It is often the small things that we forget about when we buy our nice new cameras. I have seen to too often that people have spent a lot of money on their new DSLR and lens that they have had to leave the all important bag for another day. Why is the bag important? What to look for?

The camera bag is the home that our treasured toy resides, its purpose is to store and protect our cameras and lenses. It is the home of all our accessories, it is the cause of frustration when we cant fit that new addition in. Whatever shape or size the humble camera bag is important. This leads to the second question, what to look for in a good camera bag?

The single word answer is COMPROMISE. What? Compromise? Unfortunately camera bags are not perfect (if you find this holy grail then please let me know!). There are in fact three things to balance out with any camera bag:

  • Comfort – how comfortable the bag is for you to carry
  • Protection – how well protected your gear is inside the bag
  • Access – how easy it is to get to your camera when it is in your bag

There are many different styles of bags (or carrying solutions) that give different priorities to the these above factors.

  • Backpacks – these generally offer lots of comfort and protection but getting to you camera can be tricky
    • Hybrids – these backpacks mix both camera carrying ability with room for personal gear
  • Shoulder bags – these generally offer lots of protection and easy access at the expense of comfort
    • Snoot bags – shoulder bags that accomodate a single camera
  • Beltpacks – generally smaller bags that offer a nice compromise between comfort, access and protection, but you may look a bit silly
  • Harnesses/Modular – great for access and comfort but protection can be compromised, and unless you are a working professional you will look a bit silly
  • Hard Cases – protection above all else, great for storage and transport but definitely not a comfortable solution

When buying a bag you should always consider:

  • USAGE – How the bag will be used? A bag used for day to day travel has different needs compared to a bag used for a studio shoot or a location shoot.
  • CAPACITY – What can be carried? Different bags are designed to fit different amounts of gear.
  • EXPANDABILTY – Will it grow with my kit? A bag that allows you to grow into, or has room for future purchases may be a good way to go especially if you have planned purchases.
  • COMPATIBILITY – How does it fit in with my other bags? Your more than likely to end up with more than one bag, lets make sure we dont double up on bags.

I personally have six camera bags at the moment along with a variety of pouches and wraps that allow me to carry gear in a normal bag as well. I prefer and use Lowepro, but there are many other manufacturers that produce good bags (ThinkTank, Kata, Tamrac etc). Each bag in my kit has a distinct role and address the above criterion in different ways.

  • Lowepro Vertex 200AW
    • This is a large backpack that is clearly designed for comfort and protection. You cannot access your gear whilst the bag is worn. This bag will carry a large variety of cameras, lenses and accessories. I use this when I know I need lots of gear and will need to be mobile.
  • Lowepro Magnum 400AW
    • This large shoulder bag is designed for protection and access, it is not comfortable. I use this bag when I have the luxury of being able to put down the bag on the job, it carries a huge amount of gear, but it is definitely not for mobility.
  • Lowepro Flipside 400AW
    • This is another backpack, it carries almost as much as my Vertex, but it is more streamline and offers access without having to put down the bag. This bag is a good choice when I need some large lenses but dont want the bulk, of the Vertex, it is very useful for mobility and can be used for hiking. With its back facing zip, padding and harness this bag offers great protection and comfort.
  • Lowepro Fastpack 300
    • This is a hybrid backpack that I use as a day to day bag. I also use this bag for hiking as it has a generous area for personal items (including food and water) whilst allowing me to carry a reasonable camera kit and a laptop. The Fastpack offers very good access with reasonable comfort and protection.
  • Lowepro Inverse 200AW
    • This beltpack also doubles as a shoulder bag. The Inverse offers quick access, comfort and protection for almost as much gear as the Fastpack but is substantially more compact as it lacks the room for personals. I use this on light days and have used it on hikes. Of all my bags the Inverse offers the best blend of access, comfort and protection.
  • Nikon SLR bag
    • This small shoulder bag does not see much use these days, but is perfect for a lightweight kit. It offers good access and decent protection, but can be lacking in comfort when used with heavy gear for long periods of time.

My bags are supplemented by a number of Neoprene lens pouches and camera wraps that offer ample protection, but allow me to slip a camera into any bag for those extra light days. As you can see I have a lot of bags, but they all address the problem differently. My Vertex and Magnum offer capacity and expandability (well they did), the Flipside combines ample capacity with comfort for those days when I dont need the heavy bags but need more capacity than the Inverse or Fastpack can offer. The Fastpack has the added bonus of being versatile enough, with its non-camera compartments, to be a day to day bag.

Do I need more bags? I still feel the need for a good snoot bag, but I have enough options to be able to live without one for the moment. The perfect bag simply does not exist, but having a few well chosen bags will have you covered for most situations.