How To Choose The Best Camera Bag

Camera bags are a tricky thing, they range in price from $10 to over $1,000 depending on quality, size, and of course brand.  They make different types of bags for every situation, hiking, flying, biking, jogging, work commuting, and Quidditch playing are just a handful of the different bags to choose from.  Needless to say, there is no shortage of options when it comes to protecting your precious ring I mean camera (that’s right, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings reference in the first paragraph).

First thing is first (stupid saying, of course it is), let’s narrow our options down to the 5 main types of camera bags.  The messenger bag, the backpack, the fanny-pack, the suitcase, and finally the Hybrid bag.

Messenger Bag

The messenger bag is the over the shoulder or across the body solution for those of you who like the comfort of a camera bag but don’t want to look like you’re actually toting around a camera.  Messenger bags come in all different flavors from leather to pleather, suede, or even squirrel alligator skin.

When you think of messenger bags you might think of those bike messengers you see in cities toting important information from building to building by dodging and weaving between moving traffic as if their lives depend on it.  I’ll be honest though, messenger bags on bikes sounds like it would be a great idea but it actually kind of sucks.  The weight shifts and if you don’t have the length of the strap just right it gets caught on your bike seat or shifts around and hits your handle bars.  I’m sure someone somewhere is reading that last sentence saying “no way!  I love riding bikes all over the earth with my messenger bag” and that’s great…  Different strokes for different folks.

I recently reviewed one of the best messenger bags made, the ONA Union Street Camera and Laptop Bag, you can check out that review here.

Backpack

The backpack is one of the most versatile solutions when it comes to toting around your camera.  Having both straps on your shoulders evenly distributes the weight of your camera gear and can make a long hike bearable.  Generally back backs offer the most protection to your camera because, like turtles, humans don’t like to fall on their backs… We tend to protect our spines.

I reviewed a great backpack by Lowepro a year ago and it’s still one of my favorite bags to use (review here).  There is enough room for my camera and gear as well as some snacks to get me from point A to point B without cannibalizing my friends.  You’ll find backpacks the best option for hiking, jogging, bike-riding, climbing, and pretty much any intense activity (not to say another type of bag won’t work but the backpack would be the most secure and probably the most comfortable).

Butt Fanny Pack

These are the bags that your children (and/or spouse, friends, stranger, dogs, and cats) will chastise you for wearing.  They are silly little bags that you strap around your waist and can fit a camera with possibly a small zoom or prime lens into.  The Fanny Pack is a cross between wearing the camera around your neck with a strap or keeping it in a bag of some sort.  I’d recommend either of those before I’d recommend the fanny pack.

Fanny packs offer would be criminals a nice easy target and they make you look silly.  “But John, I don’t care what other people think!”  Great, does your family?  Do your friends?  Want to be seen in public with any of them?  Then for their sake, don’t wear a Fanny Pack.

Camera Suitcase

We’ve all heard you aren’t supposed to check your camera with your luggage because TSA may play a pick up game of soccer with your suitcase.  It’s true, they hate your luggage…  But what if you have to check your gear for an extended trip where you’ve just got too much gear to stow in your carry on?  That is where the camera suitcase comes in.  They are big, they are expensive, and they are tough.  A more fitting name would be camera chest if you ask me.

The camera suitcase is perfect for those of you that travel often and have to squeeze your gear into a car full of kids and pets or send it through the game of chance that is checked luggage.  You’ll pay a little more for a hard shell case for your gear and you’ll still need some sort of bag (most likely) to tote your gear around in once you reach your destination.

Hybrid Bag

Have you ever seen those backpacks that look like a backpack but only have one strap that goes across your body like a messenger bag does?  That is a hybrid pack.  These are fine but what is the point?  Is one strap better than two?  Two better than one?  You’re the judge.

Another type of hybrid bag is the framed backpack for the serious backpacker who needs a safe place to stow the camera as well.

Conclusion

Choosing the right backpack(s) comes down to your personal style of photography as well as activity level.  How you get to the destinations you want to photograph is just as important as they type of gear you’re taking with you.  There are many things to consider.  For instance, if you need added support for your shoulders because of a weak back you’ll want a bag with a thick, padded, waist strap to take the weight off of your shoulders and back.  Or if you sweat buckets when you’re active you’ll maybe want a messenger bag so your back doesn’t weep all over your shirt from the heat trapped by a traditional backpack.

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