On the Bagness of Being (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Embrace My Love of Camera Bags)

On the Bagness of Being (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Embrace My Love of Camera Bags)

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.

Think Tank International Airport V.3

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.

Peak Design Everyday Backpack 30L 

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.

Peak Design Everyday Sling 5L

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.

Peak Design Everyday Messenger 15"

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.

Billingham Hadley Pro

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).

Billingham f/5.6

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.

Wotancraft Scout

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.

Wotancraft Trooper Small

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?

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13 Comments

Motti Bembaron's picture

In regards to the olive green canvas military bag style, I had a couple of them when I was a soldier (1982) and I absolutely hated them then but I guess I should have kept them. Save of a direct hit, nothing could destroy those bags :-)

I am also somewhat obsess with camera bags. I have seven of them but "trendy" bags like ONA or Watancraf are absolutely out of my budget.

I share your love for Camera bags.

Stefan Gonzalevski's picture

I feel less alone with my bags G.A.S. now !
And the Indiana Jones inspiration talks to me on a spiritual level.

I have many bags to store and/or carry all my different sets of cameras. Medium format, DSLR, analog,...But, except a Domke and a second hand Lowepro, the others are DIY solutions : strong but not too pricey city bags with paded camera inserts do the trick ;-)

Mark Holtze's picture

Not alone mate....NOT a lone. I've had to kill any and all emails about camera bag updates from the brands I love because of this lol. Anything that carries the gear I love is cherished highly lol.

Mark Holtze's picture

My name is Mark and I'm obsessed with camera bags as well. It all started back when....

Nathan McMahon's picture

This statement itself encompasses the “passion” perfectly, lol!

Jacques Cornell's picture

LOL. I was reflecting on my own bagness of being before Xmas when I put a used Tenba P211 on my wishlist. I'd wanted one for 20+ years, initially for my rangefinder kit, but never bought, even when the model was discontinued, resurrected, and then discontinued again. With my smaller mirrorless kit, it once again became my ideal casual-carry bag. I had a hard time justifying yet another bag purchase, but it made a great gift for me. I've got four other shoulder bags (five if you count a 30-year-old Tenba that's falling apart but that I don't have the heart to dispatch), two TLZ pouches, a belt pouch, a rolling backpack, two stand/tripod bags, and a rolling TransPac case for lighting. Problem now is that I don't have any closet space in my office to keep all of these, so they're lying around here and there. Sheesh.

Jonathan Castner's picture

Ha! Dude you are totally small time. I am an unabashed bag junkie. If it carries gear then I'm interested. At last count, and that's when I stopped counting, I have 43 bags and cases that I use to carry my gear around. From little hip bags to full on flight cases I pretty much have it all and use them regularly. I have ones that I uses more often, like my ThinkTank Air Commuter backpack and my Domke F1 Waxed but they all have uses. Oh, and I'm always on the lookout for new and different ways to carry my stuff around. BTW my daily walk around bag is a Polish army surplus Bread Bag, the mini version of the Indy bag.

Jonäs Groan's picture

Superbly passionate article, Nathan! Enjoy to read through.
Have you ever owned LowePro Classified series? Discontinued, but I still consider them among the best bags on a market, especially 180w and 250w.

Nathan McMahon's picture

Thanks for the kind words. Funny enough, I had a Lowepro backpack and it was an early contender but then I forgot to zip the laptop side pocket and my Macbook fell out when I slung it on my shoulder. While that was on me, I got rid of it and never looked back as it seemd like a serious design flaw. I liked it a lot if not for that.

Jerome Brill's picture

I'm not very fond of my Peak Design 20L. It's an awesome looking backpack but I feel the divider design doesn't do a very good job with the space available. You can flip them around a little and make different pockets but I always seem to have space I can't use. There is also no padding on the bottom so it's a no go for laying longer lenses horizontal unless you use one of the dividers on the bottom for padding. I'm thinking of just taking the dividers out entire and making a custom interior. Right now I can fit just has much in my old Lowepro Pro Runner 200AW and that's a fairly small bag. I may just pickup the Lowepro ProTactic.

Brian Albers's picture

I’m the same way. But, the problem is that I’m poor.

But the good news is that thrift stores can be gold mines for this sort of thing. Not so much for the full sized equipment bags. But I have probably 10 of the mid-sized DLSR shoulder bags that I’ve been able to snap up for 5 or 6 bucks each.

My favorite is this Ruggard bag (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/981165-REG/ruggard_psb_136b_comma...), because it’s much more cube-y than rectangle shaped as is the standard. So in this one, I can fit my longer lenses standing up, instead of lying on their sides length-wise. I have no idea why somebody would donate this to Goodwill brand new, but I got it for 5 bucks.

Pall Stefansson's picture

Thank you for the article; I too, have a strong passions for camera bags, for sure. Constantly looking for the perfect one; Billingham has been my favourite ff, mostly on, since 550, 25/30 years ago; I do have about seven Billingham´s, all size and shapes in my closet. But last year, I found the perfect one; my main bag now; the Gitzo Millennium backpack, the perfect bag for travelling near and far. Holds, two bodies (one the small Sony RX1R II), and five big prime lenses, plus the 2.0/35 lens glued on the small FF Sony.

I have a mild case of B-A-S (Specifically 'bag acquisition syndrome') too...

Thanks for the mention! -- Simon @ thinkTank