Who’s Got Your Bag

Who’s Got Your Bag


Working pros and photo enthusiasts are looking for camera bags and cases as sophisticated and advanced as the equipment they use, as both digital SLR and point-and-shoot camera technology continues to press forward.

Today’s camera bags offer more options than ever to protect and transport a growing range of imaging accessories photographers are using to increase their creativity and capabilities. With digital imaging creating an array of add-on accessories, from flash drives to flash units, camera bags are now must-haves, and photographers are finding the need to have a selection of bags to meet their varied needs. 

In Who’s Got Your Bag? we asked the pros what they look for in a bag and which ones they ultimately trust for their valuable equipment.

Adventures with a Pelican Photo Safari Rolling Camera Case: The Ultimate Carry-on for Pros Who Pack the Whole Kit and Caboodle

Todd Gustafson, an acclaimed nature and wildlife photographer, has probably earned more frequent flier miles than anyone you know. For the past dozen-plus years, he’s flown virtually nonstop, to places like Kenya, Rwanda, India, Brazil, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, in search of compelling images of animals in their natural habitat and the splendors of the natural world. 

National Geographic, the BBC and the Nikon Full Product Guide have published his work, and his pictures are exhibited as part the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. 

Gustafson is also an accomplished trumpet player and his musical connections have led him to take up another entirely different photographic genre—celebrity portraiture. He’s shot incisive portraits of such greats as Tina Turner and Wynton Marsalis and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

When it comes to carrying his impressive “full safari kit” of photo equipment on a plane, Gustafson has one cardinal rule based on long, hard experience—never stow your precious gear in your checked luggage; pack every bit of it in your carry-on and slide it into the overhead bin above you. 

What bag can possibly hold all this equipment securely and still be light enough to lift and small enough to stow in a height-challenged overhead compartment? Gustafson has found the answer—an ergonomic masterpiece called the Pelican Photo Safari rolling camera case (PCS383CB). No, it’s nothing like the iconic Pelican high-impact cases that are built like tanks, but it does embody the same sterling virtues of ruggedness, durability and protection, in a soft-sided rolling bag specifically designed to travel with you on the plane. 

What’s so special about the Pelican Photo Safari case that takes it to a new level of capability and convenience for serious shooters who fly? We’ll let Todd Gustafson tell you in his own words:

“Based on my extensive airline travels, I already had a pretty good idea of what I needed in a high-capacity carry-on bag before I talked to the folks at OmegaBrandess, distributors of the Pelican line. For one thing, it needed strong, high-quality, large-diameter wheels to roll smoothly over the irregular surfaces encountered in airports and in the field, and they had to be mounted outside the bag where they wouldn’t reduce the carrying capacity. They responded by designing, selecting and configuring hardware that met all of my requirements. With input from pros it was a dialog that took place over two years of development, and I am pleased to say the result is outstanding.

“What sets the Pelican Photo Safari case apart from other rolling carry-on bags? First of all, there’s no extra padding, webbing or strapping, so it’s much lighter than other bags of similar capacity. It’s easier to fit into overhead bins and it’s unlikely to be pulled out and checked due to weight restrictions. Its interior capacity is noticeably greater than other similar-sized bags due to its ergonomic efficiency, and because the wheels are mounted on the outside corners, it simply holds more. Nobody can believe I’m going on an eight-week safari with one bag that carries three pro DSLR bodies, lenses from a 10.5mm fisheye to a 600mm super telephoto, flashes and assorted electronic gear, and that none of it is in my checked luggage. 

“Another great feature is the zip-off computer bag section that has three compartments for power cords, chargers, cables, headphones, etc., and comes with its own padded shoulder strap. The Safari provides easy access to all your equipment and it’s made of a tough canvas material that’s soft, pliable and protective. I’m six feet, six inches tall, so I really appreciate the extra-long retractable handle that doesn’t tip over when you’re moving through the airport.

“Whether it’s the wilds of East Africa or the entrance to Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, the Pelican Photo Safari rolling camera case gets me there in safety and style!” omegabrandess.com 

Domke Bags and a Top WHNPA Photographer: Harrington Reveals How Domke Bags Help Him Keep an Eye on DC

John Harrington never expected to become the president of the WHNPA (White House News Photographers Association) when he arrived in the nation’s capital in 1985 as a college student. But by the early 1990s he was an up-and-coming photojournalist and chief photographer for the The World & I, a magazine aimed at movers and shakers. Shortly thereafter he signed on with the internationally renowned Black Star agency, and at 23, Harrington was the youngest photographer in the White House Press Corps. 

While he still plays a key role as a renowned Washington photographer, Harrington now covers a range of photographic genres, including location, editorial, corporate, advertising and art photography as personal expression. He’s logged thousands of miles to create compelling images of Cuba, Mexico, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and 30 states. His goal: Capturing the flavor and personality of each location while maintaining the highest level of technical quality. These high standards carry over to corporate photography, where he has taken on the role of educating influential businesspeople in the art and science of photography. 

Harrington’s memorable art images have been acquired by noted collections, and one of his pictures was printed as an inspirational poster for the Smithsonian Institution’s Air & Space Museum. A Native American, he has also completed three outstanding books for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

John Harrington tells us how he sees his mission and provides insights on how the best equipment helps him fulfill it at the highest level: “My dad was a passionate amateur photographer, and we used to shoot pictures together. He instilled that passion in me at an early age, and I always think through all the possibilities in any assignment that comes my way, formulating responses to challenges I might encounter so nothing comes as a surprise. As a photojournalist, I strive to tell the truth as it is, unencumbered by any preconceived ideas. However, I now shoot in a variety of genres—corporate, celebrity, editorial, location and, of course, personal. I tend
bounce them off each other to refresh myself, to be able to shoot the subject at hand with a fresh eye, to become excited about whatever it is that I’m photographing at the moment and not view it as just another day at the office.” 

The Domke Connection

“I shoot with full-frame Nikon D3s, three f/2.8 pro lenses and Tiffen filters. I’ve relied on Domke bags during my entire professional career and have found them to be light and easy to carry, very protective, and virtually indestructible. Currently I use two Domke J-5XB bags when covering the White House and Washington events—one slung over each shoulder. By tucking both bags in behind my shoulders, I present a slim, symmetrical profile and can dash straight ahead through crowds without bumping into people. Speed and agility are critical. When you’re traveling in a presidential motorcade, you need to move really fast. 

“By packing a lens, battery pack and other gear into the first Domke J-5XB, and strobes, cords and extra batteries into the second one, I can carry everything I need efficiently and leave the camera out so I can respond instantly. If need be, I can even squeeze a camera into either bag because they’re flexible—you can always fit one more thing into a Domke!

“My first Domke bag was a classic F-2 in brown canvas, and it’s still exceptional. It holds an incredible amount of equipment, and you always know where everything is. Like all Domke bags, it’s a totally minimalist design—everything you need and nothing you don’t. 

“I’ve now got quite a collection, including a Domke J-1 and J-2 in ballistic nylon. I’ve traveled the world with them under the most challenging conditions, and they still look practically new. I use Domke bags every day, and when it comes to combining portability and protection, they’re unsurpassed. The ballistic nylon ones keep your equipment bone-dry even in a downpour, and all of them have pockets that are strategically sized to carry exactly what you need. They’re clearly camera bags designed by pros for pros, and I guess that says it all.” tiffen.com


jill-e designs: Jack and Jill Went Up a Hill to Find a Dynamic Market Niche at the Crossroads of Fashion & Function

Jill Wight and Gail Backal met fortuitously while working on digital camera accessories at Kodak. In 2007, they launched jill-e designs, an energetic and innovative enterprise known for its enticing, beautifully crafted, high-fashion camera bags aimed at upmarket female photo enthusiasts and pros. 

However, this rapidly expanding company has responded to customer demand by adding bags for fashion-conscious males, photo backpacks optimized for female shooters, and family electronics bags. The underlying concept is stunningly simple: jill-e bags express the personality and lifestyle of those who carry them, as well as provide an efficient, protective and organized way of toting equipment.

“My husband is a veteran pro, and since I’m an experienced shooter I’d sometimes accompany him,” Backal recalls. “On these occasions I had to tote my gear in an ugly old hand-me-down bag I was ashamed to be seen with. It dressed me down instead of dressing me up! I began to conceptualize a bag that women photographers would be proud to carry, and what it would need to have, like convenient pockets for cell phones and makeup items. When I told Jill, she was right there. She already knew that fashionable camera cases aimed at women had a much greater potential than the small point-and-shoot cases then being designed, and that the fashion-forward design concept could be successfully transposed to the DSLR market.

“We mesh perfectly,” observes Backal, “because we’re like yin and yang. Jill has a sales and marketing background, and she’s very creative when it comes to exterior designs; I’m a product commercialization and management person, and I’m also a photographer so I have a functional perspective on what working photographers need. jill-e represents the ultimate fusion of both of our personalities and ideas. We put our heads together and designed the initial jill-e line of six bags—two types in three sizes, small, medium and large—and began to sell them online in early 2007. We were placing them in selected retail stores by August. The response was nothing short of phenomenal; the quantity sold vastly exceeded our forecast.

“The female market still accounts for about 85% of our consumer base,” notes Backal, “but we’re on an evolutionary track and continue to add product based on customer feedback. When men asked if we could design a bag for them, we weren’t sure what they wanted, but we soon found out. What men want is a more elegant bag in something other than the common black or brown nylon. The result is the three-bag Jack line in dark brown Colombian leather that combines our signature features of high-fashion appearance, quality construction and a masculine look. Some women like it, too.”

The jill-e line now consists of more than 24 SKUs that run the gamut from point-and-shoot video bags that retail from $20–$400, DSLR outfit bags ranging from small leather or nylon bags ($119–$169), medium-sized bags in leather or suede ($229) and large bags with wheels ($299) in leather and suede that can fit two DSLR outfits, with lenses, and a laptop. 

A big hit at PMA in Anaheim was the Clutch ($24.99), a stunning faux leather bonbon than protects a cell phone or compact point and shoot and complements evening attire. At the other end of the price/size spectrum is the Extra Large ($399) with wheels, which holds and protects three or four DSLR setups, including cameras with grips.

“The fact that we’ve successfully created a new category in the camera bag universe has been amply validated by the presence of competitors,” notes Backal, “but we know that jill-e bags are more than just bags, and we’re dedicated to evolving new products to meet the needs of this vibrant emerging category. We’ll launch two backpacks this summer that are unique designs specifically configured for women’s bodies. That’s the functional part, but since they’re jill-e designs, the exteriors will have a fashionable flair. That’s our signature feature after all, and style really never goes out of style.” jill-e.com

Think Tank Photo: Camera Bags Designed to Last a Lifetime of Everyday Use

By Jon Sienkiewicz

Think Tank products are built for photographers who use their bags every week, possibly every day,” says Doug Murdoch, bag designer extraordinaire and president of Think Tank Photo. “These are not once-a-month bags.”

Using only the highest quality materials and construction techniques, Think Tank products are designed to last a lifetime and incorporate features that make them as usable as they are durable. 

“Our product designers work directly with photographers without filtering,” Murdoch explains. “We have a commitment to photographers, not to profit or price. We listen to what photographers need and want, and build solutions for them. And we have the commitment to make photographers’ wishes and dreams come true.”

Think Tank Photo is a California-based manufacturer that designs and sells bags and accessories specifically for use by professional and advanced amateur photographers, especially those who use DSLRs. Their company motto, Be ready “before the moment,” underscores their commitment to serving the needs of pros who work hard, travel often and use notebook computers on a daily basis. Many Think Tank bags are designed to accommodate the frequent air traveler and provide protection and security in addition to travel convenience.

Designers Doug Murdoch and Mike Sturm joined forces with professional photographers Deanne Fitzmaurice and Kurt Rogers to create a company with a single-minded commitment to quality. This melding of experienced designers and veteran photographers has allowed Think Tank to create products that include the features and functions required by heavy-duty photographic use without superfluous features. Before founding Think Tank Photo, Murdoch was the vice president of design and production at Lowepro and was part owner of Fluxion, Inc., a company that designed products for Lowepro from 1992 to 2001. 

Cofounder Mike Sturm worked with Murdoch at Lowepro and Fluxion and he was the primary designer and sample maker for Lowepro’s popular DryZone 200 backpack. 

Both Murdoch and Sturm realized that the serious amateur and the pro have different equipment and transportation needs than the hobbyist. They felt that many companies were producing bags that failed to meet the needs of the pros, so they collaborated with Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Deanne Fitzmaurice and Kurt Rogers to create Think Tank Photo. 

Fitzmaurice and Rogers embodied the needs of the photographers that Murdoch and Strum wanted to reach. Fitzmaurice spent more than 18 years working as a photojournalist for the San Francisco Chronicle and has traveled the world producing photographic stories for Time, Newsweek, US News & World Report, Sports Illustrated, People and ESPN. Rogers is a veteran of the photographic trenches and has spent more than 27 years as a photojournalist with both the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Think Tank’s first product, the Airport Addicted backpack, was an enormous success with photographers. It was the first photo backpack specifically designed for air travel and sized to fit in the overhead compartments of airplanes while still protecting a top-end SLR camera and lenses. The Airport Addicted features lockable zippers and a compartment for a 15-inch laptop; it can hold large lenses like a 500mm f/4. 

The Think Tank line now includes rolling backpacks, modular harness systems, shoulder bags, laptop bags and more. In 2009, the company produced the first bags on the market aimed at the multimedia professional who utilizes digital SLR cameras for video capture.

While Think Tank products are available in about 30 countries, they cannot be found at discounters. The company pursues an aggressive marketing philosophy and offers its profitable line exclusively to photo specialty stores. “We’re not a discount brand,” says Murdoch. “Our dealers make their full margin, and since we typically command a higher price point, we deliver more gross profit dollars, too, not just percentage points.” thinktankphoto.com