Finding the right camera bag is sometimes more difficult than finding the best camera. There are so many different types and makes of camera bags on the market, each carefully designed for different types of photography. Messenger bags are perhaps the most practical camera bag for photographers who travel or simply want to have a lighter kit constantly by their side.
Designed for urban photographers, messenger bags are typically narrow and shallow, keeping them portable and discreet, but they’ll often fit a full-frame DSLR or premium mirrorless camera with a lens attached, plus two additional lenses and an assortment of accessories. The best messenger bags, in our opinion, are those that also accommodate a laptop. So in this buyer’s guide we’ve only looked at messenger bags for photography that accommodate both your camera and a laptop.
What you want from the best camera messenger bag
Bag makers can blind you with a lot of jargon, but there are a few key features that you will find in the best messenger bags, and these will make all the difference to your photography.
Messenger bags by design are quite small, but you also need room for your essentials. It’s helpful when buying a camera bag to set your core kit on the table and see how it stacks up. And don’t forget the secondary essentials like storage drives and extra batteries.
Does it look like your kit will fit in the messenger bag you’re looking at? Messenger bags tend to have a lower compartment you can divide into thirds, a pocket for your computer and a shallow upper compartment. Arrange your kit into this sort of shape and measure it. This should give you a rough idea whether a bag is the best messenger bag for your camera kit.
Most bag makers will say their material is weather resistant, but it’s the seals that make all the difference. This is where the ingress of water can damager your gear. As an added layer of protection, look for messenger bags that come with an extra rain cover you can fit when you get caught out by a nasty downpour.
If you’re out and about in the city shooting travel or street photography you don’t want to draw attention to what you’re doing so you can get natural, candid photos. But you also don’t want to advertise that you’re carrying thousands of pounds worth of gear!
Seek out a plain-looking bag that is understated and looks like it could be an ordinary satchel or carry-all bag.
Look for a messenger bag with a wide strap. And you’ll also want padding along that strap – ideally a pad you can shift up and down the strap as the day goes on.
Thin straps with no padding will wear on your shoulder as the day goes on. As you grow more uncomfortable, you’ll only focus on the pain and lose sight of your creativity.
Some of the most attractive messenger bags are also the most irritating. This is because they make it difficult to access your camera quickly.
If you’re shooting street photography, you need to react in an instant. So look for a bag that legs you quickly reach and grab and shoot.
Our favourite messenger bags for photography
Below are our top picks for the best messenger bags for cameras, plus laptops.
Manfrotto Manhattan Speedy-30 messenger bag
- Plenty of capacity
- Two handy open side pockets
- Tripod flap
The Manfrotto Manhattan Speedy-30 offers you almost everything that a backpack will offer, with enough room for your camera and three lenses – and the cavity minus the cover is ideal for slotting in a flash. How many messenger bags can fit that much in comfortably? Not many.
Then there’s the laptop, tablet and let’s not forget the tripod loop.
The material quality is high, and with the rubberised base and a selection of pockets it’s been really well thought through and designed.
The Manhattan camera messenger Speedy-30 is an incredibly well thought out and designed bag. If you’re looking for a camera messenger bag with a little more than most – for instance, if you’re off travelling and don’t want a normal daypack – or you just want an alternative to a day pack then we would highly recommend you check out the Manhattan camera messenger Speedy-30.
Tenba Cooper 15 Slim messenger bag
- Weighs 1.5kg
- Interior measures 15 x 10.5 x 3.5 inches
- Expandable accessory pockets and adjustable shoulder strap
The Tenba Cooper 15 Slim is a messenger bag for photographers that can hold a DSLR or mirrorless camera body along with 3-6 lenses (up to 70-200mm f/2.8 in size) and a laptop up to 15 inches.
At the bottom of Cooper 15 Slim is a water- and abrasion-resistant full-grain leather base. It also boasts a quick access zipper so you can remove your gear without having to open the front flap.
Inside the Cooper 15 Slim is a padded insert that provides three compartments for storing your gear. These three compartments are adjustable via their Velcro sides. And the padded insert can also be removed to transform the Cooper 15 Slim from a camera bag to an all-purpose messenger bag.
With a £215 / $280 price tag, the Tenba Cooper 15 Slim isn’t cheap. But it’s extremely well built, can hold a sufficient amount of gear and is versatile as an everyday bag. It’s built to last, and feels like it was made for photographers by photographers.
If you’re an avid street or travel photographer who shoots with one or two mirrorless bodies and up to three lenses, the Tenba Cooper 15 Slim is one of the best options available.
Billingham Hadley One messenger bag
- Measures 370 x 140 x 280mm (WDH)
- 8.75 litres capacity
- Weighs 1.38kg
The Hadley One is an ideal shoulder bag for anyone with a CSC or small to medium size DSLR. The quality of finish is unrivalled by any other manufacturer and the attention to detail, from the brass locks to the leather straps through to the inserts show that the company has taken feedback and designed the bag that many photographers are asking for.
The Billingham Hadley One shoulder bag is undoubtedly very traditional in looks and style. Years of design experience and = catering for the photography market definitely shows, and there really is little to fault with the design if you’re a fan of shoulder bags.
I am a shoulder bag fan, more so that I’ve been using a Hadley as my everyday bag for 20 years, and will almost always opt for this over a backpack just for the ease of access that it gives you.
Owners with cameras such as the Canon EOS 80D or Nikon D7500 will find that there’s more than enough room with an additional insert to carry a 24-70 attached to the camera and 100-400 zoom lens packed just in case.
Those two front pockets are ideal for fitting in your Lee Filters and holder with enough space still left to slot in a 1.4 extender.
Gitzo Century Traveler Messenger bag
- Strong build quality
- Secret bottom pocket
- Quick access
The Gitzo Century Traveler Messenger features a G-Lock flap with Fidlock that enables easy access with a single gesture. It’s cavity is designed to hold a mid-sized SLR or high end CSC with a standard zoom attached and there’s also room for a 70-200mm f/2.8.
The inner is also large enough to carry a Mavic Pro plus accessories.
At the base there’s a concealed bottom pocket that has been designed to carry a 0 or 1 Series Gitzo Traveler.
Gitzo also offers a Compact version of the Century messenger, which promises room for a high end CSC with standard zoom plus a couple of lenses or a Mavic Pro and some of its smaller accessories.
Think Tank Signature 13
- Measures 37 x 26.5 x 16cm
- Leather base
- Shoulder pad
The Think Tank Signature 13 is a premium messenger bag that exudes not just style, but quality as well. A favourite among professional users, the Signature 13 can house a DSLR with a lens attached, plus two additional optics and a 13-inch laptop.
What’s more, you can expand the front pocket and stuff it with a flashgun or filters and other accessories.
Think Tank’s Signature 13 offers an additional rain cover along with an internal zipper to keep your gear safe. It also retains its shape well no matter what you fill it with.
Peak Design Everyday Messenger bag
- Holds a 15-inch laptop
- Easy access
- Spring-loaded flap catch
Peak Design makes some of the most stylish camera bags on the market, and its Everyday Messenger 15in version is no exception. Everything about its build quality earns top marks, from its stiff interior dividers to the rugged hinges and spring-loaded flap catch, which enables you to expand or contract the Everyday Messenger’s main compartment to accommodate different kit sizes.
The Everyday Messenger can also accommodate a 15-inch laptop, which is the largest among the messenger bags in this group. You can bring your tablet along, as well, and keep that in a separate pocket.
We also like the zipper on top for quick access to your gear. And if that’s not enough, Peak Design has included a waist strap – rare for a messenger bag – keep the bag secure if you’re well and truly on the go!