I believe that every photographer should use a camera bag or at least own one for the times they will need it. Throughout the 3 years that I’ve considered myself a serious photographer, I’ve carried a few different camera bags. The four bags that I used the longest were 2 shoulder bags and 2 backpacks that ranged in price from $free.50 (came with my first expensive camera) to over $400. In my opinion these 4 camera bags couldn’t be more different from each other but they all served a need throughout my photographic adventures.
I now only own two bags. My ONA Camps Bay Backpack and my ONA Brixton Messenger Bag. My ONA Backpack gets the most usage because I can fit so much stuff in it. When I’m leaving on a long trip I want to make sure I have everything I need, that means extra lenses, filters, computer, a handful of chargers, my GoPro, various accessories and my other camera. It’s pretty amazing how much I can fit in this bag, it’s built so well that I can feel confident loading it with heavy gear. When I’m at home in San Francisco and I only need a day bag that can hold an extra lens, other accessories and maybe my computer, I use the Messenger Bag. It’s perfect for a quick photo shoot. Below are photos of my bags in action as well as the bags packed and unpacked to give you an idea about how much gear is perfect for each bag.
If you are looking for a new camera bag here are things to consider:
- Bag Size: It’s pretty self explanatory, the amount of equipment you need to carry will dictate how large of a bag you will need. Backpacks typically have more space for storage but not all the time. If you’re an amateur photographer with a basic DSLR and you only use 1 lens for everything, there is no reason to buy a bigger camera bag than is necessary to just hold your camera. Unless you want to carry other non-photography items you should be good with a bag on the smaller side.
- Bag’s Primary Usage: I bought my first camera backpack prior to a trip with a lot of outdoor activities involved. At the same time I had just bought my 70-200 lens that wouldn’t fit in my shoulder bag. I typically carry 5 lenses, 2 cameras and miscellaneous accessories. These will not all fit in a shoulder bag nor would I want to put one shoulder through the pain of lugging that around all day. The backpack helps keep my body in alignment so I don’t get worn down by shooting every weekend or when we travel and I’m wearing the backpack all day. Your expected usage of your camera matters too. If you prefer to protect your camera by always keeping it in its bag you might want to consider the shoulder bags or sling bag for quick access to your camera. If you are going to keep your camera in your bag for most of the time, a backpack is best.
- Bag Price & Construction Quality: In stores it’s easy to get your hands on a camera bag, read the price, test the zippers, feel the fabric and squeeze the padding then decide what to do. Online, all you have are the prices, descriptions, pictures and reviews. My recommendation is that you look very closely at the pictures and search for common themes in the reviews. If comparable bags of the same size and shape have wildly different price tags, the quality of bag is probably the culprit. If you use a camera bag often I’d steer clear of lower quality, less expensive bags. They wear down really quickly, I’ve found what at first is a strong sturdy bag soon becomes a bag that loses it’s shape and integrity.
- Look & Feel: Since I bring my camera bag everywhere I wanted something that was a little more incognito. Something that doesn’t scream “I’m a camera bag!”. For most photographers this is not an issue and actually preferable by others that don’t want to have to worry about getting caught in a rainstorm. For my backpack setup I’ve started carrying a waterproof backpack cover (the blue plastic thing in the pictures above). I bought it for our trip to Alaska but this came in handy multiple times on our trip to Italy this month where it rained every single day we were in Florence and Rome.