To understand the amazing, recent evolution in camera bag design, we have to take a look at what’s happening in the camera and lens markets—and how photographers are expanding their creative picture-taking horizons.
On the DSLR scene, many serious enthusiasts and pros are opting for full-frame models, wide-aperture prime lenses and long, fast zoom lenses in the 70–200mm f/2.8 class. Mirrorless cameras in both full-frame and APS-C formats are definitely the hot ticket among serious shooters. They are attracted to the category’s enticing combination of compact form and enhanced performance, especially in terms of sizzling burst rates and 4K video capture. And many advanced photographers now consider a laptop or tablet to be an essential field accessory to facilitate image upgrade, storage and sharing on the fly.
As a result of these trends, the current crop of over-the-shoulder and sling-type camera bags, and innovative photo backpacks, are precision engineered and precisely targeted at specific niches of the consumer market. In addition, the increasing popularity of outdoor, wildlife and adventure photography has resulted in an exciting generation of brilliantly designed, high-tech photo backpacks aimed at this expanding, lucrative segment. And with the profusion of pro, enthusiast and compact consumer DSLRs, as well as mirrorless cameras, there is a need to accommodate a wider variety of outfits and accessories. This has resulted in ingeniously versatile carry systems that enhance the convenience and flexibility of configuring their compartments.
Other significant bag trends include: laptop/tablet compartments; an increased ability to accommodate long lenses mounted on the camera; impact-absorbing layers or inserts to protect delicate equipment and computer screens; various access points that enable photographers to remove the equipment they need without disturbing the rest; ruggedized and water-repellent materials; plus more effective closures and sealing.
The overall quality of construction, finish and materials used in the latest camera bags is better than ever. And many of today’s best bags offer a fetching combination of sophistication, performance, rugged durability and fashion-forward styling.
Heads up for retailers: While many photographers are focused on bags that accommodate their entire outfit, many will be better served by acquiring two or three different-sized bags that hold only what they need for a specific shoot. Suggesting this approach is a great way to serve the needs of your customers while bolstering your bottom line!
Herewith is our carefully culled roundup of current camera bags from 11 leading manufacturers, giving you a good overview of this crucial market segment.
Camera Bags That Carry & Protect
Domke Next Generation Chronicle. In the Domke tradition of convenience and innovation, the Chronicle from Domke’s Journalist series adds ingenious features. These include PocketFlex, a unique system of movable pockets, pouches and patches that adhere to interior surfaces for personalizing storage. And GearProtex is an exclusive, customizable insert system with bendable, self-adhering separators for organizing the interior. The attractive, commodious bag holds a DSLR with a 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 secure luggage strap and antique steel closures. Other features include: side rain hoods; a padded, zippered sleeve that accommodates 8×11-inch objects; expandable front pockets; a “quiet” Velcro closure; detachable gripper-type shoulder and grab straps; and YKK zippered closures. Exterior dimensions, 15.8x7x10 inches; weight, 4.3 pounds. $319.95 in canvas or Cordura; $349.95 in weather-resistant RuggedWear. tiffen.com
Billingham Hadley Pro. This stylish shoulder bag is constructed of FibreNyte and leather with leather straps. It holds a DSLR with a long lens like a 70–200mm f/2.8 and a flash in its removable camera insert. The insert has touch-fastened dividers and attaches inside the main compartment. Dual expandable slip pockets on the front accommodate accessories, and there’s a back zippered pocket. A quick-release system allows users to open and close the bag quickly and securely, and the buckles allow them to fine-tune the “fit” of the front pockets. Other features include: a rain flap secured by hand-finished leather straps with brass buckles; a padded, adjustable shoulder strap plus a comfortable, robust top fixed handle; and a Hadley Pro removable divider set of two large and two small dividers. Exterior dimensions, 13.8×4.8×11 inches; weight, 2.2 pounds. $259 in FibreNyte and leather or canvas and leather. billingham.co.uk
Manfrotto Advanced. This versatile backpack can be used as a camera backpack, a laptop backpack or as a protective camera case. The lower part is dedicated to photographic equipment and safely holds a pro DSLR with three lenses, including a 70–200mm f/2.8, using the Manfrotto Protection System. For security, the camera compartment’s zipper hides on the pack’s backside, close to the body. With interchangeable dividers, the compartment can be removed, transforming the bag into a daypack by unzipping its upper and lower sections. Other features include: a front pocket for a 13-inch laptop, A4 documents, a 10-inch tablet and small book; a side pocket for a notebook and water bottle; an upper compartment for additional documents and personal items; lockable zippers; and padded shoulder straps with sternum and waist straps for carry comfort. Also provided are a tripod compartment, a side pocket for a small tripod and a rain cover. Exterior dimensions, 17.7×12.6×7.5; weight, 3 pounds. $159.99. manfrotto.us
Tamrac Corona 26. The signature feature of this handy, midsize backpack is that it converts from a traditional backpack to a left- or right-handed sling bag. It accommodates a pro DSLR with battery grip, lenses and accessories in the main compartment with touch-fastening dividers. A rear compartment holds a laptop or tablet, and a zippered top compartment holds items for quick access. Gear can be accessed from the top, front or sides, enhancing convenience in the field. Plus, there’s a seam-sealed rain cover, and zippered compartments handle smaller items underneath the top and front lids. Other features include: attachment points for securing a tripod; the ability to add ARC/MOLLE (belt system) attachments; a padded top handle; an airflow shoulder harness with adjustable straps; and a sternum strap for added comfort. It’s constructed of 500D Cordura and has YKK zippers and pulls. Exterior dimensions, 18.9×12.6×9.8 inches; weight, 3.5 pounds. $189.95. tamrac.com
Think Tank Photo Retrospective 5. This cool, retro-styled shoulder bag is aimed at photographers carrying a small DSLR outfit (a body and 1–3 lenses) or a mirrorless system. A zippered inner pocket holds an 8-inch tablet, dividers customize the interior, and a large front flap conceals and protects contents. Other features include: “sound silencer” hook-and-loop closures; antiqued, nickel-plated hardware; an organizer pocket; two collapsible internal pockets for a flash or small accessories; a back pocket for maps, notebooks, etc.; outside webbing loops for adding attachments; a removable carrying handle; an adjustable, nonslip, cushioned shoulder strap; and seam-sealed rain cover. Its sand-washed 100% cotton canvas exterior is treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating, and its fabric underside is polyurethane coated for water resistance. Exterior dimensions, 10×8.5×6 inches; weight, 2.3 pounds. $144.75. thinktankphoto.com
Tenba Cooper 13 Slim. This understated slim-line messenger bag is surprisingly commodious. It fits a mirrorless camera with 3–5 lenses or a DSLR with 2–3 lenses, including a 70–200mm f/2.8. A rear, padded sleeve fits a 13-inch laptop. A top zipper allows quick access to equipment without opening the front flap, while a second zippered closure provides added security. A rain flap folds down for weatherproof coverage, plus a removable, reversible WeatherWrap rain cover is reflective silver on one side and black on the other. Other features include: a zippered cell phone pocket in the main flap; expandable side pockets; a slide-out, padded camera insert; pockets for cables; MOLLE-compatible side loops to attach accessory pouches; a rear trolley strap for piggyback travel; YKK zippers; and a waterproof leather base. The bag is constructed of peach-wax cotton canvas with water-repellent PU coating. Exterior dimensions, 14.5×10.5×5.5 inches; weight, 2.6 pounds. $229.95. tenba.com
Porta Brace BKS-2XM. This soft, photo backpack holds a complete DSLR system or big video rig along with a 17-inch laptop. The noteworthy feature of this robust, made-in-the-USA backpack is its ability to expand up to 4 inches in length and 3 inches in depth to make extra room for long lenses and additional accessories. It has interior dividers for customizing the main compartment, and the front of the pack opens for easy access. Other features include: an organizer compartment inside the front flap; wide, padded, adjustable shoulder straps; D-rings for securing accessories; a side tripod pocket and cinch; and a large side storage pocket. The pack is constructed of 100-denier Cordura. Exterior dimensions, 25.75×16.5×11.5; weight, 5 pounds. $389. portabrace.com
Artisan & Artist GI-MN. This soft camera case is optimized for carrying a compact DSLR, a mirrorless camera or a rangefinder body with a lens attached. Beautifully crafted, the elegant, lightweight camera bag can be carried using one of the hand straps located on either end or conveniently toted in a larger bag. It’s made of strong, durable nylon and has a dual-zipper closure as well as an attractive red liner. Exterior dimensions, 6.9×4.7×3.9 inches; weight, 2.5 ounces. $110. artisan-n-artist.com
Vanguard Up-Rise II 16Z. The chief attraction of this handsome compact bag is its ability to accommodate a DSLR with a 70–200mm f/2.8 lens attached in its interior cradle along with accessories. Its zippered, vertical expansion system adds storage depth, and a quick-release buckle reinforces the expansion zipper when it’s not in use. Other features include: a strong padded top handle; a removable, nonslip shoulder strap that’s compatible with an optional ICS belt; a rain cover; an expandable side pocket and webbing; internal accessory pockets; a front, exterior zippered pocket; side attachment webbing to accommodate a lens pouch; and easy front accessibility. The bag is constructed of durable polyester with a soft polyester and velvet interior. Exterior dimensions, 7.5×6.8×11.8 inches; weight, 1.1 pounds. $64.99. vanguardworld.us
Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II. With convenient side access to equipment, this spacious midsize backpack holds a DSLR camera with zoom lens attached and a combination of 2–3 extra lenses or flash units. There’s also room for a 15-inch laptop plus tablet. Extra protection is afforded by a built-in AW cover (all weather) and a CradleFit device compartment. It includes three adjustable padded dividers for configuring the main compartment and five slip-in pockets inside. Also provided are a lanyard with a swiveling key clip, an expandable exterior mesh pocket that can hold a water bottle or tripod/monopod, and an adjustable strap for securing the end of a tripod to the pack. Other features include: an adjustable shoulder harness with a removable waist belt; back panel straps for securing the pack to a trolley handle; a security flap with quick-release buckles; and a rugged carrying handle. Exterior dimensions, 12.2×10.2×19.7 inches; weight, 4 pounds. $129.95. lowepro.com
Sirui DayTripper 15. This stylish, minimalist backpack will accommodate a 15-inch laptop and a 10-inch tablet along with a standard-size DSLR or full-frame mirrorless camera with zoom lens attached and two additional lenses. It also provides a top compartment that can be used for personal items such as a sweater, notebook, wallet, etc., and a pouch for holding a water bottle or the company’s signature product—a Sirui tripod. Other features include: an ergonomic, adjustable shoulder harness; an air-run ventilation system to keep the wearer’s back cool; a rain cover; and an exclusive Twiz-Lock security system to deter theft of its contents. Exterior dimensions, 12.6×18.9×7.1 inches; weight, 2.67 pounds. $159.95. sirui.com