In My Bags – by Robert Caplin

Robert Caplin Robert Caplin is a full-time freelance editorial, corporate, and portrait photographer based in New York City and is founder and co-editor of Photo Brigade. He’s a regular contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal, and his work has been published in National Geographic, Sports Illustrated and Vanity Fair, among others. Robert is a graduate from Ohio University’s renowned School of Visual Communication.

I’ve accumulated tons of gear over the past seven years or so I’ve been freelancing in NYC. Back when I used to shoot a lot more sporting events, I switched from Nikon to Canon. That was back in the days when the companies were significantly leapfrogging each other in terms of digital technology on a regular basis. Over the years I’ve bought and sold my gear as I’ve refined what works best for my photography.

Robert Caplin gear

My general assignment and documentary bag, simple and light.

I try to keep my main kit very light so I can stealthily and painlessly move around the city and my subjects. I love prime lenses and generally shoot most of my assignments with a very small kit consisting of a Canon 5D Mark II, 24 1.4, 50 1.2, 85 1.2, and a 135 2. I generally carry this particular kit around in either a Domke F-5XB (more shallow) or a Think Tank Retrospective 5 (a bit deeper), which are two of the smallest and most reliable bags in my opinion. This kit is perfect for the documentary and travel work I shoot the most of. I very rarely carry a flash with me unless I know I’m shooting a portrait…and even when I do bring the flash, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll use it.

I also use a Leica M9, a wonderfully small full-frame digital camera with a 35 1.4 Summilux and a 90 2.5. It’s a great camera, super stealth, silent, and makes a crisp image. It’s great for travel, but the gear is just super expensive. Eventually I’d like to own Leica lenses similar to my Canon setup of primes, but that’ll take some time due to the prices.

In addition to the kit I mentioned above, I have a handful of additional lenses I’ve picked up over the years for various purposes. The two lenses I use the very least are the Canon 16-35 2.8 and the Canon 70-200 2.8. They’re both solid lenses, but I feel the L-series prime lenses are much sharper, smaller, and encourage me to move around to fill my frame versus using the zoom as a crutch and holding your position. I believe that the more a photographer moves their ass, the more unique compositions are made. They do have their uses, though, so I’ve opted to keep them in the gear closet for those occasions when I need the extra width or length, especially when paired with a teleconverter.

Robert Caplin gear

Full range of cameras and lenses I use. Holga at bottom right.

I also use a few tilt/shift lenses (45mm and 90mm) for various architecture shoots and time-lapses. The shift function is great when shooting buildings especially, so you can correct that “leaning building” distortion you get when shooting up at a building. I’ll often use the tilt functions of those lenses when I’m shooting time-lapses to create that signature miniature effect. These lenses are really stunning when used properly, but they should be used minimally, or they can become gimmicky.

I have three different lighting kits I generally use for portraits. Like I said before, I try to use as little artificial lighting as possible, so if I can make a portrait using natural light, I always do.

Robert Caplin gear

My small systems lighting bag for on the fly portraits.

The first kit is my smallest and is made up of Canon Speedlites, translucent umbrellas that can act as soft boxes, two small light stands, and a wireless transmitter to fire the strobes. This kit is nice because it is generally easy to lug around in a small bag on my back and is quite light.

When I have a shoot that requires a little more lighting magic, I have an Acute B2 kit that I carry in a Think Tank Airport International Roller. This kit is great because it’s the smallest, battery powered kit Profoto makes and it works with all of their lighting heads (thought this unit can only fire one head at a time). In the bag I carry the battery pack, one head, a Profoto Acute D4 Ring Flash, PocketWizard transceivers, and various wires, batteries, and usually a reflector in the outside pocket of the bag. Depending on the shoot, I’ll bring various modifiers ranging from soft boxes, a beauty dish, umbrella, etc. The Profoto B2 has a surprisingly long battery life for the size and power it puts out.

Robert Caplin gear

My slightly larger lighting kit with a battery powered Acute B2 kit.

Then, when I know I’m heading into a studio situation or a higher-end location shoot where I know I’ll need extra lighting power, multiple heads, and modifiers, I’ll bring my largest lighting kit, the Profoto Acute 2R 1200, which I carry in my Think Tank Airport Security Roller. This kit contains the power brick, 3 heads, sometimes I’ll throw in the ring light, the power cord (this pack plugs into AC power), PocketWizards, cords, and other odds and ends. Additionally I’ll bring various modifiers as in the smaller kit, so usually I’ll have an assistant for these shoots as all the gear can be quite cumbersome and difficult to lug around the city.

Robert Caplin gear

My largest location and studio lighting kit with a Profoto Acute2R 1200 kit.

Lastly, I have an additional Airport Security Roller bag that I carry my time-lapse and additional grip gear within. This kit has various tools such as magic arms, super clamps, safety cables, a mechanical rotating tripod head (originally built for telescope star tracking) that is great for super slow, smooth panning over a long period of time. I also carry a Canon intervalometer, Pocket Wizard Transceivers (which have intervalometer modes), extra batteries, etc.

Robert Caplin gear

Time-lapse/ grip kit.

Robert Caplin gear

Various tripods, light stands, heads, magic arms, monopod, and clamps.

Robert Caplin gear

Various lighting modifiers: beauty dish, grids, zoom reflectors, umbrellas, and soft boxes.

Occasionally I’ll shoot some video, whether it be behind-the-scenes with Justin Bieber, an event, or a multimedia story. For those occasions I have a small toiletry bag from Walmart I fill with my Bose IE-2 headphones, a two Sennheiser MKE400 hot shoe microphones, a Sony UTX-B2 wireless lavaliere kit, and a BeachTek DXA-SLR that allows me to monitor the sound, adjust audio levels, and plug additional audio inputs into my camera.

Robert Caplin gear

Audio/video kit.

Lastly, when I’m traveling or have an assignment that requires me to transmit images on site, I’ll bring along my trusty Think Tank Retrospective 7 shoulder bag (which I previously reviewed). In it I typically carry my normal kit along with an Apple 11″ MacBook Air and often my iPad, especially when I’m on a long flight. This bag is truly great as it fits all the gear I usually carry and also fits both the Air and iPad with ease.

Think Tank Retrospective 7

Think Tank Retrospective 7, a camera bag I use when I need to bring a laptop and/or iPad.

Here’s the complete list of gear:

Bags
- (x2) Think Tank Airport Security
- Think Tank Airport International
- Manfrotto tripod bag (39.3x 9.1×7.8”)
- Manfrotto tripod bag (31.5×5.9”)
- Domke F-5XB
- Think Tank Retrospective 5
- Think Tank Retrospective 7
- Tenba Beauty Dish bag

Cameras
- Leica M9
- (x2) Canon 5d Mark II

Lenses
- Leica 35 1.4 Summilux
- Canon 24mm f/1.4L
- Canon 135mm f/2L
- Canon 50mm f/1.2L 
- Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L
- Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8
- Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8
- Canon 85mm f/1.2L
- Canon 70-200 2.8
- Canon Extender EF 1.4x III

Lighting
- Profoto Acute2r 1200 kit
- Profoto AcuteB2 kit
- Profoto Acute D4 Ring Flash
- Profoto Magnum
- Profoto Soft Light White
- (x2) Profoto Zoom Reflector
- Profoto Softbox
- (x2) Canon Speedlite 580EX
- Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2
- Chimera Super Pro Plus XXS softbox
- (x2) Micro Lightpanel
- PocketWizard Plus receiver/transmitter
- PocketWizard MultiMAX
- Photoflex MultiDisc 5’n 1 reflector
- (x2) Impact 33” White Translucent Umbrellas

Tripods, Monopods, Grips
- (x2) Manfrotto 1052BAC
- Manfrotto 1051BAC
- Manfrotto Monopod 3218K
- Manfrotto Prostand
- Manfrotto 3397B
- Manfrotto Grip
- Gitzo Carbon Tripod
- Manfrotto 322RC2 head
- Manfrotto 501HDV video head
- Manfrotto 468MGRC2 Ball head

Audio
- BeachTek DXA-SLR
- (x2) Sennheiser MKE400
- Sony UTX-B2
- Bose IE-2 headphones

Accessories
- Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket
- Think Tank AA Battery Holder
- Canon TC-80N3 Timer Remote Controller
- Orion Starquest
- Energizer 15 Minute Charger

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3 Responses to “In My Bags – by Robert Caplin”

  1. [...] In My Bags – by Robert Caplin (Photo Brigade) [...]

  2. [...] ever been a freelancer. Among many other responsibilities, that means I’ve had to purchase my own gear, worry where my next paycheck would come from, think about health/gear insurance, my retirement [...]

  3. [...] ever been a freelancer. Among many other responsibilities, that means I’ve had to purchase my own gear, worry where my next paycheck would come from, think about health/gear insurance, my retirement [...]