I’ve Been Downsized

I knew the day would come. It started like this.

“Mr. Milnor, all three of your bags are overweight.”
“WTF?”
“Yes, you are going to have to check all three bags.” “And there will be a fee.”
“WTF?”

“How did I fly here without any trouble?” I asked.
“Americans are lazy, but we enforce the rules here,” she replied.
“Ouch.” “I like blanket statements as much as anyone else but that was harsh.”
“I work for a book publishing company,” I added, looking for mercy.

I unzipped my roller bag and asked “Would YOU want to check that?”

She looked own at a massive clump of equipment, cables, drives, fan belts, antiques, solid brass bodies and photographic buzz saws. “Ah, no, not really,” she answered.

“Okay, I will give you permission this one time, but that’s it,” she said. “I love you, I mean I seriously love you to the DNA level,” I said.

Now, I thought at some point the TSA would crack down on us filmheads but I didn’t see carry on bags being the issue that forced me from my ways. The day has come when I realize I just can’t carry what I want when I fly. Bastards! They don’t care, and I get why they don’t care, but it still royally sucks. So, I was downsized. By my own free will, credit card and Amazon Prime Account.
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The first and second images here are my old setup. For audio you have Zoom H6 (NO I’m not linking everything slackers.), EV mics(x2), tripods, XLR cables, dead rats, mice, cats or whatever you call them, etc. This all fit in my Tenba backpack. The second images is of my Tenba Roller Bag. (Buy Tenba, I love them.) (Buy, buy, buy….)This is where poeple think I’m crazy. Hasselblad and two lens, Leica and two lenses, Polaroids and four packs of film, iPhone film rig, two hard drives, film, Canon 5D III and three lenses, cards, card reader, cables for EVERYTHING, batteries, bellows for Blad, chargers, model releases…..WHEW. My back is KILLING ME. ALL of this fit in this roller, its’ incredible.(Buy, buy, buy.)(Tenba, Tenba, Tenba.)
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But now you will meet the NEW me. The smaller, lighter, hipper me. With short hair no less. From all the above to the following.

iPhone 6 Plus

(Yes it’s big. Get over it.) I see this as my COMPUTER and much more. The iPhone is now my email, text and phone, yes, yes, but also my audio recorder, podcasting base, digital camera and movie camera.

Lav Mic

x2. So small and light and cheap.

Splitter

Runs both lav mics and my headphones

External Ambient Mic

This replaces my Zoom for ambient street recordings for my “Just Listen” series, and also runs off the phone.

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Oh, and in case you were wondering where all this goes, and how I’m going to downsize my equipment…I’ll show you. From this moment forward, when I’m flying, I will carry this audio setup, my Leica M4 and two lenses, my Polaroid and film packs, my meter, film, model releases and all of it fits in ONE tiny backpack that is so comfortable. (Tenba, buy Tenba) (You know I’m kidding about this, but this bag is fantastic.) Check out the small packs inside, designed for GoPro, that work perfectly for all my stuff. I just pull out the ones I don’t need, leave them in my hotel room and take what I need.
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The last thing I have to mention is, I now check a bag. Most of the time. People are insane. Seriously, they carry on so much stuff, and yes I was guilty too, that I don’t like that feeling of now knowing if your bags are going to make it without being checked. So now I will get on with my small Tenba bag and my small, leather satchel and I don’t care if you attempt to carry on a stuffed Caribou, including the antlers. Go ahead schmucko!

The new me also travels with things like a yoga mat, so I need to check anyway, and speaking of what yoga does to your brain….I’m not rushing or frantic. I’m just being……OMMMMMMMMMMMM. I’m still missing one small, extender cable, but other than that I’m loaded for bear and ready to move. Get out of my way people, I’m a media professional.
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Now, some folks asked why I just didn’t go this route from the beginning, and I’ll tell you. This new setup isn’t as good as my old one. It’s not as stable, durable and the sound quality is not the same, but it still works. Does this sound familiar? I’ve never had my Zoom crash. Ever. You could pound nails with the EV mics, and people have walked on my XLR cables without issue, but I’m in a pickle here and this was the solution I came up with. Anyone want to interview?

What I’m Thinking

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I’m thinking I need to lighten my load.

What you don’t see in this series of photographs is the rest of my daily gear. Leica, Blad, Polaroid. Why do I do this? Because I can’t stop shooting film cameras. I still prefer the negative to anything digital. I like the cameras themselves, the process of shooting analog, the limitations of analog, which I feel are what make it so great, and the archive of analog. Yes, I’m still trying to figure out what to do with my 40TB of digital data looming over my head. So on the chopping block is the 5D Mark III and three lenses, and in is the Canon s100. Without a doubt the 5D III is the better, more versatile camera that shoots much higher quality imagery and motion. But what is also indisputable is s100 is a lot smaller and lighter. When I started my current campaign with Blurb it was thought I would be shooting a lot of digital, at least at times, but I’m not. What I am doing is creating a stream of images for lesser needs, and continuing to capture most of the good stuff on film.
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Speaking of film…On the way to San Francisco last week my film set off the TSA alarm for….explosives I think. Something. Anyway, I got the full court press, which was no big deal, but that was the first time it ever happened. They had me for about 15-20 minutes maybe. I got felt up, which is always great, and they got to see all my personal items. Sadly I had nothing exotic or even anything slightly amiss.

Oddly enough, traveling with film, at least for me, is easier than ever before. It’s such a rarity now that typically I get the “Cool, haven’t seen this in a while.” Followed by “Man, I really miss film.” Now, this does NOT apply when speaking of France or Switzerland where I’ve been grilled, threatened, insulted and yelled at for both carrying film and for being an American. Such is life. I kill them with kindness. Or I don’t say anything. Or I keep asking for a hand inspection until they threaten me with not getting on the plane. (This has happened numerous times.) This actually doesn’t bother me. What bothers me are the new rules about carry on bags. And weight. Returning from Australia a few months ago it was deemed, on a whim, that all three of my bags were overweight. The same bags I’d flown to Australia with no problem. Suddenly all my bags were an issue and they tried like Hell to get me to check my gear bags. I opened them up and asked “Would you want to check this?” “Ahhh, no,” was the reply and they let me on, but those days are fading.

So, it’s lighten the load time. I’m even contemplating an iPhone 6 Plus for my interview and podcast needs, which would allow me to leave recorder at home. If I could somehow get my junk down to ONE bag it would be ideal. I know I’m dreaming here because when my Blurb duties are over and I aim at the open spaces of Australia or Abilene, I’m going to want my film junk. What I will try to do is consolidate my backpack and roller bag into one backpack. Audio and visual gear in one bag. Time to call Tenba once again.

Or maybe, if I buy an iPhone 6 Plus I don’t even need this little camera? See, more confused than before.
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The Situation (Hold Please)

I’m sitting in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales after taking the first half of the day to get here. A walk, taxi, train, car and short walk. In tow were my three Tenba bags including my roller bag, large backpack and small backpack. I’m not trying to sell you a Tenba bag, but as you can see, I use them. . But why do I have them, and why would I want to navigate the world with so much stuff?
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Great question, and one that I ask myself on a daily basis.

How much easier would it have been to get up this morning with a Fuji XT-1, one lens, or even two, my laptop and drive and make the same journey? As many of you know, I contracted Lyme Disease a little over a year ago, and all I can tell you is that everyday is a challenge. Still, all these days later. I simply don’t have the energy I used to have, and when I hit the wall I hit it for real.

So fifty yards from where I sit writing this, in my room, is my Hasselblad with two lenses, Leica with two lenses, Polaroid and Canon 5D-III with three lenses. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but it all fits in my roller bag, including all the film required, model releases, cables, bellows, card reader, extra batteries, medicine (a lot), light meter, hoods, pens, plastic bags, etc., etc. This is my standard rig. Inside my large backpack is a Zoom H6 audio recorder, two mini tripods, two microphones, XLR cables, etc., etc. And yes, people think I’m crazy. Perhaps I am.

But if any of you have seen my new site Shifter you will know that I use all of these things on a regular basis. In fact I have entire campaigns based on these materials.

So today my feeble mind wanders and wonders. I know there is no way around having all this stuff. I could swap the Canon for the Fuji, which would save a fair amount of weight, and I’m seriously considering doing this. I rarely use the digital but when I need it, like last night at TEDx Sydney, I need it.

It’s funny. I’ve had these conversations with myself many, many times. Games I play. Remember a few things. Working with a film camera verses working with a digital camera are as different an experience as you can have. I don’t believe someone swaps and then makes the same work. That just doesn’t happen, and I’ve got fifteen years of examples of photographers I know who USED to be great but suddenly became very average when they picked up a digital camera. This is another conversation I’ve had countless times over the past decade, always in private because photographers are fearful the “public” will hear them bashing well known photographers who haven’t made a decent image since picking up a digital camera.

I actually don’t think this has to be the reality. I think we have to learn how to use each camera for what it is, and be vigilant in our attention to detail. A Fuji with Nik filters don’t make TRI-X no matter how bad you want it. But maybe you don’t need TRI-X? Why try to make it something it really isn’t? Digital is immediate, endless and flexible far beyond anything in analog history. I think a lot of photographer who declined with digital did so because they were ready to taper off anyway. It’s about laziness, years of busting ass, and also we all love new shit. That’s a fact. Compound this with the reality that many well known folks are surrounded by people who are telling them they are great, so when they show subpar work they are still getting “Oh man, you are AWESOME,” and most of the time they think “Wow, I must be awesome.”

I just put down this laptop and shot four frames with the M6 and 50mm. f/2 at 1/8th. I KNOW this image will be fantastic. I had a foreground, midground and then the subject with window light coming from the left. A classroom of people. Very quiet. This is Leica territory.

And then there is the lifestyle of digital. Computer, computer and more computer. I think maybe this is the part that really has me cringing. Now if I was GOOD on the computer perhaps I wouldn’t feel this way, but I’m not so I do. I will shoot at least ten times over the next days days, here in Australia, and don’t need to edit any of it. No computer required. I will ship the film the day I return and then board another flight to another location.

Not sure why I wrote this, but this scenario has been on my mind today. Two hours in a train to think and wonder. I want the digital to work. At least a part of me. But I have a sinking suspicion I’ll be humping this kit until I pass out or get robbed. I have a sinking suspicion I’ll be adding a Fuji to my lineup once again, probably replacing the Canon, but I don’t see anything replacing the Blad, Leica and Polaroid anytime soon.

Nanuk of the South

A few weeks ago I ran into a photographer I know, an Englishman, who travels as much as anyone I’ve ever seen. Technically, he lives in London, but I think there were horse and carriage in the streets the last time he was home. I mean it. You ask him where he’s going and it normally goes like this, “France, then NY then Toronto, then back to NYC, then LA for a day, China for two days, then home for eighteen minutes and back to NYC.” These people intrigue me because I know a little about travel. Not a lot, just a little. I’m always interested in ergonomics and realities of traveling as a photographer, especially when a DSLR and two zooms are not enough to keep your mind happy. So, I studied my friend. What clothes does he wear? Why does he wear them? What camera does he use and how does he travel with it? What bags does he use? Why does he use them? With a guy like this there is no fat, not just on him but in his method of operation. He doesn’t wear lace up boots through airport security…know what I mean.

So I saw him making the transition from his rental car to his hotel room and he had exactly two bags, one shoulder bag, backpack of unknown make, and a case much like the one in these photographs. His had wheels on one side, but otherwise it looked just like the case shown here. This case was loaned to me by a friend, and after I saw my traveler friend with his case it got me thinking. Maybe I should use a case like this? Nanuk is the provider of this particular case.

So, I dug out this case and began to fondle it, dreaming up how I could use it. Now as you can see, this is a small version, not good for taking my entire rig, but I used this more as a study of what this case can do. After about five minutes with this I realized, just about anything. It’s built like a tank. It locks. It’s waterproof. That in itself if enough. Right there. Done.

A month ago I sent an M6 to Leica for repair because one of mine got mangled…somehow…in transition. I have ZERO bags that protect like a case like this. Everything in my life is about small and easy. I’m a Tenba guy for my bags, and I’ve had the conversation with Peter, many times, and can remember myself saying to him, “Make the bags thinner and lighter, who cares about protection.” Thin and light is great, but it surely won’t keep your M6 rewind crank from protruding out at an angle it was never intended to see. Peter would just look at me and smile that smile that internally meant, “You’ll learn one day.”

Considering the travel I have coming up, a case like this is beginning to creep into my mind. The ONLY drawback I see is that it looks like a camera case, which means the hawks will be searching for it. But, if I sticker it up, scrape it up, etc, it should be somewhat camo. And, I would keep this case with me, as a carry on, just as my friend does. I would keep my backpack with me, and this case, and then check my clothes. Or something like that. The logistics, as you can see, I’ve yet to solve. Over the past few months I’ve seen several bags take four to five foot dives to the airplane floor as irate fliers shoved other peoples bags out to try and get theirs in. With a case like this I can just watch as I’m eating warm nuts. Like all photographers, I have a total bag fetish, so this Nanuk case will be added into the mix. I’ve yet to determine what will end up living in this little beauty, but something surely will.