Between you and me, sometimes the whole Gear is Good, Vision is Better thing makes me worry that people think I don’t like toys, but if you know me at all, you know that’s just crazy talk. I like stuff. I’ve been accused of having champagne tastes, by no less an authority than my own mother. So this, not really one of those holiday gift guides – because it’s probably too late anyways, is a short list of some of my favourite stuff from this year. In some way these 11 things just kind of made me a little happier. Once a year I open the floodgates on a discussion about gear and shiny things. Now, God help me, is that time. So, in the spirit of Sound of Music, but without having to suffer through listening to it again, here are a few of my favourite things…
The Moment 18mm Lens for iPhone. I love my iPhone camera. And earlier this year I bought a slide-on case with a couple built-in lenses. I loved it, and though the quality took a back seat to convenience, it made me realize that the iPhone’s camera just isn’t wide enough for me. Enter Moment, a company that started with a successful Kickstarter last year and now creates two very nice, much higher quality, bayonet-mount lenses for mobile phones. I ordered the 18mm lens, but there’s a slightly telephoto lens as well (no focal length given, they just say it’s 2x closer). Beautifully machined, with big, glass optics, this is a really nice lens. Can’t wait to use it in Venice next week. Moment lenses are just shy of $100.
VSCO Cam iPhone/Android App The only app, other than Slow Shutter, that I really use for my mobile photography, VSCO Cam is excellent. It’s got intuitive, simple controls, a great interface, and a wide range of film emulation effects that are pretty classy, if not a little trendy at times. VSCO Cam is free, with in-App purchasing of the filters and presets.
Artifact Uprising Prints. I’ve talked about Artifact Uprising before, and as one of their ambassadors, who adores them and what they make, I’ll keep talking about them. I’m a big advocate of printing your work, and AU makes it easy to do so, and with really beautiful media. During 2015 I will be printing a set or two of prints after every trip with AU – I especially like the square print sets and the [Signature] Series.
The new Maptia Site. This one doesn’t cost a thing. But it’s hours of pleasure reading great stories and looking at beautiful photographs. And if you want to join and use the site, that too is free, and is a wonderful platform for telling stories. Check it out. Want a place to start? Right now I’ve got three stories there, with a goal to publish a dozen by the end of 2015.
Filson’s Guide Work Jacket It would be really hard for me to tell you, without seeming really weird, just how much I love this jacket. It’s oil-cloth and water resistant, it’s good-looking (subject to opinion, I suppose), and has amazing pockets. It’s heavy enough that it’s durable and light enough that it’ll do for early morning game drives in Kenya, or cool evenings in Venice. And if you’re using a Leica or mirrorless camera like the Fuji, there’s more than enough room for a couple lenses in the pockets. A perfect travel jacket. It’ll set you back $440 but if you know Filson you know you won’t need to buy another for a long, long, time. If I could sleep with this jacket I would.
Lumu Light Meter for iPhone. If you love film, and shoot with a camera without a meter, you might just want to look at this. Sure, the iPhone has light meter apps, but this is both an app and a small piece of hardware, and from what I’ve read, it’s much more accurate than using the iphone’s camera. I just got mine and I love it, though truthfully I’ve not yet really put it through its paces. I’m taking it to Venice this week, with my M6 and a brick of Ilford film. Also not cheap ($150 if you’re in North America), but if you don’t already have a hand-held meter, it’s a sexy little alternative and one less thing to put in those pockets. Lord knows we carry enough stuff.
The re-designed PHOTOGRAPH Magazine. This is my magazine, and while that’s true in the sense that I publish it, I mean it in the sense that it’s the magazine for me. The one that didn’t exist, so I asked my team to help me make it. We’re still a work in progress, but the last two issues are particularly beautiful. While you can’t get from it what I do, which is the joy of creating it, you can share the work of the photographers we profile. PHOTOGRAPH is published bi-monthly and costs $8 an issue for close to 250 pages ad-free pages.
Art Wolfe’s Earth is My Witness. Art is a hero, and friend, of mine. He’s a talented photographer, and a good man. My copy of Earth is My Witness is a treasured possession. It’s big – a lifetime of work between its pages and Art is still going strong enough that I hope there’s at least one more of these in him – it’s packed with inspiration and, if you pay attention, instruction. Others on my shelf this year that I adore: Sebastiao Salgado’s GENESIS, and Koudelka’s EXILES.
My Leica M6. I love this camera. For a million reasons, and not all of them sane. But for me, and cameras are so personal, it’s perfect. And the beauty of film is that these days you can get a used film camera for much less than you might once have done so. A Hasselblad, Nikon F3, Pentax Spotmatic, Rolleiflex – whatever strikes your fancy, you can find it on a site like KEH.com and for a song. Yes, I know, film costs money, but I think set against the constant drain of digital obsolescence, film’s a bargain. Develop your own black and white negs at home and it’s even cheaper. Maybe it’s time to buy that camera you always wanted and kick it old school with some film. My favourites? Ilford Delta 400 and the famously grainy 3200. Craft & Vision author Sherri Koop has a fantastic eBook called FILM: (Re)Discover the Magic – for just $10. It’s a great introduction if you’re wanting to try film for yourself.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I know it isn’t high art, but I loved this movie. I love (almost) everything about it. Great cinematography, great soundtrack, great theme. And Sean Penn plays a bad-ass photographer / sage. I bought it. We listen to the soundtrack weekly. I don’t know anyone that didn’t find some joy, even some photographic wisdom, in this movie.
Evernote. It took me a while to get cozy with this app. I just couldn’t figure out what to do with it. Then my iPhone Notes app lost a couple years worth of disastrously disorganized stuff I couldn’t get back, and I switched. Now my notes – hundreds of them, including book outlines, blog post ideas, quotes, shot lists, travel packing lists, trip itineraries, and more – are all easily searchable, sync across multiple devices, and – in some cases – shared with others. I’m sorry I waited so long.
I could go on. If I were making a longer list my Sony RX100 III would make the cut as the most brilliant pocket camera I’ve ever used. So would the Nauticam waterproof housing I have for it. My new Blundstone boots (I got these particular ones, but had a shoemaker cut them down a little) would make the list, but I’ve mentionned them before. Best boots I’ve ever owned. My old ones are right now getting stitched (axe wound) and re-soled (too close to fire) because I can’t face getting rid of them. And my M0851 leather satchel too – I have a couple sizes from this small Canadian company, and both are wonderful – they aren’t camera bags, per se, but they’re great for slinging across my body with a couple lenses and a rainjacket, and they’re much lighter, and nicer looking than most camera bags. Throw a Domke insert into the large one and it’ll do for a long day out without wearing me down or looking like a photographer. And the small one is perfect for a couple Leica or Fuji lenses, some spare batteries and a granola bar. Lastly, I put Cub & Co handmade leather Sling straps on all my smaller cameras this year – 2 Fujis and 2 Leicas – they’re the right length (long) and beautifully simple. The longer I do this the less I want gimmicks and swivels and clips and just want something to hold my camera across my body without showing off about it.
What’s on your list for favourites this year?