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Before you Buy: Choosing a Camera Bag

Camera bags can be one of the most difficult pieces of equipment to choose. No camera bag is made to fit every occasion so I will here talk about some different types of bags and cover a few points to consider.

Choosing your next lens or camera is often quite easy, you often know what you want, but when it comes to choosing a new camera bag at least I can be confused and have a really hard time deciding. I will talk about different types of bags, and go into some more detail on a specific model in each category.

Shoulder bag — LowePro Nova 5 AW

Shoulder bags make accessing your gear easy and quick, often a good choice for urban photographers. They come in all different shapes and sizes, many of them have the great feature of not looking like a camera bag, which is often appreciated since it attracts less attention from ill-willing citizens. I would recommend brands like Domke and Crumpler if this is what you’re looking for.

The LowePro Nova 5 AW does not fit the above description, it’s a rather large bag and bulky. I personally dislike shoulder bags because I’m not an urban photographer. When I take a bag with me it’s often because I go on long hikes for several hours and shoulder bags tend to be tiresome and not the best solution for my style of shooting.

I use the Nova 5 as a storage bag and it’s a bag that I take with me when I’m going to be shooting on one location and not move around a lot. As you can see it can swallow quite a large amount of gear, in the picture above I have 6 lenses (1 large, 3 medium and 2 small lenses) as well as my Canon EOS 350D with attached grip. Also stored in the main compartment are a set of extension tubes and several filters, in the front compartment I have memory cards, spare batteries, an air blower and other assorted stuff.

Quick access backpack — LowePro Slingshot 200 AW

If you’re looking for a backpack with quick access, look no further, the LowePro Slingshot 200 AW is perfect for most situations. It’s small enough to not be in your way, and the “sling-feature” makes accessing your gear easy. How it works is that the bag only has one shoulder strap and you can flip it from your back to your waist with a single pull. LowePro also has a series of backpacks that have the same features but uses two shoulder straps called Fastback (the design is obviously a bit different but the idea is the same).

The Slingshot comes in different sizes, the 200 being the medium model and it is surprisingly roomy inside. It’s easy to rearrange the dividers and design your own interior, I have it arranged so that I can access all my gear fast and don’t need to open the zipper all the way. In the main compartment in the picture above I have 4 lenses (1 large, 1 medium attached to the camera and 2 small lenses), my 350D with grip and a set of extension tubes and memory cards. In the small front compartment I have spare batteries and some filters. In the top compartment I have a pocket book, a notebook, a flashlight and an air blower.

If you rearrange the dividers I’m sure you could be able to fit in 1 or 2 more lenses, but access might not be as easy that way — it’s all up to you to form your camera bag the way you want it. The bag also make use of LowePro’s Slip Lock system which means that you can attach extra lens cases on the outside of the bag.

I highly recommend this backpack.

Backpack — Kata R-103

A true backpack is a great choice if you go on long hikes or travel between photo sessions, as well as longer travels such as with airplanes. It’s not as accessible and quick as the other options above, but it’s far more comfortable and your gear is more safe with most backpacks (they often have better and more padding) and most backpacks have room for more equipment as well.

The company Kata that among other things make military armor also makes this backpack, the Kata R-103. This is a company that knows a thing or two about protection and how to keep your camera gear safe. And I must say, I trust that my camera gear is safe when it’s in this bag, the design is sturdy as a tank but still rather lightweight.

This is the most comfortable backpack I’ve ever used, non-photo related backpacks included. I have walked for hours with this bag and attached tripod on my back (total weight 24lbs/11kg) without actually feeling that I was carrying something. The design of the bag is amazing to say the least, you have a quick access zipper to be able to pick up the camera without opening the whole main compartment. Using this zipper you will also be able to access the storage pocket that is in the lid, this is where I keep my memory cards and spare batteries.

The main compartment is not as deep as many other backpacks, which means that most lenses will have to lay down in this bag, only smaller lenses will be able to stand up so to speak. This results in a bit smaller main compartment than most other backpacks, so this bag might not be the best choice if you have several larger lenses. In the picture above I have 5 lenses (1 large, 2 medium and 2 small), my 350D with grip as well as some filters. That is the content of my main compartment, in the lid I keep my batteries, memory cards, rain cover, remote control as well as some other assorted stuff. There are two smaller pockets on the front of the camera where I keep an air blower, extra quick release plate for my tripod as well as a flashlight and lens tissues.

On the backside of this bag there’s also a compartment for a laptop, up to 15″. This is a great feature that makes it easy to take your photo lab out on the field. When I’m not storing a laptop in this compartment I use it for documents or an extra sweater.

So all in all I think you will find that most, if not all, of your equipment will fit in this bag. And as I said earlier, it comes with a tripod mount to be attached on either the front or one of the sides. The R-103 uses Kata’s EPH system, which means that you can combine several Kata products and attach to each other to maximize your customizability and space. This bag is stated to be within the carry-on restrictions for airplanes, but if you plan on traveling with this bag, make sure about the size restrictions on your airport since they can vary quite a bit.

I highly recommend this backpack, it’s one of the best photo related purchases I’ve ever made.

Lens Case — Canon LZ1324

Lens cases are designed to carry just one lens, and they are a great option if you want to take an extra lens with you when you’re shooting. Another great usage for these cases are when they are attached to either a camera bag or a harness of some sort (more on this later). Lens cases are also a great way to keep your lenses safe during travels, but be sure to use a case that fits your lens. There are so many different sizes and it’s important to get the best possible fit to avoid having a lens that rattles around in there.

Camera Vest & Harness

A vest is a well-used alternative to a bag, it keeps all your equipment within arms reach. With its large and many pockets you can often fit the same amount of gear that you would in a small to medium backpack. Another alternative is the harness or belt on which you can attach several lens cases or smaller bags. This gives you more customizability than a vest and also keeps your equipment more protected, but a harness is often bulkier and more expensive.

Vests can be found in most photo stores (don’t know any good brand) and harnesses you should look into are LowePro’s and Think Tank’s.

Weather cover

For me weather cover is essential, as you can see in the picture above, all my camera bags comes with weather cover (lens case excluded). The two LowePro bags have their rain covers sewed into a compartment in the bag and can’t be removed. The Kata bag has a loose rain cover that can be taken off and left home if you like too, it even comes with an alternative silver side for reflecting sun, this side can also double as a light reflector which is a nice touch.

I would never buy a camera bag that didn’t have rain cover, but then again I live in a country where rain can come any day, anytime of the year. If I’m out hiking or taking a bike ride I don’t want to find myself hours from my home/car and nowhere to find cover, but if you’re not in these situations it might not be such an important factor for you. Choosing a camera bag is all about your needs, your equipment and photographing style.

Carrying a tripod

A tripod can be a real pain to carry with you, and this is the most common reason why so many photographers leave their tripods at home where they do no good. There are several good tripod cases and bags, but I myself find these a bit bulky or unnecessary. I do one of two things, either attach a shoulder strap to the tripod and carry it without a case or attach it to my backpack. Just remember, a tripod will not help you improve your photos if it’s left at home, so find the best solution for you to be able to have it with you every single time you might need it.

25 Comments

  1. Add point Subtract point

    Photoshop tutorials, from beginner to advanced. photo manipulation, icon design, text effects, interface, layout, painting, photo effects, psd tuts, maxon cinema 4d, designing.
    http://photoshopcs8.co.cc

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    انفجن (1 Point) September 22, 2010 at 11:29 am

    you know .. i never think about camera bag before

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    Dave (1 Point) May 13, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Since I shoot digital, and enjoy my road trips, I use the Kata DR467. It’s a combo laptop/camera gear backpack. Holds my 15.4″ Toshiba Satellite, Nikon D200 w/18-200mmG VR, chargers, a change of clothes, and comes with a rain cover. It does not have provisions for strapping on a tripod, though I could rig something up. Well-padded, with a sternum strap. 100 bucks.

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    Web Design (1 Point) April 26, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    handy information. thanks for sharing

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    Kelowna Photographer (2 Points) March 15, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    You can’t go wrong with LowePro bags.

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    R Gregory (1 Point) February 24, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    Good advice for those trying to figure out if a backpack or shoulder bag is better for their gear setup. And I agree with your emphasis on a rain cover and always taking a tripod … for protection and perfection. Why mess up a good photo opportunity by leaving the gear at home.

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    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุดเดือนนี้ (1 Point) February 3, 2010 at 4:01 am

    Excellent post. Thanks26

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    ดาวน์โหลดเพลงฟรี (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    Excellent post. Thanks19

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    ฟังเพลง (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 12:06 am

    Excellent post. Thanks14

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    ฟังเพลงออนไลน์ (1 Point) January 30, 2010 at 7:54 am

    Excellent post. Thanks

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    Just got the LowePro Computrekker AW and I love it. Holds all my gear as well as my 15″ MacBook Pro. And it was a great price @ $179.

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    Amanda (0 Points) August 10, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Great article! I just got a Nikon D60 and was wondering what bags are recommended for a beginner like me who doesn’t have multiple lenses (yet) or a lot of accessories. Any ideas?

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    I bought a harness a couple of years ago for my long photo shoot treks. I chose it because it was the most comfortable and versatile harness I could find.

    It’s the Kinesis H717 X-Harness. I just thought some people reading this post might want to compare it to other brands.

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    Great article. I also like to use a coat with large pockets to carry around equipment during a shoot.

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    This has got to be one of the best Camera Bag articles i’ve ever read! It really breaks it down nicely! Great Job!

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    A good article. Bags are the bain of my photographic life and I have had many over the years, including Billingham, Lowepro, Crumpler, and now the Tamrac series 6. having paired down my kit to just an Eos 5d with 24-105 L lens you’d think finding a bag to put it in would be easy. Well, it’s still a lot of camera, and as most bags these days are made for the smaller crop-sensor type, it’s not easy to get one that’s comfortable and a good fit for your gear, if you have full-frame, as you might think. Not without it it being the size and weight of a tank anyway. The exterior of the Tamrac series 6 is great, the interior, not bad, though I have stripped it of its ‘Bridge’ dividers (pointless for the 5d and lens) and replaced them with better made ones from Billingham, (yes, thankfully they fit). Tamrac’s biggest let-down is attention to detail as far as the quality of their dividers go. But wouldn’t it be nice to find the perfect bag. That will probably never happen for me.

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    Dennis (1 Point) July 22, 2008 at 11:51 am

    I also use the Crumpler 6 Million Dollar home and I will never buy another camera bag brand again. Crumpler makes by far the best quality bags on the market. I also have the 2 Million Dollar home for an older camera set but I can’t bring myself to sell it!
    Crumpler for the win in my opinion!
    Check the website out also, very cool.

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    Johan Munk (1 Point) July 12, 2008 at 9:41 am

    Great article! It’s a great subject to write about, although i missed your opinion on the LowePro stealth reporter, which i find a bit better and more robust than the nova.

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    @Spencer, thanks for that video, amazing! That looks pretty much like my dream set-up (16-35L, 24-70L, 85L and 70-200L). It seems a bit weird though that he only takes on camera with him and leaves the semi back-up at the hotel, although I understand the reason. Also, having two pocket wizards are not “back-up”, you need both for it to function…?
    Anyways, great video with a few handy tips, the laptop bag configuration was amazing — but I agree with him, 250Gb is probably not enough.

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    Spencer (1 Point) July 11, 2008 at 12:06 am

    For any serious photographer wanting to know from the best on how to pack their camera up, I highly suggest these two videos from the blog of Jeremy Cowart, an unbelievable photographer. You’ll thank me for it…

    http://blog.jeremycowart.com/2008/05/travel-gear-camera-bag.html

    And also setting up your laptop case for travel…

    http://blog.jeremycowart.com/2008/05/travel-gear-laptop-case.html

    Really useful tips here…

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    Michael Wilson (1 Point) July 7, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    I have the Slingshot 100AW, the smaller version, and it fits my D80 with my Wide Angle attached, my telephoto 55-200 and my external flash, and can also fit things like my flash slave adapter, my chargers, batteries, and other small peripherals. I recommend this to anyone with similar gear, the 200AW is similar, but slightly larger.

    Fredrick: We carry this one bag, it’s $249.99, and it is massive, holds a lot in there, waterproof, has a tripod holder, and is really comfortable. I’m assuming it’s really for people doing some Trekking and the like – I’ll get the name when I go back into work. It’s a Tamrac Expedition I think.

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    David Hellmann (1 Point) July 5, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    I use a LOWE Pro Rover Away II, great Backpack and looks nice!

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    Vin Thomas (1 Point) July 5, 2008 at 11:53 am

    I have been using the Crumpler 6 Million Dollar Home Bag, and it is pretty great! It looks great and is built nice too. Very customizable.

    I also used the Tamrac Velocity 7x for a while, and it was a tad small, but still a nice bag. Great for a few pieces of gear.

    Thanks for the tips.

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    Kevin Meany (1 Point) July 5, 2008 at 11:23 am

    Wow this was very helpful. I just as of last week got my new camera and I was planning on buying a bag sometime this week. This came out just in time too since I was not fully sure what to look at in a bag. As of right now I do not have much accessories to fill up some of those bags but you definitely put me on the right track. Thanks again!

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    MikeWhoBikes (1 Point) July 5, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Great article! I’ve been using the Slingshot 100 AW, which is the smallest size in that line of bags. Despite it’s small size I’m able to carry my camera body with 3 lenses (one mounted), batteries, filters, memory cards, a mini tripod, etc. I use the top rounded compartment to carry lunch or my 35mm film camera with lens mounted which is a perfect fit. That’s a lot of gear for a little bag, but it all fits snugly (not overpacked) and is easy to access.

    It’s also worth mentioning that in addition to the main shoulder strap there is a smaller strap “hidden” at the base of the bag that buckles to the main strap. This prevents the bag from sliding around when you lean forward, which keeps the bag more secure and I’ve found invaluable while cycling.

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