Choosing a Camera Bag

December 10, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

When it comes to camera bags, I admit that I am a bag lady.  Seriously.  I have waaaay too many camera bags, but in truth, I use them all, and for different reasons.  Some women match purses to their outfits or the occasion.  Me?  I couldn't care less about purses.  For me, matching the camera bag to the occasion is definitely what it’s all about.

Someone asked me recently about what kind of camera bag is best, and I knew I could not answer without a long explanation.  I’ll take you through the kinds of bags I own, and for what occasion, so you can choose for yourself.

First and foremost, any camera bag has to be well made and comfortable to wear.  Many people are fond of the cross-body bags known also as a sling bag.  The benefit of a sling bag is that you can rotate it to your side, and then unzip and reach into the bag without having to take it off.  However, as a somewhat full-chested female, I find them uncomfortable.  In the store, they feel fine when empty.  But take along three five pound bags of flour, put them into the bag you’re considering, and try it on again.  If it’s hard to breathe, or cuts sharply across your chest, don’t buy it.  Here is a popular sling bag by Lowepro:

I prefer a backpack style, which evenly distributes the weight across my back.  I usually just let one strap fall, and then rotate the bag to the side, so I can reach my gear.  The wrap around feature of the flap covering the gear makes it simple.  I have a backpack in both small and large sizes.  The small has a zippered pocket for a tablet, and the large has room for a big laptop.  The gear compartments will hold a camera body with lens attached, and one or more additional lenses, depending on the size of the bag.   The top zippered compartment is roomy enough for a bag lunch, wallet and keys, and extras like memory cards, spare batteries, etc.  Here is the small type I have:  The larger is here:

Both backpack and sling bags may offer tripod pockets and straps to accommodate a small folded tripod on the outside of the bag.  When selecting a bag, also consider whether it has a built in rain cover that can be pulled out and used when the heavens open up.

I have the two backpack sizes for very different reasons.  When I am doing a daytrip with a lot of walking, the small is perfect.  Mostly, I am wearing the camera, so the backpack holds the extra stuff.  When I am traveling by air, I take the larger bag.  Into it go my laptop, external drives, IPad, Kindle, reusable water bottle, sunscreen, wallet, keys, etc.  The camera bodies, folded tripod, and lenses are in my hard sided wheelie bag, which I fit into the overhead bin.  Later, at my destination, I repack the backpack with the camera gear, and off I go, leaving the wheelie bag and other electronic gear in my room.  Here is a link to a good travel bag for camera gear:

When I am out on a photo walk with the big camera, I know I will be wearing the camera, so sometimes all I want is a small bag to hold an extra lens, filters, cleaning cloth, and a spare battery.  In that case, I use a bag like this:  I suppose a large cross-body purse would fulfill the same function.

When I am walking in a city, which I rarely do, I don’t want to look like I’m toting expensive camera gear.  I also want to be able to combine the functions of a camera bag and a purse, as well as hold the bag close to my front.  I have a Kelly Moore bag like this:  I wear it with the removable cross body strap.  A more "stylish" bag like this is suitable for weddings and special events, when I am the guest and not the photographer.  Men may prefer the messenger bag look for use in the city.

Traveling with the car, such as when I go to a wildlife refuge near home, I usually work out the of the trunk.  Many of the photos are taken from within the car, with the windows rolled down.  In that case, I pack all of my gear into a cargo organizer, and work from it.  There’s no need to pack a bag, only to unpack it when I get there.  If I am spending the night, I take the organizer into the hotel to put it all back into order, check the camera settings, etc.  Here is a cargo organizer I love, because it has stiff sides and won’t collapse:  I put lenses, camera bodies, chargers, filters, remotes, batteries, cleaning supplies, etc. into the compartments.  Of course, this organizer system is only good when I’m driving on a road trip, and not flying anywhere.

To summarize, when it comes to a camera bag, the answer may be that you need more than one.  If you’re in a city, you may not want to advertise that you’re carrying a lot of gear.  If you’re hiking, you want to lighten the load.  If you’re attending a wedding, you don’t want to wear a big black backpack.  Don't buy a bag that's too big; you'll end up feeling like a pack horse, with a sore back and shoulders very soon.

Lowepro is probably the leader in affordable, durable, camera bags.  They’ve even got this great interactive bagfinder tool, to help you choose.

Now that I’ve gone to the effort to write this long blog entry, detailing the various aspects to consider in a camera bag (or two), if you’re truly appreciative, you can buy me this Ona bag I’ve been lusting after.   Any color; I’m not picky:

Happy bag shopping!



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