Riccardo Zambelloni Photography
Landscapes - Travels - Adventures
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...This photography blog is about all things landscape and travel photography...

What's in My Bag?

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As I am packing up for my long-awaited trip to California and Kauai, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to list my photographic gear and to explain why I carry such things for landscape photography. Before I begin, I’d like to state that photography is NOT about the gear, photography is art and the gear is just the mean to express your creativity and capture your vision. If you are one of those people that think that great images can only be achieved with high-end cameras; well, you are reading the wrong blog, pal!!!

In this blog post I’ll mention various photography companies and brands (as you can imagine): I am NOT sponsored or affiliated in any shape or form by such companies and I won’t push you or encourage you to buy stuff from anybody. I’ll only encourage you to buy gummy bears for your outings as they are without any shadows of doubt every landscape photographer’s best friend out there. Having said that, I am not sponsored by Haribo either (Dammit!!!). Jokes apart, I’ll genuinely explain why I bought and use my gear for landscape photography, so you can have an unbiased opinion on such gear. Without further ado, let’s have a look at my camera bag.

The Gear

  • Nikon D800E (main camera) and Nikon D7200 (backup camera)
  • Nikon 16-35mm f/4 (wide angle)
  • Nikon 24-120mm f/4 (mid-range)
  • Nikon 50mm f1.8 (nifty-fifty)
  • Nikon 80-400mm f4.5-f5.6 (tele-photo)
  • Sirui Tripod N3205-X (carbon fibre)
  • Sirui Ballhead K30X
  • Nisi Filters V5 Filter Holder (CPL, GND Soft 0.9, ND64)
  • F Stop Gear backpack Sukha (70L) with Shallow Medium ICU

The Camera

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I have only upgraded to a full frame system three months ago and become penniless consequently. After shooting for almost 2 years with my beloved and trusted D7200 I decided it was time to change. Why? The reason I have switched to full frame is the greater dynamic range, better ISO handling and most importantly the ability to print large. How large? Very very large. There was nothing wrong with my D7200 and I still shoot with that camera as I do love it, but the D800 bigger sensor offers more advantages for what I want to achieve with my photography in the future. The choice was a no brainer as I know Nikon cameras very well and there was very little to learn on the new full frame body. I did consider switching to Sony for a week or so for a simple weight/space reason, but when I compared my current set up with a similar Sony set up, the difference was only 400g less in my bag and 2000 euros less in my wallet. So yeah, another no brainer. My D800E carries a CF 64GB card and 128GB SD card. Make sure to have a fast memory cards, I always recommend to go above 90MB/s just to be sure. Don’t even bother with those cheap 45MB/s cards. Lossless compressed RAW files normally weigh above 40MB…you do the math.

The Lenses

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I think my lens set up is a quite standard triade for any given landscape photographer. The only thing you might see a little bit different is that my longest focal length gets to 400mm, which I love. Carrying the 80-400mm is a bit of a drag when backpacking as it’s really heavy, but it gives me that extra reach for those lovely intimate and close up scenes that I am always keen to capture. You know what they say: no pain, no gain. Despite the weight and extra-swearing while hiking, I do love my tele-photo lens and I couldn’t see myself hiking to location without it. it’s extremely versatile, sharp and cheap. Yes, I said cheap as I got mine used in excellent conditions for just 500 euros. As far as wide angle lens, I am more than happy with my 16-35mm. I know it may be not ideal for night photography, but median stacking is a great way to compensate my f/4 aperture in post-processing. I have considered buying the famous 14-24 from Nikon, but the idea of buying that humongous expensive lens and changing my whole filter system gave me the chills. It’ll be for another time I guess. I really don’t have anything to say about the 24-120mm mid-range lens: nice and compact lens at a reasonable price. It does the job for me and I have no complaints.

 
 The advantage of that sweet 400mm range.

The advantage of that sweet 400mm range.

 

The Tripod

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I was forced to upgrade my tripod game when I bought the 80-400mm lens. Being an extremely long and heavy tele-photo lens, I needed some extra stability and sturdiness. I went with Sirui for one single reason: custom fees. My initial thought was to get an Induro tripod as they met all my loading, stability and most importantly budget requirements. The only problem was the custom fees from the US to ship to Europe were absolutely ridiculous. So, that went all to shit pretty fast. I decided then to go with Sirui as their tripods were the second on my list and come with no custom fees.

I have had a Sirui tripod for a bit more than 6 months and I am really happy with it. It’s a carbon fibre tripod with twist locks and it’s light, sturdy and compact. The twist mechanism is a bit fiddly to handle at first, but it becomes natural pretty quickly and the legs of my tripod slide down very smoothly (when I remember to clean them). But enough with the praises for now, the question is: What was I looking for in my new tripod? Well, the first thing I was looking for was the MAXIMUM LOADING CAPACITY and for this you need to consider both your tripod and your ballhead loading capacity. This is extremely important as the more Kg your tripod supports the less your camera shakes, hence, less blurry pictures. For this you have to take into account the weight of your heaviest set up (probably your camera body + tele-photo lens) and choose both tripod and ballhead accordingly. My heaviest combination is about 2.5-3Kg (Nikon D800E + 80-400mm) and, therefore as a rule of thumb, I need a tripod that will hold AT LEAST twice that weight (6Kg) in order to be acceptably sturdy. Everything above 6Kg is of course more than welcome. My current ballhead can hold up to 30Kg (according to Sirui specs), which is totally overkill, but it is indeed plenty to offer me stability in dodgy conditions such as high winds, streams, waves and such. The second thing you need to consider is your tripod loading capacity and this has to support your heaviest set up and your ballhead. My current ballhead weights about 0.5Kg, bringing my setup+ballhead system to about 4Kg (I’ve rounded up a bit). The tripod I chose holds up to 16Kg (always according to Sirui specs), which is absolutely fine for me since it’s 4 times more than my heaviest setup. If I would have chosen a maximum loading capacity 5-6Kg, my whole system would have been unstable and not that sturdy after all.

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Another useful spec to consider for a landscape photography tripod is MINIMUM HEIGHT. This will come in handy for those low level shots to increase the feel of perspective in your images. My current tripod can go as low as 14 cm, which is fantastic for me, and this is possible due to a short centre column. If you love to get super low with your camera make sure to check before buying that your tripod has a short centre column option. I am pretty sure most high-end tripod companies have this feature and it’s definitely another spec you should consider for your tripod. Be careful though as some companies might “encourage” you to buy a short centre column which is not included with the tripod sometimes.

Last but not the least, WEIGHT is another essential spec for your tripod. I don’t have to tell you that landscape photography requires a lot of hiking and walking and a light and compact tripod is fundamental for your back’s sake (yeah, I just told you anyway). An amazing compromise for combining sturdiness and lightweightness (is this a real word?) is the almighty carbon fibre tripod. Your wallet will hate you, but your back and knees will be eternally grateful. In addition, a carbon fibre tripod is very helpful if you shoot in below freezing conditions and near the sea as it won’t become a freaking frozen metal icicle or a freaking rusty metal………thing. My current tripod weights about 1.5Kg, which is light enough for me and it becomes 2Kg with the ballhead. I’d say it’s not a super-light tripod set up, but for the price and for what it holds up it’s pretty light if you know what I mean.

 One of the few times where I fully extended my tripod to get the shot. It happens rarely.

One of the few times where I fully extended my tripod to get the shot. It happens rarely.

I think I have nerded out about tripod long enough, the only thing I want to mention is the MAXIMUM HEIGHT. In my very humble and ignorant opinion, the maximum height spec is irrelevant and it has the only function of being a major selling factor. You see, whenever a tripod is fully extended, it becomes very vulnerable to any sort of shakes as the vibration can run through the legs and reverberate across the tripod causing it to be more vulnerable. This is also caused by the fact that the last leg segments are usually thinner than the first segments. It’s always a good practice to extend the thicker leg segments first for maximum stability as you’ll have a more stable base for your camera. You definitely have more chances to have blurry pictures when your tripod is fully extended than when its’ just at mid-height. To conclude this awfully long tripod monologue, the most important specs to consider when buying a tripod are maximum loading capacity, minimum height and weight, never mind the maximum height.

Filters and Backpack

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Filters are another important part of landscape photography. I carry only 3 filters on the field: a CPL, a Soft GND 0.9 and ND 6 stops (pretty standard). Although I rarely use my ND these days as I am not super fond of super long exposures (at least these days). I try to keep my filters compartment very light and compact. I am really happy with the quality of NiSi filters, but I am not happy about the V5 holder system as it’s very fiddly (mainly the CPL) and filters don’t slide gently into the holder (you kinda have to force them down). It’s worth mentioning that I have an older version of the holder system (which is out of production now) and I know they’ve updated their system solving these very issues. I just haven’t had the chance to upgrade it yet and I definitely will at some point and time. I heard good things about LEE, Haida and Formatt Hitech filters too, but I can’t really say anything else about them as I have never tried them. I keep my filters and the holder system into a filter bag from Terrascape, which is a very neat and cheap filter bag that I can strap around my shoulder to have my filters ready for every situation. This is especially helpful on location when you are shooting in water or where you can’t physically put down your bag. Having a filter bag strapped offers me the possibility to access my filters at any given time without taking my backpack off my back. Since I don’t carry many filters, I can use the other filter compartments to store microfiber cloths and single use wet wipes, which are always useful when shooting in water.

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One of the things you have to consider when buying filters for landscape photography is COLOUR CAST. Colour cast is basically a colour grading effect given by the filters themselves and it is a real pain in the arse sometimes as it changes the colour palette of your shots. You are probably saying: “Well, that’s what Lightroom and Photoshop are for” and that’s true, but let me ask you this: “Do you really want to spend an extra hour in Photoshop to correct that?” Always always always consider only the filters with minimum or no colour cast at all. This means: do NOT buy cheap filters. When I started out I bought some cheap GND and ND filters without browsing any reviews or comments on the interweb and I ended up with GND filters with a strong magenta cast and ND with a horrendous yellow/orange cast as you can see from the RAW files above. At the beginning, I thought this effect was very cool as I was really into pink clouds and warm tones, but it kinda annoyed me after a month or so. I know colour cast can be corrected in post-processing, but it annoys me. And it should annoy you as well. And yes, Nisi filters do not have any colour cast at all.

 Image by carryology.com

Image by carryology.com

I can probably write another whole blog post about backpacks for landscape photography, but I feel this post is long enough already. Anyway, I mainly have 2 backpacks for photography. The first one is the Manfrotto Off Road 30L, I use this when I am travelling and I have the need of a small pack to carry around in cities on public transports. It might not be the best option, but I don’t resort to this pack that often these days. The second and main backpack is the Sukha 70L from F-stop gear. I bought this as I wanted a sturdy and comfy backpack where I can store my photography gear plus my camping gear. Needless to say, this pack fits all my needs and more. I am really happy with it as it’s made with excellent quality material, feels very comfortable while hiking long distances and it keeps my gear organised with those neat ICU compartments. I almost look professional with my backpack on (almost). The only problem I have is that sometimes small stuff in the pack can be trapped in the space on the side or behind the ICU, but this is just a very very very small issue. The other negative side is that these backpacks cost a leg and half to say the least, but you know what they say: buy nice or buy twice. You definitely pay for quality here and a very good outdoors quality, which I highly recommend.

Accessories

To conclude this post here’s a list of other photographic and non-photographic accessories I usually carry with me and their use.

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·      A cheap third party cable release with a velcro strap to achieve sharper images.

·      4 spare batteries and 2 64GB SD cards

·      5-6 Microfiber cloths to clean lenses, cameras and filters.

·      Endless amount of lenses single-use wet wipes for thorough cleaning (essential for seascapes). Fun fact: I put these wipes in every single damn pocket of my pack and I never seem to find them when I really need them.

·      A Frozen-themed shower cap for those rainy days that we all love. LET IT GOOOOO.

·      Headlamp. If you are a landscape photographer, I don't have to tell you why I carry a headlamp.

·      Duct tape for fixing tripod legs or secure the focus ring. Plus, it makes me feel a bit like MacGyver.

·      L-Bracket for my camera body; it gives stability to the set up and it doesn’t change the perspective from landscape to portrait orientation. Also useful for panoramas.

·      A head net, if you ever camped in Scotland in summer, you know the reason……midges!!! I always keep it in the bag just in case.

·      Hiking maps. You know, location, location, location.

·      A water bladder for hydration. Quite handy when hiking.

·      Rocket blower if I need to dust off any lenses.

Almost forgot, I also bring an embarrassing amount of gummy bears and snacks. Photography makes me snacky.