6 key things to consider when buying a camera bag

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Do you know how to choose best camera bag for you? Whether you have one of best mirrorless cameras or a tried-and-true DSLR, a good camera bag isn’t just about protection. In addition to neatly storing a camera body, the best camera bags can safely store a variety of lenses, accessories, and other gear, including one of best tripods.

Finding the ideal camera bags can be a bit overwhelming as they come in all shapes and sizes, so in this guide we’ll show you exactly what to look for when trying to choose the best camera bag for you.

1. Size

Think about the gear you need to put in your camera bag. If you want your bag to fit two camera bodies, you’ll obviously have to skip the smaller ones. This doubles if you have DSLR cameras, which tend to be bigger than mirrorless cameras.

Camera bag capacities are usually measured in litres. Smaller bags (big enough for a camera) weigh around 15 liters, while larger ones (good for at least two cameras, plus lenses and more) can hold around 40 liters or more. But in general, most standard bags will be in the 20-30L range. That’s usually enough for your camera gear, plus a laptop or tablet and other accessories, like ND filters.

Two hands holding a lens above a camera bag

(Image credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

In any case, it is worth considering lenses. It goes without saying that if you want to take a big zoom lens and a few camera bodies, you’re going to be looking for one of the larger camera bags, like the one in the Vanguard Alta Sky range. However, if you have a mirrorless camera and a single zoom, you can probably fit them into a reasonably small product. If a 30 liter bag is tempting, it also means a heavy load to lug around.

2. Flight Considerations

If you do a lot of flying with your photography gear, you should buy a camera bag that doubles as carry-on luggage. This means thinking about dimensions.

Unfortunately, the restrictions keep changing and the allowances are shrinking, so buying something that pretty much fits in the top bin one year might not work the next.

A diagram showing airline baggage allowances

(Image credit: British Airways)

For example, for British Airways it is 56x45x25cm (as well as a 40x30x15cm laptop/handbag, with a combined weight not to exceed 23kg) while for American Airlines it is 56x36x23cm.

Keep an eye out for a regular update guide to cabin baggage sizes and weight restrictions (opens in a new tab)for the latest guidelines. And if you travel a lot, consider getting a rolling bag like the Manfrotto Pro Light Reloader Switch-55 (below).

Camera bags aren’t just for storing cameras. Some camera bags have straps on the outside to accommodate a tripod. Others have straps throughout, so they can accommodate multiple tripods.

It makes sense to choose a camera bag with many small pockets, which can be useful not only for storing accessories such as trigger cables, filtersSD cards and batteries, but also snacks.

The Lowepro Flipside 400 AW III backpack on a gray background

Bags like the Lowepro Flipside 400 AW III Backpack (above) contain plenty of extra sections and pockets for laptops and accessories. (Image credit: Lowepro)

If you’re a landscape photographer going into the wild, you’ll need space for things like food, water, and an extra layer. Some have a retractable rain cover.

Many medium and large bags have built-in laptop and/or tablet sections by default, but the sleeves themselves can add to the bulk of the bag, which is worth considering if the space is likely to be a premium.

4.Styles

There are several types of camera bags for all sorts of uses, from working photographers and those in urban areas to landscape and wildlife photographers. These are the main ones:

The Peak Design Everyday backpack on a gray background

The Peak Design Everyday Backpack (above) is an excellent 20-litre bag, although a bit on the pricey side. (Image credit: Peak Design)

The best option for landscape photographers and travel photographers, most mid-size camera backpacks also include a laptop sleeve and a way to attach a tripod. Note the weight of these bags, as they can become extremely heavy very quickly.

  • Messenger and camera shoulder bags

The Tenba Solstice Sling 10L on a mannequin

The Tenba Solstice Sling 10L is an example of a simple and versatile shoulder bag. (Image credit: Tenba)

Street photographers or anyone with just a small amount of gear should look into the messenger design, which tends to go over one shoulder and gives you quick access to your gear. Shoulder bags tend to be even more minimal.

The Manfrotto Pro Light Reloader Switch-55 wheeled bag on a gray background

The Manfrotto Pro Light Reloader Switch-55 (above) is an example of an ideal rolling bag for regular travelers. (Image credit: Manfrotto)

These bags are normally designed to carry a little more than the average photographer needs, with sections for studio lights, symbols and flashes and more for professional photographers. They’re also generally designed to accommodate most airlines’ carry-on baggage limits, although it’s always worth double-checking for your particular flight.

5. Access

Do you need quick access to your camera? If so, find a camera back that offers side access at a minimum, so you can slide it in and take your camera out without removing the bag from your shoulders or back.

A camera placed in the top of a backpack

(Image credit: Butus/Shutterstock)

However, you may prefer to have more security when you’re on the go. If so, consider choosing a top access only camera bag. Camera backpacks that open from the back are even more secure, so when you’re wearing them, it’s impossible for opportunistic thieves to open.

6. Build quality and weight

It goes without saying that you want your camera bag to be of the highest quality if you want it to protect your camera gear. Look for ballistic nylon on the outside, which is tough and adds water resistance, and good quality Velcro dividers on the inside that can be moved and reshaped around your specific camera and lenses.

The Lowepro Photo Active 300 camera bag on a gray background

(Image credit: Lowepro)

Camera bags have to take a lot of wear and tear, so look for good quality zippers, excellent stitching, strong handles, and well-padded shoulder straps. And if you’re not sure where to start, check out our guide to the best camera bags you can buy.


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