What’s in the bag – USA workshop tour

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One last minute change: I went with a Think Tank Airport International roller instead of the backpack – less fatiguing.

I’m on the road for three weeks. I’m teaching a Masterclass and a Making Outstanding Images workshop. I’m shooting for myself. I’m shooting an architectural assignment, and then capping it off with a private teaching session. These are a lot of very, very different objectives. So what did I bring, and why?

I’ve actually done this kind of thing before – both post-Havana, and post-USA 2013. It’s always been in a retrospective format; today’s post is going to change that, because I’m currently still in San Francisco.

I decided to bring two systems; Nikon and Pentax. Nikon for the architectural work simply because there are no lenses with movements for any of my other systems; the movements matter most at wider angles, so I’ve brought the Nikon PC-E 24/3.5 with axes modified parallel, and the PC-E 45/2.8. Longer, more distant vantages can be done with a short tele and the slight keystoning – if any – can be easily fixed in PS afterwards. The last item in my Nikon system is the new Zeiss 1.4/85 Otus APO-Planar I reviewed a couple of days ago. It is simply the best lens I’ve ever used in many ways; I didn’t want to leave it at home. I didn’t bring the companion 1.4/55 Otus because I’ve got that focal length roughly covered already by the 45 PCE and the 645/55mm.

The obvious question is why no spare body: the simple answer is that I’m in a country where spares are readily available, and the one client shoot is not time pressured. I can always come back the next day and B&H or NPS can send me another D810 overnight. No big deal – I’d rather not have the extra weight or liability.

I also brought a partial Pentax 645 kit – the 645Z body, 55/2.8 and 90/2.8 SR lenses. I was debating on also packing the 25/4, but that’s a very large/heavy lens and not really used unless I have a very specific purpose for it. The 90/2.8 SR and 85 Otus do overlap in range somewhat, but they produce a very different look due to the difference in format, resultant angle of view and depth of field – the 85 Otus feels far more ‘telephoto’; the 90/2.8 SR gives you a tighter angle of view, but feels a bit more like a long normal. The 55/2.8 is probably the most versatile of all of the 645 lenses, and one of the best optically; I love the way it renders as a wide-normal and the perspective-FOV-DOF relationship on the 44x33mm sensor. Yes, it’s a 43mm equivalent which is perilously close to the PC-E 45/2.8, but the latter is manual focus only. I wanted to pack something longer for stitching work and the occasional telephoto image, but my second hand Pentax FA 200/4 appears to be a bit of an inconsistent dog optically, so I borrowed a manual focus A 150/3.5 from my printmaster, a notorious Mr. Wesley Wong.

It goes without saying that the Ricoh GR rode shotgun (pistol?) in a belt holster, and bag space was shared with a whole bunch of other small accessories – spare batteries and memory cards; the 645Z and D810 chew through 32GB cards, so in addition to the two I’ve got in each camera, there’s an extra 12 in the wallet. I don’t format a card til the contents are processed and archived, and use a fresh card for each job, which can sometimes result in several cards – the upside down ones here – being out of service. Cleaning supplies, variable ND and CPOL filters for all lenses (86mm (Otus) and 77mm (PC-Es) not shown here). I carry a full backup of my critical catalog, current WIPs and empty space on two 2TB WD My Passport hard drives.

Images are managed, the site maintained, email replied, Nadiah Skyped and US-only things ordered off Amazon with an 11″ Macbook Air; it’s a late 2012 model with everything. I would like something with a better display for editing and more than four hours of battery life, but you can’t have everything. It’ll handle the large files just fine, but it isn’t that fast – and color accuracy is something of an issue. Along with that goes a Wacom Intuos tablet (small) and wireless kit – the basic models are so good now, there’s no reason to have the Pro model. Especially if you’re like me and wear out a tablet a year. In fact, it’s so good I replaced my last worn large tablet back in the studio with the larger version, too. As a bonus, the footprint is much smaller.  I also carry an iPad Mini Retina for teaching demonstrations/ examples in the field and entertainment on airplanes. Image quality and battery life are superb; what more can you ask of a portfolio device?

The final bit of the puzzle is one of support. On a full blown job I’d use the Gitzo 5562 LTS and Arca-Swiss Cube; however given weight restrictions I’m travelling with a Gitzo GT1452T Traveller and Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball head instead. Whilst the P0 is still the best of its type, I’ve unfortunately become very accustomed – spoiled, really – by the precision of the Cube; I’m working on building a smaller, lighter version for future trips.

What you don’t see here rounds out the gear: a set of Ultraprints to show at the workshops as an example of final output; lens and camera cleaning supplies, a small medication pack, blower bulb, cables, chargers, pens, iPad mini retina, small toolkit, gaffer tape, muesli bars, diary, business cards and headphones. You might have guessed that neither the backpack shown (which I didn’t use in the end) or the Think Tank roller bag are practical to work out of; they’re not. I’m currently using a Crumpler Dry Red #2 as a day bag, which isn’t a dedicated camera bag, but will fit a 645Z or D810 body and three lenses in pouches along with an iPad, or the 11″ Macbook Air with a few other bits and pieces. Best part – it looks tiny, and even budget carriers don’t count it as a main piece of luggage. MT


Limited edition Ultraprints of these images and others are available from mingthein.gallery


Masterclass Venice (November 2014) now open for booking – click here to book or for more info


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved


  1. Is Ricoh GR technically in the bag, or the pocket?

  2. Hmmmm, I use the same Crumpler bag as a day bag (padded with a Chinese generic padding box) – I’m impressed you manage to get a d800 or pentax kit into it with several lenses, I find it just about the right size for a mirrorless kit (albeit with two bodies)…

  3. I’m surprised that you use variable type, Ming. Everything I’ve read suggests that they reduce image quality. I’m also surprised that you only use NDs for shooting water and do not use grads to balance out a bright sky. Do you prefer to use multiple shots and combine them in post to capture high contrast scenes? Or, do you generally avoid high contrast scenes? Cheers, Ming.

    • If you get the light right, you don’t need grads. And if you’re shooting under low light/ low flare conditions, the var NDs are fine. I won’t use them under bright light though, but I rarely find interesting water scenes under those conditions simply because the light is too harsh anyway. I do have some fixed 10-stop B+W NDs, but rarely use them.

  4. Good idea with the TT roller, I have the same for the same reasons!

  5. Intel has finally launched processors based on 14nm technology . These should drastically improve battery life over current macbookairs which already have a very decent battery life . When apple launches them with these processors, they would solve your problem (or hopefully the rumoured air with retina display)

  6. Nice set of gear there, Ming. Speaking of the 55, I recently acquired the small but stellar Sony FE 55mm 1.8, on an A7R body and this little beast is extremely sharp. This lens is enough for me to forego the manual focus and relatively new Loxia 50.

    I am now based in Houston (Texas) and was also wondering if you’d be interested in holding a future workshop here?

  7. Nice kit! If the 85 otus hadn’t come out, would you have brought the 55 otus? Seems to me it’s been glued to you D800/D810 since day one 😛

  8. What is the red/orange ring around the lens on the Ricoh? Just an after market replacement for the cover to the adapter ring?

  9. A very elegant solution. High quality in a very small space.

  10. Dear Ming,

    Is it possible to fit the D810 attached with a nikon 35mm f1.4 lens in the Crumpler Dry Red #2? Or is the bag only good for the camera body with no lens attached?

    Thanks for the heads up

    D Way.

  11. How much does it all weigh when fully loaded?

  12. No Zacuto finder?

  13. Have you thought of replacing your macbook air with a surface pro 3? I am currently looking at it as a “editing while traveling” machine and it seems like it would be a pretty good fit with its pressure sensitive and great looking screen.

    • Nope, the hardware isn’t durable enough and I’m certainly not a windows fan…

    • Von Manstein says:

      Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!


      You gotta love it.

    • I have an an original Surface Pro. Overall it’s a fantastic machine, and more than capable of running Photoshop. I don’t however use the microsoft pressure sensitive pen for photoshop work for a couple reasons. First I’m a heavy keyboard shortcut user, and when the keyboard is attached it pushes the work area that much further away (I want it close, esp. on my tiny 10″ screen). Second, I greatly preferred the wacom tablet’s surface texture. So I’ve resigned myself to just carry the extra device – but in a pinch the Surface Pro screen does work.

  14. Hi Ming, I see that you don’t have any neutral density filters. I guess you don’t need them in cityscape environments, but do you use them in landscape environments. Such as when photographing New Zealand, for example? Thanks.


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