Monday, March 9, 2009

What is the perfect camera/equipment bag for travel?

I can answer that question which was recently posed on one of the larger Internet photography forums, quite succinctly. "It doesn't exist."

We all travel to many varied destinations, under such diverse circumstances that there is no single bag which fits everyone, or even anyone, every time.

I did some research before setting out to write this article. There are many categories of camera/equipment bags. The main ones are: shoulder bags, backpacks & daypacks, sling bags, belt systems, hip/waist packs, briefcases, satchels, and rolling bags. At B&H Photo-Video's web site, a brief survey shows they carry 592 shoulder bags and 256 backpacks for cameras and accessories. That makes 848 camera bags when I stopped counting, and I wasn't even close to half-way through all their bag choices.

When I finished counting my camera/equipment bags, it totaled 12 which include: shoulder bags, backpacks, belt systems, waist bags, a brief case, and a satchel. Some were used for a while, then discarded when they didn't meet my needs, and are now used only for storage, but I do use 2 backpacks, a belt system, and a satchel regularly, chosen mostly, at this point, according to where I'm going and what equipment I'm carrying.

Photographers have varied bag purposes, equipment, body types, and travel destination requirements. I've found that these four factors are the main ones in determining the bag(s) needed for any particular journey. I regularly use 4 different bags for my travels, according to the those four factors.
  1. Bag Purpose — When I travel, I often have two diverse needs for a camera bag which must be fulfilled on a trip; hauling equipment to and from airports and hotels, as well as carrying equipment while taking photographs so they are readily accessible. In airports and hotels my equipment needs to be secure and safe, protected from the elements and potential shock or breakage, in a bag which meets the requirements of government security and airline rules. When actually hauling my equipment while taking photographs, protection from rain, dirt, wind, etc. continues to be important, but now fast access becomes critical.
  2. Equipment — I don't know about you, but I travel with at least one DSLR camera body with zoom lens attached, plus a wide angle zoom, and a super zoom telephoto at a minimum. In addition, I bring along a portable battery powered hard drive, memory chips, a flash, flash bracket and cable, cable release, filters, all kinds of other accessories, plus my laptop and its accessories. They all have to make it on my trip, and some need to be carried during the shoots.
  3. Body Type — I'm not a big person, and I'm not twenty any longer, but I'm in good shape. I've gotten to the point where I haul around a lot of gear and aggregately it's not exactly light. As a result, I prefer to spread the weight on my body, so most of the time when I travel, I use a backpack from airport to hotel, etc., and a belt system while shooting. I occasionally use a satchel when I'm on a day trip, and most of the time will not actually be carrying equipment, or at least not much equipment. My main problem with shoulder bags, sling bags, brief cases, and satchels is they rest all their weight on one shoulder. Other bags use more body to spread their weight. That being said, many photographers love shoulder bags for their ease of equipment access and capacity.
  4. Travel Destination Requirements —If I'm traveling to a city, I need my bags to withstand their environment, but if I'm traveling to a rain forest, or perhaps white water rafting, I have a completely different set of requirements which includes the need for being waterproof, not just water resistant.
All the bags do have some common requirements. The bags must,
  • have the capacity to carry the required equipment.
  • have a high quality to handle the rigors of travel.
  • have strong zippers able with withstand the torture of use during travel.
  • be protective of the gear through shock-absorbing, water resistant materials.
  • meet carry-on requirements of airlines if used for that purpose.
  • have customizable organization in the case of backpacks and other bags, or have enough variety of modules to carry gear in the case of belt systems.
  • have rain protection built into the bag which can be used as needed.
  • have the capability of carrying drinking water while traveling.
Each photographer has to carefully determine their own bag requirements to find their perfect bags.

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