Camera Bags and Cases for the Contemporary Photographer

Camera Bags and Cases for the Contemporary Photographer


Camera bags, photo backpacks and carry gear have come a long way, and the best ones are now precision-engineered products designed with extensive hands-on input from end users.

They are also now precisely targeted at specific niches of the consumer market. For example, the increasing popularity of outdoor, wildlife and adventure photography has resulted in an exciting generation of brilliantly designed high-tech photo backpacks. And with the profusion of pro, enthusiast and compact consumer DSLRs as well as mirrorless compact system cameras with interchangeable lenses, there’s a need to accommodate a wider variety of outfits. This has resulted in some ingenious new systems that vastly enhance the convenience and flexibility of configuring the bags’ compartments.

Other significant trends in camera carrying gear include: the inclusion of laptop/tablet compartments, reflecting the way today’s digital photographers operate in the field; impact-absorbing layers or inserts to protect delicate equipment and computer screens; various access points to enable photographers to choose the equipment they need without disturbing the rest; and ruggedized, water-repellant materials plus more effective closures and sealing to better protect equipment in inclement weather.

It’s also noteworthy that the overall quality of construction, finish and materials of the latest crop of camera bags has definitely come up several notches over many previous products. This is a sure sign that the camera bag market is not only becoming more sophisticated but also more competitive.

Here’s our selection of the coolest camera bags from a wide variety of manufacturers.

Tamrac Explorer 41.
Constructed of 600D polyester, this classically styled shoulder bag has an adjustable, removable shoulder strap and a sturdy grab handle designed to accommodate a compact DSLR or CSC plus lenses and flash. The camera is held with the lens facing downward in the shooting position, and a front pocket features Tamrac’s Memory and Battery Management system that uses red flags to quickly identify fresh batteries and media cards. There’s a zippered organizer for small items, and top access is provided using a convenient front snap coupler. A side pocket holds a water bottle or mobile phone. The Explorer 41 can be configured using movable interior dividers, and it comes with a rain cover that keeps the contents dry in inclement weather. Exterior dimensions, 9.2×6.5×8 inches; weight, 1 lb. 3 oz. $53.95.

Lowepro Pro Roller x300 AW. Designed for pros and serious enthusiasts traveling with a full complement of gear, this commodious roller bag accommodates two large DSLRs with grips plus 8–10 lenses, a 17-inch laptop, a tripod and accessories. It comes with a removable Reserve Pack and features Lowepro’s patent-pending MaxFit divider system that’s configured to hold a maximum amount of gear securely in a minimum amount of space. Other features include: an impact-protective hard shell exterior; vibration-absorbing ABEC-5-rated smooth-glide wheels; leather top- and side-grab handles, including a dual-button trolley handle; and a built-in all-weather (AW) cover. The x300 AW is constructed of 1680D ballistic nylon and 1000S striped nylon. Exterior dimensions, 17×10.5×25.4 inches; weight, 14.5 lbs. $479.99.

Note: As we went to press, Lowepro unveiled the Echelon line of luxury, fashionable pro cases: the Roller ($800), Attaché ($420) and Brief ($340). The limited edition series is wrapped in 840 denier black nylon and comes with YKK RC-Fuse locking zippers, TSA-approved locks, the MaxFit system and removable AW covers.

Domke Next Generation Chronicle.
Continuing the Domke tradition of field functionality, the Chronicle adds ingenious features such as PocketFlex—an innovative system of movable pockets, pouches and patches that adhere to interior surfaces for personalizing storage—and GearProtex, a customizable insert system that uses bendable, self-adhering separators for organizing the interior space. Described as “the grandchild of the classic Domke F-2,” this rugged bag holds a DSLR with 70–200mm lens plus three additional lenses and a flash. It provides top access with a double zipper, a rear slide pocket, an expandable zippered side pocket, a luggage strap, a key-ring strap and antique steel hardware closures. It has side rain hoods, a padded zippered sleeve that accommodates objects up to 8×11 inches, expandable front pockets, a “quiet” Velcro silencer on its closure, a detachable gripper-type shoulder and grab strap, plus YKK zippered closures. Exterior dimensions, 15.8x7x10 inches; weight, 4.3 lbs. $319.95 in canvas or Cordura black; $349.95 in weather-resistant Ruggedwear.

Mountainsmith Tour FX.
This handsome, lumbar-format bag can be worn on the waist using its handy tuck-away waist belt or carried over the shoulder using a detachable shoulder strap. It will accommodate a DSLR, four lenses and a flash unit, has padded interior dividers, a clamshell opening with zippered closure, an air-mesh foam back panel, and a side-mounted water bottle pocket. It employs a Delta Compression load adjustment system, and it’s constructed of 500d S-Kodra high-tenacity nylon with a water-resistant exterior. It also comes with a removable rain cover and accessory attachment straps to hold lens cases, etc. The Tour FX is claimed to provide a 10L carrying capacity. Exterior dimensions, 9.8×12.5×6.5 inches; weight, 2 lbs. 1 oz. $99.95.

Manfrotto Off road 30L. This attractive, form-fitting backpack looks compact, but it can hold quite a bit, including a pro DSLR with a 70–200mm f/2.8 lens plus an extra lens. It features a removable, protective camera case padded with Manfrotto’s protection system. It stows at the base of the backpack and is easily accessed via a zippered flap to keep the center of gravity low to improve balance and reduce fatigue on the trail. A front camera strap allows users to carry a camera secured to their chest, avoiding neck strain. Clothing, food and personal items store in the main upper compartment, and a large flap on top provides weather protection. There’s also a side pocket for larger tripods and elastic cords for smaller ones. Two adjustable shoulder straps in molded 3D foam have adjustable chest straps and quick connects, and there’s a padded, adjustable waistband for maximum comfort when hiking. Exterior dimensions, 21.7×11.8x 9.5 inches; weight, 4.9 lbs. $199.99 in red, green, gray or blue.

MindShift Gear rotation180º Panorama.
MindShift, founded by the creators of Think Tank Photo and conservation photographer Daniel Beltra, has an outdoor focus. The Panorama, claimed to be the first 180º, lightweight, rotating backpack, uses patented technology to enable photographers to access gear without taking off the pack. Its rotating belt pack portion holds an SLR with a short zoom lens attached plus two lenses, or up to four lenses with a CSC. It features: three tripod-carrying options; a large hydration reservoir pocket; a top pocket for jacket, gloves, etc.; a removable belt pack that can be worn separately; and a breathable, padded airflow harness with daisy chain that includes an adjustable sternum strap and load lifters. It also incorporates YKK zippers. It is constructed of 420D/210D velocity nylon and 420D high-density nylon using three-ply bonded nylon thread. Exterior dimensions (backpack), 9.8×19.7×8.3 inches; weight (backpack and belt pack), 2.9 lbs. $199.99 in charcoal or blue.

Pelican ProGear U160 Urban Elite Half Case.
Its name is a mouthful, but this camera backpack is based on an ingeniously concise concept: integrating one of Pelican’s signature waterproof, crushproof, O-ring-sealed hard cases and a ballistic nylon soft bag into an ergonomic backpack. The case features a padded divider to protect a camera body, lenses and flash, and with the dividers removed it becomes a travel pack that accommodates a day’s worth of gear. The padded upper compartment has room for hard drives, cables, etc., and a pocket for storing a tablet. Both storage compartments sport a yellow interior for visibility. Other features include: tripod carrier straps; side pockets; an aluminum S-curve spine and load lifters for easier carrying; and a removable waist belt to distribute the load. It’s constructed of 900-denier ballistic nylon. Exterior dimensions, 19.5×13.5×9-inch; weight, 7.1 lbs. $199.

Zing Designs Large SLR Cover. Here’s something that’s completely different from the typical camera case. It’s a sleek, lightweight, form-fitting neoprene camera cover that resembles a “soft” DSLR. It stretches over the lens and body of most consumer DSLRs, secures without buckles, zippers or snaps, and fits a range of lens lengths and camera bodies. The case bottom attaches to the body using an existing camera strap (not included) via keeper loops sewn into the case. The top is secured to the bottom with thumb release clips and swings out of the way while shooting. The Zing’s patented latch system secures the cover snugly, providing maximum protection with minimal bulk (it weighs a mere 5 oz.). Its heavy-duty neoprene construction provides an excellent combination of cushioning protection and weather resistance, and the folded cover stows easily in a jacket or bag. $24.99 in gray or blue.

Nanuk 935 Protective Case.
This crushproof, waterproof hard case is fabricated of lightweight NK-7 resin, and its foam insert can be easily configured to accommodate a DSLR with attached lens, two additional lenses and a flash. Its multilayered, cubed insert consists of prescored squares that can be removed to match the shape of equipment, and the case is also dustproof and locks with a Powerclaw latching system. Other features include: stainless steel hardware; polyurethane wheels; retractable pull handle and spring-loaded grab handle; an automatic valve to equalize pressure using micro vents; a waterproof gasket; a molded-in bezel system for installing an optional panel kit; an integrated lid; and an optional padded dividers insert to replace the foam insert. Exterior dimensions, 22x14x9 inches; weight, 11.6 lbs. $149.99 in yellow, graphite, gray, orange, black or olive.

Gura Gear Bataflae 18L.
A more compact version of the Bataflae 26L, this nicely crafted, well-finished backpack accommodates a pro DSLR, medium-format or video camera plus a 300mm f/2.8 lens or a long zoom, and there’s even a dedicated pocket for an 13-inch laptop, tablet or iPad. It includes a MOLLE (modular lightweight load carrying equipment) side strap with connection points to attach a tripod or monopod in any one of several locations. Other features include: quick-hook side straps for attaching pouches and lens cases to its exterior; two full-length exterior pockets for documents; an interior, movable divider system; multiple mesh pockets for assorted incidentals; and robust shoulder straps. The pack is constructed of 420D dia square nylon with 2x polyurethane backing and 100D robic diamond nylon with polyurethane backing. It uses YKK zippers throughout and high-grade Woojin hardware and pullers. Exterior dimensions, 12x17x9 inches; weight 4.2 lbs. $299 in gray, black or tan.

Think Tank Photo Urban Approach 5
. Aimed at the swelling range of mirrorless compact system camera shooters, this sleek shoulder bag will hold one medium to large mirrorless body with lens attached, one to three additional lenses, and an 8-inch tablet. Other features include: a wide opening for easy access; a dual-cross buckle for added security; silent hook-and-loop closures plus YKK fuse zipper closures; stretchable side pockets; a padded, nonslip shoulder strap; a front pocket organizer; an adjustable, removable grab handle; a rear notebook pocket; and seam-sealed rain cover. The Urban Approach 5 is constructed of 1680D ballistic nylon with a water-repellant DWR coating, metal hardware, a nylon seatbelt and BBG leather accents. Exterior dimensions, 10.2×7.9×5.5 inches; weight, 1.4 lbs. $119.75.