Camera Bags

In my last article I talked about tripods. This time around Iim going to talk about camera bags.

You might think that there couldnit be a lot to talk about when discussing camera bags, they are just?bags after all.

Iim reminded of a scene in the movie, Love Actually, where Alan Rickmanis character, Harry, is secretly shopping for a gift for a woman other than his wife. He spies a necklace and asks the salesperson, none other than Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean fame, to wrap it up.

With typical and hilarious Atkinson flare, the salesman wraps the package and pulls out a clear plastic bag. Frustrated and in a hurry, Harry says, "I donit need a bag, Iill just put it in my pocket."

"Oh, this isnit a bag, sir," the salesman says, "it is so much more than a bag." And he proceeds to fill the plastic bag with confetti, dried flowers and a bunch of other flourishes, much to the consternation of Harry.

That pretty much says it all about a good camera bag; it is so much more than a bag, as youill soon see. So, letis get to it.

Back when I was shooting film I had almost all of my equipment tucked into a nice black leather camera bag. At least, I thought it was nice; it had two large compartments in which I stuffed my camera, lenses, filters, extra rolls of film, flash, and other photo-phernalia I thought I needed. Everything kinda clunked around in that bag, but I didnit mind because back then everything came with its own case: The camera body was wrapped in a tight fitting leather case that included a cover for the mounted lens, extra lenses had their own cases, even the individual film rolls had their own watertight cases. My camera bag must have weighed a good 20 to 25 pounds when it was fully loaded. Needless to say I took it with me only when I thought I needed to and, consequently, I miss many photo opportunities.

Today things are a bit different: Most entry level DSLRs donit come with form-fitting cases, and while extra lenses do come with cases, itis more likely that youill opt not to bother with them.

The object of being a photographer is to shoot photos, and you canit shoot that UFO landing, Aunt Pearlis handstand, or Brad Pitt kissing your girlfriend if your camera is swaddled in protective casings and buried in an inconvenient bag. And nobody wants to lug around 20 or more pounds worth of stuff if they donit have to.

What you need is a good camera bag. But what makes a camera bag good?

Excellent question.

One way to answer this to look at what makes a bad camera bag.

The camera in the bag does not make it a camera bag.

This is a photo of the bag I use to use as a camera bag when I got my DSLR. If you are thinking that it looks a lot like a mail satchel that one might carry books or a laptop in youid be dead-on.

I love this bag. I bought it many years ago and it has served me well as a laptop bag, an overnight bag, a briefcase, and carry-on luggage. It has been to several countries and in many situations and it continues to function wonderfully, but it is definitely NOT a camera bag. Like my old leather camera bag, this satchel lets all of my stuff clunk around inside, even the pockets offer little protection. And though it is fairly easy to flip open to grab my camera, nothing else is easy to get to and I wind up fumbling around and missing the shot.

Walk into any reasonably stocked camera store and you are likely find so many bags from so many manufacturers that you may swoon from what I like to call Consumer Overload: Thatis where you have so many choices that your brain overheats. It really is a problem because it makes little sense buying a bag that has features that youill never use, or worse, buying a bag that is inadequate to your needs.

Before your grey matter seizes up you might consider these three points a novice photographer should ponder when considering which bag to choose:

  • Price: Iim an amateur photographer, so I seldom, if ever, get paid for the photos, hence, I donit have a lot to spend. Iim always on the lookout for bargains. On the other hand, one shouldnit cheap-out and get the bargain basement bags either. Decide on how much you can afford to pay for a bag, then look for the most bag your budget will buy. Be realistic; Iid?aim for about $50 to $100, which should let you pick from several well known bag makers. Consider bags from Lowepro and Tamrac. There are other good makers as well, but these should get you started.
  • Protection: As I mentioned before, most cameras today donit come with cases, which is OK by me because I donit think I want to bother with a case, just something else to fumble with. A camera bag needs to protect your equipment by offering adequate foam compartments, padded pockets and a stiff, but not necessarily hard, outer shell. You should select a bag that provides some protection from typical weather in your climate. If, for instance, you tend to photograph mountain goats or like to shoot ocean sunsets you might consider bags designed for conditions youill likely encounter in those places. The bags may be a bit pricier, but your equipment will be well protected.
  • Convenience: What good is a bag it you canit get to your equipment quickly? The bag you select should allow you fast access to your camera and lenses. Pockets for other accessories should be well laid out. Bags from major makers offer designs that make it easy to grab your camera if you happen upon a scene begging to be shot. Zippers should be big and easy to find, yet have flaps to help keep moisture out. Compartments should be big and roomy to accommodate other photo-phenalia. And you should be able to arrange the interior of your bag to suit your needs.

Iim going to concentrate on two bags in this article; The Stealth Reporter D100 AW from Lowepro and the Velocity 6x from Tamrac. These bags address two different needs yet both adequately address my three point of consideration.

The Stealth Reporter D100 AW is part of a line of rough and ready bags from Lowepro that offer very good protection and lots of places to put stuff. What I like about the Stealth Reporter D100 AW is that the interiors are?roomy; you can get all sort of stuff in this bag, yet its light and comfortable to carry. The exterior is of a?tough weather resistant fabric with flaps and zippers to keep the elements out. This is a good all-around bag for traveling and hiking about.

Loweprois Stealth Reporter D100 AW with rain bonnet exposed.

Another nice feature of the Stealth Reporter is its zippered access thru the top flap which lets you get at your camera quickly.

If you see an iAWi of any Lowepro bag it means that the bag is equipped with a built-in bonnet you can use to make the bag really weatherproof for those times when you know you are in for a good soaking. This is a good option if you do a lot of outdoor photography.

Tamracis Velocity 6X is a excellent choice if you are on the go and like to keep your camera close at hand and ready to shoot. The Velocity series are designed to let you get at you camera quickly, yet is easy to carry. I like the way the bag hangs comfortably around my torso and how easy it is to reposition in case I need to shoot quickly.

Tamracis Velocity 6x in action (model not included).

For instance, lets say that while out for an evening constitutional I happen upon Big Foot strolling arm in arm with a female yeti. (I know itis a female yeti because of its manicured claws. A good photographer must be observant.) With the Velocity I can slip the bag around from my back to my front, zip open the flap, and the body of my camera is presented to me so all I have to do is reach in and grab it. In fact, I can move from the carry position to taking a picture in 2 easy movements.

(BTW: Big Foot prefers to be called Sasquatch and insists that his feet are not overly large for, creature his size. "You want big," he asked me. "Check out King Kongis feet! Now thereis a big foot for you! Go take a picture of Kong and leave me be!")

The Velocity 6X is lightweight yet sturdy. Itis smaller than the Stealth Reporter D100, but itis roomy enough for the essentials. Tamrac also make a 7x and 9x in the Velocity line, both are bigger yet share the convenient sling design.

There are other types of bags as well, some barely big enough to hold your DSLR to monstrous backpacks capable of carrying an entire digital studio to the peaks of the Himalayas.

Which type bag to choose? Tough decision. My advice is to find a camera shop that carries either or both bags and try them out. Actually put your gear into the bag, if the store allows it, and see how it feels. Also, seriously consider the places youill likely be shooting. If you like to have your camera with you while bike riding or visiting a local park and you donit carry a lot of equipment with you then a bag like the Velocity 6X might work best for you.

If, on the other hand, you like to keep your camera in your car with2 or 3 extra lenses, flash and other stuff then the Stealth Reporter might be a better fit.

The Velocity 6X can be had for well under US$50, the Stealth Reporter D100 AW for under $100. Either should give you many years of service.

One last bit of advice: No matter which bag you choose you should understand that water can, and will get into anything given a chance. If you know that you will be kayaking, for instance, then make sure that your equipment is properly protected. Carry along and use 1 gallon plastic storage bags to put your equipment in to keep them dry when the weather or the going gets extremely wet. Youill be glad you did.

OK, thatis a wrap for this installment. Next time Iill discuss flash memory and several accessories you might consider to enhance your memory options.

Until next time, go shoot a bird.