I have so many bags it’s unreal. Starting with my backpack that I use with my laptop, one I use for bringing things to and from work, a backpack for weekend trips, a great big backpack filled with emergency supplies to accommodate any unforeseen (and largely imagined) emergencies, and a small over-the-shoulder sling that I call my “adventure bag,” used for keeping water and snacks and keys and cell phones and maps and whatever else I might want to carry when hiking or wandering around a vacation city. Then I have a bag that fits my old digital video camera that I haven’t used in 10 years, and a bag for a digital point-and-shoot that I haven’t used for even longer. I have a nice bag that I bought for carrying stuff to work and back that I thought I’d like, but I don’t, yet I spent too much on it to simply to throw away. I have a small bag in the trunk of the car filled with emergency car stuff (living in Vermont it’s good to plan for bad weather, we have a lot of it), and I have a couple of empty bags in the back of the closet, I’m sure, which I simply forgot about.
Then I have camera bags.
It started with one that I bought to keep both my Pentax cameras in. Surely I would never have more than just two cameras, and it had room for a couple of lenses and a few rolls of film, perfect. All I would ever need in a camera bag and at a really decent price that comes with the most excellent branding of “Amazon Basics.” It even accommodated the Holga I bought later that same year, though with a bit of strategic shifting and tucking of gear, and being more selective about which lenses I carried with me. Then I bought a Canon AE-1. Okay, so now I needed to figure out what I was going to do. Maybe my two Pentax cameras will be my cool old nostalgia cameras and my Canon will be my go-to film camera. So I’m just going to go ahead and get this big Canon-branded gear bag to keep this Canon in along with all the extra gear I bought for it. I’m sure I’m not going to buy a Nikon in another few months, followed by a medium format camera, another Nikon then another Canon followed by an Olympus and a Minolta then another Nikon, a Yashica, a Konica and a fourth Nikon and three more Yashicas and yet another Canon. That would be positively insane.
Some bags were gifted from friends (“Hey Kev, I have a couple old cameras or lenses or other vintage gear and you can keep the bag it all comes in”), others came with the camera when I got it off eBay, and a few I went out of my way to buy outright, thinking “This will be the one I need.” At least they were cheap enough that it didn’t wreck my ego when I abandoned them to the back of the closet. The bag that my Nikon N80 came in is now the permanent home of my solitary digital camera, so that one is taken care of, but I was still on the lookout for that bag that will fit my needs for an on-the-go camera transportation medium.
I guess the first question we should ask ourselves is “What exactly do you need this bag for?” Not a rhetorical question. Your camera bag becomes as integral to you as the bag you bring your stuff to work or school in. Perhaps you don’t need a bag at all, or maybe you just need a thing to store your stuff in, transport it from your closet to your car, or maybe just a place to keep everything together. I asked myself these questions, and what I discovered is that I already have a place to store cameras, and another place to store lenses. There’s no point in having a fixed container, as this collection will likely grow and shrink with time. I discovered I wanted something that would fit two medium sized or one large camera, perhaps an extra lens, and have a small compartment or two for film, batteries, and other necessities. So something bigger, but not Too big. I plan to take this thing on motorcycle trips, on hikes, and at an event here and there, so it needs to be comfortable to wear for long periods, and something secure… I don’t need this thing banging back and forth on my hip as I’m riding through traffic or on a twisty back road. However, not a backpack. I don’t want a backpack. I also don’t want it to yell out “Hey look, I’m a camera bag!”
I was at a vintage scooter rally where one of the sponsors was Chromebags. This company makes high’ish-end luggage for riders of bicycles and motorcycles. There are a plethora of sizes and styles, and even a line specifically for cameras. I had bookmarked a bag called The Niko, I think that was the name. It was a small to medium size sling type bag, and it looked really sharp. But it was also $120. I wasn’t used to spending that kinda money on a camera bag, so the link sat in my bookmarks folder for another three or four years. In the meantime I would acquire one cheap bag after another and find they did not work for me. This 120-dollar bag was starting to look better and better. Should I get it?
Go to any camera store and there will be a wall filled with camera bags on display, and they’re all more money than you expect they will be. The fact is high-quality specialized gear is going to be a little pricey. You can find generic black nylon bags with foam inside on Amazon for 20 or 30 bucks, and if that works for you fine, but if not you might need to bite the bullet and try on a nicer bag or two and see which one fits. Is it comfortable? Camera gear can be heavy, and you need to imagine all the things you’ll be doing with it on your back or your shoulder. If it fits and feels good, and is made well, you only need to buy it once.
So I bit the bullet and ordered one of these bags. A few months later they were no longer selling this model, and I wasn’t in love with the replacement, so it was perfect timing. It’s a comfortable bag, the strap is thick and comfortable without being bulky. It fits across my back but doesn’t extend past my width of me. It looks sharp and has this trademark seat belt buckle connector that works great for me, because when I wear this over a bulky, armored motorcycle jacket it’s better if I can adjust the strap easily and buckle it on or off.
I’ve had it for a couple years now, and it feels like “My Bag.” It’s the bag I’ve been looking for, and even though it was more than I’d ordinarily like to spend on such an item, I feel it was worth the expense. Like most Vermonters, I tend toward frugality as a general rule, however, I’m aware that sometimes you just can’t bargain hunt and walk away happy, and when the world we live in is being more and more ruled by cheaply-made disposable goods, I’m finding myself hungry for longer-lasting quality. This bag of mine will not be in a landfill for many years to come.
While this reads like a commercial for Chrome Industries, I assure you I paid full price for my bougie bag, though I will happily write another few posts for them should they see fit to send me some free stuff…
However since they DON’T send me free stuff, I can also point out that Peak Design makes some fantastic bags, as do Lowepro and Manfrotto. If you want something a little more classy, something retro or handmade or vintage then definitely check out Etsy. Bonus points if you buy one from an actual home crafter, those are so much better in quality than your average Chinese sweatshop bags. Another thought is to convert a bag you already own into being your camera bag with a collapsible foam insert sold for that purpose.
Or you can do what my dad did… store your cameras in a filing cabinet, and then just transport it around your neck, with rolls of film in your coat pocket. No bag required.