A good camera bag is one of the best forms of insurance you can buy for your camera equipment. Whether you need a compact camera pouch for your slimline digicam or a professional bag to hold DSLR bodies and lenses plus accessories, choosing the ideal bag can be a daunting exercise. In this feature we look at the issues you should take into account when selecting a camera bag.

 

A good camera bag is one of the best forms of insurance you can buy for your camera equipment. Whether you need a compact camera pouch for your slimline digicam or a professional bag to hold DSLR bodies and lenses plus accessories, choosing the ideal bag can be a daunting exercise. In this feature we look at the issues you should take into account when selecting a camera bag.

Size is one of the prime factors to consider – and bigger is not necessarily better. Choose your bag to suit the equipment you wish to carry at any one time. Your camera and its accessories should fit snugly inside the bag, which should contain compartments for storing small items to prevent them from rattling about around inside and damaging lenses and monitor screens.

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Your camera and its accessories should fit snugly inside the bag, as shown in this example from Crumpler, the leading Australian designer and manufacturer.

So the first consideration before buying a camera bag is what kind of camera and how much peripheral equipment you want to store and carry. You may find you need several bags with different capacities and configurations to suit different situations. All photographers will experience times that require minimal equipment and most serious photographers have ‘lightweight’ and ‘full complement’ options.

While owners of compact digicams can usually find pouch-like bags satisfactory, DSLR owners with a couple of lenses require larger, more robust and configurable bags. These should have padded spacers that can be adjusted to accommodate lenses and extra items like spare memory cards and batteries, chargers, filters and flash units. Some photographers may also require space for a notebook computer or portable storage device.

Regardless of how much equipment you wish to carry, the main purpose of a camera bag is to protect the equipment it contains. This should include protection against the weather, impact shock and theft. Good camera bags cover all three aspects, often in different ways, as demonstrated in the examples below.

Weatherproofing can be achieved in several ways. If you require a totally waterproof case that will protect your gear even if it falls into water, a hard case with o-ring sealing is the best option. However, Lowepro’s DryZone series of backpacks and the Camera Armor Seattle series of bags are also designed to be totally waterproof, thanks to an inner lining with a water-tight closure.

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Waterproof holster bags like this Seattle Solo Dry Bag from Camera Armor are ideal for bushwalkers and photographers who participate in water-based sports.
If you simply want something that can withstand the occasional shower of rain, many bags can offer this protection. Look for bags made from canvas-like materials such as Cordura, or water-resistant nylon. Leather bags also offer good water-resistance. Check that zips are covered with water-resisting flaps and lids close completely. Some bags come with pull-over shields made from waterproof nylon that can resist heavy downpours.

Impact Shock Protection usually comes from padding, and most bags are lined with plastic foam and have padded internal compartments for additional shock absorption. Many bags have customisable interiors with tie-downs or strips of padding that attach to the inner walls – and each other – via Velcro tags. Pouches on the inner walls hold small items like filters and memory cards.

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Tie-downs and padded internal compartments provide better protection for equipment than allowing it to move freely in the camera bag.
Deterring Thieves can be difficult, particularly since most camera bags look as if they are carrying expensive equipment. However, recently, several manufacturers have begun designing camera bags that look more like handbags, purses and travel bags than dedicated camera bags. These bags may provoke less initial interest, but they won’t put off determined bag snatchers.

Bags with shoulder straps and sling-type bags that can be carried at the front of your body are safer for travellers than backpacks. It’s much easier for thieves to slash the straps of a backpack and run off with your gear than to take a bag that is worn on your front.

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A useful way to deter thieves is to use bags that don’t look like camera bags, such as this stylish offering from the Acme Made range.

Matching Your Lifestyle. It pays to consider where you are going and what you plan to do when purchasing a camera bag. If you’re a family photographer who wants a bag for carrying the camera to get-togethers and social events, a relatively lightweight model should do the job. But if you plan to take your camera travelling or on bushwalks, a rugged camera bag that can tolerate the occasional shower and withstand temperature extremes and rough handling is necessary. Look for one with a weather-resistant cover that can protect the bag and its contents if you get caught in the rain.

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A waterproof cover is a must for photographers who enjoy bushwalking or outdoor activities.

Consider a harness-style holster bag if you engage in adventurous activities and carry a SLR camera with only one, multi-purpose lens. Alternatively, backpacks are ideal for ‘outdoor’ photographers who carry several lenses and/or bodies.

Camera Pouches
Compact digicam owners can find plenty of options, including camera pouches with belt clips and/or wrist straps, small shoulder bags and clip-on pouches that can be attached to larger bags. It’s important to ensure you have adequate protection for the camera – including thick padding and a non-abrasive lining for protecting the LCD screen. Some way of securing the pouch, in the form of a wrist or shoulder strap or belt clip, is advisable.

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Camera pouches come in many styles, colours and sizes.
Compact Camera Bags
Compact camera bags are designed to accommodate a medium-sized digicam or small DSLR plus a few accessories. Some models have been designed specifically for camcorders but most can be used for either still or video cameras. The distinguishing feature of this category is that all bags hold only one camera at a time.
The range of products in this category is extremely wide and includes bags with shoulder straps and pockets for spare batteries and memory cards, bags with tripod slings and bags that don’t look anything like traditional camera bags.

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You can carry all the accessories you need for your compact digicam in a shoulder bag like this model from Tamrac.

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This compact waterproof bag from Camera Armor can also carry a compact tripod.
Camera Holsters
Holster-type bags are popular with active photographers who don’t wish to carry a lot of gear. Most are available in sizes that fit ultra-zoom digicams and small DSLR cameras with zoom lens attached, although a few models are designed to take a professional DSLR camera with large telephoto lens attached.

The advantage of these bags is quick access to the camera. Most are designed to let you flip up the lid and remove the camera in seconds, so they suit sports and wildlife photographers. Most bags in this category are designed to be clipped to a belt or carried on a shoulder strap. However, sling torso bags that can be worn on the front of the photographer’s body are a better option for serious photographers.

Waterproof covers are available for many models and some regular holster bags can be fitted with harnesses that allow them to be worn on the photographer’s chest. This provides added security in potentially dangerous places and makes the camera even quicker to get at.

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The Kata DT-213 sling torso bag is a more capacious holster type bag that is ideal for active photographers who require quick access to their equipment.

Camera Packs
Active photographers often prefer a backpack for carrying their equipment as it leaves their hands free for other tasks. There are two basic backpack styles: conventional with shoulder straps; and sling-style, which allows the bag to be moved to the front of the photographer’s body without taking it off. Backpacks come in various sizes – and price points. Smaller packs are designed for a single camera and may also provide space for an extra small lens plus memory cards, filters and batteries.

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Two affordable Traveller Backpacks: the CT200 from Glanz has a single compartment that can hold a small DSLR or large digicam; while the Optex Interceptor bag is lined with a special material that neutralizes the gases that cause equipment to corrode.

Large packs can accommodate two or more camera bodies plus five or six additional lenses and accessories. Some packs have separate compartments for laptop computers and pockets for mobile phones, GPS units or MP3 players; others can accept a range of add-on pouches. Some packs have attachments for a lightweight tripod.

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Think Tank Photo’s StreetWalker HardDrive will hold most 15-inch laptops and a Pro Size DSLR with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens attached and hood in position.
Sling-style packs have one main strap and sometimes an additional thinner tethering strap that connects to the main strap in the centre of the wearer’s chest. This type of bag is more comfortable for female photographers.

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Photographers usually find sling-style bags more comfortable to wear than standard backpacks.

Professional Bags
Professional photographers – and serious photo enthusiasts – have highly specific needs that depend on the type of work the photographer does. In most cases, the main requirement is to carry a large amount of expensive equipment safely and securely. There are many ways to achieve this objective and photographers need to decide whether they prefer interlocking handles, shoulder straps, harnesses or wheels and steering bars.

The most popular choices include large backpacks and hard or soft cases with or without wheels, or modular systems based on a belt to which pouches for individual items are attached. Most bags include facilities for carrying a laptop computer; some with special protective sleeves that can be removed if the photographer needs to work while travelling.

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Tamrac’s Ultra Pro 13 shoulder bag can hold two DSLRs with lenses attached, 4-5 extra lenses, flashes, accessories and a 15-inch laptop.

Modular systems are ideal for photojournalists and video photographers who constantly change the equipment they take on different jobs. They may include pouches for lenses, microphones, weatherproof shields. Some allow cabling for AV devices to be secured so it doesn’t get in the photographer’s way.

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Lowepro’s Street and Field system is based on an adjustable, padded belt with a quick-release buckle. A variety of SlipLock pouches can be clipped on and an optional shoulder harness is available.

Camera Bag Distributors
The following list provides details of Australian distributors for the leading camera bag brands.

Adeal: 2 Baldwin Road, Altona North, Vic. 3025; Phone: 1300 723 001
Brands: Kata, Hama, Inca, Arrow, Storm, National Geographic

Cameras Direct: Unit 21/237 Brisbane Road, Labrador, 4215; Phone: 1300 727 056 or (07) 5537 1991Brand: Jill-E

C.R. Kennedy: 663 Chapel Street South Yarra, Vic. 3141; Phone: (03) 9823 1555
Brand: Tamrac

Crumpler: 6 Chelmsford Street, Kensington, Vic. 3031; Phone: (03) 9372 1204
Brand: Crumpler

Film & Video Extras: Unit 2, 20 York Road, Ingleburn, 2565; Phone: (02) 9618 3104
Brand: Glanz

Haldex: 15 Phillips Road, Kogarah, NSW 2217; Phone: (02) 9553 8399
Brands: Haldex, Dingo Gear, Cobra, Cortina, Marco, B +W

Maxwell International Australia: Unit 6, 11-21 Underwood Road, Homebush, NSW 2141; Phone: 1300 366 499
Brands: Acme Made, Camera Armor, Lowepro, Pelican (cases)

Tasco: PO Box 221, Brookvale, NSW, 2100; Phone: (02) 9938 3244
Brand: Optex

Think Tank Photo: Contact David Magahy on 0420 923 981 or email david@thinktankphoto.com.

Brand: Think Tank Photo