Camera backpacks are some of the hardest working bags in the world. They’re asked to carry and protect heavy loads often worth tens of thousands of dollars, and they get dragged through some of the world’s most rugged and challenging situations. Camera backpacks range from fast-and-light sling bags to behemoth shoulder-studios full of strobes and teleconverters, so with such a wide range it’s critical to get a pack that’s right for your needs. Hopefully these tips put your choices into focus.
Four Things to Look For:
1. Robust Materials
Camera backpacks get abused. When you need the shot and the light is fading, you will shove your bag out of the way over rough concrete; if there’s a chance of severe weather, you will get poured on; when you’re out of room you will overfill it. While keeping your bag light is important, avoid non-ripstop materials and any materials that feel too light to stand up to long term abuse. The last thing you want to do is to think about anything other than the photo you’re trying to take.
Unless you’re a crusty old pro whose workflow hasn’t changed in 10 years, your gear will evolve over time. A bag that has options to adapt to whatever setup you’re working with is a huge bonus.
3. Suitable Suspension
Do you have a ton of camera gear? Is the bag you’re considering huge? Then for gods’ sake don’t get a bag with a flimsy waist strap and no load lifters. Choose a bag with wider, flexible waist-straps and shoulder straps. Then put all your gear into your new camera bag and make sure you can carry it all comfortably over longer periods of time, because you’re going to have plenty of time in airports or on mountainsides to regret a hasty decision. Also, take into account externally carried gear like tripods and light stands.
4. Good Access
There are few things worse than missing the shot because you couldn’t get your gear out in time. Sure this is less important to studio photographers, but having fast, reliable access to your gear is always a plus.
Four Things to Avoid:
1. Bright Colors
A photographer should never be the centre of attention on the job, so make sure your bag fits the bill. If you’re shooting an event and you have a bright red backpack on, every other photographer there will hate your guts. Sure there are times you want your bag nice and visible, so your best option is to have a bright rain cover to use in a pinch.
2. Dust Catchers
Dust is your camera’s eternal enemy, especially if you’re shooting video. You may have good intentions, but chances are you will leave your bag open in a dusty environment sometime. Avoid bags that have airmesh-type materials on the inside of them, or feel like they’d attract dust.
3. Poor Organization
A good camera bag should lay all your gear out for you in an organized manner—rummaging around searching for that extra memory card by feel at the bottom of a bag is no good.
4. Security Risks
Beware of camera bags that have access from the front (the panel furthest from your back), especially if you’re traveling in crowded areas or regions where thieves work. Also, it’s always a good idea to buy a camera backpack that doesn’t scream “HOLY CRAP THERE’S A BUNCH OF SUPER EXPENSIVE GEAR IN HERE!” Yes, that means your fancy Canon-branded bag is a bit of a liability.