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I originally made this list in 2009 and some of the bags I used to use are no longer available.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closet and in no particular order, here are my favorte camera bags: (Note some of these are older models and may have been replaced by a newer version – when I am aware of that I will mention it.)
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. It’s sturdy as can be, doesn’t scream “camera bag” and holds more than you think. 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 like a hybrid shoulder/waist bag then the Think Tank Speed Freak V2.0 Waist Pack is for you. It carries a standard size DSLR with 2-3 zoom lenses. Fits a 70-200 f2.8 detached from camera, lens hood reversed. It looks more like a camera bag, but it’s versatile and very roomy for its size.
Domke 700-10B F-1X Little Bigger Bag
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. It’s not for transporting your gear. You work out of this bag. It is an old design but still works very well.
Gura Gear Kiboko
I reviewed this bag here – http://photofocus.com/2008/11/04/wildlife-photographer-launches-new-photo-bag-line-twip/ – it’s a traveling/transport bag. Is it my imagination or are airline overheads getting smaller? If you want a bag that (if not overstuffed) will fit in almost ANY airline’s overhead bin, the Kiboko is for you. It’s light weight and is the best bag I’ve tried at getting my gear TO the field. It also works well for simply storing gear in at my studio. (I believe these are sold out and Gura Gear is now selling this model instead - http://www.guragear.com/bataflae-32l-black/ - which I wish I had since it looks like it solves my problem with getting an 800mm lens into the field.)
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.
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.
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.
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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