Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill


Brad Hill: Stuff I Use - Part III: Everything Else I Drag Into the Field!

REVISION POST DATE: 15 February 2023

A short-ish listing of other bits and pieces that are indispensible for me when I'm shooting in the field.

If you're looking for information about the cameras I use, you're in the wrong place! Go to "Stuff I Use - Part I: Cameras for that information. And, if you're looking for info on lenses and teleconverters I use - go to "Stuff I Use - Part II: Lenses & Teleconverters" for that.

This page contains:

1. Support Systems for Cameras and Lenses

2. Solutions for Carrying Gear

3. Additional Accessories and Gadgets

4. Outdoor Wear

1. Support Systems for Cameras and Lenses

I shoot primarily hand-held, but at times I do use tripods or inflatable pads to help support my cameras and/or lenses. I personally never use monopods. Here's some more details about the support systems I do use.

A. Tripods

Over the last decade the reduction in super-telephoto lens weight and the improvement of image stabilization systems of cameras and lenses have resulted in a dramatic drop in my use of tripods. Currently my primary use of tripods is when I am testing lenses or cameras (when I ALWAYS use them). When I am field shooting I use tripods for only a small proportion of the time. When wildlife shooting I use tripods only about 10% of the time (which is probably biased downwards somewhat to how often I shoot from Zodiacs where tripod use is impossible). When landscape shooting I use a tripod about 40% of the time, mostly to facilitate the use of low ISO's and the resulting slow shutter speeds (though the advent of better and better image stabilization systems is even decreasing how often I use tripods when shooting landscapes at 1/20s or even slower).

I currently own and use 4 tripods:

I. Jobu Killarney

This carbon fiber 3-section tripod is my most commonly-used tripod. While slightly shorter than my Jobu Algonquin tripod my camera's eyepiece sits at 160cm (63" in American) when all 3 legs are fully extended and I am using a gimbal head with it. Which means I have to bend down slightly to use it. But the vast majority of the time I am not using at full extension - so in practical terms it's tall enough for the majority of my use of it. I wouldn't describe this tripod (or my Jobu Algonquin) as "fancy" (or as "full featured?") as some of its competitors, but it's simple and solid, durable, light, came with the upper section padded, and reasonably priced. At the end of the day it's just there to support my super-telephoto lenses and it does just that just fine! The head I use most commonly with this tripod is a Jobu HD MkIV gimbal (see below for details).

II. Jobu Algonquin

This tripod is pretty much a clone of my Jobu Killarney, but taller. With my Algonquin my camera's eyepiece sits at 180 cm (71" in American) when all 3 legs are fully extended and I am using a gimbal head on it. Which puts me on my tippy toes to use it fully extended. Otherwise...same comments on this tripod as my Algonguin. The head I use most commonly with this tripod is a Jobu HD MkIV gimbal.


This 4-section carbon fibre tripod is my most compact tripod (yet it costs the most, as you'd expect from RRS!). If I'm likely to need a tripod in a shooting location I have to hike to, I will take this tripod. It's also the tripod I take on photo tours. This tripod is quite short, so it's not recommended for those who must stand up straight when using a tripod (but is sure is nice to hike with!). With this tripod I use one of two heads - a Jobu Jr. 3 Deluxe gimbal or an AcraTech GXP ballhead (see below for more details). If I'm being honest this tripod works just fine, but it felt very over-priced. 😠

IV. Gitzo GT2541EX Explorer

This is a specialty tripod where the centre column is on a pivot and allows you to position your camera at "odd" angles relative to the base of the tripod (the centre column can be at almost any angle relative to the 3 main support legs). This 4-section carbon fibre tripod excels for macro work (or anything else where you need to get down to ground level and/or at a very odd angle!). I use this tripod with an AcraTech GXP ballhead (see below for more details).

B. Tripod Heads

I currently own and use 3 tripod heads:

I. Jobu Heavy Duty Mk IV Gimbal

This is my largest gimbal head and I use it with my largest super-telephoto lenses (like a Z 400mm f2.8S or a Z 800mm f6.3S). I've used (and abused) this head for several years and it has done all I want it to - it holds my biggest lenses and allows them to move very smoothly when "loosened off" and supports them very firmly when "tightened down". Even though this is my largest gimbal, it's really not excessively heavy or over-built (like some other gimbals). Works just fine for me!

II. Jobu Jr. 3 Deluxe Gimbal

This is a small, light, yet very functional gimbal. It comes in at only 680 gm (1.5 lb) yet supports the biggest telephotos quite well. I would be lying if I said its movement was as smooth and silky as the Heavy Duty Mk IV gimbal. This is the gimbal I hike with and take on my photo tours (IF I am taking any gimbal while hiking or on a photo tour).

III. AcraTech GXP Ballhead

There's a limit to how much you can like something like a ballhead - right? Well, I like this ballhead THAT much! It's a fantastic design built with great materials and workmanship. And it works so, so, well (Look Ma, no sag!). This single ballhead works as a ballhead, a gimbal head, and a leveling panoramic head. And it's still really light (450 gm or 1 lb). This is my most common ballhead that is with me when I'm hiking and if I am taking a tripod on one of my photo tours you can bet this head is with me (sometimes accompanied by my Jobu Jr. 3 Deluxe).

C. Inflatable Foam Pad

Despite sinking thousands of dollars into tripods and tripod heads, the single accessory that I use the MOST for supporting my camera and/or long lens is an inflatable seat pad that cost me about $50 CAD! I use a self-inflating Therma-Rest Lite Seat that weighs 110 gm (4 oz) and fits into any of my packs with no problem. This pad goes under my lens when resting on a Zodiac's pontoon, often on a supporting rock or log, etc. And, it does a whole lot more: If I'm in the field and need to lay out equipment on wet ground or mud, it goes underneath them to keep out of the muck! And, at times I even use it for what it was designed for - a pad under my butt when I'm sitting on the ground (comfortable, and warm and dry!). Best 50 bucks I ever spent on a camera accessory! 🤪

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2. Solutions for Carrying Gear

Like almost any nature photographer, I have too many camera backpacks! And, interestingly, over the years I have found myself using them less and less. Why? Two primary reasons. First, I really like using a belt & holster system that keeps my gear in super accessible when I'm in the field. Yes, at times I need to increase my carrying "volume" and throw on a small camera backpack too, but...almost surprisingly...I don't do this too commonly. Second, I actually find I use a camera pack the most when I am going out for a day of "roadside" motor vehicle based shooting...and I find myself doing this less and less often (the "why" here is a long story I'll leave for another time, but it involves a mix of my wildlife photography ethics and the fact I just don't like the kind of images that are typically captured "roadside").

A. My Belt & Holster System

While backpack-style camera bags are often great for transporting your gear to "the field" (often in a vehicle of one type or another, once IN THE FIELD I find they tend to have a "flaw". And the flaw is that your camera isn't available for "instant" (or even very fast) access. For me this need for instant access arises in two main situations. First, I spend a LOT of time in the field and often encounter a subject (wolf, cougar, bear, etc.) unexpectedly and have very little time to grab a shot before my options are down to "south end of northward heading animal" ONLY! Second, on my photo tours I'm commonly shooting from a Zodiac inflatable boat and working with a skittish subject (grizzly bear, sea lion, etc.). In these situations one can't simply put down the camera/lens combo and easily haul a different combination out of a camera bag without scaring or stressing the subject. In both of these "no time/can't move" situations you almost need to be WEARING your camera gear.

So...WAY BACK in 2010 I experimented with using a hip-belt and shoulder harness system that allowed me to have cameras, lenses, TC's and even bear spray in holsters and pouches that sit on my hips (and that are very quick to access). Think Tank makes the system - and I can say I'm exceptionally pleased with how it performs. The main components of the system I'm using include Think Tank's wide "Steroid Speed Belt", "Pixel Racing Harness", various "Digital Holsters", and assorted lens cases (and many lens cases and pouches from other makers - such as Lowepro - DO fit on the Steroid Speed Belt).

Does this belt and holster system completely replace my need for camera backpacks? No. But when you're in those situation where you need fast access to your camera, they can be absolutely indispensible. And, to this day, this belt and holster system is my primary means of carrying my camera gear in the field. Here's a shot of me using the system in January of 2023 (JPEG; 4.4 MB). In this situation I have a holster on my right hip that contains a Z 9 plus 24-120mm f4S lens and a lens pouch on my left hip that contains a Z 400mm f4.5S. I also have bear spray on the waist band (and that's a Z 800mm f5.6S I'm carrying).

Negatives of this system? doesn't fit everyone well. And it does have a very low cool factor (but I gave up worrying about that kind of thing decades ago!).

Those interested in this system should check out Think Tank's website and search for the "Modular Belt System". Note that Think Tank is not currently selling the Steroid Speed Belt, but they may still be available somewhere online.

B. Backpack-style Camera Bags

Currently the majority of my backpack-style camera bags are made by F-Stop. I like the "modular" system they use - and their removable "Internal Camera Units" (or ICU's) work well as airline carry-on bags (when taken OUT of the backpack). I also find that in the rare instances where I have to carry a LOT of camera gear weight on my back they are quite comfortable. I have a total of FOUR F-stop bags, but they have changed their model names and lineup since I got mine (so there is no point in me going through them individually).

However, my favourite and most-used backpack-style camera backpack is a MindShift/ThinkTank BackLight 18L. This is a small pack that I can wear with my belt and holster system. It is large enough for my 120-300mm f2.8E or my Z 800mm f6.3S and it has the best tripod carrying system I have ever found on ANY small camera backpack.

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3. Additional Accessories and Gadgets

I've tried or used a million other accessories and gadgets. Here are the ones I still turn to in the field:

A. Camera/Lens Rain Covers

Every outdoor enthusiast owns a GoreTex coat or two for rainy days - right? But what do you do with your camera on a rainy day? I cover mine with rain cover - which are more-or-less GoreTex coats for your cameras and lenses - and continue to shoot in the rain. Historically I used one or the other of the two main brands of quality rain covers - the Hydrophobia Rain covers from Think Tank or AquaTech's Rain Shields. However, it seems that during the pandemic AquaTech exited the rain cover market - so if you're looking for a quality rain cover it pretty much has to be a Think Tank one! Think Tanks BEST rain covers are in their Hydrophobia line and they work just great. In 2022 Think Tank introduced a new lower-priced line of rain covers they refer to as their "Emergency" rain covers. These "Emergency" raincovers work reasonably well - at least as well (if not better) as some of the lower-end brands of rain covers such as those from LensCoat, Optek, etc.

So...which should you use? Think Tank's Hydrophobia Rain Covers or their Emergency Rain Covers? Well...if you're going to be in a real downpour and want to keep shooting in it for hours then you'd be much better served with a Hydrophobia Rain Cover. But...if you just happen to "get caught in" a rain or snow shower (or only occasionally shoot in the rain)...well Think Tank's Emergency Rain Covers should be just fine for you. In MY case I DO shoot in heavy rain quite frequently - so I use Think Tank's Hydrophobia Rain Covers.

B. Binoculars and Spotting Scopes

Buying the right binoculars (and spotting scope) is a lot like buying a camera body. If you are going to put the product under only light to moderate use (and in fairly benign conditions) you can get by with moderate expenditures. But, if you want a product that will reliably give high performance over years of use under demanding field conditions, you have no choice but to fork out the big bucks! I currently use Swarovski EL 8.5x42 binoculars - they're a great product. Prior to getting these I used and was very happy with Nikon's Venturer 8x42 for almost 10 years. Variables to consider when choosing binoculars include: optical quality; magnification (more isn't necessarily better); light gathering ability and image brightness (especially performance in fading light); durability and weather-resistance; and - last but not least - ergonomics.

Spotting Scopes? I use a Swarovski ATM HD 80 spotting scope with 20-60x zoom eyepiece. It's AMAZING. 'Nuff said. And today Swarovski makes even higher end scopes than this one.

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4. Outdoor Wear

It's my belief that you're more likely to be a better nature photographer if you're comfortable in the field. And, being comfortable in a wide array of weather conditions means you have to have the right outdoor wear and you have "assembled" your clothing layering system appropriately! If there's anything I spend as much time experimenting with and testing as I do my camera gear it's my outdoor wear and how it best layers-up. Please note that those attending my photo tours will receive far more detailed recommendations about the clothing layering systems that I recommend for their specific photo tour.'s some generalizations I can share about what has worked well for me:

A. Insulated and Waterproof Clothing

If I'm shooting in very cold (think Arctic) or very wet (think Great Bear Rainforest) conditions you're most likely to see me wearing Arc'teryx insulated coats and/or mid-layers and rainwear. Arc'teryx offers a nearly dizzing array of outerwear and I can normally find the specific pieces I need for each of my three layers (inner base [or transfer] layer, middle insulating layer, and outer protective layer), and all of it is of high quality and durable, and VERY light. But it does tend to be on the pricey side, though it should service you - and keep you comfortable - for years.

B. Hiking Clothing

If I'm hiking/trekking in warmer conditions you'll still see me using a lot of Arc'teryx clothing. But, I have to admit their hiking pants aren't among my favourites. My favourite spring/fall and summer hiking pants are found within the Fjallråven line out of Sweden - and like with Arc'teryx you'll find their products NOT cheap, but really well-designed, durable, and comfortable.

C. Winter Pants?

What about pants for when you have to hike, ski, or snowshoe to your shooting location in cold and mixed weather? In 2022 I found my "favourite all-time" winter hiking/snowshoeing pants: Svalbard Flex1 trekking pants from Norrona (a Norwegian company). Highly water-resistant, windproof, breathable and tough as nails. They're GREAT!

D. Cold and/or Wet Weather Photography Gloves? comments on gloves has to come with a huge caveat: I am very cold-tolerant and the gloves that work for me in cold, wet, or cold/wet weather may be close to useless for others. Complicating the situation on the gloves is the fact that our cameras are becoming increasingly "button-driven" and those buttons aren't particularly large. So, any effective cold or wet weather gloves have to be insulated and/or waterproof but thin and flexible enough to leave the user with good manual dexterity. That leaves glove designers with a tough nut to crack. Here's what I'm using:

I. Cold Weather Gloves

I find if I keep my palms warm my fingers tend to stay warm (up to a point). So although I have tried all sorts of well-insulated full gloves and/or mittens (including the ones designed for the Austrian army by "The Heat Company"), what works best for me are Gore Windstopper Fleece mittens with a pull-back flap that covers the fingers (so when pulled back the fingers are exposed). Over the years both Jack Wolfskin and Outdoor Research (OR) have offered these. These are often called glommets. For me these work down to about -10C. If it gets colder I simply add a thin merino wool liner under them (with touch-screen sensitive fingertips) - this allows me to shoot down to about -25C. This image of me shows me using the OR "glommets" with liners at about -15C.

II. Cold AND Wet Weather Gloves

Now THIS is the Holy Grail: A fully waterproof glove that is thin enough to allow you to effectively operate a modern camera. And I'm still looking for it. I have tried all sorts of neoprene gloves (including kayaking gloves, diving gloves, etc.) and some supposed waterproof gloves that are thin and insulated (from SealSkinz) but still haven't found the "perfect" solution. I often end up using thin gardening gloves that have nitrile palms and fingers - they're NOT waterproof but they keep the "edge" off in cold/wet conditions and leave me with great manual dexterity. In the spring of 2023 I have two new thin "waterproof" gloves I'll be experimenting with on 3 coastal photo tours - I'll report back on how they worked around the end of June. The search continues...

Jump to:

Brad Hill: Stuff I Use - Part I: Cameras
Brad Hill: Stuff I Use - Part II: Lenses & Teleconverters

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