As photographers we love accessories, it's just the nature of the beast. One of the accessories that can often be hard to choose is the right camera bag. Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about camera bags is there isn't just one perfect bag, but rather a perfect bag for any particular situation. In this article we will break down which bags work best in different environments, for different shooting styles so you can choose the right bag no matter what, or, as you may lean, the right bags.
Transportation. Transporting your gear for long car rides, on planes or packed in trains requires a little more protection and some more thought. If you are checking your bags, a hard-sided case like those made by Pelican will give you the absolute best protection.
Designed to meet military specs for impact resistance and durability, and an interior featuring pick and pluck foam to fit every piece nice and snug, these cases can and will take a beating, and even float should you need them to. The downside to using these cases is they are hard, bulk, can be very heavy to hand carry and with such a specific interior, don't allow for much expandability. You certainly wouldn't want to go on a hiking trip with one of these cases.
Point A to point B. Sometimes you'll have a need to move your camera gear from point A to point B, say your home studio to a location shoot. You may not need the extra rugged, hard-sided protection from Pelican style cases, and you may need to carry the gear over slightly different terrain. If you're moving your gear from one point to another, and once there, consider a photo backpack.
Small through very large backpacks are made, some even come with a rain jacket to increase water resistance should you get caught out in a storm. Backpacks are a wonderful way to move a lot of gear from one spot to another, especially if you plan on walking and need two hands free. Because of their design, they aren't great to work out of and getting something from inside the bag means taking it off your back. While there are clear advantages over a hard-sided case for transporting your gear, backpacks are best used if you simply need to move gear from point A to point B and then setting up your shoot.
Working bags. Often times you'll need to be on-the-move and change lenses, grab filters or any other of a number of needs and will have to carry your gear with you. Messenger bag style camera bags are the preferred favorite among photojournalists, street shooters and wedding photographers because of their comfort and ease of accessibility.
Utilizing a single strap worn over the shoulder, usually cross your body, most messenger style bags have a zipper or flap across the top to easily gain access to the inside of the bag. Because of the design and function, it leaves both your hands free to make lens changes or attach a flash easy. A working bag is designed to carry your extra gear, not your camera plus all your gear, so keep that in mind when shopping for one. Ideally, you'll have your camera in your hands and accessory lenses, flashes, filters and sometimes a laptop in the bag. It's possible to go hiking with these types of bags, but unlike the stability and room of a backpack, they can get heavy on one-shoulder and may not have enough room to carry everything you need with you. Because of this, working bags are only ideal for situations when you're shooting, not solely transporting gear.
Three bags, three purposes. The reality is most photographers are bag junkies anyway, and it's not uncommon to pack one camera bag inside another on trips. If you transport your gear in a pelican case on a plane for vacation, pack your working bag in your regular luggage along with your clothing. It's not about choosing the right bag, it's about choosing the right bag for the job at hand.