If you’re like me you’ve probably replaced your camera bag more than you’ve replaced any other piece of photography equipment. There seems to always be something that’s not quite right, or suitable in one situation but not another. While there is often not one correct bag, there are better options out there if you know where to look.
Camera bags for general photography:
When you buy your first dSLR or mirrorless camera and you walk away from the shop you often don’t think about a camera bag unless the shop attendant brings it to your attention. At this time you probably think oh yeah and get the first one they show you, not thinking about what you need in size, padding, and portability. This is how I purchased my first two camera bags. I walked away with a backpack and shortly after I purchased a small SLR gadget bag. The backpack turned out to be a great place to store my dSLR and two lenses as well as my accessories. However, in most situations it wasn’t practical to go out with as I didn’t want to carry a backpack and often only took one lens and no tripod – I didn’t want to look like a photographer after all. I then purchased a camera holster to fit my dSLR and one lens. This worked well for outings and on the odd occasion I went out with both lenses and my tripod I reluctantly took my backpack.
There are a few things you need to consider for a general camera bag:
- Does it need to be big enough to store all of your camera gear and accessories? If not, where will you keep everything so its easy to access?
- Will you use it when you go out, or is it simply to organise your gear and / or transport it from A to B?
- Will the bag encourage you to take your camera out more often? If not, you need a second option!
- Do you need more than one bag for different scenarios?
- Does it have enough padding to keep your camera and lenses safe?
- Can you access your camera and lenses easily?
- Does it need to be waterproof?
- What kind of bag strap do you want?
Your general usage bag may be a backpack, gadget bag, hard case, or a small suitcase. There is no one right answer and there are lots of good bags out there. Consider Amazon Basics, LowePro, Peak Design, Pelican, and Case Logic as good brands.
If you have a favorite type of photography you may consider a more specialized bag to best suit your requirements. It will take a bit of time to figure out your needs but I hope below will give you some ideas.
A beautiful winter day in Milford Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand
Camera bags for landscape / outdoor photography:
While you may get away with your general photography bag if you don’t stray too far from your car, if you have to walk or hike any distance to your photographic location then you’ll want to consider a backpack suitable for hiking.
Considerations for the day pack include:
- Appropriate size – 20-35lt depending on whether you have a mirrorless camera or a full size dSLR and how much extra gear including lenses, tripod, food, water, and clothing, you need to carry. This will be very personal but remember the more you pack the more you have to carry. Look at my article on equipment for landscape photography if you need more help with this.
- Type and ease of camera access – top loaded, back panel, side entry, waist bag. I prefer side entry or a waist bag (Mindshift 180 rotation) as it allows access to my camera without having to take the bag off.
- Padding for camera equipment – most camera specific backpacks will have a camera insert to support your camera and lenses. It’s great if these are adjustable / removable so you can customize your load. Make sure the insert is big enough to fit your camera and lenses.
- Weatherproofing / rain cover – you have some expensive equipment so make sure it’s waterproof or it comes with a waterproof cover (you can buy rain covers separately as well).
- Harness system – if you’ve ever walked for a few hours with a backpack on your back you’ll probably notice your shoulders getting sore. A good waist harness can be invaluable if you’re out walking for half a day or more as it will redistribute the load onto your hips. Personally, the harness is one of the first things that will either rule in or rule out a backpack for me.
- Tripod holder – make sure your bag has a specific tripod attachment as sunset and sunrise photography is made easier with a tripod.
- Water holder – either a bladder or external bottle holder is important as you don’t want to have to be get getting water out of your main compartment every time you want a drink. You also don’t want it to leak.
Good day hike camera bags that come in multiple size options include:
- Mindshift Rotation 180 series
- F-stop Mountain series
- LowePro Flipside Trek BP 250 AW
- LowePro Photosport 250 AW
- Peak Design Everyday Backpack – This backpack deserves a mention as it’s an excellent backpack, however it lacks a good waist harness and water holder for longer days.
- Osprey – You can otherwise use a camera insert inside a hiking specific bag like an Osprey Talon 33. I can however tell you from personal experience that it gets frustrating having to open and close the pack to gain entry to your camera equipment, especially if the weather is inclement.
I use the Mindshift 180 Panorama and I also have the rain cover which was purchased separately. I love this 22lt bag as it fits my Fujifilm X-T2, Fujifilm xf10-24mm, Fujifilm xf18-135mm and Rokinon 12mm as well as some accessories. The access to my camera and lens is easy and if I don’t need to take the whole bag I can just take my camera and lenses with the waist bag.
Camera bags for street / city / urban photography:
A camera bag that encourages you to take your camera out when you’re in the city will have features that may differ to those when you take your camera into the outdoors. These bags are often messenger, sling, or holster style bags but it may also be a backpack. There are a few things to consider:
- Discreet – For your safety you don’t want a bag that screams expensive camera equipment.
- Size – What do you want to take? Does it need to be able to fit multiple lens? Do you need to be able to take your tripod? What about a tablet?
- Waterproof – If it rains you want to ensure your camera equipment stays dry.
- Camera insert – Is the camera and lens compartment big enough and does it have enough padding to protect your gear?
- Ease of access to camera and lens – can you get your camera out quickly?
Good camera bags for using in an urban environment include:
- Peak Design series
- Think Tank retrospective
- Think Tank turnstyle
- Tenba messenger
- ONA prince street
- Lowepro passport
- Caselogic SLR zoom holster
I love Peak Design and have had a number of their products for a while. I try to keep my bags as small as possible so I find the Peak Design Everyday Sling works perfectly with my mirrorless camera – it is waterproof and has space for my camera and lenses with good interchangeable padding options. It also has a place to attach a tripod if required.
Camera bags for Travel:
If you’ve got a good camera bag for your style of photography then it’s likely you’ve already got a good bag for travelling with. You may take more than one option with your backpack doubling as your carry on luggage while you messenger bag doubles as your hand bag (sorry guys but I hope you get the drift).
Note: some airlines have placed restrictions on electronic items in carry on baggage. You need to check the policies for the destinations you are travelling to. If you are not allowed to take your camera equipment as carry on baggage then I would strongly consider a hard case like the Pelican series.