What’s in the…Heck what IS the Bag?

Color infrared version of a tree against a bold sky.

So the time has come for me to do some shopping. By shopping, of course, I mean to check out some new camera and photo gear. I’ve been looking at getting a new camera bag and, boy, am I confused. For starters, they have a whole bunch of new camera bags. When I say, “new” here I mean they have, quite literally, redesigned the camera bag as we know it. These days a lot of folks are shooting mirrorless and lot of people want a stylish camera bag. This combination has forced a dramatic shift in all things camera bag. It’s mind blowing! Camera bags don’t even look like what they used to look like the last time I went in to buy one. I hardly recognize them, let alone know where to begin to purchase one. Seriously, I used to just check out the latest offering from the good folks at Domke and then maybe check out one or two additional bags just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything good. Usually, I wasn’t missing anything at all. Now, oh my now there is an entire plethora of camera bags that are just blowing my mind.

For starters, there have always been the very fine bags from Billingham Bags. These folks are from England and make a darn good camera bag if I might say so myself. The bags have always been expensive but it’s the type of bag you would pass onto your children and possibly even your children’s children. Since I don’t have children and these bags were always a bit pricey I’ve typically passed but now I am thinking about it. It’s another option anyway, so poking around at these.

There are now too an entire line of what I would have to call “woman’s camera bags.” What I mean by this are stylish bags clearly designed with the female photographer in mind. I think this movement started with the bags from Jill-E. I had almost purchased an entire Jill-E system back in the day (when these bags first came out) but I opted not to simply because the bag was a bit too heavy. I’ve got a bad back and want the absolute lightest bag you can carry. Because of this, often genuine leather bags are out for me. Although I think they look oh so stylish, it’s hard on your shoulder carrying that weight around all day.

The advent of the tablet is impacting camera bags as well. Since a lot of folks have tablets and small laptops now, the messenger style bags appear to be all the rage. Another option for the female shooter appears to be a bag by the relatively new Kelly Moore Bags. Though a bit of a newcomer to the field, these bags are really nice looking and seem to provide everything a woman could want in a bag. Some of the bags even have things like credit card slots and the like so that the bag essentially doubles as a purse. (As an aside, one of the things I’ve always *hated* about being a photographer, come to think of it, it might be the *only* thing I’ve always hated about being a photographer is that I can almost never carry a purse. Carrying a camera necessitates I carry a camera bag and I refuse to carry two bags so this leaves me essentially purse-less. I’ve learned to deal with it but it can be heartbreaking walking through the mall watching friends check out the latest in purses. Something I will never get to do, alas, but there you have it. Yes, I know, cry me a river. Onward!)

To get myself out of the ladies department, I checked out what the good folks over at Tamrac have in terms of offerings. I have a Tamrac messenger bag that I use to hold my laptop sometimes. It’s great. I’d have to say it was a great purchase. Just the right size and nice looking, plus plenty of padding but it’s more a messenger style bag so not the best for all day walking about with camera gear. (Now, if I had to carry my laptop about, why, this type of bag would be all over it.) The good folks at Tamrac make something called the “Stratus 21.” While this sounds a bit like some kind of demented Oldsmobile model from the early 1970’s, it actually looks like a decent bag. It holds a lot of stuff and it’s kind of the size and shape of what I might be looking for in a bag. Chalk this up to a possibility and let’s move onto the next one, shall we?

One of the problems I have is that I’m left handed and I’ve got a very bad back. I currently shoot a Domke F-2 shooters bag with a short strap and a long strap. The short strap lets me wear the camera bag up high, almost in my armpit. Doesn’t sound attractive, I know, but it helps with the old back. I sometimes stick my head in the long strap of the camera bag and wear the entire bag cross body style too, but it has to be across my left shoulder, since my right side is the bad side. This configuration pretty much rules out the Peak Design Everyday Messenger bag since it’s pretty much setup for right handed shooters (and right handed shooters only.) It also might make the Tamrac bag a bit difficult for me, since it does not have a high strap for me to use (or the short strap depending upon how you call it.)

There is another new company called ONA that makes a sort of waxed canvas bag. Looks interesting but maybe a bit too “male” for me. At least most of the bags seem to have a sort of masculine look about them. Got some nice features though so I have not ruled them out, although they do have the genuine leather bags which have the weight issue, plus their bags are a bit more “messenger” style rather than shoulder bag style.

I always check out Lowepro and they have a bunch of bags that might fit the bill for me. They have something that’s almost “purse like” but not quite feminine enough (if that even makes sense) called the ProTactic camera shoulder bag. It’s like a little system that you can add onto, although I’m not quite sure I want to invest in a new bag and then have to invest in add on’s and the like afterwards. That’s a bit of a puzzle but still Lowepro makes a good bag so I will consider it as an option for me.

Finally, there’s the worst issue I always seem to have: I just can’t make up my mind. This is, perhaps, my biggest issue when buying new camera gear. I just can’t decide what to do and I seem to get stuck in a sort of “analysis paralysis” mode. I need an everyday shooting bag. The one I have now seems to work (that would be the Domke F2.) Do I really need another bag? For traveling on the planes and such, I think it might be nice to have a bag that could maybe hold a small laptop or tablet but then I don’t want an everyday shooter bag that drags down to my knees. My knees really don’t need a camera bag, trust on that one. So do I solve this dilemma with two bags, perhaps? Maybe an airplane/travel bag coupled with an everyday shooter bag?

I’ve recently purchased a rolling carry on suitable for holding my laptop and maybe a day or two change of clothing. I can usually use this type of bag plus an over the shoulder camera bag for the planes. When I went to Dakota, and on the basically smaller commuter jets, they restrict you to one carry on. In that situation, it sure would be handy to have something like the Kelly Moore bag resembling a doctor’s bag. It could hold my laptop and all camera gear and fit under the seat (well, I might have to stuff it under the seat but still, fit it will!) In this case, I could leave the small rolling carry on at home and just bring the shoulder camera (travel) bag plus check my big suitcase.

Alternatively, since I have this nice, new four wheeled rolling ultralight carry on, I could put my laptop in that along with maybe a lens or two plus a bunch of chargers, batteries and the like and just put two or more camera bodies in the shoulder bag. The problem with this configuration is that the shoulder bag can get quite heavy loaded down like this, with the two cameras in it. I had been working like this in the past, using a Domke F-1X bag but I really don’t like that bag (I want to sell it actually) since I think it’s the only Domke bag that flops over when you open it. (For those who don’t know, one of the big features of the Domke F-2 bag is that you can wear it on your shoulder, walk around all day and, when it’s time to open it up, just open up a flap. The entire bag will not tip over if you open up the top flap. This is very handy if you do not want to put the bag down on, say, the sidewalk. It really works, not to mention Domke bags are build strong as hell. I usually refer to mine as a “Donkey” because I think it literally has hauled more crap up larger hills than some donkeys I’ve met.)

I’m currently leaning towards taking a shooters bag/day pack (my Domke F-2) along with a travel bag (for the plane) plus the rolling 4 wheel ultralight bag holding the laptop but, man, this could change at any time now. This entire situation is giving me a headache. I just don’t know what to do. I’m so used to all of the pockets on the old Domke F-2 and it really holds stuff nicely but it’s just not quite enough to haul everything only the plane plus it doesn’t do well under the heavy weight of over packing it with the multiple camera systems. Not to mention it will probably make the smaller ultra light four wheeled rolling carry on tip over, as this bag is not so heave and probably can’t hold a heavier loaded down canvas style bag atop it.

Argh! What to do, what to do? I’m open to suggestions if you’ve got a bag you swear by (alternatively one you swear at as well.) Please drop me a line or, at the very least, buy me a drink the next time you see me, as my head will still be aching from all of this madness.

Until next time…

PS This an infrared shot from the archives.

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