Father Bill Christmas and his twelve days of indulgence
It's that time of year again, black Fridays, foggy Wednesdays, hours of delays on the trains due to a leaf on the line, Nigella on the telly, Thanksgiving turkeys boosting the sales of indigestion tablets and dozens of innocent, unsuspecting, cheerful, upbeat songs murdered by being slowed right down and handed to a reedy beta warbler to croon over a mawkish CGI TV advert for a bank or a department store.
Oh yes, and the Season of Goodwill and a new Star Wars movie is just around the corner.
I don't know about you, but I do regard myself as a bit of a traditionalist: Trees, presents, mistletoe, holly, robins, yule logs, etc. None of this new-fangled Christmas nonsense for me though. Instead I celebrate Saturnalia, with a bit of Yule thrown in. You get all the same traditions, just a bit less watered down and commercialised. I grant you it is hard to find cards though...
So this item is both seasonal and (with any luck) timely. It details twelve items that mesh well with and are in some cases downright useful to the wandering photographer. Some will help you carry your kit, some will make it easier to use, and some will just keep you warm on a chilly night, while you try to shoot those pesky carol singers (tip: start with the one that's off-key...) My choices are generally Fuji-orientated, but many are generic or available in other fits (and sizes).
I've deliberately picked items that are all priced under a hundred pounds, and they vary from under ten to over eighty. In each case I have provided a link to one place where the item can be purchased. Some are the manufacturer's own websites, some, just to keep it simple, are Amazon UK. All the prices save one are quoted in sterling. Other retail outlets and currencies are of course available. When you've read through and gone "Oo", feel free to forward a link to this article to your long-suffering wife, husband, partner or the loved one of your choice with a little nudge in the right direction. Your gift to us will be double the normal readership.
Now read on and hum along to the Twelve Days Of Christmas (you won't get it out of your head for days, so be thankful I didn't pick "Merry Christmas Everybody”).
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, A BILLINGHAM AVEA 5 (£54, Billingham)
You can't go wrong with something from Billingham. You can spend hundreds on the bags themselves, but you can also get some really handy bargains. If you already have a Hadley Pro, Hadley Digital, F-Stop or L2 bag the AVEA5 is a useful addition, and attaches to one end by sturdy leather straps. It's a padded pouch made to the same high standards as the bags themselves and is available in a range of colours and fabrics to match. It will easily swallow an X100T or even an X-Pro2 with the 27mm "pancake" attached. It's also useful as a multi-purpose belt pouch, and will carry 'phone, passport, Leuchtturm notebook and the like with ease.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, A ZENDURE A2 POWER BANK (£28.31, Amazon)
It's a curse of modern life (and a first-world problem, let's be honest) - your 'phone or camera dies, you are miles from a power socket and Elvis rides past on a unicorn... There are loads of portable power choices at all price points and capacities but I've selected this 6700mAh one from Zendure for a number of reasons. It's about the best I've found offering a good balance between portability and power. It's robust and built to last and unusually allows you to charge it while it's charging - more useful than you might think. It also keeps it's charge for a long time. It's not a real substitute for a spare battery but I do use it to top up my X100T and GR as well as my 'phone and I wouldn't leave home without it. Get it in silver and people might think you have a teeny, tiny RIMOWA case.
As I have got older, although I have kept my hair (thanks Granddad) I've appreciated more and more the benefits of a good hat. In the Summer, when the Sun beats down (I mean overseas, of course...) it's a hemp TILLEY but in the winter I tend to turn to Messrs. Stetson, who of course have been around for a bit - since 1865, I believe. They aren't quite James Lock, of course, but they are very good at what they do.
The hat I have chosen here is their Hatteras cap complete with a nifty polartec earflap which can be tucked up inside when not needed. Caps like these have three great advantages. Firstly they are not designed to be worn by baseball players so nobody will mistake you for a Trump supporter. Secondly the peak serves to keep your spectacles dry and glare-free and thirdly, unlike trilby and fedora type hats with a 360-degree brim, you can turn it back to front to get the peak out of the way for vertical shooting. The Stetson is well made, warm and stylish; I fancy myself a cross between Michael Corleone and Thomas Shelby when wearing mine. I also stuff a lens cleaning cloth up into the front, where there is a void. Peaky Wipers...?
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, An OHYO BAG to carry stuff in (£79.00, Ohyo)
I freely admit to being an Ohyo fan; I have the Mark 1 and Mark 2 bags (as well as a couple of their clever collapsible bottles) and admire both the design flair and the practicality of their products. The Mark 2 bag is slightly bigger than its predecessor and therefore a bit more practical; it will swallow a Billingham Hadley insert and zip up, and makes light work of a laptop. Mine is now my non-work everyday carry together with a Hadley Small insert (which leaves room for my spectacle case and a folding umbrella). I love the look on the faces of shop assistants when I turn down the offer of a 5p carrier and convert my Ohyo messenger to "tote" mode, immediately rendering it large enough to swallow even a well-folded overcoat with ease.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, FIVE SHOULDER PADS (£18.71, Amazon)
Ah shoulder pads. Beloved of the ladies of "Dynasty" back in the style-free 1980s, they are now more associated with making heavy loads easier to carry. There are many very good ones on the market, including the Domke USPO and the Billingham SP range but I have gone here for something altogether cheaper and more stocking-fillery.
I genuinely have one short of half a dozen of these things, in different colours. They are well made and padded, and stay on your shoulder. In the UK we have been clobbered in recent months by the plummeting pound, so they now come in at a little less bargain nineteen quid, but are still worth a look.
I struggle to understand why anyone would consider using a camera without a thumbrest. They transform handling of the slippery bricks that some manufacturers regard as good design and even help with otherwise ergonomic bodies like the Fuji X-Series. They can be purchased for a couple of quid these days - if you want a cheapy-cheap badly made one that might damage the hotshoe of your camera.
I have nothing but praise for the good people of Lensmate, who produce well-made and innovative add-ons for a range of cameras. The folding model shown here was designed specifically for the X-Pro2 when it's designers fiendishly rearranged some of the buttons from the X-Pro1. It is a little design marvel and a joy to use. I confess I will even flick it back and forth occasionally just to hear that slick "snick" as it snaps into place.
There are lots of magazines out there to choose from, both print and online. I have selected Black and White Photography magazine because it is by far the best of the bunch. Even (or especially) if you have not mastered mono as a discipline it is an inspirational and informative journal, with sparky contributors and mouthwatering, moody monochrome imagery all helmed each month by the estimable Elizabeth Roberts.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, A FISH BONE MINI QUICK RELEASE (£13.96, Amazon)
If like me you have an Arca Swiss compatible camera or baseplate you will be familiar with the security and stability that the mount offers when attached to a suitable head.
Thing is such heads can be decidedly un-cheap and bulky, which is why I would like to bring to your attention the little "fish bone" quick release plate from Neewer. To be fair, "quick" is slightly misleading since release itself involves the turning of a knurled (and beautifully dampened) knob but it is a solid addition to your support network (geddit?)
Small enough to slide into the corner of a gadget bag or a pocket, I use mine with my Minox tabletop tripod and X-Pro2. Just be aware that it is 3/8"-threaded. It does come with a screw-on converter to take it to 1/4" but it's a bit on the soft and cheap side and is the only weak point in an otherwise well designed product. If you need the step down do yourself a favour and spend a couple of quid on a Manfrotto converter instead.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, A CABLE FOR CANON SPEEDLITES (£11.99, Amazon)
Now, not a lot of people know this, but the pin positioning on a Fuji X-Series hotshoe is identical to that used by Canon for their Speedlites. Just to be crystal clear this does NOT mean that Canon flashguns are compatible with Fuji cameras, but it does mean that you can compensate for Fuji not offering a native off-camera flash cable by using one designed for Canon. I am to flash photography what Boris Johnson is to sartorial elegance, so I have gone for this generic version. It does the job very well indeed for the 2 or three times a year I actually use a flash.
On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, A BUFF with a thousand uses (£13.44, Amazon)
Ah, a Buff. You either have no idea whatsoever just what I am talking about, or you already have several and need no convincing. For the benefit of the unconverted here's a little moving picture show: https://youtu.be/ewVEK-AElDY As you can see they are jolly useful for keeping your head and neck warm but that's just the start. They come in sundry weights and fabrics, including a polartec-lined version. It's the fabric equivalent of Play-doh; it's a neck warmer, a bandana, a sweat rag, a face mask, a bandana, a hat... More fundamentally for the photographic community it's a lens cleaner and wrap, a hand warmer, a divider and padding. I have two myself, as has the dog - yes, they do special dog-sized ones. He had one before I did...
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, A tough PARACORD WRIST STRAP (£6.99, Cordweaver)
I have, and have had, more shoulder and wrist straps than Jabba the Hutt has had hot dinners. I could have written this whole article on them, in fact, but the 29 Days of Christmas didn't quite have the same ring to it. I have a personal penchant for braided leather neck straps, because they are not only strong yet supple (once broken in) they stay put on your shoulder, "breathe" in hot weather and grip well when wrapped a couple of times around your wrist.
When it comes to wrist straps I've tried 'em all. The posh leather ones and the cheap cord ones. Even the snakeskin ones that rip the teeny tiny hairs from your wrist - ideal for the fashion-conscious masochistic photographer. No, the ideal combination of virtually indestructible strength and soft flexibility is provided by paracord. This particular version is the product of a small UK company named Cordweaver. It's almost unbelievably cheap. Put it on and you forget it is there, but if you fumble or drop your camera it will come into its own. Worth every single penny and more, and if ever you find yourself needing to abseil down the odd cliff unexpectedly on the homeward commute you can unpick it and lower yourself down with ease.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, The BEST KINDLE BOOK OF THE YEAR (£3.00, Amazon Kindle)
I apologise for the shameless self-publicity, but it had to be done. F8 and Been There is my first Kindle book and certainly won't be my last. It has been generally well received, with good reviews and press coverage - I'm even on BBC radio talking about it next week. If you don't follow Macfilos regularly, or me on Twitter or Instagram, or indeed have been under a stone since September you might not know that it is a guide book written for photographers, covering ten cities with useful information about what kit to take and what's worth seeing and shooting. When you are sitting there on Christmas afternoon trying to avoid your granny with the hairy upper lip and the Strictly Christmas special on the telly, retire quietly with your Kindle and use it to plan your first city break of 2017.
There you go. Something for (almost) everybody, at (almost) every price point. All you have to do now is choose and communicate, then cross your fingers for Christmas morning...