Photo Equipment: What’s In The Bag?

Photo Equipment: What’s In The Bag?

Gear Reviews

Photo Equipment: What’s In The Bag?

It’s the most frequently-asked question and perhaps the least important. “What’s in the bag?”

I say it’s the least important since it’s usually the first (and easiest) avenue beginning photographers take to try and improve their photography work. They believe that better and more expensive gear will create a better photographer but more often than not, it only leads to disappointment. A better investment would be in time – time spent practicing their technique and honing their personal vision. Still, photo equipment is not unimportant either. if you’re not convinced, just try doing photography without it!

So with that said, let’s have a look into my photo bag (all links to Amazon):

Photo Equipment

Camera Bag: One of several MindShift Gear bags, depending on the trip or assignment. Moose Peterson MP-1 V2.0, FirstLight 40L, or BackLight 36L.

In addition to the actual bag that I choose for a particular trip, the contents in the bag also depend on where I am going, what I will be shooting, how remote the area, and how much hiking there will be. Here is some of my basic photo equipment:

Canon 1DX Mark II
Canon 5D Mark IV

I’ll carry (2) 5D Mark IV bodies on my landscape or travel photography trips and (1) 1DX Mark II and (1) 5D Mark IV for wildlife excursions.

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM (when weight is an issue or for bird-in-flight images)
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM
Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM
Irix 11mm f/4 Blackstone (when I want to travel light and the Canon 11-24 is too heavy and bulky).
Canon Extender EF 1.4X III
Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite Flash (2)
MagMod 2 Basic Flash Modifier Kit
Canon TC-80N3 Timer Remote
Lee Filter Holder with polarizing filter, 3-stop ND, 6-stop ND (Little Stopper) and 10-stop ND (Big Stopper)
Really Right Stuff TVC-24L Tripod
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Tripod
Really Right Stuff BH40 ball head (2)
Really Right Stuff BH35 ball head

Wimberley WH-200 Gimbal Head II
Lexar digital media
Mac Book Pro 15.4″ Computer with Retina Display, Touch Bar, 2.9GHz Intel Core i7 Quad Core…
LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C 4TB Portable Hard Drive

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Canon 6D Mark II Camera Review

Canon 6D Mark II Camera Review

Gear Reviews

The Canon 6D Mark II

Over the years, I’ve been a frequent user of Canon’s 5D DSLR series (the original 5D, 5D Mark II, 5D Mark III, and now the new Canon 5D Mark IV) and I’ve been very satisfied with each new iteration that Canon has offered. I’ve never used the original Canon 6D so I have no reference with which to compare the Canon 6D Mark II, except against the cameras I’m currently using: the Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 1DX Mark II. Most of my comparisons will be used against the Canon 5D Mark IV, which might seem unfair at first, but the 6D Mark II does have a newer processor – the Digic 7 versus the older Digic 6+.

The Canon 6D Mark II does offer some tantalizing new features for the brand’s entry-level full-frame DSLR. Improvements to the autofocus system would be first among them. The consensus among Canon users on the Internet is the lack of 4K video as the biggest disappointment. I’ll have to respectfully disagree with the conclusion since I believe the camera disappoints in other more important areas. In fact, I don’t even discuss video in this review since I never used it during my tests. I took the Canon 6D Mark II on a three-day photography excursion into the North Carolina mountains recently to see how well it performs against my 5D Mark IV. My observations are mostly subjective.

For a comprehensive description, list of features, specifications, and purchasing information on the Canon 6D Mark II, you should visit the Canon USA website.

The Canon 6D Mark II vs the Canon 6D

The Canon 6D Mark II replaces the 6D, which was released to the public back in late 2012 so it was certainly due for an upgrade. The Canon 6D Mark II is lighter, employs more pixels, and has an articulating LCD screen. But there are many more more improvements over the 6D classic.

CANON 6D MARK II

26.2MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor
Body weight: 24.16 oz
DIGIC 7 Image Processor
45-Point All-Cross Type AF System
6.5 fps Shooting
Full HD Video at 60 fps. No 4K video
3″ 1.04m-Dot Articulated Touchscreen LCD
Native ISO 40000, Expanded to ISO 102400
Dual Pixel CMOS AF and Movie Servo AF
Built-In GPS, Bluetooth & Wi-Fi
Dust and Water Resistant
Single SD Card Slot

CANON 6D

20.2MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor
Body weight: 27.16 oz
DIGIC 5+ Image Processor
11-Point AF with Center Cross-Type Point
4.5 fps Shooting
Full HD 1080p Video Recording at 30 fps
3.0″ 1.04m-Dot Clear View LCD Monitor
Native ISO 25600, Extended to ISO 102400
Built-In Wi-Fi and GPS Connectivity
iFCL 63-Zone Dual Layer Metering Sensor
In-Camera HDR & Multiple Exposure Mode
Single SD Card Slot

Looking Glass Falls, Brevard, North Carolina. Canon 6D Mark II, Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens @ 19mm, 0.6 seconds @ f/16, ISO 640.

The Canon 6D Mark II Articulating LCD Screen

One of the first obvious new features of the Canon 6D Mark II is the articulating rear LCD screen. At first, I wasn’t so sure about the usefulness of this new feature until I went out to make the image you see above. While standing in ice cold water before the sun rose, I wanted to include the foreground whitewater in the bottom of the image frame in order to give the scene some balance. In order to do this, I needed to get down low. With a non-articulating screen, I would have gotten wet as I contorted my body into a position to either look through the optical viewfinder or the live view on the back of the camera. With the LCD articulation, I just tilted the screen upward while in live view and I hardly had to bend over to compose and focus.

Great Smoky Mountains Sunrise with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Canon 6D Mark II with articulating screen flipped out horizontally. From this position,it can tilt up and down to accommodate your viewing position.

Oconuluftee Overlook, Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina. Canon 6D Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM @ 105mm, 1/20 second @ f/11, ISO 200.

What Else Is New?

Aside from the articulating LCD screen and the bump up in megapixels (20.2 MP to 26.2 MP) the Canon 6D Mark II had updated the entry-level full-frame DSLR in some other important ways.

45-point AF System

The new version of the 6D gives the photographer a wide-area, 45-point all cross-type AF system, currently available on the 80D. With the Canon 6D Mark II, you can now track fast-moving subjects accurately throughout the frame even in low light. The 6D Mark II also features 5 different AF area options for different AF situations.

Dual-Pixel Autofocus

The Canon 6D Mark II introduces Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF to the 6D line. The camera uses two photodiodes per pixel which allows phase-difference detection autofocus while using Live View, which is a big upgrade. Dual Pixel CMOS AF and phase detection AF is much faster and accurate than what was available on the 6D.

6.5 fps Shooting

The Canon 6D Mark II offers a significant improvement in its frame rate or burst rate, jumping from 4.5 fps (which was basically useless for anything other than static scenes) in the 6D with a 6.5 fps rate in the Mark II. It doesn’t qualify as a serious wildlife or sports camera but it is at least in the neighborhood and the improvement is certainly welcome.

All in all, the autofocus system features – 6.5 fps shooting, Dual-Pixel AF and 45-point cross-type AF points – mark the biggest improvements over the original 6D.

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Built-In GPS

The Canon 6D Mark II has a built-in wifi feature when used with the Canon Camera Connect app on your smartphone over a local network or via bluetooth. You can operate the camera remotely from a distance with control over most settings including f-stop, shutter speed, ISO, focus and the shutter release. The built-in GPS allows you to tag your images with location data, which is a pretty standard feature these days.

Dynamic Range

Rather than rely on my subjective evaluations with regard to dynamic range, I’ll just defer to some published empirical tests instead. The technical reviews and tests of the Canon 6D Mark II were extremely disappointing, particularly with regard to dynamic range. This test published by Photons To Photos, an independent source for sensor data information, exhibits a graph plotting photographic dynamic range at various ISOs while comparing recent Canon DSLRs. To be quite frank, the results here are awful. The Canon 6D Mark II performs about the same, and in many cases worse, than its predecessor, the 6D Classic which is 5 years older. In tests with ISOs up to 251, the Canon 6D Mark II performs worse than the Canon 6D, the Canon 5D Mark IV, and even the Canon 80D which is a APS-C camera. This is quite shocking.

As far as a subjective evaluation and my personal experience for the few days I used the Canon 6D Mark II, I can only compare the results to the 5D Mark IV. I could easily see that the shadow detail with the 6D Mark II did not match the results I was getting with the 5D Mark IV. This backs up the claims made by the Photon To Photos test. The 5D Mark IV offers better results than the 6D Mark II.

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ISO Performance

Here is another area of performance where 6D users were hoping for an improvement and unfortunately didn’t get one. I could only compare the results of the Canon 6D Mark II to my 5D Mark IV, where the 6D Mark II was significantly inferior.

There is an excellent review on The Amazing Sky where the authors compared the 6D Mark II to the 6D while doing night photography. These results confirmed my subjective observations. The Canon 6D Mark II is not much of an improvement over the original 6D and the ISO performance as a whole is inferior to the 5D mark IV.

Above you have two identical crops from identical scenes both captured at 6400 ISO. The crop from the left is from the Canon 6D Mark II and the crop on the right is from the Canon 5D Mark IV. Both are full-frame DSLRs and recent iterations from their respective product lines but the results clearly show better ISO performance from the 5D Mark IV.

Conclusion

I won’t be keeping this camera. For one thing, I already own two Canon 5D Mark IV camera bodies and a Canon 1DX Mark II so there’s no place in my bag for a camera of this type anyway. If you already own a 6D, I’m not sure it’s worth the upgrade if what’s most important to you is image quality. The dynamic range and ISO performance is at least comparable to the original 6D but the articulating LCD screen and the AF system improvements might make the upgrade worthwhile. Still, the return on investment is low by camera upgrade standards.

On its own, the Canon 6D Mark II is not a bad DSLR. Actually, it’s a very good camera, especially for those who want to upgrade to their first full-frame camera body. But the disappointment arises when you consider how much better it could have and should have been.

Get yours here at Amazon: Canon EOS 6D Mark II Digital SLR Camera Body

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MindShift Gear’s New PhotoCross Adventure Photography Bags

MindShift Gear’s New PhotoCross Adventure Photography Bags

Announcements

Mindshift Gear – my personal camera bag of choice – has announced the new Mindshift PhotoCross Adventure Photography Bags, which offer unprecedented comfort and protection from the elements.

Adventure photographers need a camera bag that’s as tough as they are. With its rugged materials and faceted design, MindShift Gear’s new PhotoCross sling bags protect a photographer’s gear from punishing trips into the wild. The PhotoCross is built to withstand the elements, yet comfortable enough to wear on long days in the field. These sling bags stay out of the way when scrambling but offer quick camera access when ready to take the shot. They feature weatherproof zippers and abrasion-resistant materials, plus a carrying system for tripods or jackets.

The PhotoCross comes in two sizes and colors, Orange Ember and Carbon Grey. The PhotoCross 10 fits an ungripped DSLR and one to two lenses, plus a 10” tablet, or a Mirrorless body and three to five lenses, plus a 10” tablet. The PhotoCross 13 fits an ungripped DSLR, two to four lenses, including a 70–200mm f/2.8, and some 13” laptops.

“The PhotoCross sling bags are significant because they meld two concepts that are often in conflict in outdoor gear design: protection and comfort. An example is how we’ve integrated the waterproof Tarpaulin bottom panel with a body-conforming design, wide shoulder strap, and stability wing for superior comfort,” said Doug Murdoch, MindShift Gear’s CEO and Lead Designer.

Get your Mindshift PhotoCross here: Mindshift PhotoCross Adventure Photography Bags

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Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone Lens Review

Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone Lens Review

Gear Reviews

The Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone Lens

This beautifully-designed and sharp little wide-angle lens was a huge surprise to this long-time Canon lens user. The Irix 15mm f2.4 lens is offered in two models: the Blackstone (aluminum and magnesium alloy housing, weather-resistant exterior with inner seals for dust and moisture protection, engraved focus distance and depth of field scales, an anti-scratch finish, and hardshell case) and the Firefly (lightweight plastic exterior construction, rubber focus ring, printed focus distance and depth of field scales, and soft case). The optics of the two models, however, are identical. I was fortunate to recieve the Irix 15mm Blackstone mode with Canon mount.

 Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone Lens Features

  • Wide-angle prime lens with Canon EF-mount (also available for Nikon and Pentax) with 15mm focal length for full-frame DSLRs and 24mm equivalent for APS-C.
  • Aluminum and magnesium alloy housing and weather-resistant exterior, sealed against dust and moisture intrusion, anti-scratch finish, sports engraved focus distance and depth of field scales with fluorescent UV paint for high visibility.
  • A Neutrino coating has been applied to limit lens flare and ghosting for improved contrast and color fidelity.
  • Manual focus design is benefitted by a positive focus lock mechanism to secure your focus position at any point to limit unwanted shifting of focus.
  • A hard click stop indicates the infinity position on the focus ring for easy use in low-visibility conditions.
  • Large depth of field scale benefits using hyperfocal and pre-focus techniques.
  • 95mm-diameter filter threads and the rear of the lens accepts 30 x 30mm cut gel filters to lessen the likelihood of vignetting
  • Rounded nine-blade diaphragm contributes to smooth bokeh.
  • Minimum focusing distance 11 inches (28centimeters).

Bodie Island Lighthouse with approaching evening clouds, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina USA. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone Lens, 1/10 second @ f/16, ISO 100

The Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone Lens In the Field

The sharpness of this lens matches any of the Canon wide-angle lenses I regularly use, which includes the primes and the zooms. I must admit this was quite a (pleasant) surprise. When used wide open at f/2.4, the image center was acceptably sharp but the corners were noticeably soft. After stopping down to f/4, however, the entire image was impressively sharp from corner to corner. There was also noticeable darkness in the corners when I used it wide open but was was mostly gone by f/2.8 and completely gone by f/4. So it’s obvious that f/2.4 is not a strong aperture in which to work. For landscape photographers, this is a non-issue. At f/16, an aperture landscape photographers are much more likely to use, the image sharpness was every bit as good as my Canon 11-24mm at the same focal length.

Distortion was minimal and glare and ghosting when shooting directly into the lens was mostly under control. I wouldn’t say it was exceptional but it was definitely acceptable in this regard (no better or worse than some wide-angle lenses costing two or three times as much).

The one item that I’m sure will cause many photographers to pass on this lens is the lack of autofocus. For street photography, this might create a slight challenge to those photographers who grew up exclusively on autofocus, but to the older guys and gals, it will be no problem at all. Still, I see this as a landscape lens and I actually prefer to use manual focus anyway when capturing landscape images. The focusing ring is smooth with just the right amount of friction when turning. This lens also has a focus lock ring which allows you to maintain the selected distance by adjusting the friction ring to the locked position to keep the distance unchanged.

For filters, the Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone lens gives you two options. The size of the front element is 95mm, which is an odd filter size. But there’s also a slot near the lens mount that allows a 30mm x 30mm gel filter, which not only ensures you won’t get any vignetting with a front filter but is also a much cheaper filter option as well.

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Conclusion

I can honestly say that I am pleasantly surprised at both the optical performance and the build quality of the Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone lens. I can only speak for the Blackstone model and not the Firefly, however, but I understand the the optical quality is the same for each. The sharpness of this lens is on par with any wide-angle lens I’ve ever used with little distortion and only a small amount of vignetting at f/2.4. I had no problems with chromatic aberration, and when I aimed the lens into the sun, ghosting and flare were minimal. Some photographers might balk at the lack of autofocus, but for landscape photography – the application for which this lens is obviously meant – autofocus is not even a necessary feature. If you want a truly excellent wide-angle prime lens at a very reasonable price, this lens fits the bill.

Get yours here at Amazon:

Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone Lens for Canon
Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone Lens for Nikon
Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone Lens for Pentax

In July 2017, I was interviewed by Irix USA and you can read that interview here: An Interview with Photographer and Adventurer Richard Bernabe.

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Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens Review

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens Review

Gear Reviews

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

I recently completed an overseas photography trip to Iceland-Rwanda-Congo, which included some mountain gorilla photography in the volcanoes of Rwanda. Now normally for a trip that included some wildlife photography I would bring my favorite wildlife lens, the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4X. But as good as this lens can be, it’s also heavy and bulky. I didn’t want to haul it around Iceland for 2 weeks nor strap it to my back for the strenuous trekking through Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Enter the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens.

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM is a significant upgrade over the first version. Look, I love Canon lenses but I don’t offer uncritical worship and fealty to Canon by any means. So let’s just say it as plainly as possible: the first version of this lens was a mess. First, it lacked the sharpness of my other Canon lenses. Every objective and subjective analysis has proven this point. Second, I hated the design, particularly the “push-pull” zoom feature. Let’s give thanks to the engineers at Canon for shelving this design blunder when they began drawing up the blueprints on the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM.
At left: A young mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) in a contemplative pose, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens @ 400mm, 1/800 second @ f/5.6, ISO 3200. Handheld – difficult, if not impossible with my venerable 200-400mm. 

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM was introduced in late 2014 and replaced its inferior predecessor, which had been in circulation since 1998 (!) The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM is sharper (this is not even open for debate), a bit heavier (3.56 lbs. versus 3.27), and much better designed than the first version. In addition to the improvement in the awful “push-pull” zoom design, the newest version has metal filter threads on the front element – a small but important upgrade for those (like me) who do use filters. In that regard, Canon thankfully retained the 77mm front element filter size for this upgrade.

The lens is intuitive to use and it focuses very fast. This is another improvement over the previous version. I can use this lens (as opposed to a big, heavy super telephoto lens) when the need to handhold arises. See the gorilla photo above. I have handheld my 200-400mm before but only for very short periods of time. This lens makes it easy and comfortable.

At right: The lava lake inside the crater of Mount Nyiragongo, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens @ 100mm, 1/40 second @ f/10, ISO 2000. The hike to the volcano’s rim is long, uphill, and challenging so I appreciated the light weight of this impressive telephoto lens.
Here are the primary ways in which the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM has improved over its predecessor: improved optics (21 elements in 16 groups versus 17 elements in 14. It’s also noticeably sharper, as I mentioned), comprehensive weather sealing versus being only partly sealed, improved image stabilization with a 4-stop benefit versus only 2, conventional twist-ring zoom versus the atrocious old push-pull design, nearly half (!) the minimum focusing distance (98 centimeters versus 180), and a faster autofocus drive.
At left: a southern masked weaver bird (Ploceus velatus) and nest, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens @ 240mm, 1/800 second @ f/5.6, ISO 400. The ability to zoom allowed me to creatively compose this image with the bird, nest, and some negative space.

Even though I bought this lens for this specific trip, I’ve decided to keep it as a complementary piece to my 200-400mm when I need to handhold shots or don’t want to carry a bulky, heavy lens to where I happen to be traveling. If you still own the first version, there is no good reason not to upgrade. It belongs in every serious wildlife photographer’s camera bag.

Get yours here at Amazon: Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

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Travel Essentials: Six Items You Should Never Leave Home Without

Travel Essentials: Six Items You Should Never Leave Home Without

Gear Reviews

With each trip comes an entirely different packing list. Warm weather versus cold weather, backcountry hiking and camping versus four-star hotels, wildlife shooting versus landscapes or street and urban photography; all of these factors, and more, need to be considered. The type and amount of photo gear can vary greatly from place to place (I can’t take it ALL with me) as does my selection of clothes and footwear. I have four different camera bags in my office, for example, and each has features and benefits that are preferred for a certain types of trips. My MindShift FirstLight 40L Camera Backpack is my standard, go-to camera bag however (I love this bag). As far as luggage, the same principle would apply. Most of the time it’s my Rimowa Classic Aluminum Roller while for other trips a duffle is best.

But there are some non-photography items I would never leave home without – they are just too essential. I traveled to 13 different countries last year and they made my travel easier, my travel gear lighter, and my life on the road much more simple. These six essentials are by no means exclusive and they have nothing to do with photography specifically.

My Six Travel Essentials

JW Hulme Overnight Briefcase – No, its not cheap but it’s one of the best-made briefcases you can buy anywhere. There’s ample space for my laptop, books, phone, passport, wallet, extra underwear and socks, and still plenty of room to spare. It’s all leather with real brass hardware and zippers with a lifetime warranty from a company making leather goods since 1905. Mine has been all over the world and the older it gets, the better it looks. More info at Amazon: JW Hulme Overnight Briefcase

Think Tank Photo Cable Management 30 V2.0 – I need to keep my computer power cord, iPhone and iPad charging cables, power adapters, and other cords and accessories neatly organized and stowed safely away in my briefcase for when I need them. I know myself all too well. If I don’t stay organized while on the road, I’ll lose stuff. This little organizer has been priceless to me. More info at Amazon: Think Tank Photo Cable Management 30 V2.0

Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones – Noise cancelling technology is essential for long flights. Airplane noise, loud talkers, and the wail of crying babies will disappear with this device while your sanity is restored. But unlike bulky headphones, these earbuds fit into a nifty little carrying case just slightly larger than a deck of cards. More info at Amazon: Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxers –  Why is this man sharing his underwear with us? Look, I pack just 2 or 3 pairs of these boxers on a trip of any length and they’re all I need. I can wash them in the sink and they dry in 2 or 3 hours. They’re also extremely light and comfortable to wear while sitting for hours on a plane or hiking in the hot desert. More info at Amazon: ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxers

The North Face Paramount Convertible Pants – These lightweight, fast-drying pants can easily be washed in the hotel room’s sink if necessary and the legs unzip to produce instant shorts. The belt and clasping mechanism are built into the pants and they’re made of cloth and plastic so no issues during airport security. Take three pairs, roll them up tightly, and fit them into a corner of your suitcase. Neat and efficient. More info at Amazon: The North Face Paramount Convertible Pants

Buff Original Headwear 12-in-1 Headband – I never go on any photography trip without at least one of my Buffs! This featherweight (less than 3 ounces) microfiber headband can be used as cover for sun protection, around the neck and collar like a scarf to keep warm in cold weather, and as a drying towel in a pinch. Buff claims there are 12 different uses for one and I guess it just depends how creative you want to be to find all 12. More info at Amazon: Buff Original Headwear 12-in-1 Headband

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