Transport, Support, and On-camera Flash: The Accessories You Need for DSLR Photography
You've taken the leap into digital SLR photography—welcome! There's an exciting world of possibility and discovery ahead of you. Whether you're an enthusiast or budding professional, here's a list of must-have accessories to get you started and take your image making to new heights.
Selecting the right camera bag can be just as important as the camera itself. There are a lot of options out there—backpacks, rolling bags, and shoulder cases, to name a few. When considering the options, ask yourself: What will I be carrying with me? How many lenses should be at the ready? Does my photography require a flash? Multiple flashes? A laptop computer? Once these are decided, it's important to weigh the methods for carrying all of your equipment.
Sling bags like the Tamrac 5766 Velocity 6x have grown in popularity with urban explorers and day hikers. Light and compact, the Tamrac 5766 holds an entry-level DSLR with a kit lens, an additional compact lens or fill flash, extra batteries and memory cards. The bag is carried on your back, but can be quickly accessed by sliding it around to the front of your body. A zipped top opens away from your chest, providing fast entry to your camera and other accessories.
Traveling with a heavier load? Check out the Lowepro Flipside 300 backpack. Ergonomic and comfortable enough to wear all day, the Flipside 300 offers enough space to house your DSLR (with or without a vertical grip), 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens, 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens, flash, extra batteries, chargers, and memory cards. There's even an attachment for a full-size tripod. Access to your gear is only available through the rear compartment—ensuring safety and security. Unlike a sling bag, the Flipside must be removed in order to get to your equipment. The dual shoulder strap design is a bit slower than a sling bag for entry speed, but provides a level of carrying comfort that's second to none.
For those wanting maximum flexibility, Kata's D-3N1-22 3-in-1 Sling Backpack (medium) should fit the bill. Utilizing a unique X-shaped buckle and strap design, the bag can be configured as a sling bag or backpack. Separate compartments for photo gear and personal items make it easy to find what you're looking for. There's even a small compartment for a netbook computer. This is highly convenient for shooters that change up their gear from day to day.
Travel has become a large part of the professional photographer's experience. Working between coasts, many shooters find themselves spending more time commuting than taking actual photographs. Heavy bags are a nightmare at the airport. With long lines, heightened security, and an ever-expanding list of carry-on restrictions, many travel photographers opt for maneuverable rolling cases.
The Tamrac 5263 CyberPro Express is an excellent case for two pro-size bodies with lenses attached, additional pro glass, flashes, and up to a 17" notebook computer. Of course, the interior dividers can also be configured to handle other types of photographic equipment. I personally use this roller to carry on a Profoto AcuteB 600. With the proper configuration, the bag can handle the power pack, AcuteB compact head, PocketWizards, Speed Ring, and charger. My MacBook Pro even fits into the mix without creating the slightest bit of cluster phobia.
For a larger assortment of camera gear, the Lowepro Pro Roller x200 is an excellent choice. In addition to its spacious interior (you can pack multiple bodies, up to 8 lenses, and a 17" laptop), the design of this roller puts the needs of the traveling photographer first.
For starters, the telescoping handle of the bag features a ¼" mounting screw and can be used as a camera or lighting platform. A Travel Sentry lock provides additional security, and can be opened with a special key by TSA workers. This saves significant time at the x-ray machine and other security check points.
Regular travelers have probably boarded a flight with the overhead compartments already full. Rather than checking your precious camera equipment plane-side, the Pro Roller x200 allows you to quickly separate your rig from the roller frame. Dubbed the "Reserve Pack," this allows you to store all of your equipment under the seat in front of you and check only the roller shell. The Reserve Pack even features adjustable backpack straps for easy carrying at your destination.
The Jill-E Designs X-Large Rolling Case puts a stylish spin on traditional camera rollers. With enough space for multiple camera bodies, up to 5 lenses, flashes, and a 17" laptop, this roller can accommodate enough gear for most jobs. What sets the bag apart, however, is a strong emphasis on design. A classic leather exterior, gold hardware, and rounded lines complement the wardrobe presence of the fashion-conscious photographer.
Street shooting is a powerful exercise in awareness and making spontaneous, decisive choices. Keeping a low profile is key. Often, this means keeping your photo gear to a minimum. As street photographers typically perform better by blending into an environment, simple solutions like the Domke F-803 Waxwear Satchel carry the perfect amount of gear while attracting the minimum amount of attention. Though never advertising itself as a camera bag, the satchel is more than capable of handling a camera body (vertical grips need not apply), 1 or 2 lenses, flash, batteries, and a PB&J sandwich.
Like other Domke cases, the F-803 Waxwear conforms to your body over time—making for a truly individual carrying experience. A new wax and oil coating provides an extra layer of protection under inclement weather conditions. The coating also allows the bag to return to its original shape, using an included ointment.
English bag maker Billingham offers another minimalist, classic carry option with the Billingham Hadley (large). Popular with rangefinder shooters, the Hadley is also a solid choice for DSLR photographers wanting to keep a low profile. Following the design principle of "less is more", the bag accommodates a body with up to 3 lenses and a flash. The classic lines of a Billingham are beautiful in their simplicity and the brass bolt and harness closures allow graceful entry and closure for the main compartment.
Some street shooters prefer to carry a larger kit. The growing popularity of telephoto reportage and the need for field computing has led to the design of the Lowepro Classified 250 AW Pro. Fully loaded with 2 pro-size DSLRs, 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens, 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens, two flashes, and 15" notebook computer, the bag remains amazingly thin. The Classified 250 AW Pro is the first "street" bag to provide a host of extra features without including unwanted bulk and weight. It's the little things that stand out: an integrated microfiber cloth for cleaning lenses; a camera keeper tab on the shoulder harness to keep your camera strap from slipping off your shoulder; a stow away weather cover to protect gear in a downpour. If your vision on the street requires more equipment, this is a great way to carry it.
The Crumpler Brazillion Dollar Home Bag is fun way to carry a full street kit. The gun metal grey/black color scheme (off-set by bright orange accents), gives the Brazillion Dollar Home the look of an innocent messenger bag. The main compartment can house two pro bodies, up to 3 extra lenses, a flash, and even a 17" laptop. The double shoulder strap can be quickly converted for comfortable, backpack-style carrying—perfect for heavier loads.
Every photographer should own a camera support system of some type. For many, the obvious choice is a tripod. Tripods provide strength and stability while simultaneously forcing a deeper consideration of composition. Quality tripod systems are typically modular by design—consisting of a set of legs and a removable head. In putting together your kit, consider the total weight of the camera gear to be supported, the height (maximum and minimum) you'll be shooting at, and the amount of size/weight you can allow for the tripod system.
Photographic tripod heads typically come in two flavors: the three-way pan/tilt and the ballhead. It can't be overly stressed that one is not better than the other. Both options offer great camera support with excellent range of motion. Their operation and controls, however, are quite different.
Three-way pan/tilt heads have been in the marketplace almost as long as tripods themselves. Most feature a set of three locking handles with independent control of the x, y, and z axis. Horizontal adjustments do not interfere with the vertical axis and vice versa. Photographers demanding a higher degree of control for landscapes, macro, still life, and other formal photography should be pleased with a three-way pan/tilt.
Ballheads are fashioned for speed and portability. By utilizing a lockable ball, photographers can quickly compose, lock, and shoot. Lacking handles, ballheads are more compact and typically weigh less than three-way pan/tilt options making them ideal for photographers looking to quickly compose, shoot, and move on. Great for portraiture, travel, and other rapid, high-quantity photo shoots, ballheads have made large gains in the marketplace over the past decade.
Italian manufacturer Manfrotto offers some excellent kits with just about everything you need to start shooting. The 190XPRO tripod kit with 804RC2 offers a three-way pan/tilt head with support for up to 8.8 pounds. The tripod and head stand just over 5.5' at maximum height. As most photographers shoot slightly below their eye-level, this kit should serve you well if you're at or under 5' 9". If you prefer a ballhead, the 190XPRO tripod kit with the 486RC2 head should fit the bill. Supporting up to 10 pounds, this option offers slightly more strength than the three-way pan/tilt kit. Both kits feature flip leg locks and a built-in lateral arm for bird's eye macro shooting and low angle work.
If you're taller than 5' 9" or need support for up to 15 pounds, check out the Slik Pro 700DX kit. Priced below $140, this kit boasts a maximum height of over 6.25'. The included three-way pan/tilt head locks down with ease, and the tilt handle can be removed and attached to the pan handle for transport.
Lighter camera and lens combinations should be right at home atop the Tamrac TR406 Zipshot. Hold the unit by the integrated ballhead and let the 4-section legs drop. Using a special spring-action design, the legs self-assemble in seconds. From a maximum height of 44", the unit folds down to just 15" and weighs a svelt 11 ounces. Easy to carry and fun to use, Tamrac's new Zipshot tripod can support DSLRs and other cameras up to 3 pounds.
For professional performance on land or in the water, the Gitzo GK 1581OT is one of the best offerings in durability and portability. Providing nearly 5' of height and capable of supporting equipment up to 8.8 pounds, this tripod features carbon fiber and stainless steel construction with special seals and gaskets to protect against salt water, debris contamination, and corrosion. Shooting in murky, waist-high water is no longer a concern thanks to Gitzo's innovative "Ocean" design. Despite its impressive build, the tripod is also highly portable. With the included ballhead, the package weighs just a tick over 3 pounds and collapses to 17.1". This makes the GK 1581OT appealing for space-conscious photographers everywhere.
Speaking of light and compact, Benro's Travel Angel tripods are a great way to lighten the load while keeping your budget in check. Similar in form to the Gitzo GK 1581OT, the Benro A-169M8 comes with a ballhead that offers an 8.8 pound capacity at a maximum height of 4.9'—all for about $170. The tripod is made of aluminum, so those wanting carbon fiber should choose the C-169M8. This option prices out just under $435, but offers twice the weight capacity and greater vibration dampening.
For hybrid shooters working in both photo and video, the Slik 504QF-II is a noteworthy option. The kit comes with a lightweight video head with similar movements to a three-way pan/tilt head. A locking knob at the top of the unit allows your DSLR to tilt in a vertical portrait orientation. As an added bonus, the head features fluid panning and tilting for silky smooth camera movement. Filmmakers to the ready! With support for up 11 pounds, this kit is quite capable of handling the latest video-enabled DSLRs and accessories.
Not all camera support systems take the form of tripods. Consider the Manfrotto 243 Car Window Kit. This compact setup provides camera stabilization when shooting out of a car window. Filmmakers can also use the kit to capture scenes inside of a parked or moving vehicle. The Car Window Mount slips over the glass of an open automobile window and locks down using a rubberized, screw-type lock. The included swivel or other photo/video head can be mounted to the 3/8" – 16 stud.
The Steadicam Merlin is an excellent tool for smoothing out camera movement. From chase scenes to documenting action sports, the Merlin offers similar characteristics to motion picture industry Steadicams. Powerful yet travel-friendly, the Merlin should prove to be a wise investment for your next DSLR video production.
The majority of DSLRs on the market come with integrated pop-up flashes. These are great in a pinch—providing fill light under a harsh high noon sun and creating the main light needed to remedy dark indoor conditions. They have some drawbacks, however. Deployed in a fixed position, pop-up flashes are limited to forward light only. This direct lighting often leads to harsh, unflattering portraits with an unnatural flat effect.
With directional control, greater power, faster recycling, and other options, shoe mount flashes are an easy way to improve your on-camera lighting. B&H offers a selection of proprietary flashes to up the production value of your photography.
Canon shooters looking to stay compact but wanting to improve over the standard pop-up should be served well by the Speedlite 270EX. Powered by 2 AA-size batteries, the flash features bounce control at 60°, 75°, and 90°. Bounce allows light to be directed upwards and reflected from a white or off-white ceiling. This method creates a larger light source and a softer, more natural effect. Nikon's SB-400 Flash is similar in form, and with support for i-TTL metering, plays well with all contemporary Nikon DSLRs. Comparable flashes are also available for Sony DSLRs (Sony HVL-F32X) and Pentax DSLRs (Pentax AF-200FG P-TTL).
For those needing maximum power and/or additional bells and whistles emanating from the top of their prism finders, the Nikon SB-900 Speedlight, Canon 58EX II Speedlite, Sony HVL-F58AM, and Pentax AF-540 FGZ P-TTL are all well worth investigating.
For advanced shooters desiring faster recycling and even greater control, the Nissin ND466 is an excellent choice. Available for both Canon and Nikon cameras, the flash offers 6-stage variable power, silent recycling, and rear curtain sync. The ND466 also features a quick-change battery magazine that loads 4 AA-size batteries in the same direction. This design ensures that the batteries are inserted perfectly every time—speeding reloads and getting you back in the action.
The Metz mecablitz 58 AF-1 is a professional shoe mount flash that will never go out of date. As companies refine their metering and AF systems with new camera models, Metz promises to stay a cut above the rest with flash software updates. Firmware can easily be downloaded from the web and installed on the 58 AF-1 via its USB port. The flash features a bounce and swivel head, as well as a smaller integrated fill flash to compensate for high key shadows. With models available for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Olympus, and Panasonic, there's a Metz mecablitz 58 AF-1 for just about every major camera system available.
Your Pictures, Your Gear
With such a wide variety of transport, support, and on-camera flash accessories available, there's something out there for everyone. Choosing the right gear will help you travel with ease, strengthen composition, and illuminate the frame. If you have any questions about any of the equipment featured in this article, feel free to chat with us on-line, call in, or visit the New York City Super Store. We look forward to talking with you soon.
David Flores is a photographer and filmmaker based in New York City. He is a member of the B&H Creative Content Team.