Photographer's Vest

A Photographers Vest – Better Late than Never!

A LONG time ago, Kate gave me this photographer’s vest for Christmas. I’m not a clothes horse, but it took decades for me to not feel self-conscious about wearing it. I finally did, though, last Columbus-Day weekend in Peterborough, New Hampshire. It was their annual “Artists’ Open Studios,” and I decided to take two small cameras: a Kodak Retina IIa and Panasonic Lumix ZS100.

Of course, I had to bring all their support gizmos too. But I wanted to keep my hands free while walking all over the place and handling peoples’ handiwork. So there’d be no camera bag this time.

Love at First Use

And I LOVED the freedom the vest gave me. Nearly all of its nearly two dozen pouches, pockets and attachment points were filled, but it almost felt like the vest wasn’t even on. I didn’t have to fight a bag strap that constantly slid off my shoulder. And when a camera strap tried to do so, I could “Velcro” it under an epaulet.

The vest kept everything you see here organized and easy to access:

Vest with contents

These items included:

  • iPhone (used to take the above photo)
  • Lumix ZS100
  • Memory-card wallet
  • Extra battery
  • Retina IIa
  • B/W film
  • Pilot light meter
  • Series VI Wratten 23A filter (within a press-on collapsible lens hood)
  • Series VI Yellow filter
  • Sunny-16 and Retina hyperfocal-distance reference cards
  • Vintage clockwork shutter-release (for hands-off Retina shots)
  • Cable release
  • Vintage Kodak tabletop tripod
  • Vintage rangefinder accessory
  • Lens cloth and brush
  • Pocket knife and mini Maglight
  • Pen
  • Cap and thin gloves
  • Open Studios Guide (not shown)
  • Artists’ business cards (not shown)

NOTE: I kept the Retina either on my shoulder or around my neck, and carried the Lumix ZS100 in one of the vest’s large front pockets (it was lighter than the Retina).

Not Expensive Either

As you see, the film camera generated most of the vest’s contents. And if you happen to be a new (or returning) film photographer– or anyone who needs to juggle lots of small things– consider one of these. The company that made mine seems to have migrated from clothing to camping equipment. But this vest (and similar designs from other companies) can be found online for from $10 to $60.

It’s a beautiful thing… and mine isn’t going back in the closet any time soon!

–Dave Powell is a Westford, Mass. writer and avid amateur photographer.

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18 thoughts on “A Photographers Vest – Better Late than Never!”

    1. YES Martin… a great thought! And though it’s not shown in the photo, I do use a pair of reading glasses (with squinty rectangular frames) that I carry in a skinny Maglight belt pouch. (A pen also fits in the pouch.) They’re my everyday and everywhere carry!

  1. I have, what I think is, that same accessory rangefinder. I use it exclusively with my Zeiss Ikonta folding scale focus camera. I think it works very well. Does the rangefinder on your Retina IIa not work properly? I wonder why you needed the accessory rangefinder.

    1. Hi Lee. And it still works well for you I bet! The rangefinder on my Retina does still work, and I use it when lighting permits. But my vision is not exactly what it used to be, and there are times when the view is clearer and brighter through the aux finder. (It’s also a hoot to use because it was my dad’s.)

  2. I got my first photo vest from Banana Republic in high school (back when they were just a catalog), and I’ve been wearing multi-pocket vests nearly every day since. I need my pockets!

  3. I love many-pocketed vests. Aside from being practical they also serve as a sort of cloak of invisibility for shooting among strangers in public. When I am wearing one of those vests, a bucket hat and a funny looking old camera, nobody takes me seriously.

    1. Geez Nick… I’m ALMOST not taking you seriously now! 😉

      I wear an Irish tweed Hanna cap, which goes quite well with the vest. And the combo only attracted attention from much younger photographers when I was using the “retro” Retina. (The little Fuji digital + vest garnered no attention at all.) And for years, I worried about standing out in the crowd.

      No more!

  4. One of my duffer-vests has extra large pockets, which I find indispensable when using large or medium format cameras with removable film backs, ground glass, and the like. These cameras require me to juggle loups, film backs, ground glass, dark slides and so forth. Without many pockets this becomes a nightmare.

    1. Thanks again Nick! I haven’t tried a MF folder yet… but there are three pockets large enough for even my Kodak Monitor 620. And all those tiny little accessories are precisely why vests such as these can be very time-saving!

  5. Hey Dave, I think the vest idea looks pretty cool. It certainly smacks of a ‘pro’ photographer image which could only help as a visual passport to certain events (..”.yes, I’m a photographer…) They are certainly less cumbersome than the once- popular ‘photographers gadget bag’ in which one could never find anything in a hurry, and it kept slipping off my shoulder anyway! Makes good sense I reckon.

    1. Thanks Brian! It also looks cooler than that gadget bag hanging off one’s shoulder. And it just occurs to me that as long as the vest is worn, it provides a bit more security than a bag whose strap can be cut by a thief. Of course– as other commenters have observed– that slight boost in security doesn’t extend to larger cameras… but at least their lenses might be a little safer from theft!

  6. I agree they are a great idea. I bought a similar garment from a discount store in the UK for £12 some time ago though I still carry a camera bag, using the pockets in the vest to temporarily store things when I need two hands free, as, for instance, changing lenses, and for storing say my light meter, notepad and pencil, for quick access. They also provide another layer of insulation in winter.

    1. I forgot to mention that insulation factor… so thanks, John, for bringing it up! My first outing with the vest was over a cold weekend in New Hampshire. And the garment was a welcome extra wrap. It would also make changing lenses, filters, film or memory cards much less awkward.

  7. Frankly, I never liked the vest although I have one. I find that a multi pocket leather fanny pack is a lot less fussy and I can pack all I need in one. The cameras either clipped on my belt or ride diagnal across the chest hanging at my side.

    1. I hear you, Jim! I too used fanny packs until one was cut off my body while I was waiting in line to enter Notre Dame in Paris! (At least, the vest would have been harder to yank away from my body.) ;-(

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