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Friday, 05 July 2013


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I'm one of those people who has found their perfect bag. I have a Pentax K-5, a reasonably small camera, with two very small Pentax prime lenses (DA15 and DA70). All of this, plus a spare battery, fits in the decidedly tiny Lowepro Apex 110. My bag never wears me down or gives me a sweaty back. Also, it easily fits inside any other bag. Just perfect.

I don't have a need to travel with a library of camera gear so no backpack for me.

+1 on the Think Tank Retrospective 5 bag. I've been using a canvas version of this bag for the last few months. Very well constructed, easy to reconfigure and looks great. Just the right size for my E-M5 gear in common use.

I guess many of us are like you. :-)

I wrote about my own search for a camera backpack a few year ago:


I'm still hoping to find the perfect backpack one day. :-)

I am not sooo bad, but I do have more bags than I use. As I have >ahem< matured, I have found that for travel, an over-the-shoulder bag, no matter how fancy, or how small, is just too uncomfortable to carry around for a day. So backpacks it is, for me at least. Let me put a plug in for the smallest photoback that you can find: it forces you to be disciplined when packing.

Have you seen the Mountain Series of camera backpacks by Fstop? I use their Loka bag, and find it to be a perfect camera bag for "adventure" photography.

A Domke insert stuffed into a Huggies diaper bag might not be so cool at dawn in Moab but the thieves will walk right by it when it's in the back of the station wagon.

Just this past week I bought one of these http://store.lowepro.com/backpacks/photo-sport-200-aw to take cycling. I usually do a 30k ride on the weekend. The last time I looked a few years ago, I couldn't find anything I liked. This one seems like a good combination for biking and hiking -- it has room for a water reservoir, a padded camera compartment, plus some extra unpadded storage. I'll be using it for the first time tomorrow.

Many bags that can be used for hiking place the camera gear on bottom and food/liquids on top. Liquids can leak and one can set a bag down too hard -- it would be far better if the food/liquids were on the bottom and camera gear on top where there is a little cushion.

I love camera bags. In theory. Everything where you need it, in its own reconfigurable little foam pocket--a bag that you make yourself to suit your own needs. Fantastic!

In theory.

In practice? Not so much. I spent about a year looking for a bag that I could take into the field/forest/swamp/urbs with a water bottle, a sandwich, and a lens or two in it. Unfortunately they're too big, too small, too stiff, too floppy, too uncomfortable, too loud, or too bright. And every single one of them is too expensive. In the end I gave up.

I still have a Domke F4AF that I store lenses in and an astonishingly ugly and uncomfortable Lowepro that holds all my lights. They're good for getting crap to/from the car, but not much else.

These days, if I'm going into the wild I use a Camelbak backpack. I have plenty of water, some food, first aid, and a second lens, all in one comfortable package.

If I'm going into the urbs, I carabiner clip a an F-Stop Wide Lens case to one of my belt loops, an insulated Platypus bottle to another, and stick my cable release/light/energy bar/first aid/flagging/other crap into a McGuire Nicholas 804 tool pouch that slides onto my belt.

It's a really nice, simple, and robust setup. And the whole thing cost less than $50. I look like I'm wearing the world's worst batman costume, but I have everything I need where I need it.

Before you publish part 3 with your reviews, check out a new bag from the makers of ThinkTank called MindShift Rotation 180.

This is the answer for off road photographers who are hauling more than a compact camera, and want fast acess to key lenses.
Not cheap!

I've bought probably 50-60 camera bags over the years and still haven't found the Holy Grail, so I'll be eager hear JC's specific preferences. I'm currently traveling in Europe, flying (by others' choice, not mine) on the dreaded regional turboprops (not even "jets"), and I have in my carry-on a FF digital setup as well as two different-format film cameras (plus 60 rolls of film).

Here are three bag-related lessons I now live by:

1. The distinction between a "transporting" bag and a "shooting" bag is very important, and I've never found a bag that does both well (i.e., if it holds and protects a lot of gear from bouncing around--like the typical "photo backpack"--it's probably not very inconspicuous, light, or convenient for walkaround shooting). So I heartily second John's recommendation when air-traveling of packing a collapsible shooting/walkaround shoulder bag to use after taking the gear out of what it was in during the flight.

2. To facilitate #1, I've learned to protect each piece of equipment in its own foam-padded container instead of using big bags with heavy padding all around and between items. The protect-each-item approach lets me put all of my gear into an unpadded daypack on the plane and then easily move each day's gear into an unpadded shoulder bag--and it greatly expands the range of useable bags beyond the photographer-targeted variety.

3. This sounds completely counterintuitive, but I don't choose a bag only, or even mainly, based on whether it's big enough to hold everything I want to fit into it (I did this far too often early in my career). Buying a bag "big enough to hold everything I'd want to have with me" is a recipe for bags that are too big to get onto regional jets and bags that are too conspicuous when ambling down side streets in unfamiliar cities. Obviously I keep equipment "goals" in mind when choosing a bag, but if it's for travel I always choose the bag first and then decide what gear I can fit into it. (Yes, that usually means leaving numerous perfectly good lenses at home, but then too limits can be very freeing.)

Thought the Think Tank Hard Drive was wonderful, but the Fstop Loka is a lot better for comfort and no back ache. Small enough for the short haul flights. Recommended.

I'm a firm believer that about 80% of life is finding the right luggage! This is a topic near and dear to my heart.

I've never had a perfect bag. Currently I don't even have a satisfactory bag (I have four I use fairly regularly, for a Nikon D700 system and an Olympus EPL-2 system). Bag manufacturers mostly haven't caught up with the size of modern pro DSLRs (or the D700 with the battery grip attached).

I buy one new camera and one new bag each year - always hoping "it" will be the one. Sadly though, I'm still looking... Great idea for a blog topic, keep 'em coming John!

The bags I'd like to buy would have compartments sized (or at least sizeable) for my Olympus Micro 4/3 equipment. All the bags and backpacks I come across seem to be targeted at full-size DSLRs. I'm a little surprised that bag makers haven't seen this as a market. Or maybe they have, and some reader will give recommendations.

I'm a fan of the Maxpedition line of bags. Not photo specific, but since I've "graduated" to very small cameras, there's plenty of room, in my traveling "office" and tool bag.


When it comes to bag collections, David Alan Harvey must be the winner - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aL_e5OvSpPM

Back in the early seventies you could count the number of camera bags on one hand and still have enough fingers to hold your camera. With the inevitable explosion of bags, backpacks, slings and pouches the first instinct was to get ones that could fit every possible piece of kit you could well cram into it. An ideal way to kill any enthusiasm you started with after lugging it for an hour.

Now whenever out for "pleasure," I'll take mine small and light- currently it's the Lowepro Exchange Messenger.

I mostly get bags to travel with my cameras. Over the years I've tried many, and only really liked the Domke bags.

This is why: http://tleaves.com/2007/05/14/the-camera-bag-problem/index.html

Recently I broke out of my Domke rut and got one of these:


Which is a decent, slightly larger, replacement for the ever popular Domke 803... and works well for a 3 or 4 lens OMD system if you take out the laptop divider. I think it would be a bit tight for a D700-sized DSLR but I have not tried it. The bag is still a bit large and a bit heavy given what it holds. But it looks a lot nicer than the Domkes.

I'd probably still consider a F-3x like is shown above for larger cameras like the Nikons.

I guess this was bound to strike a chord with most of us older, gear laden photographers.

I can relate to just about everything everyone has said, and have tried just about every combination and permutation (of both bags and gear).

Trouble is every time I buy a bag which is perfect for one kit, it becomes redundant almost as soon as I change my camera or buy a new lens.

I have about 3 in regular rotation and 1 for occasional heavy lifting. The other 20 odd are consigned to the garage awaiting new homes.

Regular ones include a non-specific 14" manbag with Domke insert (for the Xe1 plus urban survival kit), a Crumpler sling bag (two Fuji bodies or D800 plus 24-70), Tamrac Zuma 7 (for D800 plus 24-70 and extra lens) and Thinktank Airport Antidote for heavy lifting (D800 plus lenses including 70-200 and tripod). At least noone can accuse me of brand bias when it comes to bags....

Just bought this last week:
This is one lovely bag! It is discreet to the point of being understated - it doesn't scream 'photographer' like other bags do -, plus it allows me to carry my two cameras (Olympus E-P1 and OM-2n) and several lenses and accessories, so that I won't miss a shooting opportunity. I'd say it's perfect for street photography. It is well-made, safe, practical and not too expensive. I can't ask much more of a photo bag.

I use the smallest Think Tank backpack - it fits any commuter plane's overhead. Granted I bring a tablet instead of a laptop, but I'm able to bring a 4x5, DSLR, and 35mm along with all the film and doodads. If it won't fit then I don't bring it, makes life a lot simpler.

For those looking for bags designed for mirrorless users called Mirrorless Mover.


I'm interested in people using inserts in "non-camera" bags and backpacks. I'm trying to find inserts for my Mountainsmith lumbar pack.

Anyone using a lumbar pack with inserts?

I have five bags. The first one is a WW2 British infantry gas mask case. It holds an SLR with one or two lenses, just. It has an inch of padding for going in a motorcycle pannier.
(The links are to websites selling similar items; you don't think I take photos of my camera bags, do you?)
WW2 bag

The second two are both British army respirator bags; bigger and flatter than the WW2 one. One is padded for motorcycle use as above, the other one isn't.

I've had the padded one for years, it is filthy yet the brass buttons on the back are worn shiny. It has developed a large radius curve over the years, which means it sits well against my large right buttock and doesn't move. It will carry a DSLR with three lenses, but the spare lenses sit at the bottom with a cloth over the top against chafing. The other one sometimes gets used for taking several flashguns around.
Respirator bag

the next bag is one of those canvas bags with a wide webbing strap and end pockets. Padding and divisions are made from camping roll mats, but the front and back tend to sag apart and the divisions fall out. More development is needed. It's big enough to carry a DSLR with four lenses and a flashgun plus sandwiches and water, with some room left over.
Canvas bag

The last bag is a monster, cobbled together from two examples of the last bag, designed to take to Australia as hand luggage. It's about 60% bigger. The strap mountings were not up to the task of carrying the camera kit and all the stuff I could cram into the enlarged space.

One other thing I use sometimes is a scruffy old tent bag. I put the tripod in it to carry it on the bike and it looks like an old tent. Better that than advertise the fact that my scruffy old bike has valuable camera gear in the panniers.

There's a place for people like you...


I sometimes feel like I have owned them all. But of course I have not. I was never happy with a camera case until Think Tank. Now my life is much easier.My primary bag is the Airport security, 2 D3xs 7 lenses and 6 speed lights with all of the associated bits to make them work. Kirk Tuck says you are going to end up with a case on wheels, the question is are you going to wait until your back hurts.

Ha! Not just guys have bag problems. My wife has to buy a new handbag about every six months or she gets the shakes. Fortunately not all are Kate Spade's or Dooney's, She sometimes find something she likes for $30 at Target. Don't care for camera bags myself. If it won't fit in a vest cargo pocket it's not worth carrying.

I have seen the light, I am a transformed man, I have been given a new lease of life. My blog entry details how:).


Myself, I wish Domke would bring back the F-320 bag - basically the F3X without the end pockets. I like it because it is minimalist, but holds a lot. And you can carry it all day and not really know it's there. Mine's now twenty years old, and it is showing its age.

I'm currently really enjoying a new Tenba Small Messinger. It doesn't carry all my gear - typically I carry 5Dii+17L, 135L, and two little lenses in it - but it has a nice amount/arrangement of space for all the non-camera stuff I like to carry around, it doesn't hang up on the tilt-shift knobs, and perhaps best of all, the laptop compartment is the perfect size for a 50-count box of 8 1/2"x11" prints. Plus I can pull out the camera padding and repurpose it as a music or art bag if that's what I'm doing that day.

I'm about to travel with it for the first time, though my next two trips are driving, so I don't have to put up with airplanes for a while.

I've never had a Crumpler camera bag but I have one designed for a laptop computer, pads and pens etc. which hangs unused on a hook.
You see the material from which it is made is tougher and more abrasive than my clothing, it's like wearing a sheet of sandpaper. I have holes in shirts, pullovers and jeans from the damn thing. Maybe they have changed the designs in light of this--the local shop did concede the abrasive nature of the fabric in their bags-but be aware.

Really what we all want is for someone to make us a bag to our very own specifications.

I was lucky enough to have that done for me recently here in Ireland by Mamukko - a company run by two brothers who make bags out of recycled and upcycled materials. Sails, canvas, bicycle tyres, that sort of thing.

In the end 25 reclaimed materials went into the bag they made for me, which has some interesting modifications to help the modern digital photographer (storyteller) out in the field. A panel in the cover flap to accommodate a solar charger, for instance.

There's an Instagram photo of the finished bag here: http://instagram.com/p/bE63WjJUxQ/

Lowepro Rezo - camera plus lens and not very much else.

Use it about 10 times as often as the rest of my collection of larger bags put together.

Great for draping a jacket over, too.

Like many here, I have more camera bags that I really need or know what to do with.

My first ever camera bag, for my OM-1 and a coupla three lenses, was a Tenba something or other. It it was made out of cordura and had a top lid that fastened with brass tourniquet buckles. I used it for the better part of 20 years until it literally fell apart; it was a great bag all that time.

I then bought a series of LowePro bags, more than I needed, including one I have that I don't even remember buying. I think I kept buying them because none of them really met my needs.

Around 2005, about two years after I got heavily into doing the pro motorsports photojournalist thang, I heard of a new little company just north of me in the Bay Area called Think Tank. It was started by Doug Murdoch and was based in Santa Rosa, CA. Murdoch was a former LowePro product manager, if memory serves, and started his own company to build bags of his own design. The first Think Tank bag I bought was the Airport Addicted backpack. It was great, it had hook and loop closure material over the entire surface, unlike my LowePro bags that only had it strips in certain places. I packed it with a ton of gear when I went to cover my first international motorcycle grand prix at Philip Island.

Well, that was it for me and the majority of my fellow motorsports photographer buddies. I would say within a year, 85% of the guys I knew had switched to Think Tank exclusively. Think Tank just "got it"; their motto "by photographers, for photographers" was really embodied in their creative and innovative products. Also, they had this cool incentive program where you could get a buddy to take a pic of you using your Think Tank gear, and send them the photo, and they would send a little gift. The next product I bought was their Photo Pro Speed Belt; a modular belt system with all sorts of lens containers, utility bags, drink holders, etc. The system really worked, you could get, for example, a 17-40 or 70-200/2.8, with lens shade in place, out of a holder really fast, or put it back when you wanted to swap lenses. They use these cool elastic draw string holders that opened and close really fast, but securely hold the lens. They even had little mesh pockets on the front for keeping your lens caps secure when they are not being used. They also make a holder specifically for a 1.4 or 2X teleconvertor! Brilliant! I topped that system off with their Glass Taxi, which was a backpack specifically designed to hold a 300/2.8 or 500/4 lens. This made it really easy to transport your big glass and it had a cool pocket on the side for carrying your monopod as well. I bought an Airport International roller that I use know for all my pro Canon motorsports photography gear, and I think everyone else I know uses one, too. Just a fantastic roller bag for photo gear.

All this cool innovation has me sold, and today, I don't even think about using other manufacturers gear. I just picked up their Mirrorless Mover 20 for my OM-D system, and when I got my Fuji X-Pro1, I bought Think Tank's Retrospective 5 bag. I love that bag; it's incredibly well constructed, very well designed, and doesn't look like a camera bag. It's probably my favorite bag I've ever owned, and come to think of it, reminds me a lot of my original Tenba.

I'm like Duane Michals, I don't need no stinkin' camera bag. I use a cloth shopping bag, from Albertsons market. A blue hoodie works well for padding. YMMV.

Of course I own or have owned a couple dozen perfect bags at least two with each system change over the years. My absolute favorite was the very classy Billingham photo eventer. Perfect for my FM2s and a couple or three lenses, then I went to F3s alas the Hadley size bag was too small. Thanks to Craigslist I have a great beat to within an inch of its life Billingham 550 that is an original. The constants are a large backpack that I bought on clearance from pc connection in 2004 for the cost of shipping $12. I use bags seasonally based on anticipated use and of course specialized travel considerations. Where I stick a messenger bag into a hard shell roller carry on size. My favorite this summer is an $8. Plastic bin from the hardware store that holds everything in a one layer foam lined (foam covered by a flannels pillow case) in one layer that sits in the back of my hatchback. I have a small messenger bag that holds my D800 and my best guess of lenses for the trip from the car. ( most often the camera is replaced in the bag by an additional lens since the idea is to have the camera out , the current lenses most often in the bag are the 24 f2.8 the 85 1.8 an ancient 200 f4 ,50 1.4 and for fun a Samyang 14. I have plenty of other lenses in the bin but these especially the 24 just make it all work! Fall is coming up so I get to change again!

I've been pleased with the Domke F-10 for my micro 4/3 kit. The "limited edition" grey color is available at a substantial discount.

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