I haven't posted in a long time (my apologies) and I have never really done a proper kit post so I thought that this was as good a time as any to let you know what I use as well as why I picked it and why it deserves to be in my bag. My kit tends to focus on getting as much value as possible without compromising on quality and as such it contains a few brands that are a little less common but no less effective. As well as this, I'm going to explain how I get to locations (spoiler - I can't drive!) and how this affects my photography.
My camera bag is a USA Gear S17. It isn't a brand that many people have heard of, like LowePro or ThinkTank, but once you accept that there is no such thing as the perfect camera bag it is easier to make a few compromises. For me, this bag holds all of my kit covering a full frame equivalent range of 16-800mm with two bodies plus a tripod and all of the little extra bits and bobs whilst still having a separate top compartment for my snacks and phone. I also love the huge 17" laptop compartment into which I actually fold a raincoat - I'm surprised people don't use laptop slots for this more often as it is a perfect size for a folded coat and it takes up less space than if it was rolled up in the main compartment.
My only problem with this bag is the straps, which are on the thin side and aren't padded very well which means it isn't the most comfortable bag, which is a problem for me given my main mode of transport. But for less than £60 in a world of £150-£250 bags it is a small price to pay for an otherwise fantastic bag. This does mean that I am on the lookout for a new bag and am looking at upgrading to a Mindshift Backlight 26l when I have the chance.
My tripod is a Zomei Z669C Carbon Fibre Travel Tripod. Again, not a brand most people know much about. A tripod is an expensive piece of kit but it can also be incredibly useful and despite all of the image stabilisation improvements over recent years I don't expect many photographers to be doing away with them just yet. I chose this one because it is carbon fibre, had a great rating on Amazon and is lightweight (1.3kg), is very compact (35cm fully closed) and is strong enough to hold my kit with ease (up to 15kg). It also comes with a basic but good ballhead which I do actually use. For £100, I think it is a great investment and with tripods there really is no point getting anything with any risk of being flimsy. If portability is less of a concern I do also own a Vista Attaras which is as solid as a rock but also heavier and larger than one. I think it cost me around £60 when I bought it and if it is still around I would highly recommend it for anyone who doesn't need to carry it around too much or put it into luggage because it was a perfectly capable tripod, it just doesn't quite suit me.
I am using an Olympus EM1 Mark 2, which has now replaced my EM10, although I do still carry my EM10 or my Olympus Pen EP-1 as a backup body. It is an absolutely incredible camera that focuses on speed with blistering frame rates. For me, it fits perfectly in my hands and is perfectly suited to my photography, largely due to it being a Mirrorless camera with a small lens system that is still large enough for me to hold it comfortably and securely.
I carry quite a few lenses with me and try to carry quite a range. This is because I never really know what I might see and because I'm always terrified of leaving the best lens for a job at home because I was too lazy to carry it. Overally, my lenses cover a full frame equivalent range of 16-800mm which would be virtually impossible to fit into my bag or afford with any camera system other than Micro Four Thirds.
Of these, the 40-150mm is my walk around and tends to be the one I use most when photographing birds or other wildlife. For insects I switch to the 60mm Macro and for anything skittish (eg Deer or easily frightened birds) I use the 100-400mm for the extra reach. The SLR Magic is brand new (it has only just been released) but is going to be used for landscapes meaning that the 12-40mm is actually the least used lens now due to my subjects. The Pinwide was an eBay find that is good for a bit of fun but that is about all - it's a wide angle pinhole lens which comes in at around f140. It has no focusing and no glass, producing soft, heavily vignetted images which I have yet to find a use for - it's just so small and light that I have no reason to take it out of my bag just yet.
As well as all of this, I also carry an assortment of extra bits and bobs. From cleaning equipment (lens cloths and a lens pen) to extra SD cards (6 of them) and batteries, most of these are things that a photographer should never leave without. I also carry a reflector, which can help me to utilise the natural lighting for more even lighting when shooting macro, a multitool for general use and a small bag of filters. I personally carry a couple ND filters and a Circular polariser for use with my 8mm and 12-40mm lenses.
Beyond this, I usually have a pair of headphones, a portable phone charger and, of course, snacks. Lots and lots of snacks. And a drink. Sometimes I wonder whether I am going for photography or a picnic!
.As I alluded to earlier, I can't drive. This means that I don't have a car to get me to remote or far away locations and that anything I use has to be carried on my back. What I do have, is a bike. The bike itself is a B'Twin Triban 500SE from Decathlon and I have to admit, I love it. It isn't the lightest or the toughest but it is great value for money and has been happily getting me to and from work (I cycle around 10 miles a day) as well as being my main form of transport for all of my photography. If anyone is looking for a good road bike that doesn't cost the earth I can't recommend it highly enough!
The striking blue tyres are also on the unusual side - they're Tannus tyres and are actually solid - containing no inner tube or pressurised air. This means that they are literally puncture proof saving me from having to carry a pump or repair kits, and never go flat. Reviews online say that they are a little slower than normal tyres but to be perfectly honest I have never noticed and prefer to know I won't have to change a tyre in the rain, especially as the roads and paths in Nottingham seem to be designed to put as many holes in tyres as possible! They are expensive and hard to fit (about £50 each) however they last a long time and I think mine will work out as good value in the long run as I won't have to buy any inner tubes or tyres due to punctures. That and the blue colour of mine, as well as being pretty awesome, means that I can always see my bike on a packed bike rack.
The main difficulty with this is that it severely limits the distance I can travel for photography. Whilst I am happy to cycle in all weather (I love the freedom of feeling the wind and rain at times) I can only go so far, especially with all of my camera gear on my back. Due to this, I am limited mainly to three locations in Nottingham - Wollaton Park, The University of Nottingham and the Attenborough Reserve. Being limited in this way means that I get to learn all of the best spots in these locations and that I get to learn the behaviour of the wildlife that live there. For example, I know which parts of Wollaton the deer usually reside in and when, as well as where to get the best view of them. I also know that there is occasionally a kingfisher on the lake at the University, although I am yet to get a good shot of him (it's on my photography bucket list).
Knowledge like this only comes from frequenting these locations and taking the time to try and experiment and see new angles and to really explore them properly. If I had the ability to go elsewhere easily, the Peak District for example, I would know far less about the locations where I shoot and would get far worse photographs. I think that anyone can simply turn up and shoot a photograph but it takes time and effort to learn a location and a subject and then to apply that knowledge to find a unique shot that makes all of the time worth investing.