My Christmas Wish List & Gear Review

I haven’t done this in years: A Christmas Wish List! With a surprise ending too! I’ve also wanted to do some sort of tech round up as well for a blog article. But honestly, I’m not about getting the newest and greatest gadget. I only upgrade when I need to. As long as I’m getting the results out of my gear, I’m good. But I do want gear. Mostly to make the work and art look and run better. So writing a tech article with a Christmas list cover will be much funner!

Camera Bags

Manfrotto Roller Bag 50 Open. Image from Manfrotto

Manfrotto Roller Bag 50 open. Image from Manfrotto

Manfrotto Pro Roller Bag 50. (REMOVED)Really, I can go with the Think Tank or this Manfrotto for my main camera bag needs. The Manfrotto is a little smaller than the Think Tank but I think it would still serve me fine. I like the sleek outer design and slots inside for a laptop and tablet. A slot for each. From what I remember, the dividers are very decent. What is fantastic about the Manfrotto is that it’s small enough to fit under an airline seat. This means I can bring both a carry-on garment bag and my photography case onto the plane. So having the laptop slot inside the bag is not really an issue. And it’s secure. With the Think Tank, you cannot really secure the laptop slot with a lock. Because you have to keep it TSA friendly. The only thing is I’d have to check the quality of the Manfrotto bag again. If it’s up to spec, I’d take Manfrotto. Did I mention that it’s a nice bit less expensive? Haha!

(Addendum December 20, 2014) I have to remove the Manfrotto roller bag. On my day off a few days ago, I went to another camera store that used to be king in the Bay Area before Samy’s Camera moved into the area. Lots of gear. Poor service unfortunately. But I go because they do tend to have lots of great gear to view.

Unfortunately, there was no Manfrotto bags at this other store. Nada. And I know Samy’s Camera doesn’t have any of the Manfrotto roller bags either. Which is a real drag especially if I needed replacement parts or exchange. But I have another bag that is really close to the Manfrotto originally. When I went to this other shop, I got to check it up close… Glad I did!

Think Tank Airport Navigator. Image by BH Photo Video

Think Tank Airport Navigator Bag open. Image by BH Photo Video

Think Tank Airport Navigator (ADDED) What the Manfrotto originally had over the Think Tank was size and dimensions. You could fit more into it and still fit it under an airline seat. I also liked the sleeker design.

There are two things I really love about the Think Tank Airport Navigator bag. First is the top cover load and removal of the cameras with the lenses attached and ready to go quickly. I don’t have to lay the bag down and open a large cover to remove the cameras. For event photography, I could have my two-camera setup ready to go quickly. It’s also going to keep the bag cleaner and in better shape not having to lay it down on the floor all the time.

The other is the way you access a laptop. The front pocket where the laptop is carried is easier to access due to its smaller size. And it’s lockable. I wouldn’t even consider this bag if it wasn’t. While you still expose the camera gear when accessing the laptop or tablet, it’s not as pronounced. You can remove the laptop and hardly show what else is in the bag. Okay, there is a third reason why I like this bag….

Construction. When I was handling the bag at the camera store, the materials rock! The bag feels quality. Really good to the touch. I mean, that was the basis for choosing my first DSLR: how it felt in my hand. It was a lower spec than the other DSLR I was choosing either. Never regretted that decision.

The bag I’ve had my eye on for a very long time was the Think Tank Airport International V2. It’s one of the standards for carry-on photography bags. It looks like a big bag. It’s borderline to fit under an airline seat. But when I calculate the interior capacity, found it to be smaller than the Navigator! Not much. And the International is $100 more money.

Think Tank Airport Roller Derby Bag. Photo by Think Tank Photo

Think Tank Airport Roller Derby Bag. Photo by Think Tank Photo

Think Tank Airport Roller DerbyFor big bags, I looked at cases from Pelican, LowePro, Manfrotto and Tamrac. Here’s what I need for a big bag: holds all my camera specific gear for any of my photo shoots, internal flexibility, durability, quality and super warranty. Every time, I kept coming back to the Think Tank. I really love the LowePro x200 but a really negative issue was apparent: The size is too big for airline carry-on purposes. Even for domestic flights that are more generous than international flights.

The big reason why I chose Think Tank: excellent dividers. Dividers on too many bags feel cheap. If your bag get’s thrown a little, especially in baggage on a plane trip, the dividers must be good to prevent items from banging into each other. The other bags I looked at couldn’t match the Think Tank dividers.

I was going back and forth between the TakeOff, International v2 and Roller Derby. One reason I chose the Roller Derby: The big, enclosed front pocket to store your laptop/tablet and papers. The TakeOff comes close as it has an enclosed pocket. But I didn’t like the bulk of the enclosed backpack straps. With the International, the stretchy fabric doesn’t work for me at all and doesn’t completely over my laptop. Plus, how about carrying papers and such? It’s all exposed.

It’s a lot of bag and I wouldn’t need another big bag for years. But Santa, if you’re on a budget, I’m perfectly fine with the Navigator.

Ruggard Triumph 45 Sling Bag. Image by BH Photo Video

Ruggard Triumph 45 Sling Bag. Image by BH Photo Video

Ruggard Triumph 45 Sling Bag. My second choice for my bag wish. Second choice as the first two bags are tied for first. And this bag is relatively cheap too at $70! It’s basically a slightly larger version than my beloved LowePro 202AW bag. Love my LowePro bag. But the problem is that I cannot put my camera with a 70-200mm lens mounted in the bag. I could also fit two flashes and other little accessories. This can totally work for small photo shoots, event shoots and street photography.

Lenses

Zeiss 85mm f:1.4 Lens

Zeiss 85mm f:1.4 Lens

Zeiss 85mm f1.4. I love my Zeiss 50mm. I purchased it initially because it’s half the price of the Zeiss 85mm. My Canon 50D which was my first camera turned it into an 85mm more or less. But he Zeiss 85mm is really special to me. I rent the Zeiss 85mm for big and special shoots and use my Canon 5D MKII. Portraits and fashion just look better. It’s a special lens. It’s a lens I would use a lot and it’s built like a tank. It will last 10 – 20 years easy.

Canon 70-200 f:4L. Image by Borrowlenses.com

Canon 70-200mm f:4L. Image by Borrowlenses.com

Canon 70-200mm f4L. I think any half-serious photographer should have a 70-200mm lens. You can use it for anything from portraits to sports to events. It’s the zoom version of a 50mm: extremely versatile.

I rented this lens a few times and I simply love it. It’s the cheapest, lightest and oldest of the 70-200mm family. It’s still extremely sharp. You can get a pristine used-version for about $500. A bargain professional lens that pays back with big dividends.

The 2.8L IS II version is 4x the price and the sharpest of the 70-200mm. But it’s only marginally sharper and at least 2x the weight. The deciding moment was when I used the f4 for a 4-day sports event. The lens worked fabulously and images were super-sharp. I’d be totally happy with this cheapest of the 70-200mm L lens family. I don’t care about all the models in between it and the top of the line model. I would only consider the top model if I was shooting fashion shows and fashion events regularly. They would have to be extremely well paying shows as well. Using a $2400 lens to photograph a fashion show for $500: Not!

Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM. Honorable Mention. Damn fine lens for events and street photography. I’ve rented this lens a couple of times. The image contrast reminds me of Zeiss lenses: Excellent. The sharpness is amazing! The weight of the lens is crazy too! It’s probably 3x the weight of my 50mm. Your arm will definitely get tired if carrying it all day.

Cameras

Canon 5D Mark III. I kept going back and forth between the 5D Mark III and the 1DX. Even if money were no object, I simply don’t know about the 1DX. Both cameras have the same autofocus system. ISO performance up to 12,800 are close to equal. The fps advantage of the 1DX is nice. But how often will I use 14fps? Rarely. I love the built-in vertical grip. But it adds size and weight that I can’t do anything about. Re-sale value is much better with the 1DX. But I wouldn’t sell the camera anytime soon. So it’s really not an issue.

Canon 5D MKIII Camera. Image by BH Photo Video

Canon 5D MKIII Camera. Image by BH Photo Video

What do I gain with the 5D MKIII? A smaller camera when I want it. I have a vertical grip for my 5D MKII that I love and would buy one for the MKIII as well. But at least I can take the grip off if I don’t need it. A Pro body looks impressive. But it really adds lots of bulk.

Another advantage: batteries! The MKII and MKIII use the same batteries! This may sound trivial. One thing a photographer tries to achieve is redundancy with gear. And needing only 1 model battery for cameras is great! That’s less equipment to carry with less batteries and chargers. And since the MKII was the best selling DSLR in history, getting emergency batteries somewhere should be very easy.

With both the MKII and MKIII, I would have a great setup for event photography. The MKII would be perfect for a short focal length and the MKIII for an extended lens. And the MKIII is a great all-around camera and a great camera for fashion.

Phase One IQ140. Medium Format is the Holy Grail for me. At the beginning of my photographic journey and doing some research, I found that independent of the photographer, I gravitated towards images photographed with Medium Format cameras. When I think back to even before I got into photography and some images that stick out in my memory, they were probably done in Medium Format. Digital or film. There is simply a look that I like about them.

Phase One IQ140 with Body and Lens. Image by Samy's Camera

Phase One IQ140 with Body and Lens. Image by Samy’s Camera

Originally I had listed the Phase One IQ250 on my Christmas list. That camera is getting so much closer to the perfect camera with its excellent ISO performance, for a Medium Format camera, and built-in WiFi. I even got to play with one when Phase One was doing a presentation at my local Samy’s Camera in San Francisco. While the camera is a bit bigger and heavier than a DSLR, the grip is such that it feels quite good in the hand. It doesn’t feel much heavier. Though I’ve seen plenty of photographers use a tripod with a Phase One. I love changing angles so don’t know if I would use a tripod. Honestly, most photographers tend to be weaklings!

However, the IQ250 is going to cost the same as my next car! If the camera was going to land on my lap free of charge, no problem! I think it might be out of Santa’s budget too. No matter how good I’ve been! Even if I had the money, there is a part of me that feels I need to graduate to that level of camera by having the type of clientele to justify it. Really, this is a camera when you’re photographing celebrities. I’m not quite there yet! My DSLR is perfect for the clients and variety of photography work I do.

Originally, I thought about the Phase One P40+ as a shorter-term Medium Format solution. In terms of image quality, it’s top notch even being 5 years old. I was fine with some of its limitations to get the look of Medium Format for the cost. But then I looked at the 2 – 3 year newer Phase One IQ140 and the price difference isn’t much different from the P40+. What you get with the IQ140 is a superior rear display and better build quality. That’s pretty much it. The rear screen on the P40+ is absolutely horrible. There is the IQ160 that has a sensor size that’s truly Medium Format and may have better image quality. But it’s 2x the cost of the IQ140 and I don’t know if it’s really worthwhile.

The only thing I wish the IQ140 had or as an option would be wireless connectivity. While the IQ250 has fantastic ISO performance, I would rarely use it in my fashion and portrait work. But wireless would be incredibly useful. It would be fantastic to review images on an iPad on location or clients/staff/assistants in the studio in real-time. They would see exactly what I was seeing and staff could see any corrections necessary much easier instead of hovering. I think clients would get a better experience from the photo shoot as well. And that’s a good thing!

I had some more things to add to my list, but these items really deserve their own blog article. So I am going to add something else that I want this year….

Peace

Being as active in politics and community activism as much as I have in my life, all this is incredibly important to me. This year has been quite horrible in the world. With the serious racial and economic inequalities in the U.S., the invasion of the Ukraine and the scary problems in the Middle East and Asia… And this only the tip of the iceberg folks… I’m wondering when our species will take a leap forward in unifying and doing what’s best for everyone in the world. We’ve never had so much information at our fingertips and ease of connecting with each other. But it doesn’t seem to be helping much…. We don’t have to love everyone. We could simply respect or at the very least, tolerate one another. Why is this so hard?

I see hope though. When someone like Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at 17 years of age. Malala is a Pakistani young lady who is working for the rights of children to receive an education all over the world. I hope this inspires young people everywhere to be more involved. I find it very interesting that she is sharing the award with Kailash Satyarthi of India who is fighting for the rights of Children. You folks in Norway: Great idea and message for pairing these two!

About the author

Ricardo Gomez is a Fashion Photographer based in New York City.

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