What’s in my camera bag? (#NASASocial Edition)

A quick look into the camera gear I brought with me to document my experience at the Kennedy Space Center.


  1. El cheapo tripod, w/ release plate.
  2. Monopod, for video purposes only. Intended for #4.
  3. El mucho cheapo tripod, because it’s super compact. Used w/ D5100 and 8mm fisheye, because that combo is very forgiving with regards to vibration.
  4. Canon Vixia HF S100 (2009), this is an older model my uncle loaned me and I like it because it supports digital lossless cropping. It will isolate the center 1920×1080 pixels on its 5 megapixel sensor to give you a 1.7x magnification factor. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to use at maximum zoom without a fluid pan-tilt head, and the manual controls are a pain to use on the fly so all my shots with this camera were unusable.
  5. Nikon 35mm f/1.8 AF-S lens. When you’re shooting (video) at night, it’s all about that aperture. Still shots you have the luxury of taking long exposures to pick up enough light. I used the 35mm primarily on day 5, when I was documenting the setup of remote cameras at the launch pad. I didn’t use it on the evening of day 3 because it’s a little too narrow on an APS-C body to capture everything I wanted.
  6. Nikon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II, this second-generation has a nifty locking mode below 18mm that retracts the lens into as small a form factor as possible. That makes it compact, and a pleasure to travel with. This was my workhorse for the duration of the NASA Social, as it could record everything, or focus in on a single person across the room. The only lens with a more desirable focal length range would be Sigma’s 17-70mm f/2.8-4, but those cost $$$.
  7. Nikon D5100, this camera’s a champ. It’s been my working camera for all my CNC videos and family vacations over the past few years. It does occasionally show signs of age, like during my Baltic cruise the shutter got stuck during a timelapse (I took around 8,000 pictures that trip). But despite the fact that it’s 3 generations behind the curve, its DxOMark score is still surprisingly competitive with today’s crop of entry and mid-level cameras.  It’ll do 1080p at 30 FPS.

    Attached to the body is a Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 fisheye. Why bring a fisheye to a rocket launch you might ask? Because I wanted to capture the feel of NASA Social, which is all about the people. You can see this lens used in the Day 3-evening and  Day 6 shots.

  8. Social media badge to get in the front gate.
  9. Macbook Pro 15” (2011), I have a love-hate relationship with this thing. It runs beautifully with an SSD upgrade, but it’s currently part of a class action lawsuit involving defective GPUs and it is one model year before Apple got on the USB 3.0 bandwagon. This machine is rocking 8 GB RAM, a 256 GB SSD primary, a 1 TB HDD secondary that I removed the optical drive for, and a decent-for-its-time Core i7.

    Software-wise I use Pixelmator to process my RAW-NEF files with, Quicktime to stitch timelapse images into single mov files, iPhoto for batch-resizing (Quicktime crashes if you’re stitching anything larger than a 5k timelapse), and Final Cut Pro X as my NLE. All in all, nothing too fancy.

  10. Batteries. You can never have enough. However, I found that I really only needed one battery per camera, per day. Assuming you remembered to recharge overnight, the rest were just insurance.
  11. DIY iPhone mount. Using probably about $1.50 worth of scraps, I made my own tripod adapter mount for my iPhones. Used during the launch was my decommissioned iPhone 4S, which got garbage footage, but somehow the best audio (which you can hear at the end of my montage).
  12. Nikon D5300, I love this thing. A couple people asked if I used a steady-cam, and the answer is nope! It shoots 1080p at 60 FPS, which makes digital stabilization much easier and also allows you to play it back at 24 FPS (40% speed, though I usually do 50%) to smooth out vibrations and give everything an epic/surreal feel. The 24 megapixel, AA filter-less sensor is also fantastic for timelapses.

    Attached to the D5300 is my Nikon 55-300mm lens, useful for shooting someone across the room on their phone… or, you know… a rocket. The vibration reduction feature helped a lot, although it wasn’t good enough to completely compensate for my terrible tripod (#1). I carry this camera with a sling rather than a neck strap.

  13. Tascam DR-05 linear PCM recorder, this was… pretty much useless. I had intended for this thing to capture the sounds of the Falcon 9 during launch, but without a windscreen and with the wrong level settings the audio from this thing was garbage. Not a total waste of money though, I used the Tascam for some voiceover work in my hotel room.
  14. Joby Gorillapods (compact-camera size). One for the iPhone, one for the Tascam. Attach to your main tripod and you’re a one man, pixel-hoarding band.

Not shown: Amazon Basics camera bag. For like $30, this thing punches way above its price range.

Also, if you haven’t seen my NASA Social montage, here it is:

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