As to the perennial question, “what is the best camera for an Urbex ?“, I can only give the perennial answer: “the one you happen to bring along“.
For sure, a bigger sensor or a faster lens can give you more opportunities, especially, in those shitty light conditions we Urbexers generally operate under. However, unless your Urbex voyage is well defined, with limited interference and ease of access, I am firmly of the school of thought that “less is more”.
Heavy bags with bunch of photo gear are great when it comes to total shooting flexibility, nevertheless, they can represent some serious constraints one should think about BEFORE embarking on their somewhat illegals adventures.
- The bulk of material (bag, tripod etc…) has to come along. That means it will have to go over walls, through fences or up rotten ladders with you. Those of you who had to squeeze through little shitholes will know exactly what I mean.
- Tripods are great, but they generally require important set up time. Not to mention that if you use one of those, you will also need to connect your camera to a remote (what’s the use of a tripod ,if your pictures are out of focus, due to “chubby fingers” pressing the shutter ?)
- Lens changing can be a nuisance in really dusty environments, even if you are extra careful. Not only will filth particles stick around the inside of your lenses but worse, they will likely get stuck on your camera’s sensor. Not to mention doing all this in the dark…
- Abandoned places will sometimes (but not often) be inhabited by a hostile crowd. If shit hits the fan, I’d rather not have to leave behind an expensive SLR along with all its lenses.
- Camera gear is NOT all you need for a safe and successful Urbex; a few tools, a couple of flash lights, a phone etc… The extra weight is rapidly going to pile up.
- The more shit you bring along, the more shit you might leave behind. I forgot a tripod once… It was all set up nicely, I thought I would pick it up on my way back, and I exited through another door. I remembered it the next day, while unpacking.
I am now a minimalist when it comes to my Urbex Photography kit.
This is always true on first visits (even if I sometimes pack up more extensive photo accessories, just in case… and leave it in the trunk of my car).
Accordingly, my Urbex kit neatly fits in a small bag, attached to my belt (I actually use an empty Nikon 200 mm lens bag). I only go “gear crazy” when returning to a place I have visited before and I know is secure.
Now a day, my Urbex photo material is so compact, that I sometimes carry it around, just in case I spot the perfect occasion. If there are no Urbex opportunities on a particular outing; no harm done, my bag has hardly bothered me at all.
Hence, the content of my (very small) Urbex pack is as follows;
- A fully charged smart phone.
- A fully charged compact camera, which now a days means a Lumix Lx100 with a fast aperture (1.7-2.8) Leica zoom lens, loaded with a large SSD card.
- A small flash head (it came along with the camera)
- A 12 cm Swiss army knife. It is small, so cannot be considered a weapon, and it has a bunch of useful little tools.
- A lens cloth.
- An 8 inch table-top tripod.
- 2 small fully charged police LED flash lights.
- A pair of thin (yet prick resistant) gloves.
Tadaaaaa. Voila. Urbex Zen Master status achieved!!
It may seem frugal, but remember the proverb: “don’t use a lot where a little will do”.
In case you are wondering, I use my IPhone as a remote controller for my camera, when I happen to set it on my mini-tripod. Due to the said camera 6400 iso capacity, and its less grainy 3200 counterpart, even the use of the tripod is becoming rarer (although not obsolete just yet).
The above is all I need really, even if it sometimes means getting really creative for a shot I want.
I cannot switch from a 400 mm to a 14mm…; I must move my ass, find other vantage points, or simply re-frame my image idea. Not to mention that having a lower quantity allows more time to focus on quality.
But I never forgo a good picture for lack of gear. The day I do, it will mean I will have over simplified my material.
The minimalist approach is also beneficial in the sense that you have so little gear, you will probably use all of it. In the past, I’ve carried around fancy fish eyes or big zooms on way too many occasions to count. I’ve often not even considered using them. They were lost in the myriad of possibilities I had brought along.
Too much choice sometimes kills choice.
Not to mention, and this may have some impact on your future legal record, that it is much less conspicuous to pack small, when you start nosing around abandoned buildings, in search of an illicit entry point.
Could I consider going in, slimmer yet ? Probably.
The new smart phones coming out nowadays, such as the Huwei’s P20 Pro, have amazing picture taking capabilities. One of those little thing could probably replace my present phone, camera and flash. Considering I could always use my t-shirt to wipe out the lenses on the camera-phone, I’d be left with almost no budge. A phone, a couple of small LED lights, my Swiss army knife and a pair of gloves. All fitting neatly in my pockets.
“No more bags, no more trouble” as Bob Marley never said.
P.S Full disclosure. I’ve started to use drones in my last Urbex excursions.
So much for my “hacking away at the non-essential” philosophy.