Camera bags have different meanings to different people – some will look for style, some for practicality and comfort, some people will want one to simply to protect their camera from a few knocks while on holiday. If you're adventuring into the jungle or up a mountain, then you may well have a more complex set of requirements and you’ll need the best camera bag possible.
Understanding what you want from a bag may not be the first thing you would think to do, but a quick read through our guide will help navigate the features you should be looking for. We explore different types of bags – so whether it's a waterproof camera backpack for a DSLR, or a stylish shoulder bag for a mirrorless camera, you'll discover what choices are available.
No matter what kind of camera bag you’ve got your eye on, our expert guide will help you find the perfect fit for you and your requirements.
Firstly, there is no right or wrong when it comes to understanding what you want from a bag – for some people protection against the elements may be most important factor, whereas for others it could be that a touch of style means that the bag will complement your outfit, and will actually get used.
It's also worth considering that you may require more than one type of bag if you shoot in very different circumstances. For example, a location shoot may require carrying extra lighting accessories and a wildlife shoot will need a bag to fit a long lens.
Whatever your personal tastes and requirements, this guide will help you consider all of the key factors.
Knowing how you will use your bag, what gear you’ll bring and what specific features you’ll need are all factors, so there are some key things to consider before deciding which one to buy:
When choosing the size of the bag, first consider the amount of equipment you own, as well as what you’re likely to transport on a regular basis. It’s also worth taking into consideration any additional lenses and accessories you may buy later on to make sure they will also fit.
Most camera bags will describe which camera systems they are suited to, whether larger pro-sized DSLR or mirrorless cameras, as well as roughly how much equipment you can put in them, which is described as volume in litres.
Many photographers have different sized bags for different occasions, but if you are choosing a first camera bag, prioritise its size by the type of photography you engage in most. Outdoor photographers will often choose a backpack, whereas portrait and wedding photographers may have their camera in a stylish shoulder bag while transporting their lighting and other equipment to the venue in a roller case. If you enjoy wildlife or sports photography the chances are you’ll have at least one long telephoto lens, in which case something like the Lowepro Lens Trekker 600 AW III will do very nicely.
Be sure to check the size of your tablet or laptop if you need a dedicated compartment in the bag and add this to your requirements. Likewise, you can get bags with dedicated tripod sleeves or attachment points, which are essential for landscape photography.
If you’re outdoors with your bag during particularly wet conditions, then you need to get your hands on a bag for outdoor photographers, as water can soak through the outer material and damage expensive equipment contained inside. Be sure to check for DWR treated outer fabrics, which make the bag weatherproof, and a dedicated rain sleeve for really bad weather, which makes it fully waterproof.
A couple of our most popular weatherproof bags include the Manfrotto Advanced Shoulder Bag M III, from the Manfrotto shoulder bag line-up, and the Vanguard VEO Adaptor S46 Backpack. Both of these have treated fabrics as well as a rain sleeve, ideal for street photography, day trips and general outdoor photography. Tenba has released a range which includes the Fulton V2 14L All Weather Backpack with a waterproof roll top and a signature dual-sided WeatherWrap rain cover.
When you’re choosing a camera bag, think about whether it suits your personal style as well as meeting your other requirements. We absolutely love Billingham shoulder bags, which are designed with distinct heritage style that is always on trend. Another great choice on the complete opposite end of the design spectrum is the Morally Toxic Wraith in Onyx Black from tripod designers 3 Legged Thing. This breaks the mould with a unique look, which defies traditional camera bag designs.
There’s a bag to suit every taste in every colour and material, and some real stand-out bags with useful features like a dedicated phone pocket, like the Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 10. If you want to look smart, a shoulder bag is often the way to go, though you may want to be as discreet as possible with a bag that looks nothing like a camera bag, in which case the Peak Design Everyday Totepack 20L V2 Bone is the ideal choice.
Camera bags fall into five or six main categories, designed to offer different ways of carrying, various ways to access the gear inside and for different equipment types. If you mainly shoot street on day trips to a local city, you might not want a huge backpack, so it’s worth planning ahead by considering how you will typically use the bag. Some of the main types of camera bags include:
Carrying a camera, lenses, a laptop, tripod and accessories all adds up and if you’re carrying equipment for extended periods of time, comfort is definitely a factor. A well-padded handle or shoulder pad are important if you spend a lot of time walking around, even if you carry less gear.
Choosing a backpack for outdoor photography may not be the smallest of options, but you'll appreciate the weight distribution of two over-the-shoulder straps when you’re out in the field, compared to using a messenger bag.
For anyone who does intend to pack a long list of gear, we recommend focusing on well-padded shoulder straps, a sternum strap and a design which fits your torso length. Our two stores provide the opportunity to try bags out in-person, but if you’re not able to visit we recommend reading reviews and descriptions thoroughly or call our expert team to ensure the bag you buy offers the appropriate level of comfort for your intended purposes.
There are two main elements to choosing a secure camera bag – discretion, and the physical security of any contents. Some camera bags make it clear they are housing expensive kit, whereas shoulder bags such as the Peak Design Everyday Sling don’t appear like a conventional bag at all, making them less of a target to unscrupulous onlookers.
Zipped compartments offer an added layer of security against contents being removed without you noticing and there are also plenty of backpacks with secure rear access, where the opening rests against your back when being carried – such as the Lowepro Flipside BP 200 AW II.
If you intend to fly, a number of bags feature TSA approved built-in cable locks and locking zip systems such as Think Tank’s Airport Security V 3.0 and their Airport Accelerator. Manfrotto’s Pro Light Backloader Backpack follows this trend, being one in a range of options with a Travel Sentry® approved lock system and high-performance fabrics.
As the bag owner, you can also help mitigate risk by never leaving your gear unattended and storing valuables inside internal accessory pockets, secret compartments or accessory cases like the Lowepro GearUp Pouch Mini, rather than housing them in more accessible external pockets.
There are plenty of options to make life easier if you regularly travel with your kit bag – including wheeled cases and cabin-sized bags for flying. Other appealing features to keep an eye out for include extra comfortable padding on straps or handles, easy-access gear compartments and convertible bags, which offer different ways of carrying. The Manfrotto Street Convertible Tote Bag is a prime example, converting from a tote bag to a backpack, while the DJI Convertible Carrying Bag offers similar versatility for drone pilots.
If you’re a real photography enthusiast, then you’ll find that you can never have just one camera bag. As your skills and interests develop, you may look to upgrade an existing camera backpack, or need a more compact camera case. Whatever your criteria may be, our guide will help you on your quest to find the perfect camera bag to suit your needs.
By Nick Dautlich on 23/12/2021
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