I need to come clean here. I have a bit of a camera bag fetish. I don’t know when it started, though it was probably about five years ago and it has gained strength as my photography gear has changed and expanded. For the longest time I was your typical, average 35mm SLR shooter and I never really gave much thought to the bag the camera was in. I couldn’t afford more than one lens which stayed attached to the body. I hate flash so never needed to carry one. Basically I needed room to carry a single 35mm SLR body plus a small lens, a couple of rolls of film and maybe a filter or two. You can find a million different models and brands of camera bag to do that. As soon as I moved into medium-format though, I needed to put a lot more thought into how I carried my gear.
I’m of the opinion that the bag — any kind of bag — is the utmost expression of practicality. Like any tool, the correct bag for the correct job makes life easier. When it comes to camera bags it often means the difference between having your camera with you all the time, and having it rarely to never. When you enjoy taking photos not having a camera with you sort of defeats the purpose, right? The difficulty comes when try to match the bag to the situation. Unless you make your own or modify a bag yourself, it can be difficult to find a camera bag that does everything you need it to, which is something I’ve been struggling with lately.
Unlike most people, I walk everywhere. Not out of economic necessity thankfully, but because I genuinely love to walk in my community. I can’t think of an easier or more healthy way of getting to know your neighbourhood. On top of that, I’m lucky enough to live all of 800 metres from my office. So when you walk as much as I do, the bag that carries your life within its walls must be pretty special. For the past year I’ve had two separate bags to take care of it all. When I’m not on-call at work and don’t need to bring my laptop home with me it’s been the 7-million Dollar Home from Crumpler. When I’m on-call it’s my wicked MEC Brenta courier bag that is almost voluminous enough to live in. Problem is, during those weeks I’m on-call and carrying my messenger bag I’m not carrying my camera. I’ve decided that’s not acceptable anymore and thought there had to be bag that would do it all for me. I was right.
I went looking online for a good quality bag that would hold my medium format gear, a large laptop, some personal effects like a small thermos, a book and other small items, would be good in the weather we get here in Halifax — it gets a little windy and rainy — and be at least somewhat cost-effective. There are a lot of camera bags for sale these days. Everything from the smallest sleeves and pouches all the way up to massive tent-sized bags I’m fairly certain you could go around the world with. After a couple of hours of browsing, comparing specs and prices, reading reviews — are there any meaningful reviews online? — I came across a bag that looked like it would work: the National Geographic Earth Explorer 2477, a large shoulder bag.
After it arrived I went to work packing it up with my usual supply of stuff. Camera with lens, extra lens, meter, filter case and all the little things that seem to go along with taking pictures. Lots of space left. Added book, thermos, cap, sunglasses case, still lots of space left, including the sleeve where the laptop fits. All loaded up it closes easily and securely with a nice zippered flap inside the top flap to keep dust and weather out. On the outside there are three more large pockets, two on the front and one large, document-sized on the back side. Even when fully loaded it’s a comfortable bag to carry with a large strap that’s easily adjustable and well-made handle on top. The exterior fabric is a nice rough but not too rough cotton-hemp blend that so far stands up to the small amount of abuse I’ve subjected it to.
Overall, I’m very pleased with my new bag. More of a do-it-all commuter bag than a pure camera bag, but that’s exactly what I was looking for. So, I’m up to seven camera bags now, hopefully this one will be the last for a while! If I feel up to it I may take a quick snap of it all, just to show off a little.
Update 1 #update1
August 6th, 2010
After many months of daily use, I’ve reached a few conclusions about this bag. First, while it carries a great deal, the shoulder strap becomes unusable fairly quickly. It’s not a real over-the-shoulder bag, it looks like it was designed to hang off one shoulder, not across your chest. This is a major failure to me. The more weight I added to the bag, the worse the strap became, with the adjustment buckles easily slipping under the pressure. In a ten minute walk to work, the buckles would slip two inches down the strap causing me to readjust it every time I used it. That alone made me put the bag in the closet.
The other problem I had was with its lack of weather resistance. One morning on my walk to work it was raining very hard, with wind. My MEC Brenta Courier bag laughs in the face of rain and wind, while this bag seemed to cower at the sight. The material used on the inside looks and feels like it would do a decent job keeping out the rain, but it doesn’t. In just a few minutes in that rain a notebook stored inside had been ruined. This along with the unfriendly strap put me over the edge with this bag. I’ve taken the removable camera padding out and put them in my MEC Brenta, turning it into a custom messenger/camera bag. One with a comfortable strap and great weather resistance.
Update 2 #update-2
November 14th, 2012
In my never-ending quest to find the perfect camera bag, I’ve been using a Lowepro Classified 250 AW for seven months now and I think I’ve finally found my perfect camera bag. First, this bag is huge. It holds all the things I carry on my walk to and from work. I have my Mamiya 6 medium-format camera, filter pouch, small thermos, lunch, iPad, notebook and sunglasses case stashed in the main compartment. The side pouches hold a ball cap, various cables and attachments. When it’s raining, I even have room for my rain pants in the main compartment. It’ the moving van of the bag world. It also has a handy all-weather cover that pulls over to protect from the more extreme weather. Some people could probably live without it, but I’d be lost without it, it has saved me a few times during the rainy walks home. When I need to bring my 15” MacBook Pro home from the office, it fits in quite snugly.
As I’m carrying quite a lot of stuff, the comfort level of the strap is a very important consideration for me. While I’d like a little more adjustment room with the padding, it hasn’t caused me too much trouble. In fact, I’m constantly amazed how comfortable the strap is even when I’m carrying an unhealthy weight on my shoulders.
For some reason, the Lowepro website doesn’t list it as a product anymore. Maybe they’ve stopped making it, who knows. That would be a shame though because this bag is perfect for me. I’m glad I found and gave it a try, it has made by daily commute so much easier. They still seem to be for sale in various places, so if you’re looking for a large bag that can do it all, get your hands on one while you can.
Update 3 #update3
September 25th, 2017
Another five years, another switch in bags. A couple of years ago I bought a Classic Messenger bag from Timbuk2 and added the Snoop Camera Insert to hold camera stuff as well as my usual day-at-the-office stuff like a small thermos of coffee, lunch, cables, iPad, etc.
I can say without reservation this setup is fantastic. Over the last couple of years we’ve had some pretty wicked weather here in Halifax, ranging from pouring, driving rain to shutting-down-the-city levels of snow and wind. This bag has held up to it all, protecting its contents and never feeling too uncomfortable to carry.
I’ve also used it without the camera insert to run to the grocery to pick up some things, it’s a versatile everyday bag.