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I am sure, that like me, many of you, when looking to buy a new camera, spend hours, pouring over reviews, brochures and forum opinions as well as trying the camera out. I wonder though, how many of us do the same when choosing a camera bag. When you think about it, all your high precision and highly expensive equipment is being put into that bag, but not only that, you are carrying all that weigh around for what could be many hours a day. A camera bag needs to protect it’s valuable cargo as well as feeling comfortable on you. In this article, we will take a look at some of the things to look for in a camera bag.
Camera bags can be more or less placed into three categories, the traditional over the shoulder bags, backpack style bags and hard cases. For most people, the choice will be from over the shoulder or backpacks and which one you choose is very much down to what you prefer.
Over the shoulder camera bags were the mainstay of photographers for many years. They come in a variety of sizes and styles. In recent times, companies like Crumpler have modernized the ergonomics of these bags as well as making them more stylish. The advantages of shoulder bags are that they are easier to access whilst on the move, the camera equipment remains perpendicular to the ground, meaning there is less movement of the equipment inside the bag, and that you can get bags in bigger sizes than backpacks. Some of the disadvantages are that they can get uncomfortable when carrying a heavy load for long times, they can be somewhat unwieldy in confined spaces and as they look like camera bags, they can be more attractive to thieves.
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Backpacks are a more recent addition and have taken a major foothold in the business. The main advantage is that they are generally more comfortable over longer periods and they are more discrete, they can look just like an ordinary backpack. Counter to this is that for most backpacks you will need to remove them from your back to access your gear, the equipment can shift around in the bag and they have a smaller capacity.
So what are the things to look for in a camera bag? The two main things, come back to what we discussed at the top, protection and comfort. A good camera bag should have a strong thick, semi rigid shell with plenty of padding. Inside there should be plenty of dividers to enable you to set the bag up to suit your equipment load for the day. These dividers should also be good quality and well padded. Some but not all bags have a degree of waterproofing and this is well worth investing in, especially if most of your photography is based outdoors, others may also have waterproof covers. Another thing to look for, security wise is lockable zips, this is extremely useful when, for instance, using public transport.
In terms of comfort, one of the biggest mistakes people make is to try the bag in the shop, without any equipment in it. To truly make sure it is the right bag, you must test it as you would use it, i.e. fully loaded. Make sure the straps are highly adjustable and have a degree of padding. Adjust the bag for your body size, both backpacks and shoulder bags should not sit too high on you, and you should be able to adjust the bag to get a good, comfortable center of gravity. Check how easy it is to access your equipment quickly, a clumsily designed bag could lead to lost shots.
Some of the other things to consider in a bag are, does it have a laptop pocket. If so, will your laptop fit it? Some are designed for screens up to 17 inches but 15 inches is the norm. Do you often carry a tripod? If so look for a bag that has external tripod straps, also check whether these are conveniently placed. A photographer can never have enough pockets, make sure your bag has plenty of well laid out nooks and crannies to store your accessories, batteries, filters, memory cards etc. For the outdoor photographer, a water bottle holder is a great addition.
The camera bag is probably the most utilized and least appreciated of all our photographic equipment. We live with it day in day out, yet give little consideration to what it provides us with. Next time you are in the market for a new bag, take a longer, more considered approach to the purchase and make sure you get the bag that is just right for you.
Jason Row is a British born travel photographer now living in Ukraine. You can follow him on Facebook or visit his site, The Odessa Files. He also maintains a blog chronicling his exploits as an Expat in the former Soviet Union