About ten years ago Asahi Camera used to run a monthly two-page feature detailing the contents of professional photographer’s personal equipment. The right page had a brief interview with that month’s cameraman while the facing page featured a studio shot of the contents of their camera bag meretriciously laid out and numbered / labeled for the enjoyment of the reader. The issues I remember seeing these in were the ones lying around the Camera Club room at Senshu University when I was an exchange student back in 2001. That was over ten years ago so the gear pictured then was far more varied than the current standard of Canon 5D with Two Zoom Lenses and SD card Case that pro photographers are able to make a living from now.
The physically covetable and own-able aspect of photography- i.e. cameras and equipment- has undeniably been part of the game since the inception of the craft. There has been and will always be the gearhead crowd, those who find satisfaction in technical specifications and attempt to garner authority in sharing their opinions regarding the potential ability of certain tools. Specifications mean little to me; I honestly have no idea what an MTF chart is much less know how to read one. Technical specs aside, people obviously like to see what equipment others are using. A causal search on Flickr for “your camera bag” brings up 267 groups. Indeed, the most viewed images on my Flickr account are of pictures of what I (used to) carry when going out to shoot and my (then) current setup for shooting. I think that gear pictures are easily and widely enjoyed due to their extremely basic explanatory properties. There’s not much that needs any theoretical interpretation!
What continues to interest me about Tokyo Camera Style is that it doesn’t focus strictly on technical and optical performance and instead works as a investigation into the relationship people have with the items they choose to make part of their lives. This isn’t to say that people featured on the site don’t have their own reasons for choosing a particular lens or camera or format or film instead of another. But I do suspect that the popularity of the site is found in its broader and nonjudgemental view of this aspect of photography.
Since photographic needs, interests, and methods change over time I thought it might be interesting to share my current tools and the thoughts I have about them here.
a. Billingham Hadley bag. This bag is indestructible, goes with most anything, and is large enough and flat enough to comfortably carry home photobooks I find in the used bookshops of Tokyo. I switched from Domke to Billingham for these reasons. The extent that one can customize the insides of a Billingham via the supplied velcro-fitted dividers is an added bonus. I have the main compartment of my bag divided into three sections, with the center being the widest. It is well padded but I never set my bag on the floor of a moving train out of fear of what the vibration could do to the cameras inside.
b. Contax T3 with data back. This is loaded with black and white film. There are certain times when a small point and shoot is what is needed.
c. Fujifilm Classica. This is loaded with color film. There are certain times when a small point and shoot with color film is what is needed.
d. Business cards. If you come to Japan bring business cards and always have some on you. You never know who you’ll meet and not being able to return the favor when receiving a card from someone may cast you as less than serious. These are simple ones made at Kinkos from their most basic business card template.
e. Planner. I keep a pen and calendar/planner on me at all times. This one is from the Japanese stationery shop Delfonics. I much prefer pen to paper than fingertip to iPhone touch screen.
f. Ricoh GRDII. This is my second GRDII, one that may soon be replaced by a GRDIII. It has missing screws and is held together in some parts by tape. The magnesium body, while light and tough, does not take adhesive very well and the rubber original cover has long melted/slid off the body. More tape was the answer to this problem. As hard as I am on this camera it still does alright.
g. iPhone 4S. Since I have dropped cameras and seen people using iPhones with cracked screens after getting this phone I bought a leather case with a loop to attach a wrist strap. The Leica M graphic was cut from one of these stickers.
h. Leica MP .58 and 35mm Summicron Aspherical lens. This camera is the center of my photographic experience. This recently acquired Aspherical lens is so perfect in every way it simply boggles my mind. I never leave my apartment without this camera and it actually (rightly) spends more time around my neck than in the bag. It’s much easier to photograph that way.
i. Leica M2 and 50mm Summicron lens. My university photo professor purchased this camera new in the early 1970s and shot thousands of rolls of film over the years. Acquired through a gear swap (I hadn’t shot my 28mm in a long time), it keeps on flawlessly taking pictures as well as I can make them. 50mm is a focal length that I’ve never been very comfortable with. Trying to figure out how to best work with it has been interesting although this M2 isn’t always with me as often as the MP is. If my purpose for the day is to shoot, I’ll usually take the M2 as a backup / alternate lens body. For exposure readings I use either the meter in my MP or call upon a decade’s worth of experience shooting Fuji Presto 400.
j. 30 rolls of Fuji Presto (Neopan) 400 film. Plastic Fujifilm hard-cases, sadly discontinued, keep 10 rolls of film neatly together for storage in a bag. They are compact enough that I can fit three of them in this Billingham. Having 30 rolls of film on me doesn’t necessarily mean that I ever shoot this much- I haven’t shot more than 20 rolls in one day in a long time. It does however give me peace of mind knowing I probably have enough film if anything worth photographing so extensively should unexpectedly happen.
k. Tenugui cloth. Tenugui (てぬぐい) are traditional Japanese wrapping cloths which can be used in a variety of ways. I keep a few in my bag to keep cameras from knocking together when walking.
This is pretty standard for my daily out-and-about setup. I certainly don’t shoot all five cameras non-stop every day but it is good to have them available.
When I do my monthly feature for Nippon Camera I’ll swap the M2 for my Nikon D90 with an older 28mm Nikkor AF lens and include a plastic B5 size file case that I carry the model release forms in.