I've been getting many queries about choosing bags for travel, for photography gear. The two major domains in which photographers carry their gear on trips are “in-transit,” and during shooting.
In Part I, I discussed the problems of “in-transit” travel, which also affects how you pack for your trip.
In Part II, I discussed the specifications for bags for carrying your gear while “in-transit” which must be considered when choosing bags for that purpose.
In Part III below, I'll discuss bags for carrying your gear while shooting.
The decision when purchasing a bag for carrying photographic gear while “in-transit” is dominated by the stowage options of transit companies, the physical size of their stowage areas, their bag restrictions on the physical size and weight of bags, plus the transit companies' limits on liability.
On the other hand, the decision when purchasing bags for carrying your photographic gear when working or shooting is dominated by bag characteristics which affect their use, protection for your gear, comfort of the photographer, and issues of quality and purpose.
To me the issues we should consider when looking for a shooting or working gear bag include:
- Protection — When most people think of protection, they only think of protecting their gear from “bumps and bruises,” from getting knocked around from the outside, or clanking against each other in the bag. In addition, rain protection must be considered, for your bag of equipment. Sometimes photographers, especially wildlife and travel photographers are out in the rain for much of a day. Rain protection must be able to keep equipment dry for more than a stray shower, or a light rain.
- Accessibility — When we're shooting, it goes without saying, we want quick and easy access to our equipment, but if we think about it, that's not enough. I've seen bags with quick, wide open access, but access, with the photographer's bag wide open can be a recipe for disaster, as equipment can get dirty, drop on the ground, or easily snatched.
- Capacity — If you have to leave a critical piece of gear at home, or the hotel, your bag is probably too small. If your bag can't handle the type of gear you need, it's likely the wrong bag. If your bag is large enough that you can stuff it with everything you need, but it's so tight, it's hard to pull anything out, then it's too small. Finally, if everything you want fits now, but one new purchase, such as a new lens, can't fit, it's still too small.
- Flexibility — I don't know about you, but the equipment I take shooting varies from trip to trip, and day to day. Camera bags should allow you to customize their interior for the gear you carry on any particular day. Each bag should have some space where smaller equipment and supplies can be stored and easily accessed.
- Durability — In my opinion, it's rarely a good idea to skimp on quality. I've found that in the long run, cheap gear is more expensive than quality gear. Cheap gear often doesn't last for long, and seems to always fail at the wrong time. You need to consider the quality of the material, its strength, and the bag's construction details, especially stitching, lamination, zippers and clasps. For example, I try to avoid plastic zippers in favor of metal ones.
- Security — Many people forget this one when considering bag's capacity and all those customizable features they want. Security is one of the first characteristics I look at to disqualify a choice. If it has Nikon, or Canon, or some other camera company written all over it in big bold letters, I won't choose that bag. It's not a good idea to advertise that expensive equipment is in the bag. I have mixed feelings over whether it's a good idea for bags to use steel cable reinforced straps to prevent slash and run thieves. While it may stop that kind of crime, some thieves, might still try to pull the bag away from the photographer, injuring them, if they are pulled to the ground.
- Non-Photo Gear Capacity — Sometimes it's important to take more than photo gear when out shooting. During changeable spring or fall days in particular, the weather is often changing and unpredictable, requiring us to have room to stow clothing. We might need to have a rain jacket some days, or have room to put it away as weather improves. We might want to pack lunch and snacks, and in my opinion, we should always have some water or other drink available if we're out shooting for more than a short period of time.
Comfort — It goes without saying that if your bag isn't comfort to wear, for as long as you're anticipating being out shooting, the bag is a non-starter. That means it has to be comfortable for an all day, and sometimes into the evening shooting day. If you get too tired or uncomfortable, it's hard to think about photography, instead of your misery and alleviating it. You need to consider its physical size and how it fits you, its weight of the bag and that of your gear, and how it distributes the total weight of both. The types and size of straps is critical to comfort too.
- Use — Many people forget this one when choosing a bag. Use is the primary reason many of us have multiple bags, as there just aren't any bags which can fulfill a photographer's needs for all situations and uses. For example, my main shooting bag doesn't necessarily fully fulfill my needs when I'm out hiking, shooting wildlife all day in changeable fall weather, but it's great for urban photography most every day. If I'm white-water rafting, or hiking through a rain forest, I need a waterproof bag, not just one which is water repellent. Each photographer has to consider how the bag will be used before choosing it.
There are many bags which will successfully handle these issues well, and work for you according to your style.
I've had emails from many who have said the information in this series is exactly what they needed, but they wanted on thing more. So look for my “Epilogue” to this series in which I'll discuss the bag choices I've made over time and why.