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Tuesday, 09 July 2013


I once followed Cartier-Bresson around London -- a WW2 gas mask bag hung from his left shoulder. (Or maybe WW1, for all I know.)

Thanks, John, for an interesting series that will resonate with anyone who has tried to navigate the camera bag labyrinth. My own carrying requirements are divided into super-lightweight (camera and two lenses, small ones) and full-on, backbreaking 2 dSLR system. For the former, I lament the demise of the ER case for modern cameras, slung across your body, not round the neck and lenses in pockets, or whatever ordinary bag you had with you - that often obviated the need for any bag at all.

One point I missed, and which is quite critical for some applications is tripod carrying features.

Some time ago I purchased a Domke F-3X to store my Nikon D700 + a couple of lenses. I never did carry it around much, and now rarely use the camera. But at the time I purchased the bag I also purchased a Domke Shoulder pad that is pretty thick and does a good job of relieving the pressure from the weight of the bag on your shoulder. This set up is something like what a mail person probably has to contend with in terms of weight. You can see the pad here: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?O=orderHistory&A=details&Q=&sku=16198&is=REG

Oops. The proper link to the Shoulder Pad is: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/16198-REG/Domke_725_310_FA_031_Shoulder_Pad.html

After a dozen tries I found the perfect bag for me; the Sidekick TPE Lite ($49) from Lomography http://shop.lomography.com/ca/accessories/fashion/bags/sidekick-tpe-bag-lite
I drop my OMD EM-5 in it along with a couple of lenses in pouches. The two small flaps get the spare batteries, cards, cords, etc. I can dis-assemble it to create a smaller version with only the large compartment or the two smaller ones.
It's lightweight and waterproof, doesn't look like I'm carrying my wife's purse, or like I'm carrying expensive gear. Look good enough so I can keep it all day when I'm travelling and want to visit nice places.
Available in several materials like leather, canvas.

I have a couple Billinghams , for some reason I keep getting them as gifts , mostly from other people who get them as gifts and think that they are too expensive to throw away. Too much of that "my safari vest is at the drycleaners" look for me, and they have all the protection of a shopping bag.

In my opinion the best camera bags are the ones made by Portabrace http://www.portabrace.com/
Best shoulder straps ever. People will think you are part of a film or news production crew, blending in with them can be a good or bad thing.

Also, you can ask your local letter carrier where they get shoulder straps, who would know better than a letter carrier about comfortable shoulder straps ( and shoes ! )

John, this has been an excellent and well thought out series.

The Think Tank Retrospective shoulder bags look impressive...like someone who actually shoots pictures designed it. I've never owned a Think Tank but they are reminiscent of the Billingham Hadley line. In my opinion that's a Good Thing.

I've only owned one Billingham bag--a Pro Hadley. It's the best made bags I've ever used and it's the oldest bag I still have in use. Waterproof cotton material that doesn't seem to ever wear out, great internal padding and a surprising amount of capacity for a bag of its external dimensions. It feels more secure than the Domke but it's easy to open and close while shooting. It's my favorite bag but it's too damn expensive to make a habit of buying several Billingham models.

I've owned more LowePro and Domke bags than any other brand. Both had good points and bad points. LowePros protect the equipment well and the Domkes have easy and quick access during shooting.

The downside of the LowePro bags I've had was the thick, stiff padding that made them bulky for a shoulder bag and the nylon/plastic zippers that wore out with daily use. A LowePro Magnum bag I used years ago also was made of such coarse nylon material it almost chewed a hole in a soft leather jacket I wore a lot back then. I think they've corrected that with a panel of soft nylon in later designs.

The downside of the Domke bags is that the cotton material was not very weatherproof and it wears out pretty fast if you're using it every day, all day. Once wet, Domke bags take a long time to dry out--not a Good Thing when you're having to work out of a wet bag. Whereas the LowePro bag would wear a hole in your clothing, the Domke bags would have a hole worn in them by rubbing against your clothing. Photographers at the two newspapers in town (now there's only 1/4 of a newspaper left) all had duct tape on the back of their Domke bags where holes were worn from daily use. Still, I love the Domkes. I don't carry them daily so the bags I own will probably survive me. Domke prices are reasonable when bought online, at least within the US.

And here I thought I was the only bag nut. My wife rolls her eyes every time I even look at another bag as though it were another woman.
But, my current favorite for my Fuji X-100's is a small Safrotto bag. Canvas and small, it cost me 39 bucks...not Euro but dollars.
Great little bag for travel. We spent 5 weeks in Europe on assignment with this bag a cameras. Did a great job!

That last one should be Victorinox, not Victorianox unless you are suggesting using a shopping bag from that lingerie store. That would be the most conspicuous way of being inconspicuous.

[Thanks. My bad. --Mike]

I have a Domke F6 - my second one of these because the corners wore out on the first one.

The good points are that it's pretty shapeless and squashes flat against my body and that it has metal snap rings to close the flap.

It would be perfect were it not for the fact that it discolours very quickly to a variegated black and grey.

It's about as far from a Billingham as you can get.

I was tempted by the ThinkTank Retrospective 5, but how exactly do the Velcro silencers work?

And with the 'silencers' working - is the bag secured in any way?

I am not so much concerned about someone dipping their hand in the bag (although it is a factor) as with the contents tipping out while I am running (for a bus etc.).

Oh, and do they discolour?

Mr Camp

Thank you for a well thought out, reasoned and well informed article. It was a great reminder to me that I do not have to carry everything I own every time I go out to shoot. I am going to get me a new small bag today.

I also once had an Omnica bag for my Leicas. The lenses locked into mounts like on the cameras. and everything had a special place to put it. it even had a little square compartment for the eyes to my Dual Range Summicron.

Thank You for an excellent review.

I've never been a bagaholic, but I have a few. I have a Lowepro backpack which was covered with useless (to me) straps and rings so I cut them off. Now the bag weighs less and does a pretty good job of carrying a DSLR and three or four lenses plus accessories.

But I admit I'm looking for a bag at the moment to hold two Leica M's with mounted lenses and two extra lenses. I'm making do with a Tamrac shoulder bag which does the job but is quite bulky. Maybe something with a little more style - it will be carrying Leica's after all... :-)) LOL

Think Tank's products rock. I just love 'em. While I have the Airport International roller bag, and their slick belt system, and the MIrrorless Mover for my OM-D, that Retrospective series of bags are very specical products, IMO. I have the Retro 5 in slate blue for my X-Pro1, not only is it stuffed with cool design features as mentioned by many above, but it's made from this really soft cotton canvas that's just a pleasure to touch and use. This bag just *works*, yet it sits on your body and feels like a pair of very well made, very durable, yet very comfortable pair of jeans. It is, hands down, the best shoulder bag I've ever used.

Thanks so much for writing this series, John. It's always interesting to see others' bag fetishes...makes me not feel so alone.

Perhaps I can offer a few of my own notes for the general mix.

Billingham: I have three, two small and one black Hadley Pro. Lovely but under-featured and wildly over-priced fishing bags. The black canvas is subject to bad UV fading.

Domke: Had one. Hated it. I don't care how many jungles and wars they've seen. Heavy, porous canvas sucks. Blech.

Think Tank: The Retrospective 5 and 7 are my general camera-type bags of choice. Well made, thoughtfully detailed and easy to pack. Their ability to silence the Velcro fasteners is a brilliant detail.

LowePro: When I absolutely need to schlep a lot of gear I turn to one of my LowePros. My Stealth Reporter D650 can carry my essential medium format gear plus a small family of elves as comfortably as possible.

But I hate to schlep. The more I carry the worse my photos, almost unexceptionally.

With my increasing use of small, mirrorless cameras I've turned to a non-camera-bag for carrying kits of modest bulk and weight, especially while traveling. Specifically, I've been using a PacSafe Metrosafe 250 Gii Shoulder Bag. This general travel bag lays nicely flat to your body but can pack quite a bit of mirrorless kit. I use Domke wraps to pad lenses as needed. Lots of space for other stuff, too. In addition it has security features not found on camera bags such as slash-resistant body fabric, a slash-proof shoulder strap, and RFID-blocking pockets.

Thanks again for the fun-to-follow series, John!

I've had a couple of Crumplers: passed on to friends when they didn't suit my needs but might suit theirs. I currently have three working bags:

Billingham L2 'Alice' with SP15 shoulder pad: perfect for my Pentax K-5 with 15 mm, 35 mm Macro, and 70 mm Limiteds plus odds and sods (I also have two AVEA 05 pockets on it which contain filters and more odds and sods). They're not 'nicely made': they're beautifully made, and will probably last for several generations. Leica users talk about them because Billingham make the bags for Leica (the L2 is, as the model code implies, derived from their Leica bag; hence, also, the 'Alice' designation). Originally bought for my Canon PowerShot G9 rig with Canon tele- and wide-converters plus flashgun.


National Geographic Large Explorer Shoulder Bag: I've added a Billingham SP50 shoulder pad because the canvas shoulder pad has no grip. This carries my K-5 and zoom rig (12-24, 16-50, 60-250). These bags are supposed to be from Manfrotto, for what that's worth. Not terribly well-made, but good enough (if the Billingham's a Rolls-Royce, this is a Ford).


Lowepro AW300 SlingShot: carries even more than the Nat. Geo. bag (some of both sets of lenses plus macro bellows and the Minolta 75 mm enlarger lens I use on them, and X-Y focusing racks. The nice thing about the sling compared to a full backpack is that you don't have to take it off to access the contents. Construction is a step up from the Nat. Geo. bag (let's call it an Audi).

I've had a Think Tank Urban Disguise 50 for years that, after the first year or two, seemed to always be just slightly too small. Things always bulged or didn't quite fit. Currently my laptop just barely doesn't fit (the previous laptop did fit if I let the battery stick up and out through the zipper). My D700 with battery grip is a bit big. Everything I did with it was stuffing and bulging, and the result was kind of round and tended to roll over.

Have their bag designs caught up with modern laptops (widescreen designs, so a "15.6" is nearly as wide as a 17" used to be, but has much less vertical screen space) and DSLRs? Because I haven't found anything else that works that well either.

I think we'll just have to accept that the perfect bag, or the perfect camera for that matter, doesn't exist, and it never will. That said, for travel and street shooting I've been pretty happy with the Think Thank Retrospective as well. I just wish it was a tad bigger so I could put a magazine or two inside the side pocket. If you don't carry an iPad, you might get a Nat Geo or Lenswork inside there, but not anything bigger. I'm pretty addicted to a cool weblog called Japan Camera Hunter which showcases bags and the equipment used by photogrphers from all over the world. Worth a look to get some inspiration. (Www.japancamerahunter.com)

I've been using a Domke F-5XB bag for many years now. It's a really simple bag that doesn't draw attention to itself and will generally fit a DSLR with a lens mounted and an extra lens. If you take all the dividers out, it is a perfect fit for a 5D-sized body with a larger 70-200mm f4 or 24-70mm f2.8 lens.

I'm not a big camera bag guy, though. I tend to use the bag more as a way to safely transport the gear. In the field, I generally just carry the camera with its strap.

For jobs when I need to carry a couple bodies and lenses, I have a Lowepro backpack that does the job pretty well. It really isn't all that comfortable as a backpack, however.

Regarding the Osprey which "put the weight on my hips", did you use it to carry cream cakes?

Made me smile

I use an Osprey for any backpacking with my camera. It's great

I recommend the Tamrac Velocity 6x and 7x bags. They are sling-like bags that can be carried behind one's back or side. They are quickly moved to the front for easy access. Although well padded, they are compact and easily managed. I use the smaller 6x to carry an Olympus Pen camera with 3-4 additional lenses. I keep the lenses in soft fabric to prevent scratching. The 7x can carry an SLR with 1-2 additional lenses. Each has an essential carry handle in addition to the shoulder sling. Adorama carries a similar line called the Slinger bag.

For a less bulky and very comfortable (and well made) shoulder pad-


Another convinced Retrospective 5 user here. It's an amazing bag, just right if you shoot rangefinders or mirrorless cameras (It's also the perfect size for a TLR and a pair of sunglasses, btw).

As for Lowepro, I'd like to point out their recent `Sport' series. These are basically lighter, less padded versions of several of their normal bags, with much material replaced with thin, lightweight fabric. These provide much less padding than their normal bags (but still more then enough for most uses), and the bags are engineered to be used when performing several sports. I own the Sport Sling 100 which I use to carry a Leica and several lenses when skiing or rock climbing. I'd heartily recommend it for people who wish to bring a camera when practicing outdoor sports. It's lightweight and stays in place perfectly, while still being quick at hand when you want your camera.

Thanks JC. I mostly agree with you where our experiences overlap. Just a couple of notes from a fellow bag collector:

Domke now makes some of its bags in a water resistant waxed canvas, which to me looks handsome, though I've no experience with it. Their "satchels" don't look like camera bags (because they're designed for other things as well), but they're not as easy to shoot out of as the classic bag. Just right for certain needs, though. On one that I used for years, I "silenced" the velcro with gaffer's tape, and removed the stiffener bar in the top flap.

Their standard cotton material seems of a lower grade these days. Domke straps seem pretty grippy to me, but too narrow for what the bags can hold.

Kata--I have a small Kata backpack. It's over-engineered, over-padded and over-heavy. Great protection, especially for fragile bargain-grade equipment; not suited to shooting out of.

Osprey--I just bought my first Osprey pack and I am impressed by the workmanship and design. Well built and with a reassuring warranty policy.

Tenba--I have a messenger/camera bag. Good material but stitches at outside pockets started tearing right away. Too many pockets, and the heavy, over-padded strap and heavy metal hardware are overkill. Decent insert though, which fits most messenger bags. Domke sells a similar insert separately.

Paradoxically, more expensive "pro" (as in meant for years of daily production use and abuse) cameras and lenses tend to be tougher and need less protection from bags. My vintage film gear also seems more rugged than current plastic gear, especially the lenses. (But then I suppose that what survives from that era would be the rugged stuff.)

I'm a hard case user, rarely shoot "on-the-fly", and usually go into a situation where I lay out all my cases on the floor in an out of the way place, open them, and work out of them, and then pack to go to the next location; using a cart. I use a lot of Pelicans, but have to say, Calumet has a limited line of hard cases styled like Pelican in black, and they have a model that is barely larger than what seems to be a standard brief case, with pick-and-pluck foam in it. I have two Lumix G-3's, one zoom, and four primes, a battery charger, and two batteries, and still have room for more in this thing; all in a hard-knock, water-proof floating case the size of a slightly fat brief case. I can't say enough about it.

I thought I'd put my two cents in for my professional run-and-gun friends, who have always been in love with and used religiously the Domke line, especially the F2...now let me say, I don't get it: these guys usually have those Domkes packed so full they really start to look like an overfed daschund, and stuffed like that, they're really kind of awkward and hard to use and carry, but I can't tell you how many times I've seen just ancient Domke bags with ripped corners being dragged around and wrestled around on the ground to get stuff out of. These guys worship those bags like a religion! I don't get it, but there you go...

If you are carrying anything larger than a MF camera, you might consider https://www.photobackpacker.com/home.php
I recently acquired one of their 5X7 filmholder cases, and found it very well designed.

I've mostly been happy with the LowePros, I'm on my second Computrekker for some sorts o ftravel, but I did lose the first to zipper failure, and the second one is starting to have a somewhat cranky zipper. For such a big bag, I think the zipper is too thin, but I am not kind to zippers in any case.

The Gura Gears are nice backpacks, but I did lose a lens to the double-fly design, in Greenland. (Just because you've closed a zipper doesn't mean you can let your old habits assume you've closed all the zippers.) I got past that, but it was still an ouch. Really solid, really light, the harness is okay. Sorry I don't know the answer regarding waterproofing. I like the newer smaller model for air travel, a nice compromise single bag for travel and shooting.

I'm looking for something that's the opposite of the Domke and Billingham: I want a fitted hard shell case. I drag these things around climbing, and I want a case that protects the camera and a super-zoom from being banged against a rock, or having a pack dropped on it, or being scraped up a chimney. And only just big enough for the camera. No extra lenses. Maybe an extra card or a lens cloth or polarizer, though I rarely have time to mess with those things.

Something for the NEX-N and the 18-200 would make the NEX a reasonably good climbing camera.

Anybody got any recommendations? Other than an RX100 and a Pelican...

The perfect hat? Try one of Tilley's. www.tilley.com

Ok, one more plug for the new MindShaft Rotation 180 backpack plus waist pack. See it in use here:

Made by the guys you like at ThinkTank.
You correctly complain that backpacks require you to take the pack off to switch gear, but this swing out waist pack solves that problem.
They also have an excellent tripod carry solution for the bag.

Full disclosure, I don't have one yet, nor have I actually tried one, but I would like one.
It is only necessary to have a backpack when one is hiking doing serious MF landscape work with ND gradient filters, a tripod, and all that stuff. What I use now is a ThinkTank Streetwalker Pro. And changing lenses would be so much easier with the MindShaft. Which is what the guys at ThinkTank must have decided.

When just walking around, I have a camera in my hand with a wrist grip. When I get in my car, Mike has seen me put it in an old Orvis six-pack cooler bag just so the camera doesn't roll around on the car floor. If I need to carry an extra lens while walking around, I use a ThinkTank Lens Changer 50 V2.0. on my belt.
I no longer like shoulder bags as they end up twisting my shoulder since I always seemed to overload them. Used a Crumpler for just a year that I bought second hand and agree with others that the velcro rip sound is 120 decibels. The ThinkTank backpack has put the Crumpler out to pasture.

I do have a lot of tiny Crumpler pouches for little rangefinder lenses.

I admit to liking a Fogg that has held a single rangefinder with a mounted lens for 25 years. Very clever thin padding approach.
Good thing Fogg doesn't make backpacks yet.

Thanks for the good work John. Now start writing about travel luggage please. I have opinions about those too.

For travel I have settled on, and love, the Think Tank International V2. Works great, built great, carries more stuff than I need to have with me, and most importantly, fits in all the overheads (and I fly far to many Boeing and Airbus flights). Nothing has ever broken. My carry-on is a Think Tank UD V60, which is simply the max size that can go under most (not all) airline seats. It is great for international flights, where it carries so much crap I can't find it all, including some emergency clothing and personal stuff as well as one complete camera kit. At my destination it gets cross loaded from the Int V2 and becomes my day bag for safari and driving around, with 2 bodies and about 4 lenses and flash gear, plus all the other "stuff" that drags along. Again, well built, but more pockets and compartments than I can keep track of. it is pretty much my "indespendable" bag.

Have a big Lowepro that predates the above that I bought hoping to modify to carry both backpacking gear and camera gear, am looking for a buyer for it. Too Big, Too Heavy, Straps and suspension system not adequate for multi-day trips on your back. Not a practical car bag either. Extremely well built and padded, though.

I fully support your backpacking recommendation of buying a true backpack and then using inserts for the camera gear. I have worn out innumerable bits and pieces of, and three complete bags, for my original (1975, ahem, cough!) Jansport D5 and nothing is more comfortable for long overnights and multi-day treks...though I am getting old or it is getting incrementally heavier with each year. I use the Kinesis inserts in the bottom compartment for my gear.

Short day hikes away from the vehicle I find that the original version of the Clik elite Venture 35 is just about perfect for me, carrying rain gear, a jacket, minor needs (food!) and a decent DSLR kit and tripod without ruining my back or my shoulders. Tall folks will probably have an issue with the sternum strap, but it does have a torso adjustment. Now nearly 4 years old it is holding up well, but it is a country/outdoor bag/pack, not something you would use in an urban setting. I really like the divided compartment design, and the fact that it internal divider can be removed if you just want to use it as a large day bag.

For PJ work. The best bag is whatever is popular with the locals. Carry little gear and blend in. For transport of gear Think tank or Lowe that will carry on. Pack only whet you need. You will fine you don't need much - lighter gear allows for more energy and more work - and NOT looking like a "photographer". The long zoom can make you a target in some places.


Wow. Great timing. I'm heading out tomorrow to do a three day program in Denver about portrait lighting. I needed to take studio lighting gear, umbrellas, tripod a few light stands, some scrims and diffusers a bunch of wardrobe for my "on camera" persona and the usual cameras, lenses and laptop. I looked at the whole mess and the baggage overage charges and we all decided to send most of the stuff by UPS Ground. (I just checked the tracking info: it arrived yesterday). So I used a long, octagonal Tenba case for as many umbrellas, softboxes, diffusion frames and other modifier junk as possible. I loaded a large, rolling Pelican case (that's been around the world about ten times) with four monolights, cables, Fiilex LED lights, diffusion and flag clothes etc.

The third case is a large Tenba aircase with a big fluorescent panel light, grip heads, clamps, cables, and several "hot lights." We ground shipped about 200 pounds of stuff and we'll UPS it right back when we're done.

So I'm thinking I'll do a soft suit case for clothes and then use my Think Tank Airport Security case for the cameras, lenses, laptop, portable flashes and tethering cables.....until I finally have the presence of mind to check the reservations and find out that I'm booked on a United Express commuter jet (a little Bombardier). Of course the Think Tank won't fit in the cabin anywhere so I'm sure I would end up having to check it and that seemed too gruesome so I'm doing origami in a Domke bag and I'm determined to take it with me on the plane.

Next time I'm getting a big box, cutting airholes in it and shipping myself via Federal Express.....I think it would be less stressful.

I think the best bag I have is a probably 70 year old leather solder strap bag. Just big enough to hold a DSLR, and one or two lenses. There no padding at all, it has a couple of small exterior pockets and one interior zipper pocket only suitable for very flat small things. And did I forget to mention it's completely falling apart, have not used it to carry any gear in years. But I still can't get rid of it. It was my dad's.

An option that many people don't think of (and is perfect for some) is a stand-alone insert, such as these ones from Crumpler (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_13?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=crumpler%20haven%20camera%20pouch&sprefix=crumpler+have%2Caps%2C170)

That's what I use. I have the small one and it fits my OM-D and three prime lenses (and if I push it, OM-D with 14-45 zoom plus three primes). The best part is that it just slides into my regular weekend satchel that I carry around anyway. Weekdays it slips into my courrier bag or backpack that I take to work. Total flexibility, no need for a separate or additional bag if you're already schlepping a bag.

BTW, I have an orange "M" size that I'm not using. Will sell for half price! :-)

Back when I carried a "full" kit, DSLR, two lenses, external flash, and the assorted "doo-wahs", tromping around "da Uup" (Michigan's Upper Peninsula ), a Lowepro Offroad was my bag of choice. Big waist belt to get the load off the shoulder, but quick to unlatch the waist belt, and swing the bag around to quickly access what was needed. Got a few good paintings out of those images, but now I use compact and ultra compact cameras, but I still need to carry stuff; I really like the Maxpedition Versipacks, as they can be connected to your belt or their own waist belt, carry lunch, water bottle, "big small camera" small binoculars, and if I'm doing onsite work, it's my office , with sound system.


Tilley Hats. When I was buying my current kayak, during the negotiations, we were looking at some Tilley hats, and he referred to them as prescription hats, guys buying them on the advice of doctors.

I really like my broad brimmed Tilley, keeps the sun and rain off, makes me look like something the teen girls should make fun of, but, hey it works.

BTW, that Calumet hard case is here:


It's the WT1106, virtually the same size as a brief case, and holds my whole M4/3rd's system. Pelican and a lot of the other hard case manufacturers just don't have anything as "right-sized" as this, if it's near this size, it's two inches thicker, or if it's this thick, it's smaller.

I like my Domke F5XZ "man bag": http://lightdescription.blogspot.com/2012/02/domke-f5xz.html

Think Tank: agreed. After 35 years of Tenba, Tamrac, LowePro, various off-brands, no Billinghams at all (got some nice vintage Nikkors and the odd Elmarit for the money), and, lately, large but comfy Crumpler backpacks depreciated by canned laughter model names ("Big Cheese", "Opulent Rooster"), I have switched to what are likely to be my last photo bags ever, Think Tank Urban Disguise.

For European travellers, the larger TT Urban Disguise (50, 60, 70) fit even the new draconian cabin baggage restrictions enforced by ferocious cost-cutting airlines à la EasyJet: 50 x 40 x 20 cm max.

John Camp's distinction between transport bags and shooting bags is essential, but the Urban Disguise models provide a practical twist: they are large and versatile enough to replace conventional carry-on baggage, if you limit yourself to, say, a DSLR plus 3-4 lenses and accessories. All the usual day-pack paraphernalia fit nicely in the remaining space. If you don't carry a big laptop, or none at all, the corresponding compartment in the Urban Disguise 60 is large enough to pack a shirt and a change of laundry, in the event that your checked baggage is de-routed to Murmansk (except on flights to Murmansk, where it is routinely de-routed to Magadan).

Think Tank offers a very clever optional harness for the Urban Disguise, transforming it into a more than makeshift backpack, and I can't recommend it highly enough for shorter hauls (the cantus firmus you hear rising is the song in its praise from my arthritic shoulder).

For the budget and safety conscious photographer, I suggest a proven DIY shooting combo: Crumpler "Banana Bowl" M or S padded neoprene pouches will fit a standard business or travel bag and accommodate a small-medium (D)SLR or rangefinder plus lenses. Tuck the "Banana Bowl" in an inconspicuous PacSafe (!) bag, and you'll be reasonably Barcelona-proof.

Wow! Thanks to Svein-Frode and japancamerahunter, some of the most beautiful and original hand-made cameras I've ever seen:


Film, of course. And he's prolific, too!

Interview with the artist:


I settled on Billingham and Domke. Everything else was either over-engineered, ugly or uncomfortable.

The big problem with the Billinghams is that they look expensive and you have to beat the living daylights out of them to make them look worn. My L2 is about 15 years old and despite almost daily use it still looks quite reasonable.

The Domke F2 is a great bag. The ergonomics are perfect and it hugs your body. But carrying a fully loaded one for a few years will eventually turn you in to an invalid. The Domke F6 is a good compromise. You get the functionality of an F2 in a size that you can't pack to the point where the weight will snap you spine in half. The Domke J803 is one of the best bags Domke makes, but you never hear about. It looks like a regular size nylon satchel, but holds everything you really need.

For rollers I think the Think Tank bags are hard to beat. Excellent quality and features.

If you need something indestructible and environmentally sealed you can't beat a Pelican case.

Ironically one of the best bags I own turned out to be a waist pack I got from Lands End for $14.95. I put some padding on the bottom and it will hold 2 x M bodies or 1 x M plus 1xF2, a few lenses and film.

Anybody mention F-Stop? http://fstopgear.com/
I like their ICU (internal camera units) for transporting gear. For me, gear is either in storage, or in my hand. I'm not in and out of a "bag" very often, so accessibility is a low priority.

If your bag does not have Velcro silencers and you want them, it's simple enough to make your own. Just stick another piece of Velcro to it to keep it quiet.

A few padded "Domke-style" wraps, some Ziplocs, and a conventional daypack is all you really need for actively shooting, otherwise you have too much stuff.

For commercial shoots when you bring lighting and back-ups... Lightware or Tenba Air cases. Check them on the airplane and don't worry, they're very rugged. I've had Pelican cases get brittle and shatter.

I've had two Tilley hats and hated them both. They're ugly and ungainly, and they never wear out, so there's hardly ever an excuse to stop wearing them, and you wind up going through life looking like a dork. The first one I had, I wore under such persistently terrible conditions that it became irredeemably dirty (sweat and dust) and I threw it away. Then I made the crucial error of replacing it with another one, which I still have, but I keep hidden, so that I forget to wear it. If one must have a Tilley, get the one with the green liner under the brim. I can't recommend the Tilley's close cousin, the jungle hat, unless you're 70 years old and a Vietnam veteran. Unless it's really windy, I find a modest, narrow-brimmed straw cowboy hat to work well. Or, if you have a personality large enough to handle it, an Iowa Hawkeye ball cap, preferably, the one with the black-on-black hawk. If you have a Tilley with the drop-down neck protector...well, I'm afraid you're beyond all sartorial aid and, hell, you might as well wear it, even though it'll clash with the lime-green soles on your Nike Airs.

I've owned/used a few bags and investigated many and I have to say, your analysis really resonates. I always found Lowepro to be overrated, between the bulk and clumsy zippers. I have an out-of-production bag that's roughly shaped like a tall trapezoid with the short side down (somewhat conical) ... it's huge, yet just barely holds my D7000 with 70-200/2.8 with VC grip. (No chance of extending the lens hood). There's a divider, but the other "half" doesn't hold much and there's no side access, so you have to dig for anything on the bottom. I have an older Tamrac backpack that holds the same and then some, while feeling less bulky. As for backpacks, when I was shooting nature subjects 10+ years ago and lugging around 2 bodies (just because ... no real need for 'em !) and half a dozen lenses including the Minolta 400/4.5, the backpack I chose was from Hakuba - relatively inexpensive and lighter than the Lowepro alternatives. I also have a tiny Lowepro bag I bought for my NEX kit that's perfectly serviceable - I did consider the Thinktank Retrospective 5 but it was too tall for the tiny gear - wasted space. Loved the styling, but settled for something that looks conspicuously like a camera bag. Another recent acquisition is a small Kata bag that holds the D7000 with 16-85 and one other lens - either the 85/1.8 or 35/1.8. It's kind of ugly and a bit overbuilt, but about the smallest, tidiest bag I could find to hold that combo.

I really like the bag I use for my RX100 ... a jeans pocket :)

- Dennis

Loved your review John. Reminds us all that bags are important and that it can be maddening to find the right one.

My observations:
Newspaper job in 1980 was perfectly served by a simple Tenba with a single zipper that ran down the middle of the top. Held one Leica with wide lens and one Leicaflex with long lens. Big side pocket filled with film.

Recent purchase of used Billingham Hadley Small (half the crazy new price) works beautifully for my Fujifilm X-E1. Looked at the Thinktanks, but much preferred the Billingham. Simple but luxurious.

My Pentax 67 and three big lenses work out of a nylon tool bag bought at Home Depot. Sewed a cloth cover over a bit of dense foam and put that into the bottom. This type of tool bag comes with several useful interior and exterior pockets and a great padded strap. Cost - $40. Love it.

I've got a Lowepro shoulder bag purchased for my first trip to New Zealand, and it protected everything nicely, but was too bulky, dense and decorated to suit my tastes.

I have this funny habit of going luxury class or working class (Billingham or Home Depot), but don't care much for middle class (Lowepro).

I guess it all comes down to personal taste, because my opinions of some of the reviewed bags are the exact opposite. I have quite a few bags, and generally agree about the Katas being excellent, but too heavily padded and not as roomy as they seem, although they are very intelligently designed. I have a slingshot-type backpack from them, very narrow, which carries my D800 and 3-4 lenses, plus maybe a flash, for when I am concerned about back pain.

I have a Tenba Messenger Large, and it is one of my favorite bags. Very flexible, and just the right size for a medium format or large format system with 2-3 lenses. Too deep for a DSLR, unless you use 70-200 zooms and similar lenses a lot. The Medium version might be better, although the size isn't very different. Overall, one of my favorite bags, and rock-solid.

I have a Think Tank Retro 10, and can't stand it. The flap is way too long, and if I leave the bag open, it hangs halfway down my leg. The velcro system is neat, but I tend to set it to one position and never change it, so overkill. The bag has way too many small compartments, by far. I continually lose things in it, and don't even use the inside ones much. The bag is too deep for normal lenses, and is only really good for long zooms, but the smaller versions are too cramped for a large DLSR, like my D800. It uses square metal fasteners for the straps, and so if you carry the bag over one shoulder, and a tripod or camera over the other, you can scratch up your equipment. I scratched the hell out of my Gitzo GT3542XLS before I realized what was going on. It is much too square, and doesn't conform to my body shape, unlike the Domkes and the Tenba, and sticks out quite far from my body. It has annoying little corners flaps on the main opening which on occasion make it really hard to get things in and out. Overall, one of the few bags I regret buying, and I now use it mostly for storage.

But my favorite are the Domkes. The F2 is a classic, and is great when you need quite a bit of gear with you. Two pro bodies, and four lenses easily fit in. But I find it a bit large day-to-day, and use mostly an F-3X for my D800 and 2-3 Zeiss lenses.

I also have a Micro Four Thirds camera, and use an Artisan & Artist ACAM-7100 for that. Really nice bag, although the padding is too thick again. The bag stays compact though, and I don't mind.

I have never liked Lowe Pro bags. I find them cheap-looking and utilitarian, without being attractive in any particular way. Much too camera-baggy looking too. I don't like the slippery material they use.

I've used a Billingham Hadley Pro for years now. I can't say enough good things about it. It wears incredibly well, is totally waterproof, is easy to access very quickly, while being baffling to get into by those who don't know the elegant quick release fastening system.

The bag is equally good for a Canon 5D with its 24/104 with hood on, an extra 70/200 f4 IS and any other small lenses, flashes etc one wants, as it is for a couple of Leica bodies and any lenses you want to carry. It also carries a Mac book air or iPad, which can slide down the outside of the excellent insert. And that in a very compact bag.

I've tried many other bags over the years, including some nice Think Tanks, but still the Billingham is the most practical, nicest hanging from the shoulder, and soft enough to mould to the body discretely. Because of its ingenious closure system, it doesn't need any velcro to silence. This bag is very well thought-through and oozes quality.

For each of my compact cameras (G12, FZ150) I use a birder’s shoulder bag. I got an Eagle Creek bag that measures 9.5 inches x 5.5 inches x 3 inches at a garage sale for a buck. Eagle Creek doesn’t appear to be manufacturing this bag anymore, but you can find something very similar at http://www.pajaro.com/fieldbag.shtml (I have no connection with them and have not personally used pajaro’s bags. I found the shoulder strap on the Eagle Creek model a little narrow, so I “souped it up” with an inch-and-and-a-half wide shoulder strap from a nylon brief case.

In the zippered padded main compartment go the FZ150 and a gallon zip-lock bag that could be used to protect the camera in case I get stuck in a deluge. In the zippered top flap on the outside go a few business cards and two extra batteries. In the side zippered section go a write-in-the-rain notebook and the download cable for the FZ150. A waterproof pen goes in one of the outside pen pockets. It’s an instant photojournalist’s kit that rides easily on my shoulder and it’s what I use when I’m on assignment.

I put together a nearly identical rig for my G12. When my wife expressed an interest in photography, I gave it to her, and it has become her go-to purse. When she goes out, she has all her “possibles” and a camera at all times.

You may also dial in the climate factor.
Once in Hong Kong I got my Domke (partially) rain soaked. And when, after days & days it finally stopped raining, it remained heavily overcast, windless, steamy, sauna-like. With the relative humidity turned to eleven the bag's thick canvas simply would not get dry, for days on end.
My guess is when you're living/working in a place that's perpetual hot & murky you're better off with nylon than with canvas.

i submit that the best camera bag bar none is the ortlieb 'zip city' bag. comes in medium or large (which ortlieb unhelpfully labels small and medium, respectively), and closes with a drysuit zipper to make a quick, easy, waterproof, airtight seal. that's right; it's not only waterproof, it is airtight, making it ideal for use quarantining your camera when moving from cold to warm, humid environments (when condensation can kill even pro weathersealed gear). the material is like what they make whitewater rafts out of--beyond rugged, not easily slashed even with a razor. the zipper pulls hard, making it simple to tell when someone is trying to open your bag behind your back (and the t-pull of the zipper fits into the strap lug to confuse would-be wandering fingers). the surface of the material does not absorb water--not only can you wander through a monsoon without worry, you can set your bag down in mud or worse, then hose it off with impunity. and they do not look like camera gear bags at all.

of course, they aren't sold as camera bags, and have no built-in padding. (the material is so stiff, that it provides a significant degree of protection that way, though.) for daily use i don't bother with padding, but i have made a simple liner out of closed-cell 3/16ths inch foam for one bag which works well when i want it. usually, though, i either use the bag without padding (for papers, ipad, and one small camera, maybe rainjacket or such, plus built-in pouch for sundries), or use the padded liner-insert from a random lowepro bag as a drop-in that can hold two bodies and several lenses, along with a 17" laptop and one change of clothes for carry-on use. (for most such trips, i also bring a thinktank international v2 roller, which is excellent and provides a somewhat better place to leave extra gear in a hotel room than the nightstand.)

the strap is good, and it is the lightest bag for its size that i have come across. i prefer the larger size (medium), which is smaller than the expansive messenger bag i used to use, but holds more than anyone should try and carry in a satchel. in all seriousness, if you want a low profile carry-everywhere bag that gives you peace of mind in rain, snow, sand, mud, even on boats, not to mention unruly crowds, you should check it out. relatively cheap, too. i've gone through 4 of them so far, with extreme use; about to buy two more. (i like to have a spare on hand--sometimes, after a great deal of wear, the zipper fails, and i do not like to be without my bag even for a few days while waiting for a replacement to ship.)

here is a link:

good, now that's settled. you're welcome. ; )

I hate camera bags that weigh as much or more than my equipment. have smallish high quality cameras (M9 with several lenses, Sigma dp2M, Fuji x100s) and keep them in colour coded rock climbing chalk bags http://bouldersuk.com/climbing-shop/black-diamond-chalk-bags which have a soft fleece lining and a draw string closure and come in 3 different sizes and about 5 different colours. I can grab what I need for the day and put them in any backpack. I use a cheap shoulder bag from Superdry for the camera I'm actually using http://www.superdry.com/mens/bags/details/37777/army-superside-bag. It's quick and easy to grab my camera from the shoulder bag and I don't look like I'm carrying camera gear.

HA! I got lucky. On a forum, a guy was selling his Think Tank Urban Disguise for $30AU.

It was practically mint. The rubber on the shoulder strap pad had barely been creased. From what I gather, he was a guy who wanted to get into photography, bought all the gear...and just didn't take it further.

As a bonus, I found a pack of Eneloops buried in the bag. Nice.

It's a good bag. It's not showy, doesn't scream "STEAL ME!", doesn't make you look like a tool.

The only problem is that there are hems which run right under the zippers of the main compartment, and at least one in four attempts at closing the zip ends up with the hem caught in the zipper.

But all in all, a great bag. Definitely a good replacement for my "vintage" Hanimex I picked up off a guy who may or may not have been related to Rudolph Hess.

As fellow bagaholic, I have tried many of the bags referenced. For a safari kit I have settled on Gura bags. I also add a Kata trolley to roll the bag through the airport. The best features of Gura are: made with different materials that are very light but very strong, the "right" amount of padding, designed such that you can work out of the bag when in the field, particularly in dusty places, and can carry a lot of stuff.
Mike Johnson

Billinghams show their quality when you have to work for hours in heavy rain - that's why you see so many of them used by UK sports shooters. They also stand up to 20-30 years of heavy use.

Pelicases are excellent for really tough conditions as well.

Light weight and convenient weren't at the top of the design list.

I have a think tank retro 5 which would be perfect for my X-Pro1 and lenses along with my iPad, BUT it doesn't have a mesh pocket for a water bottle which is a del breaker for me.

I actually use five bags/cases...

1) Billingham L2/Alice - brilliant travel and city bag, fits a 5D3, 35/1.4L, 85/2.0 and 135/2.0 lenses, passport, and mobile phone.

2) Billingham 445 - carryon luggage, holds a laptop, camera gear, and a change of clothes.

3) Pelicase 1450 - if I'm likely to be wading back through 3 foot waves because the tide has come in while I'm shooting, and the alternative is a 12 hour wait for low tide (don't ask...)

4) Igloo cool box - for more sensible beach shoots

5) Scruffy old Diaper bag - for high theft risk environments.

I still swear by the Lowepro Omni Sport bag. It has a store-able waist belt and easy top access to my camera. I can carry plenty for a nice walk with minimal gear. It is a great grab and go bag.

I've used the ThinkTank Rotation 360 for the last Five or so years and loved it. But now I've upgraded to their offshoot company, Mindshift, and the Rotation 180. Both are truly exception backpack/camera bags.

I originally assumed "ThinkTank" referred designers sitting around coming up with the perfect camera bag-and that may be, but when you see how well these are built, you'll think tank.

For Svein-Frode:

While most people here have referrred to the Think Tank Retrospective 5, the Retrospective series goes up the way up to the Retrospective 50, which will carry two pro dSLRs plus 3-6 lenses and has a side pocket large enough to accomodate a 15" laptop. The Retro 10's side pocket will accomodate a regular iPad, so I'm sure there's something in the Retrospective line that will accomodate his heeds.

My biggest complaint about camera bags is many otherwise fine bags aren't adequately equipped for carrying water bottles, requiring attaching an external bottle carrier or placing bottles in the main gear compartment. For messenger-style bags, simple side pockets that expand to take a standard-sized bike bottle would do fine (and would fit my favorite Thermos Nissan JMW500 [http://amzn.com/B000K604P0] for coffee); even better if they can take a 1l Nalgene. Think Tank's Retrospective bags (at least the smaller ones) are a big disappointment here: their side pockets can barely fit a small 500ml water bottle. Similarly, even actively-oriented backpacks often lack of provision for hydration systems, though there are exceptions from LowePro, F-stop, and Clik Elite (I've had my eye on their Cloudscape pack [http://bhpho.to/110tuMD] which looks just about perfect to me).

Currently I'm using a Domke F-10 for my micro 4/3 kit. It easily holds my E-M5 and 3-5 lenses plus accessories; I can just squeeze in a full-size flash in the large front pocket if need be. I wear the strap across the body and detest slippery straps that allow bags to "migrate" as I move; Domke's Gripper material does a good job keeping the bag behind me and prevents it from swinging around when I bend over. Unfortunately, it has no place for a water bottle, though these days I've usually got a stroller along to toss things in. I bought it over the Retrospective 5 which I found a bit resistant to getting gear in and out of; the F-10, by contrast, is more open and flexible—and much cheaper in the discounted grey color [http://bhpho.to/JAexaM]. Had the slightly larger Retro 7 been around at the time, I might have gone with it instead.

For Gene Lowinger:
For your Retrospective 5 and X-Pro 1, you can add a Think Tank R U Hot mesh water bottle pouch by buying one from B&H, and simply attaching to the canvas strap on either end of the bag. Works great, and will not come off. I do the same thing for my X-Pro1.

Maybe it's not a deal breaker after all! ;-)


What a great post, and well-timed for me. I just picked up a Think Tank Retrospective 7 on Sunday. So far, I love it, and even now I'm discovering little pockets of storage inside that I'd missed on my first 5 or 6 passes through the bag. I went for the 7 for its iPad pocket, and I'm not looking back. I have silenced half of my velcro, offering a great compromise between security and annoyance. We'll see how it works after continued use.

I looked at many bags, including both of Lowepro's bags that appear to be similar to the Retrospective, and honestly there is no contest. Unless you're looking at the bags side by side, it is hard to see, but the Retrospective is similarly sized but offers much more storage capability, both in terms of raw space and in terms of being further compartmentalized in order to keep things better organized. I've got a Fuji XE-1, 18/35/60 lenses with hoods, 2 spare batteries, 2 chargers, 2 spare SD cards, my Blackrapid RS-7 strap, a Blackrapid wrist strap, 3 filters, 2 step-up rings, bubble level, cable release/intervalometer, iPad2, and a Lenspen. I think I missed a thing or two, but there's room to spare. The pad on the shoulder is vastly more comfortable than on the competition, as well, at least from the in-store comparison I did. Finally, the Retrospective line seems to be somewhat rare among camera bags in not having the name of its manufacturer featured anywhere on the outside, which is both classy and useful in not reading as a camera bag.

Manuel, I respectfully disagree with your assessment... $140 is a rather fair price to pay for the right way to carry gear. Sure you could spend it on other gear, but if you don't have the "right" way (for you) to take that gear with you, it'll sit at home and the money spent will have been wasted. With my Retrospective 7, I've already taken the camera out more than I used to. Food for thought.

Now the only thing I wish I had is a way to carry just a spare lens, card, and battery (or two) when I want to go out with just the wonderful Blackrapid RS-7. I'll find something that works for me.

John Camp,

A little harsh on the Tilley hats? I could see the sartorially interested Davenport wearing something like the Tilley LTM6, fishing, which is about as Fedora as a Tilley is gonna get. My second Tilley, by the way, the one I'm not too embarrassed to wear. 8-)

Bravo, John. No matter what church you belong to -- bags are like religion -- this is the most informative post I've seen on the subject.

I belong to the Think Tank church, and my Urban Disguise 50 (now discontinued, unfortunately) has logged thousands of miles and still looks and works like new. I just loaded it up for a trip a couple of hours ago. Granted, it won't hold a 15" laptop, but I use a 13" MBA. I just bought a Mirrorless Mover for my OM-D. So far so good.

I haven't seen the Moose Peterson bags mentioned. There is no way to carry my MP-5 comfortably, so it lives in the closet with seldom-used gear in it.

Does anyone know for sure if a Think Tank Airport AirStream will fit in the overhead of a regional jet? Looks like it might.

I do love the Crumpler shoulder bags, especially the earlier editions where you could replace the strap with a more comfortable one, like an OP/Tech.

The main reason is because they're normally wide enough to fit a DSLR with a vertical grip - many shoulder bag manufactuers like to make them "slim", but that means it won't fit said camera with a lens. Annoying!

Crumpler backpacks however, are more carriers than shooting bags - definitely not the most convenient to shoot out from. At least they look nice.

Conversely, I really dislike most of Think Tanks lineup. They're just fugly.

Also, that note with Lowepro bags ring true. They (and many others) love to design bags that take more than their support systems can comfortably carry. Why do bag manufacturers skimp on shoulder straps and lumbar support so much?

My experience is limited to Lowenpro and Crumpler, but I just got a Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 30i for my Fuji X-Pro1 system. I'm over the moon about it. Many beloved Think Tank attributes you mentioned are bundled in, but the most wonderful feature is a separate compartment for an iPad. I'm still in the Honeymoon period. I never thought I'd say any bag is perfect but...


I use a Granite Gear pack with bodies and lenses individually protected for any photography that requires hiking. I like the pack because beyond including the hiking essentials and gear I can lay a tripod on the pack body and secure it with the detachable Daypack (top). Just hiked 10 or miles a week ago with no problems.

For short distances and around town I like the Tamrac Sling Pack

Your post got many to buy another bag..
Me? I bought another Prey book.

Your blog on books,
discussed auto and semi auto rifles.
You should write about automatic firing cameras.

Back in the film days, one could not fire more than 36 shot continuously unless one had a special bulk back. So with a camera without a motor drive, if you kept your finder on the shutter button, you got one shot, and had to rewind, not unlike cocking and bringing the next cartridge into a rifle. With motor drive, you could shoot up to 36 shots with one press of the shutter. As little as 3.6 seconds later you were out of film. So I bought a 100 frame back. Handed it once to a very young man to take my picture with his father and a well known actor. I forgot to set it on single shot. In 10 seconds the film was done. Very tough to reload that much film on the spot in daylight.

Now if I did that with a digital camera and a large memory card, I could shoot for many minutes. Thank goodness there are no digital automatic rifles in civilian hands yet.

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