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All the Gear an Olympic Photographer Is Bringing to Sochi

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Jeff Cable is a Bay Area photographer who has travelled the globe taking pictures, including coverage of the last three Olympic Games in Beijing, Vancouver, and London. Cable is about to head to Sochi to cover the 2014 Winter Olympics, where he'll be blogging about his experience. To kick things off, Jeff published a rundown of all the gear he brings along to get the job done.

Here it is, the last post from home before I head off to the Olympics. It is weird how fast this moment has crept up on me. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was shooting photos at the Summer Olympics in London. But indeed, I am at that point where all the planning is complete and it is "go time".

In these final days of preparations at home, there is a ton of stress. Am I bringing the right gear? Do I have enough backup gear in case something breaks? Do I have enough clothing? Do I have too much clothing? Do I have all the travel documents? And this time, for the first time, there are a lot of concerns about safety. I have to say that, at this point, I have a mixture of excitement with a bit of trepidation. The Olympics for me has always been about the overwhelming positive attitude of all the attendees. To think that anyone would want to jeopardize that really makes me sad. I hope that this experience turns out to be like the last three Olympics, with everyone safe and able to relax and have a good time.

Enough of that. Let's get back to the packing process.

Packing my camera gear is much more important to me than packing my clothes. I can always buy more clothes in event of my luggage being lost, but replacing this camera gear would be too expensive and almost impossible in the remote area of Sochi. So...I always pack my camera gear to go on-board the airplane with me. This consists of two camera bags. The most important camera bag to me is the LowePro Pro Roller x200. I can fit a ton of gear in this case, and because it has wheels, it saves my back. I am not sure of the actual mileage that I have on this case, but it has to be well over 100 miles. My second carry-on bag is the LowePro backpack, where I have more camera gear, my laptop and one of the Wacom Intuos tablets.

As you can see, I am bringing 3 Canon 1DX camera bodies and a Canon 5D Mark III with me with a wide assortment of lenses. You might be thinking, "This is the Olympics, where are the big lenses?" Well...the largest lens that I am bringing with me is the Canon 100-400mm, because Canon is nice enough to bring LOTS of loaner gear for us to borrow when we need the really big glass. Even if I had bigger lenses, I would not have any way of transporting them with me. I already have two rolling bags (camera gear and clothes) and the backpack. (And on the way home, I usually purchase a duffel bag to fill with goodies for my family and friends).


Here is the camera gear I am bringing with me:


Three Canon 1DX cameras and a 5D Mark III.


Canon 100-400mm
Canon 70-200mm
Canon 24-105mm
Canon 24-70mm
Canon 16-35mm
Canon 8-15mm fish eye
Canon 1.4x teleconverter

And once I get to Sochi, I have a Canon 200-400mm lens waiting for me to use during the Games. I used a prototype of this lens at the London Olympics and it was AMAZING!

For shooting specific sports, here is what I am thinking about gear at this point:

* I know that for hockey (shooting through plexiglass and no holes, since the Olympics don't allow holes in the glass like the NHL), my best choices will be one Canon 1DX camera with a Canon 70-200 2.8 lens and one 1DX with a fisheye lens. I am planning on trying a lenskirt to help block the reflections in the plexiglass. We will see how that works.

* For figure skating, speed skating and other indoor sports, I can probably use the 70-200mm for a lot of the photography. If that is not long enough, I can either use the 1.4x teleconverter on the 70-200 or bring the Canon 200-400mm lens.

* For ski jumping and half-pipe (provided I get up to the mountain cluster), I will need a longer lens. For these outdoor sports, where the athletes are farther from us, I will definitely use the new Canon 200-400mm lens, with the built in 1.4x teladapter..

* For bobsled, luge and other sports on this track, I would use a shorter length lens, like a 24-70mm or even a 16-35mm, since we are allowed to walk right up to the track.

* Tripods and flashes are not allowed in any Olympic venue, but I will bring my Gitzo travel tripod for night shots around the grounds. I will also bring a Canon 600 EX-RT flash for use during the team's private parties.

* I am bringing my Gitzo GM5561T monopod which is an absolute necessity at the Olympics. There is almost no way to handhold one of the long Canon lenses (300mm or greater) for 3 weeks straight, without breaking my back. This is one of my favorite pieces of camera equipment for sports. This monopod is really light weight and collapses to a tiny size. I LOVE this monopod.

* You will also notice that I have some Pocketwizards in the bag. I use these to fire a remote camera. I am hoping to mount a camera in the rafters at the hockey arena to shoot images straight down on the goalie. These Pocketwizards are a little different than your off-the-shelf units in that they have a special tweak to the frequency. This custom wireless signature was created and loaded by the good folks at Pocketwizard, making sure that I am the only one firing my remote and that I am not interfering with any of the other photographer's remotes. To mount the camera safely in the rafters, I am bringing a Manfrotto Super Clamp and security cables.


* I know I will be shooting 100,000 photos or more, so I need a lot of memory. I will be bringing a whole bunch of 64GB and 128GB Lexar Professional 1000x CF cards. My plan is to have two CF cards in every camera, and shoot to both for redundancy. I will also be using Lexar Professional USB 3.0 readers to download my photos. These things are wicked fast and help me make my deadlines. They are pictured above in the Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket case which is my favorite.

* For all my editing needs, I am bringing my MacBook Pro Retina 15" laptop. This computer is really fast, with an internal SSD and USB 3.0 ports. Since the SSD does not have near the capacity that I need, I am bringing 3 of the 2TB Western Digital Passport Ultra drives. I am going to backup to all of these hard drives and even use one of them as a "Time Machine" drive to backup the laptop on a daily basis. The other key piece of hardware for my editing process is the Wacom tablet, and I am bringing a couple of those with me, and also the new Cintiq Companion. This way I can have one that I leave one at my hotel room and one at the hockey venue, and have one that travels with me to each venue. I find that the Wacom tablet saves me a ton of time when retouching my photos.* I will travel with my iPhone 5S and an iPad Air, both for communications, and entertainment on the long flights. I am also taking a couple pair of headphones. I have the Sennheiser PXC-450 noise canceling headphones, which are a must for long flights and long bus rides. Not only do they sound great, but the headphones drown out all that background, so I can relax, or concentrate on my editing.

* And, lastly, I don't go anywhere without my Fitbit. This is the first time that I will be wearing this device for an Olympics and I am very curious to see how much walking I will be doing per day.

* As for clothing, I have to dress for different climates. I am first stopping in London, where the weather will be a fairly comfortable 40 degrees F. But after a brief stay in London, I head to Moscow for 3 days, where the temperature could easily dip below 0F. Then I have to plan for the mild climate in Sochi (around 40 degrees F) and the colder temperatures in the mountain area (not sure about this one). This means that I need to pack for all situations. And...all of the clothing needs to fit in one large rolling suitcase, since I still have all the camera gear. (The good news is that all this clothing makes for good padding around my Cintiq and other fragile equipment). Sadly, I need to make sure not to wear any clothing that marks me as an American, for security reasons.


The hardest part of this trip is being away from my family and friends for so long. For the next 4 weeks I will be relying on Skype, Facetime, iMessage and other forms of communications to check in back home. It isn't the same as being there, but it is better than nothing. The Internet at the Olympics is usually very fast, due to the requirements of the media that attend. The two big challenges at this Olympics, is the big difference in time zones between Russia and California, and with a back-to-back schedule all day, every day, finding free time to connect.

Now, I am taking off, and we are less than 2 weeks from the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Yep, the Games are just around the corner!

The next blog post will be coming from London or Moscow. Stay tuned!

This post was originally published on the blog of Jeff Cable where you can find continual updates from Sochi.