As a landscape photographer and workshop leader, Ive seen many gear failures. Tripod legs fall apart, ballheads bind up, and tiny screws come loose all of the time. When you are miles from your car and your gear fails, a quick field repair will save your shoot and preserve your sanity. As a die-hard gear geek, I have many tools and gadgets. Some have proven indispensable, other indefensible. Lets compare my four favorite pocket tools to see which have earned a home in my camera bag.

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Really Right Stuff MTX Multi-Tool


Weight: 3.4 oz. (4.7 oz. counting the extra bits)
Will it Fly? Yes, you can carry it on!
Will it Open a Beer Bottle? No.
Will it Slice an Apple? No.
Will it Tighten a Hex Bolt? Yes, very well.
Will it Wrench a Stuck Nut? Nope.

Anyone who has owned a RRS ballhead, tripod, L-Bracket or clamp knows how precise and elegant the companys products are. The MTX Multi-Tool brings RRS attention to detail and impeccable quality to the pocket tool game. At first glance, it looks like the hollow-handle screwdrivers you can buy at any hardware store, but instead of a smattering of Phillips head bits, RRS has filled the tool with 10 3/16 socket bits that photographers would actually use.

The handle holds 10 bits in a tight array of clips so you won’t have them spilling out onto the ground when you open it up. In addition to the little bits, there is a 3/16 hex key which works in most hex bolts found on tripods and brackets where you might want more torque than a typical bit. Added to the 10 standard bits within the handle are 12 more in a tidy little capsule. These bits include all of the small flat head, Phillips head, and other bits for handling virtually any other screw and bolt in your kit. Those teeny tiny screws that hold your cameras shell together? Theres a bit for those.

This tool is a one-trick Pony however. It only drives bits. If you need to cut, carve, pry, pinch, or snip anything you will have to look elsewhere. What the RRS MTX Multi-Tool does is handle the bulk of the problems you will face in the field. I use mine to tighten the ever-loosening tripod leg bolts and fasten my L-Bracket to the camera. I could handle those tasks with a handful of hex keys, which cost little and weight even less, but I like the utility and convenience of the MTX. I don’t know how many hex keys Ive lost over the years, but its not a trivial amount. The RRS tool keeps the bits I need tucked away safely in a waterproof solution that is built to last for decades.

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Victorinox Swiss Army Super Tinker Knife


Weight: 2.98 oz.
Will it Fly? Only if you check your bag.
Will it Open a Beer Bottle? Yes.
Will it Slice an Apple? Yes.
Will it Tighten a Hex Bolt? Nope.
Will it Wrench a Stuck Nut? No way.

The iconic Swiss Army knife is a staple of many every day carry kits for good reason. The knives are the original multi-tool with blades, screwdrivers, cork screws, scissors, and awls. They even carry tweezers and tooth picks in their red handles. I have owned many Swiss Army knives in my life and Ive even lost some blood to their incredibly sharp blades. When it comes to pocket-sized utility they are hard to beat, but for a photographer dealing with a failing tripod or loose clamp, the little red knife won’t provide much help. I sometimes carry the Super Tinker as a compact companion to the RRS MTX Multi-Tool. Between the two tools, I have almost every task tackled. What the Swiss Army knife lacks is a set of pliers. For true heavy-duty pinching, wrenching and prying you will need to look at beefier tools. For a svelte solution to many needs, the Swiss Army Super Tinker still holds rank amongst the best pocket tools.

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Leatherman Wingman Multi-Tool


Weight: 7 oz.
Will it Fly? Only if you check your bag.
Will it Open a Beer Bottle? Yes.
Will it Slice an Apple? Yes.
Will it Tighten a Hex Bolt? Nope.
Will it Wrench a Stuck Nut? Yes, ply away!

When Tim Leatherman cobbled together his original multitool, he was looking to level up the utility of pocket tools. By marrying a full-size set of pliers with a blade and a handful of other fold-away tools he revolutionized the industry and now Leatherman tools are the new Swiss Army knives. Several evolutionary cycles from the original, the Leatherman Wingman is a mighty little tool that includes several useful features to photographers.

The screwdrivers, blade and pliers all have come in handy for me in the field, but to be honest the Leatherman tools have often gotten me into trouble. When you dig into a stuck bolt with the tools pliers, you will shred it. Multipliers like the Leatherman Wingman are really blunt-force trauma tools that shine in situations where you need to bust things to fix them. Ive stopped carrying the Wingman in my camera bag because I have found the lighter Leatherman Skeletool CX does as much with less bulk. Similar multi-tools from Gerber, Spyderco, Buck and others also have proven to be useful in the workshop, but not in the camera bag.

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Leatherman Skeletool CX


Weight: 5 oz.
Will it Fly? Only if you check your bag.
Will it Open a Beer Bottle? Yes.
Will it Slice an Apple? Yes.
Will it Tighten a Hex Bolt? Yes, with the $24 Accessory Bit Kit.
Will it Wrench a Stuck Nut? Yes, ply away!

While tools like the Leatherman Wingman have been relegated to the workbench because of their bulk, The Skeletool CX slims down the weight without sacrificing utility by combining a carbon fiber frame with die-cut components that leave most of the tool looking rather skeletal. Hidden inside are the standard pliers and blade, but instead of adding layers of flip-out tools Leatherman opted for a swappable bit system instead. I find this a brilliant solution and Ive used the Skeletool CX many times to repair tripods, ballheads and clamps. The problem is you need to purchase the Accessory Bit Kit to get the tiny little hex-compatible bits you will need. When the tool costs $100 its a pinch to add $24 for a nylon sheath full of little bits. Like anything well made, the Leatherman Skeletool is worth the money and Ive beaten on mine for years with no quality issues. The fact that the tool is assembled in my hometown of Portland doesn’t hurt, either. For me the Skeletool CX is the only one-tool solution for photographers, (with the bit kit). If you aren’t flying commercial this is the best option. If you frequent the friendly skies, go for the RRS MTX tool.

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