In part two of the new Gura Gear Bataflae series of videos we have a look at just what I pack in my camera bag for both international travel and local landscape photography. Depending on where I am travelling and what I am shooting I occasionally swap lenses in and out of this collection. As you will see, you can fit quite a bit of gear in a Bataflae 32L! I actually discovered another tele-converter in the bag on top of all the other equipment when I was repacking the bag after we finished filming. Just click on the image to watch the video via You Tube. I hope you enjoy. You can order the Gura Gear Bataflae cameras bags directly from Gura Gear.
How do you take what is widely regarded by many photographers as one of the finest camera bags on the market and make it even better?
I was pondering this when the guys at Gura Gear first told me that they were working on an update to the very popular Kiboko 30L camera bag along with a range of new accessory storage bags called the ‘Et Cetera’ range.I was an early adopter of Gura Gear bags. After I returned from my first expedition to Iceland I realized how unhappy I had become with my then current camera bag (whose name shall remain anonymous). For a variety of reasons it was no longer satisfying my needs and I was on the lookout for a new lightweight bag that met airline carry-on restrictions for size but enabled me to carry more equipment comfortably into the field. Anyone who has travelled domestically or internationally with camera equipment understands the importance of being able to carry equipment onto the airplane to avoid the risk of damage or theft in checked luggage. I therefore needed a bag that could not only hold all of my equipment, but that was light, robust, suitable for moderate hiking, and still enabled me to glide through airport check -in with a smile and a wave. My search led me to the Kiboko which, after several years of photographic travel, has become my number one camera bag of choice for all of my photography.
Fast forward to 2012 – With a four week photographic trip to Europe and a workshop in Iceland in July and August this year it was the perfect opportunity to field test the new Gura Gear Bataflae camera bags and Et Cetera range. The good folks at Gura Gear agreed and a shipment of the new product range was soon winging its way to me.
I admit to being very excited when I opened up the boxes from Gura Gear and saw the new products. You know you have purchased a quality product when you open the box and are greeted by the super slick black dust covers bearing the Gura Gear logo. Whilst the addition of a dust bag might seem superfluous it does in fact prove very useful for long-term storage and can even serve as a pretty cool laundry bag when travelling.
Widely regarded as being capable of swallowing copious amounts of camera equipment with room to spare (the Kiboko 30L will hold just about everything you can throw at it) the new Bataflae 32L adds even more space. Overall, it is larger and deeper than the original. This extra space proved a real blessing during my field tests as Canon’s new 1DX camera with a really right stuff L bracket is a very tight fit in the original Kiboko, but slides perfectly into the new bag thanks to the extra head room. Users of professional DSLR’s, medium and large format camera gear will really appreciate the extra height available.
Those of you familiar with the original Kiboko will already be sold on the benefits of the unique butterfly openings that avoid that unwieldy large flap that most camera bags provide for internal access. There are, however, times when it would be nice to be able to open the bag right up for packing and full access. Well, the new Bataflae gives you the best of both worlds with the traditional butterfly openings but adds the ability to open the entire bag up by releasing a simple clasp at the top of the bag. This really makes packing much simpler as well as providing full access to both sides simultaneously when required in the field. The centre divider contains extra strengthening to maintain rigidity even when the bag is fully loaded. In use, I found this to work very well.The rain cover has been relocated from inside one of the butterfly pockets to outside the bag in a small zippered pocket, which has freed up more room in the butterfly pocket. The rain cover now also utilizes a draw string which is an improvement over the original elastic cover because it can now also serve as a ground sheet if required.
Like the original bags, the new range is manufactured from highly durable materials, although the new material has more bling. The stitching, zippers and internal fittings of the new bags are improved in every respect. Even the finger zipper pulls are easier to use. Additional padding has been added to the backpack harness, which makes the bag noticeably more comfortable when hiking. There are yet more refinements to be found in the way of improved clasps for carrying tripods which can even accommodate items such as crampons. Like its predecessor, the new range comes with a considerable number of extra dividers so that its internal storage space can be customized to one’s own particular needs. All of this amounts to a very compelling reason to upgrade to the new models.
When the new Bataflae is fully loaded with my camera equipment it was significantly over the normal carry-on luggage allowance during my Europe and Iceland expeditions, yet I had no issues on any of the five international and domestic flights, including several long haul flights. With the increase in size, the new Bataflae still fits in the overhead lockers on the aircraft I travelled and still retains its understated appearance. I am utterly convinced that the Bataflae is the best camera bag on the market for photographers who fly and travel.
During my four weeks in Europe I used the new Bataflae everywhere, from the bustling streets and Cathedrals of Paris to the more subdued provincial countryside and wine regions of France where I travelled by hire car. I took it mountaineering at 13,000 feet at Mont Blanc in Chamonix where it was -15 degrees Celsius, and trod the myriad of canals in Venice Italy during the peak summer season. I then travelled to Iceland for my 2012 summer Workshop where I spent time on the Snaefellsness Peninsula, the highlands of Landmannalaugar and the stunning Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon to name but a few locations. I undertook some fairly arduous hiking in the Landmannalaugar region and subjected the bag to everything from waterfall spray, rain, salt spray, sand and dust. I threw just about everything I could at the new bags and found them an improvement in every way over the originals.
The design changes and refinements to the new bags are in many cases subtle but they add up to a significant overall improvement that makes for a very compelling reason for existing Kiboko owners to upgrade. If, on the other hand, you haven’t already pampered yourself and your camera gear with Gura Gear then you are about to be presented with a fantastic opportunity with the release of these new products. They are highly recommended for their robustness and overall design.
The new product range takes everything that was great about the original bags and improves on it in just about every respect. I would argue that, outside of the camera and lens, there are few pieces of equipment that can have as much impact on your photography as your camera bag. If you travel or frequently change locations (and which photographer doesn’t!) you owe it to yourself (and your expensive equipment) to check out a Gura Gear camera bag.
Part Two – The Et Cetera and Tembo Range
As photographers we are constantly adding accessories to our equipment arsenal. Additional batteries, chargers, color checkers, CF and SD cards and card readers, adapter rings – the list goes on and on and there is only so many of these that can be shoehorned into a camera bag already overflowing with bodies and lenses. I am sure many of us have thrown all manner of photographic accessories loose into our suitcases before we travel because our camera bag was already overweight with bodies and lenses and at risk of airport check-in destruction.Solving this problem could well be Gura Gear’s masterstroke. Its new Et Cetera and Tembo line of products is designed to solve that annoying problem of finding a home for some of those accessories. The range is perhaps best thought of as the ‘Tupperware’ of camera storage and provides a range of different storage options for different accessories. I found these storage containers invaluable on my recent European trip and Iceland workshop and far more convenient than throwing items loosely in my checked luggage.
There is a range of different sizes and shapes from which to select and photographers will likely choose those models that best suit their needs and requirements.
Gura Gear products can be ordered directly from the Gura Gear Website
It occurred to me about a week or so ago (when I was forced to drop down into an ‘Everest gear’ to grind out one of the big hills on the mountain bike trail that I ride near my house) just how out of condition I am after my time in Antarctica (over-indulgence in good food during the Christmas New Year period has not helped either). During my time in Antarctica, on board ship, I never really did any exercise; yet I regularly stowed away three square meals a day (large three-course meals at that). Since I didn’t suffer from sea sickness, I was able to keep all those meals down (thankfully). My cardiovascular fitness has really deteriorated and it feels like I am missing a lung as I drag myself up the hills on the bike. After 20 kilometers on the trails, my body feels quite battered and broken. Overall, my time off the bike over the Christmas-New Year period has left me feeling quite unfit and out of condition. Subsequently I have actually managed to crack my bike frame and am undergoing a forced hiatus while I wait for my bike to be rebuilt.
The connection to photography may not be apparent at first. But physical fitness plays a major role in successful wilderness photography. A good level of physical fitness enables you to hike faster, further and arrive at your destination ready to shoot, in better condition. It can be the difference between arriving at the top of the hill and getting the shot before the best light is gone and arriving on location exhausted and disappointed. It can even mean your not making it to the top at all. This is not to say the best shot is always at the end of an uphill hike. However, you will never know if you don’t make it up there to see for yourself. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to be a wilderness photographer, but I find a good level of physical fitness certainly helps.
Whilst I was puffing my way up the hill on my mountain bike, I also got to thinking that mountain biking is like photography in that to get good at it you have to do a lot of it. To stay in peak condition you have to be persistent. I have observed this many times when I am out on my photography excursions. My shots continue to improve as the days roll past and my ‘conditioning’ improves. It takes time to get into the ‘groove’ —the right frame of mind that enables me to recognize the good images from the bad. Antarctica was like that: it took me time to assimilate. After extensive international travel, the few days I had in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia gave me the opportunity to wind down, leave the stress of daily life behind, and start to focus on photography. This time was crucial because I had the chance to relax, which is just as important as being fit for the task. Buenos Aries itself didn’t turn me on photographically. It is a crowded and polluted city, quite unlike my expectations of Antarctica. But, at least, I was in the right frame of mind—relaxed—when we eventually left for Antarctica.
Before I arrive this July for my 2012 workshop in Iceland I am going to be spending a couple of weeks travelling through France and Italy (specifically, driving down from France to Venice) photographing the countryside as a precursor to the workshop. I am hoping to use this time to get my eye in, as it were, and ensure my state of mind is at or near its peak when I arrive in Iceland.
Landscape and Nature photography requires a serious commitment. You must be prepared to spend countless hours outdoors, frequently in inclement weather or harsh environments. It also requires hours of patience to get the best possible light. I have spent many hundreds of hours in the wilderness waiting for the right conditions. Nature and landscape photographers who are truly committed are a rare breed; we have to put up with a lot—fitness, patience, vigilance, and an eye for the main chance. It takes a certain mindset and dedication to stand around in freezing conditions and rain for hours, waiting for the right light when what beckons is a nice dinner and a glass of wine in a warm hotel somewhere. You need commitment and dedication to get the shot.One thing I have learned through experience is that it is always worth sticking it out to the bitter end when waiting for the best light, no matter the prevailing weather conditions. Generally, brief moments of special light don’t fill the bill; you have to see it out to the end. All too often, the light changes in the last few moments and in these instances the light is often at its most spectacular. I recall a very poignant example of this, which I have blogged about before in Iceland in 2010 when I arrived at the top of one of the highest mountains in Landmannalaugar in Iceland, more than three hours before sunset. They skies were dull and grey and we were exposed to the full force of the Arctic winds. My friend Dmitry and I decided to hunker down and wait out the 3+ hours before sunset. I just wanted to hike back to the 4-wheel drive to warm up with a hot cup of coffee and a piece of cake, but the wait proved worthwhile. The shoot provided some of the most spectacular light I have ever experienced anywhere. We had distant rain showers, rainbows and light that can only be described as sensational. Lesson learned – Never Give In. Above all, patience!
I have written before quite extensively on the subject of outdoor photography gloves for cold weather and as of my last ‘glove find post‘ I thought I had finally found the best option out there – the Seal Skinz. I still believe the Seal Skinz are an excellent glove for outdoor photography in cold weather. However, I discovered another glove today that ticks all the boxes for cold weather photography by outdoor clothing company Helly Hansen. As is often the case with these things, I was not actually shopping for yet another pair of gloves; I was just picking up a few last minute thermals for Antarctica in a months time and spied these gloves on the rack. What immediately caught my eye is that these gloves (Sailing Gloves) are fingerless on only two fingers per hand – the thumb and forefinger (a very clever design). The very two fingers that are required for almost all of the fine manual dexterity when operating a camera’s controls. This makes them absolutely ideal for photography. In fact, the genius of this design strikes you the moment you slip a pair on and pick up your camera.
According to to the information on the website - These durable gloves provide extra protection for handling abrasive equipment. Made of Amaro leather with adjustable wrist and reinforcements in areas of maximum wear.
What I immediately noticed upon trying a pair on is how they felt like a second skin more than a glove. Most gloves are too thick for easy camera control and are a hindrance to operating the camera quickly and efficiently. These sailing gloves are exceptionally soft and malleable against the skin and are designed to provide warmth, protection yet still give sailors a high degree of fine dexterity control for operating rigging - just perfect for photography. And of course, being designed for use at sea these gloves are water resistant. Note they are not waterproof like the Seal Skinz; merely water resistant. I immediately purchased a pair and will be taking them to Antarctica with me along with my Seal Skinz.
Some of the most enjoyable photography I have done in the South Island of New Zealand has been by small mountain helicopter. There really is no better way to see, experience and photograph the Southern Alps and glaciers than by helicopter. With the doors removed for better photography, warm clothes and cameras ready I spent just an over an hour this trip photographing the spectacular landscape. One of the goals of this trip was to try and get a photograph of the waterfall drilling down into the side of Fox Glacier. I had flown over these falls several times on previous trips, but had not been able to get the shot I wanted. My pilot from this trip was Mike from Mountain Helicopters. Mike is as good as they come and he was able to position the helicopter in the ideal position for me to lean out and take this frame with a wide angle 24mm lens on the full frame Canon 1DS MKIII. We were less than 30 metres off the deck when I took this photograph. I have flown with Mountain Helicopters several times now and can highly recommend them to anyone looking for very experienced pilots who can position a helicopter exactly where the photographer wants and then manage to tilt it to keep the rotor blades out of frame.
One of my recent purchases that I was very keen to test out in the South Island of New Zealand in Winter was the new Seal Skins gloves I purchased online just before I left Australia. In Part One of this mini-review I made mention that it has been a constant search for the perfect winter photography glove. I won’t restate the story thus far; suffice to say the search has been ongoing. Before I dive into it I just want to make a comment on the fingerless glove with the optional slide over mitten that many outdoor sports people and hunters use. These types of gloves don’t work for me. Although they provide plenty of tactile feel (because they are fingerless) they are not waterproof and far from warm enough in the sort of environments I sometimes shoot in.
The Seal Skins gloves on face value appeared to tick all the boxes for me. They are waterproof, warm (at least around the house!) and yet retain enough tactile feel that I can still operate my camera equipment effectively in the field. So how did they perform?
The result is a mixed bag. Firstly, the gloves are in fact waterproof as advertised. I spent several hours clambering over Fox Glacier in cold and wet conditions. Experience has shown me that my previous thermalite gloves (which were warm when dry) would have been totally saturated after half an hour of this kind of activity and thus totally useless. The Seal Skinz on the other hand remained totally dry; even when I was fumbling around in puddles of glacial water adjusting my crampons. They shed water beautifully and remain dry on both the inside and outside. Just on the subject of glaciers – I almost came to quite a nasty end at Fox Glacier. I am always extremely careful when traversing glaciers for obvious reasons.I have quite a bit of glacial experience; but you can never take them for granted. They are riddled with hidden dangers; falling ice, wave surges and crevasses are but some of the potential dangers. Glacial ice is pound for pound about the same weight as structural concrete and there have been several very unfortunate deaths over the years at Fox Glacier from falling ice. Fox Glacier is currently receding and this makes it more dangerous than an advancing glacier since it is shedding ice (at a fairly rapid rate). I was keen to get a photo of the terminal face of the glacier so had hiked up the side of the glacial river with a wide angle lens to get close to really give a sense of scale to the photograph. Getting close to the terminal face meant skirting the edge of a very large overhanging piece of glacial ice – not something I would normally do. I could see large boulders and rocks perched precariously on the ice flow 30 odd feet above. However, ‘photo fever’ got the better of me and I chanced it; I scrambled forward against the ice and river; set up my tripod and prepared to take a frame just as several rocks the size of basketballs came hurtling over the top of the ice landing only a few feet in front of me in the river. Needless to say that was enough for me. It was a timely reminder that no amount of experience on glaciers is worth a pinch if you find yourself somewhere you shouldn’t be . I beat a hasty retreat and decided it was far wiser, safer and more enjoyable to photograph the glacier and alps by helicopter.
I have photographed the Southern Alps and Glacier by Helicopter before in winter in 2009. I had chartered a small mountain helicopter with two other photographers. We had the doors removed and spent a couple of glorious hours shooting thousands of frames over the alps. The ambient air temperature was -19 degrees celsius during that flight plus whatever the wind chill factor was and even with several thermal layers I was frozen by the time we got back to the helipad.
I chartered another helicopter this trip and with the door off and harness on spent another hour photographing the alps and glaciers shortly after breakfast. It was not quite as cold this time at -9 degrees celsius; but it was still a good test for the Seal Skinz. What I found was that my fingers still got very cold (almost totally numb after an hour shooting); however, even with near numb fingers, the chopper door off and wind I was still able to change both CF and the tiny SD cards in my 1DSMK III with relative ease. In fact, I was really quite surprised at just how good the tactile feel is in these gloves. I never felt like I was going to drop any of the small cards; even when I had several between different fingers in an effort to ’speed-change’ the cards. Helicopter charter is $1500 an hour – so you don’t want to waste to much time playing with camera cards and settings. In this respect the Seal Skinz gloves are nothing short of brilliant; giving all the tactile feel required for even the most difficult shooting environments. The downside is they are not quite as warm as I had hoped they would be and I can only rate their thermal protection as average at best.
In summary the Seal Skinz are the best gloves for cold weather photography I have yet tried and are therefore my current choice when I am shooting in these environments. They are waterproof, and give wonderful tactile feel and grip. They are not as warm as other thicker gloves; but I am willing to trade some warmth for ‘feel’. I suspect that in temperatures down to around -5 celsius they will do just fine for quite long periods of time. In colder temperatures I will want to have a warmer over mitten that I can put over the top after an hours shooting to re-warm my hands. This is the best current compromise/solution I can come up with. Seal Skinz do make a version of this glove that is lined with a polar plus material; which would undoubtedly make it quite a bit warmer. However, I suspect that one would trade quite a lot of ‘feel’ for ‘warmth’. The Seal Skinz will be accompanying me to Antarctica later this year so that is a pretty solid recommendation. The caveat is I will also be taking a pair of 66 North over mittens just in case it gets really freezing and I need to re-warm to carry on shooting.
For as long as I have been into landscape, nature and wilderness photography I have been searching for the perfect gloves for outdoor winter photography. The problem has been that I have struggled to find gloves that are waterproof, yet are thin enough to retain enough ‘feel’ to enable me to use my camera equipment unhindered. I have a drawer full of potential candidates that have all ultimately disappointed for one reason or another; usually because the gloves ultimately lack enough tactile feel for camera operation or are not waterproof. Believe me when I say it has been quite a search.
Up until recently I had settled on a thermalite glove liner; which was both warm and thin enough to enable me to use my camera equipment relatively unhindered. The problem is that they are not waterproof and every time I have been shooting with them in the snow I have ended up with wet and subsequently freezing fingers. It also necessitated having multiple pairs (since one pair always ended up wet). Last weekend I was shooting up at Wallace’s Hut at Falls Creek at sunrise in a sleet and snow with the thermalites and yet again ended up with wet and freezing fingers. I told myself at the time I just had to find a better solution before I leave for New Zealand in a few days and before Antarctica later this year. I have no desire to find myself shooting from a zodiac amongst the icebergs in Antarctica with wet and freezing cold fingers.
Later that morning when I was getting a late breakfast / early lunch in Bright I popped into a couple of outdoor stores just to see what they had in the way of gloves. Amongst the usual assortment of skiing gloves (which are just to thick), woollen gloves (which are to slippery and not waterproof) I found a pair of ‘Seal Skinz‘. On first inspection these gloves ticked all the boxes: Waterproof – Yes, Thin for tactile feel, Yes, Grippy and non-slip, Yes. The Seal Skinz are very similar in appearance to the Lowe Pro gloves (I have never really liked the Lowe Pro gloves finding them still too thick and not waterproof), however, they are slightly thinner for better tactile feel and completely waterproof. Only problem was they were just shy of $70 a pair and they did not have my size in stock. Unperterbed I decided to try and order a pair online when I returned to Melbourne; which I did and the gloves arrived late last week just in time for my trip to the South Island of New Zealand. As an aside, I was also able to find them significantly cheaper online. I ordered the standard version of the Seal Skinz glove. Seal Skinz also make a chill blocker version of this glove; which although warmer again with its fleece lining is too thick for photography for me. Time will tell if these gloves prove their worth. The South Island of New Zealand in the dead of winter should certainly be a good test. Last time I was there I experienced -19 Degrees celsius while shooting from Helicopter above the alps with the doors removed (and that was cold!).
As an outdoor photographer whose favourite season is winter I am willing to accept some degree of finger discomfort (cold) to keep good tactile feel with my camera equipment. I can put up with being quite cold as long as I am not also wet. The trick is finding the right balance of warmth and tactile feel and I am hoping these new Seal Skinz finally fit the bill. I will see how they fare in New Zealand as a precursor test to my Antarctica trip and report back.
During some recent email correspondence with my friend from Iceland Daniel Bergmann; he recommended a book by Photographer Joe Cornish titled ‘Scotland’s Mountains’ with the sub title ‘A Landscape Photographers View’. I subsequently purchased the hard-back book from Amazon on his recommendation and have to say that it has been one of the most enjoyable and wonderful photographic books I have owned.
Scotland’s Mountains follows on from Joe’s previous book ‘Scotland’s Coast’; which I ordered immediately upon receiving his ‘Mountains’ book from Amazon. It has not as yet arrived; but I am eagerly looking forward to spending some time going through the photographs when it does. I particularly enjoyed reading the included ‘field notes’ at the end of the book. As a landscape photographer its always interesting to read how another photographer composed, metered, exposed and dealt with the environmental conditions at the time the photograph was made.
I knew of Joe Cornish’s work through the internet but it took the medium of the printed page to really bring home to me how much I enjoy his photography – Another timely reminder that photography really is all about the print. Photographed almost exclusively on a 5×4 camera with film (yes film – although there are a few digital captures amongst the images) the quality of the photographs and printing are superb. So often I feel a sense of deflation upon seeing beautiful photography printed really badly by the book publisher – it unfortunately happens all to often. Thankfully in this case Aurum press have done a wonderful job.
I do not intend for my blog post to be a review of Joe’s book or work. His photography is wonderful and no more need be said in this regard. Instead this post is more of a ’shout-out’ to check out his work and in particular his book/s if you have not done so. If you have an interest in photography or even just in Scotland I highly recommend Joe’s Book.