What’s In My Camera Bag #2 – Milky Way Edition

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Photography is a personal pursuit. Over time, every photographer assembles a kit that suits their style of photography. “What’s in my camera bag,” is a question that’s often asked. This article is the second in a series of the gear we at MilkyWayPhotographers use when photographing the night sky and the Milky Way. In this article, we’ve asked our Rhonda Peirce to share what’s in her camera bag.

Looking into the camera bag of a specialist photographer, you’ll discover the best tools used to photograph that subject. Sure, a lot of people don’t like to talk gear. After all, the only equipment you truly need is a camera with a lens – even a tripod could be optional. There are several items you’ll want to have in your camera bag to make the most of your Milky Way photography. So we’ve gone through our camera bags and listed the camera gear we find indispensable for Milky Way photography.

RHONDA PIERCE

I try to keep my gear to a minimum and pack for each adventure based upon my expectations for the time I am out. Trying to carry everything I own “just in case” quickly becomes tiresome. I find that by carrying less I can get to places that I wouldn’t normally be able to get to and I can focus on my composition versus trying to use all my gear just because I carried it.

MY CAMERA BAGS –

My camera bags, pictured below, are from THINKTANK AND MINDSHIFT. MindShift, the partner company to ThinkTank, has an excellent line of camera bags for hiking with features that work well for heading out into the field. My favorite in their product line is the Backlight Series. I currently own the Backlight 36L (center) and the 18L (right) and have recently added the 26L. When shooting locally where I am not hiking and can work out of the back of my vehicle, I use my old ThinkTank Streetwalker Pro (left), which is a front opening bag.

The Backlight series opens from the back panel. Backpacking to a location means I take the 36L; it has room for a jacket, hat, gloves, extra water, and food. If I am traveling on a plane and need to worry about small regional jets and size restrictions, I take the 18L or 26L Backlight backpacks. They fit in the overhead storage bin and meet most carryon size restrictions. I then also bring a personal carry on with the rest of my gear for under the seat. All of the bags offer the ability to carry a tripod on the side or down the front center. The MindShift packs also allow for a tripod strapped underneath. If you are looking for a new bag, check out my article, “Selecting the Best Camera Bag“.

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From left to right – the ThinkTank Streetwalker Pro, the MindShift Backlight 36L, and the MindShift 18L. The Backlight series carries everything I need whether I am out for an hour or a whole day.

CAMERAS –

CANON 5D Mark IV and CANON 6D. When I upgraded my Canon 6D to the 5D IV, instead of selling it to fund the new camera body, I decided to keep it. The 6D is a great low-light camera body and still recommended for astro work. It serves me well as a backup camera, and also allows me to shoot time-lapse while the 5D IV is capturing single images. The Canon 5D IV is my primary camera, and the in-camera intervalometer means I can set it and forget it if I want to do a timelapse on that body.

The 3 Legged Thing Leo 2.0 is a great
choice for a lightweight travel tripod.
The 3 Legged Thing Leo 2.0 is a great
choice for a lightweight travel tripod.

TRIPODS

PRO MEDIA GEAR BALL HEAD AND TRIPOD + 3 LEGGED THING LEO TRIPOD. Outside of the camera and lens, I think the tripod is one of the most essential pieces of equipment a night sky photographer owns. Once you have used a good quality tripod, you won’t want to go back to using a cheap one. My Pro Media Gear #TR344 Carbon Fiber Tripod and Pro Media Gear BH1 Ball Head are my go-to if not hiking long distances. It is rock solid, lightweight, and worth every penny.

For hiking and air travel, my 3 Legged Thing Leo is my go-to. The Leo is extremely compact, weighing in at 3.18 lbs, folds down to 13.67″, and supports a load capacity of 33-66 lbs. I also carry a little cheap bendable tripod with a screw thread mount that supports my two lights.

PLATYPOD PRO MAX and OBEN BE-117 BALL HEAD. Great for shooting time-lapses and when you would like to carry two tripods but don’t want the bulk. I have been able to take long exposures in places where tripods are not allowed using the Platypod.

The Rokinon Special Performance SP 14mm f/2.4
 comes chipped for either Canon or Nikon.
The Rokinon Special Performance SP 14mm f/2.4
comes chipped for either Canon or Nikon.

LENSES –

ROKINON SP 14mm f/2.4 and ROKINON 24mm f/1.4 EF mount lenses. The king of entry-level astro lenses is Rokinon and Samyang. It is important that when you order one of these lenses that you test them out immediately. Quality control is not the company’s strong point, and it is sometimes necessary to send it back for a replacement. With that said, when you get a good copy, they produce outstanding images.

L-BRACKET –

REALLY RIGHT STUFF L BRACKET I never realized how much easier an L bracket makes when photographing. Going from landscape to portrait orientation is quick without readjusting the ball head. The weight of the camera remains over the center of the tripod, so there’s no possibility of your lens slowly drifting towards the ground during long exposures. The L bracket never comes off my camera.

The Neewer right-angle viewfinder comes with ten mounting adapters
for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Panasonic, Minolta, Leica
and Other Digital SLR Cameras.
The Neewer right-angle viewfinder comes with ten mounting adapters
for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Panasonic, Minolta, Leica
and Other Digital SLR Cameras.

RIGHT ANGLE VIEWER –

NEEWER RIGHT ANGLE VIEWER – for cameras that do not have articulating screens. The viewer slides onto the eyepiece to help with composition if the camera is low to the ground or in a position where the screen and eyepiece are not easy to reach. Several aftermarket companies make these in addition to Canon and Nikon, which have price tags to match.

LCD LOUPE –

HOODMAN LOUPE – This is my absolute favorite accessory and the first thing I grab when I open my camera bag. I wear the loupe on the included lanyard and feel lost without it if I forget to grab it when shooting. Regardless of the time of day, the Hoodman Loupe allows you to see what you captured on the back of your camera. No more using your hands to shade the LCD screen from bright sunlight. At night, it helps you see your composition as it isolates the image without distractions. The loupe has a diopter just like your camera’s viewfinder so even those with less than perfect vision can see the image clearly.

Create nearly any color you want with the Luxli Viola RGBAW LED light. What's In My Camera Bag #2 - Milky Way Edition
Create nearly any color you want with
the Luxli Viola RGBAW LED light.

LOW-LEVEL LIGHTS –

LUXLI VIOLA LED LIGHT, with the diffuser, and PHOTTIX M180 LED LIGHT. These are excellent little lights that allow for color temperature adjustment and output down to 0%. The Phottix LED Light is the size of a cell phone and also serves as a power bank. The Phottix light sells under several different, more expensive brands. Save some dough and get the Phottix brand. I carry a little gorilla pod type tripod that threads directly into the lights and supports the lights at the necessary angle.

CABLE RELEASE –

CANON CABLE RELEASE RS-80N3, VELLO SHUTTERBOSS II RC-C2II – For long exposures, I prefer using a cable release over the self-timer. Most cable releases have a locking mechanism that allows you to take several minute long exposures.

FUN STUFF –

THE LIGHTNING TRIGGER and the TIMELAPSE+ are my fun toys in my bag. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, I can always photograph lightning with The Lightning Trigger. The Timelapse+ module is my newest item and one I hope to spend a lot of time using this summer.

The Mindshift House of Cards carries your memory
cards with a lanyard to keep them secure.
The Mindshift House of Cards carries your memory
cards with a lanyard to keep them secure.

MISCELLANEOUS GEAR

OZARK TRAIL HEADLAMP WITH RED AND WHITE LIGHT, LUX PRO LP290 FLASHLIGHT, and GARMIN OREGON 650t with screen protector and TUSITA SILICONE CASE – All necessary for night sky photographers to successfully navigate in the dark of night.

ROCKET BLOWER, Lens cloth, MINDSHIFT HOUSE OF CARDS memory card holder with SAN DISK 128GB Extreme 150mbs CF and SD cards round out the smaller but necessary items in my kit.

SEASONAL GEAR –

My seasonal gear consists of a Rechargeable hand warmer – there are a ton of these for around $10.00 to $20.00 on Amazon. They get quite warm and work great in a pocket. Many of these also have a power bank and flashlight built into the unit. I recently picked up the ProMaster gloves and need to see how well they work while handling my gear.

Sabre Pepper Gel with belt holster.
Sabre Pepper Gel with belt holster.

SAFETY –

I always think about my safety when I leave home. I make sure I have a small first aid kit with some band-aids and ointment in my bag and a larger kit in my vehicle. Sabre pepper gel is also in my pack.

PERSONAL CARE –

Lastly, I don’t leave home without a small ziplock bag with toilet paper and some baby wipes. You never know when those items might come in handy.

What’s In My Camera Bag #1 – Milky Way Edition

Check out What’s In My Camera Bag #1 – Milky Way Edition and see what photographer Stanley Harper carries when he shoots the Milky Way.