The Airport Addicted Bag
From ThinkTank Photo
Photographers have a multitude of choices when it comes to camera bags. For air travel rolling bags and backpacks in a variety of sizes are the two major choices. Backpacks of various sizes predominate for field work.
Like most long-time photographers, over the years I've accumulated a large number of different bags of all sizes and types. It seems that every trip brings with it its own demands. In most situations one weighs the choices between weight and bulk, and needs of the shoot, along with practicality. A wildlife shoot in Alaska obviously has quite different packing demands than does a bicycle tour of the Netherlands.
But the one common denominator for anyone doing a shoot away from home is air travel, and the hassles and limitations that this presents. With the inability to lock bags securely when traveling within and out of the U.S., most photographers no longer trust putting their expensive equipment into checked baggage – even in a baggage-handler-proof padded case. The frequency with which airlines manage to lose and delay bags also mitigates against checking equipment which will be needed if one is going to hit the ground running (pardon the expression).
The only solution when flying is to pare ones equipment down to what can be carried on the plane. This means a bag that is legal carry-on in terms of size if not weight. One solution, offered by ThinkTank Photo, is the Airport Addicted bag.
In October, 2005 my Moose Peterson MP1 bag was all packed and ready to go to China. I had used the MP-1on my Bangladesh shoot in January of 2005, and had found it to be ideal in many ways for ai travel. Given its very light weight, it was capable of carrying a great deal of gear, and I never had any objections or funny looks from airline personnel about its size or weight – even though it weighed over 35lbs loaded.
But, literally the day before my departure for China an Airport Addicted bag arrived for evaluation. I couldn't resist giving it a try, and so I transferred everything that was in the MP-1 to the AA bag. It was almost an exact equivalent fit. Not that surprising given that both bags are designed to be airplane overhead compartment legal.
But, there the similarities ended. While the MP-1 has little in the way of internal or external padding, the AA is as well padded as any bag I've seen. In fact, it's very well made indeed. Material are first rate, heavy duty, and well put together. The bag comes with a abundance of internal dividers, and can be organized in a great many configurations. (You can read about what I carried in my AA on the trip to China here.)
Unlike the MP-1, which has only a rudimentary backpack harness, the AA has a rig that would put most dedicated hiking backpacks to shame. With some 35Lbs of gear loaded I found it quite comfortable for extended hiking. (Not the weight – the bag).
The AA also has a compartment cleverly fitted into its rear panel, designed to take a 15" laptop computer. It even comes with a special computer bag designed for the slot. This is a mixed blessing. While it's convenient to be able to combine ones photo gear and computer into one bag, it does significantly add to the bag's weight, and thereein lies the product's Achilles Heel.
It is a law of nature that photographic equipment expands to fill the amount of space made available for it. In the case of a bag the size of the Moose MP-1, or the Airport Addicted, that can amount to a great deal of gear. The MP1 is a very light weight bag, but the AA is about 8Lbs unloaded. This is its Achilles Heel. In Economy, on most airlines, the weight restriction on carry-on baggage is about 7Kg. or 15 Lbs. This means that the AA bag is already at half the allowable weight even when empty.
Now, let's be honest. Most airlines, most of the time, don't hassle passengers about carry-on weight, as long as the bag looks of legal size. And if you're flying business class the weight allowance typically doubles. But often enough, especially when a flight is very full, and the bag looks particularly heavy, they will ask to check your bag, and if it's overweight they will force you to check your bag (pardon the pun).
And, even though a bag is of "legal" size, there can be flights where they won't be allowed onboard. We had such a situation on an internal flight in China. The aircraft used was a Brazilian made Embraer, a very nice aircraft, but one which has overhead compartments that can barely hold a folded newspaper. Three members of our group were using MP-1 bags, and were very distressed at having to check their bags. If fact it wasn't possible. An MP-1 simply isn't padded enough to stand even gentle baggage handling. They had to unload all of their cameras and lenses and hang them over their shoulders, with lenses in pockets.
Since I was using the AA bag, I had no such qualms. I simply put a ratched cable tie on the bag to seal it, and put it with the checked bags. The bag was more than strong enough to go as checked luggage.
So, while I was pleased that I had the AA with me in this particular instance, I have to say that the extra weight of the bag itself is a serious concern. It both adds to ones burden, and also can make a difference is you're asked to weigh your carry-on. Until some enterprising bag maker produces a bag that's the weight of the MP1 with the excellent padding and useful harness system of the AA, I guess we'll simply have to decided which of the set of alternatives suites our perceived needs best.
Really Right Stuff BH-40 Ballhead
Regular readers will know that I am an evangelist for ballheads. In my opinion these are the preferable means in most situations of mounting your camera on a tripod, and a ball-head with an Arca-style plate and quick-release mechanism is the ideal way to go.
From the Arca Swiss B1 ballhead of a decade ago, to the large number of models that have appeared from a variety of manufacturers over the years, photographers have a great many choices when it comes to ballheads. I've seen or worked with most of them, and in my opinion the finest one currently available is the Really Right Stuff BH-55, reviewed on this site last year.
But the BH-55 is a fairly substantial head, capable of holding the largest and heaviest camera and lens combinations. It also is expensive, at $455 in the lever release model.
To meet the needs of photographs who want a head that weighs less (about half the weight of a BH-55) yet which can still securely hold a pro body and medium-long lens, and which costs somewhat less than its bigger brother ($375 with lever), RRS has recently released the new BH-40 ballhead.
When combined with a light weight carbon fibre tripod, such as the Gitzo 1227, this is an ideal combination for hiking and reduced bulk air travel. The head is built from either anodized T66061 aluminum or stainless steel. Machining, fit and finish are as good as you'll find anywhere. Maybe better! Also, RRS is a great company to deal with. They are responsive and professional.
If you need a ballhead for use with other than the biggest and heaviest bodies and lenses, and if you want to reduced your load when hiking or traveling, the BH-40 is an excellent new choice. It's no replacement for the BH-55, but fills its own niche in the photographic ecology.