Packing it all in

I’m away on my hollybobs. Special ones, too. But I might be taking more cameras than clothes. Let me explain.

I passed one of those milestone birthdays this year. The sort of birthday that your younger self couldn’t even imagine. I remember at school working out how old I would be in the year 2000, which seemed an impossible distance away. Anyway, to mark the event I’m doing something special – I am going diving in clear, warm water.

I have dived in clear water before, but never as an experienced diver. All my experience has been in British waters so I have never really seen what good visibility is like, or been able to dive without a duvet under my drysuit. But now I am off to parts abroad (after October, to be known as ‘parts foreign’). Clear water, warm, small or no tidal range, little or no currents. Filled with smiling fish and marvellous things. Huzzah! But what camera do I take?

I need to be able to switch between macro and normal, as I want to be able to show the environment as well as the residents. No-brainer then: take the digital plus housing. The camera itself is an old model of Canon. Perfectly adequate for the job but old enough that I got a second one off eBay for a fiver. That way, if I do get a flood, it’s a camera swap rather than a crisis. So that’s one housing in the main suitcase and a couple of small digital cameras in the carry-on. Plus their batteries, as airlines get nervous about Li-on cells where they can’t see them.

What about the Nikonos? If I take it, I will need to take the bracket and two flashguns. So that’s two suspicious-looking bits of electronics and a chunk of metal in the big bag and a heavy X-ray opaque camera and the flash batteries in the carry-on. Plus film.

What about shooting video? If I use the digital camera for that, I’ll need to take a video light. I have one and it can double-up with a grip as a dive torch. Sorted. Except that’s another battery for the carry-on.

Then, what do I use for my touristy shots on land? The spare Canon digital could do the job, plus the Nikonos is amphibious. Do I need anything else? But I would really like to take another ‘proper’ camera with settings so that I can do the arty-farty bit. But then I would need lenses. What about a point and shoot? My mobile phone has a very capable camera plus editing software, so I could just use that. What if I could find the 80mm lens for the Nikonos? No, that last one is daft. My sensible head tells me to use the spare Canon, as I am carrying it anyway.

So: Nikonos plus two flashes and bracket; housing plus two Canon digitals; video light. Rational choices, but the film freak in me still wants to take another film camera. And the Nikonos is heavy to carry around. So is it the tiny Olympus XA, accepting that it has the same 35mm lens as the Nikonos, or is it an old Pentax point and shoot that has a zoom lens but could die on me? But if it does die I just wind the film back and ditch the camera. And the built-in flash is far more capable than the one for the XA. OK, so add a Pentax to the pile, feeding from the same film stock as the Nikonos. And add a film retriever in case I do have to rewind a part-used film. That won’t look at all odd on the luggage x-ray. Not a bit.

Then add to the pile a bunch of rechargeable AA cells for the flashes. Plus chargers for them, the Canons and the video light. And for my phone. And some film – all in original boxes so the airport guards don’t get nervous. Sorted.

Unless I change my mind again.

Plus seven pairs of pants and tee shirts. I’ll let you know how I got on.

Packing
Too many socks?

UPDATE-

And of course, I changed my mind again. The little demon of perversity sat on my shoulder during the drive to work and whispered in my ear. The Pentax point and shoot is as big as a housebrick, so why not take something smaller? The Balda folds up really small, and a couple of rolls of 120 film will take up no space at all. Plus it will fulfil my desire for something manual and awkward to fiddle with. And it delivers my real desire, which is to shoot black and white. So it’s Pentax out and Balda in.

Unless I change my mind again.

UPDATE

Guess what? I realised that the Nikonos was going to be hooked-up to its flashgun, and that I didn’t want to be undoing and re-doing the connection every day: too much risk of introducing a leak. Plus I weighed the bag and it was well under the limit. So I sneaked the Olympus XA in. So that’s one Nikon, two Canons, one Olympus and a Balda. Totally ridiculous, if it wasn’t for the need to take pictures underwater and on the surface, plus the desire to have enough resilience against breakage or problems.

A brand new bag

That thing we all wish for but never attain… Not world peace or a flat belly: the perfect camera bag. It should hold everything I want to carry, slightly separated so the bits don’t rub together when I’m walking. A bit of padding so that I can put the bag down harder than I meant to without hearing the crunch of doom. Not so much padding that the bag becomes an inflexible cube: we want the not-a-camera-bag hipster look.

The contents need to be well organised so that the small bits don’t hide under the big bits. There needs to be enough space so that I can put something in the bag before taking something out. Think changing lens.

Weather resistance is good. I might want to put the bag down on a wet surface or take it out in the rain. And something like a zip is good for keeping out sand and dust if I’m in a messy place.

These days the bag might not just be carrying cameras. Mine usually has to fit-in a drink and snacks for the dog, a drink for my partner plus makeup, one or more mobile phones and a wallet. And sometimes it’s just a bag, carrying life’s daily drudgery while trying to send signals of groovy (I’m a commuting wage slave, yes, but you can see that I’m really a totally committed and artistic photographer).

My first bag was so uncool it hurts me even now. It was a rigid black box with a tab and press-stud closure and a black plastic strap. It had a few rigid internal divisions that separated my spare lens from my camera. Not well enough, as it turned out. I had one of those clever multifunction camera clamps – the thing that looks like a G clamp and promises to attach your camera to trees, fences and tabletops. That also was so uncool that the memory aches. So on a motorcycle journey with the bag of geekness strapped to the rear carrier my zoom lens gradually rotated against the G clamp. The result was a ring of bright paintless metal around the barrel of the lens.

Then there was the stylish but useless phase. This was a gorgeous pale tan leather bag I bought in Germany. I have no idea what it was meant for, but it was a rectangular block of stylish leather with no padding or internal divisions. So you accept that the kit is going to rub around a bit or you try and separate it with notebooks, scraps of cloth or old socks. Style darling; who needs substance? The bag gradually acquired patina. We fell out of love for a while while I was going through my middle-manager phase and then we got right back together and got our groove on. It is now the screw-fit bag: it holds a small outfit of M42 screw-fit camera, a couple of lenses and a light meter. I’m so hip with this on that my jeans go skinny and my socks disappear. And no, sorry, there is no room for the dog’s treats and water.

IMG_2335
I think the stains add something

I went through a rather strange phase of trying one of those waistcoats with all the pockets. Just about the worst of all possible options, plus wearing one these days would get you shot on the Tube. This was replaced by an Army surplus belt with pockets. It was probably meant for ammunition or grenades. I thought I looked like Batman. The pockets were too small for anything other than a few rolls of film, so it was sold to someone who did a lot of marching and shouting at the weekend.

Then I got serious and went seriously large. This was the bag that could hold and organise everything. I could carry every lens I owned, every filter, all the extra focusing screens I had found for my Pentax (these were the days when camera shops had bins of stuff they couldn’t sell at a pound a pop). A light meter. Enough film for an expedition. A flashgun. There was nothing that could happen that wouldn’t find me ready. “F8 and be there”? I was there already and had every F thing I needed.

Difficult to carry though. In fact, difficult to lift. And really painful to carry after a few hours, even though it had a waist belt to supplement the shoulder strap. (I was still so uncool – I was the slacks and tank-top of photography).

It did come into its own when I went to photograph some bike racing at Silverstone. I took every long lens I owned and all the doublers and adapters. It was a beast to carry but that was really just between vantage points. I wish it had wheels.

Then it was my desert years of whatever bag came to hand that could carry all the stuff I had to schlepp about and could squeeze a small camera into the corner. It’s a testament to the basic toughness of most cameras that nothing broke or was even damaged beyond the expected dirt and scratched paint.

So I bought a Lowepro bag. This was one of their single-strap rucksacks that you could slide round to sit across the front of your hips, unzip the side of the bag and use it like one of those trays the people use to sell ice cream in theatres. Brilliant idea and execution. And it was on sale. This was the bag I used to take pictures of seals in a sandstorm as it kept all the lens-changing above the main body of windblown sand. It’s the perfect bag for a dedicated photographer-in-action who doesn’t have to carry anything else. Which is why on the hills I use a conventional rucksack with the camera kit sharing space with water, weather protection, navigation and all those other little things that keep you out of the news. Great bag for a dedicated photo occasion though, as long as you don’t mind your partner disowning you.

Then came the bag porn. Lledar in North Wales make leather bags. They have sales. They were discontinuing a model called Bailey. It was mine. This is a bag of such style that my partner will even allow me to carry her makeup, bottle of Coke and hairbrush. A dark leather messenger bag that is getting better with every crease and stain. It has padded dividers and pockets so that I don’t have to empty the bag to find the car keys. My life was complete. Nearly.

IMG_2339
It smells all leathery too

Incidentally – messenger bags. I was commuting by motorbike and wanted a tough over-the-shoulder bag that would carry everything. I got one of the big canvas bags that Royal Mail use (or used, they all seem to drive trolleys these days). It was the business: thick strap, big, canvas, large flap over the top to close it. Except when the wind lifted the flap when I was buzzing along at around 60mph. The bag turned instantly into a drogue chute. I now know why military jets use them for braking. (Parachutes, not shoulder bags).

So now I’m in bag heaven. I have the beautiful Bailey that carries a good chunk of kit, or a useful bit of kit plus some of life’s other essentials. There is another Lledar messenger bag that will take a compact camera, a wallet and a few bits. (Did I mention they have sales?). I still have the German bag for screw-mount days. And a rather useful waxed cotton bag that seals with a zip. It’s not an obsession. I could stop any time.