Earlier this week, Fstoppers creators Patrick Hall and Lee Morris posted a tongue-in-cheek video that mocked photographers’ very real lust for the perfect bag. I hope you all got a great laugh out of that just like I did. We’ve all been in Hall's position, watching a seemingly endless pile of gear come out of someone else’s bag. Today, I thought I’d go through the five bags I use on a regular basis for both my work in Seoul and my travel work.
Let me start by laying a few ground rules. These are not the best bags on the market. They are not the be-all-and-end-all. They may not be right for you. These are bags that I love. They are homes for my gear that I have found work best for the way I shoot and the equipment I use. The criteria for choosing these bags is simply that they do their job in a way that allows me to get my job done. A couple of these are out of production, but I have tried to provide alternatives where possible. So, here they are.
LowePro StreetLine SH 140
This little bag is something I wasn’t sure about in the beginning, but it has been an amazing addition to my kit. I looked long and hard for the perfect bag for my day-to-day work, and this is it. I needed something I could put a couple of bodies, a couple of lenses, a flash, and, when needed, my laptop into. The LowePro StreetLine series is comprised of three shoulder bags and a backpack. I chose the SH 140 because I use a small laptop and because I love that you can fold the gear pockets to make room for different shaped objects. They can also be folded to accommodate things other than camera gear.
I typically use this bag for family sessions, corporate events, and personal days. On a family session, it holds two Fujifilm X-T2 bodies, my 16mm f/1.4, 23mm f/2, 35mm f/2, and 50-140mm f/2.8 lenses. For corporate events, I will usually take my 16mm lens out and replace it with a Godox TT350F flash, then add my laptop into the back sleeve if I have been asked for onsite deliveries. On my days off, I’ll often mix a little street shooting with some blogging and a drone flight. My laptop, a Fujifilm X-T2 with a 23mm and a 35mm, plus my DJI Mavic Pro kit all fit in there snugly.
Think Tank Photo Retrospective 6
For times when the SH 140 doesn’t quite work out, this is my go-to bag. I love it for weddings, couples sessions, and family sessions. The two main features that make this bag so appealing to me are its shallow design and those trademark Think Tank Photo sound silencers. At weddings, the Velcro can be covered with inbuilt flaps to silence the bag so you can open and close it without disturbing the guests.
The shallow design is perfect for smaller MILC systems like my Fujifilm kit. The lenses are much smaller than their DSLR counterparts, and so can be tucked into much shallower compartments. I can get two X-T2 bodies and four prime lenses into this bag with no problem at all. If I need a flash or a zoom like the 50-140mm, I can put it in a pouch and lay it over the top of the other lenses and bodies. The flexible lid of the bag and strong Velcro that holds it shut mean that I don’t have to worry about anything falling out.
Again, this series of bags comes in many different sizes, so check them out on B&H.
LowePro Versapack 200AW
This is a bag that has so many different uses. It is broken into two different compartments. The bottom one has dividers for camera gear, while the top compartment is a single open pouch. It is useful for clothes on an overnight trip, or extra gear when the camera compartment gets full. By far my favorite feature on this bag, though, is the centrally-aligned tripod holder. With a bag this small, that is such a boon.
Typically, I use this bag when doing short overnight trips, or when I’m using my Wista 4x5. For an overnight trip, I can put a small amount of clothing in the top, a couple of X-T2 bodies and three or four prime lenses in the bottom. Then I can slide my laptop in the front if needed and strap on my tripod. With the 4x5 camera, it works really well as I can put the camera and two lenses into the bottom section, then have my film holders, loupe, and cable release in the top. Of course, the tripod gets strapped on at the end.
F-Stop Gear Literoom Roller
F-Stop Gear may be known for their rugged backpacks and modular system, but my most used bag from their range is the now discontinued Literoom Roller. The reason I still include it here is that most of the reasons I love it can be found in alternatives.
Like most of F-Stop Gear’s bags, the Literoom is an empty shell. You can then add their ICUs or configure the bag however you like. I use this bag when I travel as my carry-on luggage and for jobs in the city where I need a larger flash kit. As a carry-on, it allows me to get through airport security with minimal fuss as the bag fits within the size limits for most airlines. In the city, it allows me to take the strain off my back, meaning that I start my shoots much fresher than if I had to carry all the gear.
So, what makes it different from any other carry-on suitcase? Simply put, it’s the durability. This thing has been hauled up and down stairs with 25 kilograms of gear in it. It has been wheeled through sandy villages in Myanmar. It’s been through a typhoon in Taiwan, up and down mountains in India, on the back of a motorcycle in Laos. In short, it’s been through everything I have, and there’s not a stitch come loose. I really hope that F-Stop Gear starts making this again, as I’d like to have another in case it goes missing.
You might want to look into Think Tank Photo’s Airport series if you just need bags to take your gear. Another option would be to pick up a good quality cabin roller and add one of F-Stop Gear’s ICUs to it.
F-Stop Gear Loka UL
I’ve owned a lot of backpacks. None of them have fit my needs better than the F-Stop Gear Loka UL for traveling. If I’m going somewhere where I won’t be taking my roller, this thing is coming with me. I can grab the ICU of gear out of my roller, drop it straight into this bag, and throw everything else in on top. My tripod only mounts to the side of this bag, but the straps are so well balanced that I don’t even notice the extra weight after I’ve adjusted it. One other thing I love is that the bag opens on the side that is touching your back. That means you have to take this thing off to open it. The zips won't get caught on anything and nobody else can open the bag on you.
Like most of F-Stop’s bags, it’s made from rip-stop nylon. It’s extremely durable, and again, I haven’t lost a single stitch over the years I’ve been using it. Once I get it home, I can just hose it down, spray a little Febreze, and it’s good as new. I do wish it came in an all-black option, as the blue accents are obnoxiously loud. Otherwise, this is a well-built, well-balanced bag that won’t leave you tired at the end of the day, no matter how much you stuff into it.
So, there you have it, my favorite bags. Years of swapping, changing, buying, and selling have led me here. These are my bags for now (until I find the perfect bag to rule them all, of course). How about you guys? Have a bag you love? Tell us why and share with your fellow photographers.