The humble camera bag is possibly one of the most overlooked pieces of equipment we own. Let’s be honest, many of us may spend hours pouring over reviews of DLSR bodies and lenses? We try them out in stores, looking for the best deals. But how many of us put the same effort into choosing a camera bag? When you think about it in a logical way, we should put more effort into our choice. A camera bag not only has to protect several thousand dollars worth of equipment, it must be comfortable, easy to use and durable. A bad camera bag will give you, at least, a bad back. A good camera bag should, in use, become as instinctive as using your camera. So what are the choices that we face?
What are the choices?
Despite the seemingly endless choice of camera bags and manufacturers, there are basically three types of camera bag that we need to consider. The more traditional over the shoulder bags, backpack style camera bags and of course hard cases. In each of these types there are many different styles and looks but they are all essentially variations on the same theme. What you decide to choose is down to what you feel most comfortable with. Personally I find the backpack type more comfortable, this is because I have sloping shoulders and find the straps on over the shoulder types tend to slide off me.
Backpack style camera bags have become more popular in recent years and somewhat more sophisticated. One of their primary advantages is that they look like any other type of backpack. That is to say, not one that could contain a lot of expensive equipment. The other advantage is that the can be very comfortable over long periods of time. This makes them ideal for the roving photographer. This is countered by having limited accessibility, you need to take the pack off to access your gear. They also often have a smaller capacity when compared to their over the shoulder counterparts.
For their part, the over the shoulder bags are making a bit of a comeback. Once almost ubiquitous, they lost a lot of ground to the backpack bags. However, in recent years, companies like Crumpler have redesigned over the shoulder bags not only to make them more ergonomic but also more stylish. Their main advantage are that they often have a greater capacity and more variety of inserts and that they can be accesses whilst still on the photographer’s shoulder, a real advantage for photo journalists and travel photographer. Against this is that they are not as easy or comfortable to wear as a backpack and having a large bag to the side can be cumbersome in busy environments.
What should we look for?
So how do we go about purchasing a camera bag? Well having decided on what type suits you best, the best option is to try them in your local camera store. If that is not possible then use and online retailer with a fair returns policy. You need to test your camera bag with a typical load so take along your own equipment to give the bag weight. Of particular importance when testing is getting the straps right, especially in the case of a backpack. Make sure the bulk of the pack is not riding to high on your back. Also pay attention to the straps, do they have good padding and look strong.
Other things to look for when choosing a bag include, how adjustable the actually main compartment is. We all have different sizes of equipment so our bags need to have plenty of sturdy dividers to break up the compartments. Look for dedicated pockets for filters and memory cards, these can greatly help your efficiency. On the outsides of the bag it is useful to have extra pockets for things such as batteries, cables and model release forms. Some bags will have a laptop section too although be aware, carrying around a laptop can add some serious weight to your kit.
Is it tripod friendly?
One often overlooked feature of camera bags is whether you can attach a tripod to it. Even of you do not often use tripods it is well worth having this facility, carry a tripod by hand can be tiresome in the extreme. Tripods can be mounted to the sides, back or even underneath the bag but make sure your chosen bag has a way of securely attaching the pod, preventing it from slipping out when you are walking.
If you are out all day with your camera, consider a bag with a drink bottle pocket. It can be an invaluable addition especially if you are shooting away from areas of civilization.
Another often overlooked aspect is weather proofing. Not all bags are completely waterproof, but it is certainly worth investing in one that is. Some will be water sealed, others may come with a dedicated hood to put over the bag.
When we go out with out cameras our camera bag is often a constant companion. Because of this it is important to choose a bag that will suit you, your physique and your shooting style. Having spent many thousands of dollars on your equipment, it is well worth going the extra mile to provide it with a safe and secure place to live.