It’s About Time We Start Making Smarter Choices in Getting New Bags for Our Camera Gear

It’s About Time We Start Making Smarter Choices in Getting New Bags for Our Camera Gear

It’s 2024. The number of options available to use when choosing gear and accessories has rapidly grown. Have you considered these crucial factors?

While the technology in our cameras has been evolving rapidly, the camera bag industry has also been changing more silently. While the requirements that we photographers have on our cameras have not entirely changed, there are a number of manufacturers that have changed how they design and make bags in such a way that they provide more subtle benefits that can have a much bigger impact down the line.

As individual users and consumers, the criteria for most of us remain to be aesthetic, comfort, and protection. These three factors have a hierarchy that varies among users individually but the goal is almost always to hit the sweet spot between the three whenever we choose which camera bags to get. However, in recent years, the standards for camera bag designs have changed because of how select brands have chosen to revolutionize their products to provide better options for photographers. The following are just three of many factors that we should keep in mind the next time we look for a new camera bag.

1. Modularity and Versatility

In the past, camera bags were made to be a single pack that served just one purpose. A backpack can only be carried one way, a sling bag only works as is, and their compartments only offer as much customizability as moving the foam dividers a few inches to either sides. In the last half a decade there have been new options emerging that allowed bags (or components of bags) to have multiple functions and multiple carrying options. Brands like Peak Design, Lowepro, Shimoda, Wandrd, Nomatic, and many more have incorporated multifunctional removable camera bag compartments that can be zipped up and carried individually or placed in another bag. While camera bag inserts are not entirely new, these camera cubes (or whatever the brand prefers to call them) are made to carry more gear in a variety of ways.

As far as I remember (please correct me if I am wrong), Peak Design started the trend of widely using separately available camera compartments for their travel backpack.

In addition, there are camera bags that offer multiple ways of carrying such as hybrid bags that work both as backpacks and messenger bags depending on the user’s current preference. In addition, there are also packable/collapsible bags that can be used as secondary bags when traveling to lessen the weight being carried while exploring a remote place. The multi-functionality of these bags may seem trivial at first glance but for photographers who have different needs for different shooting scenarios, one bag and a few extra accessories can replace three to four individual bags.

Lowepro’s take on modular camera cubes came in the form of the GearUp Creator boxes that came out as individual products and were later on incorporated into their newer camera bags

2. Durable Aesthetics

In the past, bags that looked nice were often fragile and can easily be affected by dust and moisture. Bags that were known to be durable were also known to be very bulky and/or not as pleasant looking. However, recent evolution of materials being used by bag manufacturers allowed them to combine the best of both worlds and make attractive camera bags that are made to last. While the aesthetic design might not always be a priority, it’s important to be cautious of whether the bags we choose will last at least a couple of years without compromising how they protect the expensive camera gear they hold. It is also important to pay attention to the weight capacity that each kind of camera bag can hold safely so as not to end up ruining the bag due to misuse. In the long run, longer-lasting bags (that also fit our aesthetic preferences) would mean having to change bags less, which means having to spend less often, and more importantly, they also lead to generating less waste.

3. Environmental Responsibility

The (sadly) less talked-about factor about camera bags that we should all start paying attention to is whether the bag is made out of a significant amount of recycled fabrics. No, this doesn’t make your bag any less durable, and you can definitely count on the fact that they are even cleaner than your older bags. In the decades/centuries that we have wanted our carrying solutions to be durable, manufacturers have used all kinds of different materials available back then to make their products able to withstand moisture, dust, heat, and abrasions. It’s safe to assume that majority of the fabrics used back then still exist now, probably floating in the middle of the ocean or at the bottom, choking aquatic life. Various organizations have been doing what they can to collect and repurpose all the non-biodegradable waste that the human race has dumped into the ocean and it is admirable that manufacturers of different products, including camera bags, are choosing to recycle these materials to create durable products that lessen the need to generate more potential waste. By choosing a camera bag that’s made mostly (if not entirely) of recycled fabrics, you virtually enabled the fishing out of hundreds of plastic bags from the ocean and hindered the creation of materials from scratch that would also turn up to be trash after a few years.

An even less apparent aspect that we should pay attention to is how, despite the need for shipping, the manufacturers make an effort to lessen carbon emissions generated by getting the bag to our doorsteps require. Some brands have ended the practice of putting inflated plastics inside the bags, originally made to keep the bag in presentable shape, so they could put more products in each container, thereby lessening the space taken up by shipments and lessening the trips necessary to distribute them globally. Other brands have designated regional hubs where they keep products relatively closer to more remote destinations in order to lessen the distance that a single product would have to travel, even if you purchase directly from the manufacturer.

As photographers who live with the passion of capturing the beauty of the world we live in, it is our direct responsibility to help preserve the natural world. Photography is an art of interpreting the already existing beauty around us, and yes, even if you only shoot portraits or still life and not necessarily nature, the effect of how we pollute nature will affect the natural light that we harness.

Disclaimer: Brands and specific bags mentioned, especially those featured in photos are limited to brands that are accessible or I have personally had experience with. Applicable brands are not limited to what I have mentioned. Your inputs are absolutely welcome

From my attempt to personally check individual websites and company profiles of well-known bag and accessories manufacturers, these are the brands that have specific information about using recycled materials and carbon neutrality efforts. Peak Design is one of the most active in communicating their environmentally responsible efforts and use of recycled fabrics. A little over a year ago, Lowepro also launched their Green Line with bags with a loading bar indicator on them indicating how much of the bag is made of recycled fabrics. Patagonia’s bags, according to their website are also made up of an unspecified fraction of recycled fabrics. There is currently no database that provides a complete list of such manufacturers, so you are absolutely welcome to be added to this list through the comments.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Nicco Valenzuela is a photographer from Quezon City, Philippines. Nicco shoots skyscrapers and cityscapes professionally as an architectural photographer and Landscape and travel photographs as a hobby.

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Besides protection and comfort, my other main priority is an inconspicuous appearance. I do not want to stand out in a crowd for a variety of reasons. I don't want my gear bag to look like a gear bag. This is pretty common feeling among most of my photographer friends, especially those who spend a lot of time in public places. I have one of those Lowe Alpine slings, but I stopped using it over a year ago. It was uncomfortable and screamed photographer. Now I use a 10 year old backpack with a couple of cubes thrown in. I usually take my Sony 70-200, and that comes with a protective cube/bag. And I'll put my camera and the lens I'm using in a small Lowe Alpine cube I found at a thrift shop. I'll put those along with a thick plastic bag I saved from a pizza joint in case it rains, toss it in the backpack and I'm good to go. I can see the benefit of one of these expensive bags if you have to carry around a couple of bodies and half a dozen lenses, but not for me.

I can't believe you wrote an article like this and didn't mention f-stop!

I did mention that my list is limited to what I have access to. I mentioned that everyone is invited to add to the list. I’m in asia and f-stop is nowhere to be found out here.

I have bags big and small from PD, ThinkTank, PGTech, Vanguard, Lowpro, etc., cases from Nanuk, ThinkTank, and I use them all for various purposes. And thats just for weddings.

There’s always not enough space for “just one more thing”.

For my mountain and hill photography, I use a proper rucksack designed or the job, with proper suspension and straps. I use a series of separate containers to protect my gear. Your back will thank you for using a properly designed rucksack.

I recently suffered a serous hernia, so carrying heavy loads is now a problem. I often need to carry some heavy kit for my Architectural photography. I found a Manfrotto Switch 55 bag with wheels. I tried it out and it is brilliant in towns and places with pavements or at least a road. It has straps that turn it into a backpack for carrying stuff short distances over rough terrain. It looks just like a tourist roller suitcase, so it does not scream photo bag.

For short walks when I carry a small rucksack with suspension, that I bought in an outdoor shop. Again a couple od lenses live in padded lens pouches.

Rucksacks bought from outdoor shops are often much cheaper than dedicated camera bags. They are much better at eliminating back pain problems.

Agree about the rucksack. I use a GORUCK GR1 with a TrekPak insert to carry my gear. Not as cheap as getting one from an outdoor shop and a little more expensive than a camera bag, but it is comfortable and I can hike for miles without any issues. Just need to figure out a way to attach my tripod to the ruck via the MOLLE system.

Environmental responsibility? Keeping your old gear more responsible than tossing it for something new. Period.

I have owned the same Billingham Hadley bag for years and have no plans on buying anything new. It's been abused on flights, tossed around my car and has also been a decent work bag until my laptop became too big. Nothing screams poser dork more than a brand new camera backpack by one of those trendy brands with weird names (Wandrd, Wotancraft, etc).