Camera Bags How To Pick The Right One

By June 28, 2015Photography Tips

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.


ona-backpack-alaskaona-backpack-bahamasthomas-messenger-bag

ona-backpack-close ona-backpack-top-close ona-backpack-all-gear

ona-messenger-bag-close-up

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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.

14 Comments

  • I love how functional and stylish those camera bags are!

  • Elle says:

    Hey Thomas,

    I was wondering if you could possibly do a post on photos from GMG, and which camera settings you used for that specific photo/ and any helpful tips you have to take great quality outfit pictures.

  • Jennifer says:

    You blog has been a wonderful reference point for me ! I recently got the Cannon 70D and am looking at ONA bags !

  • Oh, now I absolutely love the bag. It looks like a good shoulder bag for sure, now I am curious about how accessible everything is from that bag… This is the main thing that allows my procrastination to learning with my camera to take hold… I am afraid to take it out with me because I would be worried about trying to find everything. Then again, it’s not that valid of an excuse seeing as how I still have my kit lense… but I digress… I just found your blog and I must say that I love love love it. I am learning so much. Thank you!

  • Stephanie says:

    Thanks for this, I’ve been eyeing ONA bags and trying to decide if I should get the Palma. I was undecided as I didn’t know the quality and it is a bit too late 80s coach for me. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for us girls who don’t want such a manly bag.

  • G says:

    Which one do you prefer, Leica or Canon? What are pros and cons? Thank you

  • Angie Yu says:

    Hi, Thomas:

    I have always had problem with focusing. Sometimes the object I want in focus is not the sharpest in the photo. Especially when I take a self-portrait, focusing can be a big issue. Do you use AF or MF when shooting your photos? It would be great to see some blog posts about focusing and self-portrait.

    Love your work and your blog!

    Thank you!
    Angie

  • Lindsay says:

    Can’t wait to see more posts! I really enjoy reading these posts and can’t wait to see what you write next!

  • Gemma says:

    Hi Thomas! What other cameras do you use? What are the names and models of the cameras featured on this post?

    P.s: Love your posts! Very useful!

  • Annie says:

    Hi Thomas!
    Thanks for writing such a great blog, looking forward to more posts. I’m just wondering, do you still use your Canon 5dmkiii? And did you end up buying the 16-35mm L lens? (you can tell i’ve been reading your old posts). I recently got the lens as a present and remembered you talking abotu it, so I was curious to see if you liked it/what you used it for/any photos you took with it.

  • Jenny says:

    Hi Thomas,
    Can you consider a post on how to read a memory card label, and what types of memory cards you recommend? I still have some trouble understanding what U1 versus U3 means, and why there is such a cost difference between two seemingly similar memory cards (maybe it’s the video recording capabilities?).
    Thanks!

  • Forgive the nerdy question, but it looks like you have a 35 Summilux on the M6, but I can’t tell what you’re using on the M. I have a 35 and a 75 but I find the 75 can be a little long for full body shots, and the 35 tends to distort if used up close, so I’m wondering if that’s a 50mm and when you use it vs the 35.

    • Thomas says:

      We now use a 35mm 1.4 and 50mm 2.0 APO. You’re right, the 50mm is really great for headshots and upper body shots. Although, I love to use the 35mm for everything.

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