In this blog post I'd like to give you a short review on some photography bags I have been using over the time. In many ways, the gear you carry around influence the kind of photography you do. If you pack too much gear for a trip, it can be frustrating to carry all that gear around and in the end you don't even need it anyway. On the other side, if you go for a one lens setup, you might miss some tools or focal range and can't get the shot you were aiming for. In the end, it all depends on your personal preference. To help you accommodate the gear you want to take with you, or if you like so, limit you by the amount of gear you can pack, the right bag for the job is an essential tool! Shoulder bag vs. backpack vs. roller bag?
I have used all three of them, in different variations. There are times when each of them shines. To give you more detailed information on what my experience was with all three kinds of photography bags I have used, I will give you a short introduction to the different products in question.
First of all shoulder bags: For quite a while now I am using a Billingham 335 and a Billingham Hadley Small. Billingham bags have exceptional build quality and have proven to be the right guy for the job. The Hadley Small is my go to shoulder bag if I am traveling light, which means usually a one lens setup. It can also pack some small tools, extra batteries and a full size iPad inside. For longer trips or for the time being when the gear is packed at home, the 335 is the Billingham I trust. It has a big main compartment, which holds usually 3-4 lenses and the body, a smaller compartment which holds filters and cables as well as two front compartments for extra batteries, a torch and stuff like that. The main compartment however could also take easily some hot shoe flashes if you'd take out some lenses. The great deal with the Billingham 335 is its SuperFlex Partitions. It divides the space into several parts which holds securely your gear apart from each other. In the Hadley Small the divider set is more flexible as it is completely velcro, but usually I just use one divider to separate the body from the lens. All in all shoulder bags are in my opinion easily to pack and great in terms of size to gear ratio. However, especially with the 335, you have to keep in mind that the more gear you pack, the heavier. And either way, carrying by hand or on your shoulder, you won't do this for an entire trip. So if you plan on traveling for a few weeks, I'd rather choose to take along a backpack as well or exclusively.
So, secondly backpack: Since the early days of my photography I have been using Kata bags backpacks. I started of with the 3N1-20 and later got the Bumblebee 222 UL. Both are fantastic bags and the only reason I did the upgrade to the Bumblebee is that the 3N1 (20 liter version) had to less room to fit all the stuff inside I'd like to carry along. The 3N1 is a one of a kind backpack in terms of functionality and build quality. I have found that Kata bags are well made and well thought through in terms of design. However, Kata has now become part of the Manfrotto family, so we have to see how future development might be.
It is safe to say, that carrying a whole lot of gear around with you is much more pleasant with a backpack rather than in a shoulder bag. The weight is distributed equally on both your shoulders with the backpack and you are willingly to carry the gear for longer, promised! As for the Bumblebee, it has even more advanced features which will let you carry your gear even further! It comes with foam harness straps which are very comfortable to wear, an adjustable hip belt to secure the backpack and also distribute the weight off your shoulders. It also features an aluminum frame which has a full length suspended mesh to keep your back dry on long trips. The 3N1 features a quick draw for quick and easy access to your main camera and a backup compartment for an additional lens. You could also use the 3N1 as a sling bag or with the back straps in an x-position. I like the way backpacks distribute the load of your gear, and if well packed you can enjoy your trip rather than worrying about the sheer weight of all the stuff that you've packed. And if you do not want to worry about weight on your shoulders at all, there is a third category of bags for your photography gear!
Here we go, thirdly roller bags: Since I first saw the Pelican outdoor cases I was fascinated. I then came to the ThinkTank brand which features the Airport Airstream. It is a classic rolling bag which is suitable for cabin luggage on international flights and is fully equipped to transport all your camera gear around the globe. Besides a compartment system with reinforced dividers and a semi-hard shell, the Airstream features also some handy features, especially when you are traveling with your gear. For instance, a cable lock, connected to an aluminum frame in the inside of the roller, keeps your bag secure in one place. The bag itself also locks down with a zipper combination lock. Like most of the new international traveling bags, the Airstream also features an additional TSA lock to override the combination lock if your bag is going through airport security. While the Airstream can accommodate all of my gear easily, could also take my 15" laptop and a tripod on the outside, there is one big drawback - the rolling thing! If you stay within the airport or on even surface in the city, the Airstream is your best friend. It takes all the weight off your shoulders and rolls with elegance behind your back. However, as soon as you are going off road, the small wheels (same like inline skates) become a pain. Therefore, I can recommend the roller bag as long as the right surface is beneath your feet. Once your climbing the next mountains or jump around in the desert, take out your backpack or small shoulder bag and pack the stuff you need for the day in the morning before you leave.
A good combination out of two bags is the way I personally have chosen. I take a big bag, either the Billingham 335, the Bumblebee 222 UL or a rolling bag like the Airport Airstream and pack all the gear for the trip. Then I have, most of the time, a smaller bag like the Billingham Hadley Small to pack just the stuff I need for the day. Remember, the gear are your tools, the bag is the tool to bring the gear and then it is you who takes the shot! I hope this insight on my experience gives you a hint what might be the right bag for you. I also encourage you to check out the bags mentioned in this blog post, as they served me well over the past.