Ed Kashi on assignment in Pakistan.

7 with VII: All About Gear

We asked Facebook, Instagram and Twitter followers to submit questions about gear for the second installment of 7 with VII. Read on for the 7 answers from VII’s Ron Haviv, Sim Chi Yin, Ashley Gilbertson, Arthur Bondar, Ed Kashi, Poulomi Basu and Sarker Protick


1. Do you find that people react differently to your presence depending on whether you have more bulky camera gear and multiple cameras with you or whether you have smaller, lightweight gear? — @jaimeboddorff via Instagram

Ron Haviv answers:

The decision to use what gear and when is both important for the way you want your images to look as well as your ability to photograph. The aesthetics are an important consideration but more and more the ability of the visual journalist to blend into the background often depends on gear and appearance. All are important to consider.

In today’s world, most people are used to being photographed or photographing with their phones. The device means something very different to them than a standard camera.

Therefore the reaction can often be very different depending on gear use. I was in Haiti doing a post earthquake story in one of the displacement camps. I had my standard 35mm DSLR with me and a lens and was dressed pretty low key without a camera bag or pouches. As I moved about the camp, it was increasingly difficult to work. People were tired of photographers and essentially I was asked to leave. I dropped the camera off and came back with an iPhone. The interaction was totally different. At that point, having a phone, like many of them, that took photographs, put me on a level that they could relate to.

There will be times when the traditional DSLR, small mirrorless cameras or the phone will be more valuable than the other to use for certain reasons.

While there are of course budget issues to consider, it will always make sense to understand your workflow, what gear makes sense where and how to maximize the situations with what you are using.

Ron Haviv’s bag, as seen in Monster Children.

What’s in my bag?

  • AA batteries
  • Charmin toilet paper
  • Portable medical kit containing bandages, needles, medicine, tape, etc.
  • Tourniquet
  • QuikClot — used to treat gunshot wounds
  • LaCie Rugged Triple 500GB hard drive
  • Gas mask
  • Gaffer tape
  • Extra bandages
  • Domke pouch
  • RØDE video microphone
  • BGAN satellite data transmitter
  • Flash cards
  • Passport
  • Press credentials
  • Zoom audio recorder
  • Newswear chest vest
  • Gas mask filter
  • Canon EOS Mark II with Canon 50 1.2L lens
  • Canon EOS 1DX with Canon 35 1.4L lens
  • Canon EOS 24–70mm 2.8L lens
  • Maglite
  • Leatherman
  • Powerbar
  • Inverter clip-ons for car battery
  • Zacuto video viewfinder
  • Sharpie pen
  • Thuraya handheld satellite phone
  • Po Chai Chinese herbs for stomach ailments
  • CeraLyte oral electrolytes
  • Apple iPhone 5S
  • Bulletproof vest
  • Kevlar helmet
  • Ballistic protective glasses
  • Gloves
  • Business cards
  • Silk sheet pouch
  • Ballistic plates, level IV protection

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2. Do you feel that certain focal lengths/lenses influence how you approach any given situation? For example something happens suddenly in front of you, do you cover it with same mindset when you have a 35, 50 or other, or does it depend? Another way to put it would be with bilinguals and trilinguals, where a train of thought may take different turns depending on the language that is currently “used”. — @gkampolis via Instagram

Sim Chi Yin answers:

I like to use prime lenses and one of the reasons is that when I raise the camera to my eye, I know what I will see — in terms of the framing. The lens I have on the front of the camera does dictate the way I see, but in each situation I will usually first decide which lens will best work and then stick in on in anticipation (of the images I will make). When working on the streets or for reportage, I usually have two bodies, one with a 35mm and one with a 50mm on. If I know I need something wider, I will put the 25mm on instead of the 50mm. (And when I know I need detail, I might use a 105mm.)

Over the past year or so I have been shooting largely with mirrorless full-frame cameras, happy to be able to use my old manual lenses (and the best glass possible), which even as primes are quite compact, nifty — attractive to me as I’m quite petite!

It’s a kind of discipline to work with what lens you have on the front of your camera — or which camera to pick up immediately, the one with the 35mm or the one with the 50mm. Yes, if something suddenly happened in front of my eyes I might just react with what lens I have on, and then, as always, it comes down to moving your feet and body. I might shoot it differently, yes, like speaking in a different language, as you put it. But I think in the end, how you see is how you see — not really dependent on focal length chosen. And anticipating each situation or scene might be the key.

Sim Chi Yin’s bag.

What’s in my bag?

  • 2 camera bodies, lenses: 25mm, 35mm, 50mm, 105mm
  • SD cards in wallet
  • notebook
  • pen
  • Chinese medicine
  • sunglasses

3. I would assume that most of your photographers are using 35mm DSLRs and are paid to or at least sponsored to use that equipment. The smaller sensor M43, Sony and Fuji gear appears just as competent and robust in many respects. Have any of your photographers considered using or are they attracted to the advantages of smaller gear over the larger bodies and lenses. Would they have any reservations using them for their professional work? — @benfultongillonI via Instagram

Ashley Gilbertson answers:

Some of our photographers are indeed sponsored, though the majority are not — I’m not, so I’m not bound to use anything.

I still often carry a DSLR as well as my smaller rangefinder camera, but at the end of each day, I usually find I’ve shot 90% of my work on the little camera, even though it only has a fixed lens. I love the files, I love how quiet they are and above all I adore that they’re so little and unobtrusive.

Ashley Gilbertson’s bag.

What’s in my bag?

  • 2 cameras (that I carry)
  • 2 pens
  • 2 spare batteries
  • Notepad
  • Smokes and a lighter
  • Press card and business cards
  • Passport
  • Cash

4. Which one is the best? Film or digital? Could you explain? — @hajifirman via Instagram

Arthur Bondar answers:

The best instrument is the camera you know how to work with and feel comfortable with. Several years ago I asked myself the same question you asked. What is better, digital or film? Where should I invest my money to continue my development as a photographer? I did an experiment. I shot the same picture with digital and b/w film.

Then I developed the film and scanned it. I did the same with the digital image. I made postproduction with Silver Efex Pro with settings of the film that I use. Comparing the results I hardly could say which was the film and which was the digital. Even the grain was the same. After that, I stopped asking myself this question and went out on the streets to get more experience in communication with people than to think about my gear.

I think there is a great future for any kind of medium: digital, analog, cellphone or any other. If you look around, you’ll see how many great photographs are in the world. Nowadays we live in an era of transformation and how we can use photography in a new way. Over the last 10–15 years, we have radically changed the instrument to make photographs but today we just started to change our way of thinking and understanding the photography.

Once Ansel Adams said — “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

Arthur Bondar’s bag.

What’s in my bag?

  • Camera: Leica MP + Summicron 35mm 2.0,
  • Camera: Fuji X-100T + (2 batteries)
  • Camera: Olympus Mju-II
  • Pocket tripod: Velbon
  • Film: Ilford HP-5 (20 rolls, iso 400)
  • Cellphone: iPhone 5
  • HDD: Western Digital 2Tb
  • Note book + pen + business cards
  • Wallet: National Geographic
  • Computer: iMac 13 inches

5. Many well-known photographers believe that gear doesn’t matter but the vision matters… Is it really true when a photographer goes on assignment? — @sauravb117 via Instagram

Ed Kashi answers:

Your equipment is only a tool. Like any tool sometimes you need specialized gear to accomplish what you’ve either set out to do or for what the assignment requires. What’s important is that you are comfortable with your equipment, that it enables your vision and creativity and ability to respond to the world, instead of getting in the way. I don’t do technical work, so my gear is purposely simple, light and effective for my vision and modus operandi. When I shoot video of course I have more stuff, but even then I work light. I prefer to be quick and responsive in the field, not have my equipment get in the way of my connections with my subjects and the world around me. But I also want to achieve a very high image quality and most importantly be able to respond at any moment, in any light and in any circumstances, without having to fight my gear. So for each of you it’s important to find the equipment that enables you, not trips you up. —

Ed Kashi’s bag.

What’s in my bag?

  • 2 35mm HDSLR bodies
  • 2 lenses
  • Batteries
  • Headlamp
  • Caption book
  • Pens
  • Mobile phone
  • Strobe
  • Reading glasses

6. Primes or zoom(s)? — @aidanweltner via Instagram

Poulomi Basu answers:

Personally, I principally only shoot with prime lenses. This has always been the case. Learning with a fixed focus lens teaches you a lot about composition, the different effects of different social length, how to move and interact with your subject, which is the best foundation for learning. Zoom lenses can make you zoom in too readily when you should be moving your feet and getting closer to that which you are trying to photograph. I like to choose my focal length deliberately so that my intent for taking a photo is clear. Also zoom lenses are generally heavier and I prefer not to weigh down my kit bag in that way. I am a small person and I like being around people with the least intrusive (since zooms are bigger) equipment as possible.For all these reasons you will rarely find a zoom lens in my bag.

Poulomi Basu’s bag.

What’s in my bag?

  • Mamiya 7 80mm lens
  • Rolleiflex
  • Nikon D800
  • Nikon prime lens — 28mm , 35mm , 50mm
  • 120 film
  • Variable Neutral Density Filter
  • A small LED light
  • Mobile power pack
  • Extra battery for Nikon digital
  • Notebook, memory cards and shades

7. How do you decide on what lens to shoot with for each story you’re trying to tell? Especially if you have multiple lenses that you love using? — @alexwidmervideo via Instagram

Sarker Protick answers:

Personally for me it depends on the environment or the character of the space that I am working in.

But then it’s also important to understand what will be the major element for the story and narrative. Is it more based on portrait or landscape or more intimate daily life. These are key factors.

What’s in my bag?

Unless its a commissioned/editorial work with specific requirements, I always carry one Lens (35mm) with one body. 2 (Max-3) CF/SD Cards and a tripod or a flash, depending which work I am doing. I prefer not to carry anything besides this with my bag. Sometimes I even go out without a bag in the field. The less thing I have with me, the better because I feel more comfortable and also it’s better to attract less attention I think, in some cases.


In case you missed it …

Read the first installment of 7 With VII on Ethics in Photojournalism

Follow VII on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.


Catch us later this month at The VII Evolution Tour in Chicago, an immersive 2-day educational program taking place Oct. 17–18. Along with specialists from AbelCine, VII photojournalists will present an examination of the evolving business, technology and craft of visual storytelling. This program is structured as a combination of seminars, panel discussions, hands-on workshops and networking. See you there!

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