on bag, and it won’t make you feel like a packhorse should you want to tether it to your camera for a day’s exploration. It’s pricey at $560, but think of the chiropractor’s fees you’ll save (www.bogenimaging.us).
The perfect head for the Gitzo is Really Right Stuff’s BH-25 LR. This tiny titan features RRS’s innovative and thus far unique flip-lever quick release, and supports up to 8.8 pounds. It has the silky-smooth action we’ve come to expect from RRS, and the flip-lever quick release is truly quick, unlike the screw-in type that’s more popularly called "quick."
The quick release will take Arca-Swiss-type plates, but RRS recommends their version as being the most secure and best fit for the release. I’ve got a mix of different-brand Arca-Swiss-type plates on my camera, and I found them all to fit nicely in the quick release.
Will this little combo totally replace my larger tripods (including the Mountaineer)? Not entirely, but it will find its way into my luggage more often, especially for trips where traveling lightly is essential ($175, www.reallyrightstuff.com).
Papa’s Got A Brand-New Bag
Backpack-style camera-bag designs are popular. You can carry a lot of stuff, and that stuff balances nicely in the middle of your back. The huge drawback to the backpack is that you have to take it off (and usually lay it down) to access your equipment. This may not be a problem in a meadow in Denali, but it can be a catastrophe on a street in Florence.
That’s why most journalists, travel photographers and those working in busy areas use a shoulder bag or waistpack.You can access your equipment without taking the bag off your body. The drawback of a shoulder bag is that the weight of the gear is on one side and can wreak havoc on your spine, and waistpacks are limited in the amount of gear that will fit.
The Lowepro SlingShot bags and the Tamrac Velocity sling bags give the best of both worlds. These sling bags carry in the middle of your back like a backpack, but you can slide them around and access your gear without taking the bag off. The bags have stowable waist straps that further help to distribute the weight when you’re on a long walk ($89, SlingShot 200 AW, www.lowepro.com; $79, Velocity 9x, www.tamrac.com).
Another one of my favorites is the ThinkTank Urban Disguise line. As the name suggests, these bags are designed not to look like camera bags, but generic shoulder bags. There are six sizes, all designed to carry anywhere from a body, lens and flash all the way up to your full outfit, including a 17-inch laptop.
For a schedule of Bob Krist's workshops and seminars, check his website, www.bobkrist.com, under the "Teach and Talk" heading.