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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- It must be easy to open and close, so I can quickly get access to the camera and lenses whenever I want to.
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.