Gear Bag. The Boring, Important Stuff: #1 A Car

When there is talk of photography gear usually it revolves around the sexy stuff — the brand new cameras, the fastest glass, some european strobe or light modifier. They’re easy to overlook, but there are plenty of “boring” things that I consider part of my critical gear as a photographer that are not specific to the field but that are either essential for me to work, or at least make my life a little easier.

I plan to keep a running list of these pieces of gear, in no particular order of importance — just in the order that they pop into my mind.

#1: A Car

2011 VW Diesel Wagon

2011 VW Diesel Wagon

I want to start my list with what I would argue is my most important piece of gear aside from the cameras and lenses. A location photographer without a reliable car, just wouldn’t be able to work.

I spend many thousands of miles on the road every year, and over all those hours at the wheel I grow very attached to my car. I took my time through most of last year to look for the perfect replacement for my 2008 Golf.

2008 VW Hatchback

2008 VW Hatchback

The Golf had given me five years of faithful service, but it had two major problems. First was overall size: it was a bit small to comfortably carry all the gear, me, an assistant, and leave room for anyone else. Second was fuel economy: the same thing that made the car fun made it less fun at the gas pump.

Golf engine bay with 2.5L 5-cylinder engine

Golf engine bay with 2.5L 5-cylinder engine

For the US market VW chose to shoehorn in a 2.5L 5-cylinder engine that in Europe they don’t offer on this car. On the Golf I averaged about 22 mpg on normal driving and on long highway trips the best I ever managed was 31 mpg. Trudging through heavy traffic I could expect at best about 18 mpg.

TDI engine bay with 4-cylinder turbo

TDI engine bay with 4-cylinder turbo

I was not specifically looking for another VW, but in some ways the choice felt predetermined. We just don’t have a lot of choices in the US for station wagons. The choices for diesel powered anything that isn’t a truck? Well, they’re even slimmer. Luckily, I already knew that I like the Jetta wagon. My wife has been driving the gas version for a bit over a year now and going with diesel means much better fuel efficiency.

A medium amount of gear loaded into the Golf, leaving barely enough space for a photographer and an assistant

A medium amount of gear loaded into the Golf, leaving barely enough space for a photographer and an assistant

With the TDI wagon, I am seeing much better fuel consumption. On the highway I have no problem getting 42 mpg. And most important, my average for normal driving around is 36 mpg and when I have to crawl through traffic the worst I’ve seen is 28 mpg.

Just like with my previous car, I am hoping for 5 years of good, uneventful service from the TDI wagon.

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