- Buyer's Guide
The 10 Best Camera Bags 2018: Messengers and Slings
A lot of thought goes into making good camera bags. By their nature they’re designed to look after expensive kit, so it’s important they do their job well. And that means nailing some key criteria. But those aren’t the only things to think of when choosing one. You also need to decide what style of bag is best for you. A lot of the time, that means deciding between a camera backpack and a camera messenger or sling bag.
Camera backpack vs messenger
Choosing between a pack and a messenger can be like choosing between a Nikon and a Canon. One option isn’t inherently better than the other. Rather, it’s a case of figuring out which one best suits your specific needs. And to do so, it’s handy to think about what you’re carrying, where you’re carrying it, and for how long.
Backpacks are a better choice for heavier and larger loads. That’s because in general they offer better weight distribution, more load stability, and greater comfort over extended periods of use. Backpacks are good for longer photography sessions and for the most part can more easily accommodate a variety of loads versus a messenger or sling which is generally smaller. However, they can be bulky in crowded spaces and make it difficult to access gear quickly. Not necessarily a problem in open outdoor environments or when you can take your time with a shot, but not ideal when you need rapid access or agility in crowds.
How about messengers and slings? They’re great for smaller loads and maneuvering easily through crowded spaces. But one of the main draws is the quick access they offer. Unlike packs that require you to fully or partially remove the bag to get to gear, messengers and slings let you quickly move the bag to the front of your body to access gear, all without taking the bag off. Additionally, they also offer greater flexibility in portability. For instance, they can be worn across the chest or back, over the shoulder, or even round your waist. The downside of messengers and slings? They don’t offer the same degree of weight distribution and extended carry comfort that a pack does. And in general less load stability too (though a stabilizer strap can help). They also don’t generally carry as much gear as a pack, which is good for keeping bulk down but restricts your packing choices to smaller gear setups.
Considering the above, you should have a fairly good idea of whether a pack or messenger/sling best suits your needs. Below we’re going to zoom in on handy tips and recommendations for camera messengers and slings. But if you’re keen to delve into pack alternatives, check out our buyer’s guide to the best camera backpacks.
Now to help you pick the right camera messenger/sling bag for your needs, here are some useful considerations to bear in mind.
Protection from the elements, bumps and scrapes
It’s fairly obvious, you don’t want your precious kit getting exposed to the elements. So look for features such as water-resistant materials, rain covers, and secure designs that avoid side gaps at the top of the flap.
And because you’re in the real world where life isn’t always kind to your gear, you’ll want sufficient padding to protect your gear and provide shock absorption. Plus abrasion-resistant, tough materials to fend off scrapes and handle regular use.
Good organization makes a big difference to how quickly you can get to gear. Keep an eye out for flexible organization (such as adjustable dividers and a range of pockets) to suit different loads and keep smaller items at the ready. Also keep an eye out for exterior straps that can carry bulkier items such as a tripod.
Easy access to gear
That perfect shot often doesn’t wait around until you’re ready. So you need to be able to access gear fast. Features such as quick-adjust straps, top access without needing to open the flap, and nifty magnetic buckles all assist in making gear easily accessible when you need it.
Adaptable, understated aesthetics
You wouldn’t willingly want to advertise your camera to potential pickpockets. And a camera bag shouldn’t do so either. Understated aesthetics won’t draw attention to expensive gear, helping you avoid unscrupulous scrutiny. Additionally, low-key aesthetics make it easier for the bag to adapt to a variety of photography environments or day-to-day use.
While not strictly necessary in a camera bag, a multi-functional design is a handy bonus feature. Consider whether the piece you have your eye on can double as an everyday or travel bag for added flexibility and value for money. Additionally, features such as a stabilizer strap will help keep the load secure, making it easier to move from laidback to more active use such as hiking or cycling with the bag. And if there’s a little bit of expandability to boot? Even better when you need to store a variety of items.
So with the above considerations in mind, we’ve selected some of the best messenger and sling camera bags that are well worth scoping out in your hunt for your next photography partner.
Want to keep your camera carry on the down-low? The Think Tank Photo Retrospective 7 is a savvy choice. The understated, minimalist aesthetics don’t advertise “camera bag”, while the functional design and durable build suit frequent use. The bag suits a standard DSLR setup and fits a 10″ tablet or 12″ laptop. And with its hook-and-loop “Sound Silencers” you can access gear discreetly without drawing unwanted attention.
Another solid pick if you’re after low-key aesthetics, the Domke F-3X will appeal to photographers looking for straightforward organization for DSLR setups. The bag is made with weatherproof canvas and offers a range of compartments and pockets to suit different carry loads. There’s also a removable divider for added organization. The bag features an adjustable non-slip Gripper™ Strap, along with a detachable hand strap.
The TurnStyle 20 is a sleek sling that helps keep you agile with smaller carry loads. The bag fits a standard DSLR and a 10″ tablet and lets you quickly reach gear by easily rotating the bag to your front. Additionally, the bag comes with a stabilizer strap to keep the load stable on the go and that tucks away when not needed. And if you want to switch things up, you can also wear the TurnStyle 20 around your waist to keep gear at the ready. Add in the water-resistant fabric and removable rain cover and you’re covered when those clouds roll in.
The clean exterior and adaptable design of the Florentin makes it easy to slip into diverse urban settings with your camera gear in tow. The water-resistant bag provides a front organizer pocket, storage for up to a 12″ tablet, as well as a removable padded camera insert. Three removable dividers let you customize the layout to accommodate a variety of items. The Florentin also provides portability options with top grab handles, a shoulder strap, and a luggage pass-through sleeve.
If you’re looking for a bag that packs in the features without looking cluttered, check out Peak Design’s Everyday Sling. The weatherproof bag offers a quick-adjust strap for easy access and load stability. Bottom straps allow you to secure a tripod or outer layer externally. Inside you’ll find customizable organization with FlexFold dividers, as well as dedicated storage for up to a 13″ laptop. Plus the expandable front pocket gives you the flexibility to pack a little extra if needed, serving as a water bottle holder if desired. And for travel ease, the bag packs flat so you can store it in luggage for use as a day bag at your destination.
The Tenba DNA 13 is built with weatherproof durability in mind, with particular attention paid to the corners to keep the elements out. And for added peace of mind, the bag comes with a removable and reversible WeatherWrap cover. One side of the cover is silver to reflect heat, while the other side is black for a more stealthy aesthetic. The bag offers handy organization that suits a DSLR with two to three lenses. There’s also space for both a 13″ laptop and iPad. A top zipper enables quick access to gear, as do the flap’s convenient Fidlock magnetic clips. Other useful features include a stabilizer strap and a luggage pass-through sleeve.
The DSPTCH Camera Shoulder Bag was designed with mirrorless cameras in mind but can still be used for DSLR setups. A top-loading access point lets you quickly reach gear, while exterior straps accommodate a tripod and a quick-access sleeve fits up to a 12″ laptop. The bag includes a removable camera insert, allowing you to convert it into an everyday bag when you don’t need to carry camera gear. There are also multiple positions for attaching the shoulder strap to suit different carry preferences. And for keeping the elements at bay, the bag features a water-resistant and tough nylon exterior and a coated packcloth lining for added protection.
The multi award-winning Peak Design Everyday Messenger boasts a wealth of features all carefully considered to work well together. The MagLatch closure and expandable design let you easily access and secure the bag while accommodating a variety of loads. The trusty weatherproof build takes everyday use in diverse weather in its stride. Plus there’s plenty of organization adaptability with FlexFold dividers, tripod straps, pockets with color-coded stitching, and a dedicated laptop compartment. You can easily reach gear through a top-access zipper and there’s also a luggage pass-through sleeve for travel needs. And of course, the versatile design works equally well as an everyday or camera bag.
With its adaptable, heritage vibes the ONA Brixton easily navigates a variety of casual and formal photography and day-to-day settings. It fits a 13″ laptop and also accommodates a 10″ tablet in the back pocket. The Brixton is handcrafted with water-resistant waxed canvas and side weather flaps to help protect gear from the elements. Along with side, front and back pockets, the bag also offers four removable dividers to keep gear neat. Suitable for EDC and camera use, it’s a stylish pick for a range of needs.
Seeking that extra touch of refinement in a compact and classy form? WOTANCRAFT have just the bag for you. Inspired by Leica M cameras, the WOTANCRAFT Ryker is a handsome camera bag that’s great for carrying smaller setups in luxurious style. The bag is beautifully crafted with full-grain leather and smooth YKK METALUXE® Fin zippers. Front pockets and adjustable interior dividers help keep your gear tidy and accessible. And you can also customize it with optional accessories to suit your personal preferences.