Deciding on a bag
neil posted in Travel on December 17th, 2007
Yes, I admit it, I have a bag problem. I ‘m fascinated by bags, I think they’re important especially when it comes to carrying cameras. They are also somewhat personal, so read those reviews on the internet with a grain of salt. Try them out in person if at all possible! Don’t be afraid to send them back or to ditch a bag that does’nt fit or sit right. You’re a photographer and carrying some combination of either heavy or valuable equipment, probably some of both. Whatever size of bag you buy, count on filling it. If you want to shoot low key and can’t be assed with a lot of gear, then don’t buy a Kata Grizzly. If you’re hauling a 400mm telephoto across frozen Antarctic planes then don’t cram it into a smaller bag just because it all just fits in, don’t forget the straps and load positioning are all meant for the prosumer camera with plastic lens that you abandoned long ago.
That said, I feel I can mention a few things that are important:
Back length. In a rucksack with a waist belt (for the sake of your shoulders get one if you’re carrying more than one zoom with f2.8 on it) this is the most important thing. The load sits on your hips, natures very own hardpoint. If its grabbing your belly or your nether regions either change the length of the shoulders/waist belt combo or if its fixed ditch the bag. NOW. Get a waist belt that is decently padded and fits comfortably, don’t be afraid to try a few models, the solution is out there. The tiny single strap thingy is’nt a waist belt really, it just stops the thing sloshing around.
Life support systems: Don’t forget (as apparently a few companies have) that you’re hauling more than just camera gear. You want to be able to haul water (at 1kg per litre) in sensible amounts, novels, warm clothes and possibly even a change of clothes when flying international.
Hand baggagable: You’re not gonna check your beloved glass are you? If you are, check out pelican and other hard cases and Chase Jarvis blog here for the best info for travelling heavy. If not, bear in mind the puddle jumper that might be dumping you to your destination.
Discreet: So you get off the bus and realise it’s in the ghetto, or, you go to the hard places to shoot. I hope you’re insured. To avoid problems and attention, perhaps a dog eared well travelled shoulder bag for your lightweight kit? Look like “just another traveller” as much as you can. Take off the lovely shiny tags and giant logos. Don’t be afraid to buy or improvise inserts into bags such as those from Crumpler, Domke or Tenba. David Alan Harvey sometimes travels with a barbour thornproof, dakine messenger bag or a timbuk2 model. If you’re really worried, stick an insert in a LOCAL carrier bag and look like you’re just heading back from shopping. Ken Rockwell occasionally uses a nappy carrier and no-one is gonna steal THAT!
Sneak thieves: Carry the thing in front (try this in the store) if you want to avoid sneak thieving. Back access only bags make a BIG difference to your piece of mind too. People ARE faster than you think and waaay more subtle. They’re professionals and they LOVE an easy target.
Breakdown: Your camera is smaller than you think. Take off the lens and screw on a 50mm or a body cap and stow that way. It’s a LOT easier to stow this way. It is possible to fit a D70, 18-70mm kit lens, SB800 and two pocketwizards into a Camelback Lobo (small) like this. With the added advantage it can be work UNDER a bulky coat. Just store that cap somewhere not dusty.
Tripod: You look like a bloody photographer now don’t you? If you must, get a small one or a discreet one or just cope with it. Be sure of the area you’re going into if its at night! Check out other kinds of bags that might fit it if you’re travelling to really fun areas. Hockey or lacrosse stick bags may work and have the bonus of implying that you are fit and enjoy wielding a large stick aggressively in your spare time.
Photographer retrieval handle: A lot of camera bags come with a large handle on top. This is a double edged sword. I occasionally shoot with a friend, particularly during large events. Its good to have a nice big handle for them to pull you out of the way of the thing you did’nt spot. Unfortunately it also gives someone with less friendly ideas something to grab you by too.