Which cameras do war photographers use?
September 7, 2012 5:05 PM   Subscribe

What sort of cameras and gear do embedded journalists and war photographers use these days? Which cameras can handle the abuse required? How do they deal with problems like power, memory, and multiple lenses? Any information would be greatly appreciated; thanks, MeFi!
posted by reductiondesign to Technology (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A few quick things - I'm a Canon guy and so are 99% of my colleagues , so that's where my experience lies. The 1 and 5 series cameras are the go-to bodies. I'm sure Nikon has and equivalent, but I don't know what it is. That said, there are other takes on it. I know people who've packed several lower end (think 40D-7D, depending on the era we're talking about) bodies with the intent on them being essentially disposable. That's more Iraq than Afghanistan though. And more and more, we're seeing people shooting with an iPhone and Hipstamatic/Instagram.

Personally, I'd go with the 1 Series body and L-glass because its so well sealed. I'd pack a couple Fuji XPro-1 bodies as well, depending on where we're talking about. The discreet from of those Fujis will be a welcome feature in some situations.

If you search http://www.sportsshooter.com/ you'll find even more info, including "what to take" guides written over the last decade regarding war/disaster. I recall a few lengthy articles about packing for covering Katrina and also Haiti.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:52 PM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'll also add that a friend of mine packs medium format film gear and a http://microsites.lomography.com/sprocketrocket/ on a regular basis for this sort of work.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:54 PM on September 7, 2012

Amateur photographer here. My rather educated guess is that they use the flagship workhorses of the premier brands. These are the oversized highly water resistant ruggedized bodies such as the Nikon D4 and the Canon 1DX (or its predecessor the 1D Mark IV). These bodies have high frame rates and room for very large batteries. My guess is that they have multiple batteries with them, and are probably carrying two or three identical bodies, each with a different lens attached. Probably a wide angle prime (a 15mm), a midrange zoom (24-70), and a moderate tele (70-200).

I suspect you could pretty easily find a pro's blog who details his/her gear.
posted by dave*p at 5:56 PM on September 7, 2012

Also see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Photographer (Canon 1 series film bodies)
And http://www.amazon.com/Shutterbabe-Adventures-Deborah-Copaken-Kogan/dp/0375758682 (Leica film bodies)
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:05 PM on September 7, 2012

Just a quick look into an embedded photographer's camera bag.

There's another photographer whose name eludes me who operated in rough areas of Africa. He carried multiple cheap Olympus cameras around his neck, switching between them to max out their frame rate and gaining the advantage of redundancy.
posted by Mercaptan at 6:22 PM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Although I assume you're looking for current info, a very interesting take on the topic is presented in this book: http://www.amazon.com/War-Reporting-Cowards-Chris-Ayres/dp/0871138956
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:43 PM on September 7, 2012

You definitely get people who shoot with less usual and more specialised gear, but the standard is 2 x Canon 1-series/Nikon D3 or 4, plus a 16-35, 24-70, 70-200, and probably a 50mm and maybe a macro. A few batteries, buckets of few memory cards. Probably a Canon 580EX or two (or the Nikon equivalent), plus an off-camera cable and Pocket Wizards.
posted by Magnakai at 6:45 PM on September 7, 2012

Here is a pretty good run-down from Zoriah.

Ben Lowly also touches on it in this interview.
posted by dave*p at 6:50 PM on September 7, 2012

For the budget minded, like those in the armed forces and many pros, the answer you are looking for is the Pentax K-5, K-7 (old) or K-30 (not yet released). Many of the Pentax lenses are sealed, the body is smaller than the comparable mid sized slr* Nikon, Canon or Sony, and costs much less to gear up. And the pictures are as good as the others, and fans of it really love it. For example, it is as well rated as the Canon D5 over at dpreview.com. There has been a big isse with the K-5 called 'mirror flop' when the model came out that has generally been well handled by warrrnty (~50$ in shipping).

* folks with cash go full sized. Thats the likes of Nikon D3 and D4 line, and the aformentioned Canon 1D
posted by zenon at 7:35 PM on September 7, 2012

Just gonna reiterate what is listed in Ben Lowy's interview. For a lot of Canon shooters it's a few 5D's and some prime lenses or the 1D series workhorse cameras. No reason to bring flashes or lenses longer than a 70-200. You are going to be doing a lot of walking with all your gear, so less is better. When out shooting, a 50 on one body and something wider on the other body, and maybe a bag for an extra lens or two. This photo from Libya give you an idea: Photogs run for safety
posted by WickedPissah at 8:00 AM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

From my memory of the world press photography exhibition ... everyone was shooting with Canon series 5 or 1 digitals, or their Nikon equivalent.
posted by jannw at 10:15 AM on September 8, 2012

I was always told that the Canon G11 (now replaced by the better G12) was the go to back up camera for photojournalists. I have a G12. The DSLR barely gets a look in these days.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:38 PM on September 8, 2012

For what it's worth, I know one guy who used an iPhone as his primary camera throughout the Arab Spring and now working in Congo. He started using it because his 5d (mark ii, I think) was destroyed during a protest in Egypt. I know another guy who won Magazine Photographer of the Year using an Olympus point and shoot in Iraq. But these guys aren't wire shooters; they're usually working a little slower and digging in a little deeper than covering breaking news on the front line. Likewise, I know a few who've used Hasselblad medium format film cameras in the middle of war zones.

Photo Brigade's In My Bag series might also be helpful to you. Can't remember if there are any war photographers that have been featured, but it'll give you an idea of what professionals are using and how differently photographers assemble their gear.

I hate working with more than camera body, for instance. Can't handle carrying that much stuff. On the other hand, many of my colleagues couldn't imagine covering even a schoolboard meeting without two bodies. I don't do conflict work (well, I was in Haiti in 2005, and that sort of counts), but on portraits and documentary and news work, both domestic and international, I carry a single camera and three L lenses (a 35, a 50, and a 70-200). I use the 5d series. Previously the original 5d's, and now 5d mark III's. For me, the deciding factor is full-frame sensor and color quality and cost and body size. Fast frames per second is not useful to me.
posted by msbrauer at 7:09 AM on September 9, 2012

Oh, and I've had 12 megapixel pictures published as a doubletruck in a magazine, so the megapixel count doesn't matter much to me. However, I've recently been showing work in galleries, so a few more megapixels is nice for increasing print size.

Also, I only shoot in raw, but know a few war photographers who have to shoot in jpg (or possibly jpg+raw) in order to speed up the time of getting a picture from camera to publication. Raw conversion takes too long. Transmitting huge files over shaky satellite connection (or in Syria until recently, over 3g) takes forever.

Every news photographer I know uses Photo Mechanic for quick viewing, selecting, captioning of photos directly from the camera. Some wire services have their own software for this function, I think.
posted by msbrauer at 7:19 AM on September 9, 2012

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