As you get into photography you soon discover that you do need some accessories to make your digital camera more functional. For most people, a quality camera bag is a must have accessory. This post will cover the process I used to search out the best camera bag for me. This information should help you choose the right camera bag to meet your needs. I will also post a review of the camera bags I ended up purchasing, along with a video review of these bags.
Which Camera Bag Is Best
I recently upgraded my camera to a digital SLR and quickly realized that I needed a camera bag to help me tote around my camera, lenses, memory cards and other assorted accessories. When I started my search I discovered that there are literally thousands of options when it comes to picking a bag to carry your camera in. There are belt packs, shoulder bags, sling bags, camera backpacks, messenger bags and probably a few more that I can't remember right now.
All these camera bag options are great, but they do make it a challenge (and a bit overwhelming), to find the best camera bag for your own particular needs and situation. Because all of this was brand new to me, I spent a lot of time trying to get a feel for what the options were and where each of them had a "best fit". Here is what I came to after more than a few hours of research. I'll start with a short description of the different major styles of camera bags.
Sling Bags: These are a very popular category of camera bag. The design allows you to carry the bag on your back but also be able to "flip" the bag around to the front of your body to access the bag when needed. The Lowepro SlingShot 102 AW is an example of a camera sling bag. Most other manufacturers have a sling bag styled camera bag, usually in various sizes. While these bags are great for short walks and provide easy access to your equipment while moving, they might not be the best for extended hikes.
Shoulder or Messenger Bag: The next major category of camera bags is the type that you slip over your shoulder. This Crumpler 5 Million Dollar Home Photo Bag, Brown/Orange is a very popular shoulder/messenger style bag and can hold a lot of equipment. The shoulder bag is a functional option that can give you a lot of storage space along with quick access. I see these as great "walk around" bags, but not so great for a lot of equipment as they could get a little tiring to carry due to everything being supported by just one shoulder.
Camera Backpacks: If you are looking to carry a fair amount of equipment, take a longer walk/hike, or both, a camera backpack seems like a good solution. The main advantage to this style of bags is that the weight is supported by both shoulders, allowing for a more comfortable journey over longer distances. Camera backpacks come in a variety of sizes and configurations enabling you to carry a wide variety of camera gear, food, water, and anything else you may need for a day-hike or multi-day expedition.
A basic camera backpack can be as simple as this on from Amazon: AmazonBasics Backpack for SLR Cameras and Accessories
Or as complex (and expensive) as this: Manfrotto MB LB050-5BB PRO V Backpack (Black)
Combination Bags: Some camera bags combine the features of a sling bag/shoulder bag and backpack into one "super camera carrying device". Manufacturers such as Kata , Tamrac and others have a line of these combo bags. They come in a few different sizes and many offer the ability to carry a laptop computer in addition to your camera. You might want to look into these types of camera bags if you want one bag to cover all kinds of situations.
Set A Budget And Decide On Features
As you can see there is a wide range of prices in camera bags (of all styles) so it is important to set a budget, decide what features you want and shop accordingly. Take into consideration the amount of equipment (cameras, extra lenses, etc.) you will want to take with you and then think about what type of "traveling" you will be doing. For example, if all you have is a small digital SLR and 1 or 2 basic lenses you don't need a huge camera backpack. On the other end of the spectrum, if you do a lot of travel and carry multiple cameras and lenses with you, a larger backpack style bag might be perfect. The other thing you need to consider is cost. Camera bags can cost anywhere from $10 to $500 plus. The reality is that just about all of us can only spend so much money on these things so set a realistic budget and stick to it. Remember, you don't have to buy brand new, you can always consider purchasing "lightly used". Places like eBay and Adorama's Used Items might be worth a look to find camera bags at a discount.
Think About Travel
One consideration I hadn't really thought about when I started my search was the restrictions placed on bags during airline travel. If you plan on taking your camera equipment with you when you fly, the carry-on luggage size restrictions become very important. Many photographers with much more experience than me suggest that you try to carry-on your camera equipment rather that check it as luggage. That way you have much more control over how your equipment gets handled, reducing the chances of something breaking during transport. In order to meet carry-on size restrictions you will need to triple check the dimensions of your camera bag and compare that to airline size limits.
Narrowing The Field
OK, time to narrow things down and start looking for a specific camera bag. In my case I decided that I wanted to spend less than $100 on my camera bag. I also decided that I would like to get two bags if possible, one for around town shooting and one for travel/hiking. I plan on taking my camera with me on trips so I wanted something that was compact enough to fit under the typical airline seat. Based on my research, it seemed to me that I could get both of those bags and stay within my $100 budget if I shopped smart. I knew I couldn't get the latest and greatest in each bag for $100 total but I was pretty sure I could get something to do what I needed them to do.
I decided to get a small shoulder bag for around town and a smaller sized camera backpack for trips and hiking. After some looking around, I came across the Lowepro Rezo 170 shoulder bag and the Tamrac 5547 Adventure 7 Backpack. Both bags fit my size/portability requirements and looked like they would hold the equipment I have currently plus an extra lens down the road.
New Or Used
Making the decision to purchase a camera bag, or any other piece of camera equipment new or used is something you need to consider. The lure of a low price is what draws many people to buy used. Buying new has it's own advantages, namely that you can return an item if it doesn't work for you.
In my case, I knew that in order to get both bags for my less than $100 budget I would have to shop the used marketplace. I have no problem purchasing used as long as I know what I'm getting. A camera bag is one of those items that falls under that criteria. There's not a lot of moving parts to go bad and the condition can be readily determined from photographs. Still, buying used has it's risks, especially on someplace like eBay. But, if you shop and bid smart you can eliminate most of that risk. I've been a user of eBay for both buying and selling since 2000 and I have yet to have a problem.
I kept an eye on eBay for great prices on the two bags I had decided on. I found the Lowepro Rezo 170 within a couple of days but had to wait a little more than a week to find the Tamrac backpack at a good price. I placed my bids, keeping within my budget, and took delivery of both bags within a week of each other. While I was 95% sure these two bags would meet my needs I still double-checked them when they arrived to make sure they were what I needed. Luckily, they were.
I've had the bags for a few weeks now and am happy with my decision. I'll post a review of these bags (including a video) in the next couple of days so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, here are some additional resources (beyond the links I've posted, to help you in your own search for the perfect camera bag:
Camera Bags on Amazon