Lens Luggage: The 10 Best Camera Bags and Backpacks
A high-quality camera – be it a DSLR, a mirrorless, or even just a compact for travel photographs and snapping a few shots while in Amsterdam’s red light district – all deserve to be protected. They’re costly pieces of equipment, but more than that they are the places that house your memories. To avoid losing not only an investment of money, but the keepsakes from the special moments of your life, a good camera bag is imperative.
Choosing a bag is foremost about deciding what you will use it for. Are you a professional who needs a tripod-carry attachment or are you Instagram royalty who has to be capable of pulling off quick snaps even when packed into Time Square? The best bags offer utility for both while also giving protection for your camera, enough room for your lenses and other peripherals, and camouflage that doesn’t announce to the world that you are toting around thousands of dollars worth of gear. From kit for the pros to affordable offerings for the amateur photographer, one of our 9 best camera bags or camera backpacks will fit you to a tee.
Think Tank Retrospective 5
Con: Cannot carry DSLR camera
Mirrorless Maintainer: This is the quintessential camera bag. It’s meant to be carried like a sling or a messenger bag, though you can find others in the Retrospective line which are larger for anyone toting around a full DSLR kit. This is meant for those who like a mirrorless model, a compact, an instant, or a point-and-shoot camera. The stealth padding makes it look like just another bag and eliminates noise when opening or closing it so as to avoid drawing attention. Inside there is a surprising number of pockets for carrying a few basics. Everything about it from the seams to the zippers are well constructed with safety and protection foremost on the designer’s mind. Though it costs nearly as much as larger bags, the exceptional quality is perfect for serious on-the-go lensmen. [Purchase: $145]
Manfrotto MB Agile V Sling
Pro: Sleek, discreet style
Con: Limited capacity
Most for the Money: We wanted to give you a few affordable options, but couldn’t in good conscience tell you to entrust your camera to inferior equipment. At just 100 bucks, this is going to be the best bargain you can get. It is a camera backpack that works equally well for fast shots as well as carting large quantities of equipment around. You can rapidly whip it around to the side to get at your camera, but it is still large enough to carry a DSLR with a 120mm lens attached along with a few additional lenses.
The Agile V isn’t a true 50/50 split, but there is an upper section where you can stash a few personal items, extra cords or batteries, or maybe just an energy bar for long days staring down the barrel. You can even sneak an 11″ laptop into the mix, so adding in a Chromebook or a compact Mac isn’t a challenge. The pack comes in a few different colors depending on your sense of style. They have a minimalist sensibility that is attractive enough to blend into the city without looking flashy enough to steal. Though if you use the tripod sling on the side, odds are good someone is going to catch on. [Purchase: $100]
Lowepro Dry Zone 200
Pro: Completely waterproof
Weather Wizard: Numerous backpack options offer some degree of water resistance or are equipped with a weather shield or rain fly to keep your gear high and dry, but none of them have the capacity to be dropped in a river and still guarantee that you’ll be able to retrieve all of your pictures. The Dry Zone 200 is intended for shooters who want to take a boat trip down the Amazon or snap pics on the high seas. When the hatches are battened down, you can put this right in the drink and it will float. Capacity isn’t a problem either with the ability to take a full 35mm DSLR along with 5 lenses (or one huge telescopic lens.)
Personalization is also simple. The interior of the bag can be shifted to accommodate whatever system you need. When you’ve got to hop from flatboat rides around the swamp to capturing the nuances of Italian architecture, a few minutes is all it takes to change the internal layout of the bag. The outside has several SlipLock attachments that can take a multitude of accessories for exterior customization. All of this protection and flexibility comes at a price, as the bag is weighty and bulges out, which can make balance troublesome, particularly on the water. [Purchase: $229]
Case Logic Kilowatt KSB-102 Sling Backpack
Pro: Extremely well padded
Con: Straps and zippers feel shabby
Multiple Personality: Very few photographers do just one kind of shooting. Therefore, it is rare that they can find one bag that gives them the ability to change from a backpack they can lug around the desert, to a sling bag that gives them fast access to their equipment for those impromptu, emotional shots. The Kilowatt can handle it all. It can be hung over either shoulder with equal ease so even southpaws can get their hands on their kit at a moment’s notice. It also has the reinforced shoulder and waist straps for long treks. Both styles are comfortable and feel natural for the bag.
For a bag that can change with the wind, the padding and reinforcement are surprisingly good. Inside are many removable dividers that can alter as easily as the rest of the bag, giving you the option of toting larger or smaller lenses with equal comfort and complete protection. The body is large, able to take on a DSLR with 8″ lens and a 15″ laptop. Pockets on the top and sides allow it to accomplish some passable day pack duties, but not many. Be wary of wear and tear since the straps and zippers feel cheap and you’ll often find yourself with chafing or bruises on your shoulders even as you battle the bag open or closed. [Purchase: $127]
Urban Disguise 50 V2.0
Pro: Professional appearance and large size
Con: Hard to carry for long periods
Massive Messenger: Normally you need to get a backpack to get the ultimate in storage. The good people at Urban Disguise realized that while this was nice, it often made professional photographers look more like college students, and a backpack just doesn’t really go with a power suit. That is why they devised a line of products that could cope with carrying a full 3-piece DSLR kit complete with 15″ laptop while looking more like an ordinary laptop bag which can sit on plush leather seats in a Benz or get kicked around the floor of the local coffee shop with equal ease.
Though you can easily flip it around to the front, there isn’t any easy access with this camera bag. The camera fits in the main padded compartment. It doesn’t take long to get to, but when seconds count, you’re just as likely to miss your window as to reach your gear in time. It has a retractable divider so you can slap in two full DSLR bodies or one with enhanced grips or an attached lens. The bag is completely expandable so even if you’re just hoofing around with your laptop, it won’t feel clumsy or awkward. Be warned that long-term wear when fully loaded will probably throw your back out of alignment. Switch from messenger mode to the plush leather handles periodically to avoid injury. [Purchase: $200]
Pro Roller x300 AW
Pro: Suitcase style
Con: Not very portable
Rolling Thunder: The elite photographer who is more acclimated to a studio than taking snapshots on the grubby streets among the unwashed masses will appreciate the x300. It transcends being just a camera bag to become a whole camera suitcase. It isn’t built for you to carry it like some donkey. Rather it rolls along discreetly, looking for all the world like a piece of ordinary luggage with nothing more interesting than a toothbrush and your unmentionables.
In actuality the interior has a heavily padded, partitioned space that can accommodate the biggest cameras with the longest lenses with ease while still allowing for backup cameras, storage devices, batteries, and anything else you could possibly need while you’re trying to capture the perfect shot. The partitions are adjustable to allow for larger or smaller gear depending on your desires. The zippers use a TSA approved locking system for security and the sides have a tripod mount. It fits a 17″ laptop and has an all-weather cover. It really is an on-the-go studio. [Purchase: $480]
Thule Covert Roll-Top
Pro: Plenty of space for backpacking equipment
Con: Limited space for camera equipment
Into the Bush: Even packs that claim they can carry more than just photographic equipment often don’t have enough for you to survive for extended periods out on a difficult shoot in the wilderness. For adventure photographers who like to pack along their camera and enough food and clothing for a couple of days of rough living, there’s the Covert Roll-Top. It looks like an ordinary day pack but uses two discreet compartments with the lower one able to take a full DSLR with a little space on the sides for lenses or grips. Don’t expect miracles. This is for your bare photographic necessities.
The day pack portion is slightly larger, though not as well padded as the lower section so while you can fit some grips or cables, sensitive equipment will need extra padding. This is a good place to pack some clothes, first aid equipment, and maybe some fishing line or firestarters. The intent with the Covert is first to keep you alive, then to keep you snapping pictures. The roll-top design allows you to change the size of the pack as you add or reduce the amount you are carrying, which also makes it comfortable to wear. [Purchase: $200]
Brenthaven BX2 Pro Camera Backpack
Pro: Very adaptable interior
Con: Overkill for amateurs
Changeling: First, it is worth noting that the BX2 line has just about everything you could possibly need. If you don’t want a full camera backpack, get a waist bag for quickdraws, or a messenger bag for laptop/camera combos. They’re all good. The lovely part of the BX2 Pro backpack is that you can adjust it depending on whether you are toting around a full professional DSLR with attached lens or need to make room for day gear while carrying a quick-shot mirrorless with a couple of smaller lenses as backup. The protective plush interior can be moved and re-purposed for wherever the road takes you.
In addition to allowing you to change the insides to make your gear more comfortable, the outside of the BX2 is easy on your body. The adjustable shoulder, waist, and sternum straps ensure that even if you’re toting around some hefty equipment, the weight won’t dig into your shoulders or slip a disc in your lumbar region. It was made with the consultation of several professionals who have years of experience taking their stuff far afield, so it is made by photographers, for photographers. The innocuous exterior works in urban areas, but it’s generally aimed at outdoor shooters. [Purchase: $200]
Lowepro DSLR Video Pack 350AW
Pro: Holds large laptop easily
Con: Lets thieves know you have a camera backpack
For Laptop Lovers: Many backpacks built specifically for your shooter offer a so-called “laptop” section that might hold an iPad with a little cramming and adjusting, but that’s about the best you can hope for. With the 350AW you can throw in a full 17″ laptop for editing on the fly or doing some fast photoshopping. Even though it is split 50/50 between a section for camera gear and an upper deck for cords, chargers, clothes, and other essentials, it can still fit a DSLR camera with a telephoto lens, some backup lenses, and even a flashgun.
It can handle a tripod with a side sleeve and offers the ability for quickdraws to access their equipment by swinging it off of one shoulder. The dividers are stiff for support and protection and the bag has an attached weather cover that can’t be lost or misplaced, though it is thin and won’t last long either. The biggest downfall of the 350AW is that it looks like a specialized bag, meaning it can quickly make you a target for thieves. [Purchase: $111]
Booq Python Slimpack
Pro: Slick body design
Con: No side pockets
Quaint and Comfortable: This bag seemed designed with cyclists in mind. The bullet-shaped body is sleek and streamlined so it rides easily whether you’re walking, pedaling, or even skiing. The slim design doesn’t scrimp on space too much with the ability to hold at least one DSLR body – two with a little fancy packing – and a few lenses and accessories. The velcro straps on the bottom are a work of art for anyone who wants to carry a tripod without having it bounce and jostle as they move. The nicest feature is almost certainly the ergonomic straps that distribute weight all around and won’t cause fatigue.
The few troubles will come from trying to use the top pocket, and the complete lack of any side pockets. Forget about slinging the bag around for quick work. The mesh bag in the top section also causes tangling issues which will arise at the worst possible times, namely when you need to move quickly to get the shot. The tough, ballistic exterior is water resistant and can take years of abuse, though it can be a little stiff which inhibits its versatility. [Purchase: $145]