Camera bags, just like cameras and the photographers who use them, are not created equal. That means there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to finding the perfect bag. Most photographers will find that the type of bag they need varies from one shoot to the next—and may even depend upon where they’re going and what they’re shooting.
With so many bags out there to choose from, finding the one that’s perfect for your needs is daunting, to say the least. But rest easy—there are ways to find the bag that meets all your needs…
Knowing how your bag will be used, what you’ll be shooting with, and even how you’ll be transporting the bag are all factors that are important to consider before making the purchase. The right bag will make your job easier and make shooting more efficient, while the wrong bag can quickly become a frustrating hindrance. Let’s look at some of the things to consider when buying a bag.
1) You’re going to shoot events/action, but won’t need to change out a lens.
Maybe it’s a soccer game, maybe it’s an afternoon safari at the zoo with your kids. All you need is a single zoom lens to get you through the shoot—that’s when a digital holster can do the job. A good holster, like the Think Tank Photo Digital Holster 10 V2.0, offers more features and uses than the name implies. When you think “holster,” you’re probably thinking about something strapped around your waist during the days of the wild, Wild West. But the only similarity here is that it lets you draw, aim, and shoot with ease—particularly when used with Think Tank’s Pro Speed Belt, Thin Skin Belt, or Steroid Speed Belt.
The holster is really a form-fitting case that will hug your camera and lens. (Always check for compatibility of both the camera and lens before purchasing any bag). One of the great features of this particular model is that it lets you keep the tripod plate attached to the camera, so if you need to set up a shoot for a long exposure, you won’t have to take the camera out of the case and add the tripod plate—and risk losing the shot.
Although it’s designed for people who are traveling light, it still has room for essentials—like the lens cap, batteries, etc.—and it even has a business-card holder under the top grab handle, in case you want to drum up a little business during your shoot. Of course, anyone who shoots outdoor events knows that Mother Nature can be fickle and unpredictable, so having a rain cover with you at all times is essential. That’s another great feature this bag offers—a built-in rain cover.
2) You’re more of a point-and-shoot photographer… but you take it very seriously.
Today’s photographer doesn’t necessarily need a DSLR to get great shots, but if you’ve surpassed using your smartphone as a camera, chances are you need a bag that carries your gear better than your back pocket or purse.
The great news about some of these bags is that they not only provide the perfect space for carrying your camera(s), but they also allow you to bring along some accessories and personal items—something that buyers sometimes forget about when they’re looking at bags. You also have choices in style. Do you want something sleek or are you going for the rugged look? Backpack or messenger bag style?
Lowepro’s StreamLine Sling Bag is a stylish way to carry a mirrorless camera and lens, and also has designated space for an extra lens. Two separate spaces let you choose where you prefer to stow your camera, and there’s also room for a 10-inch tablet and items like your car keys and smartphone. One of the great features you’ll enjoy on this bag is that it also has a storage compartment for a jacket or sweater, which is great for those all-day events in changeable weather. There’s even a place to stash a water bottle, and it’s all tucked away inside a good-looking bag that looks like a messenger bag.
A slightly different approach to smaller camera storage is the Tough Mini Backpack by Olympus, which packs a lot of cool features into a rather small space. This one’s designed specifically to carry an Olympus point-and-shoot camera and accessories, but is also versatile enough to accommodate two mirrorless cameras and a pair of lenses. Inside, the padded dividers can be arranged to fit your needs, and the front pocket will hold a credit card, memory card, and other small items. This one can be carried as a sling, or you can unzip the straps and wear it as a conventional backpack—and each of the mesh pockets on the side is designed to hold water bottles.
3) You need to take a load off.
Let’s face it; sometimes shooting can be a pain in the neck—literally. Carrying heavy equipment, wearing a camera and lens on a strap around your neck all day, toting a backpack with extra bodies or lenses... these things can all add up to a chiropractor’s visit just waiting to happen. A beltpack can be a welcome solution, taking a load off your neck and shoulders while still keeping your camera and equipment close at hand.
For example, the Lowepro Inverse 200 AW Beltpack lets you carry your equipment around your waist, but is designed with a mesh lumbar belt that distributes the weight evenly. A padded swivel shoulder strap allows for greater evenness in weight distribution. One of the things that makes a good beltpack like this one so handy is the quick access top, so you can get to your equipment without putting the bag down and unzipping the entire bag. Adjustable dividers allow you to choose a configuration that works for your gear—and can be changed depending on the needs of the shoot. There’s also load of storage for everything from adapters and cables to personal items and water bottles.
One more feature to look for? The ability to strap your tripod to the bottom of the bag, keeping your hands free while at the same time being kind to your neck and shoulders.
4) You’re a frequent flier who takes your equipment with you.
Airlines keep coming up with more restrictions, so getting your gear onboard with you isn’t as simple as it used to be. What you need is a rolling bag that will fit in the carry-on compartment—but still has enough room for all your gear. That’s when you need to look for bags specifically designed for this task, such as the Airport Roller Derby Rolling Carry-On Camera Bag from Think Tank Photo. The interior can be configured for each use and will hold two DSLRs with attached lens, additional lenses, flashes and accessories. Two padded pockets are designed to hold a tablet and laptop. Side-rolling wheels are perfect for maneuvering down airplane aisles, there’s also room to strap on a tripod, and there are compartments to stow batteries, memory cards, a wallet, and phone.
Of course, some trips calls for more equipment, and that’s when your friends at TSA will make you put the bag on the conveyor belt and trust it to arrive on the other side. In that case, you definitely want a well-padded, hard-sided solution that can take a beating. A rolling hard case, such as the 2550 High-Performance Resin Case Hard Case with Cubed Foam from HPRC, is sturdy but amazingly lightweight. It’s crushproof, waterproof, and unbreakable, and has a cubed foam interior that will accommodate whatever gear you need, cradling each piece of equipment in its own compartment. It also has double-hinged latches to ensure proper closure and can also accept a TSA-approved lock, if preferred.
5) You need something that’s rugged and ready for the great outdoors.
Maybe the first thing that comes to mind when you say “rugged” and “outdoorsy” is “Bear Grylls,” but remember, we’re talking about camera bags here. When you are prone to climbing rocks, blazing trails, and hiking through areas that may include streams, mud, and other elements that put your camera’s well-being at risk, you need a bag that is up to the task. Look for something that’s not just waterproof, but also is crush proof and designed to go wherever you do.
The U160 Urban Elite Half Case Camera Pack from Pelican is a great example of what to look for; it’s a hard case that can be carried either by a handle or worn as a backpack. The padded, removable dividers let you configure it to fit the needs of your shoot and can handle a DLSR with attached lens, a second lens, flash, and accessories.
One of the great features on this pack—and something to look for whenever you’re buying a heavy pack—is that it has an ergonomic aluminum S-curved spine along the back to ensure comfortable shoulder and lumbar support. It also has a chest clip and removable waist belt, which provide greater stability, comfort, and weight distribution when wearing it as a backpack.
6) You shoot both video and still photography.
In today’s world, shooting video and still images at the same time is becoming more common. Whether it’s for work or personal use, the combination of video, audio, and images places new demands on what you need to carry with you. That’s when no ordinary bag will do—you need something designed with all your equipment needs in mind.
The DSLR Video Fastpack 350 AW from Lowepro offers an all-in-one solution, with a functional way to pack all of your photo, video, and audio gear into one relatively compact package. It can handle a DSLR with attached lens, two extra lenses, flash, headphones, microphone, additional audio gear, and a 17" laptop. There’s even a Hideaway Tripod Mount, which gives you an easy, hands-free way to carry your tripod—and deploy it just as easily.
Since it’s designed to hold so much equipment, Lowepro also built in lots of comfort features like adjustable shoulder straps and a snap-closure chest strap to ensure balance. The waist belt adds additional comfort and stability—but also can be hidden away when not in use. There are numerous compartments for cables and audio gear, and the bag even has a hidden all-weather cover to protect your gear when weather conditions are working against you.
7) You’re all about function—with form.
Ladies, you don’t necessarily want to show up with a camera bag that looks like a basic bulky black bag. Fortunately, there are solutions out there that add style to your shoot.
The Leather Capri Camera Tote Bag from ONA is made from Italian-tanned leather and comes in colors like Antique Cognac and Dark Tan to suit your personal style. Don’t let the stylish exterior fool you; inside, you’ll find padded, touch-fastened dividers that let you arrange space for a DSLR and up to three lenses, as well as accessories. The main compartment also has a dedicated internal slot for your iPad, tablet, or even an 11-inch MacBook Air. The soft leather grip handles make it easy to carry, while the elegant styling means your bag won’t announce that you’re carrying camera equipment inside.
When you’re toting more equipment, the AC540BL Envoy Standard Messenger Camera Case from Ape Case is a tough bag that can hold your DSLR and two lenses, a flash and accessories. The blue bag is made from water-repellent rip-stop nylon and has lots of zippered pockets on the front and the interior for memory cards, batteries, filters, and more. It looks like a messenger bag, but works like a champ.
Make sure you give your personal needs and uses some serious consideration before making your next bag purchase. Do your research and check out the reviews before making a final decision; you want to ensure it’s something you’ll be happy with for years to come.