What’s In My Bag

In response to the many questions from readers, Tech Tips details the contents of George Lepp’s camera bag

Watching You Watching Me. George Lepp photographed this lion and her cub in Botswana’s Okavango Delta; a 500mm lens maintained a respectful distance. Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF 500mm ƒ/4L, 1⁄2000 sec. at ƒ/8, ISO 400

What’s In Your Bag, George?
This is one of the most frequent questions I receive, for this column, at my seminars and workshops, and during chance encounters in the field. I guess we are, in many ways, defined by the tools we depend upon to create our images, although we’d much prefer to be defined by the images themselves. I suppose this is a statement that could be the basis of a long, contentious stream of comments on social media, but for today, we’ll just give the straightforward, current answer to the question at hand.

First, a little context. When I began my professional career in the early ’70s, there wasn’t any such thing as a photo backpack. Several friends (Lito Tejada-Flores, Linde Waidhofer, Bill Ellzey) and I designed our own first version and had a few sewn up by a mountain backpack company for our own use. Soon after, a company called Sundog produced a simple photo backpack based on our design. Today, there are abundant options to meet the needs of every photographer and every photographic situation. I’ve relied on Lowepro’s great packs and now, a new, innovative Gura Gear design to get my equipment to remote destinations and efficiently access it in the field.

Carry On!
A couple of years ago, we wrote in this magazine that the most important item the wildlife photographer could take on an airline is a non-photographer companion with one arm free to carry on the long-lens case. I often fly in smaller regional aircraft with limited overhead space, and I always have a computer bag, so I’ve often wished for a compact backpack that would accommodate the 500mm or 600mm lens; putting a $7,000+ lens in a checked bag is risky, nerve-wracking business. And once you get to your photography destination, it’s not easy to carry two camera bags or backpacks plus tripods on a trek in the field.

At the 2013 North American Nature Photography Association convention, I checked out a new photo backpack series from Gura Gear that solved both dilemmas. Now, for big-lens jobs, I carry the Gura Gear Bataflae 32L Photo Pack. My Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L with a camera attached fits on one side, and the other side hosts the remainder of my lenses and another body. The butterfly design (Bataflae, get it?) of the pack’s cover gives easy access to either side separately, or you can open the entire case. The materials are sturdy, yet lightweight, it’s simple to configure the foam dividers to protect my particular combination of equipment, and it fits into the overhead of every commuter airline I’ve flown.

Okay, But What’s In The Bag?
Lenses. The Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L, EF 100-400mm, EF 24-105mm zoom, EF 17-40mm and EF 15mm fish-eye. This collection of lenses covers my photographic needs, from a 180mm fish-eye view to 1400mm when 1.4X and 2X tele-extenders are added to the 500mm. Adding extension tubes to the 24-105mm lens gives a reasonable macro combination. (Escalation clause: If macro is my main focus, I’ll bring along in a separate bag the EF 180mm macro and possibly the 65mm 1-5x macro lens.)

Camera Bodies. A Canon EOS-1D Mark IV (attached to the 500mm) and EOS 5D Mark III. The 1D Mark IV is for action and wildlife photography. The 5D Mark III excels in landscape and macro, and any image demanding high resolution and/or expanded ISO.

Tele-Extenders And Extension Tubes. Canon 1.4X Mark II, 2X Mark II, 12mm extension tube and 25mm extension tube. I often use the tele-extenders on the 500mm lens. The II series will mate if I want to use both, and the 12mm extension tube will fit between extenders if more are to be added or if someone has a III-series extender that won’t mate. The 12mm is also an interesting tool for macro work with the 15mm and 17-40mm lenses because it gives a completely different, extremely close perspective. The 25mm extension tube allows closer focus with the 24-105mm, 100-400mm and 500mm lenses.
Filters. 77mm Singh-Ray 5-, 10- and 15-stop neutral-density filters, 77mm Singh-Ray Vari-ND Thin 2-8 Stop ND and 77mm Singh-Ray LB Color Polarizer. ND filters and polarizers are usually the only filters I need for digital photography, and in my opinion, Singh-Ray makes some of the best. The ND filters are for blurred water effects and allow you to use a wider lens opening to capture video with limited depth of field. With the filters, I carry a 72-77mm step-up ring adapter to enable my 77mm filters to fit lenses with a 72mm thread.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Lepp’s Gura Gear Bataflae 32L, loaded for bear—or any other subject that catches his fancy. The unique design allows quick access to the portion of the case that holds the Canon EF 500mm ƒ/4L and Mark IV, while keeping lenses and accessories on the other side safe and dry.

Hoodman HoodLoupe 3.0 Loupe And HoodCrane. A loupe is necessary to check images and focus on my cameras’ LCDs. The Hoodman HoodCrane and HoodLoupe also are essential tools for DSLR videography. With them in place, I can monitor the Live View image and focus during video capture. The new Canon EOS 70D (which I borrow from Kathy’s backpack) lets me concentrate on the framing while the camera does the autofocus.

CompactFlash And SD Cards. The Think Tank Photo Pixel Pocket Rocket is a soft, folding case that holds 10 CF cards or SD cards. I use a combination of Hoodman 32 GB CF and SD cards.
Flash And Flash Accessories. The Canon Speedlite 580EX flash is used either as my main source of light, if needed, or, more often, as fill light in conjunction with the ambient source. Canon has newer flashes, and someday I’ll switch this one out. The collapsible Better Beamer attaches to the 580EX when I need to reach out to a distant subject. This Fresnel system takes little space, yet makes available 3 stops of additional light by focusing the flash on the area covered by the telephoto lens.

Two Canon Timer/Remote Controllers TC-80N3. These are electronic cable releases and timers for long exposures or time-lapse sequences. I carry two because I often have two cameras going at once on a time-lapse.

CamRanger. The CamRanger is a WiFi attachment that plugs into a camera and transmits to a smartphone or tablet, allowing the photographer to control the camera remotely. With the CamRanger, I can frame the subject, focus, capture, switch between video and stills, and even control time-lapse sequences, all without touching the camera. I always have an iPhone with me, but an iPad is the best companion to get the most benefit from the CamRanger.

Really Right Stuff Ultimate Omni-Pivot Package. The three parts of this RRS camera-mounting package allow for precise capture of vertical panoramas and multi-row panoramas.

Really Right Stuff BP-CS Multi-Camera Plate. You never know when you might need to use someone else’s camera on your tripod, so this universal plate comes in handy.

Batteries. Four AA batteries for the flash, two backup CR2015 3V batteries for the Canon Remote Controllers and three charged batteries for each of the camera bodies.

Apple iPad Adapter For SD Cards. My pro cameras have both SD and CompactFlash slots. While I nearly always capture in RAW on the CF card, sometimes I write small JPEGs to the SD card in a camera so I can check images on the iPad. This adapter allows the small files to be viewed on the tablet.

Miscellany. I carry pocket guides for the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and EOS-1D Mark IV, in case I need a quick reference, model/property releases and a pen, two-axis bubble levels to keep my cameras level, a tiny tube of sunscreen, and a partial, flattened roll of toilet paper for, well, you know.

Oh, My Achin’ Back
As light as it is, my Gura Gear 32L, loaded with all this gear, weighs 36 pounds! Strap on the Gitzo Explorer tripod that I always carry, and it’s easy to understand why I have back issues. But it’s nice to know that the zippers and fabric of the 32L are water-resistant, a feature I’ve personally tested. Last summer, while wearing the pack, I fell backward into a rocky stream. The backpack kept me from hitting my head on the rocks, but I was stuck, like a turtle on its back, helplessly waving my limbs and unable to right myself without assistance! Much pointing and laughing from my companions ensued. It all ended well, with no damage to my person or photo gear. My ego, however, took a big hit.

Follow George Lepp‘s exploits, see his latest photographs and be part of the discussion on his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/georgelepp.

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.