camera bag

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography Think Tank Photo City Walker 20. Not Just for City Slickers.

Not Just for City Slickers: the Think Tank City Walker 20 shoulder bag

As one of the perks of being a Seattle SMUG (SmugMug Users Group) co-leader, we on occasion get some new gear to check out. A month or so ago, Think Tank Photo gave the SMUGs a camera bag to test drive.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - The Think Tank City Walker 20 camera/iPad bag.

The bag I received is a their City Walker 20 photography bag. Overall, I’ll give this bag 4 out of 5 stars. It does have some flaws I believe Think Tank should address.

With this being a shoulder bag, my immediate enthusiasm would be equated to the amount of enthusiasm I had when I had to clean up the dog poop in the yard. I just shrugged my shoulders and said “What the hell, I’ll give it a shot.”

At first, its small size made me wonder if I could fit all the gear I used most. It sat on my floor next to my desk for about a week and a half. During that time, I’d pick it up, go through the pockets, and try to figure out how I would pack it.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - The Think Tank City Walker 20 camera/iPad bag.

It’s small size was oddly intimidating. Mainly because I couldn’t figure out how to organize it. It has a 3-compartment removable insert, extra pads to create new compartments, a protective pouch for a small (11″) laptop, tablet, or iPad. I don’t plan on carrying a laptop so I figure I could use it for something else, like my filter pouch.

There are 5 outside pockets. Mesh pockets on each end, on back pocket, one in the flap, and one to help you organize your pens and such. This is good for me as I like to keep several notepads to write down notes and ideas.

So after finally deciding to test it, I pulled my gear out from my Lowe Pro Mini-Trekker and began stuffing it into the City Walker.I wrote about that bag in a earlier post: Be Critical of Equipment Tests

First thing I noticed was the inability to organize my lenses. I keep my 80-200 and 17-35 on my cameras. My other lenses I like to carry are my 24 f/2, 50mm, 55mm macro, and 85.

I used the extra pads to build vertical compartments. the most used lenses on the top to keep them within easy reach. My filter pouch (which holds 4 filters) goes in the laptop/pad/tablet pocket for easy access.

Without much finagling, I was able to get my gear transferred from my old Lowe Pro to the new City Walker.

Two big surprises:

  1. It held more than I thought. In fact, there is extra room if I decide to ditch an extra body and put the lens in.
  2. It is actually pretty easy to carry.
© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - Shooting from the hip. The Think Tank City Walker 20 is a small bag which fits easily onto the shoulder and form around your hips.

Without further ado, I went out and began walking around with it. My first time was during a very foggy evening. I use a shoulder bag over my head so it’s not directly on my shoulder. Makes it easier for me to carry and get into when I need something.

What I liked right away is that as a soft bag, it formed around your hips. I really do not feel it much when I’m waling around.

Also, the bag rests on by lower back and I don’t fee the weight. When I do carry it, I keep the flap towards my body for easier access. It also helps prevent pickpockets from getting to this easy access.

The flap closes and then Velcro keeps the flap against the body of the bag. Also for added protection, there is a clasp. Good for when you sit it on a rock while you’re shooting landscapes. Just in case it decides to roll over on its side.

Even with all my gear in it, it was easy to carry. The strap has a padded section with non-slip silicon and it is amazing. Fully loaded, I could barely feel the weight even after several hours.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - All the gear which fits into my City Walker 20 camera bag by Think Tank. There is plenty of room to spare.

With the exception of having to stack my lenses, this case is pretty damn good. It’s easy to keep things organized and easy to get.

But, not all is well on the Western Front. There are a few issues that Think Tank should address:

1. This is very important: First is the lack of padding on the BOTTOM of the bag. There is just a thin layer of foam. For me this is a big issue as I’ve experienced what can happen if the bag is dropped, or put down roughly upon a hard surface.
© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography - My Think Tank Bag City Walker 20 camera bag at Boulevard Park resting on a rock next to the shore

Years ago I had a bag with a thin bottom. It was a fanny pack and a really good one. However, the belt broke one day as I was shooting a structure fire for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Daily News and the bag hit the ground. I was swapping lenses out when the buckle cracked. I did not notice anything at first. Everything looked good.

When I got back to the paper, I pulled my gear out looking for the film I shot so I can process it. I pulled one of the lenses and notice the front element was chipped. My 35-135 Nikkor was toast. It was the lens I had on my camera when I switched to a wide.

That being said, I think the bag could definitely use a thicker padded bottom.

2. An Avoidable Annoyance:  The next big drawback for me is that the shoulder strap tends to twist easily. This is annoying especially if you are in a hurry moving from one place to another. You pick up the bag and then have to readjust the strap each time.

A simple matter of adding swivels to the strap would be great. I know they make strong ones capable for the job as my laptop bag has them.

3. An Attached Rain Cover:  Living in the Pacific Northwest, this is a big issue. There is one that is supplied with the bag, however, for the sake of convenience, it would be nice if it was attached in some way. Many bags I know have one you can pull out and it quickly covers your bag. Then when the downpour is over, you can stuff it back into its storage pocket.

Although it comes packed in a small bag with a clip, I don’t like having a little extra bag I have to worry about. Especially if the little plastic clip breaks.

Overall, I really like the bag. It is convenient and easy to use. Think Tank makes some great products so I believe with some tweaking of the design, this could easily have gotten 5 Stars from me.

Here’s a List of the Gear I carry:

Thank you for stopping by and reading. All comments, good or bad, are appreciated.

Paul “pablo” Conrad

Pablo Conrad Photography

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Intro to Creative Flash Part 2: Balancing Your Flash With Ambient Light

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. — Aristotle

In Part 1 of this series (Intro to Creative Flash Part 1: What is “Shutter Sync?” and What are These Other Settings?), I covered sync speed, camera and flash settings, and general information on how your camera fires the flash.

But again I stress, read your camera and flash manual. Those little booklets contain a wealth of information about your particular gear.

And as I always stress: Learning Photography is not a Spectator Sport.

For this, it was simple on camera flash. I rotated the head towards the model. With a shutter speed of 1/4 of a second, I was able to capture the ambient light. The white balance was set on daylight as I liked the warmth of the lights in the background.

Ambient Light and Flash:

Using your flash with ambient light is easier than you may think. The key thing to remember is that you have full control of your flash. However, you can only  control ambient light using your shutter speed and aperture. The ONLY limitation you have is what your camera’s top flash sync speed is.

When working with ambient light you must remember two things concerning your exposure:

  • 1. The shutter speed controls the exposure for the ambient light
  • 2. The aperture controls the exposure for the strobe.

Using the “Sunny 16” rule to expose for the bright sun I set my flash was set on manual to f/8, 2 stops lower than the ambient light. Nikon D1H ISO 200, f/16 @ 1/200th.

Another thing to remember is to balance your flash with the color of the ambient light. Most flash units come with filters so you can balance your flash with tungsten and florescent lighting. These are little filters that are yellow (tungsten) and green (florescent). More on this in just a bit.

TIP: The key to getting good fill flash is under powering the strobe 2 to 3 (Sometimes 4) stops less than the value of the ambient light. Example: shooting in sunlight, your meter says f/16 @ 1/125th. Set your strobe to f/5.6 or lower to fill in the shadows.

TIP: You can go the other way and over power the Sun (temporarily of course) to make your subject stand out. Set your camera on full, position the strobe so it is close and underexpose the sunlight.

“Shutter Drag:” Using the rear curtain synch mode to fire the flash at the end of the exposure during the slower shutter speeds. Example, photographing a skateboarder you use a longer shutter speed to blur the background (Panning) and the flash to light him. Another is dancers on stage. It exposes them at the end of the exposure.

Using an off-camera flash to fill in the driver. The meter was being fooled by all the snow, so I had to go full manual. Having my camera on a cord allowed a more natural looking light on the driver.

TIP: Good panning shots w/flash require about a stop or two under exposure of the ambient and good exposure for the flash.

Low Ambient Light:
When using your flash in poorly lit conditions, set your flash to about one stop over the ambient light level in order to prevent “ghosting.”

For example.  In the photo below of the downhill mountain bike racer, the trail winded through the trees. Although it was a sunny day, the light was dark. My shutter speed was about 1/500 at f/2.8.

Although I shot many competitors zooming by me at that speed, I wanted a way to capture the feeling of the speed the contestant were traveling. So I used a low shutter speed of 1/30 at f/11 to capture this, but the photos were a bit too blurry for me.

To make the mountain biker sharp, and still keep the blurry background, I used my on-camera flash. I then set it on manual to get a proper exposure at f/22. I kept panning the subjects as they zoomed by and captured this image in the process.

For this shot of a mountain biker sliding down a steep section during the annual Blast the Mass bike race, I panned with the action and popped my flash at a setting of 1 stop over ambient. Nikon D200, SB800, f/22 at 1/30th.This is a good example of “shutter drag.”

Tip: You can temporarily overpower the Sun by underexposing the natural light and placing your flash close to the subject. In effect, it makes the sky dark and properly exposes your subject.

Snowmass ski patrolman John Brennan keeps the slopes clear of debris during the summers. Nikon D1H, SB-80, f/22 @ 1/500th. Use your flash as the main source, the underexpose the sky by two stops to give your photos a dramatic look.

 

Ways to Use your Flash:

On Camera:

  • Main Light: Using the flash as your main light source. An example would be photographing a party at night.
  • Fill Flash:  Using the flash to fill in the shadows. Underexpose by 2 stops. Add Just enough light to bring out the shadow details. Having too much will be make your photo appear a bit unnatural.
  • Bounce: Using your surroundings to light your subject. Bouncing off the wall or ceiling helps soften the light. It acts like a huge soft box. You lose a lot of light in the process. Sometimes as much as 3 stops. This technique only works if you are reasonably close to walls and low ceilings.

TIP: Again, dial down your flash power when using on-camera as fill. You need just enough light to add details to the shadow areas.

TIP: Make sure the ceilings and walls are white or your color balance will be wrong. The light will pick up the color of the wall or ceiling.

Off Camera:

For more natural looks, or to be more creative, use your flash off camera. Using a bracket with your camera gives your photos a look like they were lit by a light source other than direct flash. It also eliminates the “red eye” that is caused by on-camera direct flash without using the annoying “red eye reduction” setting.

  • On a Bracket: This sets your flash off the main axis of the lens and helps reduce
  • Corded: Using a short cord allows you to achieve a more natural light. You can position the flash how you want, but you have limited flexibility.
  • Slave synced or non-corded: Setting your flash a distance from the camera and using another flash, or radio signal, to fire it. Good for a portable studio. They must be a within a reasonable distance and have the sensor pointed towards the main flash. Sometimes, depending on the gear, bright lights will cause malfunctions.

There are a multitude of devices from brackets to diffusers which one can explore and test. I’ve not tested but a few diffusers and bounce units. For the most part, the diffusers that have been supplied with the flash unit are sufficient for my photography.

However, in the next section Intro to Creative Flash Part 3: Using a Portable Studio, I use these same strobes with umbrellas and slaves to create some creatively lit portraits.

Challenge Aspen founder Amanda Boxtel in the equipment room. Amanda, who lost the use of her legs in a skiing accident, was sitting in a beam of sunlight and in order to get detail in the shadows, I used my portable flash.

Color Balance:

Portable flash units are color balanced towards daylight and as a result, when they are used in other than sunlight, you will get a color shift. Especially noticeable in tungsten and florescent lighting.

To make your workflow smoother and save you headaches in the editing process, use filters in the process of taking the photographs. Most flash units now come with two basic filters: one for tungsten (yellow or orange) and the other for florescent (green).

These are small gels that cover the flash head and change the color temperature of the flash. They are not perfect, so the colors may be off by a little, but they are so close as to be imperceptible.

My flashes, diffusers, and filters. An SB80DX (left), SB800 (right), SC-17 cord, and filters.

The issue with florescent lighting is that different manufacturers, different bulbs, and even the holders all have color temps that can vary by hundreds of degrees Kelvin. It’s difficult to truly color correct for florescent light. The Florescent Lighting System has information about the color temperature of these bulbs.

For the most part, the supplied gel will work fine for most situations involving these lights. Most photographers I know think they are the most hideous lights known to man. They can be very difficult to color balance, but not impossible.

It does take a little bit of practice to get into the habit of looking at the light, determining the type used, and placing the filter over the flash. One thing: don’t forget you placed a filter over you flash. If you do, you’ll be a little surprised when you download and edit.

There are a multitude of filters you can buy for your on camera flash. Rosco has a set of filters called Strobist. It is a set of 55 filters of various colors and strengths you can use to get a close color balance or have as a creative effect.

Lumiquest makes a holder that goes around your flash to hold small gels. The two work great in unison.

Dr. George Fallieras, M.D., in the trauma room at Aspen Valley Hospital. I used a cord to set the flash to the right as the PR person held it.

One of first things you must decide is whether you want your flash to be the main light or to use it as fill.

Once you decide that, Let your creative juices flow. Go out and have fun with it. Don’t be afraid to try new things. It’s better to try something new and fail. Take it as a learning lesson. You learn more from your mistakes than you will from your successes.

Again, don’t be intimidated by your flash unit. Go out and just have fun with it. Practicing with your flash is imperative. What you can do, how you can control it, and how these little unit work,  can improve your photography by giving you an extra tool in your bag.

Thank you for reading

Paul Conrad

Pablo Conrad Photography