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Which DSLR Camera Bag is Right for You? Three Popular Bags Are Taken for a Spin

08.5.12 @ 5:04PM Tags : , , ,

If you travel with camera gear a lot, you know the importance of being able properly store that gear safely. Traditional backpacks are not designed to safely hold cameras and lenses because they’re missing specialized compartments to keep the gear from hitting each other. As Dave Dugdale shows in the video review below, the camera bag you choose may have more to do with you than it does with the design of the bag.

These are the three bags in the review:

  1. Tenba Shootout Backpack, Small
  2. Case Logic SLRC-206
  3. Lowepro Pro Runner 300 AW

Any time you’re working within a budget (and even sometimes when you’re not), there will always be compromises between the features you need and the features that actually exist in the bags that are out there. As Dave says, bags can be a very personal choice, and it doesn’t always come down to how well the bag actually performs, but how it feels when you’re wearing it or whether it does everything you need it to do.

As I’ve been been broke my entire filmmaking career, I’ve always used the best performing bag I could find at the lowest price that also resisted me the least. Mostly I prefer traditional camera bags that I can sling over my shoulder versus backpacks, but this can get very unwieldy if you’ve got some big lenses in your bag. As a lot of my shooting is with manual Nikkors, weight hasn’t usually been an issue and I can take everything I need in one small bag. If you’re going to get a bag, it’s probably a good idea to go to a store and try them out if you can, because you could spend an awfully long time buying and returning them at home.

[via Learning DSLR Video]

Disclosure: Tenba is a NoFilmSchool advertiser.

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  • It doesn’t hold a huge amount of stuff, but I love the LowePro Flipside 200: http://products.lowepro.com/product/Flipside-200,2082,14.htm

    I can put my GH2 with three lenses in there, with batteries, filters, and cables, and it’s lightweight and easy to handle. The zipper is against your back (hence the name “Flipside”) which means you don’t have to worry about pickpockets on trains, in crowds, and so on.

    If I had a larger camera (like the 5DMkII) and larger lenses, I might not be as happy with it, but for the GH2, it’s terrific.

    When I’m on a proper shoot, the camera goes in the Flipside backpack and the other gear (sound, etc.) goes into other bags and cases. When I simply want to take stills or video for fun or on the spur of the moment in my normal life, the Flipside 200 is so lightweight that I don’t mind if I carry it around all day without taking too many pictures.

    And that’s what it does best for me: provides a way to casually take my camera with me just on the off-chance that I’ll want to use it. If the bag were heavier or bulkier, I probably wouldn’t use it so much and I would miss out on a lot of chances to take pictures.

  • Obviously depends on what sort of shooting you do, but for documentary one-person, run’n'gun (ie, just go to a location and shoot, no planning, no tripods, no place to store a bag safely, and you just have to carry it continually) another option is Lowepro S&F gear — a belt with pouches to carry: CF cards, batteries, wallet, phone, keys, lens-cleaning equipment, sound gear, and maybe up to two extra lenses if you’re game…

    • Cheaper version of S&F belt which I used for a while: a bumbag. When the crap hits the fan and you have to change battery/card/lenses in the middle of a wedding ceremony, better to have the gear right on you rather than in a Pelican case on the other side of the room.

      Of course, hopefully any camera operator worth their salt will have spare cards and batteries with them in their pocket anyway, bumbag or no bumbag…

  • Have you checked out the bags & belts by Think Tank Photo? I have some Lowepro bags, a Domke and some others, but have become a huge convert of Think Tank bags. My favorite “work out of” bag is their Change Up. I can wear it over my shoulder with 2 lenses or pull out the attached belt and add some of their “skin” components, and hang whatever accessories I need from it.

    I usually prefer to be able to access all of my gear without putting my bag down on the (muddy? wet?) ground (perhaps moving with the crowd). When I do want a backpack, though, I have the earlier version of their Airport Antidote. Since then, they’ve come out with a bunch of great roller bags, too.

  • I just started using a Calumet rolling case, and it is an awesome lower cost alternative to similar models by LowePro and Think Tank. Their whole line is totally worth checking out if you want more for less. I’m really pleased so far.

  • john jeffreys on 08.6.12 @ 2:01AM

    The arri production bag is pretty nice and looks like normal luggage. Any bag that says “canon” or “cinebags” or anything like that on it just screams “steal me”.

    • I agree. I personally use the Ogio camera bags. They look like normal backpacks, but are so fit for camera setups (DSLR or video camera).

      • john jeffreys on 08.6.12 @ 1:27PM

        I admit, I do have a personal gear bag (the canon backpack that everybody else has, which is on amazon for 40 dollars) that I decorated with metallic silver sharpie all over.

  • I am an indie filmmaker and I have been looking for a bag that can carry most of my dslr stuff, after researching, I ended with accessory Genie’s Professional DSLR Camera and Laptop Backpack / Sling Case for Canon EOS Rebel 5D Mark III , T3i , T3 , T2i and More Digital SLR Cameras from Amazon at $54. It is well paded and it can fit these: Ipad 2, Beyerdynamic shotgun mic, xlr cable, camera manaul and magazine, monopod, camera grip and adapter for batteries, 3 T2i batteries, t2i, 50mm and basic lens, flash, cleaning kit, Kodak zx3, 3 battries, tascam dr-05, hdmi lilliput 7″ monitor, 7″ composite tv, chargers for batteries, Iphone 4s telezoom lens and case, mini tripod, brackets for hotshoes, headphone, schd cards, cords, hdmi cables, SD card readers, small screws/adapters and a 126 LED on camera light and still got plenty of room.

    Now I decided to get the manfrotto unica vii for my digital recorder and the Kodak zx3 plus accessories and the wireless and shotgun mics so a bag for all dslr related stuff and a bag for all audio and underwater cam stuff. This way I can just run to location fairly quickly.

  • I’ve been using photo bags from Burton Snowboards for the past few years and love them. They are very customizable and durable. Plus, all of their bags come with a lifetime guarantee! I’ve used the Resolution Pack ($135) and the larger Focus Pack ($175). Both are great and have laptop sleeves, multiple pockets for HD’s, etc. And since they are made by Burton, you have straps to carry your snowboard, shovel, etc. Even when I don’t have my board, the straps are great for carrying small tripods, lights and other accessories in your arsenal. You can order them directly from Burton’s website.

  • My Lowepro Pro Runner 450AW is pretty much my best videography purchase in last few years (and I use a lot of kit). I’ve thrashed the hell out of this bag and it’s always worked out perfect.

  • Thanks for the thoughtful review. Feedback like this from users and potential users helps us continually improve our bags, and we’re always anxious to find out how our bags match up to a customer’s equipment, usage, shooting style and physical size.

    As the Tenba product manager, I thought I would respond to a few of the criticisms just for the sake of clarity.

    1. Weight — Shootout bags were designed to be as waterproof as possible. That required us to make certain choices in materials and hardware, like nylon with multiple coats of polyurethane (which gives nylon its water resistance) and rubberized YKK zippers. These materials are indeed heavier than those with less waterproofing, but for a photographer who commonly experiences extreme weather conditions, they are a necessity. For a photographer with less “extreme weather” needs we offer a collection of bags called Discovery that are significantly lighter weight and feature faster zippers. I use a Discovery bag for my own use because I consider rain to be a clear indicator that I need to go inside. :) The Discovery Large Daypack that would match the sizes of the bags in this review weighs 2.6 pounds.

    2. Size — A common concern with matching a small bag to a tall body frame is how to manage the waist belt. For those users who prefer to have the bag seated at the middle of their back (where the waist belt would cross their midsection rather than their waist), the bag offers the ability to remove the waist belt completely. The waist belt is really a bit overkill for the size of the small Shootout backpack anyway, but we included it for smaller users who might need the additional support.

    3. Other Options — Tenba just launched a series of bags designed for filmmakers (both for HDSLR and standard video cameras) in our Roadie collection. They would not have been the right choice for this review, as the camera system here is much more focused, but for a larger system with an assortment of lenses, audio gear and accessories, the Roadie video bags are worth a look, and they are the product of 18 months of research with filmmakers and videographers across a wide range of shooting styles.

    Thanks again for the honest review and insights.

  • I’ve been using the vanguard up-rise 43 for the last couple of years:
    http://vanguardworld.com/index.php/en/pv/products/photo-video/detail-1-1-Sling+Bag-32.html

    It fits my 550D plus 3 lenses, along with the charger and filters and other odds and ends. I find it sturdy and reliable, and it has a rain cover too. It wouldn’t be ideal if you had a couple of large lenses, and it doesn’t have a laptop pocket. But it is light and provides good protection for my gear.

  • I have a Lowepro Backpack, similar to the PhotoRunner, but I have to say the Tenba bag looks to be a more modern, higher-end bag than the other two the Dave reviewed. The padding looks more robust, and the dividers thicker. I’ve been using Lowepro bags for a long time and they are workhorses, but recently have been thinking about trying something like the Tenba above or one of the Think Tank bags.

  • I’ve used a Burton pack for probably 10 years now and can attest to it being damn-near indestructible. The only reason I’ve switched is that my back is now shot and the amount of kit I was carrying left the bag about 50+ pounds which it simply wasn’t designed to carry comfortably.

    As of about a month ago I’ve switched to a Pelican 1560 (w/lid organizer) to carry my camera/audio package, and ThinkTank modular pouches to keep the essentials close at hand while the Pelican is back at the car or some base of operations. The ThinkTank bags are amazingly well thought out and I use a Speed Changer V2 for my lenses (of which it’ll hold about 3-4 primes), batteries, and cards, and a Wireless Mic bag for my Zoom H4n, wireless mic receivers, and miscellaneous cables and such. If I’m working with a sound guy, which is 9 times out of 10, they have the pouch. If I’m working with an AC, they carry the other pouch.

    Moral: when you shoot gigs insist on enough money to press your “I think I want to get into film” ambitious friends into servitude, then you won’t care how heavy the bags are!

    Secondary Moral: ThinkTank bags are amazing. Backpacks are great but often cause you to carry 2x as much weight simply because you showed up with one giant bag. Ditch unneeded gear and carry smaller pouches.

    • Other benefits of using a waist belt (that I just thought of and forgot to mention)….

      1. Cooler back: no matter how advanced the “air channeling” every backpack is hotter than waist pouches.
      2. Better range of motion: you don’t have two big straps tugging at your shoulders at all times
      3. Faster to access: pouches on front, or set them up to slide on belt to keep them at rear until needed
      4. Better sitting: shift pouches to front, may not need to even remove belt to sit in vehicle
      5. Easier to navigate a crowd: packs tend to hit people in the face and if everyone is pressing forward in a crowd you’re moving through, people seem less put off by waist packs than backpacks in their line of sight.

  • For run and gun shooting, I’ve used the Amazon Basics backpack. It’s only $35, can fit two GH2 bodies, three to four lenses, batteries, filters, has extra pockets for SD cards, is easily modifiable, has a waist strap and comfy shoulder straps… May not look as nice as the others (or have as good of waterproofing), but for moving gear quickly and efficiently I’ve felt it’s a great value for the money. http://ow.ly/cNr4Z

  • Been using Domke bags for the past 12 years. They’re the photojournalist world’s big secret. Half the price of Lowepro or Tenba, and IMO they look cooler too.

    But I’m a fan of a shoulder bag so that I can easily access my equipment while run-and-gunning. Domke bags are shoulder bags.

  • ThinkTank and Kata (bright yellow interior!) are my favorites. If you travel by plane at all, get the ThinkTank rolling bags (Airport Takeoff, for example). Well-built and absolutely hold the maximum amount of gear.
    If you can squeeze it into a backpack, get the ThinkTank Streetwalker Harddrive — it can also hold the more recent 15″ and 17″ MacBook Pro (yes, 17″ 2011 MBP fits just fine).

  • I am using a LowePro Slingshot 200 that I bought 3 years ago out of the same reason Dave mentioned: I wanted a bag that was as small as possible but would still fit my most needed equipment.

    However, what I didn’t realize was that usually you don’t only need a backpack for your photo gear, but you also need to pack other stuff. Like when I go on a city tour I don’t only need my dslr and lenses but I also need a rain jacket, a sweater, a bottle of water, something to eat, my wallet, etc.

    Out of that reason I am soon going to buy the biggest camera backpack that I can find, something like the Tamrac Evolution 9 would be fine, I guess.

    By the way I don’t know if this also applies to photo gear, but I have been flying a few dozen times with a broadcast camera in a bag that was definitely too large for hand luggage and also twice too heavy.
    If you tell them at check in that you have this really expensive camera in a big bag that you will under no circumstances check in with your luggage, they always find a space for it. Even on those teeny tiny national planes they either have a luggage space for the crew where they can fit it in, or they will load it in a special department reserved for other gear like wheelchairs.

    On the bigger planes you can always take it with you as hand luggage. Just make sure to be one of the first to board the plane so all the departments are still empty.
    Under no circumstances ever check in your camera as normal luggage! If you make that very clear, it is not a problem. At least not for a broadcast camera, I can’t guarantee the same for a dslr camera.

  • For one man run’n'gun I used LowePro Slingshot. When you flip it at front of you, you can rest your camera on it to steady your hand better. And since you are wearing it, you can look in to the camera and not to worry about the bag getting stolen , when shooting in a busy place just by yourself.

    However a stopped using it, and any back pack for that matter, because it always get’s dirty when shooting outside and sitting it on the floor, and then getting all that dirt on my back. It is also not as sturdy as shoulder bag with hard bottom, when place on uneven surface, and when i need to switch lenses with one hand. I love my older kata shoulder bags and I use regular cheap school backpack for support stuff like laptop, lights, cords…..

  • You can’t rule out the Cinebags CB25. Love it with the GH2 and pretty much all of its accessories. and a really nice attached rain cover for the pack.

  • Something I look for is YKK zippers. . . on anything. Fail-proof.

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