Bald Eagle catching a fish.
Buyers Guide: Camera Bags for a Nature Photographer
The camera bag is essential for any photographer. There are several manufacturers and thousands of bags to choose from. As a photo tour and workshop leader, I travel all over North America taking people to locations like Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Acadia, Smoky Mountains, Everglades, Washington State, Big Cypress and Alaska. My bags have traveled on multiple planes and into different habitats and extreme temperatures. I test a lot of gear so I have seen or used several bags over the years.
In this article I will explain what to look for in a camera bags and the pro and cons of each type of bag.
The first thing I would like to point out is there is no perfect bag. I use various bags for different shooting situations. For example if I am photographing wildlife and carrying a long lens I would use a bigger bag. If I am out shooting just landscapes or macro I would use a smaller bag. Buying a camera bag is an important investment and you need to know what to look for.
What type of bag do you want? Camera Bags come in all shapes and sizes. Different subjects bring a unique set of challenges and requirements for photographers. Are you more interested in car on roller bags, backpacks, slings or shoulder bags? Like everything else in photography all choices have pro’s and con’s.
Carry-on roller bags
These bags are designed for air travel. They fit in overhead carry-on bins on commercial airliners. They have extending pull handles, built-in wheels, and customizable compartments so they can fit your valuable gear smugly inside. This is a great idea if you spend a lot of time in airports carrying a lot of heavy gear. It takes the weight off your shoulders.
There is also combination backpack/wheel models. The handles and wheels add lots of extra weight and is not as comfortable when used as a bag pack. It also takes away so interior space. The bags are not suitable for rough terrain. It is not as easy to access your gear.
Shoulder bags come in a variety of sizes. They can fit anything from a small camera to carrying large amounts of pro gear. Shoulder bags let you grab your gear quickly without needing to take the bag off your shoulder unlike backpacks. I would recommend you get a fashionable bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag. This will make sure that you bag does not attract attention to thieves. Make sure it has a rain hood to protect it more in adverse conditions.
The problem with should bags is the weight is unevenly distributed. Using a single strap can be annoying since you feel that the strap will slip off you shoulder. This can cause back or shoulder pain if you use it extensively.
Fanny Packs or Belt Packs are camera/gear bags on a belt and can hang either on your back or front. The front side is best to use to avoid potential pick picketers. The design allow you to reach in and immediately access your stuff. They can hold a wide variety of gear. They are a good choice for biking or hiking. If you spend a lot of time on the streets and need to have your camera within reach this is one of the best options.
A disadvantage is you will not win any fashion contest and will look like a tourist.
Backpacks distribute weight more evenly and naturally than a conventional camera bag. They distribute the weight across your back and lumbar support. A backpack can go anywhere. This is a great option for nature photographers. This is my favorite choice.
Sometimes I get out of the car for a quick photo and the next thing you know I am a mile from the car and I need one more lens, filter, or flash card and I have to walk back to the car.
They also come in a wide variety of sizes that can fit a small camera to a large variety camera equipment. Some bags hold even tripods, tables and laptops.
You can get models made of rugged nylon, and some models have water-repellant hoods that will protect your gear in a downpour.
Backpacks do have some disadvantages. The equipment is on your back so accessing your gear quickly can be a challenge. Some models are “sling” type bags, which will swing around to the front so you can simply reach in and grab what you need.
In some areas security becomes a concern. Since the backpack is behind you, you may not realize someone is unzipping it and grabbing your stuff until it's too late.
My next article will be suggestions on what specific features to look for when purchasing a camera bag or photo backpack.
I hope you are out getting some great photographs.