Photo Tips

What is in Our Camera Bag?

Me Ra Koh

Okay, let’s roll up our sleeves and talk CAMERA GEAR! But let me forewarn you, this is not the kind of talk you’d have with the guy at the camera store. This is a no-nonsense kind of talk from one friend to another. No secrets, just the nuts and bolts in plain language. Let’s call it “Me Ra Talk” :).

As many of you know, our family spent the last couple months living in Thailand’s jungle. If this is news to you, you must check out the Thailand Adventures category on the blog b/c the stories and images are fun for the whole family!

With being gone for a couple months, we had a goal. Pack as little as possible, but pack smart. We did this trip without having to check a thing. Two backpacks, one bag of homeschool materials, and one bag devoted to camera gear.

So what was in that camera bag anyways? I thought about doing the typical shot where every thing is set inside your black camera bag, and you shoot down into the black bag, shooting all your black gear. But it just seemed so…black. So here we go. Let’s lighten things up a bit!

All this was in our camera bag. Much prettier than being inside the camera bag, right!

What’s what?

We brought two Sony camera bodies (post has been updated with most recent equipment we are using). We had the NEX-5 and the A7. The NEX-5 is a great camera that is light in weight and easy to use. We’re teaching our kids how to use a DSLR, and the NEX-5 is the BEST teaching camera ever because of the live preview feature on the back. Using this camera to teach women at our workshops has been incredible! Not to be super direct, but this camera is the best for women. I feel like it’s the first camera I’ve ever worked with where the engineers may have had women in mind and how we think. Imagine that! ๐Ÿ™‚ For example, with the live preview you can see the room get dark as you speed up your shutter speed or vice versa. The mystery is made clear. Finally! (Thank you Sony!)

The kids had homeschool assignments of shooting insects, flowers and crabs in the jungle, and the NEX-5 camera body was perfect for our family to grow as photographers.

Meet my Lulu! The A7 camera body is our #1 lady, and she has got style. She’s got EVERY THING! And yes, I name our cameras. (but your not really surprised, right? :)) Lulu shoots 24.6 megapixels at lightning speed. It’s pretty awesome. And the color processing within the camera, wow, it’s breath taking! I barely did any touch up to most the photos we took b/c the A7 captured the color so well within the camera. It’s a beautiful thing. Watch out Canon and Nikon!

We had an array of lenses, but I want to break each one down. So let’s come back to those.

The orange/silver box you see was our external harddrive. It’s built for travel in case it gets bumped around in the backpack. This thing is made of superman strength. If you don’t want to dump all your images on your laptop (or you want to store backup copies of all your images), you can buy one of these external harddrives for around $100 and store your images there. Trivia question, “How many external harddrives do you think we use in our studio?” ๐Ÿ™‚

The white gadget on top of the external harddrive was our GPS Devise image tracker. This is a fun gadget that Sony just released on April 15th! It records the date, time and exact locaiton of where you took your pictures from. It’s the perfect gadgets gift for Father’s Day. Get more gadgets and gifts at Gadgets Page’s Linkedin to learn more how to get gadgets online.

We also brought extra camera batteries and battery chargers. (Don’t forget to pack converters so you can plug things in.)

The little black box that says Lexar is one of our card readers. For those of you who don’t have one, card readers are great. You can put your flash card into the card reader and transfer your images to your computer with good speed. At weddings, we’ll have three of those card readers stacked on top of each other so they are all transferring images at the same time. It’s pretty slick.

What kind of cards to use? Lexar cards are great. SanDisk are awesome too.

And no, we aren’t total geeks. We brought a point and shoot too. Reality is that sometimes Lulu is to much, and a point and shoot is plenty. The little blue guy is our Sony Cybershot. I can put it in my back pocket and go! It’s got this real cool face recognition software, and I can also manipulate the settings like aperture and ISO. But another favorite component on this camera is the video feature. For being such a little guy, this point and shoot kicks booty on video footage!

This leaves us with the line up of these Bad Boys!

Sony Carl Zeiss Lenses

How do you know what lens to bring on vacation? How do you know which lens makes the most sense for portrait photography, weddings or monkey watching? Shall we break it down?

Starting from the right! It’s the tall, sexy 70-200mm lens, G2, Telephoto Zoom.

70-200mm lens, G-Series, Telephoto Zoom

This lens goes down to a 2.8 fstop (which gives you that buttery blur in the background). Most people use this zoom for capturing things that are at a distance. This is Brian’s favorite lens, and he uses it for the opposite reason. He gets in super close to people with the lens and captures tight, intimate shots.

For Thailand, we used this lens to capture a subject that wasn’t as romantic, but super fun! Monkeys!

langur monkeys, Me Ra Koh


We had a feeling that there was going to be a lot of wildlife, but we did not expect 30-40 monkeys at once every morning. This lens is also ideal for capturing the kids on the beach from a distance. It allows you to stay farther back, sometimes unnoticed, but still zoom in for a tight shot.

The next lens is what I call my “Work Horse”. She is the Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T, 24-70mm and also has a 2.8 fstop.

Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T, 24-70mm and also has a 2.8 fstop

I call her my Work Horse b/c if I only had enough money to buy one lens, and one lens only, for shooting weddings and portraits, this would be my lens. She can go pretty wide at 24 mm for group shots or scenery/landscape oriented shots, whether it’s horizontal

Kids playing with canoes on Pranang Beach Thailand

or vertical

Pascaline swinging on Pranang Beach Thailand

but she can also get in tight at 70mm for portrait like images.

Since it isn’t a big zoom, I can also get in close to my subject instead of having to stand six feet back with a big zoom.

If you had enough money to buy two lenses, I would suggest these first two lenses. The 24-70mm, 2.8 and the 70-200mm, 2.8. These two would have you covered at a range of shooting that goes as wide as 24mm but can zoom in as far as 200mm. Does that make sense? I would stay away from the type of lens that is 18-300mm. That’s two much zoom for ONE lens. With a range that big in one lens, the aperture can’t go down to a 2.8. So if you love buttery, blurred backgrounds go with these two lenses to cover the range of distance.

The third lens is the Carl Zeiss Sonnar T135mm, f1.8 Telephoto.

Carl Zeiss Sonnar T135mm, f1.8 Telephoto

The 1.8fstop is so low combined with the 135mm focal length, so I can stand 25 ft away, open my aperture all the way up to a 1.8, and capture shots of Blaze on Monkey Patrol, and he doesn’t even notice me. The 1.8fstop also enables me to have the dramatic soft and quiet background.

Blaze on Monkey Patrol in Thailand

People often ask me why I have lenses that can’t zoom in or zoom out. Why move your body if you don’t have too with a zoom? The key to a lens that has no zoom, a Prime or Fixed Lens, is that the aperture/fstop can go even LOWER! If you are the type of photographer that uses a lot of background blur to help create your story, then you want to go as low as you can in aperture.

What do all the numbers mean?

See how all these lenses have the same numbering system on the side? This one above says 1.8/135 ZA. That means the aperture/fstop goes all the way down to 1.8 (that’s AWESOME!), and it’s focal length is 135mm. The Z stands for Carl Zeiss glass. Almost all of these lenses are Zeiss glass which is top of the line.

How important is glass quality? If you want to get more serious with your photography, glass is every thing. The price difference can be hard to swallow since the Zeiss glass is often a thousand dollars more. However, it really does make a difference. The quality of your glass affects light, color and so much more. The more expensive lenses, whether they be Sony’s Zeiss collection or Canon’s L series, are worth the every penny. I didn’t believe it at first, so I rented a top of the line lens. When I tried the expensive lens, I experienced the color difference and sharpness with my own eyes. I finally believed. In fact, when Brian and I were building our business we held off on upgrading our camera bodies and put every cent into our lenses. The difference shows with the lens you use. Try it out on a weekend by renting a couple of these nicer lenses. You will go CRAZY! In fact, chime in former workshop attendees. Many of you have finished our workshop and bought one of these $1200 lenses. Was it worth it?

I know we haven’t finished talking about the five lenses, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. For today, I’m going to stop here. Let’s pick up where we left off tomorrow. For now, is all this making sense? Any questions that I can help with?

If your a Sony shooter or thinking of becoming one, I linked all the names so you can see more of the details/specs on Sony’s site. I hope this was helpful, and tomorrow we’ll finish up!

Quick update on the Seattle June Workshop! I think we’ve found a super cool location for the workshop. I’m going to do a walk through of it today. It looks like we’re leaning towards the first weekend of June. So mark your calendars b/c we’ll be starting the Early Bird Registration next week! If this lens stuff is kind of making sense but you still have questions, consider the workshop. We talk about the lens issues in depth.

TWO MORE DAYS to sign up for a chance to win the Sony A350! It’s a nationwide contest! We’ve joined forces with Women’s World magazine and Sony to do a drawing for three people to win their own DSLR A350! To sign up, visit!

Our Refuse to Say Cheese DVD series is continuing to grow, faster than we know what to do with! In the midst of unpacking luggage, I jumped on a radio interview this weekend and talked about our DVDS for 30-40 minutes! It was wonderful!! If you haven’t ordered your own copy yet, check out our popular Instructional DVDs Refuse to Say Cheese and (They are BACK IN STOCK!! Yeah!!), our 101 Kits for starting or expanding a in , click on the titles of your choice!


  1. Emily M. says:

    thank you so much for this gear run-down! very informative. i am still awed, amazed, and impressed that you got all your stuff for two months in such a small amount of baggage. awesome. that’s the kind of packing my husband longs wistfully for from me. i hope you’re still doing workshops when we move back to seattle…someday…

  2. Amanda Mays says:

    Better lenses worth every penny!

    Fun seeing your camera bag, thanks for sharing!

  3. Christina says:

    YEAH!! Thank you so much for all the great info!

  4. CA says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH! Very informative.

  5. Sandy says:

    thanks for all the wonderful info, I am debating on which lens to get,the 24-70 or the 70-200? only can get one at this time, but which! oh I would love both, they have been on my wish list for a couple of years now!! Which one?

    thanks again for sharing your camera bag and explaining everything.

  6. michelle s. says:

    Not a workshop attender but have learned lots from your videos. ๐Ÿ˜‰ And I have to chime in. I have a Canon 30d. I was shooting with midrange lenses… but then test drove the 24-70 2/8 L lens. AMAZING color and sharpness!! Saved up and bought one. Best photography purchase to date. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for sharing what’s in you bag. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Kelly says:

    You’re so generous with your info Me Ra! Thank you!
    I agree with you 100% on the lenses.
    After your workshop I saved up & finally got the 24-70 and the 70-200 2.8.
    Mine are the Canon ‘L’ versions EVEN THO MY HUBBY WORKS FOR CARL ZEISS!! Cough, cough! You’d think I’d get a deal on some Zeiss glass?!? Wrong!
    Life is not always fair ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. Laura says:

    Thanks for this! We are visiting Scotland in September and I am thinking of replacing the Nikon D60 kit lens (18-55mm f/3.5) with something like a 70-200mm. I have a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 to complement it. Would you recommend the BIG telephoto for the mid-range zoom?

  9. H.B says:

    Thank you so much for the great info!
    Great reading.

  10. Pamela S. says:

    So when I rented a Canon 85mm f/1.2 for a wedding, I took a photo with my 28-135 kit lens as attendants were entering the church, then had time to take a no flash photo (on my older camera, 20D) with this rented lens. I did this for each couple entering. When I came home and compared the images, I started to cry. (‘This is how I always wanted my pictures to look!” I yelled.) I have found the 70-200 to be too heavy (for both carrying & shooting). Am I a wimp? I’ve rented when necessary. Do you just have to get used to it? Is that where your weight bearing exercises come in?

    After the workshop, I got the 24-70mm f/2.8 and the 50mm f/1.2. (I rented from for one year to compare). Thanks for the push, Me Ra!

  11. Brooke says:

    Thanks for sharing! I attended the seattle workshop and it was fab! I learned so much, especially about the lenses ( I was set to buy a new camera, thinking that was the key) but after the workshop, I invested in a new lens and my business has taken off! Thank you MeRa and Brian!

  12. shawna says:

    Thanks for this great break down, Me Ra. I just got my first lens a few months back, a 50mm 1.4 and I love it to bits for taking pictures of my daughter. I think a telephoto is next on my (very long) list of lenses, so thanks again. I can’t wait to hear more about the Seattle workshop!

  13. Kelli says: after the Chicago workshop I went and bought a 85mm fixed lens (nikon)..I loved the difference it made in my was amazing! I coudn’t even stand to go back to my other lenses (sigma). Seeing as I could not purchase the 24-70 2.8 Nikon…pretty penny that lens is. I rented that and the 70-200..twice..I could not believe the image quality of the two compared to what I was using! Seeing as I was almost in tears when I had to return these lenses the last husband (love you Jeff)..surprised me with the 24-70 for my bday! Oh what a great day! I have since acquired the 70-200 as well and I could not be happier!

  14. Paris Parfait says:

    I am on a plane tomorrow morning (to photograph my daughter’s wedding in Savannah – surely I have lost my mind!) and the Sony A350 and A900, as well as the same two Carl Zeiss lenses are going with me, along w/ a couple of other lenses, including a macro (and vertical grips for both cameras and a flash). I am still finding my feet w/ the A900, but it is a joy experimenting and learning more of its tricks. And you’re absolutely right about the Carl Zeiss lenses – pure magic in terms of clarity and quality. Thank you so much for this informative post, Me Ra!

  15. Dawn Beirnes says:

    wow. I loved this post! I only have one lens, which came with the camera (canon 40d), so I took notes from this post! Thanks so much!

  16. Rhonda says:

    Also not a workshop attender (YET!), but will chime in. I know it’s the photographer and not the camera that makes the picture, but good gear definitely helps. Right after I purchased my first GREAT lens, my post-production time was cut in half and people began commenting on how much they loved my pictures. No matter how great I am at composition and getting the right exposure. Nothing can give me that great blurry background like a great lens. Now when I want a new lens I save for the good glass. It is worth every penny and every bit of extra time I have to wait as I save. And then the lens is more special to me too, because I waited patiently and worked hard for it.

  17. Echo says:

    Me Ra,
    I have been following your blog now for a couple of months and never had the chance to comment. But I want to tell you that I love everything that you shot in Thialand and would LOVE to go sometime.

    But anyways, I just had lunch with a fellow photog today and we were just talking about how our camera bodies are sufficient and how we need to upgrade to our L lenses from Canon. The fact that you mentioned it in the post today was a total God thing. I feel like its a sign to keep saving towards my 70-200. I have been praying for the funds to come my way in this time where I am working two jobs and my husband is in Grad school. Thank you for taking the time to write what you did today, it was so important!

  18. Anne Reuter says:

    thanks so much for this post.. i am right now debating on what lens to buy next and i can’t wait for you next post and what you say about prime lenses.

  19. jeramy says:

    you’re expertise is wasted on me. i don’t deserve to read your blog.

  20. Sarah Alston says:

    Fantastic post! I’ve never looked seriously at the Sony cameras and lenses, but your pictures and commentary are very convincing.

    My sister-in-law swears by prime lenses. I wish she and I shot with the same body brand so that we could share lenses. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Looking forward to more details about the Seattle workshop!

  21. Becky says:

    I remember when I first stumbled upon your website, that I was so excited because you were using a Sony, and so was I!
    Your story (from your book) is so much like mine, and although I’m a newly wed, my husband and I have gleaned an enormous amount of hope from your story and the way your life has turned out. It makes me want to fight harder for my future despite my past. Thanks for being that ray of sunshine for me. It was quite a Godsend to see you so happy and fulfilled…. some days it feels like I’ll never make it to that point in my journey, that I’ll never make it past the pain and depression. I guess it’s one foot in front of the other huh?
    But I was going to say…. that I have the SAME external hard drive. It’s a beast!!!

  22. Sarah says:

    Me Ra,
    I just found your blog and was up all night last night reading! I was in tears when I read your thoughts on originality. My sister in law and I are both starting photography business and I feel that there is room for everyone. Thank you for sharing your gift and talent with the world. I have always loved pictures, I used to sit for hours looking through my parents boxes of photos. I really starting shooting when I had my first child (2003) and am now a mother of 3 (in three years!) Last year I had 2 miscarriages and it has been rough. I bought my first nice camera, a Nikon D90 – and I truly believe that doing something that you enjoy and that helps you express your emotions is the best way to heal! I was hoping you would be doing another workshop in Seattle, I live on Whidbey Island. Not that I could afford it right now but I will definetly be reading and anxiously looking forward to posts from it! Thanks again,

  23. Kellie says:

    i bought an a350 last year as my first dslr. i *love* it! one of the reasons i bought the a350 was the live view mode, but it was also because i love your photos and knew you and brian shoot with sony.

    thank you for posting lists like these, it is so helpful to know what lenses you recommend. i’m on a tight budget at the moment, but i purchased a minolta 50mm 1.8 recently and WOW! do lenses ever make the difference!! i had no idea. i think i’ll be saving up for a carl zeiss zoom in the near future – i think it will save hours of editing time!

  24. […] so much for all the comments in yesterday’s post. If you haven’t had a chance to read people’s comments from yesterday, I strongly urge you too. A number of people chimed in about their experience with […]

  25. Rebecca says:

    Just read this entry again today. Me Ra, you’ve got me SERIOUSLY thinking about switching to Sony some day. I need to go test out an A900.

    I currently shoot with Canon and just upgraded my 50mm lens from 1.8 to 1.4. Better glass is WORTH IT! Even though it’s not L glass, my images are WAY better than they were. <3 ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. Stacy T says:

    me ra,
    are the lens you have compatible with sony? just curious.
    thanks for sharing all the info that you do! you are so giving!

  27. […] She is a beauty, and we’ve been talking about her for the last two days in this post about Camera Gear, and this post about what Lens to […]

  28. Jen May says:

    Thank you for putting in the time to share. I shoot with Canon, but this entry was still helpful ๐Ÿ™‚

  29. Melanie says:

    Wow, Me Ra. Thanks so much for posting this! Very, very helpful!

  30. […] b/c of how versatile it is. If you want to know more about what is in my camera bag, you can read Part I and Part II on what type of gear you want and […]

  31. […] The camera body was the Sony A900 (my Lulu–remember, I like to name my cameras :)). The lens was my workhorse lens–the 24-70mm, […]

  32. […] your ready to expand your camera bag, check out the other equipment I use by reading THIS POST and my other post on LENSES! You’ll see lots of image examples that help explain the […]

  33. Craig S says:

    Finally!!! A truly professional photographer that uses SONY DSLR cameras! Ever since the A-100 came out years ago, I’ve wanted to make the switch to SONY, but I’ve never done it, but I haven’t bought any other gear either, just rented what I needed. I think that now is the time to switch, for me. I’m getting used to using primes (50/1.4, 85/1.8, and 135/2, all Canon) and I just can’t wait to have these lenses stabilized while too! Thanks for giving me the courage to start making the switch now, one step at a time.

  34. Julie says:

    Hi Me Ra,

    I did not see a speedlight in your bag and I don’t hear you mention using one very much…do you ever use one? If so, with or w/o a diffuser and what when do you primarily use one?

    Thanks for sharing!

  35. Marius says:

    Awesome (very long) post. I am quite surprised to see people using Sony DSLRs, but I have to admit the shots are just magnificent.


  36. I was wondering what is up with that weird gravatar??? I know 5am is early and also I’m not looking my most excellent at that hour, but I hope I don’t look like this! I may however make that face if I’m asked to do 100 pushups. lol

  37. I like your writing skill! Even though you are able to add on some things to amend it.

  38. Jessica Young says:

    what brand is the external hard drive you use??

  39. Isabel Lee says:

    battery chargers that are made in china are a bit under rated so i don’t use them anymore.`’

  40. some battery chargers are fire harazd so be careful when using one”,’

  41. most battery chargers do not have an automatic termincation if the batteries are fully charged already “

  42. Wow! That’s the coolest cameras I’ve ever seen!! Is that all yours? And the pictures, are you the one who shot that? You did a really great posting! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

  43. battery chargers that are made from china are always getting busted in our home.`    

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