So, you’re getting ready to take a big trip, and want to bring your camera gear. What should you put it all in? It depends!
How much camera gear to bring with you on whatever journey you are taking is an important issue—but what do you put it in?
The answer to that question depends on the answers to several other questions: Are you flying? Hiking? Walking through a crowded city where there might be pickpockets? Are you an aspiring photojournalist? Want to blend in and work inconspicuously? There are different bags for different kinds of journeys and destinations.
In general, don’t buy too much bag, but get one that will accommodate a little more than what you have. This will give you more options as you expand your system, or can provide room for non-photographic doo-dads like snacks, a change of clothes, etc.
Also read: 12 Camera Bag Essentials at the Adorama Learning Center.
Here are several bags that are extremely well-suited for different modes of travel, all available at the Camera and Gear Cases department at Adorama. Keep in mind that the prices and availability of the bags listed below are accurate as of November 14, 2012.
Ape Case Pro Digital SLR/Laptop Case
Adorama price: $86.66
Here is a guide to the major camera bag categories, and the advantages and disadvantages of each plus a few recommended models. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but merely a starting point:
Carry-on roller bags
Designed for air travel, these bags are sized to fit in overhead carry-on stow-away compartments on commercial airliners. They have extending pull handles, built-in wheels, and the best of ‘em have customizable compartments so you can create snug nests for your valuable cameras, lenses and other gear. There are some combination backpack/wheel models, but the pull handle and wheels do add extra weight while taking away some interior space (a typical roller bag that converts to a backpack can weigh over 13 pounds, while a similar-sized backpack can way around 4 pounds). If you’re flying to a destination, consider using a roller bag for the flight, and a shoulder bag, fanny pack, or backpack bag once you get there.
Advantages: They are a great idea of you spend a lot of time at airports and are hauling a lot of heavy equipment, and certainly can save your back since it literally takes the weight off your shoulders.
Disadvantages: Many bags are not suitable for rough terrain, and it isn’t easy to quickly access your gear.
ThinkTank Takeoff Check-in
Adorama price: $349.75
ThinkTank makes an impressive line of travel-friendly roller camera bags. The Check-In has room for up to a 300mm f/2.8 lens, two pro-sized DSLRs, and a variety of other lenses, flashes and gadgts, (including a place for a monopod or tripod) yet it is sized to meet the requirements for both US and international airlines for carry-on luggage. Tuck in the handles and pull out the side straps and it converts into a backpack.
Tamrac SpeedRoller 2x Big Wheels Rolling Digital Camera and Computer Case
Adorama price: $399.95
Designed to protect and carry heavy camera gear and a laptop across diverse terrain, Big Wheels SpeedRollers, are extremely tough and protective. Travel photographers will appreciate the oversized wheels, which provide excellent mobility. This spacious bag can accommodate two pro DSLRs with lenses attached, 4-6 additional lenses, accessories and a laptop.
LowePro Rolling CompuTrekker Plus AW Photo Backpack
Adorama price: $182.35
LowePro’s roller bag has room for a pro DSLR or medium-format system, 4-5 lenses including a long telephoto, assorted gadgets, and even a notebook computer with up to a 15.4-inch screen. As with the ThinkTank Check-In, the CompuTrekker Plus AW can be easily converted into a backpack. It has adjustable, padded dividers, mesh pockets, and an all-weather cover to protect the gear inside from rain. LowePro also offers a system of add-on pouches for small accessories, lenses, water bottles, and the like.
Backpacks are preferable over, say, shoulder bags, because they evenly distribute the weight across your back (the well-designed ones have lumbar support). You can get models made of rugged ballistic nylon, and some models have water-repellant hoods that will protect your gear in a downpour. Backpacks come in sizes that can accommodate a single DSLR and lens up to large versions that can hold an extensive rig with telephoto lenses and a tripod. If you’re planning on hauling a lot of gear, be sure to get a backpack that offers additional support such as a snap-belt that goes around the torso. Most modern bags have places for water bottles, iPods, and even computers as well as cameras.
Advantages: Backpacks go anywhere, and are great for hiking and nature photography excursions. They also don’t necessarily look like camera bags, which could be useful if you’re in a dicey neighborhood or a place where there are a lot of pickpockets where you don’t want to broadcast that you’re a photographer and are carrying lots of expensive gear.
Disadvantages: Because the equipment is on your back, accessing your gear quickly can be a challenge. Some models are “sling” type bags, which will swing around to the front so you can simply reach in and grab what you need.
Kata D-Light Bumblebee 210
Adorama price: $149.89
Kata is a pioneer in innovative, thoughtful bag design, and was one of the first companies to offer brightly-colored interiors so you can more easily find stuff that disappears in darker compartments. The D-Light has an adjustable sternum strap for better back comfort during long treks, and its internal TST Rib protects equipment inside from bumps and shock. Customizable via movable dividers, the bag allows front, top and side access to your gear so you can pull out what you need quickly. And yes, there’s a compartment for a 15-inch laptop.
Vanguard Up-Rise 45
Adorama price: $124.99
Lightweight and flexible, the Vanguard Up-Rise was recently awarded TIPA’s camera bag of the year 2010, thanks to its ability to expand in size to accommodate new gear as you expand your system. This is done via a zipper expansion system. The Up-Rise also has a raincover, is filled with pockets for memory cards and doodads, and has a bright orange interior so you can find your stuff more quickly.
When you think of camera bags, you probably think of the traditional shoulder bags like the Domke F-2, which is one of the longest-lived lines of camera bags. But there’s been an evolution in shoulder bag design. Most travelers would rather not carry their gear in a bag that calls attention to itself or to the possibility that it holds valuable photographic gear, and there’s a trend these days towards more fashionable bags that look like anything but camera bags. Shoulder bags come in sizes that accommodate anything from a compact camera or small DSLR with a kit lens to a fully appointed pro rig with multiple lenses, flash and cameras. Material ranges from canvass to ballistic nylon. Look for quiet pocket snaps if you want to shoot without being noticed, and if you expect to do a lot of outdoor shooting, consider a model with a rain hood.
Advantages: Shoulder bags let you grab your gear quickly without needing to take the bag off your shoulder, as is needed with most backpacks.
Disadvantage: Weight is unevenly distributed, which can cause back or shoulder pain after a full day of carrying heavy gear around Guadalajara or Mexico City (or anywhere, for that matter).
Domke F-2 Original Camera Bag
Adorama price: $143
While most camera bags offer a ton of padding, the padding can take up room, and so the Domke F-2 was designed with thin dividers that save space and allow for more gear in a smaller bag. It’s a well-built, basic bag with 12 compartments and pockets, and has stood the test of time for working photojournalists. It’s a bag that practically screams out “I’m a photographer,” which is fine if you’re running with the press pack.
Think Tank Retrospective 7 Shoulder Bag
Adorama price: $154.75
This distressed messenger-style bag has enough space for your standard DSLR with a 24-70 mm f/2.8 attached and a 70-200 mm f/2.8 by its side. You'll also have enough room left over for your flash and other accessories. The coolest features are Tank's unique "Sound Silencers": panels located under the main flap which can be deployed to eliminate the "ripping" sound of the touch fasteners when you need to access the interior. Perfect for shooting in quiet venues!
Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home
Adorama price: $145
Crumpler has been at the forefront of the trend away from camera bags that look like camera bags. The 7 Million Dollar Home looks trendy but holds a pro-level DSLR and three lenses and two flash units (see open photo below, right), enough to handle most travel photography situations. It’s made of water-resistant nylon, and has a fastener silencer so you can work unobtrusively.
Jill-e Medium Bone Leather with Red Leather Trim Camera Bag
Adorama price: $199.99
The Jill.e, which was designed by and for female photographers, looks like a purse. But the Medium sized one shown here can hold two cameras, two flashes, two lenses, and a full run of miscellaneous cards, batteries, cables, straps and so on. It’s made of leather and while it certainly doesn’t broadcasts that you’re a photographer, it might be considered a tempting pickpocket target because, well, it looks like a purse.
Fanny Packs (also called belt packs, belly bags, hip sacks, etc) are camera/gear bags that live on a belt and can hang either on your backside or, more likely, right in front. The best designs allow you to reach right in and immediately access your stuff. While earlier bags were smaller capacity, newer models can hold a surprising amount of gear. They tend to be fairly comfortable when biking or hiking.
Advantages: Fanny packs, when worn in front, are less likely to be pick-pocketed than backpacks or shoulder bags. They allow the fastest access to gear, and many also have rain hoods so they can protect your equipment in a downpour.
Disadvantages: If you’re fashion-conscious, forget about it; fanny packs may make you look like, well, a dork. They also call attention to the fact that you’re a tourist. Nevertheless, their practicality may mean neither of the above disadvantages matter much.
Lowepro Outback 200 AW
Adorama price: $77.95
Designed for photographers who want to keep their payloads in front of them, the Outback 200 AW holds a pro DSLR with standard zoom lens (up to 70-200mm f/2.8) attached; two additional lenses or flash; and has plenty of pockets for extra gear and accessories such as memory cards and cables. It has a fast-access lid that lets you get to your gear fast, and offers modular expansion storage units so you can carry even more. The Outback 200 can also be worn as a shoulder bag with the optional shoulder strap.
Ape Case Compact DSLR Top Load Holster
Adorama price: $20.98
The Ape Case is just big enough to hold a DSLR and a kit zoom lens, or a self-contained EVF camera. It has a rainproof hood so if you are going to questionable climates you have a small, convenient place to protect your camera. But remember: If it's not raining, keep the camera out, or you may miss shots!