This post details a compact, yet extremely high quality, two camera setup for urban shooting. When we refer to “urban shooting” we’re referring to a combination of street photography and architectural photography. This camera setup is for the shooter who is wandering and shooting handheld, but who also stops to set up a tripod and create images with more finesse and grandeur than just the snapshot style street photo.
Urban shooting poses many challenges. Without question, stealth is a benefit to the urban shooter and creating a camera rig that can be worn in a pack without drawing attention to oneself is a benefit. Less attention means less gear, and less gear means less weight to lug around all day, leaving life in your legs for tomorrow’s adventure.
Let’s chat for a moment about the vessel. For this rig, we’ve chosen the Timbuk2 Espionage camera bag. This bag has plenty of space in the lower compartment for two cameras and 4 small lenses, plus it has external carrying straps for a tripod. But, most importantly, this bag doesn’t look like a camera bag. Meaning that without the tripod attached, you can pass completely unnoticed as a photographer. With the tripod attached, it’s still so stealthy that you’re likely to be mistaken for just a student or tourist rather than a serious photographer. The Espionage also has a slot for your laptop, which means this bag functions well as your carry on bag while flying. But please … leave the laptop back at the hotel. We’re rolling light here.
Anyone who has used this camera - or its high resolution a7r sibling - will tell you that the Sony Alpha series is nothing short of revolutionary. The benefits are endless … a full frame sensor, quick and accurate autofocus, logical menus, compact size, and terrific Carl Zeiss Lenses. For this rig, we’ve added the Really Right Stuff L-Plate. This is an essential addition as it allows quick coupling to the tripod both horizontally and vertically. And, as expected from Really Right Stuff, the build quality is phenomenal.
Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 4/16-35 ZA by Carl Zeiss
The 16-35mm ZA lens is the essential lens for this setup and should be considered the foundation of this kit. This lens thrills with its 16mm performance for interiors and architecture, and easily zooms to 35mm for street shooting.
Sony Sonnar T* FE 1,8/55 ZA by Carl Zeiss
This is the perfect street photography lens, especially for those who don’t want to spend the money on the Leica - our second camera system.
Obviously the Leica is priced as a luxury item. But that said, it is the best street photography camera in the world. For those of you who can (or can’t but are willing to anyway) invest in a Leica M camera, you’ll be rewarded by the improvement in your photographic craft you’ll gain by using the optical rangefinder. For those of you who are unwilling to invest in the Leica system, consider carrying a second a7 body - possibly a different variation. For example, use the a7II with the 55mm for street photography and the a7r with the 16-35 on the tripod.
Again, on this camera, we’ve mounted a Really Right Stuff L-Plate, this time with the optional hand grip. The handgrip vastly improves the feel of this camera in the hand and provides increased security against dropping (so much so, that we were comfortable removing the camera strap).
LEICA ELMARIT-M 28mm f/2.8 ASPH
The 28mm Elmarit-M is physically the most compact lens for the Leica M camera. It’s tiny! But, optically, it’s also fantastic and the 28mm focal length works great for interiors and street photography alike. Plus, the 28mm gives a slightly wider perspective than the ubiquitous (and overused) 35mm focal length on a Leica.
Any Leica 50…
For this kit we’re using the LEICA SUMMICRON-M 50mm f/2. But honestly, any Leica 50mm you can afford will be amazing. They’re all great. This lens is duplicated by the 55mm on camera #1. So if you’re rolling with two a7 bodies, you can swap this for another lens to fill out your kit.
Filters will serve two distinct purposes in this system, so let’s consider the two separately. Camera #1 serves the purpose of being our “tripod” camera, typically mounted with the 16-35 for those “big” shots. Therefore we’ve assigned our Formatt-Hitech 100mm holder system to this camera. Rather than choosing all glass or all resin filters, we’re using a combination of Firecrest glass ND filters plus resin grads. This gives us the most rugged and economical combination of filters available.
We’re using the Firecrest ND filters for our solid NDs. This is because Firecrest are the most neutral ND filters in the world, and we’re using darker densities that might suffer from a slight color cast in resin. We use the NDs for two reasons, to clear out busy areas of people and to create long exposure effects in clouds. Our choice for NDs:
Resin ND Grads
We love resin ND grads. Even with all the hype surrounding Firecrest NDs, resin ND grads are still a perfect choice for many applications. Yes, Firecrest NDs are perfectly neutral at the darkest densities. But … grads aren’t very dark at all. So resin is a great choice for many shooters. It’s inexpensive, tough as nails, available in a bunch of varieties (hard, soft, reverse, blender), and optically transparent. Our choice for grads:
We’re using the Formatt-Hitech 100mm holder system with the rear spacer and one filter stage removed to ensure that the 16-35 does not vignette at the widest setting. We’ve also reversed the screws to ensure that any excess screw faces rearward, again eliminating the chance of a specular vignette. We’ve also chosen the wide angle adapter ring.
Our filtering solution for camera #2 is quite simple. We’re using a 3 stop ND filter threaded directly onto the lens so that we can shoot our fast 50mm or 55mm lens wide open in bright daylight. This gives us the a shallow depth of field effect and the maximum bokeh.
Our choice for tripod is the Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Tripod with BH-30 LR Ballhead. This is the smallest full-sized tripod available from Really Right Stuff, so it suits this rig perfectly. Yes, we could have chosen a larger or beefier tripod, but this small tripod fits unobtrusively onto the side of our Timbuk2 Espionage bag, weighs virtually nothing, and yet, it still has the lever release top plate making camera swaps a breeze. Like the Sony and the Leica, this tripod has top shelf quality packed into a more compact package.
Other Goodies & Leave Behinds
Often times, it’s better to leave things behind in the car or in your hotel room. Just because it came on the trip, doesn’t mean it needs to be carried all day. Examples - battery chargers, laptop, spare hard drives. Separate these items into a different bag or your luggage once you’ve arrived and don’t bother to lug them around. Some nice things to include in your kit during the day are sunscreen, sunglasses, a top layer for those chilly sunset shots, and an iPad mini with your SmugMug portfolio gallery downloaded, so if you get chatting to someone you can share your previous work. This is especially helpful if you’re trying to gain access to a location.
This Grad Kit contains the most commonly used densities of the Soft Edge Neutral Density filter - 1-3 stops (0.3, 0.6 & 0.9). Soft Edge ND grads feature a neutral gray effect at the top of the filter that gradually transitions to clear at the center of the filter. The main function of a graduated ND is to balance the luminosity of the sky to the terrain below. The soft edge grad is the most popular and most versatile grad we make because it’s easy to blend the gradual transition into an undulating horizon. Formatt-Hitech filters are made from the highest quality 1.5mm optical resin.