The other day I was on Facebook and saw that a few of my female photographer friends were discussing their camera bags and which ones they preferred. Now this was a discussion I could really contribute to. My family are always laughing at my camera-bag habit; I am always searching for the perfect camera bag, and I have quite a collection. In fact, the bags I have chosen tell a story that mirrors my adventures in photography.
When I no longer needed to carry a nappy bag everywhere I switched to a leather satchel from Mandarina Duck, and when I took up photography in 2009 my camera fitted into it neatly. In those days life was simple. All I had was my Olympus E-P1 with a kit lens! But then in 2010 my lens obsession began, I upgraded to a Lumix GH2 and I suddenly needed a proper camera bag with some padding. I tried a few Crumpler bags, which were great as camera bags, but not really versatile enough for more general use. I tried an Epiphanie bag, buying it online and having it sent to a friend in the US for my husband to bring back from his travels. I liked the idea of a handbag that secretly doubled as a camera bag, but it wasn’t really my style, and I ended up going back to my leather satchel.
Then earlier this year I started carrying a Rollei everywhere in addition to my Lumix, so I could shoot Rolleigrams. I carried the Rollei in an old Mandarina Duck bag, with one bag on each shoulder. This was rather a lot to deal with, but my two-camera set-up didn’t last long, because I bought a giant grown-up Nikon D800, with several lenses. This required a complete rethink, because it’s a much larger and fancier camera, so I didn’t want to just throw it in a bag with other things. I decided to downsize and carry just the essentials, so I bought a black Billingham camera bag. It looks quite small, but it’s big enough to swallow the D800, a couple of lenses, a Kindle, my purse and a few other bits and bobs. The khaki Billingham bags are quite distinctive, but this one doesn’t really look like a camera bag, so I could take it on a date and just about get away with it. Because you never know when you might want to take a picture, right?
I had, it seemed, finally found the perfect bag. But then I discovered film and bought another, even larger camera: a Contax 645. (At least I only have one lens for it.) That means carrying film around, plus a light meter, batteries and close-up filters. And then I became obsessed with Polaroids, which meant even more cameras! Oh, and I bought a huge macro lens for the Nikon. Yup, I was spiralling into camera-bag disaster zone again. I started using a clever split-level Crumpler rucksack, with the Contax in the bottom section and the Nikon in the top one. But I had to take the whole thing off in order to get to anything. So for much of the summer I was back to a two-bag set-up, with the Nikon in the Billingham bag and the Contax in another Crumpler bag on my other shoulder. There were a lot of straps going on!
So where has my quest ended? I have come to accept that I will never find the perfect bag capable of doing everything. But the reason is that my requirements keep changing as I keep trying and discovering new things. Of course the ideal solution would be a Hermione-style magic carpet bag that could swallow up all my kit and weigh nothing. Alas, they aren’t available (at least not on the Internet), so I’ve concluded that the best approach is to have a selection of bags that I can mix and match as my needs evolve. The latest addition to my collection is a Lowepro Passport Sling bag, because it can easily swallow a bulky Polaroid camera as well as my Nikon and two lenses. And excitingly I see they have a new larger SLR II version too. I might have to just try that one out!
In short, there’s no right answer, and everyone has different styles and approaches. So I’ve asked four friends to tell me what their favourite camera bag is, and why. See how their needs match up with your own to work out which of their camera bags is best for you.
kirstin of fleeting moments.
Cute and stylish: Kelly Moore Posey 2
When I went shopping for this camera bag I wanted a bag that could be used as my day-to-day purse while still securely carrying my camera. I was also leaving on a short vacation and wanted a bag that would be comfortable carrying around all day. I am so pleased that I found all of that in my Kelly Moore Posey 2. It is small enough to carry to the grocery store, but durable enough to go on photo walks around town. I can fit my Canon 60D with a 50mm lens, and there is still room for an extra lens. I can also pack my Canon 60D and my Minolta X700 with a 50mm attached to both, and they fit perfectly. It is very easy to get in and out of the bag, to grab my camera or change lens. There are several pockets and compartments that you can fill with film, lipgloss, wallet and your phone. You can’t see it here, but it does have a long detachable strap that you can carry over your shoulder or body. I love how durable this bag is, while still being very cute and stylish. — Staci Kennelly
Perfect for: Anyone looking for a practical, versatile bag that can double as a stylish everyday purse
Big and beautiful: Epiphanie Ginger
My bag is the Epiphanie Ginger (although I don’t believe you can get it in black anymore). I love it because not just because I can fit my camera and a couple extra lenses in it for a photo outing, but also because it doubles as a purse if I find that I want to take my camera out and about during my normal day-to-day activities. — Sam Wesselhoft
Perfect for: Anyone who wants a bag with a bit more capacity that can still pass as a purse
Rugged but understated: Lowepro Passport Sling
Ninety-five percent of my waking hours, at home and out-and-about, my Nikon D90 is slung over my shoulder. My everyday camera bag is used mainly to hold extra gear, random film cameras, and a few personal items such as wallet and keys, but I do stash my camera in there sometimes too, when wearing it doesn’t seem appropriate. Because I have a tendency to forget and misplace things, I prefer to use just one camera bag for every situation rather than switching between bags, so I need a bag that is comfortable, one that will go from walks through muddy fields to lunch with my mother-in-law, and one that doesn’t scream “I’m a camera bag!!!” I’ve had the the Lowepro Passport Sling bag for a little over a year, and I’m very happy with it. I was drawn to it because of this adorable video. The rugged but understated style suits me, and it has lots of pockets to keep me organized. Because it goes over my shoulder, the contents are always handy. Since I walk a lot, I was worried that I was making a comfort mistake by not getting a backpack, but I find that this bag distributes the weight very well. The size is perfect for my needs. It does have a zipper to make it bigger if I need a little extra room. On the day I took this photo, I had gone for a short hike. I had my DSLR over my shoulder, and the bag was packed with an extra lens, a polaroid camera, a heavy old 35mm camera, some film, my wallet and keys, and my not-very-sturdy but light-weight-enough-that-I-always-have-it-with-me tripod. There was still room, if I needed it, to open the zipper and add my DSLR. — Deirdre Haber Malfatto
Perfect for: Anyone who longs for a roomy, inconspicuous bag without the hassle of a backpack
Made to measure: Porteen Gear
The most important thing for me is the weight of the bag. All our camera gear is heavy enough, I need a bag that won’t be too heavy or bulky. It also needs to have a long-enough strap I can wear across my shoulders and chest if I need, and having fairly easy access to the inside is important so I can change my lens easily. My favourite bag at the moment, hands down, is my Porteen Gear bag. You can buy one of their ready made bags, or customize it all yourself. Their “Design Your Own Bag” system lets you choose exactly how it will look. I customized mine, and I could not be happier. — Lisa Epp
Perfect for: The style-conscious photographer — provided you know exactly what you want!