November 30, 2009
Steven Alvarez, National Geographic camera bag review
5 Camera Bags
Most working photographers that I know are strangely ambivalent about our cameras. Yes we will debate the merits of one system over another but at the end of the day we recognize it is the photographer who makes the picture not the camera. Nikon, Canon, Leica, Olympus, Sony… it is all good, a professional is going to make the tool at hand work. Want to get us fired up? Ask about camera bags. Cameras are somewhat impersonal, but the bag isn't. I spend more time thinking about the way I carry a camera than the camera itself. I am not alone. One famous Magnum photographer I know goes on assignment with one camera and one lens, but back in his hotel room there will be 10 different camera bags… true story. So in the spirit of the season and shopping for your favorite photographer, here are 5 different camera bags I’ve used this year. Add your own favorites in the comments. Small Courierware Super Deluxe Messenger bag nylon (sm $105 from Courierware)
My favorite all-purpose bag is not a camera bag at all. Most of the time I don’t want to stand out any more than I have to and the Courierware is the perfect low key companion. It needs a couple of accessories to make it function as a camera bag ( Domke deluxe bottom board, Timbuk2 Griptex Pad and Billingham inserts). The materials and construction are the best I have ever seen. Very water resistant nylon. It has a super clean profile, pockets on the inside keep batteries and cf cards separate. Room for a 5d mk II, couple of lenses, and zoom recorder inside. Back outside pocket for my plane tickets. I’ve been carrying this bag since 2003 and it still looks new. It is so well made the Velcro still works… Courierware makes a true camera bag. They are going to send me one to check out when they get back from vacation. That’s right the bag is hand made by someone in Vermont, not a machine in China. They are available in lots of colors. Domke F2 cotton canvas ($103 from BH) I didn’t even think about how I was going to carry my cameras in Sudan. Instinctively I reached for my 18 year old Domke F2. It is the prototypical photo journalist’s shoulder bag. Very tough hardware, no zippers to break. Space for my 5d mk II, 7d 16-35, 24, 85, Rode svm, Zacuto finder, spare cards, batteries and a Zoom. Plus a flap pocket in back that fits a Moleskin and a zippered (ok 1 zipper) pocket inside the lid for passport and money. The F2 is unpadded so it wraps around your body nicely. I’ve pimped it up with a Delux Bottom Board and Billingham inserts. Made in the USA, the quality of this camera bag is incredible. It is almost 20 years old and all the stitching is still in place. The cotton canvas wears like iron. After all this time the strap has gotten a little funky so I use a timbuk2 griptex shoulder pad to keep it in place. The downside of the F2 is that it screams “look at me I am a professional photo journalist.” But I already stand out so much in Sudan that the bag on my shoulder isn’t a big deal. Also the cotton canvas is not waterproof though it will keep out a light rain. Domke website is here Domke F3x cotton canvas ($100 from BH) A scaled down F2. It is a classic. The cotton canvas conforms to your side. No padding, space for a camera and a couple of lenses. Unlike its big brother the F3x is very low key. It also holds a surprising amount of gear. It's a good choice of one camera and a couple of lenses. It is small enough that I can always fit it into my checked baggage. Mine is pushing 20 and shows no signs of wearing out. Tenba Small Messenger nylon ($95 from BH) I am a fan of messenger bags and Tenba has a well deserved reputation for good equipment. But really this one is really more of briefcase. The padding keeps it from wrapping around your body like a true messenger bag. However, it definitely keeps me organized traveling to the office in town or to Washington. There is a sleeve for my 15” Macbookpro, inserts for a 5d mk II, a couple of lenses, Zacuto finder, and the zoom recorder. Packed with all that the bag is a little tight, so it isn’t my first choice for shooting. My favorite feature is a full length zippered pocket that runs along the back. It gives me a secure place to put a passport, notebook, phone, and plane tickets when going through airport security. A word about zippers; all zippers wear out, these will be no exception. I went ahead and cut the zipper tabs off and replaced them with 3mm cord so the bag rattles less when I'm running to the gate. Tenba website is here Lowepro Toploader 70 nylon($$65 from Amazon) This is the most “camera bag” looking bag I own. It fits one pro body with a medium sized lens. Lots of padding. Normally I have an aversion to heavily padded bags, but there are times that it just fits the bill. I can clip it to a chest harness and climb hands free. Not a good choice when you want to be discrete as you look -frankly- ridiculous with this big black thing strapped to you chest like a baby bjorn. But when I was chasing lemurs through the Tsingy I didn’t care what I looked like (here). I only cared that I could have both hands free and keep my camera protected. That is important 300 feet up on something that resembles a steak knife. It is also available in different sizes depending on what lens you intend to carry. The 70 fits a pro camera with a 16-35 or 24-70 zoom just fine. Lowepro website is here My point with all this -besides that I'm probably OCD- is that you need the right tool for the job. Just like you will choose different lenses for different assignments, you need different bags too. -Stephen Alvarez more of this article.