Photography

The Cecilia Mercator & Tharp - Camera Bag Review

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INTRODUCTION

Over the past 6 or 7 years, I’ve had the privilege of testing, reviewing, and owning way more camera bags than I should. The equipment room in my studio at one point looked more like I imagine a Kardashian bag closet would look rather than a photographer’s gear room. I actually started selling off some of the ones that I either didn’t use anymore or have found others over time that I simply like better. It’s not so much that I have a thing for camera bags, it’s more of a problem that I have with saying no when companies reach out and ask if I want to test out and review their new products. Good companies, like Cecilia, that I know make quality products.

 
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A bit of a backstory, I was initially introduced to the Cecilia product line through a photographer friend before they even had any bag designs completed. In fact, I believe they had just started designing a few concept ideas but nothing more than that. I did some research on the company and then reached out to the owner to introduce myself and ask if they would be willing to send me a few products to test and review. You can click HERE to read more about the products I tested and what I thought. If not, let’s just say I was more than impressed. Not only with the Alpaca Wool camera straps that had been their original product that caught my eye, but also a few of the others that I normally would have passed on. Products that both my wife and I are still using today.

I spoke to the owner and founder, Michael Fleisch, at the time and he had mentioned a few camera bag concepts he was currently working on. When he explained the concept and what he had in mind I had just started using backpacks again, something I had gotten away from for years. Hearing that a backpack and messenger bag were in the works I was really hoping to hear back from him once he had the bags ready to go. Well, luckily I did, and here we are.

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REVIEW PROCESS

So, as I started putting this review together, it dawned on me that I really should explain my process for bag reviews. If you were to go through all my gear reviews, where I also throw bag reviews, you won’t find me trashing any bags or writing negative reviews. I don’t just write up positive reviews for every camera bag or accessory that comes my way. I learned early on when I started doing these that I simply don’t want to waste my time testing out a bad product any longer once I know it’s one that I won’t ever use or that I’m disappointed in. If a product comes my way, outside of actual camera gear, that I don’t like or recommend I send it back and give the company my honest feedback directly in the hopes that they make the changes I suggest. You can see all of my gear reviews HERE.

Depending on the job, or project, I tend to switch things up a lot when it comes to the accessories I use with my camera gear. I tend to either use a messenger bag, backpack style camera bag, single camera strap, or one of my Holdfast Moneymakers. Besides the bags that I’ve been sent to test and review, I have plenty that I’ve bought as well for either myself or my wife. Some have stayed and some have been quickly sent back.

I basically carry a camera with me at all times, even when it’s just between home and the studio. I’ve been like that ever since I purchased my first camera and don’t see myself changing anytime soon. I use a couple of different backpack style bags as work bags, carrying my 15” MBP, iPad Pro, Leica M10P, along with a number of other items. I typically don’t use those for shooting, I like to keep them looking nice since I meet with clients at the studio. I have a few different bags that I like to use while shooting, messenger bags and backpacks, and some that I use just for carrying gear from one place to another such as airport rollers and Pelican cases.

Since a lot of my weddings can involve a lot of hiking in the mountains or on large farm properties, to jumping from Uber to Uber in a big city, having options to choose from before each job is definitely something I can appreciate. Believe it or not, I have about 3 different backpack style bags that I use and beat up pretty good, 3 or 4 different messenger bags, and different camera straps for each camera that I shoot with. So, even though I have way more bags than I should, it’s often surprising to other photographers when they see how beat up most of them are.

 
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One thing about having the unique opportunity to test products like camera bags is that I get to try out all the different styles, pocket configurations, and material that each company uses. This has definitely helped give me a good idea of what I personally like, don’t like, what works and what doesn’t. I’ve tried some that have had stitching start to come loose within weeks, some that simply aren’t comfortable to wear whatsoever, and others that I thought were great products right out of the box that turned out to be poor quality and not be able to take a beating. I can honestly say that camera bags are probably one of the toughest products to review because it’s such an over-saturated market and it’s a lot like reviewing a pair of jeans. Personal taste and style play a big role in choosing a camera bag, but just like jeans, you don’t want them falling apart after you wash them a few times. Basically, I’m going to tell you what I like and dislike about the two Cecilia bags I have and let you know some of my thoughts. I’ll keep it short and sweet since you can see by the photos what they look like and if these style bags are something you would be interested in or not.


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The Mercator is the 16L backpack camera bag that comes in a black and brown leather as well as the cotton canvas that was sent to me. Cecilia also offers a slightly smaller 14L design called the Humboldt which comes in the same options. While the look and design on the outside is quite simple, the inside is quite perfect. The 16L that I have holds a 15” laptop with a leather strap that snaps in place to keep it from accidentally sliding out. There’s just enough pockets and room to hold all the gear that I’ve ever needed to put in any backpack camera bag.

PROS

  • Weight: It’s extremely lightweight

  • Comfortable. Even with its very basic shoulder strap design, it’s more comfortable than most that have tried to get fancy with the design.

  • Impressive pocket design. Some bags have way too many, others not enough, the inside design and pocket layout is done nicely.

  • Holds its form well.

  • Easy to access and hide rain cover.

  • Well made tripod or light stand pocket and strap.

CONS

  • Not the sexiest looking backpack design, it’s quite simple and plain looking.

  • Personally not a fan of the one and only cotton canvas color, but being that this is the first line introduction to a bag line from Cecilia I’m sure there will be more colors soon. Although, I don’t know for sure.

  • The provided strap to hold a tripod or light stand is located inside a pocket. As you’ll see in the photos below, the pocket needs to be open when using the strap.

  • Price is $398 for the canvas and $498 for the leather.


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The Tharp is the 8L Cecilia messenger style bag, which also comes in a 12L named the Lambert, in the same two leather colors and cotton canvas color. The Tharp and Lambert are like most messenger bags with a few unique characteristics. While ONA messenger bags use straps and buckles to close the top flap and ThinkTank uses velcro, Cecilia went with magnets strong enough to hold it closed. The EVA foam padding is also a nice feature, not only as extra protection for the gear inside, but also comfort.

PROS

  • Weight: Light weight just like the backpack.

  • Comfortable with a well padded strap.

  • Sturdy and holds form really good compared to other messenger bags.

  • Seems to be quite durable.

  • Pocket design, just like the backpack is the best I’ve seen.

  • Price is $149 for the canvas and $249 for the leather. A good price for one of the best made messenger bags I’ve used.

CONS

  • No short strap for picking up, only the long shoulder strap.

  • Same as with the backpack models, I’m not a fan of canvas color.

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CAMP RESET 2017

A Photographer's Workshop

For Those Looking To Make Positive Changes in 2017

 

It's pretty crazy just how much can change in the span of 10 years. Back on June 4th of 2005, Sandi and I got married in the Pocono Mountains, at the Mountain Springs Lake Resort. Back then, neither of us were the slightest bit into photography or even owned a camera. Fast forward to this past weekend, and I found myself hosting a 3-day long wedding photography workshop at that same exact resort. Taking photos of a married couple modeling for us, standing in the same exact spot where Sandi and I exchanged our vows. 

- Read The Reviews -

Sandi - 2005

Sandi - 2005

Our wedding - 2005

Our wedding - 2005

It was only a little over 4 years ago that I officially jumped into the wedding photography industry and shot my first wedding. Since that time, I've accomplished more in this industry than I ever could have imagined and built one of the most well known and successful multi-photographer wedding studios in the country. With that being said, I have also been very active in the educational side of the industry, but have held off on hosting workshops of my own.

I've helped out other photographers, but for the past 3 years, I have purposely held off on hosting anything myself. I honestly wanted to wait until I felt that I was ready, and that I had something valuable to offer. I also wanted to wait until I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and what I wanted others to get out of it. As I watched 2016 bring a tough year for many photographers, for a number of different reasons, something clicked and I began planning. I thought that hosting a workshop near the beginning of the new year would be a great idea. Hosting a workshop based around the idea of RESETTING, and getting 2017 kicked off with new ideas, changes, and confidence. This is where the idea of Camp Reset was born. 

Photo by: Gary Feng

Photo by: Gary Feng

I wanted to have it be myself and two other speakers that would bring something completely different to the table. Three different styles, three different shooting techniques, and three different business approaches. I also wanted to make networking and making new friends a huge part of the workshop. I brought in Bud Johnson and Douglas Polle as the other speakers and decided to hold the workshop at the Mountain Springs Lake Resort in Reeders, Pennsylvania. This is the same place that I had gotten married at 11 years ago. Mountain Springs Lake was the perfect place to hold the workshop because they have a beautiful piece of property hidden in the Pocono Mountains of PA with a large lake and rustic log cabins for everyone to stay in. 

Photo by: Bud Johnson

Photo by: Bud Johnson

The workshop sold out in one day, filling up to 25 attendees, which was great to see. Everyone arrived at the resort around 4PM and the festivities began. Everyone hung out that night, we ordered pizzas, and had a beer or two... or three. Everyone got to meet each other, talk a little shop, and just unwind a little before a long day ahead. Saturday morning we got things officially kicked off and we spent the day at the main lodge which offered a great spot to hold lectures. Bud, Doug, and myself each spoke for an hour before the resort served an awesome buffet lunch, did the same after, and then everyone was served with a buffet dinner that was even better than lunch. Dinner was one of the best catered dinners I've honestly ever eaten, and they had more than enough food for everyone to have not only 2nds, but 3rds. No joke. 

Photo by: Gary Feng

Photo by: Gary Feng

As far as what we focused our lectures on, it was based on providing everyone in attendance changes that they can implement into their businesses going into the new year. From marketing, to working with clients, building relationships in the industry, shooting techniques, wall art sales, and other different business strategies that could help make 2017 the best year yet for everyone. All 3 of us speakers have a different background, have different stories of where we come from and what drives us. We each have different marketing and business strategies, shooting techniques, editing styles, and relationships with our clients. Everyone in attendance was able to see how all 3 of us are very different, but also very successful, and offer something different in terms of what made us each successful. 

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PC: Gary Feng

PC: Gary Feng

PC: Gary Feng

PC: Gary Feng

Sunday morning was spent photographing a married couple that came to the resort to model for everyone. I demonstrated my posing techniques, how I work with my clients, and how I make my photographs of them look so natural and photojournalistic while being a little more hands on. Everyone was back on the road and heading home by 2pm, and the first Camp Reset was officially in the bag, and an absolutely huge success. 

Photo by: Eric Talerico

Photo by: Eric Talerico

Besides the lectures and shooting on Sunday to practice the new techniques that were taught, the biggest take away from the entire weekend was the time spent simply getting to know each other. The first night, Friday night, was great for getting to meet everyone and making introductions. Everyone hung out at one cabin and had a good time. The 2nd night, Saturday night, was a different story and really the meat and potatoes of the workshop. Everyone was a little more comfortable with each other and it was a great night hanging out, having awesome conversations, doing a little partying, and really letting loose with a group of new friends. I can't wait til the next one!

Reading the reviews that were submitted, I was blown away by how special this workshop was for everyone that attended, and just how much of an impact it had on them. I'm glad to see that waiting like I did, and then putting a lot of time into putting this workshop together really paid off! 

 

READ THE REVIEWS -

Photo by: Cecilia Grace

Photo by: Cecilia Grace

Photo by: Gary Feng

Photo by: Gary Feng

Photo by: Kim Angelo

Photo by: Kim Angelo

A few other key parts of the workshop that I don't want to leave out:

- Tim Hussey from Pixifi spent the weekend with everyone and gave a brief explanation and demo of Pixifi. Along with Tim, we had a great group of sponsors that provided awesome giveaways: Allens Camera, Fundy Designer, B&H Photo, G-Technology, Atmospheric Aerosol, and The Refined Union


Random Photos From Everyone


A Handful Of Photos

From My Cameras

New Monthly Newsletter - Sign up to win!


As wedding season for Twisted Oaks is about to get into the thick and heavy, finding time to keep up with everyone on an individual basis is going to be tough. I always try to answer all my emails, Facebook messages, and even text messages, but running a multi-photographer studio along with shooting 40+ weddings this year is going to make it tough to keep that trend going. I think it's time to do something that I had held off on doing up until this point, simply because I really didn't want to create more emails for anyone to read. Well, it's happening, and I'm going to be sending out a monthly newsletter. I know... I know. But wait, keep reading :)

I decided it was time for a monthly newsletter to keep everyone up to date on my work, projects, articles, tutorials, new workshop announcements, webinars, and anything else I feel you WANT to see. It's also a good way to keep me pushing out fresh content at least a few times a month, and giving you the opportunity to email me with requests rather than a Facebook message that I may miss. 

Over the past year I've received tons of requests asking me to do a webinar on how I use Lightroom and ASE to edit my images, along with all of Twisted Oaks images. With the first newsletter that goes out, I'll be announcing the first workflow and editing webinar where I'll go over two important topics. First, how I came up with the look and style of my images and the process that you can use to find your own. Second, exactly how I edit my images, from start to finish, showing exactly how I achieve the look that took me several years to be completely happy with. I'm going to keep it small for the webinar, only allowing 20 signups, and making it exclusive to those who receive the newsletter. I'll also be giving 2 free spots away, the remaining spots will only be $75. 

Ok, now to the good stuff, and the reason for the logos that your eyes keeping drifting off to at the bottom of screen. Since I truly and honestly don't want you to sign up for more emails without giving a huge THANK YOU to those that do, three of my favorite companies are going to spice things up a little. G-Tech, ONA, and B&H Photo are going to sponsor the newsletter and each give one of the first 100 sign-ups a prize.

G-tech will be giving one of their 1TB rugged G-Drive ev ATC with Thunderbolt, my favorite external drive that I own. ONA will be one of their awesome Bowery bag's, which the winner will be able to choose the color they want. B&H will be giving a $50 card. I will randomly choose 3 sign-ups to win and will announce the winners in the newsletter that will go out at the end of April! 

To sign up, fill out the form at the bottom of this email or at the bottom of the Home page. I truly appreciate all of you that follow my work and continue to show me the love that you do! Looking forward to share more with you all now with the monthly newsletter and promise to make it worth the extra notification letting you know another email just came in!

Thank you!


 
 
 
 
 

 
 

My Storage Solution

Back in early September, I wrote up an article on my storage setup while my office was still at home, which you can see HERE. Just a few short months after writing that up, I packed everything up and moved into a studio in downtown Hammonton, NJ. Moving out of the house and into the studio made things a little easier for me to keep copies of everything in two separate locations, and because of that, I made a few changes to my storage workflow. Since I got such a great response from the first article, I wanted to share with everyone the changes I made and how my new setup looks. 

[SLR Lounge article on my new studio]

WEDDING STORAGE

As I mentioned in the article from September, I made the decision last year to invest in the storage products made by G-Technology. I did a lot of research and decided to invest in two 12TB G-Tech Studio Thunderbolt Storage Systems. The advantage to using the G-Tech drives was the automation of backing up all my files, using RAID1, from one internal drive to the other. I added the 2nd Studio to completely mirror the 1st, backing it up in case something catastrophic was to happen (knock on wood) and the entire 1st Studio fails. This makes a total of two G-tech Studios mirroring each other, each with two drives, making a total of 4 identical drives. This only gives me a total of 6TB usable storage, which is plenty for the way I use them. Hopefully that makes sense. 

[Wedding Work: Twisted Oaks Studio]

I use the two G-Tech Studios for one full year of weddings. At the end of 2015, I moved everything onto a single 4TB Western Digital external drive and it sits in a fireproof safe at my house. All of the delivered images are online, so the WD drive holds the RAW files and Lightroom catalogs. For online storage and gallery delivery I use CloudSpot. With the 2016 wedding images and Lightroom catalogs, I copy everything to a new 4TB WD external drive as a disaster recovery copy which goes home with me and is kept in the fireproof safe

FILE SETUP

Something I didn't cover in the previous article was my file setup and how I organize everything. There are a few different ways you can organize your files, and as long as you have a system in place that works for you, that's all that matters. There really is no right or wrong way to do this, so it's completely cool if you are one of those photogs that load up a single LR catalog with years worth of images. I just have no clue how you do it :)

Some photographers choose to have one large Lightroom Catalog until it gets so filled up that it starts bogging down, while others have a Lightroom catalog for each year and categorize everything within LR using collections. I choose to give each and every wedding client their own LR catalog, which is stored in their own folder. I also store the client's RAW files and blog images in the folder as well. This has been my process for the past few years, and it just simply works for me. It makes it extremely easy for me to copy or move all of a client's images, both RAW and edited, from one location to another, as well as keep LR extremely clean and running nice and fast. You can see below an example of what it looks like:

PERSONAL WORK

Since I do a lot of personal work, as well as other shoots that aren't wedding related throughout the year, I have a separate setup in place for all of that as well. Unlike my wedding setup, where each client gets their own LR catalog and folder, I start a new LR catalog at the beginning of every year for all of my non-wedding work. At the end of 2015, I took my 2015 Personal LR catalog and folder, and moved it to two separate 4TB Western Digital drives that I use to store all of my old personal work and LR catalogs. I also added a 3TB G-Technology Thunderbolt Drive, the silver drive to the left of the 12TB Studios, and created a new LR catalog for 2016. This also gets backed up onto the 4TB WD drive that goes home with me from the studio. All of my edited images get backed up online as well, either on my Flickr account, or in a folder on a Zenfolio account. 

Since I edit at home on my Macbook Pro as well as in the studio, I also have two mobile external drives, also made by G-Tech. I use the little silver 1TB mobile thunderbolt drive for when I want to bring a wedding client's LR catalog and RAW files home to edit. I use the awesome rugged G-Tech 1TB ev ATC drive with Thunderbolt, which is an SSD, as my main storage for anything I start editing at home on the MBP. I absolutely love this drive since its durable and I don't mind if my son takes it and drops it or throws it. I keep it at home most of the time and then make sure I unload everything off of it at the studio every few weeks when I remember to. 

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to email me and ask. I know this may be confusing to some of you, but hopefully I explained it good. I invested in G-Tech for a reason, and after a year now, I couldn't be happier with that decision. Their Thunderbolt drives are fast as hell and the Studio drives are nice and quiet, I forget that they are even running. If you haven't invested yet into a storage system, I highly recommend their products. 

If you're in Vegas for WPPI, stop in at the Gtech booth #732 to see their products, that's where I was first introduced to them. Just be prepared, it will make you want to spend money on Gtech booth to see their products, that's where I was first introduced to them. Just be prepared, it will make you want to spend money on harddrives :)

Why I Partnered Up With My Direct Competion

An SLR Lounge article on why I created Twisted Oaks Studio and how the partnership works. A good read on making bold move and taking risks to make it in an industry where the failure rate is one of the highest in small business. 

Click on the image below to be taken to the article