With all the gadgets on the market, it’s tough to decide what kind of gear is going to make your life easier when you hit the road. That’s why I headed from Los Angeles to Aspen, spending four days driving through as many national parks as I could handle while road testing some of my favorite gear. From the desert to the mountains, let’s discover some of this season’s best products.
I don’t want to go too far down a camera-discussion rabbit hole, so suffice it to say that on this trip, my go-to cameras were the DJI Phantom 4, GoPro 4 Black, Ricoh Theta S, a Canon AE-1, and DJI’s Osmo X3. With all the drone restrictions popping up across the country, I actually found it pretty hard to drone anywhere. Now that it’s expressly forbidden in National Parks, a lot of the areas that would be interesting to drone along this particular route are off-limits. With private property also being a no-go, that leaves a lot of boring open desert to shoot — and with temperatures pushing 112 °F for most of this trip, standing around in the desert and droning wasn’t very enticing. Of course, we did still manage to get a few flights in here are there.
The Osmo is great for everything in between (especially when you can’t fly). The Osmo helps capture stabilized video while on foot and in the car via an extremely compact package. I generally prefer the Osmo to the GoPro, but certain situations — like activities on the water — will have you stowing it in favor of a more robust solution. If the weather gets inclement, I’ve been loving OP/TECH’s disposable rain cover, which can help in a pinch.
The DJI Osmo X3
I also still love to shoot film, and one of the easiest 35mm cameras to obtain and use is Canon’s AE-1 Program, which helps you expose properly with an incorporated light meter. My particular AE-1 has horrible light leaks that create a certain authenticity and nostalgia that I like when photographing special moments, so I always bring it along to add a little extra magic.
Petrified National Forest, Arizona
I encourage everyone to keep shooting a little bit of film, because it helps teach you to pull back when shooting digital and really focus on each image. Plus, developing film isn’t getting any cheaper, so every shot really counts. The best part? No batteries to recharge!
My favorite travel tripod is the Benro Aero4 Travel Angel. This relatively inexpensive tripod has a decent fluid head, so it can be used for both still and video. It packs down small enough to throw in a carry-on or to hike with, and overall is relatively light. As an added bonus, the Aero4’s center column can be removed and used as a monopod, and the legs are easy to deploy and manipulate with just one hand.
The Aero4 with an NX1 and iPhone 6
My one complaint is that the head doesn’t offer variable friction to help fine-tune panning and tilting, but for the price, it can’t be beat. I may soon replace it with Benro’s newer Photo Hybrid, which caught my eye while researching this piece.
A GoPro selfie
When needed, I also employ the GorillaPod SLR for extra-fancy mounting, and a selfie-stick, because it’s obligatory these days. I have a smaller version of the GorillaPod (pictured below) that can help mount in even tighter situations. For the selfie stick, I’ve been loving PolarPro’s Powergrip H20, though I prefer the Light & Motion Sidekick LED to the one PolarPro offers. The Powergrip can hold either a phone or a GoPro, and it’s waterproof, so it’s useful in lots of different situations.
Since space wasn’t an issue on this trip, I brought all of my favorite bags and cases. When on foot, I’ve been enjoying Mountainsmith’s Descent Pack, a tidy sling that can carry a fair amount of gear for its size. I also like their Kit Cube Traveler (pictured below), which I normally keep extra lenses and accessories for the Phantom and Inspire in, but managed to squeeze a three-light kit into on this trip.
The Mountainsmith Descent Pack Somewhere in Utah
For the drones, I keep them in hard cases no matter what I’m doing (out of an abundance of caution). For the Phantom, I like the Case Pro Phantom 4 Carry-On, which is a wheeled case with a single-button retracting handle. It’s not great for hiking, but it provides adequate protection for most other situations. For the Inspire, I’ve been enjoying the large-ish Inspire Hard Case, which allows you to pack the aircraft in flight mode, thus avoiding the embarrassing travel mode snafu.
Getting ready to fly the Phantom in Ghost Rock, Utah
I recently ditched my strobes and switched to using only continuous lighting, mostly because I haven’t had the space to carry both strobes and video light on every trip — and also because I’ve finally found a solution that does the job. Light and Motion’s Stella Series are now my fixtures of choice.
A portable light kit
On this trip, I brought two 2000s and one 5000 — which put out, as the names suggest, 2,000 and 5,000 lumens of light, respectively. They’re completely waterproof and last for about two hours on their internal battery. I used them to aid in some foreground illumination for long exposure stills, which I still need to edit.
When you’re away from power, nothing delivers like Goal Zero’s Yeti Solar Generator. It comes in a few different sizes, none of which are pleasant to tote around, but it gets the job done. For a more portable solution, a new company called FuelBox just released a pretty neat product — it consists of a wall unit that docks magnetically with a portable battery module you can take with you for charging phones, tablets, or cameras on the go.
When in a car, I always carry a 600W inverter that can charge batteries when needed. Some companies have their own portable charging solutions — for example, DJI now offers a car charger for the Phantom batteries, though I found one on Amazon for a quarter of the cost that seems pretty reliable.
I’ve been using the Samsung T1 for the last year (now replaced by the Samsung T3) and absolutely love it. It’s smaller than a deck of cards and, in my experience, extremely fast, reliable, and safe. Two of these provide adequate backup solutions when you’re in the field with no power.
Downloading pics in the sticks
The more you travel, the more you’ll hone in on your own favorite products. I hope my experience has helped point you in the right direction. Do you have a product you love to travel with? Tell us in the comments below!