Welcome to “What’s in My Camera Bag?” where you’ll learn what kind of gear I use to shoot at the parks. This feature will be the first in a photography-focused column “Photographing Disneyland” for MiceChat.
I’d like to preface this feature with two things. Firstly, an important thing to remember is that the best camera is the one you have with you. If that means all you have is an iPhone Potato on hand, then that’s the best camera.
Secondly, my kit is not the be-all end-all of photo kits, but I’ve built the kit specifically for photographing Disneyland and it accounts for most situations you might find there, not all. I’m also on a student budget, so my kit is pretty modest considering my means.
What Camera Do You Use Scott?
I upgraded to a Canon 70D in early 2016 from my previous model, the Canon Rebel T3i. While I certainly suggest the Rebel line for any beginners, the 70D (and the newer 80D) are great for enthusiasts that don’t have the buying power for a full-frame DSLR.
The biggest reason for buying a 70D was the autofocus; it has a 19 pt autofocus (and a Dual Pixel CMOS AF), which allows it to focus incredibly quickly compared to anything in a similar price range. In low-light, the powerful autofocus (plus the 70D’s decent low-light performance) makes a dramatic difference. For example, check out how sharp and bright Madame Leota looks on my 70D vs T3i below (the photos are unedited, used the same lens, and similar settings. I either used LiveView to focus or manual focus on the T3i, though).
That autofocus and speed in operation/shooting are really the only things, though, that make the 70D better suited for (Disney) photography than say, a newer Rebel or comparable competitor. It’s still a superior camera to most similar DSLRs and I owe a lot of the heavy lifting of my photos to the 70D body, it’s quite versatile.
I carry three lenses with me at all times when I’m at Disneyland. I’ve carefully chosen them for three different circumstances: all-purpose, wide-angle, and portrait/low-light.
All-purpose: Sigma 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3
Most people who buy cameras buy a kit that comes with a camera body and lens. For crop sensors like the 70D and Rebel line, that’s usually an 18-55mm lens. While those are great for most situations, I replaced my 18-55mm with this Sigma 18-250mm lens in late 2016. It works in almost every situation you could possibly want to put it in. 18mm is great for most wide shots, and being able to zoom to 250mm without swapping a lens is a major convenience. I could probably leave this lens on for 90% of a day at Disneyland and never have an issue.
To show you the versatility of this lens, take for example that I used it extensively to shoot the April 10th Disneyland Update. Early in the day, I shot some tight-framed photos of Belle and Beast in the castle forecourt over the top of a crowd at 106mm.
Afterward, I took a photo of the Matterhorn from outside of the Plaza Inn because the waterfall looked wonderful from that angle, again at 106mm.
Then later, I pulled it back in for some more medium-framed photos of Remember…Dreams Come True from outside Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at 31mm.
Wide-angle: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8
One secret to shooting a great photo of anything at Disneyland is to get really close to the subject. That eliminates all the guests standing in front of it. That’s why I bought this 11-16mm wide-angle lens. Not only is it pretty much in “super-wide” territory without being a fisheye, it also has a great aperture at f/2.8 that lets in a little extra light and creates a denser depth of field effect. I use this lens quite consistently when outside, as it allows me to get up right in front of my subject and be able to get the entire thing in-frame.
Being able to get really close to subjects and keep them in-frame in their entirety is huge if you’re willing to get creative, such as with this shot I grabbed on a whim of the Mickey floral and train station.
Then there are those times when the area you’re shooting is just so big you need a wider lens, like with this Court of Angels photo.
The extra light is enough to help with a little bit of low-light as well. Images will probably still be pretty dark, but some areas like the Haunted Mansion’s stretching room are great for wide shots in low-light.
Portrait/Low-light: Canon 50mm f/1.8
If there’s a lens that I could suggest that everyone own, it would be the Canon 50mm. It’s a prime lens, so you’re stuck with always being at a 50mm focal length, but with that comes sharpness! This lens takes the sharpest photos out of any lens I have, and it’s one that I constantly try to find uses for because of how great the photos look.
Part of why photos look great with this lens is because of that f/1.8 aperture; you get lots of depth of field, boka effects, and extra light. That extra light, sharp focus, and depth of field are super important for low light! That’s why I specifically use this lens more than any other lens while on attractions, particularly dark rides.
With the added light from the smaller aperture, I have a tendency to use the lens’ ability to create a great depth of field and bright, varied compositions like this scene from the jail in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Dark scenes become bright and sharp with the 50mm when you would otherwise not have anything to work with!
The 50mm is pretty much my dedicated parade lens, particularly night parades.
And anytime I’m taking portraits of people, I tend to use this lens. The depth of field makes subjects pop out of the scene!
Camera Bag: Manfrotto Agile II Sling Bag
A great camera bag can be the difference between versatility and missing the shot. It also can be the difference between back pain and relative comfort! I used to carry my camera on its shoulder strap and keep the 50mm lens in my pocket, but with the addition of two extra lenses, that just wasn’t going to work. Neither was my satchel bag, as it couldn’t even fit the wide-angle and the camera in it very well.
Manfrotto makes some of the best camera gear on the market, and I was delighted to quickly find a bag I liked at my local camera shop. It’s a sling bag, so it goes across my body, but that design is great as it allows me to swing the bag around my body and have easy access to my lenses and accessories without even taking the bag off.
It has pockets for everything, seriously. The main pocket can hold my camera with a small lens on and three other lenses.
There’s a large pocket on top where I keep my filter and Gorillapod. Both this pocket and the main pocket have flaps that can collapse in case there’s something big you want to keep in one large compartment.
The back is padded, but also has a compartment for a small laptop or tablet (I carry my Nintendo Switch in it usually). The opposite side has a small pocket for tripod accessories and can sling a compact tripod. Being able to sling a tripod to the bag is a huge deal, as it’s usually really difficult to carry a tripod on or in most bags and it’s unusual to have a sling for one on a bag this size. The bag also has a small strap that can go across your chest, not unlike a hiking backpack, to help balance the weight on your back.What's in your camera bag?Click To Tweet
If you’re not carrying some sort of tripod for any kind of photography, you’re missing out. That goes for you smartphone photographers too, a tripod that can mount a smartphone can seriously make a huge difference. I carry two in my bag at all times, as they have two different use cases: standard sturdiness and flexibility.
Standard Sturdiness: Manfrotto Compact Action Tripod
Manfrotto makes some absolutely fantastic tripods, and the Compact Action tripod is no slouch. It’s literally the piece of gear that makes my bright night shots and flowing fireworks photos a reality.
It isn’t the sturdiest thing in the world, but if you lock in the legs well, it’ll do the job while being light and compact enough to carry. I used to carry an old video tripod (I called it my Dinosaur-pod because it’s actually older than I am), and while it was sturdy and worked well for video, it’s a horrible photo tripod. It also wouldn’t sling onto my bag, as it was too big.
To explain why a tripod is necessary, here’s a shot that required one for two reasons: I needed longer exposures to get rid of as many people as I could, and the varying lights and darks (some too dark to shoot handheld) required me to bracket and blend them together later. Shooting brackets handheld leads to ghosting and mismatches (I have a tendency to do it anyways, but I really don’t recommend it).
Flexibility: JOBY GorillaPod SLR Zoom
Disneyland and most theme parks are filled to the brim with rails. Rails for queues, rails to keep you out of gardens, rails to keep you from falling into the Rivers of America. Rails aren’t so great for a standard tripod; they restrict where you can put the legs. That’s where the Gorillapod comes in with its flexible legs. Since it can wrap itself onto a rail, it works wonders for shooting when there’s minimal space to set up a tripod. It also is small, so you can set it on surfaces and get unique and/or low shots.
Getting really low with a composition can lead to interesting results, such as this photo of the Matterhorn where it looks absolutely massive.
I definitely didn’t have room to set up a standard tripod inside of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey to take my interior photos, so wrapping my Gorillapod on the queue rails led to this beautiful wide shot of the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom.
In a pinch, this piece of gear can fit almost every situation possible. I’ve actually spent entire days where I keep it on the whole time; there’s a reason why professional vloggers like Casey Neistat rely on Gorillapods.
Since I don’t use my old camera anymore, and I tend to only need filters for my wide-angle lens, I only have one filter right now. It’s a four-stop ND (Neutral Density) filter, which is good for seriously darkening a scene and slowing down the light coming into the lens. I tend to use it for outdoor shots in the way that most people use a polarizer, but that’s not the best way to use it.
Filters are great during the day, as they help darken up the bright sky, and can allow for really long exposures in bright conditions that the camera can’t do on its own (great for if you want to blur out moving crowds or take long exposures in direct sunlight). It really shines for fireworks photos, but mostly when you’re close enough for fireworks to appear bright, and you need a much longer/brighter exposure.
I don’t recommend filters (especially a 4-stop one) to beginners, as they require to rethink the way you shoot photos, but a polarizer is something I’m planning on buying (as it works as a 2-stop filter as well). A polarizer is also easier to work with, and will likely wield better results as it helps with the polarization in the sky and strengthens or eliminates reflections on things like windows and water. To get one for my wide-angle, though, is a bit pricey so I haven’t been able to do it yet.
An example of where an ND filter is necessary is below. I wanted to shoot the entire Star Tours segment of Remember…Dreams Come True, and the only way to do that is with a filter; otherwise, the shot is horribly blown out. You probably don’t need a 4-stop one to do it, though.
UV filters are controversial in the photography community but are generally a good way to keep your lens from being scratched up. Some photographers don’t like them because it adds extra “unnecessary” glass onto your lens that can cause distortion or sometimes even reflections. That’s why it’s important to buy good filters in general; cheap ones will ruin your photos more than they’ll improve them. I recently put UV filters on my two newer lenses, and I can personally attest to UV filters doing their job after dropping my wide-angle right after I finished shooting this feature. Below, a photo of the aftermath.
I don’t believe the UV filter is the thing that saved the front element of the lens from cracking (and with drops, the thing that matters is if you break the autofocus motors inside), but it certainly saved me from having a scuffed up front element. In the past, they’ve saved me from all kinds of junk getting onto the actual lens itself as well (I’m thinking about all that boysenberry from Knott’s). These things are cheap, like a smartphone screen protector, so they’re meant to be disposable if they happen to break. This is the one I use on my wide-angle, and I definitely recommend Tiffen-brand filters.
For eagle-eyed readers, you probably noticed I don’t have a sling or neck strap on my camera anymore. I use a cheap hand strap to hold my camera rather than having it around my neck. Unfortunately, since it screws into my tripod mount and the tripod mount on the strap has a tendency to slip, I have to unscrew the strap every time I want to mount the camera on a tripod. Also, since it’s attached to my hand, anytime I need two hands it becomes a burden to carry. It’s a personal preference though; I feel like it helps steady my shots, and since the camera is always in my hand, it’s always available to quickly take a photo, rather than having to swing the camera around to take the shot.
Amazon doesn’t sell the exact strap I have anymore, but this one is pretty much the same thing.
That’s it for my usual haul I carry to Disneyland to take photos. This is several years of building (and spending) to get to where I’m at, but I’ve carefully curated a Disneyland-focused kit that works for me. Of course, gear does not a photographer make, so I’ll be covering techniques for both shooting and editing Disney photos in the future.
All the Amazon links in this article will help support me if you decide to purchase any of the camera gear. Much appreciated!
Let me know in the comments what camera gear you carry to the parks or what you think I should get in the future. Thanks for reading!What's your go-to lens or tip for photographing the parks?Click To Tweet