You’ll need a bag for your camera kit, but what type should you choose and what should you look for? Here’s a list of bag types, from the smallest to the largest, followed by some tips on useful features. This is a Tenba Cooper Slim 15, which doubles rather nicely as a messenger/commuter bag.
These are the smallest and they’re designed to hold a single camera with a lens attached. Sizes vary, as some are designed to hold a camera with a regular ‘kit’ zoom lens attached and some are designed for cameras fitted with a longer telephoto or superzoom lens. This is a Lowepro holster bag.
You may get a zip up pocket in the lid and possibly a couple of other small pockets, but generally holster bags are designed to hold just the camera and lens and that’s it. You can wear a holster bag over your shoulder, across your chest or, in some instances, clipped to a waist belt.
These are larger and come in a wide range of sizes. They may hold just one camera body and a couple of lenses, or a couple of bodies and 3-4 lenses. There are generally a selection of pockets for smaller accessories and padded dividers in the main compartment that are attached by velcro and can be moved around to suit the shape and size of your kit. Shoulder bags don’t have to be boring black nylon – this is a premium quality Billingham bag. Expensive, but loved by all my journalist friends who can afford one.
Shoulder bags may or may not have a padded compartment to hold a laptop or a tablet. They can be worn over one shoulder but are generally more comfortable and secure when you put your head through the strap and wear them across your chest.
Messenger bags are slimmer than regular shoulder bags and designed specifically to be worn across the chest so that they can be swung round to back if you ride a bike (like a bike messenger). Messenger bags look more like briefcases or regular work bags, so they’re useful as regular commuting bags. This is a Peak Design Everyday Messenger bag (see my review on techradar.com) that holds camera gear but also a laptop, phone, cables and other everyday essentials. You could take this into a meeting and not look out of place.
Messenger bags will generally have laptop or tablet pockets. Their slimmer shape means you may not be able to squeeze in larger DSLRs – or, if you do, it may distort the bag’s shape – but they’re great bags for photographers who need to do other stuff during the day too.
Shoulder bags and messenger bags are fine for short distances or relatively small amounts of kit, but uncomfortable and unbalanced if you have to hike or travel considerable distances. That’s where backpacks come in… but first, there’s a hybrid bag that has some of the advantages of both – the sling bag. This is a Manfrotto FastTrack 8 sling with a built-in camera strap.
Sling bags are worn across the chest like a messenger or shoulder bag, and offer the same kind of access to your camera kit. Well, not, quite the same, because it’s typically just a little more awkward to take out a camera or a lens. But the advantage is that when you don’t need access, you can swing the bag round to your back, where its special shape makes it fit a little like a backpack.
Sometimes, though, the only sensible camera bag is a backpack. They’re ideal if you need to carry your kit any kind of distance and don’t need immediate access. They offer good protection when travelling and they can hold a lot of kit while still being comfortable to wear and carry. Backpacks can be cumbersome, but the Tenba Slim range (above) lives up to its name and doesn’t dangle straps like a Portuguese Man o’ War, unlike some.
Like other bags, backpacks come in a range of sizes. Some also have laptop/tablet sleeves and some feature a split design so that you have a camera compartment in the base and a ‘day’ compartment in the top half for food, water, clothing and other supplies.
So how do you choose a bag?
A lot depends on how much kit you like to have and how you like to shoot. But, in general:
• A shoulder bag will be quickest to use and pack, and is best if you’re taking a lot of photos in a lot of locations. For most photography it’s the best compromise.
• A backpack will carry more kit and offer more protection, but access is poor so they’re most useful when hiking or travelling to specific locations.
Don’t try to find a single bag that does everything. Most photographers will use at least two bags, typically a backpack for travel and longer journeys and a shoulder bag for ease of access and shoots with only moderate amounts of travel.