There is no perfect camera bag. There I said it. It’s a license. Use it. Tell your spouse there’s a reason you need so many camera bags. Camera bags do different things for different people. I have had as many as 30 but now am proud of the fact that I have it down to fewer than 10.
Just as I wouldn’t think of owning just one camera lens, I wouldn’t think of owning just one camera bag. You need different bags for different tasks.
Before I give you my updated picks for best camera bags, let’s discuss some basics.
What do you want your camera bag to do?
In my opinion there are two basic types of camera bags. One type is designed to get your gear TO your location safely. The other is to use WHILE on location. Some people even use a third type of camera bag; the one that stores your gear when not in use at all.
Whichever task you are trying to complete, there are different kinds of camera bags designed to help you accomplish your goals. There are different materials and features to consider as well.
The basic types are:
I am going to list some of my favorite bags. I use and own each of these I mention, but I want to start by saying this is a personal choice. If you stick with name brands (listed below) you almost certainly won’t go wrong. You may not find the perfect bag for you, but luckily, none of these companies makes any poorly designed or built bags. It all boils down to what you want to do and what you like. Here are some brands I think you can always depend on. (In no particular order:)
I originally made this list in 2009 and some of the bags I used to use are no longer available. Still others no longer meet my needs so you will see some new contenders here. This is an updated list with a few additions and deletions. From my closet and in no particular order, here are my favorte camera bags: (Note some of these are older models and may have been replaced by a newer version. Camera bags don’t need to be replaced like cameras and lenses. All of these bags should last you as long as you want to use them.)
Think Tank Retrospective 20/30
If you like a small bag; one that you can sling over your shoulder but that’s sturdy enough to get gear to the field in light travel situations, then the Think Tank Retrospective 20 is one of my favorites. (There is a slightly larger version I also use called the Think Tank ~ Retrospective 30). Both are sturdy as can be, they don’t scream “camera bag” and each holds more than you think. They have great build quality, and great zippers that don’t fail. I’ve used one of these for years now and can’t imagine replacing it.
If you want a similar bag to the Retrospective but you’re a micro-four-thirds shooter and just don’t need that much room, then the Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 30i is my absolute favorite in this category. It’s got room for any MFT camera and a couple of lenses, as well as a dedicated iPad pouch. There is also a smart phone slot and like all Think Tank bags has amazingly high-quality YKK zipers and metal hardware. I probably use this bag daily. That’s partly because I am using my Fuji X100s more often than any other camera and I just love how the bag works. It suits me perfectly.
I reviewed this bag here – http://photofocus.com/2009/06/01/mini-review-of-the-domke-700-10b-f-1x-little-bigger-bag/ – when I have gear that I want access to in the field one of the best choices is the Domke. This is a shooter’s bag. A version of this bag has been around for more than three decades. It’s a favorite of photojournalists around the world. It’s not fancy. It’s not for transporting your gear. It’s just a no-frills, solid, dependable bag. You work out of this bag. It is an old design but still works very well.
Think Tank Airport 4-Sight
If I were only allowed one camera bag, the Think Tank Airport 4-Sight would be it. I used to use the Think Tank Airport International V 2.0 but I am using a smaller system so I can get away with a smaller bag.
This is the first four wheel roller I’ve seen that is designed specifically for photographers. It meets International airline carry-on standards. It’s lighter than other ThinkTank rollers. It holds two standard size DSLR’s with lenses attached or two pro sized bodies with limited lens attachment option. As with all Thank Tank bags it’s well-constructed, has amazing zippers, has security lock and a built-in rain cover. It is very customizable and rolls through the airport with ease. It’s a great bag.
Lowepro Lens Trekker 600 AW II Backpack
I used to use long lenses almost every week. These beasts are not easy to carry no matter how you try. I don’t carry them except on very special occasions but if I do, this is the bag that works.I have found that if you want to move one far from the car, the best way is on your back and the bag of choice for me in that regard has always been the Lowepro Lens Trekker 600 AW II Backpack. I’ve had one of these bags since they started shipping and used mine well. You can’t tell by looking at it. It looks brand new. Lowepro makes solid bags and this one is designed just right to both safely carry the gear and spread the load equally across your shoulders. Depending on the lens and body you are using, I often find I can carry a long lens with a body mounted in this bag which comes in handy when you round a bend only to find a bear and her cubs playing. You don’t want to waste time in that situation. This bag is also suitable for checking in light travel situations but for total safety I’d put it inside one of the big Pelican cases with wheels.
ONA Union Street Camera and Laptop Bag
If you’re looking for a messenger type bag, look no further than ONA The Union Street Camera and Laptop Bag.
The construction is simply the best I’ve ever seen. The company uses only full-grain cowhide leather, waxed cotton canvas, solid brass, and closed-cell foam in its bags. This particular unit is a very handsome bag. It’s handcrafted. No detail was spared. Everything is top-shelf quality. You could carry this to a Wall Street firm wearing your best suit and nobody would question you. But it’s rugged enough to go out into the wild with Indiana Jones. In fact, I am betting that if Indiana Jones carried a camera bag it would be this one.
You can carry a small laptop and a full micro four thirds or compact system or a small DSLR and a few lenses in the Ona bag.
ONA Camps Bay Camera and Laptop Backpack
If you want something stylish and larger than the Ona messenger bag, then you should look at the Ona Camps Bay Camera and Laptop Backpack
This is a bag featuring handcrafted, waxed canvas and leather materials with room for a DSLR/SLR and up to seven lenses. You can also use the many organizer pockets for things like memory cards, filters, accessories and there’s still room for a 17″ laptop. This is a beautiful, well-made bag that will absolutely last you a lifetime and I use one of these every time I am going to hike with camera gear.
If I didn’t list your favorite camera bag don’t be offended. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your choice. These are simply my choices and I hope this post will guide some of you to make the best decision you can when it comes to buying a camera bag.
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