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Friday, 09 February 2018


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Aye, the quest for the perfect bag is never ending. I've settled on Pelican for storage and most uses. For travel, however, it's another story. I have two backpacks, one too large, and one too small. The "Goldilocks" backpack is scheduled to be delivered today. I'm so excited!

A bag thread! This should be even longer than the lens threads.

I've only gone through three "bags." The first was a serviceable but not great Lowepro backpack. Every once in a while I'd forget to zip it properly and gear would fall out when I picked it up. The second is my lovely Billingham Hadley shoulder bag, which after I fill with too much crap hurts my shoulder. My final bag, a backpack again, is the most perfect camera container engineering I've encountered, the Peak Design Everyday Backpack. It makes me smile every time I zip one one of the side flaps. Feels great, looks great. I wish they made a non-camera version for hiking and I'd buy that too. Only three steps to bag bliss, not bad, but it took ten years.

I really love the Think Tank Retrospective series of camera bags, which all provide 4 "Cs" for carrying camera gear: capacity, compartments, comfort, and convenience.

Now that they've released the "just right" Retro 6, my bag needs are complete!

My Retro 5 is perfect for a camera and a 3 lens kit for a "day out", the Retro 6 is perfect for photography travel vacations as it also accomodates my X100F, and my Retro 7 provides the capacity for all the gear I need when shooting racing at the track.

I'm done and...I'm happy!

I've never owned a camera backpack, just plain ordinary rucsacs. The cameras float about with the anoraks, lunch, water bottle, etc. I've found that a good big warm woolly hat makes a good padded carrier to hold the camera while it's in the 'sac.

Two comments on this...

1. When I was much younger a mentor told me to stop buying those "garbage" tripods because once I was done I will have spent $2000 on those "cheap things". He indicated that buying one $300-$500 on a good solid tripod I'd be saving myself a lot of money in the long run. About five years ago I replaced my long-abused 'expensive' Manfroto with a lightweight carbon fiber.

2. Whenever my wife asks why I have almost a dozen camera bags my reply is the same - as in shoes you can never have enough camera bags.


Ah, yes, another one of those utterly crucial things that camera guys spend inordinate time choosing, buying, and re-buying. In my not-humble opinion, simple, cheap, and unobtrusive is the best choice for a camera bag. Some observations:
1. Nylon or polyester fabric is light and strong for the volume it holds.
2. Canvas is heavier than synthetic fabric, but it adds a degree of cushioning, so you can get by with less internal padding.
3. The heavy brass buckles on pseudo Ernest Hemingway safari bags add mass with no practical advantages. And they can mash into your lenses or bodies if you are not careful.
4. Leather bottom or surrounds also emulate safari luggage, but so what? Why add the mass?
5. The inexpensive inserts from Chinese vendors are a good idea because you can put them in a nondescript backpack.
6. Many of the camera backpacks are set up for cameras only, as if you will go trekking up a mountain without spare water, jackets, and other supplies. Maybe they are intended for that trek from the car trunk to the paved viewpoint?

We want to move to a smaller house in the near future so last week I was clearing out our storage space. If there is one thing that I have far too many of it’s camera bags. Because I had different, bigger gear in the past most bags are far too large now. So instead of getting rid of some, I bought a small new one. And I think I need another new waterproof one for cycling as well. Important for me, no matter what the price is and it even may look very fashionable: it should not look like a camera bag.

My best ones are from Tenba. By now they must be 35 years old.
I have two different sizes that are not practical anymore with my Micro Four Thirds stuff. I always thought they were made with bullet free material. Better than what they sell now.
You can still find your Tenba Large Messenger here in Europe. Even on sale if you love the plum or olive version.
Billinghams are great and very practical. But they shout out: “Expensive camera inside!” Get an all black ‘invisible’ model.

I gave up trying to find the perfect camera bag; a single one can't do it all. At last count I have 8 bags and I use all of them except one.

My bags fall into two categories: bags to store and transport, and bags to work out of. I also have a backpack that is sort of in between and that I use when shooting with my tripod as it then conveniently serves as ballast for it.

I don't want to suggest that there isn't something a bit neurotic going on. I know this is probably the case as I have never sold or gotten rid of a single camera bag. I still have my first one, which I purchased with my first camera, a Minolta X700. That one has the classic rectangular camera bag shape. It's terrible, but I still can't bring myself to throw it away. Who knows why.

Ooh which tripod do you own now Mike? I remember following your tripod journey back in 2012 and you ended up with a Gitzo you seemed to like: http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2012/01/tripod-technolog-part-iv.html

I bought the same one (because of these articles) and I still really like it!

Back in the early '70s BD (before Domke), decent (ie- any) camera bags were slim pickin's indeed! Now, as with most other things, you have the tyranny of choice. Backpacks are tremendous for transporting, worse than useless in the field covering an event. And I avoid those bags that scream: Valuable photo equipment inside for the taking! Cheapest/best option for everyday/travel enthusiast: thrift store shoulder/messenger bag with $20 camera insert from Amazon- Done!

The discontinued first generation Tenba messenger bags remain, to me, the perfect camera messenger bag. I picked up the Large on clearance at B&H at the time they were clearing them out to make way for the DNA series. I managed to score my dream bag for under $40. Since then it has been with me on many adventures, easily holding my 15" MacBook Pro, a D7100 or D610 with standard zoom, an extra lens, Fuji X100S, batteries, chargers, papers, pretty much anything I need to bring along. The DNA series are "prettier", but I find their design less functional and durable.

"The perfect is the enemy of the good." -- Voltaire

The fundamental camera bag problem is that the bag that is large enough to transport all the gear you want is far too large to work out of easily. I solve this by having all my gear in a big Think Tank Airport Security rolling bag, and carrying a mid size shoulder bag with batteries, extra cards, pens, a notebook, etc. The bag is otherwise empty, and I can grab out whatever gear I need for a specific shoot, put the cameras over my shoulders and an extra lens or two in the bag (or a flash unit or whatever.) Total flexibility for each assignment, and the roller (1) makes it easy to carry everything, and (2) can be locked inside my trunk - it has locking zippers and a cable lock to make the usual smash and grab a little more difficult.

All that said, I do keep buying bags. Probably have fifteen or twenty in the gear closet. :)

There is, of course, no perfect camera bag, which is the reason you have several of them. Okay, maybe not you, but me. I don't find that frustrating, because it's an obvious conclusion. You keep your equipment in a dry cabinet, available at B&H, and pick your bag by your daily requirement. Much more frustrating is the lack of decent (and I don't require anything approaching perfect) travel pants and sport jackets for people who prefer to travel to civilized metro areas (London, Paris, New York, LA, Hong Kong, etc.) rather than trek through the Himalayas. That means walking shoes that are somewhat dressy. Decently cut sport coats and slacks that don't wrinkle (best I've found so far in pants are high-end golf slacks, but they usually have a large brand name sewn into them, which I hate.) You could freeze to death in most dressy winter coats -- you usually have a choice between looking like the Michelin man, and freezing. Why can't dressy wool coats have an inner lining of high-tech insulation? Bags, I can handle. Clothing can be seriously frustrating.

I recommend diaper bags.

They have a bunch of waterproof compartments, don't attract the attention that camera bags attract, and have a big foldout changing table, for changing lenses on a clean surface obviously.

They come in styles ranging from "tactical" which is not nearly as interesting as it sounds to "brightly colored nothing in here but baby poo and cheerios" styles , and who is going to steal a bag full of baby poo?

The opposite approach for another sort of stealth camera bag, I highly recommend the blue Porta-Brace brand bags. They make some pretty normal camera bage among the hundreds of specialized bags. The interesting thing is that if you live in a city where there is a lot of film production and roaming news crews like NYC, a Porta-Brace bag makes you sort of invisible in some situations. And they are really good bags too but they attract thieves like diapers attract .... well you know, but the Porta-brace SL-DSLR bag is pretty good.

My current all-purpose camera bag is a gallon-size Ziplock bag, waterproof (as long as the zip is zipped), easily replaceable when worn out and very cheap. In fact, you can buy boxes of the things, just to have them around.

With best regards.


I have a Velbon "Carmagne" 630 tripod that I purchased new in Tokyo in 1991. Carbon Fiber, and Magnesium (hence Car - Magne). I believe this was Velbon's first CF tripod. Of course, I've had probably 4 or 5 different heads on it over the years, right now using an Induro BHL1

Bags...don't get me started!

Not just big bags and packs. I'm looking for a soft case that "just fits" a Panasonic GF2 with 14-42mm power zoom. Preferably with a loop to wear on a belt. Seems small cases come in two sizes. 1)Too small, but perfect for my Canon G15. 2) Too roomy. If I wanted to carry another lens or anything else, I have bags for it. I'd almost settle for an ever (or never) ready case.

Funny you should mention bags. I’ve just moved into a new place, have boxes stacked everywhere, and am finding items I forgot I owned. I’m currently staring at two shoulder bags that came free with past camera bodies that need to go away.

I’ve only purchased two bags in my life. I have an ancient Tamrac holster bag for my two lens kit (135 f2 and 40 f2.8 pancake) and a Lowepro Slingshot 200 for when I want to haul-it-all. I’ve never felt the need to buy more bags or perfect the ones I have….but then…I hang on to money like stink hangs on to a monkey.

At least most men don’t also feel compelled to buy shoes to match their bags. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.....

Circa 2002, I went through a phase of agonizing over camera bags and, for no logical reason, ended up buying an expensive, but absolutely splendid Hadley messenger/computer bag by mail order from the UK. I haven't used it since.

In those days, I also acquired a Domke J-802 ballistic nylon bag, which I can recommend highly. The canvas equivalent, equally functional, the F-802 is still being manufactured.

Another rule I've learnt after many years: a tripod must be fast to set up. That means the fewer leg sections the better, preferably no more than three, and fast leg locks. For me that's lever clamps, not sleeve locks.

Too many times, I've missed the shot while fiddling with an excessively complicated tripod.

The UK made Benbo is an exception. It takes practice to handle it adeptly, but with only one knob per leg, it's very fast to set up. It's also excellent for low down macro work. I've never owned one (too expensive back in the day) but I had one on loan for a good while. The big one is too big for travel, but there are smaller ones now.

Another lesson I learnt about bags: the bigger the bag, the more you want to bring and the heavier it is to carry. I have one cheap medium sized bag, and another small one, Nikon branded but cheap, soft felt lined, that's ideal for travel. I've tried others, including a Billingham, but I always came back to those two. I found the Billingham looked fabulous, but was big on the outside and small on the inside. A bit too heavy as well.

Pretty much what Gordon Lewis said. XKCD's guy's problem is that he's trying to pick ONE bag. Otherwise that cartoon hits home and hard.

I probably have a couple of spreadsheets leftover from selecting a backpack and I've gone through a bunch of them. (anybody in the market for lightly used backpacks?)

I've arrived at having two bags I use. The near-perfect Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20, which is incredibly flexible and won't run out of storage solutions until you stuff an outrageous number of items into it.

The other is the Best Bag in the World; a Finnish Army gas mask carrier bag. It's light, sturdy and offers easy access. They used to go as surplus for $10, including the gas mask, but they seem to have become harder to find now. Tip for those who are interested in getting one: there seem to be two versions, one with the letters "SA" on the flap and another one with a rook(?) symbol. The version with the SA on the flap is superior in my opinion and has a main compartment that isn't divided up into two segments.

Bags, have had a number of them. Now, no bags. For various reasons (mostly lack of physical abilities and a general loss of interest in obtaining "more images).

Purchased a used (bye bye Nikon kit) Canon F16 P&S from KEH. By the time the camera arrived here in Southern Ontario shipping, duty monetary exchange and taxes added another C$180.00. Total C$530.00)!

However the camera slips in my pocket, is unobtrusive and does all I shall ever require in a digital photographic device. Sure I still lust after a SLR but then think of the weight, how many lenses and the useless paraphernalia that seems to gravitate to our camera bags.

No thank you! Getting physically and yes mentally too old for what was once happiness!

I'd agree to the horses for courses approach to camera bags. During my years toting around a full DSLR rig, a LowePro backpack served me well as I was usually doing landscapes in those days. A Slingshot 100 served well as a means of carrying around a smaller selection when wandering around town. The arrival of kids and an almost simultaneous move to mirrorless (not coincidental - running after small people with an SLR sporting a large lens and flash wasn't optimal). Even the small Slingshot wasn't great for a Micro 43 kit - just taking the camera and a couple of lenses had them literally rattling around inside. To fill the gap I had a long search for a discrete "just right" shoulder bag that didn't shout expensive camera in here. Having been through one dreadful offering from LowePro bought on a whim in a black Friday sale (cheaply made, awkward in use, and worse, little or no camera protection), I finally settled on a Think Tank Retrospective 6 which ticks all my boxes - discrete, comfortable, and carries the perfect amount of gear for an afternoons walking around. The Slingshot still serves for schlepping a full kit around on longer days. As to tripods, I had a similar progression before ending up with a Feisol carbon fibre model, which has served admirably for landscape and macro/studio work, though it sees rare use in these days of high ISO sensors. That of course was after a succession of cheaper efforts that were always lacking in something which meant I probably could just have bought a Gitzo at the outset for the same outlay!

I have found a decent compromise when it comes to tripods (it may extend to bags, but I haven't had to use it on a bag - yet): buy used...

you'll be able to get sturdy + reasonably light + reasonably cheap, all in one package....

as far as bags, my Domke is probably the best compromise of all the iterations I've tried so far....

I have too many bags and backpacks. I have two backpacks that I have never used: a Crumpler Karachi (bought mostly because I have been there on a regular basis) and a Lowepro urban something or other. I also have a collection of Domke bags that I do use -- an F2 for the Canon DSLR and an F5XC for the Leica. I photograph is strange and out of the way places in NYC (many of which are not populated when I go) and neither of the Domke bags look like camera bags, which can be helpful.

When on a long trip, I can get all my gear into a Timbuk2 uptown backback (including the smaller Domke bags). And did I mention that I also have a couple of Timbuk2 classic messenger bags in various sizes? Also good camo and can hold the Domke bags -- and are carry-on-able.

I still make fun of my wife's pursuit of the perfect handbag though.

And don't get me started on tripods.

Who needs a camera bag? I work out of either a belt pouch or a car trunk, depending on whether I'm carrying only memory cards and spare batteries -- obviously, I use Sony bodies! -- or all the camera gear I own.

I never worry about the weight of cameras, tripods, whatever, because I simply remember that I probably carry more excess weight in body fat and that it would be better if I were to lose that. (I am 6'2" and 187 pounds at present).
So my tripods are all metal, not carbon, and my cameras full-frame not micro (and no bleeding' cellphone/cameras that you hold awkwardly.
Cannot remember if I ever own a real 'camera bag'. Takes too long to get to anything, and are magnets to thieves.
Although I once left a plain cloth sack at a turnpike rest stop in New York—containing two Leicas and three lenses—and recovered it untouched, after convincing Harry Saxman to turn around and drive back in his old Healy 100-6. Ah, memories.


I would have thought that lenses and cameras have these exact same "fundamental frustrations".

Camera bags:
I'm holding out for the Tenba Tardis - impossibly big on the inside, impossibly small on the outside ;)

I've gone through dozens of bags. Many have moved on, some have stayed, and new ones seem to come in (and out) with far too much regularity.

Backpacks - great for getting gear to a location but not good to work out of. I've kept a Lowepro Mini Trekker, passed a Lowepro Orion Trekker to my son, and purchased and then sold a Gur2 Gear Kiboko (it carried more than my aging back likes and will not fit under airline seats). I use the Mini Trekker to carry a larger kit for landscape work or to a destination when traveling. I have my eye on a Think Tank Airport Essentials.

Shoulder bags - I seem to keep and continue to add Domke bags (F-2, F-3X, F-803, F-5XB and use whichever one will carry the gear I plan to use. One will often be packed in my regular luggage for use on arrival when traveling. Other shoulder bags, Tenba P595, Crumpler, Lowepro Stealth Reporter, proved to be too bulky or stiff for their volume.

Specialty bags such as top-loaders and lens cases work well for real backpacking. Waist bags have seemed like a good idea at times but are never really comfortable without a shoulder strap also, especially as they get larger. Then there are the myriad small bags for compact cameras, sometimes worn over a shoulder, on a belt, or just thrown inside another bag.

It's time for another closet cleaning.

Gordon, I’m sorry to contradict but there is a one bag, one tripod law, and I’m married to her...

Don't knock cheap tripods. They may not do a good job of holding up cameras but they're perfectly fine for holding up flashes or LED lights. I've found some on kijiji for $10, with some adapters, voila, really cheap light stands that fold down into small parcels to carry.

I really should make a trip to Goodwill and dispose of about a dozen camera bags I have tucked away in closets. I should know by now that I'll always go back to one of the Billingham bags no matter what new bag I try.

As for tripods, I also have a few. From overkill studio models to small plastic ones. I keep a Manfrotto monopod in my car and I sometimes carry a Leica tabletop tripod just in case. Of course I haven't used a tripod since I started using digital cameras.

I really should make that trip to Goodwill.

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