Every photographer needs a camera bag. Preferably one that not only protects the equipment, but is also comfortable to use. It has to carry at least a camera and a couple of lenses, along with the necessary accessories. Unfortunately, there is not one camera bag that is perfect for every situation.
Camera bags come in all shapes and sizes. Every now and then a Kickstarter project comes up with a new bag that is said to be the ultimate solution for carrying your equipment. But what I discovered over the years is, that a perfect bag for every situation doesn’t exist. What’s perfect depends not only on the situation you’re in, but also on personal preferences.
First of all, don’t go cheap on a camera bag. Remember, it will carry the expensive equipment you own. It has to protect your camera and lenses while transporting it or during travels. The material has to be strong enough and durable. It doesn’t mean a cheap bag is a bad bag. Just be careful when choosing one and don’t get fooled when a perfect bag for everything is presented; It doesn’t exist.
A camera backpack is perhaps the most used camera bag that exists, and for good reasons. In general, a backpack can carry a lot of weight without too much physical strain. A good backpack will let you wear the most weight on the waist. That’s why a good waist belt on a backpack is essential.
The remaining weight is carried on the shoulder, distributing the weight evenly. A good padded shoulder band is important, just like a sternum strap. This way it is relatively easy to carry up to 15 kilograms without a lot of problems. It means you can carry a lot of photography equipment for an extended amount of time.
This is why nearly every photographer I have met uses a camera backpack. But there is one big downside to a backpack: You need to remove it from your back to take the camera out, or when you need to change lenses. It has to be placed on the ground to reach for the equipment. This takes time and most of all, you need to have a safe location for the backpack to place on.
A backpack is perfect for taking equipment with you on a long hike. But it may not be the best choice in every situation. If you’re photographing on the beach, it's not wise to place the backpack near the shoreline. When standing on muddy grounds, your bag will get wet and dirty. When photographing in crowded locations you have to keep an eye for the criminal that is looking for an opportunity.
The Shoulder Bag
There are a lot of occasions where a shoulder bag can be a better choice. This kind of bag doesn’t have to be placed on the ground when you have to access the bag. Just open it while it’s on your shoulder and grab the camera or lens you need.
I found a shoulder bag very convenient on a beach, or whilst standing in mountain streams. And you can keep your bag close to your body in crowded locations. But there are downsides to a shoulder bag. Perhaps the most important one is the strain it can have on your body. The weight of the bag and equipment is on one shoulder only.
On the other hand, a shoulder bag isn’t meant for the transport of large amounts of equipment or for hiking. But if you're on location, the weight isn't an issue. Most of the time you have the camera in your hands and the bag will only contain one or two lenses. This way the shoulder bag is more convenient compared to a backpack.
Something In-Between Backpack and Shoulder Bag
There are backpacks that allow easy access without the need of placing them on the ground. With some backpacks, you can remove your arms from the shoulder straps first, and then the backpack can be rotated in front of you. The back panel will allow access to your equipment.
Although this system obviously will work, it is often not a very convenient way of accessing the equipment. Rotating the backpack with the waist belt in place isn’t that easy, especially when wearing a winter jacket. Also, the weight of the equipment will place a lot of strain on the waist belt, and your waist also. Although I have tried, I rather place the backpack on the ground.
Another solution is presented with a sling bag. Just sling the bag in front of you and grab the camera or lens you need. It works better compared to the rotating backpack I mentioned. But to be honest, it's nothing more than an ordinary shoulder bag. When placed on your back, it’s still hanging over one shoulder.
I have also tried a modular system. A few lens pouches on a belt is a nice idea and it works quite well. You don’t have a bag over your shoulder, while you have easy access to the lenses you carry with you. Still, more than two lenses on your waist can get heavy over time because the complete weight is only placed on your waist. If you combine it with a backpack, the modular system works great. On location, grab the lenses you need from the backpack and store them in the lens pouches.
The Trolley Bag
There are situations when a large amount of equipment is needed on location. In those situations a shoulder bag isn’t the most ideal choice, nor is a camera backpack. For instance, during weddings, I often need my lighting equipment. Two flashes, grids, softboxes, and cables can easily be carried with a trolley. I also attach a couple of light stands onto the trolley.
This way I can take everything with me without a lot of hassle. If I want, I can add a shoulder bag to the trolley handle also. I only have to take the equipment from my car to the venue, which often has easy access. If I need to use a light on location that is farther away or more difficult to reach, I carry just one light in a dedicated backpack.
Every Photographer Should Have More Than One Bag
Over the years I owned a lot of camera bags. At present time I use a large backpack, a smaller backpack, a couple of shoulder bags, and a trolley. I still have the modular system, but I don’t use it that much anymore.
I often choose the bag that is perfect for the job. If I don’t have to hike and I will change lenses a lot, I choose a shoulder bag. In that case, I only take one, or perhaps two additional lenses with me. If I go on a hike I will choose a backpack. If I need to carry a lot of equipment I take the larger backpack. If I just need a camera and one or two lenses, or a single flash, I grab the smaller backpack. When I need the complete set of flashes, the trolley is the one I grab.
So, how many camera bags does a photographer need? I think most photographers need at least two bags. One backpack and one shoulder bag. Do you agree?
What kind of camera bag do you have? Which one do you prefer and why? Please let me know in the comments below. I am looking forward to your response.