One Keeper Per Pound

Kate’s been planning a mystery vacation for us. I have a bit of hard time planning vacations, but I do fine if someone just shoves me on the plane, so the idea was to just cut me out of the planning phase altogether. One morning last week she lit slip our destination before her morning coffee kicked in; I knew addicting her to caffeine would eventualy pay off. The destination, Paris, with a side trip to Brussels to see our friends Kelly & Joe.

My only planning for this trip has been deciding what camera gear to take. One camera, one lens and a bag full of film seemed to work well in Tokyo, so I though I’d do the same on this trip, but take it one step further and standardize on one film, Delta 400. This should keep photo-futzing to a minimum, which for me seems to result in more fun and better pictures. I’ve pretty much decided on taking the 35, but I might change my mind and go for the 50 at the last minute. If I have a moment of weakness it will be the 50 and the 28 🙂

Just about the time I had fully decided on this minimalist course, Antarcica In the Bag popped up on LuLa (props to Colin for the LuLa appellation). I’ve enjoyed Reichman’s other ‘In the Bag’ essays. Reading about someone shlepping a hundred pounds of gear through airports is a good cure for gear lust. Unlike previous essays in the series, this one contained some statistics for people to latch onto, mostly about how all those poor suckers with 1 series canons had to resort to using digi-rebels when the big iron failed in a light rain. I’m not sure why folks think that Canons are really “Pro” cameras any more when the market is surely mostly retired dentist and studio photographers. Why build them to pro standards when the only pros that use them are going to use them in a studio? That’s a rant for another day . . .

Lurking in that failure rate story was something more interesting though. Reichman only brought back 92 keepers. A few folks have noted that 92 divided by the 7000 some frames he took is a really small number. A slightly less small number is the 92 divided by the weight of his gear. Here’s the math:

  • H2 body, 3 pounds
  • 35mm Hassy lens, 2 pounds
  • 50mm-110mm Hassy lens, 3.5 pounds
  • 210mm Hassy lens, 3 pounds
  • 1DsMKII, 2.5 pounds
  • Canon 24-105, 1.5 pounds
  • Canon 70-200, 3.5 pounds
  • Canon 100-400, 3.00 pounds
  • M8 and assorted lens, call it 5 pounds
  • Tripod and Head, 8ish pounds
  • Laptop, 5 pounds is pretty standard
  • 4 compact hard drives, 5 pounds
  • LowePro Dryzone 200 bag, 5 pounds?
  • Thinktank monstrosity bag, 10 pounds, empty!
  • Batteries, chargers, etc, 10 pounds?
  • Eh, rounding error, 50 pounds so that I can say he carried 100 pounds of gear

OK, fine, he didn’t actually carry 100 pounds of camera gear. Even if we round it down to fifty pounds and round his keeper count up to 100 – I like nice round number and even math – we are still left with only two keepers per pound. Applying that to my 5 pound equipment load for Paris, I can plan on taking home 10 keepers? I’m ok with that. If we redid the math to make it keepers per dollar spent on equipment, I’d be lucky to get one otherwise good but half-fogged frame. Good thing we aren’t doing that math!

Other Uses for $300 worth of Camera Bags, Part 1

Bags, OM-1, Olympus 50mm F1.8, Delta 400@800, Xtol
Can you spot the lunch bag?

The Camera Bag as Lunch Bag

As I’ve written before, I have a complicated relationship with camera bags. In part this relationship can be expressed by the following formula:

(Desire for expensive camera bags + Contradicting desire to not be encumbered) / Feeling of guilt over useless purchases = Lunchbags

Yep, lunchbags. That’s what all those expensive camera bags get used for around here, and some work better than others.

Billingham Hadley as a Lunchbag

The Hadley is quite the snazzy looking bag particularly the black one that I’ve got. Kate uses it as her lunch bag as it goes nicely with her black wool coat. With the padding removed from the main compartment, it’s got quite a bit of room for lunch indeed with enough leftover for a hardback book, a notebook, and the miscellany that always seems to float at the bottom of a bag. Without that padding, though, the bag lacks structure. If you don’t pack carefully, your pbj will get crushed by your book when the bag deforms to your body.

As you would expect of a $200+ bag, the materials are excellent. That Billingham coated fabric really is entirely waterproof, both inside and out, as Kate found out when her water bottle popped open inside the bag, creating a mini lagoon in the bottom of the bag. Her voice recordermaratrix spent a week drying in a bag of rice after that, but it’s now as good as new.

Domke 803 as a Lunchbag

Although the Domke is smaller than the Billingham, all that canvas makes it a fairly heavy bag, which is why it doesn’t work that well as a camera bag; packed full of lenses it’s just entirely too heavy. Lunches are decidedly less dense however. I carry the 803 most days with my lunch, one camera with attached lens, a small paper back, and a collapsible umbrella. Load like this the weight is fine for the 40 minute walk to work.

The Domke’s structural padding and heavy canvas – two weight-increasing features that make it a poor camera bag – make it a pretty darn good lunch bag. The provided insert (stripped of extraneous padding) keeps my hard-edged camera from squishing my PBJ or my banana, while the overall rigidity of the bag prevents bag deformation from making a gooey mess of all my treats. In this respect, the Domke is far superior to the Billingham.

Where the Domke fails is size and water-resistance. Because of the limited interior space, my copy of the mamoth Joan Didion collection, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live can only come with me if I’m eating a burger and drinking a beer at Murphy’s; my bosses might have a problem if that was on the agenda everyday. Beer and Didion are enough to keep any sane person from getting back to the office on time. A paperback slipped into on the front pockets has to do. The Domke’s other lunch bag failing is its sponge-like quality. Water resistant canvas, ha! That brown canvas is perfectly water resistant when you try it out at home. In the world outside, however, it actually pull moisture out of the air until the bag ways approximately 30 pounds. Why did photojournalist ever carry Domkes?


Both these bags are foolishly expensive for lunch bag use, but once you’ve spent the money, you’d be a fool not to use them for something. In almost all respects, the Domke makes the better lunchbag, albeit a smaller, heavier, and less stylish one than the Billingham.