DSLR Packs Put to Task, Rounding Up the High-Tech to the Highly Mobile
When it comes to camera bags, every photographer has his or her own needs. There are so many variables, from where you're going to be shooting, to what kind of bag best suits your frame. There are the questions of comfort, class, and, of course, functionality.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of camera bags; some manufacturers make hundreds of different models, ranging from bags that fit a single camera and lens, to bags that fit every piece of gear you own. Get through this list, though, and we're confident you'll have a better idea of what you need and where you should go to get it.
Tamrac Adventure 9 Camera/Laptop Backpack
Tamrac is one of those companies that's been making camera bags forever, and they do it well. Tamrac and Lowepro are like the Canon and Nikon of camera bags, if you will; they offer solid performance with lots of history to back it up. While Tamrac's line is rather endless (with hundreds of available models), its Adventure 9 bag stands out as a great backpack for day trips, when taking your camera, lenses, and laptop is essential. This thing easily fits all of the above, while providing additional room for lunch and a sweatshirt, or anything else of similar size. The straps are fully adjustable and very comfortable, and the whole thing is made of extremely strong and durable nylon. It's easy to get things in and out of the pack (once you take it off, of course), and there are weather flaps over the zippers to ensure that nothing unwanted gets inside. With a design made for the great outdoors, you're not going to win any fashion shows (not that nature judges), but it's tough to beat for most anything else.
Lowepro Classified 250 AW
Like Tamrac, Lowepro has been in the business of camera bags for some 40 years, with a solid reputation for durability and functionality. The company's "Classified" series is a family of bags that fit varying amounts of gear, without screaming, "Steal me, I'm full of expensive camera gear!" The Classified 250 AW shoulder bag has room for three large lenses, the camera body and flashes, and also includes a special compartment for your laptop. (Lowepro says the compartment easily fits one to two professional DSLRs with 70-200 f/2.8 lens attached, plus two or three additional lenses or flashes.) It'll fit laptops measuring as much as 15 inches, so anything larger than a MacBook Pro might not quite fit. There are also tons of inside pockets of varying sizes, and one on the back for carrying magazines, papers, and the like.
The 250 AW makes use of a cross strap that attaches to the shoulder strap, making the bag significantly more stable on your body. The design features leather accents and succeeds at being "undercover" looking. And then there's Lowepro's trademark All Weather (AW) cover system. All you need to do is pull it up, unclip the carrying strap, feed it back through the cover, and -- just like that -- your bag is downpour-proof. If there's one problem with the bag, it's that the strap is too stiff and the pad too short, meaning that the nylon can dig into your shoulder if you're walking around for a full day. If you need to haul a lot of gear and want quick access to it (quicker than a backpack would afford), this bag is a great choice; but if you're going to be walking around all day with lots of gear on your shoulder, you'll want to consider other options.
Built Cargo Camera Bag
Built NY is not a camera bag company, per se. Rather, it makes iconic neoprene bags for carrying everything from laptops to baby bottles to your lunch. Made with "protective semi-firm EVA and neoprene" (essentially the stuff of most laptop sleeves), the Cargo Camera Bag (available in two sizes) is smooth to the touch and has a certain lovable squeezability to it. The bag comes with adjustable, removable, padded dividers so that you can customize the camera compartment to meet your needs. There's additional padding in the bag's base for extra protection, and the six built-in interior pockets provide space for cables, wires, and other accessories. The padding isn't very thick and the bag itself isn't very "tech," so the Cargo Camera Bag probably shouldn't be taken on a serious hike or anything resembling a "professional" shoot. But for those looking for a fashionable option (particularly the Micro Dot and Black Raspberry colorways, ladies), it's a nice, easy way to carry your DSLR and a couple of lenses back and forth from the office, to parties, or around the neighborhood. It's water- and stain-resistant, too.
Crumpler 5 Million Dollar Home
Australian bag company Crumpler got its start by making colorful, durable bags for bike messengers. The company has applied these principles and an appreciation of craft to its photography bags, and in so doing has become a go-to brand for camera bags.
There are seven different bags in Crumpler's Million Dollar Home line, increasing in size as they move from Models 1 to 7. The 5 Million Dollar Home, which hovers around the middle, is rather ideal for toting around your DSLR, an extra lens, a flash and small stuff like batteries and memory cards. The inside is incredibly well padded, and divided by two movable inserts. The soft material means the bag doesn't feel too rigid, adheres nicely to your body, and still maintains its shape. For the smaller stuff, there's are mesh pockets on the underside of the cover flap and another on the front of the bag.
There are some nice extra features, as well. The bag's outer flap is fastened by a plastic quick release, as well as by two patches of Velcro. Because Velcro is, of course, very loud when ripped apart, you'll sometimes find that you don't need or want it to work its magic. For those situations, Crumpler has attached small fabric pieces that you can use to cover the Velcro patches, thereby preventing them from "catching" when the outer flap closes. It's a brilliant design concept, and perfectly executed.
Incase Sling Pack
Incase is best known for the various accessories it designs for Apple products: sleeves for MacBooks and MacBook Pros, protective cases for iPhones and iPods, and an assortment of laptop bags. The accessories' aesthetics are always top-notch, and their build quality is consistently among the best in their respective classes. Incase has just recently ventured into the photography world with two entry-level camera bags.
The Sling Pack, which actually mirrors one of Incase's laptop bag designs from years back, employs a style that is becoming more popular in the photography world these days. Something of a combination courier bag and backpack, the Sling Pack is worn on your back, with the strap across the front of your body. When you need to access the bag, you don't need to take it off; simply slide it underneath your arm, and rest it on your chest, where it's easily accessible.
The nylon construction is solid, with thick, well-stitched lining and plenty of support for your glass. The camera and lens compartment, which will fit your camera along with a couple of lenses and a flash, uses removable dividers to fit longer lenses. (Unfortunately, you can't put these pocket dividers anywhere you like, since the Velcro on the inside of the bag only attaches in certain spots.) There's a large, interior, zippered pocket for cords and the like, as well as an exterior compartment with mesh and slip pockets for your smaller stuff. It's a comfortable bag thanks to its ideal shape and size (unlike some other sling packs we've tried), and it's easily one of the nicest looking camera bags on the market.
Burton Zoom Pack 28L
Burton is another company that's fairly new to the camera bag space. The Vermont-based company began as a snowboard manufacturer, and later went on to design clothing, shoes, and bags for the discerning winter sports enthusiast. Having always been impressed with its line of luggage (this outfit make some top-notch rolling bags), we were intrigued to see what it would do with a camera bag.
The answer is... a lot. The 28L is a Transformer of a camera bag, with more pockets, pouches, and zippers than you'll know how to handle. Essentially a bag within a bag, a large rectangular case fits inside the main compartment. And the case is huge -- big enough for every lens, flash, and accessory you own. It detaches completely from the backpack, making it a perfect place to store all of your gear when parked at home. It has a carrying strap on it, as well, but the awkward shape and size (not to mention chintzy strap) make it less-than-ideal for taking it very far.
On the main bag, there's an additional removable storage pocket for memory cards, batteries and cables, as well as a padded laptop compartment that holds sizes up to 15 inches. On the outside, there are vertical board carry straps (to attach a snowboard or skateboard), as well as a load-balancing weight harness on the back that straps around your body. And there are myriad pockets, of which the iPod pocket (with a port for your headphone cable) and "trap door" drop pocket are only a couple. If there's anything wrong with the bag, it's that accessing the internal photo compartment requires taking off the backpack, setting it down, and unzipping two large zippers; if you need to frequently change lenses on the go, this is probably not ideal.
Essentially, this bag suits photographers who haul lots of gear to and from particular locations. It comes in a host of great colors, and holds everything you could possibly need -- from water bottles and snow shovels to snowboards and laptops.
Like Tamrac and Lowepro, Naneu makes a broad range of high-quality camera bags for a slew of photography applications. It's newer to the game than either of the aforementioned companies, but effectively matches the high bar of quality that they've set.
We tested the K4L Adventure backpack, which is one of the larger backpacks in the company's line. Essentially occupying the same space as Burton's Zoom Pack, the K4L takes a different approach; there are no removable inserts, and a minimal number of pockets. The laptop pocket is closest to your back, and will fit sizes up to 17 inches. There's a front-zippered lower compartment (containing three accessory pockets and a zippered mesh pocket), two zippered side pockets, and one upper Velcro pocket. Like the Zoom Pack, it also has a slip-pocket for an MP3 player (complete with a headphone slot). A well-padded lower camera compartment easily fits a pro DSLR body with a zoom lens attached, along with three to four additional lenses and a flash.
A removable rain cover, which comes packed in a mesh container that can also be used as a water bottle holder, protects the entire pack from rain. One of the coolest features is a tripod carrying system, which folds down from the center of the backpack to securely hold a tripod or monopod. The K4L Adventure's waist harness is more flexible than that of the Zoom Pack, and should better suit our taller readers.
Kata 3N1 - 11
Kata was developed some 20 years ago, when both of its founders became familiar with sophisticated equipment (and the need to effectively carry it) while enlisted in the Israeli military. Kata bags are no-nonsense affairs, with military-grade construction, performance, and durability.
Their 3N1 family of bags is perhaps most interesting. Using a series of straps and harnesses, the design allows the bag to be used either as a right-shouldered sling bag, a left-shouldered sling bag, or a full-on two-shouldered backpack. The model we tested has a netbook compartment (for models up to nine inches), and enough room for a DSLR with a mid-range zoom lens attached, one or two extra lenses, and a flash. It's rounded out by a separate pocket for your smaller personal belongings.
One of our favorite features is the main pocket. As with many other sling-style bags, the pocket to access your cameras is on the side of the bag, and fastens with both a zipper and a plastic clip. What's great is that you can access this pocket incredibly quickly by just swinging the bag to your front, snapping the clip free, and ripping it open; this pulls open both the zipper and pocket in one motion. It's a very slick design touch, and one that comes in handy when you're trying to snap that perfect, fleeting shot.