f-stop Ambassador and Fujiﬁlm X-Photographer Maria Sahai is known for her images of frozen landscapes of the Arctic region. Karim Sahai is an award-winning photographer with a deep love of nature, wildlife and the Arctic, and whose passion for crafting compelling images has spanned the world of photography and movies for well over two decades.
The Artic is where Maria and Karim Sahai spend most of their time leading nature photography tours, but in this Packing Jigsaw we'll take look at how they make use of the f-stop Dalston and Fitzroy bags in the other side of their life: Back at home meeting work partners and clients, and taking day breaks to document the nature closer to home.
Tell us about your camera set up - what has made each piece part of your shooting kit?
Karim Sahai: My main photographic focus is on nature, wildlife and the arctic regions of Europe and Norway in particular. My wife Maria and I travel several times a year to the high arctic archipelago of Svalbard, or to Norway’s Troms region in the very north of the country, and also to Greenland. Photography and nature enthusiasts will come with us and for all those trips, I will pack all the cameras and lenses I need in the Ajna backpack. Depending on what I take, the bag can get pretty heavy, luckily the Ajna’s weigh distribution makes it pretty comfortable to wear when we go on hikes. In the end, what matters is that I’m ready and have the rapid access to the gear I use when Nature puts on a big glorious show.
When I’m not in the great outdoors and want to keep things light and easy, I will often elect to shoot with my ﬁlm cameras. Today, this is quaint, anachronistic butI ﬁnd the process of shooting analog really rewarding. Photos made on ﬁlm are almost always a bit of a surprise, and often end up looking very pretty - to me at least! Be it in 35mm, medium or large format, I truly love ﬁlm and continue to buy it. Also, there is a certain longevity that comes with shooting analog. To preserve those memories a hard drive or electricity aren’t required. I’ve owned and parted ways with many cameras over the years but my favorite are: the Mamiya 7II, Hasselblad XPan, Fujiﬁlm Natura Black F1.9, Contax G2, Contax T2, Ricoh Gr1s, Voigtlander Bessa II, Nikon 28Ti & 35Ti, Olympus OM4-Ti, and the Konica Hexar AF. Those cameras have been part of my shooting kit for more than 15 years simply because they oﬀer the ideal combination of compactness and superb image quality. Add a drum scanner, a large format pigment ink printer and you can make incredibly attractive prints.
Karim: Being a nature photographer, I spend a lot of time away from big cities and urban environments. You can often ﬁnd me on a dog sled in Northern Norway, riding a snowmobile through the Polar Night in Svalbard Archipelago not far from the North Pole or hiking through the greenlandic wilderness surrounded by icebergs. Packing for these types of long trips became an easy routine for me. My f-stop Ajna is always ready to hold all my photography gear and all the day supplies.
However, when the long trips are over, I am back at home and have to take care of the less glamorous side of any business - meetings, paperwork, research, emails, etc. But even on such days, the photographer in me never sleeps. I rarely leave my apartment without my camera, a few lenses and my laptop. This is why I was so excited when f-stop introduced the Urban Packs. Picking the Dalston as my new day city pack was a no-brainer. I carry it with me whenever I am working in town or on short-term day trips. It is light, compact and allows me to carry all my necessities without taking too much space and attracting unnecessary attention.
What are your essential pieces of non-camera gear that always go in your bag?
Karim: I recently started using the Fitzroy urban pack to carry the cameras I mentioned earlier. The ﬁrst thing I noticed when I received the bag was how light it was. I really liked that! But I feared the Fitzroy would be a little small for my kit, or the sling would make the bag a little unbalanced when carrying my typical personal project gear. That wasn’t the case at all. I could ﬁt the Mamiya 7II, 43mm, 50mm, 65mm and 80mm lenses, Contax T2, Fujiﬁlm Natura Black, Sony RX100 V, 10 rolls of 120 ﬁlm and 4 rolls of 35mm ﬁlm. That sounds like a lot, right? But for a short 2-3 days road trip or multi-city exploration, that works for me. I will usually carry the Mamiya on a neck strap when walking around and the rest in the bag.
It took me a few hours to get used to the single strap but I regret not having the Fitzroy sooner because it just doesn’t get in the way. I’ll just swing the pack around my shoulder, slide the zip open, grab another lens or a new roll of ﬁlm, while walking and without having to lay the bag down ﬁrst. I’ll usually put ﬁlm rolls at the top of the bag, Mamiya 7 lenses in the bottom compartment. (I will usually pick one lens and pretty much stick with it until I totally change environment, so placing them at the bottom of the pack where is perfect), the smaller cameras in the middle section for quicker access and I’ll place small accessories in the outer pocket (batteries, pen, gloves, wool hat)
On the day I received the Fitzroy, I was curious to see how much gear I could ﬁt in it: 6 cameras, 7 lenses, 10 rolls of ﬁlm, passport, phone, keys, wallet. When I need to travel a little further aﬁeld and take a bit more gear than for the project I mentioned earlier, the Fitzroy will be be perfect. Ideal size for cabin luggage, perfect for carrying several cameras loaded with diﬀerent ﬁlm speeds (100, 400, 800 asa for example) and awesome for not looking like a typical camera bag.
What kind of assignments would you use this gear set up for?
Karim: Though we’re based in Scandinavia, my wife and I have an ongoing love aﬀair with Asia. In a way, we’ve grown roots in Norway, and ﬁnd fertiliser in Asia. We embrace the Arctic and its raw power, and ﬁnd solace in the maelstrom of Chennai or Mumbai. I often have several personal photo projects on the go, but more recently, I’ve been making a series of photographs about the contrast from each locale. This personal project isn’t artistically pretentious or pedantic. It’s simply a visual juxtaposition of personal experiences and observations. Whether I’m making pictures in Norway, Sweden Denmark, India, China, Indonesia or Central Asia, I ﬁnd worthy correlations in colors, density of people, movement, nature spaces and customs. I choose to use ﬁlm for this personal project because of the delay between when I shoot and when I actually see the photos. That separation is useful in this exercise in juxtaposition.
Making those connections, photographically speaking, involves memory and those memories are what I want to safeguard in my future. For this assignment, I want to carry cameras that inconspicuous but which will produce great image quality. For this photo series, I usually take the Mamiya 7II because it is the ultimate in portability and image quality. I’ll also take the 43mm and 65mm and/or the 80mm lenses for the Mamiya7. The other two cameras I use for this project are the Fujiﬁilm Natura Black F1.9 and the Contax T2. I love the Natura for its super compact size. You can only ﬁnd this camera in Japan. Its fast aperture 24mm f/1.9 lens is minuscule and a marvel in optical engineering. The Contax T2 is also pretty small and will produce incredibly sharp pictures. Although those cameras are no longer made, they still produce amazing images. They are light, small and perfect for what I want to do. They allow me to move around quickly, without attracting attention.
Maria Sahai: Here is an example of a setup that I have when I am planning to spend a day in town:
• Apple MacBook Pro 15” • Water and snacks, of course. Never leave your house without snacks!
• Fujiﬁlm X-T2 with Fujinon XF18-135mm F3.5-5.6 and 4 batteries You might ask “Why so many batteries?” My motto is “It is better to be safe than sorry”. You never know what photographic opportunity may arise when you are outside. Luckily, Fujiﬁlm batteries are rather compact and I found that the small mesh pocket in my Dalston is a perfect place to store them for a quick and easy access.
• Fujinon XF100-400mm F4.5-5.6 This lens might seem like an unusual choice for a day in a city. But don’t forget that I am a nature photographer and even in urban environments, I try to ﬁnd an oasis of greenery to photograph. Fujinon XF100-400mm F4.5-5.6 is by far my favourite landscape lens and it is perfect for such occasions.
Maria: For instance, one evening after a day full of meetings, I took a short ride outside of Oslo. The combination of the warm autumn color palette and the sunset light was just perfect. Luckily, my camera gear was neatly packed in my Dalson the whole day, so I easily captured these shots:
Everywhere but Europe