What's in my Spotting Toolbox: The Hardware

I've been planning on writing a post on this for a while now, however this excellent post at NYCAviation.com has left me wanting to respond with what I do. For the sake of this discussion, I'm going to leave the camera and lenses out, as they are pretty much a given on any particular trip.


First off, lets discuss radio communications.  I prefer to use an actual radio scanner over a smartphone app for a few reasons, and this was the one place that I found myself disagreeing with Jason's article.  First off, and probably the most important to me, is that I can listen in real--time and not worry about the cellular signal cutting out on me.  Second, with an actual scanner I can control exactly which mix of frequencies I am listening to instead of pre-determined blocks. And finally, my scanner is louder than my phone's speaker and it doesn't draw down the battery in my phone.  I will discuss my scanner setup in a future post.  I also always have my iPhone with me and usually my iPad and its SD reader.  I will discuss the actual apps that I use in the forthcoming "software" post, but in general i use the iPhone for tracking and research and the iPad for file backup and processing.  Finally, I keep an eternal USB battery pack with me along with the necessary cables for my iPhone and iPad.

Camera Accessories

Aside from the usual spare batteries (two) and memory cards (2-4), I try to limit what I carry with me to what I think I am going to use.  One necessity for me is a LensPen which I can use to quickly clean off any smudges or specks of dust.  I also keep a microfiber cloth in a pouch for cleaning larger areas. Another item that I have is a battery grip for my camera, which I keep with a set of AA rechargeable batteries as a backup in case I should have a problem with my 2 main batteries.  However I prefer to keep the grip off my camera unless I am using the batteries.  Finally, I keep a tripod and monopod in my car in case I need them.

Personal Care

When I was first starting out last summer, I quickly learned that i had to be sure to take care of myself while out shooting.  In the warm months, a good sunscreen is absolutely vital since I am often standing out in the sun all day.  Another necessity is bug repellant, since many of the locations I use are near water and some are prone to ticks.  I keep a couple of granola bars with me in case I don't have easy access to food, along with an ample supply of cold water.  I do tend to have a pair of sunglasses with me, though I find them hard to shoot with and so I normally only wear them driving around or if I'm not going to be shooting for a while.  Finally, I usually keep a folding camp chair in my trunk so so that I have a comfortable place to sit, or at least a place off of the ground to stash my gear on.

Carrying it all Around

I typically have 2 bags with me when I go out, a shoulder camera bag and a Camelback Cypher backpack. My camera bag holds my body and lenses along with whatever bits I want close at hand such as batteries and memory cards.  My scanner usually gets clipped to the outside and the antennas fit into a narrow pouch.  My camera bag comes with me wherever I go, be it lunch, or a quick stop for a couple shots, or a place I intend to stay for a few hours  The Camelback is a great bag with 2 purposes.  First, it has a large insulated water reservoir that typically holds enough ice and water to last me the whole day.  After finding myself somewhat dehydrated on a few occasions last summer, this has become an essential item.  The nice thing about the Cypher is that it has room to store a fair amount of gear as well as the water, so it holds anything that I don"t need quick access to such as my battery grip, cables, and sunscreen.  I also keep a planespotting guide in there just in case I have an interested onlooker or child. If I'm planning on spending an extended amount of time, the camelback comes with me, though I won;t necessarily keep in on me.  If I am going for a quick couple of shots, it usually stays in the car.