Do You Place Your Camera in Your Backpack With or Without a Lens Attached?

Do You Place Your Camera in Your Backpack With or Without a Lens Attached?

You probably have one or more camera bags for transporting your camera equipment. A shoulder bag, a backpack, perhaps a trolley. Do you place your camera in your bag with or without a lens attached? Or does it depend on how you use your camera bag?

There are many ways to pack your camera bag. Everyone has a preferred way of placing equipment in the main compartment. It also depends on the type of bag you use. A shoulder bag will have a completely different way of placing equipment.

Different types of bags are for different types of photography, I think. A backpack is perfect for transporting your equipment during hikes. It allows a lot of weight to be carried without much difficulty. Unless you have a badly designed backpack, of course.

A shoulder bag offers better access on location. You can grab a lens or camera relative easily because you don’t have to remove a backpack from your back. There are backpacks that allow you to rotate them in front of you. But often this is not that convenient, especially when It contains a lot of heavy equipment.

Using a backpack makes it easy to take a lot of equipment with you, like I did in this particular time. (Photo by Hetwie, www.hetwie.nl)

I also use a trolley, which can be most convenient during weddings. It offers the flexibility to take some extra equipment with you, without having it hanging on a shoulder, or packed on your back without easy access.

I wrote an article about the camera bags and their purpose some time ago. But no matter what bag you use, how do you place your camera in that bag? Do you have it with or without a lens attached?

How Do You Pack Your Camera in Your Backpack?

I believe the most common camera bag is a backpack. This is understandable since it can carry a lot of equipment while the weight isn’t much of an issue when you carry it on your back. Handling a heavy backpack might become a bit more difficult when taking it off, and placing it on your back again. But in general, it’s the most convenient way of taking photography equipment with you.

I learned to store my camera separate from my lenses. It makes much more sense.

But how do you store your camera inside a backpack? Do you have it with a lens attached? Do you have the lenses separately next to the camera body? I believe the best way is to have the camera placed inside a backpack without a lens attached.

To understand the reason why you have to think about the reason why you would use a backpack. It’s for transporting equipment from one place to another. A good backpack is not designed to be accessible in a quick way. After all, if you want to grab your camera you’ll need to remove the backpack from your back, place it in a safe place, open it, and take it out.

If you use a backpack, you have to place it somewhere.

If you have stored your camera with a lens attached, is it the lens you want to use for a specific moment? Most probably not, which means you have to exchange lenses. After you’ve taken the shot and you want to place the camera back into the backpack, you’ll need to replace the lens again because it won’t fit any other way.

A reason why many pack their camera with a lens attached, is the fear of getting dust or particles onto the sensor due to lens change. If you have a lens already attached it looks as if you reduce the risk. But unfortunately, it will force you to change lenses more often. Not only because you need to attach another lens for your shot, but also to need for attaching the previous lens again because it won’t fit otherwise.

Many photographers make a layout for a camera with lens. But what if you need one of the other lenses?

My Advice Is to Store the Camera Inside a Backpack Without A Lenses Attached

If you use a backpack a lot, make sure the layout is made for a camera body without a lens attached. This way you can grab the lens you need and attach it directly, instead of removing a lens first.

There are also sling bags that allow you to rotate the bag to get quick access to the camera compartment. These bags are often designed to carry the camera with a lens attached. But again, how do you know you need that particular lens? In the worst-case scenario, you’ll need to exchange lenses with such a bag also.

The layout I made for my photo travels.

I believe there these sling bags are often the best choice for the photographer that used only one camera and one lens. This is the only good reason to place a camera with a lens attached inside a backpack. After all, if you only have one lens, there is absolutely no reason to take it off.

What About Shoulder Bags and Trolleys?

Don't take a shoulder bag when you carry a lot of equipment with you. A heavy shoulder bag is something you have to avoid at all times. It's good for a lightweight setup, perhaps with just one extra lens. And it offers some benefits compared to a backpack.

A shoulderbag layout.  You don't have to place the bag down if you have to exchange lenses.

When I use a shoulder bag, it contains a camera and one or two lenses. Perhaps three, just like I should have done with the three primes in the French Tarn. Changing lenses is easy, you don’t have to place the bag on the ground. I also prefer to have a camera without lenses inside the bag, but not always. It depends on how many lenses I take with me, and in what situation I shoot. If I have a second lens just for a special situation, I keep the other lens attached to the camera

The trolley I use for my wedding photography carries a few extra lenses and a pair of flashes. I use a harness to carry the cameras for direct access and switch lenses occasionally. Since I have two cameras, each fitted with a different lens, it’s easier to have the camera stored inside it and a lens attached. But if I'm ready with shooting the wedding, the lenses are removed from the camera before I place them in the bag.

Store Your Camera in the Most Convenient Way

I don’t want to tell you how you must place your camera in a backpack. By no means. You have to make your own decision and choose the way you prefer. But I do want you to think about it, and consider the pros and cons carefully. I believe it's better to make a layout of the main compartment of your backpack with the lenses separately from your camera body.

I recomment a layout without lenses onto the camera body. But you have to make your own decission. Choose the way that suits your needs.

If you’re using a backpack to transport your photography equipment, do you have your camera with or without lens inside? Please share the reason in the comment below why you have chosen this way, and what the benefit for your photography is.

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42 Comments
M Hector's picture

Based on the current pocket arrangement of my bag, I keep a lens attached. Also, in order to minimize the wear and tear of removing and mounting the lenses, I keep the lens attached, whether or not the camera goes into a bag. If the attached lens could receive damage, or the body, I leave the lens off the camera body.

Joe Svelnys's picture

With mainly wildlife, I have the telephoto lens nearly always attached to the camera even while in the bag. If I know I'll want to do some wider-angle shots I'll bring a second camera body with a 24-70, or my 105 macro attached; and it too will stay on the body. Not so much worried about dust (since there is software that can erase the spots in a click these days).. but more for speed and convenience. I have missed shots with the wrong lens on (or no lens in the bag) and trying to change lenses. Which can just take time and create noise; wildlife can be fast and fleeting and gone in a flash.

For landscapes or portraits, I could see not always wanting to have a lens attached; so that the proper lens could be picked on the spot for the scene. I could also see doing it this way for raw-transportation and traveling reasons. If the bag is jarred or dropped, you probably don't want a lens attached as the mount would be one of the weak-points.

TJ Mills's picture

I usually have my telephoto attached as well. I learned this from a pro photographer so you don't miss the moment wildlife springs out. I learned this the hard way when we were driving to the location and a wolf appeared. The pro grabbed his backpack from the back seat on zipped it grabbed his camera which had the telephoto on and got the shot. I grabbed my backpack from the back seat and had to change for my general purpose lens to the telephoto. I missed the shot.
For landscape and macro work, the subject doesn't move that quickly and you have time to change to the best lens.

Joe Svelnys's picture

Exactly! It can be heartbreaking from the other side of the fence as well... I remember getting out of a car with a friend and a Swan came flying in... I just pulled the camera and went pop, pop, pop... they were stuck putting their lens back-on and missed the encounter completely. Ugh.

Sridhar Chilimuri's picture

I do exactly the same. However, while in the airport/ flights I pack them separately.

Timothy Gasper's picture

I always keep the camera(s) and lenses separate. When I'm ready to go out, I attach the lens of my choice to the camera just to be on the ready. I believe that's important. But however someone packs their bag is just fine. They have their reasons which supports their decision.

Patrick Hall's picture

With the lenses attached! What am I, a cave man?

Stuart C's picture

I keep the Fuji 16-55 attached to my X-T2, then have the 10-24 and 55-200 in other slots, its the easiest way to keep mine organised.

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

I always store my camera in the bag with lens attached. I try to think in advance of which lens I'm most likely to use on each body, at least initially.

My goal with that is to have quicker access to take a shot.

Mostly I can still fit the equipment in after swapping lenses, without having to swap back again, but indeed not always!

Peter Mueller's picture

Lenses attached. I have a bag that includes two quick-to-open segments at bottom, one each side, and I generally set up kit before the shoot with the lenses I plan on using already on camera. It's mostly about convenience and speed in the field. I could eke out a little more space if separated, but that's not become an issue for me...

Eric Parker's picture

When I travel, I usually use a shoulder bag with my favorite lens attached and a secondary lens as well. My primary storage bag is much larger and I always separate the lens from the camera body because I never know how long it will be before I travel again and leaving the lens attached mean the aperture spring is stretched wide open for long periods which may be prone to failure.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

I place my lenses with the cameras attached.

Paul Trantow's picture

Hip tip: Stow your bodies on their sides, with the handle (right side) up. SO easy to grab, so hard to drop.

Everyday: Lens attached
On the airplane: Lens removed

Felix C's picture

It also depends on your location. If I am going to a location that is windy or dusty, then the camera or video camera travels with the lens on. Why expose it to the possibility of getting a large dust spec on the sensor?

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Lens attached. Always on the ready. And, it's more convenient and less risk of a dirty sensor. I usually shoot with two bodies so there's literally no reason to be swappin' lenses out on location. The oldest body I have was bought in 2015, Sony a7rii, and the only sensor cleaning done is a rocket blower and the in-camera sensor cleaner.

Chris Rogers's picture

Depends on the bag and the bag depends on where and what i'm shooting. usually i take the lens off so i can fit more stuff but if it's my big hiking camera bag i'll leave my 70-200mm on my D800E since it's the lens i use like 90% of the time.

Tony Clark's picture

I don’t attach lenses to bodies while in the bag and arrange the gear to fit tightly, so it doesn’t move much while being moved, stacked or stored. I do the same with lighting gear in their cases so I don’t break flash tubes and bulbs.

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

No matter how, I have several clear trash bags to change a lens in. I do a lot of Milky Way along the ocean and sometimes with fog. With a breeze sometimes. With a headlamp on you see the particles flying around even inside a car in the dark. The great thing today sensor dust removal is so easy in post and you may never know it is on the sensor if never above f/8. When was the last time you really looked at that sensor AND back glass of your lens, yes dust on that glass will be big and harder to delete in post! After a shower in the bathroom no dust. Just a note C1 has a white plastic device you do an LLC with that got rid of dust spots years ago before Lr.

Jason Pischke's picture

Leave lenses attached. Just got back from a 3 day shoot near the ocean, the last thing I want to be doing is putting a lens on with sea spray and sand in the air.

Joe Navas's picture

95% of the time I keep my cameras, with lenses on, on my dual harness and just carry them around like a big clanging pair of truck nuts, along with my Ona bag that has two lenses, cards, batteries and a flash.
Any other gear goes in a Peak backpack, which, when traveling or any time I feel I really need to pack everything in a protected way, houses my cameras, lenses, etc. Otherwise, they swing in the breeze, onto a car floor or back seat and go home to job to home as such. It drives my wife (who deconstructs everything after every shoot) completely nuts, and yet she is considerably harder on gear than I am. Go figure.

Troy Phillips's picture

If I’m doing a walk about in nature I’ll usually have on my longer lens say a 70-200 . My 400mm f/3.5 Nikkor ais will not fit in my pack . Then keep a macro and a close up wide angle .
I want a lens I can quickly be ready for a wildlife shot if close enough. With a 200mm max though usually that’s not long enough. The 400 is old and heavy manual focus. I need the help of a mono pod and time to focus. I have also attached a body to it and was double ready . This did help me get some nice whitetail deer pics one foggy winter day .
Never know and it’s always nice to be prepared. Without a lens on you are never prepared.

john ferguson's picture

I'm not so sure regularly packing cameras and lenses separately is a good idea. I bought a Sony A7 and some adapters so I could use my Nikon F prime lenses. On returning from one trip with 3,000 shots I discovered a piece of dust in about 200 of them post lens change. We run our trip photos on the TV with a much modified screen-saver app on a RaspberryPi. This piece of dust was annoying -always in the same place. Obviously it was removable with GIMP on single shots, but on 200?

I then bought an A7II and the 16-35 and 24-240 zooms and leave them on all the time. I also have an A6000 with the 16-50, again lens isn't changed very often. Yes, all this is heavy but when I do change a lens, the Leitz Telyt 400, the Nikkon macro-50, or the Nikon F8:500 catadioptric, I do it indoors on a table and take special care to keep the dust out.

I bought a Wandrd backpack with the larger camera insert, but although it is comfortable to carry, isn't as easy to use as my LowePro even though the LowePro when loaded is very heavy.

I understand that this sort of plan won't work for a lot of you.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Since I haven't switched yet to mirrorless, I was wondering how much dust issue increase or not with mirrorless. Dust seem to be the main topic in these comments.

john ferguson's picture

Benoit, I went straight from film to mirrorless. The attraction was an eye-level finder which would be bright more or less regardless of aperture setting or ambient light. I had no idea dust on the sensor was going to be a problem until after I had a couple of really bad experiences. Sure, you can check carefully every time you change a lens, but....

Of course this was never a problem with film. I don't know if digital SLRs are immune to this problem but doubt it.

Charles Haacker's picture

I am a mirrorless guy and a zoom guy. I commonly work two bodies with overlapping zooms with a range from pretty wide to very long. I prefer to work as light as possible, hence APS-C bodies. The picture shows my typical kit, a small bag that can be used as a shoulder bag or belly pack, two bodies with (in this case) a 10-18 f/4, a Zeiss 16-70 f/4, and in reserve a light 55-210 f/4.5-6.3. There is always a lens on both bodies. Sometimes the short zoom is in reserve and the long zoom is on a body. I do not have to change lenses except rarely, and it's the reason for the Rocket Blower, to puff the sensor and the back of the lens to minimize sensor spots. I know I would get spots if I didn't follow this routine, and following it I rarely get spots at all.

john ferguson's picture

Charles, you are right. the a7s with the 16-35 and the 24-240 weigh a lot. I started out using the a6000 with the 24-240 which gave me 16-35 and with the a6000 the equivalent of 35-350. When I started attempting to handhold the 500 catadioptric, I couldn't do it. So i bought the a7II which had shake reduction which pretty much cured the problem. I also made an outside sleeve for it so that I could support it without touching the focus barrel. that helped a lot too.

there seems to be a consensus here that carrying lenseless bodies around may not really be a good idea, certainly more than I expected.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

You start to see the dust within 1st month of use. If you shoot wide open with busy backgrounds - you won’t see it. But in a studio, closed aperture, on a plain background - it quickly becomes a mess…

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Thanks. I shoot a lot of sofas, recliners and other furniture for silos at various angles . f11- f16 is a necessity. I'm going to play "don't fix it if it ain't broke" for a while I guess.

Kevin Harding's picture

Whilst unavoidable to an extent it's also not a major issue (maybe more so for you at the apertures you shoot at). The thing with mirrorless is it's so easy to clean the sensor, if the built-in shake and a rocket blower doesn't do the trick then a quick sensor clean is very easy and takes literally no more than 2 mins tops - though I always prepare my cameras the night before and it's rare that in one day I'll have accumulated more than a couple of dust spots at most - and that based on the number of lens changes.

Ray Carder's picture

I shoot with a Canon R5 mirroless camera. When you turn it off, to change lenses, a curtain drops over the sensor to help keep dust off it while you are changing. However, if you leave the camera turned on that doesnt happen.

Sony and Nikon don't have this feature. Just food for thought before you make the switch to mirrorless.

Naruto Uzumaki's picture

I keep a lens attached, since i pack in a way where there won't be much stress applied to the lens or mount, it is pretty safe, and furthermore, if I keep a focal length on that I feel will most useful for the location, it saves me from having the expose the sensor to dust from the area.
While the risk is still there if a subsequent change is needed, it at least saves one of those changes, and thus fewer changes in the less controlled environment.

If you have a cleaner environment that you can work with your gear on, e.g., running additional air filtration in the home office, and ensuring that lenses and the sensor are properly clean is pretty useful.

michael butler's picture

I find the best way to transport camera and lens is in someone else's bag. If I have to separate my camera from my lens to hide it, so be it. I take an empty potato chip bag, wash it out and then place my camera and lens inside and voila, someone else opens their pack and sees a full bag of chips, works every time. It helps to offer to use your vehicle to drive fellow photographers to the parking area, that way you have full access to their gear.

Paul Smith's picture

I keep one body in the backpack without a lens for landscapes and another outfitted with a zoom on a Peak Design clip attached to the outside of my pack in case quick access is needed for wildlife.

Rhonald Rose's picture

I always keep my lens attached. I usually have an idea about the lens I use (your choices are limited on the GFX) and keep it attached to the camera.

Sridhar Chilimuri's picture

Does this need to be written? This is not science or technology. It is just individual preference.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

It got you intrigued enough to comment, twice.

Science and technology aren't the only things to write about.

Sridhar Chilimuri's picture

agreed

john ferguson's picture

I thought it worthwhile because it provoked enough comments to confirm my approach - keep the lenses on the cameras to avoid dust etc on the sensors. If it had been film cameras I might have been less adamant about this.

Jonas von Hofsten's picture

Most often I pack lens off, I rarely shoot on impulse and when on assignment I pack 3-4 bodies and 3-6 lenses (and maybe a speedlight or two). It´s a lot easier to fit large amounts of gear in to a bag when less spaces is taken up by air due to lenses attached to bodies (eventhough that space can be partially used for harddrives, chargers etc).

Kirk Darling's picture

I don't have a backpack. Either I'm shooting on the move with my equipment (shoulder bag is better), or I'm in a place where I can stash equipment (roller case is better). IMO a backpack is the worst of both worlds in the land of pavement. If I shot in the woods, that might call for a backpack.

Umm, no, it wouldn't. I'd still use a shoulder bag. I can change lenses from a shoulder bag while actually jogging and keeping my eyes on the subject--long habit from my early PJ days. Try doing that from a backpack.

But if I'm shooting on the move and using a shoulder bag, that means I've got one camera around my neck with a short zoom, another on my right shoulder with a long zoom, and another lens or two in the bag.

meshal alawadhi's picture

sony sensor is known to be a dust magnet, so i always have a lens attached. got 2 cam so i wont exchange lenses one tele and one wide..

Daniel Gray's picture

Depends on whether or not I can find the body cap.