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How-to's Accessories Reviews

FAQs - What Bag?

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)


Keywords: bag, faq, non_nikon

Show pages (7 Pages)

Saving time, energy and money buying a camera bag

The quest for the perfect bag is much more complicated than it may seem at first, simply because there is no perfect bag for all occasions. Nikonian ladies will understand this very well, as they need to carry all sort of necessities every day, but for different occasions.
 

Nikon leather case

 Nikon leather camera case with extra lenses plate and velvet interiors

The variables involved selecting a camera bag

It is not a matter of being color-coordinated, and/or fabric coordinated with your outfit, not at all; well ok, not just that. For photography, whether on film or digital, there are more considerations, concerns; so a rational decision should depend on: 

  • What you want to carry

  • How much

  • For how long

  • How frequently

  • How safe will the contents need to be

  • How comfortable it needs to be to carry

  • How fast access you need to its contents

  • Where will you take it

  • How strong and durable

  • How much will your needs for bag space grow

  • How soon are those needs going to grow

  • How easy it is to keep it clean 

  • How strong and fit you are.

 

 

Regardless of what relative weight you may assign to each of these variables, the fact is that these also change over time, or all the time. Now you know why most of us -that have long been at it- have several bags if not too many. There is just not a bag than can serve us well every time, for every occasion. I have more than 10 and find myself frequently wanting to look for a new one. Above at right you can see fellow Nikonian Lucd jesting with just six bags from his own vast collection.

 

 

 

The subject deserves attention since seldom it is just a few dollars what we usually spend on photographic equipment. It better be well taken care of while carried, transported or even when just stored. 

The intention here is to save you from unnecessary spending of money, time and energy and to reduce the number of disappointments, at least a few, whether from your very first time -if it has not arrived yet- or at subsequent buying.

If you are an impulsive/compulsive buyer (like me), at least this section will make you feel better as it will improve your rationalization skills for future purchases, with more and maybe better arguments.

We expect to keep this section updated regularly, adding when necessary as new significant models or brands come to market. But please remember this is just an expectation.
 


It is rather easy to understand what each type does and where it goes, but hard to choose indeed; furthermore, for the passionate (impulsive / compulsive) buyer it is hard to resist the temptation of that particular one in your hands at the store or gleaming in a catalog.

In general, experience has taught seasoned Nikonians what follows, by type:

 

Nikon leather case

 Nikon leather camera shoulder cases
.

 

HOLSTERS: for a single body and a couple of rolls of film, bigger ones allow for a flash or a small additional lens. Nothing more. The beauty of them is that they offer good protection to the camera, can be worn any way you want, preferably on your chest, with straps to prevent it from dangling around. They come in all sizes to accommodate any body and almost any lens up to an 80-200mm or the 80-400mm VR. ..

TOP-LOAD BAGS: for those who like the holster design but would like to carry something else too, whether a cell phone or more small lenses or more film. If not to big they can also be worn at front or hanging from a shoulder or across the chest. As holsters, they are good when weight can't be too much and contents can be replenished every night.  

HIP/WAIST/FANNY BAGS: for those wall climbing a mountain would be a good recommendation, but only if carrying a light body with a small lens and film only. For anything bigger or heavier they may destroy your balance or your waist backbones.  

VEST/HARNESS: for smart hikers with a well organized mind to remember in what pocket is what item.

Probably the most comfortable unless you are driving. Although a most obvious give-away in urban scenarios, shouting to the crowds you are a SWAT team member, an unlawful commando or a deadly serious photographer with lots of equipment.

 

SHOULDER BAGS: for those wanting to carry still more stuff than in a vest/harness, have easy access to contents, are still young or are broadly built. They end up as storage bags when you grow old, specially if the bag is too big. The "convertible" shoulder bags have a wide belt to make them useful longer when attached both to the shoulder and the hip.  

BACKPACKS: for those needing to carry from small loads to big loads comfortably, leaving the hands free to do anything, like embracing your bride, driving a bike (if not too big a pack), perching from a not so high cliff or simply slowly walking on an incline. Perfect for the wilderness if you buy one you can run with. More and more common now in the urban scene.  

STRONG BOXES: for those requiring to transport lots of equipment and not always trusting those handling them. They provide better protection than any other with the exception of hard cases. If wheeled, even better.  

HARD CASES: definitively the safest way to transport photo gear, best for  equipment protection, most useful when traveling by air or near water. They are impact proof, air tight, water tight and can have either cushion partitions or "pick and pluck" foam. Bigger sized models are wheeled and therefore more convenient to carry.  

 

 


Each bag type has a best application. Of course you can get almost any bag to any location, but it will not be the most satisfactory situation; at times the wrong bag at the wrong place may place your equipment and even you in peril.

 

Nikon leather case

 Top Load type bag, Model 5605 Pro 5, for a pro body, by Tamrac®

 

Hard learned experience has shown Nikonians what bag types are best for what main uses as per the table below:

 

  MAIN RECOMMENDED USE
 MAJOR TYPES

Urban

Mountain
Climbing

Wilderness

 Cycling/Skiing 

Transportation

 Holster/TopLoad 

X

 

X

X

 
 Hip/Waist/Fanny    X   X  
 Vest Harness     X    
 Shoulder X        
 Backpacks     X X  
 Strong boxes         X
 Hard cases         X

 

.    
Holsters & Top loaders provide a neat way of carrying a camera with lens and an extra one with relative ease and fast access. If kept clean, they even look good when on a three-piece suit, hanging from your shoulder or neck. Can be taken out of the urban scenario and be comfortable for the wilderness and for transportation, but in mountain climbing they will seldom be the best. However, when with an extra waist/chest strap attached to keep them from dangling, they can perform well for long walks in the wilderness and for cycling or skiing. At right, Nikonian Photophil keeping his F4s handy in a top load bag.  

 

Hip/Waist/Fanny bags, when small, are the most suitable for the main recommended use because they give you all the needed freedom of arms and hands, will not be that heavy and can be worn for long periods. Sorry, they don't look good if you are wearing a suit in the city.

 

Vests/Harnesses: smart photo-hikers love them.

Probably the most comfortable gear carrier as seen at right,  used by Nikonian Photo_Phil

They can be custom fit to your particular gear.

 

The shoulder bag is the most common and more overrated of all bags. Sure, they provide easy access to the contents, however, as you become more and more enthusiastic about photography, you will want to make certain you didn't leave at home anything you might need, so you'll fall for a larger one. Typically, by the time you can afford all of the best, your bones begin to hurt and the heavy load becomes anywhere from uncomfortable to unbearable. That is why -as said before- they end up as bags for storage, especially the biggies. Now, if you are young and strong, you might love them. I did, for quite some time.

 

A "convertible bag" has a wide hidden waist belt. If not too big, you will use them longer as you distribute the weight between shoulder and waist by using both the shoulder strap and the belt. If too big, don't wear them for too long as a fanny pack, it is usually a way to ensure you will need a chiropractic sooner than later. If you use them hanging from a shoulder across your chest and additionally supported by the waist belt, they are very comfortable and will serve you longer.  

 

The backpack on the other hand, is the most comfortable way to carry a load. The armies of the world have made innumerable -and very expensive- studies supporting the idea that infantry can carry more and for longer when close to the body from both shoulders and waist than from one shoulder or from the waist alone. 

 

Try a backpack, you'll love it. The best have a sternum strap, padded harness and a lumbar cushion inside a wide waist belt. Ok, they do look funny in a three-piece suit, but by then you don't care anymore, just as you don't care to wear the most comfortable shoes with shock pads and thick cushioned soles all the time and anywhere. Easy access to the stuff? You have also figured by now that there is no sense in rushing, plus if the situation asks for it, you will have a camera ready at your chest.  

 

Furthermore, a medium or large-sized backpack will let you transport plenty of equipment as carry-on by commercial airplane , still meeting newer regulations and without having to worry about how the gear is doing in and out of the cargo area.

Strongboxes are for transporting even more equipment from location to location in a car or a truck. Somehow not much seen in airports, though.

 

 

 

Hard cases are the safest way to transport equipment, more so if there is danger of equipment getting wet. If large enough to be required into the luggage compartment of an airplane, try to buy one wheeled and make certain you have extra insurance. Most air carriers will not cover the contents unless the case is lost and even then there are limits on replacement cost claims. So,  when flying, use them only if you must carry more than what a carry-on backpack would allow -or a two piece soft camera bag- and cannot forward to your destination by courier. The other option is to get one that complies with carry-on size requirements.

Let's turn into what brands are out there, what characteristics one should be looking for, and how to choose if you cannot see one to try -with your own equipment- at a local store.
 


There are probably hundreds of camera bag and cases brands out there. Let's concentrate on those considered the very best to care for your camera gear by well seasoned Nikonians.

 

Nikon leather case

 Major bags and cases brands

 

Bag companies - for your valuable camera equipment

Tamrac, Lowepro, Domke, Tenba, Billingham, CCS and Beseler seem to be the most popular brands among serious amateur and pro photographer Nikonians.

In terms of numbers, Tamrac and Lowepro are the most apparent leaders in the Americas. We have not heard enough in the forums to allow us to ascertain which brands lead in Europe. However Billingham likely occupies a good marketing position; born in 1973 in the UK, it started making camera bags in 1977-78. CCS (Camera Care Systems) is a British company which has been designing and manufacturing top-quality camera carrying systems since 1979.

The most peculiar thing is that both the leading American companies, Tamrac and Lowepro, were also started on -or around- that very same year that Billingham began bag operations: 1977.

Domke itself is also a relatively new company, started by Jim Domke, a staff photo journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, in the late 70s. Tenba also came to be in 1977.

Granted that the Charles Beseler Company from New Jersey was started almost 130 years ago, but not as bag manufacturer.

So we owe to that decade of the 70s the origins of the best bags we now enjoy, taking the market by a storm with new materials and new designs, bringing to an end the era of the elegant but not so comfortable to carry hard leather cases, like those made by (or for) Nikon in the early years, as shown in previous pages and until recently in my closet.

 

 

 

Hard case companies - for your photo gear

Another company from the mid seventies, Pelican, is the most renowned of all hard case manufacturers, started by Dave Parker with a product for scuba divers. Their Protector Case™, featuring protective case approval MIL-STD-4150J, has been preferred by the military (including NATO) for a series of applications. They've taken a very important market share in most industries. Strong and very well built, they offer the best protection for transportation of sensitive equipment, like our cameras and lenses. Made of Ultra High Impact Structural Copolymer Polypropylene, they are available in 17 stock sizes and all include a neoprene gasket, ABS latches, and a pressure relief valve. So they are watertight, airtight, dustproof and crushproof. Furthermore, they carry a lifetime guarantee against breakage or defects in workmanship. They now also have strongboxes and soft side bags. As an example, one model of soft side case, the Pelican PCS161 fits inside a Pelican 1610 hard case, making the combo a dual purpose unit.

But as anyone else in most industries, Pelican faces competition. Like that from UK (Underwater Kinetics), another company from the mid 70s. Storm Cases, one of the newest product lines by Hardigg, an older company well accustomed to comply with military specifications, is another interesting competitor. Doksocil, originally a gun case manufacturer (Gun Guard) has now added the Camera Guard line.

Porter cases belong in the strongboxes category. Their carry-on Divider cases are reported as being used by on-the-go professionals for weddings, sporting events, location shoots, etc. and well liked when you have to fly.

This list of brands is by no means complete, it pretends to show the better known and preferred bags and cases by Nikonians.


What to look for selecting a camera bag

The best possible bags and cases are those capable of complying with stringent military specifications.
 

Click to see it open and loaded

 Big Pro 612 shoulder bag by Tamrac®

 

Fabrics for camera bags

To endure, a good bag needs to be made of fabrics with high tear strength but as light as possible. Best examples found today in the market are PowerGrid™ Cordura® from Dupont and PowerGrid™ Nylon with Spectra® from Allied Signal. Dupont's Cordura® has set the standard in high performance fabrics for outdoor, industrial and military applications. The PowerGrid™ weave adds significant strength to this already super strong materials. 

Spectra® is one of the lightest and strongest new miracle fibers, used in mountain climbing rope, bullet proof vests, military vehicle armor, cut protection gloves and premium fishing lines. Spectra® is a high tenacity fiber with four times the break strength as the same sized strand of standard nylon. Ballistic Nylon and 900 denier Polytek add to the arsenal of available fabrics for today's best bags' interiors.

 

 

Zippers on camera bags

One of the worst things that can happen in the field is a rusted stuck zipper, either you won't be able to open your bag or can't close it; so by all means avoid bags with metal zippers. (Yes, I have one of those too and the required good set of pliers to open it).

To have plastic zippers is not enough, the self-healing nylon coil type is so far the best to avoid problems. 

 

 

The camera bag hardware

Again, searching for security and light weight, look for welded, heavy duty Double Bar D Rings that never turn sideways. You don't want a ring to open under a heavy load of precious camera gear.

If the bag has side release buckles, make certain they are high load bearing. 

 

 

Camera bags bottom and partitions

A professional bag must have a tough and protective bottom, not a soft one. You don't want to listen ED glass breaking when the bag is put on the ground. The best bottom plates are made of high impact ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) plastic, the same used in football helmets. Insist on it.

Partitions better be of closed cell foam padding for shock and vibration protection. Should also be removable for flexibility of contents arrangement.

 

The nicest thing about bags with these materials and characteristics is that not only they will outlast us and the roughest conditions, but can always look like new (unlike us); just clean them over with a damp cloth or towel and that's that. 

By now you know why I always end up buying Tamrac, even after attracted by sexy looking bags of other reputable brands.
 

 


Choosing a camera bag size

You may by now have a bag type you like by its use, but what size is next. Let's concentrate on the required volume for your present equipment, adding some slack for expansion.
 

 The compact Velocity 9 Pro Sling Pak easily accommodates from a D70 to a D2X
+ stuff 

 

For simplification purposes, lets say here that in terms of sizes they come in "small", "medium", "large" and "huge".

Forget about the small one, although you may want to have a small bag just to carry and protect a body with a lens, and a couple of rolls, you will soon find out this is not "the serious" bag as soon as you want to add anything; and you will.

 

 

 

The best one to have first is a probably a "medium" one, and later maybe a "large" bag for photo trips. Seldom a huge one, unless you are a weight lifter or can hire sherpas and pack mules. I used to load and carry almost everything I had, usually returning without having touched half of the stuff and with a backache, confirming Murphy's Law on bags: "The more you carry, the less you use".

 

SMALL Typical small bags take from one small 35mm SLR body with one small lens to a motorized body with two lenses (one medium, one small), a couple of rolls of film and speedlight. 
 
 
     
MEDIUM As defined here, medium bags can take from one small or large 35mm SLR body or with power winder, one medium lens, two small lenses and a speedlight; to two large bodies one large lens, one medium and three small lenses with speedlight, some film and accessories.
   
   
     
LARGE Should hold from two large bodies, one large lens, two medium and two small lenses with speedlight; to two large bodies with two large lenses, two medium and two small ones with speed light, film and accessories.
   
   
     
HUGE Capable of carrying three to four large bodies, 5 to 7 lenses, speedlight, film and accessories. Huge bags are commonly used to carry both 35mm and medium format systems. These are not carry-on bags for air travel.
   
   
     

 


Airlines and camera carry on

Most airlines specify "linear" requirements, adding width, depth and height dimensions, but have a luggage rack where your carry-on should fit. If you plan on traveling by commercial airplane with your gear, after you take a look at the table below with "carry-on requirements" (euphemism for "restrictions"), always check with your airline or contact your travel agent.
 

Click for enlargement

 My carry-on Expedition 7 Tamrac Backpack
photographed by Bo Stahlbrandt at Moab Utah

 

Airline

Maximum size
for carry-on photo bag*

 Aeromexico 45"
 Air Canada 21 1/2x15 3/4x9"
 Air France 45"
 Air New Zealand 45"
 Alitalia 21 1/2x13 3/4x8"
 American Airlines 45"
 America West 23x13x9 or 21x16x8
 ANA 45" and 21x15 3/4x9
 British Airways 22x16x8"
 bmi 45"
 Continental 45"
 Delta 22x14x9"
 Iberia 45"
 Lufthansa 22x16x8"
 Mexicana 45"
 Northwest 22x14x9"
 Singapore 45"
 Southwest 24x16x10"
 Spanair 19 3/4x15 3/4x9 3/4
 TWA 24x16x10"
 United Airlines 45" or 22x14x9"
 US Air 24x16x10"
 Varig 45"

 

* Total number of bags and total weight may vary by classes (turist / coach / hospitality / business / first / domestic / international) and by season. Check with your travel agent or, better, with your airline carrier(s).

It is then safer, for carry-on purposes not to take a bag larger than 45" (adding width, depth and length) for most airlines, as per the sample requirements above.

 

 

(10 Votes )
Show pages (7 Pages)

Originally written on May 3, 2010

Last updated on December 19, 2017

J. Ramon Palacios J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

San Pedro Garza García, Mexico
Admin, 45770 posts

4 comments

R.H. Ruskin (swbobcat) on June 18, 2016

My "Camera Bag" is a multi-purpose bag in reality. Not only must it safely store my camera gear, it has to also double as a travel bag that I can carry on a plane and fit in an overhead bin. So not only does it have to hold a Nikon F, a F2 -- one with a 55mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor - P Non-Ai, and the other a 50mm f/1.4 Ai -- 4 other lens, a Point'n'Shoot digital camera, two flashes (SB-22, SB-26), Flash Bracket, SC-17 cable, a "roll" of about 15 52mm glass filters, several rolls of film, light meter, cleaning supplies, etc., etc., etc., It also has to hold 2-3 bottles of medications, a Nook Color e-Book reader, sweater, cell phone, various chargers, etc., etc., etc. Last November or December I bought a used Lowepro Magnum 400 AW. Remarkably ALL that stuff fits in the bag. Yeah it *is* a bit heavy when fully loaded, even with out the meds, e-book reader, etc., etc, and is filled only with the camera gear, but once I get to where-ever I'm going I unzip my "camera bag" /"travel bag" and set up shop, and draw from the bag only that gear I plan to use -- usually one camera and lens combination, and the Nikon CoolPix L18 Point'n'Shoot Digital camera if I expect to be away from the house. OTOH if I'm home then my camera bag is -- well -- my camera bag that safely stores my gear. A couple of bags of silica gel spread through out the bag keeps the contents dry (though in Desert Southwest, humidity is NOT a problem) and the threat of fungus from setting up shop. If I have a personal self assignment, I simply go to my bag, open it up and pull out the gear I'll need. It is a LARGE roomy bag that will serve the needs of most amateurs who might have up to 5-6 lens, a flash or two, and one or two cameras. It is probably too big and heavy to haul around on a day-to-day, basis, but for the casual shooter who needs a place to stow the gear and keep it protected, but which can be snatched up if need be, this is an EXCELLENT bag!! The Lowepro Magnum 400 AW is a BEAST, but it holds ALL my gear. I am currently considering only one or two more lens purchases: either a Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 Ai/AiS *or* the Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 Ai/AiS -- either will fit into the bag. The other lens I might add is the Nikkor 80-200mm f/4 or f/4.5 zoom. That might be a lens too far for the bag.

Min Chai Liu (mcliu19) on January 20, 2016

Bags and Tripods are dicey.. one is not good enough for all occasion . For each occasion one needs a different set of bag.. like for street photography, I prefer "Think tank urban disguise" or Bestek made with Ruck sack material ... For Nature and wild life , I prefer Lowpro back pack.. A very good article indeed ,and learned few things... Thanks for sharing the knowledge

Animesh Kumar Singh (animeshsingh) on August 14, 2013

It will be a nice touch to associate some bags with each category, with ranks 1 to 5 and I am sure it will be one hell of a review to hang on to :)

User on April 30, 2013

It's really handy to actually go to a real bricks and mortar shop taking a camera and lenses you're likely to carry because some bags look ok online but in reality can be woefully small.

G