What’s In My Camera Bag #3 – Milky Way Edition

Aaron Martinez Shares What's in His Camera Bag.

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“What’s in my camera bag,” is a question that’s often asked, often by beginners, sometimes by a pro breaking into a new genre. Over time, every photographer assembles a kit that suits their style of photography. In this article, we’ll go through professional photojournalist and Pentax user Aaron Martinez’s camera bag to find out the camera gear he finds indispensable for Milky Way photography.

Looking into the bag of a beginner can point you in the right direction. But because of lack of experience, their camera backpack is often full of an excessive amount of gear, much of it unnecessary or sometimes even useless for the type of work they want to do. 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. But to make the most of your Milky Way photography, there are several items you’ll want to have in your camera bag.

By looking into Aaron’s camera bag, you will discover and kit tailored to his needs with no room for dead weight. Every piece of gear has a purpose.

AARON MARTINEZ

Even though Aaron is a Pentax-based photographer, several items are beyond camera gear and work in many landscape astrophotographers’ workflows.

My Bag

5.11 TACTICAL RUSH 24 – I use five different camera bags depending on the situation, but only one is an actual camera bags. My current main bag is my 5.11 Tactical Rush 24. Their bags, built to endure harsh conditions, have plenty of internal pockets for things like lens wipes, cables, batteries, SD cards, or whatever else I need.

The most important feature of my bag is how modular it is. With an exterior covered in MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment) loops, I can tailor my bag to my exact needs by adding water bottle pouches, first aid pouches, straps for gear, and more.

My quest for a perfect dedicated camera bag continues, but as an all-around bag, this has worked for me.

F-STOP GATEKEEPER ATTACHMENT STRAPS – The 5.11 Rush 24 comes with no attachments, and in night photography, a tripod is one of the most critical pieces of gear you can have. To avoid carrying my tripod in my hand or having it awkwardly stick out of the top of the bag, I bought F-Stop Gear’s Gatekeeper Attachment Straps.

The hooks lock, keeping them secure, and they are the perfect width to fit the MOLLE loops on the exterior of my bag and strong enough to hold my tripod in place for miles of hiking.

The Tenya Bring Your Own Bag
13 Camera Insert.

BYOB Camera Insert

TENBA B.Y.O.B. 13 CAMERA INSERT – As mentioned above, I don’t own an actual camera bag, so I need something to keep my gear organized and protected. The Tenba B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Bag) divider is simply a bag insert that turns any backpack into a camera bag. Mine has worked excellently and fits the bottom of my RUSH 24 pack perfectly.

The “13” on the name is the interior width of the insert in inches. With a 7″, 9″, 10″, and 13″ BYOB inserts available, there are multiple sizes to choose from to suit your specific needs.

My Camera and Lenses

PENTAX K-1 – My first full-frame camera, and the one that enticed me to switch from Canon in early 2017, my Pentax K-1 continues to exceed all my expectations.

It has several features tailored to night photography, all of which I mention in my article, Pentax K-1: The True Best Night Photography Camera, about why I think the K-1 is the best camera on the market for night photography.

Though I did consider switching about a year ago, once I tried out the Pentax Astrotracer feature, I became a Pentaxian for life.

The Pentax D FA 15-30mm

PENTAX D FA 15-30mm F/2.8 – The 15-30mm was my first Pentax lens and the one lens that I use on 100% of my Milky Way and landscape photography trips. It has genuinely been my workhorse lens in the world of nature photography and is genuinely the only lens that never stays home.

It is sharp, it has a fast f/2.8 aperture, it is weather-sealed, and just an overall joy to use. Though it does have some issues with corner distortion, especially at 15mm, it continues to be my favorite lens for single exposures while doing night photography.

PENTAX D FA★ 50mm F/1.4 – Despite my past review, this lens makes the cut for my gear. I’ll be using it from now on. In that review, I admit that this lens doesn’t perform perfectly at wider than f/2.4, but it is still considerably sharper than my 24-70mm f/2.8, and it pairs excellently with my K-1’s Astrotracer.

Other perks are its all-weather construction and the fact that it has next to no distortion and almost no vignette at f/2.8, making my workflow in post-processing a little simpler and faster.

The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 is used by
many Milky Way Photographers.

SIGMA 35mm F/1.4 ART – This is a lens that I haven’t used as much as I’d like until recently. It is reasonably sharp at f/2.0 and excellent at f/2.8, making it another good addition to my bag.

35mm is an excellent focal length for extremely detailed Milky Way Panoramas and it is wide enough that with some practice and the right subject, I can still get some good forced-perspective wide shots with a strong foreground.

Pentax D FA★ 85mm f/1.4 ED SDM AW (Not shown with my gear above.) I did not yet own the new Pentax 85mm when I took the photo of my bag, but if you read my in-depth lens review, you’ll know that the Pentax 85mm is an incredible lens.

It is heavy, but the image quality is excellent, and it works great with Astrotracer. If you want to learn more about the Pentax 85mm, read my 85mm f/1.4 Review – For Astro!

Tripod and Head

SIRUI N-2204X & K-30x BALL HEAD – Several years ago now, I was shopping around for a new tripod as my previous little Manfrotto aluminum tripod was no longer cutting it for me. At the recommendation of a world-class photographer and my friend, Wayne Suggs, I went with this carbon fiber tripod and the K-30x ball head by Sirui.

The Sirui N-2204X is Aaron’s choice for
a lightweight, yet stable tripod.

Even with a massive 150-450mm lens mounted to it in the windy dunes of White Sands National Park, this tripod has performed flawlessly. It is very light for its size, which is a major plus when I’m hiking in the desert, as every pound of weight I shed is one more pound of drinking water I can carry.

After several years of use in all conditions, from calm snowy mountains to brutal sand storms to saltwater beaches, the tripod has yet to disappoint.

Memory Cards

You can trust your cards to
the Pelican 0915 SD Card Case.

SANDISK EXTREME PRO 128GB SD CARDS – My go-to card for several years now, the SanDisk Extreme Pro memory cards, have never failed me and are still very affordable.

I choose the 128gb version because I don’t like having so many photos in one place. (I do shoot to two cards at the same time in my camera, just in case.) And since I don’t take many photos when I’m in the field, colossally giant memory cards aren’t necessary for me.

PELICAN 0915 MEMORY CARD CASE – To protect my memory cards, I’ve bee using the Pelican 0915 memory card case. It is light, it’s tough, and it has a thick gasket that keeps moisture and dust away from my memory cards.

Lighting

LUME CUBE 2.0 – I took advantage of our own Lume Cube Discount Code and bought two. My primary reason was to save weight and reduce the overall size of my kit. My secondary reason was the “night mode” on the Lume Cube 2.0 that allows me to use them at a power level of as low as 1%, perfect for high ISO single exposures.

NEEWER MINI LIGHT STANDS – To pair with my new Lume Cubes, I also bought some small light stands to hold them. I didn’t buy a massive stand just because, in my experience thus far, I have not seen the need for a 10-foot tall light stand, or something similar, though I do have one if I ever need one. These Neewer stands take up little space, don’t add much weight to my kit, and are still more stand than I’ll need for a tiny Lume Cube.

Power

Think Tank Photo DSLR Holder 4
keeps your batteries organized.

THINK TANK BATTERY HOLDER – To keep my bag organized and my batteries together, but not in direct contact with each other, per FAA guidelines, this small battery holder from Think Tank does the trick.

A tip: when I use the pouch, I put all my fresh batteries in with the contacts towards the bottom. When I change batteries, I put the used battery back in with the contacts facing up to make keeping track of my battery usage super easy.

PENTAX D-LI90E BATTERIES – It may be self-explanatory, but night photography eats power fast, especially when using something like a built-in GPS. For Pentaxians like me, the Astrotracer function consumes a considerable amount of energy because the camera is using the onboard GPS unit and the image stabilization system to move the sensor.

The Small Stuff

CANON RS60 E3 SHUTTER RELEASE CABLE – When I switched from Canon in 2017, I sold every piece of gear except one. Canon’s Rs60 E3 shutter release works perfectly with the Pentax K-1 in bulb mode and any other mode, and it’s pretty cheap.

Zeiss Pre-Moistened Lens Wipes –
Don’t leave home without them.

ZEISS PRE-MOISTENED LENS CLEANING WIPES – If I could buy these by the ton, I probably would as I use them a lot. It’s just a good idea to have them for cleaning not only your lenses but the lens mount and electrical contacts if you needed to.

STREAMLIGHT STYLUS PRO FLASHLIGHT – A good flashlight is essential for navigating through rugged terrain, some light painting, and even signaling for help in emergencies. If you see my flashlight, it looks like it has been through a war. It used to be black, but now the finish has worn to a dark gray with a few spots worn straight down to the aluminum body.

This particular flashlight is almost indestructible as it is all aluminum with a real glass front element, and it has thick rubber seals to make the light waterproof even a few feet underwater.

WHen you live in a desert, the Camelbak Eddy 32
oz waterbottle is a lifesaver.

CAMELBAK EDDY 32oz. WATER BOTTLE – I live in the desert. When we do Milky Way photography, there can’t be rain or heavy cloud cover. If you mix those two things, you get a barren wasteland absent of moisture; that is a textbook description of a desert.

I carry a CamelBak 1L water bottle at the absolute minimum for all of my ventures and refill it before leaving my vehicle even if I’m only a few yards away.

And the Rest

Not included in the list is a set of Allen wrenches that fit my tripod and L-bracket, a first-aid and trauma kit, a sharp knife, a light rain jacket, and often, a flannel shirt and a beanie just to help keep me warm when needed.

That’s It!

That’s a basic rundown of my kit. It does vary a few items depending on my situation or goal. I even have a few other bags that I swap to for specific scenarios, but there’s more on that in our article on camera bags and backpacks.

If you have any gear suggestions that really work for you, let me know about them in the comments below!