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Monday, 08 July 2013


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Nothing to disagree with here - but my go-to bag is the Domke F1-X "The Little Bit Bigger" bag plus their USPO Postmans strap pad.

The latter is so good I have two - one for my regular laptop bag.

For work with a handheld camera, the best camera bag is a wrist strap and a pocket for your other lens.

For anything else, whatever fits your whole system works pretty well in my experience.

My main complaint as I age is the actual physical weight of the unladen bag. Also unless am travelling (don't do foreign overseas travel due to passport restrictions), my working gear lives loose in the bag. The extra lenses live in their own home made padded pouch, the camera sits on the end with my most commonly used lens (18-105mm). Film/extra cards go in one pouch, spare charged power sources in another. no tripod or computer. Having had major bouts with cancer and treatments each time after become weaker, so for me simple is best. And as i am tall my own design of strap, actually a strap that once held a golf club bag. Current bag started as a recycled diaper bag
from a garage sale.

I primarily get by with a Domke F6 as a shooting bag, and a Patagonia Refugio 28 for my 4x5 kit. The Patagonia is a backpack, but very light. Since 4x5 is not quick shooting from the hip, taking it off and setting it down is necessary anyway.

I do have a few other bags, but I can stop buying them any time I want ...

My problem is that the camera bags I find perfect are to small for my camera equipment. My solution is to buy smaller camera...

One thing I've learned to look for is that the shoulder strap attachment points are located in such a way that the bag will not tip over when loaded. When you are actively shooting you might completely fold back any cover flap - you certainly won't keep re-zipping it or reattaching the clips.

Fortunately I have only a dented lens hood to show for this lesson - damage could have been much worse :)

I partially agree with John Camp about the inconvenience of backpacks. I have one from Lowepro, which I only carry if I need to use the tripod and am not sure about the lenses I'll use in a particular photographic session. Otherwise I only use it to store my gear. (Beats a drawer hands down!)
My backpack can have one or two advantages, though: I can hang it on the tripod's hook to add stability - useful under the windy conditions I get in the northern coast of Portugal -, and the tripod sits in the middle of the backpack, rather than on the side as found with other brands, making it extremely balanced and more comfortable to carry - even on longer hikes.
For less demanding sessions I use a small Lowepro Nova 140 and, when I want to take both my cameras with me, a brand new Event Messenger 150, which has to be one of the most discreet camera bags ever.

For those of us who must use a backpack (i.e. physical problems that require carrying gear on both shoulders), what would you recommend that's small, light and can carry a m43 system of a camera and 3-4 lenses?

My old film cameras live in a 70's Billingham, similar to the one pictured.
When I first got a digital camera I got a Crumpler bag - what a mistake. Any chance of being discreet was totally blown by the sound of acres of tearing Velcro - really made me appreciate the brass studs on the Billingham.

These are a great series on bags. Most of us, if not all, continue to search for the holy grail, do it all bag. I myself own probably 10 bags, from backpacks (love Gura) to belt systems, sling bags, a Billingham 335, and on and on. Unfortunately, the bag I dislike most is the most expensive, the Billi. Shoulder bags and I just don't get along.

The best shoulder bags I've ever used, hands down, are the Think Tank Retrospective series. Job done.

The best "heavy bag" for traveling by car, rail or air: The Think Tank Airport International. A roller bag that looks on the outside exactly like the ubiquitous roller luggage bag, but on the inside protects all your expensive gear.

Here's mine:

In this bag:a Canon 1D, Canon 300/2.8, Canon 1D MkIIN with 70-200/2.8 attached, camera strap, resting on a Quantum Turbo II flash power pack, and nestling the lens shade for my Canon 17-40/4. Also, Canon 17-40/4 lens, 550EX flash, battery charger and cord, Quantum AC adaptor and flash cord, Visible Dust brushes, two Canon teleconvertors, spare battery, CF card reader and FW cable, La Cie Rugged external FW drive and cable, padlock & keys for media center lockers, Canon remote shutter release cable, CF card wallet, WhiBal cards, hex key for RRS L-clamp, and sundry batteries, felt markers, microfiber cloths, security cable, etc. The outside pocket holds my monopod, and the extendable handle carrries by Briggs and Riley laptop case. This bag is so ubiquitous in pro motorsports photojournlist circles, that I don't see anyone using anything else.

It's become a de facto standard.

I agree that camera and lens pouches allow you to stuff your gear in any old bag when travelling. In my case its a smallish, water-resistant laptop backpack (Victorinox) which fits under a plane seat. (Where I come from, the overhead bins of domestic airlines are stuffed to the brim with carry-on bags.)

My shooting bag is a Crumpler (Mild Enthusiast, Small) which can be carried as a shoulder or waist bag. It easily accommodates my GXR-M with a wide angle lens mounted and my other lens, a short telephoto. Its lightly padded camera compartment has a movable divider, three pockets for filters and spare batteries (slip-in), and a mini-pocket for cards (zipped). It also has a back pocket for a manual, notepad, or passport.

On walkabouts, family or social gatherings where jostling is the only hazard, I make do with a neoprene pouch (OP/TECH, Lowepro which are also waterproof when dunked momentarily in the drink) and a neck strap. On treks where water hazard and impact damage (due to slips or falls) is ever present, I don't put all my gear in one basket. Fortunately, I do most of my trekking in my hometown, where I have no lack of companions volunteering to carry my gear (just the Crumpler, a tripod, and an umbrella).

When going to an island in a small outtrigger boat, I bring only my point-and-shoot. I won't go island hopping laden with two cameras unless I have a Pelican or equivalent. Getting my gear dry when the boat I'm in capsizes is the least of my concerns. But I figure that a Pelican may be a lifesaver when no life vests are provided.

Current bag designs are too bulky. You end up bumping into people if you shoot street. For years, I've been using Yellowstone canvas bags from Korea. (I learned this trick from a Japanese photographer while I lived in Japan.) These bags are spacious enough for a Leica and a few rolls of film, and they are snug to your body. They also double as grocery bags on the way home. And you do not look like a "photographer".

Lowepro used to make a "photorunner" that was pretty close to your "shoulder-carry bag" brief... they no longer produce it but you can get a blackwolf of the same design but cheaper materials, there are chinese knock-offs on ebay and some used to look like they were canvas but i haven't seen that listing for a few years now.

Not a perfect bag, but good enough for me to buy a knock off just to replace a lost/broken belt clip

Current bags are generally too small; they don't hold D700 plus battery grip comfortably, especially if the 24-70/2.8 is also also mounted. If I want to have 70-200/2.8 and Sigma 120-400 and Sigma 12-24 with me, it gets even harder to fit.

Then I end up with a separate bag for flashes and light modifiers, which is a pain. I need to keep at least one flash in the main bag for emergencies.

One interesting compromise I still use at times when I am carrying heavier gear is to use a shoulder harness with a good messenger bag, like the ThinkTank Urban Disguise 60, which holds a large amount of gear but is surprisingly comfortable on the shoulder with the harness.

When the camera is out and in use, the bag is lighter and can be used as a shoulder bag. When packing up for the walk home, it's a backpack again.

The ThinkTank harness is well enough designed to carry the weight high and spread the load well. It's not as good as a full ergonomic backpack, but it's as good as most photo backpacks (which are as ergonomic as a wooden crate).

But in general, I totally agree that nearly all backpacks are severely compromised. The only solution is to choose the gear better and limit yourself to what you REALLY plan to use most.

This will likely lead people to think I'm a real klutz (see my comment in a previous thread about printing on the wrong side of the paper) but one big drawback I find to my Lowepro camera backpack is that I sometimes forget to zip it up after changing lenses, sending gear tumbling out when I pick it up.

My big complaint with shoulder bags is their tendency to swing away from the body when moving in uneven territory. Its not so bad on the street, but... None I know of come with a waist strap which would solve this. I use a 30+year old Albinar bag, about 6x8x16 including two end pockets, and it has a long enough strap to carry over he opposite shoulder, which minimizes the above problem. It carries a DSLR, 3 lenses (2 zoom and a macro), and a number of accessories from SD disks and cleanng gear to extension rings and polarizers and even a light meter on occasion. Right now it needs a new shoulder pad, but that's normal maintenance. Yes, I have a larger bag, holds DSLR and Pentax67 on the rare occasion I take both, but 95%+ of use is the old reliable Albinar.

To Chris Malcolm:

Considering the mishaps you've suffered, I hope your body is at least as well protected as your camera bag. A broken or dented camera is much less serious in the larger scheme of things than a broken or dented skull.

I use a ordinary rucksack with a little 25 dollar Vanguard bag in it to protect the camera. Great bags for the price. And unobtrusive as well.

But I advise anyone to use Billingham or Domke of course.

Greets, Ed.

The velcro noise and rain protection issue are all resolved by using a different design. Instead of fasteners / flaps, my canvas bag is simply long enough for one end to fold, like a sock. (The strap is attached in the middle section.) You can whip up your Leica in an instant and there is no noise at all. When you fold it, it has 4 layers of canvas on top to protect your gear from rain. And you can always pack a picnic, a bottle of wine or anything, just reattach the strap from the middle to top - for a full 'bucket' (easier to show than to explain.) This is what I learned in Japan.

Lessons I've learnt in 40 years of travel photography:

1. A big bag that lets you carry a ton of gear will not be used. The bigger the bag, the heavier it gets.

2. I need to be able to find things in the bag by feel, without looking. I'm concentrating on the scene - I don't want to have to look at the bag.

3. Velcro closures are a pain. They're too noisy, too hard to open and they close when you don't want them to. Plastic spring hook closures are silent and easy to manipulate without looking.

4. Back packs are too vulnerable to someone stealing your stuff from behind you (I've never liked them, anyway).

5. Agreed, you don't need a lot of padding. Softness and flexibility are more important.

6. When I'm stalking insects, the last thing I want is tearing Velcro and jingling metal sounds.

7. Being right handed, my bag stayed on my right shoulder, but a good shoulder grip was imperative. Billingham made a beauty.

8. In 1988, I made a tour of the W coast of the US with two Nikon bodies (FE2, FA), an Olympus OM2 SP, three Nikon lenses (35mm, 55mm Micro, 70-150mm E) and three OM lenses (18mm, 21mm and 135mm) in one of the smallest, softest no-brand bags you'll see, plus a 300mm f4 Nikkor ED in its separate case. Still got that bag. Love it.

As a street shooter, my philosophy is to carry a bag that's only large enough to carry a medium-sized DSLR, two medium-sized lenses (one of which is mounted to the camera), a cellphone, and a pen. That's it.

I often carry less; for example, a camera with only one lens or a Nikon V1 with wide-to-tele zoom. When I'm actually shooting, the camera and lens are on my wrist, leaving the bag practically empty, with minimal weight hanging from my shoulder and minimal bulk to get in the way.

The bag I shoot with most is the Domke F-5XB, which is basically a downsized version of a canvas messenger bag, with padding on the bottom, two padded moveable separators, a few small pocket on the outside, and a zipper on top, under the flap, for security. Someone has to pay me to shoot with anything larger.

Have several Billingham bags. Positives: they are durable, they are elegant, most can be accessorized. Negatives: they are overly expensive, some models have no zippers (things can theoretically fall out), if khaki coloured (like mine), they easily get stains which are nearly impossible to remove.

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