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.
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:
- They were given the purse for free and wrote a review about it.
- They use it because it looks good, in spite of the fact that it is uncomfortable (the “four inch heels” of photography).
- 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
- 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:
- f-stop Loka (my current travel and adventure bag)
- ThinkTank Photo Retrospective 7 in Blue (currently my favorite messenger bag)
- ThinkTank Photo Retrospective 10 in Pinestone
- ThinkTank Photo Shape Shifter
- ThinkTank Photo CityWalker 10 (read my review on it HERE)
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.
Nicole 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“.
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