RETAIL THERAPY – PHOTOGRAPHER STYLE

I admit to being a complete shopaholic when it comes to photographic accessories. I just keep on buying different brands and models of ‘things’ until I finally settle on a product I am completely satisfied with. Online reviews are useful and aid me in making a purchase decision, but it is really my own use and experience in the field that ultimately determines my level of satisfaction with a product.

Being somewhat of a perfectionist, I get frustrated when a product comes up short of my expectations and convince myself that I can do better. This inevitably leads me to my next purchase. Camera bags and cold weather gloves for photography are two accessories that I have continually purchased in the quest for ultimate satisfaction. I finally reached the end of the camera bag road shopping spree when I purchased the Gura Gear Kiboko after my 2010 Iceland expedition. I had finally found the perfect camera bag for my needs. Gura Gear followed this in 2011 with the Chobe which solved my laptop and accessory bag dilemmas in one go. It is quite literally the perfect bag combination and I no longer feel the need to even visit the camera bag section of a photography store.

Kiboko

I feel I am also close to the end of my journey for cold weather photography gloves with the Helly Hanson sailing gloves I discovered late last year. I shot extensively in Antarctica with these gloves and found they provided a high degree of tactile feel for operating camera equipment while supplying sufficient warmth, making them (almost) ideal for my sort of photography. If someone would manufacture this glove in a waterproof (or even water-resistant) version I would be at the end of my search.

Outdoor clothing is part of my photographic accessories since I do the majority of my landscape and nature photography in remote locations and often in inclement weather. I have a cupboard full of inner and outer layer jackets which have been accumulated over a number of years from a wide range of manufacturers. I used to find it very difficult to walk into an outdoor clothing store and not walk out with a new jacket of some description. I believe I can lay the blame for this vice squarely at my father’s feet since I recall in my youth his tendency to purchase jackets on a more than regular basis. I have strong recollections of his cupboard being full of beautiful outdoor jackets and I guess it more than rubbed off on me. However, I think I finally cured myself of the ‘jacket addiction’ when I discovered the 66 North Eldgja mid layer jacket and their Gylmur eVent outer waterproof jacket and pants. This combination works for me – it’s extremely light-weight, breathable and waterproof. I have now worn this clothing from Iceland to Antarctica, Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand across a wide range of weather conditions and it has met my needs across all elements. I no longer feel the need to purchase anything else. (Although I did just order another Eldgja jacketbecause I like to have one to wear when the other is in the wash, so perhaps the addiction is not quite at an end yet!)

66 North Glymur eVent Jacket and Pants

This brings me to another product that has multiplied in my closet: Photography vests. My first photography vest was a Domke and it served me very well for many years before I finally caught it on one-too- many rural barbwire fences and it met a grizzly, though probably not untimely end. At the time I did not really consider any other options and simply purchased another one. It took me quite a long time to realize that I was never truly happy with the Domke. For starters, it’s made from cotton, which means when it gets wet (and it isn’t waterproof) it gets heavy (and it takes a long time to dry). Secondly, large lenses placed in the front pockets tend to dangle low and bang around the knees the moment I crouch down. And lastly, the Domke really isn’t very practical for travelling on and off airplanes as it draws too much attention to itself – it doesn’t actually scream ‘photographer – I’m carrying an overweight camera bag!’, but it certainly speaks in a loud voice and in today’s age of airport clamp-downs it is less than ideal.

Domke

In the search for a replacement for my Domke, last year I purchased an Xtrahand photo vest (somewhat in frustration) as I could not find anything else on the market that I thought would be suitable for field work. To be clear, I never had any intention of using this vest for anything but remote wilderness work. It is just too ‘tactical’ for any public appearance and it most definitely screams at the top of its lungs: ‘I’m a photographer with huge amounts of heavy equipment and I don’t mind looking like Rambo!‘ The Xtrahand vest is the ideal solution for the photographer walking into the wilderness who does not wish to carry a camera bag. It holds ridiculous amounts of photography equipment (and I do mean ridiculous) and manages to spread the load palatably on arduous hikes. It meets its design criteria perfectly. What I did not know at the time was that I prefer to carry my Kiboko camera bag rather than wear the vest. It’s just a personal preference based on my habit of dropping my backpack on the spur of the moment. Whilst the vest is easily removed, it was somewhat tiresome to put it back on and difficult to extract gear from when it was on the ground. I also prefer the layout of the Kiboko for my equipment.

XtraHand Photo Vest

Thus, the photo vest saga turned out to be one of those examples where I did not realize my needs until I had tried something different. After some months with the Xtrahand vest I became aware that it simply wasn’t for me and it has gathered dust alongside a multitude of camera bags and my Domke vest since. I am going to be clearing house over the coming weeks and many of these items will find their way to eBay where I hope they will meet someone else’s needs.

With my trip to Paris, Venice and Iceland now only a couple of weeks away, I visited my local photography store a few days ago to grab a coupe of last minute items, including yet another LEE Neutral Density filter (more on filters in another blog post, but I clearly also have some sort of addiction to purchasing filters) and other various small, but necessary accessories. As I am prone to do, I wandered the store (dangerous decision for a shopaholic like me) whilst the salesperson checked the items and totaled the bill.  Wandering up and down the aisles, my eyes were drawn to a vest made by Italian tripod company Manfrotto that I had read about over a year ago – The Pro Photo Vest. At the time, I remember reading that it had been designed specifically by photographers in conjunction with an Italian design company in Milan – it was stylish, understated (in photography vest terms) yet very practical looking – and I was told at the time that they were probably a good six months away from production and likely longer than that before they reached Australia. I subsequently put them out of my mind and had completely forgotten about them.

Manfrotto Pro Photo

Fifteen minutes later, after trying one on and getting my head around the typical Manfrotto price tag, I purchased one. What got me over the line was exactly what I recalled about the vest when I read about it more than a year ago – stylish, understated, and practical (incidentally those are three characteristics that my Gura Gear camera bags and 66 North clothing all have in common). Much like my beloved 66 North Eldgja jacket, it ‘just felt right’ the moment I slipped it on. I won’t wax lyrical about it here as clothing is a very personal item and really needs to be tried on to appreciate. Suffice to say, at this point I am quite excited with this new vest and very keen to test it out on my coming trip. There was never a question of the Xtrahand vest travelling to Paris, Italy and Iceland with me since the Gendarmes would be very quick to swoop on anyone sporting such a military style vest. I was also loathing the thought of taking the venerable Domke with me (yet again) and the thought of it getting wet in Iceland was giving me the shivers.   Now with the Manfrotto vest, I feel I have this problem licked and I am keen to see if this new accessory meets my expectations and needs. Given that it ticks my three boxes of stylish, understated, and practical, I have high hopes that it will.

Or, perhaps this will turn into yet another step in a jacket and vest addiction that will never go away!

7 Comments

  1. Posted June 25, 2012 at 1:10 am | Permalink | Reply

    Joshua, thanks for the reviews. I’ve been looking for good gloves for years, and will give the Helly Hanson sailing gloves a try.

    A note about the Gura Gear Kiboko bag. I use this bag and like it very much. It’s a wonderful shape and fit for my H4D system. The Kiboko is best accessed when lying flat on the ground (if I recall correctly, Gura Gear even makes mention of this). When hanging from a tripod hook, access is much more difficult, especially for items at the bottom of the bag. This is due in part because the zipper extends to the underside nearly to the middle of the bag. Thus it requires one hand to hold the bag at an angle, the other hand to open the zipper and get the desired lens, and then an awkward closure because on hand is holding the lens. When the lens is changed, this process has to be repeated again.

    When photographing on the marine shoreline over dry and wet sand, I want to keep the bag off the ground. Often I don’t have a drift log nearby to help me in this respect. I’m left with the bag (fitted with a loop cord tied around the top handle) hanging on the tripod hook and the difficulty to keep things from falling out when I access the interior of the bag. It has proven much more difficult in this regard than other bags I’ve used from Lowe Pro.

    It’s a significant inconvenience for me, but not one that prevents me from using and recommending the Kiboko as my primary bag for digital medium format gear. If I’m taking just a couple of lenses, I find a shoulder bag with a good waist belt that allows the bag to be swiveled to the front and act as a “changing table” to be an excellent choice when one wants to keep the bag off the ground.

    • Posted June 25, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I love my Kiboko – even though the one drawback is that, unlike the Crumpler that it has replaced, it is designed so that when you pick it up off the ground, the dirty side goes against your back, I have therefore bought some waterproof fabric, and sewn a square which weighs about 20g, and sits in the outer pocket to be used either for placing the bag on, or for me to lie face down on if that is my photographic angle. Also while on the hook, I still keep the Kiboko on the ground, not dangling, so it provides stability without gathering momentum in the wind – this helps access to gear.
      Josh – a word of warning to you – Venice will be hot!!! We ‘re sweltering in Umbria – tell me how you fare in that lovely vest – I’m still pondering!! Cheers, Sarah

      • Posted June 25, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

        Hi Sarah, I do the same with a ground sheet. Yes, expecting Venice to be hot… ugh….. ill let you know bout the vest.. but I think it will be a winner.

  2. Posted June 22, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hi Josh,
    Great article. I love my Kiboko. With some trips to cold places coming up, I am very interested in the Manfrotto vest. It looks fantastic for stuffing lenses into pockets, which is something that I have longed to do. However, a few things bother me – it’s black, which means that if I do go somewhere warm, I’ll die of heat stroke. Secondly, it looks like it will render my down jacket useless, as it won’t fit over a bulging vest, and in fact, any jacket will make those easily accessible lenses rather more difficult to get to. It doesn’t look like it’s really warm enough to wear in Iceland, Norway etc without a covering insulation, so I’m wondering why they made it black? Do you have any comments on this? I’d love to buy one, but I really wonder if those concerns mean that it is still not the ideal vest that I’m searching for. Cheers, Sarah

    • Posted June 22, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Hi Sarah,

      ‘Good Guys’ dress in Black :-)

      I like to wear my vests over the top of all my cold weather gear – so I always order them much larger than would otherwise be required. I wouldn’t wear the vest for warmth, but purely for convenience of accessing gear. Manfrotto do make a long sleeve version if you need one for warmth. Recommend you try one on. You will likely love it. Cheers, J.

      • Posted June 22, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

        Hi Josh,
        Thanks for the rapid reply. Hadn’t thought of wearing the vest over the insulation layers (this fall will be my first experience of really cold climates). So, if you go to a warm country, can you justify having to buy a smaller size as well, or are you waiting for them to produce a lighter coloured version? :-) Cheers, Sarah

      • Posted June 22, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

        I avoid hot places :-)

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