Are You Happy With Your Camera Bag? Here Are Some Recommendations to Bag Makers

Are You Happy With Your Camera Bag? Here Are Some Recommendations to Bag Makers

I’ve owned a lot of bags over my photography and video production career, and as someone who travels a lot carrying a backpack when walking or biking, I’d like to point out a few things backpack designers and manufacturers should consider.

Designers and manufacturers have the expertise, skill, and as the French would say, the “savoir faire” to make the best quality bags, but perhaps they think mostly about the bag’s production and not about the person using the bag. I believe the photography community would be in a better place if they did. So, here are the points I’d like to cover:

Not Just Cameras and Lenses

Firstly, bags usually carry camera gear, tablets, and laptops. The camera and lenses are usually well-looked after with padding all around, with dividers, and in some cases, some additional padding. The lenses are an investment, and we’re grateful for the time, effort, and thought that went into adding all this padding. Thank you.

But the laptops are usually slid in to fill the space between the actual bag and the wearer’s back.

This works ok, and I suppose it is the most logical solution, but if you observe most photographers, you’ll see a sense of nervousness whenever they have to take the bag off their back and place it on the ground. They’re putting down what could be more than $10,000 worth of gear all carried in this protective casing. For me, one of the most important pieces of artillery is my MacBook Pro, which doesn’t always get the best padding. And it’s one of the most expensive pieces of equipment we use as creatives.

To say it differently, when taking off the bag and putting it on the ground, it’s always a panic whether you’ll put it down softly enough not to hurt the laptop.

The bags are usually designed to carry the laptop, but the laptop is unfortunately allowed to slide right down to the bottom of the bag. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s to save costs or not easy to do, but it must be possible to have this laptop pocket lifted from the ground. It can either have padding, or the pocket can be stitched higher on the bag.

The solution is to have a space between the laptop and what will become the floor every time we put it down. There is no reason for it to be flush with the ground. Some added padding between the laptop and the floor will also be an excellent addition to any bag made for creators.

Not Just for Walking

Secondly, when riding a bike, our backs are usually arched, and this also arches the bag with the laptop sandwiched in-between, and it surely puts a lot of pressure on the laptop. It must be possible to harden the laptop sleeve between the wearer’s back and the laptop. It would be even better if it was shaped to better accommodate the back.

Original Image by Roman Koester on Unsplash

Original Image by Roman Koester on Unsplash

This will also reduce a lot of thought and panic about the gear and whether your tools are ok. I know with great posture, there should be no problem, but when I’m on my way to get a shot and I get on my bike, I’m focusing on getting there, and there is a difference between an easy ride and a purpose-driven cycle to get where I need to be.

A Bag Should Show What It Is

It goes without saying that a bag that carries expensive gear should remain sturdy when put down. It has to stay upright, have correct posture, and not fall hunched over, without any backbone.

With that said, the best backpack I would consider to do more than what is expected is the Think Tank Street Walker Hard-Drive bag. This bag is stable on the ground. It stands proudly upright and doesn’t need to lean on anyone’s shoulder to live up to its purpose. It’s also water resistant and comes with a cover.

But, the bag is quite big, and with modern day mirrorless cameras, I think it’s not always necessary to use such a big bag, although the bag has saved me thousands of dollars in the past when I slipped into a canal in Venice.

I think the daily bag can be slimmer and that the lenses do not have to stand upright. They can lie flat with the camera, like the 70-200mm or larger lenses already do.

It’s a Statement

The bag itself is a part of our gear, and we go to great lengths to decide which one will best suit our needs. Almost like a camera brand name, it’s a lifestyle decision, one that we will carry around in public. What we want to show the world and how we see ourselves are all subconscious discussions we have when going through all the bags at our local photography store.

My Ideal Bag

  1. For me, minimal on the outside, although functional is ideal. Square-shaped, sturdy, and dark colors. I like black. So, I’ll choose a black bag.
  2. Like I mentioned above, it should stand on its own, and I shouldn’t have to look for a wall or table to put it up against.
  3. Because I use the bag in a city, security is an issue. I would appreciate having the zips on the inside, so the only access to what’s inside is if I actually take it off my back.
  4. I need to feel at ease with putting the laptop in the bag. This means padding, having a space between the bottom of the bag and the laptop, and a weather-proof seal. I also need to know that when I put it down on something wet that the water won’t move up into the camera and lens container or laptop partition.
  5. It must be easy to open and close, so I can quickly get access to the camera and lenses whenever I want to.

Conclusion

Just like any piece of gear, a bag is important for our work. It's something we use as much as we do a camera or lens. How it's made plays a massive role in our careers, and we build trust over a period of time. For me, when buying a big bag, it will be a Think Tank bag, but for a bag I'll use on a daily basis, I have no loyalty yet, and like me, I imagine many are in the market for a smaller, quality backpack.

What advice do you have for bag manufacturers? Are you happy with yours, and if anything, what would you change on your bag? Let us know in the comments. 

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12 Comments

Robert Teague's picture

I don't want or need a camera bag with a laptop slot. I'd prefer to use separate bags for that. Just too much to lose.

Chris Fowler's picture

Newbie here. Took my 30L PD Everyday Backpack with me to Japan last month for a 2 week trip.
Pros:
+ Carried Sony a6400, 3 lenses, vlogging mic, spare batteries, various chargers, laptop, external HDD, GoPro on a small gimbal, small gorilla pod, hat, gloves, and a jacket.
+ Fits under aircraft seat (barely) if you have short legs
+ Sturdy material

Cons:
- Heavy? Completely empty its almost 3lbs, with all my stuff it was about 20lbs (I know I packed too much)
- Uncomfortable straps when loaded to capacity (I think they improved this on V2)
- "sturdy" external material actually a bit abrasive when switching positions and only wearing a t-shirt
- Internal dividers are sturdy but not cushioned
- straps for external storage do not disconnect (they're shoved inside side pockets) which cut down on capacity a bit.

If I were to repeat that situation, I'd leave a third of that stuff at home to save weight, but I would also want a lighter backpack with more cushioned design. I also agree with author on the laptop sliding down to the ground, maybe bottom of backpack should be padded on inside and coated on outside for weather-proofing and to assist bag in standing upright.

Jerome Brill's picture

If you can get over the looks of the PD bag, you'll find every other bag works better. I'm not trying to be cynical, I have the PD 20L and I'm going to sell it soon. The stiff divider system loses so much space not being more form fitting. I feel nothing is protected in that bag. The other down side is having a long lens attached. On the 20L you can't do it. You can fit a long lens on the bottom horizontal, which doesn't have any padding. unless you repurpose one of the dividers.

Don't get me wrong, that bag looks awesome, it's the reason I bought it. It just doesn't work as a camera bag. At least not after my experience. I'm still looking to get a bigger bag but my cheap Lowepro Pro Runner 200 aw I got off craigslist for $50 bucks in 2012 is still going strong. 7 trips to the BWCA.

Chris Fowler's picture

I totally get it. I might sell mine now that I've put it through it's paces.The one you posted looks much better padded.
Counterpoint on PD styling: I just bought the V2 6L Sling, and that's a decent camera bag (not backpack). The small space is encouraging me to pack lighter and the design is actually pretty comfortable.

Jeff Diffner's picture

You might want to be careful with that Think Tank bag. While, as you mentioned, we all tend to be very careful when setting out packs down, few of us think about what happens after we do. I took a flight to Japan a few years ago and the weight of my kit (specifically an A7 series camera with the 70-200 2.8 attached) was enough break the screen to the tune of a $700 repair. Even though the padding is less, I always store my pack facedown at this point.

Kapture Lab's picture

I seek the same things in a bag that Wouter points out. With that in mind, I've gone for a Case Logic bag. It's, square/rectangular with a shell casing in the bottom so I don't mind putting it down on outdoor surfaces. It stands upright on its own. It has very thick cushion dividers for lenses. It has padding for a 15" laptop. It also has a camera suspension feature
- a hammock - the camera sits in. So, the camera comes out of the top of the bag and when you put it back in it sits suspended in this elastic suspension feature. It's great. Hard to describe.
Only downsides are the straps feel a little slim for my broad shoulders and the extra storage feels like I can have more. Although I don't think any had has enough storage. There's always more we can bring.
Overall it's a comfy bag. I'm very happy with it.

This is the bag here. BTW, it should be pointed out that I'm not in any way affiliated with Case Logic. It's just my personal experience.
https://www.caselogic.com/en-sg/products/backpacks/case-logic-slr-camera...

Lucas Staley's picture

When traveling around the US and Europe I don’t want to have a bag that screams $$$$ to potential thieves and is only for camera gear. I have a bag that I love, it’s comfy, tons of room, fits me. I have two soft camera inserts that fit in my bag and works perfect for me.

C Fisher's picture

I have the Manfrotto Street backpack and sling bag. They're green, so they automatically look less like "camera bags". The backpack has a stick of foam padding in the bottom on the laptop part so it doesn't hit the floor. I thought it was a big silica pack or something when I stuck my hand in lol. Lots of room up top for hard drives, pens, memory cards, all your cannabis supplies. The only thing that I'd change is to put a double zipper on the laptop part so you could put a lock on it.

imagei _'s picture

I couldn't find a 'camera' bag that would suit my needs (I find them either impractical, too ugly or too expensive) so I tend to use a regular hiking rucksack with a zip that goes around the front so I can access stuff from either side when on my shoulder or open it fully when laid down on the ground. With generous side and top pockets I can separate everything as needed. Not good if you are worried of thieves though... but then it looks like any old sack of tat so maybe it's not too bad ;-)

Inside I have a small padded shoulder bag (can get it on the shoulder if I need frequent access, hey!), couple of rigid boxes for filters, some lens pouches and a large microfibre gym towel for wrapping one camera. If I need to carry a laptop I put it in a sturdy dedicated laptop sleeve. Hide & Drink belt pouch for handy bits and bobs and I'm sorted :-)

Robert Teague's picture

I use the Pacsafe Venturesafe X30 Anti-Theft Adventure Backpack. This is a 30-liter bag, weighing in at 2.6 lbs., empty. I use lens wraps and camera packing cubes (custom made, several years ago) inside, with a Nikon Z7 kit (body and 4 lenses) weighing in at 14.2 lbs total. The bag has a laptop sleeve, but I don't use it.

Reginald Walton's picture

Seems like camera bags are like the things they are designed to hold (camera gear), everyone wants a new one every other year or so. LOL

william hicks's picture

Contents of camera bag will most likely be black so how bout a contrasting color for internals