8 Camera Bags For Every Photo Shoot
NOVEMBER 26, 2013
By Theano Nikitas
During a long-overdue purging of a catchall closet, I finally got rid of my first camera bag. It was more than 20 years old and, like many camera bags made back then, it was a nondescript black shoulder bag that held an SLR, a couple of lenses, a flash and a few rolls of film. It was simple, plain and functional.
Since then, the camera bag industry has evolved and photographers have a huge array of bag shapes, sizes and designs to choose from. It’s not surprising, then, that most of us already have more than one bag to accommodate various gear configurations. But there’s always room (and justification) for more, no? With that in mind, we’ve pulled together a selection of some of our favorite bags that reflect a diverse range of uses and styles.
Pelican Urban Elite U160
The Pelican Urban Elite U160 is, in some ways, the polar opposite of the Pelican Sport Elite Laptop/Camera Pro Pack S115 that we’ve covered in reviews and the recent PDN Gear Guide. While the latter offers a protective case for laptops, the U160’s crushproof Pelican case is designed to house your camera gear. Like other Pelican products, the U160’s case—which is contained within the backpack—features a watertight O-ring seal with an automatic pressure equalization valve.
The waterproof, crushproof case comes with configurable dividers and the upper section of the pack has plenty of room for accessories, a tablet and personal gear. Multiple side pockets are available and the U160 features hidden tripod attachment straps. The entire pack is supported by an aluminum S-curve spine and features a chest clip, removable waist belt, and adjustable load lifters (the latter keeps the weight close to your back for comfort and stability).
With interior dimensions of 8.95 x 7.25 x 7.28 inches, you won’t fit a full studio’s worth of gear into the crushproof case but it’s large enough to house a digital SLR body and a couple of lenses—more than enough for a day shoot. The pack’s exterior measures 20 x 13.5 x 9 inches.
Given the integrated Pelican case, it’s no surprise that the pack itself weighs about 7.11 pounds, but the extra weight is worth it if you’re shooting on or near water or when there’s a chance of heavy rain.
Gura Gear Bataflae 18L
The Bataflae 18L is Gura Gear’s compact solution for carrying big gear. In fact, it’s large enough to hold a detached 400mm f/4 lens or a 70-200mm lens attached to a pro body. The bag itself is relatively lightweight at around four pounds, and the exterior measures 12 x 17 x 9 inches with interior measurements of 11 x 16 x 6.5 inches. A configurable interior is complemented by multiple mesh pockets, full-length front pockets for miscellaneous travel accessories, a water bottle pocket, weather-sealed zippers and coating, a rain fly/ground cloth and more. The pack can be opened fully or one side at a time thanks to Gura Gear’s “butterfly” flap design.
The main compartment can be locked and a tripod can be attached on the side or the front of the pack. It meets worldwide specifications for carry-on luggage and fits into the overhead of both regional and wide-body aircraft (but double-check your airline before you fly). Available in black, gray and tan, the Bataflae 18L comes with a storage bag to keep the bag dust-free until you’re ready to hit the road again.
If you need to bring longer lenses with you, check out the larger Bataflae 26L and Bataflae 32L—the latter can accommodate up to an 800mm lens.
Prices: $299 for 18L; $399 for 26L; $449 for 32L
Ona The Bowery
This gender-neutral shoulder bag is one of our personal favorites. It’s small but stylish, easily doubles as a handbag or “man bag,” and carries just enough gear to ensure that you’re able to grab photos wherever you go. The interior is padded and fits a DSLR with a short lens attached; a second lens, small flash or a mirrorless camera; and a couple of extra lenses. Our test bag came with a single divider but others can be purchased (or you can grab an extra from one of your other bags).
Its five exterior pockets are slim in design but two of the larger pockets are protected by the bag’s foldover lid, which snaps shut. The adjustable shoulder strap is comfortable even when The Bowery is worn as a cross-body bag. The strap is detachable, so you can use the bag itself as an insert for a larger camera case.
The bag is beautifully designed, well constructed, and available in Italian tanned leather or canvas. The leather models come in Antique Cognac or Dark Truffle, while the more modestly priced canvas bags—which feature a leather strap and accents—come in Smoke, Black or Field Tan (matching camera straps can also be purchased). Be sure to check out Ona’s other bags as well—they’re equally attractive and wonderful for those times when you don’t want to sacrifice form for function.
Prices: $119 for canvas; $229 for leather
Tenba Messenger DNA 11 and DNA 15
Tenba recently announced two new Messenger camera bags: The DNA 11 and DNA 15. These weatherproof bags are equipped with a security strap so they can be attached to a bike or scooter while riding around town. If you’re traveling with a suitcase or rolling case, the Messenger DNAs’ trolley straps easily slide over the case’s handle.
Magnetic closures on the front provide quick access to the bag’s interior, while top access via a zippered opening also allows for fast gear retrieval. The Graphite-color bags are constructed of water-repellant, 600 Denier Helix fabric and come with a removable, two-sided rain cover. In addition to rain protection, the cover’s silver surface can be exposed to reflect the sun on hot days and used as a reflector when biking at night. The black side of the cover can be used for a more-subtle look.
The DNA 11 weighs 2.4 pounds, measures 13 x 9.5 x 6.5-7.5 inches (exterior) and holds up to a DSLR with two to three lenses or a mirrorless camera with three to five lenses, along with an iPad or 11-inch MacBook Air and accessories. The DNA 15 weighs three pounds, measures 15 x 10.5 x 7-8 inches (exterior) and accommodates a DSLR with an attached telephoto (up to a 70-200mm f/2.8) along with one or two other lenses, a flash, audio gear and accessories. The DNA 15 comes with two padded sleeves—one for a tablet and the other for up to a 15-inch laptop. Either way, these bags are attractive and, with the easily removable camera insert, can be used as camera bags or as all-purpose messenger bags, so you can save space in your studio, apartment or closet.
Prices: $130 for DNA 11; $160 for DNA 15
Think Tank Photo Logistics Manager 30
With over 3,500 cubic inches of storage space, the Logistics Manager 30 is Think Tank Photo’s largest capacity roller case to date. While you won’t be able to fit the kitchen sink into this rolling gear bag, you can stow just about everything else: multiple super telephoto lenses (up to 600mm f/4), multiple pro bodies, lenses, power packs, flash heads, small light stands and more.
The latest version offers a number of improvements including a reinforced lid for added protection; redesigned interior pockets (they’re now mesh instead of polyurethane plastic); a cable with a lock that doubles as a TSA zipper lock, but also works to secure the rolling case to a fixed object; and an updated serial number plate mount. With the new model, Think Tank Photo also includes 35 dividers for interior configuration.
Lots of pockets are available, including a front pocket for laptop storage (it’s unpadded, though, so be sure to put your laptop in a padded or hard case); a rain cover is included; and the case is designed with a tripod/monopod/light stand mounting system so you can attach extra gear on both sides of the bag. When opening the case, security straps—which are adjustable and removable—prevent the lid from flopping open all the way.
Although this case can carry a heavy load, Think Tank Photo has designed it with top, side and bottom handles as well as a telescoping pull handle for easier transport. If you need to bring a lot of gear on location, this may well be the bag for you.
Manfrotto Shoulder Bag 30
Manfrotto recently released a slew of new camera bags for pro photographers, as well as advanced amateurs and enthusiasts. In addition to holsters, backpacks and roller bags for pros, the new line offers shoulder bags in five different sizes.
Like its other pro products, the shoulder bags feature two methods of protecting gear: the Camera Protection System and Exo-Tough construction. The former is, essentially, a set of rigid interior dividers, while the latter is compressed layered foam used on the sides of the bag for extra protection. It’s very stiff and comes in handy when shooting at crowded events, like Fashion Week, when bags tend to get stepped on. Since the outside layer is so rigid, Manfrotto added extra padding on the inside of the bag to further protect gear.
We took the Shoulder 30—the mid-size bag—on a shoot and fit a Nikon D3s with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens attached, a couple of other lenses and the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the 12-40mm PRO lens attached. Even with personal gear packed into the bag’s pockets and interiors, the Shoulder 30 was comfortable on the shoulder and, when necessary, we used the grab handle to move it from site to site. The bag’s feet kept it steady and helped avoid contact with dust and dirt.
All of the shoulder bags have a back compartment for personal documents and a zippered top for quick access to gear, in addition to the standard zipped opening for all-access to the interior. There’s room for a tablet or laptop (depending on bag size) inside, and exterior pockets hold accessories, travel documents and other items. Everything is well constructed and well padded; in fact, it’s one of the sturdiest shoulder bags we’ve ever used. If backpacks or rollers are more your style, Manfrotto’s new line has plenty of options for you, too.
Lowepro Nova Sport AW Series
Lowepro’s new trio of weatherproof shoulder bags, the Nova Sport AW Series, feature the company’s standard Built-In All Weather AW Cover, so you won’t be caught short in inclement weather. Additionally, the configurable, removable camera insert comes with a “storm cover” that cinches closed for extra gear protection (and provides an easy way of lifting out the insert).
The bags come with a padded shoulder strap and a carry handle. One of the large exterior pockets doubles as a trolley sleeve. For extra security, two latches at the bottom of the bag’s flap snap closed and multiple storage pockets are available to stow everything from a water bottle to accessories.
The 7L, the smallest of the three models, is probably best for rangefinder-type and mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, although it accommodates a DSLR with up to an 18-55mm lens attached. There’s room for a flash and other accessories, as well as up to a seven-inch tablet.
The largest of the three, the 35L, accommodates one to two pro DSLRs with an attached lens up to 24-105mm, but you can also stow another two to four lenses (up to 70-200mm), a flash, accessories and a 13-inch MacBook. The mid-size model, the 17L, fits gear that’s too big for the 7L but doesn’t warrant the larger bag.
Constructed of 600D polyester and 210D nylon ripstop, the Nova Sport AW Series comes in two colors: Slate Gray, or if you want to add a little spice to your life, Pepper Red.
$60 for 7L; $80 for 17L; $110 for 35L
Clik Elite Contrejour 40
New from Clik Elite, a company that has more than 25 years of experience in the outdoor industry and specializes in camera bags for the adventure photographer, is the Contrejour 40 backpack. Designated as a ski or climbing pack, the Contrejour 40, along with others in Clik Elite’s Cloud Series, has been revamped for 2014. The Contrejour 40 now features lighter, more weather-resistant fabric, enhanced gear loops, and attachment points for tripods, skis and/or a snowboard, ropes, helmets and anything else you want to strap to the pack, as well as a larger side entry point for quick access to gear.
You’ll find a place for all your back country, climbing and skiing essentials as well as a complete photo kit including a pro DSLR body with up to a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, along with other lenses and a flash in the configurable, padded Cradle Zone. A mesh pouch and organizer pocket store accessories while outside pockets and sleeves are available for tripods, lightstands and other gear.
The pack is well constructed for carrying heavy loads and has all the features that an outdoor adventurer needs and wants—from an internal aluminum frame for support to compression straps, a rain cover and shoulder/sternum/belt straps. It’s also hydration-ready and can accommodate a tablet such as an iPad.
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