Scotte vs Orvis — photo vests of interest
This is a personal review of a newcomer photo vest versus an old standby.
Collecting the right camera gear is one thing. Carrying it is another. I’m talking about basic travel photography rather than commercial shoots with bags of extra camera bodies, lenses, lights and accessories — not to mention assistants.
Commercial photography requires a crew. This article is for photographers who work solo shooting personal, editorial or stock images.
I’m a travel photographer who works in each of these areas. I’ve always tried to travel light, but years ago my right shoulder told me it wasn’t light enough. I underwent surgery to remove a bone spur — a result of years of carrying a camera bag.
To more evenly balance the weight of my equipment I began to experiment with photo vests. Bazooby was a cheap one that worked for me, but disappeared from camera stores.
So I tried everything — name brands and no name. Banana Republic made a gorgeous looking vest that was completely useless. Domke was too long, Billingham too expensive. I finally settled on an Orvis fly fishing vest which I’ve been using to this day.
I’ve gone through many, modifying, resewing and patching until each has been worn literally threadbare. Orvis has maintained the style that works for me, although over several years has gradually raised the price and used thinner cotton (or maybe I’m just treating it rougher).
Longevity aside, the key problem in urban zones is looking like a walking camera store. There’s no way I can be incognito. More than once, upon spotting my vest and Tilley safari-type hat, someone began to hum the Indiana Jones theme song. Sometimes it’s beneficial to look like a pro, other times not.
As for the hat, my dermatologist said the only way I should be getting a tan is out of a bottle, and my ophthalmologist said “Wear a hat!”. So I wear a hat. When walking city streets I wear an ordinary baseball cap to blend in. On dedicated assignments and wilderness trips I don my trusty Tilley.
The ozone layer is thinner everywhere now, dangerously so at high altitudes and the polar regions. This can affect your eyes. As a travel photographer, I’ve learned to take care of my health.
The folks at ScotteVest sent me one of the company’s travel vests to try out. I wanted to see if the Scotte could replace my Orvis. Did it or didn’t it? Read on to find out, but remember, it’s only my opinion.
The Scotte is made of lightweight wrinkle/stain/waterproof resistant high tech washable material which in terms of feel and appearance puts the basic cotton Orvis vest to shame. But that’s not the end of the story.
All the gear I consider taking with me (except my full length tripod)
The gear that fits my Scotte vest without being overstuffed.
I wear the camera around my neck.
The gear that fits my Orvis vest. I use the Olympus MFT camera system.
An overstuffed Scotte vest looks odd and isn't balanced for easy access to items and ease of movement. The key is not to overload.
Inside and out of the ScotteTravel vest.
Inside and out of the Orvis fly fishing vest having about the same number of pockets as the Scotte but with a markedly different configuration.
Back of the Orvis before and after removal of 2 pockets and addition of a quiver. Handy for magazines, umbrellas, wine, baguettes etc.
My analysis of the Scotte, pocket by pocket.
* The mesh anti-heat lining is useful in hot humid weather. Nice and also needed because the vest is close fitting.
* Small round magnets help keep the two front outside pockets closed. There’s also a zipper on each. The cover on the zippers helps to camouflage the exact opening. A good pickpocket deterrent.
* Two exterior hand warmer pockets are useful for that express purpose. One of these could also double as a lens pocket. The other pocket would be iffy because there’s a (removeable) stretch cord for keys with a metal button which might rub against a lens.
* The back pocket is the only one with enough length (width?) to store documents, although these will be creased if you bend or lean back. Definitely not a safe place for valuable docs, and awkward to reach for maps etc. I would use this pocket to hold a light jacket, sweater or collapsible umbrella.
* The designated camera pocket is large enough for a point and shoot camera similar in size to a Sony RXIII, but not spacious enough for a Micro Four Thirds body, even without a lens. Inside this pocket is a mini pocket for a spare SD card.
* The ‘Personal Area Network’ is a catchy term for a collar with two tiny bunjee-type cords and 4 flexible plastic clips to hold the cord of a blue tooth device such as a phone or MP3 player. Unlike most of the world, I rarely use my phone, so wouldn’t need this. It’s also not helpful for my Bose ic20 noise cancelling ear buds. But I can see it would be useful for many people.
* Without constant need for a phone or MP3, I would use the clear plastic inside pockets for storing my Bose ear buds and cord in their own protective case. Reading glasses in a protective case are also a possibility, although they might fall out due to protruding over the top of the pocket.
* Two pen pockets, one on each side of the interior, are sensibly placed vertically and near the front for quick access. Unless pens have a tight clip, they will fall out. One of these pen pockets could hold a mini flashlight. Again, not useful for me, as I use a small round 1 oz. bike light for illumination.
* The RFID-blocking wallet pocket is a nice idea if you have a thin wallet. Mine is fat. The pocket will hold a passport and a few credit/debit cards plus some business cards, but that’s it. Too small for my needs.
* Inside pockets are labelled for suggested items, useful to begin creating your own space, but not necessary after you standardize where you put things. The trick to quick access is to have a system, modify it as needed, and stick to it.
* The zippered sunglass pocket is useful and neatly placed. A microfiber cloth on a string is a nice touch. I use such cloths by first brushing dust from a lens, then spraying the surface with an eyeglass cleaning solution, wiping it off with the cloth. Works like a charm.
* I’ve learned the hard way through years of travel that if something isn’t zippered, snapped or velcroed shut, it will fall out. That makes a few of the open-top inside pockets unusable for me.
* The ID pocket is another place to store your passport, but at 7” wide isn’t enough to hold standard 8” paper boarding passes, 8.5” folded sheets of standard paper or a standard 9” document wallet. Sometimes I need paper; everything isn’t digital just yet.
* The Ipad pocket is the largest in the vest. But as a pro photographer I need my laptop (Macbook Air) for serious image processing. I would more likely use this pocket to carry lenses. To keep them from rattling around, I would keep each in a ziplock-style bag. Adding a similar pocket on the opposite side of the vest would allow more storage and provide a weight balance.
* Best for digital travelers and street photographers who work with minimal equipment and need to look respectable in any environment.
* Discreet, handsome design that holds its shape to always look trim and neat unless overloaded. Good for minimalists.
* Lightweight wrinkle/stain/waterproof resistant high tech washable material
* Comes in a choice of 3 colors and 3 sizes.
* Approximately the same price as the Orvis.
* Limited use as a photo vest. The pockets are too small and irregular-shaped for carrying much camera gear.
* What it was designed to hold, it does well, but it’s a welterweight compared to the light-heavyweight Orvis when it comes to trucking gear.
* Approximately the same price as the Orvis.
In addition to a vest, I often wear a Timbuk2 waist pack with a second OM body + Zuiko 40-150mm f2.8 PRO lens + matching 1.4 and 2.0 tele-extenders + polarizer filter. The Tilley hat is de rigeur, of course.
Close-ups of some of my stuff. The round patches are spare material from Tilley hats to prevent chafing of lenses inside my pockets; also useful as kneeling pads and as a surface on which to set items.
Full disclosure: Scotte gave me the vest to do this review with no oversight or editing by ScotteVest. I've always paid the retail price for all my Orvis vests.
Text, photos and layout
© Gary Crallé 2016
All Rights reserved.