Whenever I’m on a photography assignment out of the studio, especially since we’re located in Bragg Creek, I always pack duplicate equipment just in case something malfunctions, I have a backup on hand. It saves driving back to the studio to pick it up. I also want to take everything with me on a vacation.
Before we discuss camera bag options, if you are looking for the right bag solution, you should pull out everything that you plan to take with you. Divide it into different piles; equipment you definitely always need access to, like camera bodies, your favorite lenses, meters, etc.
Have another pile for specialty lenses that you might use sometimes. In this pile might also go a tripod or monopod that you might use occasionally. A third pile, especially with the advent of digital cameras, is a bag for all the chargers, cables, portable image storage unit, cleaning kit, etc. Now that you have everything broken down into different priority groups, you can look for the appropriate bags to hold it all.
For the camera equipment you definitely need by your side during your whole trip, you have a choice of backpacks of assorted sizes (some even capable of holding a sizeable laptop in a padded compartment), over-the-shoulder bags, sling bags, as well as a variety of fanny packs. Backpacks in general hold a lot of equipment and are comfortable to carry because they spread the load over both shoulders. Great if you’re planning to walk a lot. The only drawback is that whenever you need access to your equipment, you have to stop, take the case off your back, put it down somewhere flat, open it up, change your equipment, and repeat the steps in reverse. If you frequently like to change your lenses, etc., this could be really irritating after a short time.
On the positive side, backpacks do spread the load. The better ones have padded shoulder straps and also include a waist-level belt to stop the bag from shifting as you walk. Some even have small luggage wheels and a pull handle when you have to travel through airports. All-weather styles come with pop-out nylon rain protector covers that seal your case from rain.
Shoulder bags come in a variety of sizes. Choose one that is well-padded, has Velcro adjustable partitions, and is comfortable resting on your shoulder. The all-weather feature is also available in this style as well. Make sure there is plenty of space in the case so the equipment isn’t banging against each other.
Modular cases that are designed to hold individual lenses, etc. can be attached to your main bag when you plan on using them. Otherwise, they can stay at the hotel or in the car.
A Utility bag can hold all the cables, chargers, cleaners, etc that you need to keep your equipment running properly but not stuff that you really need to be carrying around with you all day. This bag could be an older camera bag or even a large Ziploc freezer bag. Actually, keeping an extra large freezer bag is also useful to keep in your main bag in case your equipment needs quick protection from the weather.
If you’re planning to be in conditions hazardous to equipment, like in a kayak or in monsoon rains, a Pelican case might be advisable to keep all your sensitive equipment dry when you’re travelling. They come with foam inserts or Velcro-adjustable partitions. It’s a hard case that is well-sealed from the elements once it’s closed. The case will even float if tossed into a river. Might be the perfect case to travel with on an airplane as well. You can change over to the soft case when you’re on the ground.
Remember to try on the bags to make sure they are comfortable. Try all your equipment in the bag to make sure that everything will fit efficiently. There is no point in a bag that requires you to remove half the contents to get at a piece of equipment.
The cases that I do not hesitate to recommend are made by Think Tank, Peak Design, Lowepro and Tamrac.
My personal preference is using a Think Tank Airport Roller Derby to transport all my gear to the final destination. It’s airlines carry-on approved. That way I know I have everything I could possibly need with me. I also like this bag because it has adjustable Velcro partitions. When each space is sized for a particular piece of equipment, it’s easy to see what’s missing before you leave for your trip home.
Then I bring the super light Peak Design Everyday Sling 10L, a small day sling bag (empty) in my luggage too. When I arrive, I chose the equipment I want to use that day and load up as needed. The rest stays in the hotel room. This system works for me.
If you have any questions about camera bags, drop me an email.