Gear Update: My Blogging Setup

26 comments

Gear Update: My Blogging Setup

I’ve had a few people ask what equipment I use for blogging so I thought this would be a good time to break down my setup. After 18 months of travel, I’ve ditched a few items that weren’t as useful as I’d hoped. I carry more gear than most travelers would need but with working from the road and doing so much photography, I can’t really get by with a lighter load.

Digital Gear:

My 2-year-old 13″ MacBook Pro is still holding up well, despite very heavy use and and a fair amount of all-out abuse. It’s starting to show its age a bit — Lightroom does bog down a hair while slinging around 18MB RAW files, but I think it should last me another year or two. The new Macbook Air laptops look tempting but I need the extra hard drive space to handle photos and video. (And I can’t afford one anyway).

The Booq Vyper Case has proved to be well worth the money, protecting my laptop from dings and scratches as well as saving it from spilled drinks on at least two occasions. It’s taken a real battering and looks nearly new (or it would, probably, if I bothered to wash it).

I carry 2 1 TB External Hard Drives with me. One has a bootable clone of my laptop OS and serves as my Time Capsule backup (I try to backup my system once a week). The second one is my external photo storage, where I backup my images when they start to overwhelm my laptop. As this fills up, I’ll probably have to add a third. Both are USB-powered so I don’t have to carry extra power adapters.

I picked up a couple of Cases at Best Buy for less than $10 each and carry both in a small Dry Sack for added safety. One of these sacks houses the various cords, plugs and chargers.

A Logitech Wireless Mouse is a must for me when working in Photoshop or Lightroom and a cheap USB charger keeps the batteries charged (I get about 2-3 weeks of use between charges).

I got this Belkin Mini Surge Protector for free at a trade show and it’s been extremely handy, allowing me to charge my laptop, camera batteries, video camera and iPhone all from one plug. The surge protection gives an added sense of protection, which is handy when you’re in a remote place that uses a generator to power the lights.

A new addition, the iPad 2 is proving to be incredibly useful. In the past I used my dying iPhone 3G mostly for email, note-taking, reading and checking my blog stats. The iPad does all of this and more and offers a solid 10 hours of battery time, which will come in handy on long bus rides. The larger keyboard size should allow me to actually write posts while in transit, rather than just making notes.

Photo Gear:

I love my Canon EOS Rebel T2i — shooting a pro-quality full-frame DSLR with high-end lenses would be great but this is the camera I can afford now and it’s treated me well. It’s fast, takes sharp 18 megapixel images and has surprisingly good low-light capabilities. After nine months of heavy use it’s still problem free and I hope to get much more work out of it before upgrading to a newer model.

I passed on purchasing the 18-55 kit lens, having started the trip with one and finding it too soft, and picked up a Canon 18-135mm Lens which has proved to be my everyday walk-around lens. It’s pretty sharp for a consumer lens and the range is ideal for everything from wide-angle landscapes to sneaking a candid shot from across the street. Again, a pro lens would certainly improve the quality of my shots but for the money it’s a solid lens.

I also carry a 55-250mm Telephoto Zoom Lens but I rarely break it out, despite the fact that it’s a good lens. I hope to give it more of a workout in the jungles and forests of Central America.

Although I own a quality Gitzo tripod with a great ballhead mount, I don’t travel with it due to the 6-pound weight. Instead I use a cheap Slik Mini II Tripod that I bought used for $25. Sure, it’s somewhat wobbly and slow to setup but it also weighs less than 2 pounds. Someday I hope to upgrade to a lightweight carbon tripod but for now, the Slik gets the job done.

For wet weather, I carry a 10L Dry Sack that I bought in Laos. It rolls up into a small package for packing and came in very handy when I was shooting the Songkran Water Festival in Chiang Mai.

The Flip MinoHD Video Camera has been fun to play with but I really haven’t got much real use out of it. Due to the odd shape, I find it hard to hold steady and the resulting footage tends to be shaky. I hope to shoot more video with the Canon DSLR but its slow auto-focus is taking some getting used to.

Gear that I’m Leaving Behind:

I thought that bringing an extra battery for my Macbook would be a great idea but in practice it rarely works out. The main problem is that since the battery has to be in the laptop to charge, you can only charge one at a time. This usually happens while I’m asleep, so unless I want to wake up in the middle of the night and swap batteries, battery #2 is almost always dead.

I’ve carried a small audio recorder for the last year and a half, thinking I’d make some high-quality recordings of local musicians and such but the opportunity rarely presents itself and since I haven’t been shooting as much video as I’d planned, I haven’t really needed it. Sure it only weighs a few ounces, but it is one more thing to worry about losing or breaking.

I packed a small USB hub but have rarely used it — apparently I’m not the power user that I thought I was.

I carry most of this with me every day and yes, it weighs a ton (over 10 pounds) — my shoulders get quite the workout. The tripod and dry bag stay in the room with the main pack, as does one of the hard drives but the rest I can’t afford to lose so I lug it from place to place. It’s not an ideal solution, but it beats worrying about theft.

So that’s my gear list. What would you add or leave at home?

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave August 30, 2011 at 4:36 am

You walk around daily with a backpack containing your laptop and camera? I know there’s a chance your room can get robbed, but I think there’s an even greater chance you could get robbed on the street of your daypack! At least here in South America.

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wes August 30, 2011 at 4:37 am

Yeah, damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Asia was pretty safe mugging-wise. Not sure how I’m going to deal with central and south america…

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Dave August 30, 2011 at 4:45 am

Troy has managed to carry around his uber expensive photo gear in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia without issue.

One thing I highly recommend…get insurance! On the recommendation of The Road Forks, I bought an annual international property policy through Clements. To insure the total cost of my stuff ($5,000), I’m paying $149. I was surprised how cheap it was, and the application process is online, fast, and easy.

Plus, unlike other policies I saw, there’s no lack of coverage in a country if it’s on the USA State Dept Warning List.

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Dave August 30, 2011 at 4:46 am

Here’s their site: https://www.clements.com

T-roy August 30, 2011 at 7:00 am

Wes: yeah I have been carrying almost $15k worth of stuff in Latin America but one thing I don’t do is take it out unless I’m for sure using it 100% of the time. I never got any night shots while in Ecuador for example bc it was just to risky to have that gear out at night. Now in Cartagena, Colombia I walked around with my tripod and big camera at 10pm at night but it was a tourist zone so I “felt” safe enough to do that.

For latin America though, I wouldn’t be carrying around the laptop for sure. Not really going to do you that much good bc in Asia WiFi is everywhere, Latin America is still catching up. The camera, carry when you know your going somewhere to shoot, then leave it safely in the room if not. Yeah i miss some great photo moments but it’s better then replacing a $5K camera set-up.

Yeah, that insurance Dave is talking about is pretty cheap. For almost $15k worth of stuff it came out to like $1.10 USD per-day. Which isn’t bad if you know your going to be in Latin America for a while.

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wes September 1, 2011 at 1:40 am

Thanks for the tips and info, Troy. Hoping to bump into you eventually.

Diana August 30, 2011 at 5:16 am

Very useful update. Your photos are so beautiful: you work that Rebel well!

Just one Q: Did you need to purchase any electrical adaptors?

@Dave: Thanks for the Clements recommendation.

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Cailin August 30, 2011 at 5:23 am

I have recently started traveling with a tripod and it annoys me so much sometimes! I’m surprised that you leave yours in the room most times. Do you only use it when you have a plan ahead of time? I fear that I will need it if I don’t bring it so now I take it everywhere. It makes a great difference in my videos but it still annoys the heck out of me haha

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Caanan @ No Vacation Required August 30, 2011 at 8:05 am

Just updated from the 13″ MBP to an 11″ MacBook Air. I have had my eyes on the MBA for some time, but can tell you that it was worth the wait. This computer is awesome.

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Dave August 30, 2011 at 8:32 am

I can vouch for the new MBA 13″, my first Mac too! It has been a real pleasure to travel with so far.

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Dan August 30, 2011 at 8:26 am

Great gear list! Saw it on twitter….You are right up my alley sir, on your feed like white on rice! :D

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Ayngelina August 31, 2011 at 4:20 am

Also worth mentioning most of Latin America uses same pronged outlet as North America. Don’t buy in advance for countries that dont as They have them everywhere for a quarter. Also no need to convert power as voltage is the same.

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wes September 1, 2011 at 1:39 am

Thanks for the tip. I, too, have always just picked up an adapter in the target country — cheap as chips, as you say.

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Bryan August 31, 2011 at 7:58 am

That little Belkin charger looks really cool! Also, I can reinforce what someone else said about getting insurance on your gear. Generally it’s not too expensive up front and it can save you a ton later when you really need to replace something.

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Steve August 31, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Curious about the leave-behind pack back at your room. I’ve used a metal-wire mesh net to wrap around my pack and lock something, but it is a real pain to pull over all the straps and clasps on my bag. Do you use something like this? What is your method for protecting the stuff in your room?

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wes September 1, 2011 at 1:37 am

I tried the PacSafe too and found it to be a pain to use as well. Now I carry a canvas duffel and stuff everything in it and lock it shut. Doesn’t prevent outright theft but it keeps the staff honest.

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Nomadic Samuel September 5, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Wes, that’s an impressive list of gear. Have you considered possibly selling your two lenses and purchasing an 18-200 or 18-250mm? I find having my all purpose lens invaluable since it covers every focal range I could possibly need & paired with a cheapo 50mm 1.8 (for portraits, walk around night photography, museums, creative shots, etc) makes for a great tag-team.

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Mack Reynolds September 8, 2011 at 3:36 am

Sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate. That macbook case seems really handy too. I’d like something tough like that.

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wes September 8, 2011 at 3:59 am

It’s a workhorse, but fairly heavy at 4 pounds (plus charger, etc)

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Shen September 22, 2011 at 6:54 am

I’m personally lugging around a Toshiba Portege M900 and an iPad…
After 2 months of traveling, I’m starting to think it’s actually enough to
just bring an iPad

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Sarah Wu November 14, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I have the same camera you got. I love Canon too :)

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Hayley November 26, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Did you need an adaptor for Vietnam or are the plug points the same as the states?

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Diana November 26, 2011 at 3:28 pm

@Hayley: I am currently in Vietnam. If your plug is only two pronged, you’ll be fine in most places. Three pronged plugs will need an adaptor.

I was fortunate to get a grant that paid for a Macbook Air. It’s a bit sluggish while editing video on FCP, but when my boyfriend joined me for several weeks carrying his MacBook Pro, it felt like a tombstone. The MacAir is amazingly zippy.

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wes November 28, 2011 at 1:03 am

Thanks for the assist, Diana :)

Yeah, I’m torn between the Air and the MBP. Hopefully I can hold off for awhile still and by then Apple will have ditched the DVD drive from the MBP…

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Mike November 27, 2011 at 5:29 am

Wes, we are starting our RTW trip in under 2 months. Starting to make my necessary tech purchases, and had a specific question about your HD set up. Can you give any specifics/process on how you set up the first of your HDs to be a bootable back up of your laptop? Is that all the data + programs? can you then boot a internet cafe computer off that HD? or if you lost/broke/fried your laptop you would use that HD to reformat the new computer and create a clone? Thanks for any insights and advice on that specific section.

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wes November 28, 2011 at 1:06 am

I run a Mac, so I used Carbon Copy Cloner to create a clone on a partition of my external HD. If my HD in my laptop acts up or the system crashers, I can boot from the external to –hopefully– fix the problem. Or, if not, I can copy it all over to a new machine and –again, hopefully– go on as if nothing happened. On my second drive I have a weekly backup of my laptop that is updated using Mac’s Time Machine function…

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