What caused my obsession with camera bags? It was a simple question I asked myself to prepare for this article. The answer was much easier to find in my head and I didn't have to dig as deep as I thought. It was Indiana Jones.
I guess really, it was more about the potential his travel-worn, olive-colored, military, canvas satchel held in its recesses. Indy's gear helped him in his adventures and my photography and the gear I take with me do the exact same, though with less chance for life-threatening encounters with unsavory people.
Over the past few years, I traveled extensively. My home base was in Belfast, Northern Ireland and thanks to my wife's job, I was often in other parts of Europe throughout our years living there. I needed something to carry my gear in for gigs and for the constant wandering around in my free time.
It started off simple enough. A black Domke F-2 I got used off of eBay. I liked it but the metal clasps scared me off from using it as an everyday bag as I had visions of them clanging into my front lens elements. That meant researching about more and more bags. And then it started. I spent the next five years buying and selling more bags than I care to admit. But for full transparency in this article I'll say that it was probably close to 50 bags that I went through. Sometimes even purchasing the same bag multiple times as my gear changed up as well and I wanted to give previous bags another shot.
It's kind of funny in a horrific G.A.S. kind of way. But as we all know, there is no perfect bag. It's impossible as different gigs and needs mean we have to adapt how we carry what we use.
In that process I've used and abused a variety of brands and models and I've settled (for now) on what works best for me. I'll walk you through them and give the quick skinny on how I got to that bag and why it works for me.
This is my general travel bag that carries most of my work oriented equipment. I have a Fujifilm X-T3 with a smattering of lenses, a recent addition to my kit, the Fujifilm GFX-50R, and some odds and ends like batteries, sd cards, and the various accoutrements one needs while on the job. I like it because it's great as a carry-on bag on international flights and when coupled with the next heavy-hitter in my arsenal, it provides a solid support for most everything I need on the job. It's got a great modular interior and can be adjusted as my kit changes. I'd bring it for the first flight back to the UK at the start of the year. And if I ended up on extended trips to Spain or Croatia, where I could be stationed anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, it made for a great base of operations.
The Peak Design Everyday Backpack is a wonderful piece of kit. It holds a smaller coterie of lenses and cameras and when I put the Sling 5L in teh top, it makes for an easy travel companion for week long trips or less. A large downside to it is its structured build results in a stiffer, less pliable space for gear, but I was still able to get digital camera in it and a few film camera options as I like at least one digital camera, one 35mm film camera, and one medium format film camera for most smaller trips. Really, it's a vacation bag but still comes along on work assignments too. It's the best all-around bag I have in the arsenal. I will say the Wandrd Prvke 31L has intrigued me, but I'm over switching bags up for the sake of trying something new so for now the Everyday Backpack fits my needs perfectly.
This bag addresses my single biggest gripe with the Everyday Backpack. The top part of the bag is almost useless as the inserts included make for a weak barrier between compartments which can result in small items falling through the cracks and getting lost in the bag. The Sling 5L fits perfectly at the top of the Everyday Backpack 30L (I'm not sure about its fit with the smaller 20L so proceed with caution before investing if this setup intrigues you). It allows for some extra compartments for smalls, like lens pens, batteries, and even a smaller camera or two. Most often, I used it to hold my Fuji TX-2 as that camera was always with me. Even better was, I could remove the Sling 5L and use it as a day carry bag for a single camera if I felt like going out with a simple kit. It's small but packs a punch and serves as a multi-purpose solution. Of course the next set of bags fill a similar purpose and really it all comes back to Indiana Jones.
I love messenger bags. They provide a reasonably comfortable experience with an easy access option and suit most of needs most of the time. They can definitely hurt your shoulder if used for extended periods of time but that is easily mitigated if you learn how to pare down your gear (I understand the irony of that statement but I like irony). The Everyday Messenger was my first foray into Peak Designs bag system. I liked it at the time as it solved my need for a larger shoulder bag with options and it's style appealed to me. I'm sure there's some eye-rolling at the mention of style. And it's even funnier considering my go-to everyday outfit is jeans and a t-shirt but when it comes to bags, I like they way they look as much as the way they function. Overtime, this bag has gone by the wayside, but I keep it around just in case I need a bigger messenger type bag and feel like I can get away with the soreness a larger messenger bag inevitably brings. I have a Disneyworld trip coming up and this will probably be the bag I take as I can get a digital, 35mm film, and medium format film camera into it. It provides for the options I need in a more diverse photo-taking environment.
Ahh, Billingham. They make incredible bags. They ooze style and the work great for all environments. Being based in the UK for so much time, they are very easy to find second-hand and substantially more inexpensive on the secondary market. I was obsessed with the 550 but after getting one, I realized how bulky and overloaded it could get and for a shoulder bag, that's a death wish for me. I abandoned the idea of going big, but their Hadley series is a perfect shoulder bag. It gets the job done and just works. I went through so many iterations. Big, Small, Pro. Black, Beige, Beige on Chocolate leather. I couldn't stop buying them. I even abandoned owning one for a while as the Everyday Messenger filled that space. Finally, I saw a forlorn looking one on eBay and bough it as the price was obscenely right and ever since, it's stayed in my coterie of carry. I use it when I want to throw together a quick kit to use. I won't be selling it and it'll be part of my forever kit. (I hope).
This bag is a bit of an oddity but I came across it at a charity shop for £5 (about $7) and passing it by was not an option for such a killer price. After getting it home I decided to try and wash it in a washing machine. Crazy, I know, but it was the perfect bag to see what would happen to the canvas and leather. It turned out okay (even the leather), but unbeknownst to me, the old foam Billingham used in this discontinued bag had degraded and washing it turned it into a black, sooty, powdery mess. Even worse, the foam was underneath the sewn in classic green lining. I first tried to cut a small hole in an inconspicuous space to get the offending material out as putting a camera in an environment like that was ripe for disaster. It didn't work well at all, and in the end, I tore out the lining and bought a Wotancraft Quick Draw Insert Small as it slides in perfectly and makes for a nifty little carry bag. Really, I rarely use it, but it's a bag I found while out and about and getting it at such a good price means I have a bit of pride associated with it so it stays for now. But, that experience with Wotancraft lead me to my most recent additions.
While the other bags in my kit have style, Wotancraft is style. I'll admit it. I'm a slut for stylish bags. I've alluded to it before, but I fully embrace it now. The Scout is a perfect mid-size messenger bag when you need one to go with a suit. It happens to me a lot more than I anticipated with the line of work my wife is in, but I end up in a suit at a functional event and I want to bring a bit of flair for my gear to be in. This bag offers up a lot of nice features and the price of entry is almost to the point of absurd but I just really like this bag. Not much more to say really other than it's pure splurge and pomp and circumstance.
The Trooper Small was the first Wotancraft bag I purchased and its use mostly fits for a single camera carry. The opening to it is a bit small but with one camera in it, it's not really an issue as long as the camera sits in the middle compartment. I most often pair it with my Leica M6 as it makes for a great 35mm film camera bag. Pop in a couple rolls of film and you are off the races. Once again, it's all about style but I like my gear and I like putting it in something nice. I don't need it but I wanted it so it stays in the system for now.
So, there you have it. There's a few more bags lying around the place but they're kind of just in a storage situation as I'm not sure what I want to do with them. I don't want to sell them, but I also don't use them so they'll stay stored for now.
After all my experiences with bags, it's nice to be in a place where I feel like I can stop buying them. I have what I need and they all work for their individual scenarios they occupy. Overall, I have no regrets about it as it was a learning experience. I can say to you, the reader, buy what you like and don't be afraid to switch it up if you need to. Buy used if you can as it saves a lot of money and with people like me out there, you're bound to stumble into deals at a good pace.
Though, I have to say, coming to the realization that Indiana Jones started this obsession, it may be worth seeking out a WWII Mark VII olive-green canvas military issue bag and accompanying leather strap. I'm just sayin'... one more can't hurt, right?