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Tip of the week: Choosing a photo bag

Tips & Tricks

 

Our Bag Choices

Our Bag Choices

Welcome to a recurring feature on The Blog @ BorrowLenses.com. Every Thursday, we will post a photography-related tip here. These tips are typically inspired by questions we get from our customers. Sometimes we might feature a technique tip, sometimes a gear recommendation. If there’s something specific you’d like to see in this section, let us know. Email us at [email protected]

This week’s tip (or, more accurately, collection of tips): Choosing a bag to lug your gear around in.

  1. Don’t go for the biggest bag you can find.
    One mistake customers make all the time is to pick the largest bag they can find. The thinking is that you should grab a bag that’ll fit all the gear you might need someday if you ever went on a long photo-heavy trip. Might and if are bad foundations on which to chose something that you’re likely to use on a frequent basis. That kind of thinking is called “Worst-Case Shopping” and is not the best way to chose your bag.
  2. This is not the last bag you’ll buy. Photographers who’ve been doing this for a while will attest to this: you will buy more than one camera bag in your lifetime. Actually, if you do it long enough, you’ll end up with more bags than you could possibly need. Your bags will require their own closet. It’s just a fact of photographic life.
  3. Don’t skimp on price. Bags, tripods, tripod heads, lenses. These are the things you do NOT skimp or cut corners on. Your bag isnt’ just a container for gear – if it were, you could just as easily carry your stuff in a Safeway plastic sack. You want something that’s built well, is properly, but not overly padded, and is from a reputable manufacturer. LowePro, Kata, ThinkTank and GuraGear are some of our personal favorites.
  4. If you can, try before you buy. We carry a number of bags for rent from LowePro and GuraGear. If you’re looking for something we don’t carry, see if you can borrow something to try from a friend. If you’re going to buy one without trying it, walk into a brick-and-mortar store and get your hands on the bag you’re thinking about. You may pay a bit extra, but you’re more likely to avoid a mistake wherein something you bought online ends up not working out for you.

Our recommendations:

  1. Think Tank Airport Security v2.0

    Think Tank Airport Security v2.0

    Roller Bags. Enough pros and staff here swear by Think Tank’s products that we have no compunction in recommending their excellent Airport Security and slightly smaller Airport International series of rollers. This is the roller of choice for pros like Joe McNally, Scott Kelby and Moose Peterson. Moose in particular has an awesome breakdown of how he packs his Airport Security roller on his blog. Having personally owned this one, I can vouch for its fit, finish and customer support. One of the locks on my roller broke a while back and without so much as asking me for a credit card to cover shipping, the awesome folks at Think Tank sent me a new lock and instructions on how to replace the one on the bag. This bag has saved my back tons of wear and tear.

  2. GuraGear Kiboko

    GuraGear Kiboko

    Big Backpacks. Honestly? There’s only one choice here. GuraGear makes an amazing, out of this world backpack called the Kiboko. This thing will accomodate one of the largest lenses we rent, the monster 600mm lens from Nikon or Canon, or Canon’s 800mm (which is a hair larger, by .1 inches, but 2 lbs lighter) lens on one side and a couple of bodies and still more (smaller) lenses on the other. We often wonder if this bag is somehow bending the laws of physics because it doesn’t appear to be capable of holding all that, but does anyway. Empty, it weighs practically nothing. Filled to capacity and properly cinched up around you (the bag has a bunch of adjustable straps and harnesses), it still feels surprisingly light and extremely comfortable to carry. There’s just no argument – this is the big backpack of choice for us.

  3. LowePro Slingshot 300AW

    LowePro Slingshot 300AW

    Kata 3n1-10

    Kata 3n1-10

    Small Backpacks. We have two options for you here. One is the LowePro SlingShot 300, which we rent. It’ll hold your body, a 70-200 zoom and a few other smaller lenses, plus accessories. Its sling design will let you go shift the bag from your back to your front and draw your camera while on the go, making it a pretty handy thing to have. Our other favorite is the Kata 3N1-10. This is a small, lightweight bag with a switchable strap system that lets you convert it from a backpack to a sling for right-handers, to a sling for left-handers. We love its bright yellow interior that lets you quickly find that pesky lens cap or tiny memory card quickly. Arguably one of the best-looking backpacks out there too.

So that’s it – those are our tips and recommendations. Remember, don’t skimp on your bag – it makes no sense to lug $2000 of gear in a bag that cost you $20 at a no-name discount store online. Bags, like tripods, heads and lenses, are an investment. Treat them as such.
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Sohail Mamdani is a writer and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. You can find his portfolio on his website at sohail.me as well as on 500px and Flickr.

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Comments

  • Thanks for including us as your roller of choice! If anyone has any questions about bags, life, the universe – Please feel free to get in touch with us on Twitter @ThinkTankPhoto or via ThinkTankPhoto on Facebook or direct via my email as above..

    Thanks!

    Simon // Think Tank Photo Social Guy

  • I only have half of a closet filled with camera bags. But it’s a big closet. This post is spot-on and valuable for the young folks looking for a way to lug and shlep gear. Thankfully, much of my experience in owning still camera bags have paid off in buying bags for my video equipment. I’ve learned not to skimp as bags are subject to far more wear and abuse than one might think.

    A mistake I see is amateurs believing that gear in the wild will suffer more wear and tear as compared to those, say, traveling in urban areas with a group. I find it quite the opposite. In both situations, the bumps, knocks and scrapes will test all bags. Thanks to wise decisions, my stuff has survived falls and accidents where they would easily have been damaged or destroyed in lesser bags.

    Finally I have to add that there’s an unfortunate trend in the kit bag design. Many makers are offering “messenger” style bags inspired by New York bicycle messengers. They have a single sling or strap. The intent is that they carry the load bulk on one’s back but are easily shifted forward for access. Unfortunately, the claim typically doesn’t meet reality. In most cases, such bags constantly shift the load forward so, like the messengers, they are constantly having to push the bag backward. This isn’t a hassle for short jaunts but for serious landscape and long urban treks, constantly adjusting the placement of the load is tiresome and takes away from the photo experience. Instead, I prefer bags that one can carry as a butt pack but swing around to the front to deploy. Most of them include a shoulder strap you can use instead of or in conjunction with the hip strap. I have had two such bags and they have become my favorite hiking and travel bags able to carry a lens-mounted body, two extra lens or an extra lens and a camcorder.

    David Burckhard
    PicturePoint On-line
    http://www.picturepointonline.com

  • ben hood says:

    I’ve had my LowePro aw computrecker all over Haiti and the US. It’s an awesome roller bag/backpack. As a bonus, I’ve not ever had a problem putting it under the seat in front of me on all sorts of planes. I highly recommend it.

  • AJ Borromeo says:

    Maybe its just me but one of things that I find very frustrating when it comes to shopping for a camera backpack (case — bag — or whatever term you wish to use) is that rarely do I see a notation if the bag is big enough for a full size dsrl with a battery grip. I have a Canon 7D and I rarely (if ever) use it without the battery grip. Is there a reason for this?? Are photographers that use a battery grip that few that bag manufacturers have no trouble ignoring our needs??

  • Sohail –
    The Gura Gear team is collectively blushing right now. Thank you.

  • Gary B says:

    The Case-logic backpack can hold both Nikons, 14-24mm, 300mm, 50mm, 55-200mm, sb600 with room to spare – plus it has a laptop compartment and tripod older on the side.
    I looked at all high-end and midle end and lower cost options before I got this bag.

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