camera-bag-rant-pf

I’m a woman, and I like purses and bags. I am also a photographer, and so with that I tend to collect lots of cool bags. Yay, bags! I have more than I will use, some come and go with my photography style or locations I travel to, and some have stuck around and have been used for a very long time. Yet I am always on the hunt for a bag that fits my needs in many different ways.

The are so many different types of camera bags: backpacks, purses, messenger bags, sling bags, and more. For the purposes of this article, I am lumping all bags into one of two categories: Girly purse bags, and “standard” camera bags. Keep on reading to find out my thoughts on these two categories of bags.

The “Girly-Purse-Camera-Bag”

At one point, I decided to try one of the “girly” purse camera bags (click here to read a review of one of these bags from a few years back). In theory, it sounded great. I could carry my camera with me anywhere, and also look cute in the process! So, I bought one. And, I used it a few times before I realized how awful it was as a camera bag.

What professional photographer could seriously use this while working?!? It became so heavy on my shoulder, even with just one camera and a few lenses, or even just with one pro camera body and a small lens, that there was no way I was carrying it anywhere. Plus, there was so little padding on the sides that I would not have trusted this bag to hold expensive camera gear.

There seemed to be more attention put towards the aesthetic and look of the bag, and less on the functionality to make it usable to a photographer carrying pro camera gear. Are all girly-purse-camera-bags like this? I sure hope not! But a quick search on B&H Photo for “Camera Bags for Women” shows me what there is to offer, and those skinny, pad-less straps don’t give me too much hope.

That girly bag was the first (and possibly the last) purse-camera-bag I was ever going to purchase. When I see other women post glowing reviews about these types of bags, three possibilities pop into my head:

  1. They were given the purse for free and wrote a review about it.
  2. They use it because it looks good, in spite of the fact that it is uncomfortable (the “four inch heels” of photography).
  3. They have a very small camera setup (tiny SLR with a plastic kit lens, point-and-shoot, or mirrorless).

I will admit that now that I am starting to shoot with a mirror-less camera, these types of bags could potentially have a place on my shoulder. A lighter camera would equal less weight, so the straps wouldn’t be as big of a deal. However, unless I could see these bags up close and personal (instead of just perusing an online catalog) I don’t think I would risk it. And, considering that I still use my Canon gear for some travel and landscape work, a bag like this would likely just replace my everyday-purse to store my small Fuji X-T1 and attached lens.

The “Standard Camera Bag”

Next comes the other side of the coin, the “standard” camera bag that is made for anyone. And, by anyone, I (somewhat sarcastically) am referring to men. I have searched far and wide for the “perfect” camera bag that is comfortable, holds the gear that I need to use, functions well, and doesn’t look like it was made for a guy. Honestly, that’s very difficult to find. I don’t want a bag that is a super bright color or has frilly decoration on it, just something that isn’t boxy, black, and has certain straps that just don’t fit certain parts of women (if you catch my drift).

Are there only a bunch of men making professional camera bags for photographers?

There are plenty of great bags on the market right now. But, I’m a girl, and I tend to have certain “odd” bag needs that may not be a priority for men. Here are some of the frustrations I have with many of the “standard” camera bags that I have tried:

  • Most of them are black. I don’t want a hot-pink bag, just something not black. To me, black is boring and it SCREAMS “Look! I’m a camera bag!”. The majority of the quality, useful and professional camera bags I have seen on the market are black. ThinkTank Photo has started to make some with different colors, particularly in their Retrospective line (one of my favorite messenger bags, FWIW). And my current favorite for travel and landscape is the f-stop Loka bag (I have two: one in a greenish-tan, and another in blue).
  • Where are my side storage pockets? I’m a girl, and I don’t carry my iPhone in my pants pocket. It is incredibly frustrating when I get a camera bag that is lacking some sort of small pocket for a smart phone on the outside of the bag. Or, it is so small and tight that I have to wedge my iPhone in there just so it fits. Drives me bonkers. The best side pockets I have ever seen so far are the mesh pockets on the ThinkTank Photo CityWalker 10 (CLICK HERE to read my review about this bag).
  • Girls have boobs. Ok, so yes, an obvious statement. But I have at least one bag that has a front strap with not enough length to clasp in the front, and it’s positioned in an uncomfortable spot on the strap (when it is clasped). It’s possible that they are only testing this bag with men, or with women who are not (ahem) as curvy as some of us.

And Finally, “My Favorite Bags”

In order for me to want to use a camera bag, it must have all of the following features:

  • Comfortable straps
  • Well-padded
  • Holds a sufficient amount of camera gear without being uncomfortable to carry
  • Additional small storage pockets (inside and out)
  • Not black (this is not a requirement, but highly desirable)

And, if you’re wondering, this is the typical Canon* gear I will carry with me on a landscape-photography outing or while traveling overseas:

  • Canon 5D Mark III
  • Canon 70-200 f/4L IS
  • Canon 24-70 f/2.8L
  • 100mm filters and holder
  • Batteries and charger
  • Accessories (lens cleaners, cable release, GPS)

* I am also starting to use my Fuji X-T1 more and more, but this will not change my needs and desires for a camera bag. :)

It sounds like a simple task, but finding good bags has proven to be quite difficult. Here are some of the bags that I have used in the past, and currently use, that I have found to work very well with my photography:

Hopefully, one day I will find the “perfect” camera bag for my needs. Or, maybe I should just make one of my own! (It’s about time for a Nicolesy-branded camera bag, don’t you think?) ;)

Alright, rant over. So now, it’s your turn! What are YOUR frustrations with bags? What are some of your FAVORITE bags of all time? Tell us in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you.

 


lavender-square-150pxNicole S. Young is a professional photographer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of several print books and eBooks, and runs her own online store for photographers, the “Nicolesy Store“.

You can read more of Nicole’s articles HERE, and view her work and website HERE.


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Join the conversation! 30 Comments

  1. Since I don’t shoot with a DSLR but a two lens Leica M system and I’m a man I prefer the Billingham Hadley line. Waterproof with sufficient padding. Plus you can remove insert and use the insert in other bags.

    However, you may try a custom made bag by: http://porteengear.com

    Reply
  2. Bags are really difficult to choose… I want bag pack because I can load up my stuff and go but when it comes to taking photos and want access to them, bag pack is more difficult. A better solution may be a transformer type of bag. It can be separated into a few different sections. One for the camera itself, one for the lenses, one for accessories. Camera should always be accessible, hassle free. Some bags have Velcros, although it seems to be a great feature for fast access, and a way to deter a third-hand, it is noisy and will scare away animals if you are a nature photographer. Shoulder bag/messenger bag are almost the “ideal” for me when I go out to take photos. However, it can get really heavy if I put everyone in my messenger bag.

    Reply
  3. What makes you think that men are happy with the camera bags out there either. I’m still looking for the perfect bag. I came close once, but they stopped making it, and mine is getting worn out. And yes, something other than black would be nice.

    Reply
    • I never implied that guys are happy with all bags out there, and I honestly wouldn’t know (since I’m not a guy myself). :) I was comparing the two—normal “made for men” vs. “made for women” bags—and just sharing my perspective as a woman.

      Reply
  4. The f-stop Loka is also my favourite. Great bag and so versatile with the ICU system.

    Reply
  5. Have you checked out the Undfind One Bag? It comes in a 10″ and 13″ model. The 13″ seems like it would accommodate all of the gear you specified and even fits a 70-200 if you need it to. Their website is http://www.undfind.com

    The bag is classic black, but also has swappable designer covers to customize it to your liking. The strap looks good and is very well padded. Also, the outboard pockets that you were interested in are on the back. The bag even includes a tethered rain cover to wrap around in an emergency.

    My wife has the 10″ and uses it for her D800, 24-70, and an SB 910.

    Reply
  6. This was interesting to read, since I recently bought a ThinkTank Retrospective 7. It’s my first shoulder bag (normally I wear a Lowepro backpack), and it’s been OK so far. I haven’t used it a lot though, because the one-strap bag isn’t as comfortable as a backpack (even for just carrying a D800+24-70).

    So, my advice, before buying a single-shoulder bag, would be to test it out by putting your gear in a backpack and hanging the weight off of one shoulder strap for a while. You might find having that much weight dangling on one shoulder is OK, or maybe it’s uncomfortable. It’s going to depend on your individual gear and physique, so it’s worth doing some tests before you drop the money on a shoulder bag that you might not use much.

    Reply
    • I agree, messenger/shoulder-bags can be uncomfortable at times. I personally find them more useful when I am already planning on holding my camera (or have it over my shoulder) and the bag is just for lenses or misc. gear. I do this a lot when I’m traveling, since my f-stop Loka can be a little too big and cumbersome while walking around markets, especially when changing a lens.

      Reply
  7. As an mft shooter, I find most backpack pages have oversized compartments for cameras/ lenses. I also wish somebody would make stable, convenient way to carry a travel size tripod.

    Reply
  8. You can have a good inexpensive and utilitarian camera bag from Lowepro. I bought two. One is a sling type in army green and the other is Event Messenger 150. Both very nice bags.

    Reply
  9. I feel your pain – and yes, design a bag!! I’m currently using an Epiphanie bag when I travel, and it has tons of room, great straps, but not in the least attractive. Ugh. Wondering if you’ve tried the shootsac.com (tote and shoot)? I have not, but if anyone has.. please share.

    Reply
  10. I finally found this one http://www.tenba.com/Products/Messenger-Photo-Laptop-Bag-Large-Plum.aspx Tenba large photo laptop bag, in Plum. Had I seen the blue, I would have been all over that one. It was on clearance when Calumet was closing. I don’t like carrying the big black bag either.

    Reply
  11. This is a timely post as I have many of the same frustrations. I have recently gone through the ordering of three bags for my main landscape bag and sent back two. I will be sharing soon on that.

    Thanks for speaking out for women photographers :)

    Reply
  12. Have you checked out Cheeky Lime? I have one of their bags that I tend to wear cross body. There’s a good amount of padding in the bag and on the strap. The dividers are padded and can be rearranged however you like. It also has three pockets on the outside of the bag. I have a green bag, but there are quite a few colors available.

    Reply
  13. Another vote for the Billingham Hadley range, beautifully made messenger style camera bags. They come in a few colours, started life as fishing gear bags, hence the style.
    Not sure how female-form friendly they are, basically just a diagonal strap design. The bag itself is soft, but well protected for camera gear & has expandable pockets. I use the Hadley small for an X-E2, couple lenses, an X100s & my iPad Air. There’s a good deal of room in them & they do have larger sizes in the range.

    Reply
  14. Did you ever give a look to Manfrotto bags? They come in different colors, even some of the higher end ones. Kata has also some different colors bags, don’t know about how they fit womwn, though.

    Reply
  15. Nicole,
    My I suggest you find a bag you really like – that suits your tastes and criteria – then use padded inserts to protect your gear.

    Reply
  16. I love Shoulder Bags, because it’s comfortable to me, when I’m changing the lenses. My favorite bags are all from think tank (retro) 7 (blue), 20 (pinestone), 30 (black) and the lens changer 3 (black) and a small one in black from crumpler. There are all fine, because the strap is very comfortable and slip-resistend. They all got a lot space for storage and seperate the different things a female photographer take with her and for lenses, cameras, memory cards, filters, batteries and so on :-D. They aren’t beautiful, but nicer than other ;-).

    Reply
  17. Porteen Gear on Etsy. Female photographer making fantastic bags (for both women and men). I am not affiliated in any way but I’m waiting on my 2nd bag from her now. They are fashionable without being crazy – and you can even design your own. Well cushioned but not overly so. Front is leather but body is waxed canvas making it very light (gears weighs enough on its own). The dividers are sewn in but flexible which is SO much less annoying than velcro. There is no such thing as the perfect bag but this is by far the closest I’ve gotten to date.

    Reply
  18. You might like to have a look at the Crumpler range. I have a “Sinking Barge” ( now discontinued ) but it’s been great for volumes of gear plus my laptop. I recently bought one of their ‘ipad’ messenger satchels as a day bag and hauled a set of gear in it around Berlin for a month. These two are pretty basic but I know they have a range of more specialized, and colorful options.

    Reply
  19. AMEN, sistah! Seriously, everything you “ranted” about is spot on, particularly the troubles some of us have for finding a bag that conforms to our huge tracts of land. ;) As a mom who packs light when traveling with the kids, I need something comfortable yet sturdy enough to stand up to my kids’ abuse while carrying my phone, wallet, rig,1-2 lenses, and maybe a travel tripod for early wake-up sunrise shoots (if the Fates allow). As a hobbyist who enjoys photographing the interesting locales I visit for my full-time job, I need something that holds my rig, 2 lenses, passport wallet, and can hold everything AND fit into my carry-on (next to the Kindle, scarf, and snacks!). I don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb as an obvious tourist, but it needs to be functional and comfortable. Basically, it needs to be perfect. ;)

    Thanks again for tackling this – I hope someone who designs camera bags reads this and takes your comments to heart!

    Reply
  20. I must second the Crumpler recommendation. Cool colours, tough materials. I enjoy using the Mild Enthusiast, both as a bumbag – front and back, and easy to slide from back to front. And as a sling bag. I’m quite large chested, but there’s plenty of strap. Also a 10 inch tablet can fit in the back.
    The Enthusiast is the big brother of the Mild Enthusiast, might be better for you.

    My Crumpler “Sporty Guy” 1.9 is sadly discontinued but they’ve got others that might interest you.

    Also their camera straps are wonderful. Highly recommended. So padded, so wide on the neck, so comfortable!

    Reply
  21. I’m an analogue (film) photographer so my bags have to cope not only with cameras and lenses but with film too. I have three bags:
    – the new Lowepro Trekker AW 400. Has a fabulous harness that can be adjusted for short women like me, a space for my laptop, plus lots of other useful features. Sadly it doesn’t come in black only some odd shade of khaki. My Linhof 4×5 and associated paraphernalia including 4 grafmatics live in this one
    – a Lowepro Flipside 300 which I love because it’s smaller and has a good harness for women, i.e. it’s not so wide at the yoke that it sits on your shoulder bones rather than the trapezius muscles.
    – an old style Lowepro Trekker AW 400 with slot for laptop. A lot of work has been done on the harness since this version but I still use my oldie but goodie. This one houses my Bronnie, 2 Nikon bodies, 5 lenses, film, and various other bits n pieces.

    Reply
  22. Don’t laugh; when I was doing a lot of traveling I used to carry my day gear in a diaper bag. Few gave it a second look, even fewer thought of taking it.

    Bill Wright

    Reply
  23. I completely agree with you. “Black” SUCKS. I don’t have “walking” black shoes because I live in Florida and my feet would melt! I only wear “black” when going on a job, but I am already equipped for that. The everyday, theme park, beach, travel in general needs for women are not covered by anyone yet. Plus, even though I own many purses, I stopped wearing them because I am only carrying a bag when my camera is with me.

    I like the Retrospective bags a LOT, ironically the owner is a woman…
    I make the same observation here (towards the end):

    http://acorner.net/blog/2014/7/so-ive-joined-the-thinktank-community

    For me it boils down to color, padding, pockets, and weight when empty. Cause we all know how many pounds we carry when it’s full. If the bag is heavy already, it’s a no go for me.

    My biggest wish would be if they had backpack straps available too on these Retrospective bags, so that I can wear it on my shoulder through Disney, and then put it on my back if I hike through the Appalachians! I doubt that this option would be hard to add.

    Reply
  24. I’m embarrassed about the number of bags I have ;-)

    Reply
  25. I like the Retrospective bags a LOT, ironically the owner is a woman.

    Reply
  26. Incase DSLR sling bag is my day to day favorite
    caries my D600 with 85mm attached and 50mm and 18-35mm, can also accommodate
    my 70-200 f2.8 Sigma easily
    and it’s not black :)

    http://goincase.com/shop/products/bags/camera-bags

    Reply
  27. I own (and feel really happy with) a Lowepro Flipside 400 AW backpack and a Think Tank Airport Navigator rolling camera bag.

    The truth is that camera bags are designed for men. If you are a women have really few options. However, you can still find some “girly” bags out there (Disclaimer: As man I am not sure if these bags are beautiful from a woman perspective)…

    3annies
    JoTotes

    Regards from Madrid.

    Reply
  28. Have you had a look at the mindshift gear panorama 180? Despite being on a mirrorless system (Fuji X), I still find my Thinktank retrospective to be a pain after a few hours, and I have tried the Chrome Niko which I love, but it’s a tad to boxy and big for the mirrorless setup (does no-one think mirrorless people would like backpacks, too? most of them, and their dividers, are too wide…) on a daily basis. I’m hoping that the Panorama 180 will fill the gap, but have to check my bag quota for this year before I get to try it…ahem…

    Reply

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About Nicole S. Young

Photographer, author, entrepreneur. I love photographing food and landscapes, and have written several how-to books on Photography, post-processing, and creative inspiration. You can find more about me on my blog, online store, as well as on Google+ and Twitter.

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Gear, Opinion, Photography

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