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 or Thin Skin 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?
Peak Design's Everyday Sling Bag is a stylish way to carry a mirrorless camera and lens, and even has designated space for an extra lens. Peak Design's velcro dividers let you configure the contents of your bag according to the specific content. There’s also room for a 11-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.
An even smaller approach to a camera storage is the MTW Fanny Sling by Moment, which packs a lot of cool features into a rather small space. This one’s designed specifically more as an everyday carry but is spacious enough to fit a point-and-shoot camera and accessories. 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.
3) You're globetrotting from location to location.
If you're a travel photographer constantly on the go, or just someone who likes to bring all their photo gear with them as they traverse the globe, you're going to need a pack that can handle all your gear and the different environs you might encounter.
The Lowepro ProTactic 450 AW II lets you comfortably carry a ton of equipment with you—we're talking up to 2 DSLRs, 9 lenses (including the 70-200mm attached to your camera), a 15" laptop, flash units, and even a tripod. The ProTactic's innovative ActivZone System harness makes schlepping all that equipment a much more comfortable and less straining endeavor. Four strategically placed access points make grabbing your gear a breeze, and the adjustable interior dividers allow you to snugly organize everything just the way you like it. In addition to all that organizational awesomeness, the ProTactic features a bult-in all-weather protective cover to safeguard your stuff and keep all your gear dry.
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 1510TP Carry-On Case with TrekPak Divider System from Pelican, 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 PRVKE 31L Backpack v2 from WANDRD is a great example of what to look for; it’s a backpack 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. It also has a removable 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 MindShift Gear BackLight Backpackoffers 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 camera, up to 3 extra lenses, and a 13" laptop. There’s even a side pocket for a tripod, 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, MindShift 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.
Sometimes 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 Bowery Camera Bag from ONA is made from Italian-tanned leather and comes in colors like Antique Cognac and Dark Truffle 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 two lenses, as well as accessories. 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.
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.
The Masters Golf Tournament has this size limitation of the size of bags:
When we went to a practice round of The Masters, I had two cameras, Canon 5D and Canon F-1N. I chose a practice round since cameras are allowed for those days. I carried my camera accessories, primarily film, in an Igloo cooler lunch bag.
Im looking for a a camera bag thad works as wel as a backpacker traveling bag so with the spase for the camera and accessories and ur normal backpacker luggage but it cant be big or not bigger than 35-45lt bag but has to work like a oki good camera bag and as a travelers backpack any ideas ty
Hi Trausti -
I've used this backpack for nearly 2 years as my general-purpose NYC commuting bag for gear, clothing, etc.
The black DSLR Video Fastpack 350 AW from Lowepro offers the multimedia shooter a flexible, strong and completely functional way to carry his photo/video or audio gear around. This multi-purpose pack can handle a wide variety of gear up to an including a 17" (43.2 cm) laptop in its own top loading compartment. This pack is designed to handle a pro DSLR (without grip) with an attached lens (up to 70-200mm f/2.8); 2 extra lenses; 1 flash or LED light; headphones; microphone; extra audio gear; 17" laptop; tripod or DSLR video rig.
Looks like some work has been put into this article but it is unclear who it is geared towards. There is only one pick in several categories, and the picks are for DX cameras, prime lens, or worst of all (although almost all manufactrures marketing photos are bad) showing the smallest flashes in the bag. Bodies such as D810 with a 24-70 2.8 or flash like the SB-910 won't fit into most bags listed. Yeah if you are an amateur with cash to buy you toys to feel like a pro this is a good list.
What about excellent Lowepro Toploader Pro 70 AW II that can take any 35mm film or digital with most zooms?
Or outstanding quality Tamrac products that actually take a couple of zooms and a flash to your next great outdoors?
Very good article, but consider weight of your equipment, over the shoulder bags are alright for city assignments, short trips and news photographers with light equipment, quick lens changes etc. Back pack supports equipment evenly climbing hills/mountains and rough terrain but somewhat of a hassle to reach your gear at a moments notice. Belt bags or attachable cases loads the weight around your waist and how does one sit down again? Ever try sitting down with a waist bag now add cases to that belt, kind of uncomfortable- right? I prefer the Lowepro's sling bag, comes with a optional waist belt for support, over one shoulder for evenly weight disturbution. Plenty of zippered pockets, zippered main compartment is easy to access, holds a camera mounted lens/power pack. Top compartment holds site info, maps, flashes, batteries and cleaning cloths plus attach a small tripod with the side elastic straps. Lowepro sell two sizes. Made to last, repels water and is hardly noticeable climbing mountain trails. Pelican hard cases are great for 4 wheeling assignments. Roll-over or rough roads could cause your equipment to tumble out of your vehicle or get tossed around but strap down a pelican and relax. Sturdy cases, waterproof and dust proof, a bit expensive but going into battle needs tough gear- commando and pelican delivers!
All the bags mentioned are for DSLRs. What about mirrorless cameras?
One of the first bags covered in this article, the Lowepro StreamLine Sling Bag, is specifically designed for mirrorless cameras. More options for mirrorless are available here, and here.
Thanks for reading and commenting,