Choosing a camera bag is one of those odd pleasures of being a photographer. Finding a bag that accommodates all of your gear and looks nice, too, is a really pleasing thing, and the good news is there are lots of great options. In this buyer’s guide we’ll draw from our experience of having used many different bags and offer some advice on how to choose the best camera bag for your needs.
As you take your photography more seriously and start to build a collection of lenses and camera accessories, you’ll find that a quality camera bag will soon become necessary.
Not only will a good camera bag allow you to carry all your gear, but it will also offer protection from the elements. Because there are different types of camera bags for different types of budgets, cameras, even genres of photography, we pulled together what we believe are the best options for each of the most common needs.
What size camera bag do I need?
The obvious answer is that you need to buy a camera bag that’s big enough to hold your camera. But the key to buying bags is anticipating what else you need to carry. Do you have a couple lenses that you take with you? Do you use a flashgun?
And for that matter, do you plan on buying any new lenses in the future? You want a camera bag you can grow with.
It’s a common temptation to buy a camera bag that’s large enough to hold all of your gear, and if you go on long treks with your camera this could very well be the best camera bag to invest in. But you need to carefully consider how much gear you really want to carry.
Many photographers opt for a smaller camera bag that’s lighter, yet packed more efficiently. It’s important not to disregard comfort. It’s perhaps more important than capacity because if you’re bag is painful to carry, you’re not going to get very far with it nor be in the mindset to compose images when you get where you’re going.
In recent years bag manufacturers have introduced ranges that try to meet this delicate balance, especially since the rise of mirrorless cameras. Bags like the Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 30i are even designed specifically with mirrorless cameras in mind.
Should I buy a camera shoulder bag or photo backpack?
Many photographers who wish to travel light will face the choice of whether to buy a camera shoulder bag or photo backpack. Both will typically suit your photographic needs. The decision really comes down how you want to carry it.
A photo backpack is more comfortable to wear than a shoulder bag for the simple fact that you spread the weight evenly across both shoulders, as well as your hips (if the backpack has a waist belt).
However, while more comfortable, backpacks typically offer slower access to your camera and other equipment. There are a few backpacks like the Paxis Mt Pickett 2.0 that have come up with novel solutions to the access problem.
But generally a shoulder bag gives you much quicker access to your gear. If you shoot street photography, sport or simply need to swap between lenses quite often, then the quick access of a camera shoulder bag is a must.
Likewise, if you primarily shoot landscape photography and carry your gear over long distances, not needing quick access until you get to where you want to be, a backpack is likely the best option for you.
Shoulder and messenger bags, though, can be bad for your back over the longer term if you regularly carry a heavy weight on one shoulder. If you do go for a shoulder bag, it’s a good idea to wear it on different shoulders from time to time.
What is a photo sling bag?
If you want the best of both worlds – and who doesn’t – a photo sling back could be the thing for you. Bags like the Lowepro StreamLine Sling Bag and Lowepro Slingshot Edge 150 AW are like a hybrid shoulder bag and backpack.
You can wear a photo sling bag on your back like a backpack, but when you need to swap lenses they are designed to swing around your body offering quicker access.
Features to look for in a camera bag
Some camera bags like the Lowepro Adventura TLZ 20 II, are remarkably minimalist. But there are a few must-haves when it comes to purchasing a camera bag that will work for you. Here are the most important specs to look out for when buying a bag:
Tripod attachments: many camera bags now feature clips and loops via which you can secure a tripod. However, the size of your tripod will matter here. A large, thick-legged tripod for landscape photography is going to be very comfortable to wear via one of these attachments unless the bag is big and robust enough to support it.
Split compartment: a lot of new photo backpacks such as the Manfrotto 30L Off Road Hiker and Lowepro Fastpack BP 150 AW II have two large compartments, one for your camera gear and a separate compartment for personal items.
Side access: another new feature of camera bags that has proved popular is a side opening to offer quick access to your camera. Photographers find this most useful on backpacks, where a side access point means not having to take the bag off to access certain items.
Waist belt: a waist belt is useful addition to a large backpack as it can be used to transfer a lot of the weight from your shoulders to your hips.
Weatherproof cover: you’ll pay a lot more for a truly weatherproof camera bag. But many backs will come with a weatherproof cover that you can quickly stretch over your bag to protect your gear in the rain.