Recent years have seen me using 5×7 large format and 120 medium formats, almost to the exclusion of 35mm. I enjoy conditions where hand-held pictures are hard to obtain due to the ebbing light, say, or the use of filters. Such conditions tend to necessitate a tripod and a spotmeter. Now, the logic might go, if you are going to the trouble of carrying a tripod and large spotmeter then you might as well go for the larger film formats, right?
It’s not often that I plug equipment (and I do not earn any commission by doing so), but two recent additions to my camera bag have opened up new 35mm vistas for me: a very light but strong and stable tripod, and a tiny spotmeter.
On a recent photo trip to London I walked with both in my camera bag, covering 22 kilometers in one day. The key thing is that I didn’t really notice the extra weight in my bag.
The tripod – Coman Zero-Y.
This light tripod has everything that I need for 35mm: sturdy construction, but light; the ability to set up a portrait picture; the capability of having the camera at ground level; replacement feet for gravel or sand/snow; a hook for hanging the camera bag to increase stability in a high wind; a tool stored in the body of the centre column.
My recent day in London was dark with low cloud. I had a yellow filter on my 28mm lens and typical exposures were 1/8 of a second for Ilford XP2, so a tripod was a must (I rated the yellow filter 2 stops and the XP2 film, 400 iso). This tripod worked really well for me and was very fast to put up and take down.
Let me turn to the second bit of kit that really helped: the Reveni Labs Spot Meter.
Reveni Labs Spot Meter
At first I was sceptical that such a small instrument would be as accurate as my Sekonic L-508. When I compared a spot reading between the two, the Reveni spotmeter gave a reading that was half a stop more closed. Of course, that would happen between any spotmeters and is just a question of calibration.
What I liked about the Reveni is that it is so small, even with the optional battery pack, that I wore it around my neck all day without really noticing it. It is so quick to use and so ‘available’ without rummaging around a bag, that I found myself using it for every picture. I did find that the battery pack was easy to dislodge, so I fixed it to the spotmeter with an elastic band. But I would have done this anyway as I tend to tether most of my equipment to myself or my bag.
This isn’t the place to review in detail either the Coman tripod or the Reveni spotmeter. This has been done elsewhere (for Coman tripod see here, for Reveni spotmeter see here and here – I do not necessarily endorse these reviews in all their details, but I agree with them generally). But both products are great additions to my camera bag.
More importantly, the size and weight of each has helped me to reach out again to the kind of 35mm photography that I am drawn to.
Domke camera bag
Finally, a few words about camera bags. I have made quite a few mistakes over the years in buying unsuitable camera bags. I used to think that as long as the camera bag was the right size, light and had padded protection with several moveable compartments, then job done!
But if you walk many kilometers with a camera bag over one shoulder, you learn that comfort is crucial. I had what I thought was a perfect bag only to find that its rigidity meant that it bounced off my hip with each stride. This became tiring.
I also find that it’s easy to select a camera bag that is too small. I like to have a flask of coffee, a waterproof jacket and perhaps a spare warm top.
For me, the Domke F2 RuggedWear bag is just the right compromise between size/weight and comfort. It doesn’t bounce off my hip as it moulds to the contours of my body shape. It does not slip off my shoulder. With my 35mm camera and two lenses, I have enough room to take a flask of cofee and spare clothes. I hang my tripod on the shoulder strap and it sits vertically and comfortably on my side.
I use this bag as a general carry bag, not just for photography. That’s how practical I find it.
I am not suggesting that readers should buy this kit. What may be right for me may not be right for you. But what has always stopped my getting the most out of my 35mm camera is the incongruity of having a very portable camera and lens with the drag of having to carry a tripod and bulky spotmeter. The kit described above has largely resolved this tension.