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Photography

Tote Wizard: Choosing the Perfect Camera Bag

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As I set out to purchase a bag for my camera, I had no clue how many options there were. It was easy to get overwhelmed with the number of offerings when it comes to camera bags. In today's article, we're going to take a look into choosing a bag that works for you, and I'll share my trials and tribulations as well.


What would you like?

When it comes time to purchase any accessory, it's important to take a second and think about your needs. Think about the amount of gear you'll need to store and the places that you'll be taking it. A good bag does little for you if you're not inclined to carry it with you.

Also, I can't stress this enough: plan for the future. Take it from someone who has bought a camera bag every six months for the last few years. Think not of what the gear you currently have, but the gear you'll be using in a few months. I've made the mistake repeatedly of buying a bag large enough for my current gear, and not the gear I'm adding.


What's out there?

If you're choosing a camera bag, you're probably interested in taking a look at the options available to you. The truth is that the options are virtually limitless. For the purpose of this article, I've split camera bags up into just a few categories, but as you can probably guess, there are exceptions to this limited number of classifications.

Backpacks

Backpacks are the Cadillac of camera storage. Depending upon the size, you can fit all of your gear in.

Personally, I use a backpack because I don't have to worry about leaving things at home. I cram all of my gear into it, including batteries, chargers, and filters.

If you're going to choose a backpack, plan to spend around $100 and sometimes more for the larger style backpacks. Remember that if you're going to be carrying it for any length of time to choose something with good padded straps.

My bag of choice is a LowePro Computrekker AW. I have good faith in placing all of my gear in it and don't feel as if my gear is at risk. I chose it because of both the ability to fit everything in and not worry about it too much.


Lowepro's Computrekker AW backpack is my bag of choice because I can fit all of my gear into it safely.

With it, I can fit two camera bodies, a 70-200 or long telephoto lens, flashes, and all of my lenses. I don't take it everywhere I go, but when I need to travel with all of my gear, I wouldn't consider another bag.

One of my favorite features of this bag is the waterproof cover. You can pull it out and wrap it over the entire bag. This has saved me in a couple of tight spots and is enough for me to stick with it.

A backpack can be the best choice if you have the ability to arrive on a location, and then leave it somewhere safe. You probably will not want to have it attached to your body all day, as you may have quite a lot of gear stored in it. A backpack is the obvious choice if you have quite a lot of gear to travel with, but requires consideration of where you can store it while shooting.

We'll be taking a more in-depth look at two specific backpack camera bags in a future article. So if a backpack sounds like your type of bag, stay tuned for a look at two great bags.

Sling Style

Smaller bags like the one above are a happy medium between having enough storage space and not lugging everything you own on your backpack.


Another option are sling style bags, designed to be worn across the body.

Having also owned a sling style bag, they're a great choice if you are on the go and prefer to carry a few camera-related items without the bulk of a full backpack. I still keep my sling style bag when I want to travel lighter.

The entire point of these bag is that the can be slung into the position of a shoulder bag when you need to access your gear. Then when you're done, you can push it back into the position of a backpack to get it out of the way.

Without being too blunt, a female photographer friend of mine claims that these bags aren't the best for her. The design of the main strap cuts from one shoulder right down the middle of the chest, which she says in uncomfortable. Other female photographers may want to take note.

Shoulder Bags

I have also owned a shoulder bag. This is a great choice if you have a little less to carry and like for your lenses to stay close.

I think that a shoulder bag is the perfect choice for event or wedding photographers like myself. If you find yourself needing to change your lens frequently, it is a huge asset to keep them close to your body and stored for easy access.

The only thing to keep in mind if your a serious shooter is that heavy shoulder bags carried for long periods of time can cause some big time shoulder pain.


A shoulder bag may be the most comfortable option if you pack light and need gear close at hand.

Pouches

If you've got a small point and shoot or even a smaller SLR with a diminutive prime, a pouch is a good choice. They provide perhaps the least amount of protection, but remain very portable and are far more protective than no case at all.


Things to Remember

Because there are so many camera bag options out there, it would be impossible for me to recommend one best choice to every reader of this article. Instead, let's look at general considerations to factor when choosing a bag that will help you ensure your satisfaction with it.

The first thing I would recommend is choosing a low key bag that won't stand out. Before you jump for that cheetah print camera backpack, remember that the worst thing that could happen is having it stolen. Choose a bag that is both size and color wise. I always choose a black bag because not only is it commonly available, but I think its probably least likely to be stolen.

Next, don't forget the "extra" storage that you may need. Adequate pouches and pockets for spare memory cards, batteries and chargers, and anything else that you may need to store.

Finally, don't overlook the modularity of some systems. This is an option that many photographers really like. Some of the systems made by ThinkTank or LowePro for example allow for add-ons and linking of bags.

If you have the ability to try the bag out before purchasing it, I would highly recommend doing so. If the bag's purpose is to be carried, then perhaps the most important aspect of it is how you can wear it. Your bag choice can meet all of your criteria: price, size, storage space; but if it's uncomfortable (or unattractive) to wear, it will do you little good. One of the worst things that you can do is sink money into a bag that you don't like, because chances are that it will remain at home.

A quick note about testing bags. I highly encourage you to purchase a bag from the same place you do your testing. Brick-and-mortar camera stores are slowly dying out. The last thing you want to do is take advantage of them by using their resources and not letting them get any profit. The prices may be a bit higher than online, but once you calculate shipping and the good karma you get from supporting a local business, I think you'll break even.


Budget

One thing that might surprise you if you are trying to house an SLR system is the cost of a large enough camera bag. The above mentioned bags will span the entire range of the cost spectrum.

Camera bags are very much a "get what you pay for" product, and skimping on a proper bag for your expensive gear is a move that you might soon regret. Granted, some of the bags are out of the reach of most photographers, but don't spare the extra $20 or $40 to get a proper protective bag. Remember the value of what is housed in the bag.

If you're looking for a way to save some money, I do have a tip if you're resourceful. Some photographers go the route of repurposing other bags for camera gear. Photography accessory manufacturers price their bags in line with the competition, just as bag makers for every other industry price their gear in line with the competition.

A great example of this is "Sat-Com" bags. These are military style bags. Throw some padded dividers in them and they could work perfectly for your camera gear, and rather inexpensively as well. They avoid being priced at a camera bag price and work perfectly with some tweaks.


My Approach

After all of this camera bag talk, you might be wondering what the author decided on. In truth, I still haven't found the perfect solution and I continue to swap bags between friends.

I have decided that having a couple of bags is the best approach for me. Some days, I want to travel lightly and will choose a small shoulder bag. On hiking trips and longer days spent taking photographs, I prefer carrying a large camera bag that I can fit all of my gear into.

For next year's wedding season, I'm eyeing using a shoulder bag fulltime. This would hardly be enough room to house my entire camera kit, but they're perfect to tote the lenses that I need at an arm's length. I may still keep a larger backpack with those "just in case" or backup items, but I like the idea of having all of my essentials an arm's length away.


Conclusion

Picking the right camera bag is a larger task than you might be aware of. However, it really is a luxury to have so many options available to us as photographers. There are tons of great bags out there to choose from, so the best approach is to compare your needs to the offerings and choose the bag that works best for you.

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