How to Pick the Right Camera Bag

How do you find the right camera bag? What’s important in a camera bag and what can you do without? In our handy guide, we’ll show you what you need to look out for, and how to pick the best camera bag, backpack or sling bag.

Looking for the right camera backpack for hiking? You should check out our “Best Camera Backpack for Hiking” article where we showcase our favorite hiking camera backpacks. We’ve combined a shortlist of the best hiking backpacks for every price point and skill level.

Choosing the perfect Camera Bag

Finding and buying the right camera bag thats just right for you isn’t as easy and straightforward as it might seem. The market is flooded with a mirriad of options from Camera Backpacks, to Rolling Cases, to Shoulder Bags.

There are quite a few mistakes that you can make when buying a camera bag, and its a decision – just like with buying a camera – that shouldn’t be rushed. A good camera bag is something which will accompany you for years – a bad camera bag will annoy you forever.

Today, the requirements for a camera bag have never been higher: It needs to be light, cheap and comfortable, but it also needs to have space for all your gear, be sturdy and look good at the same time. Quite a tough set of demands to fulfil all at once.

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Comfort and Convenience

Comfort and convenience are arguably two of the most underrated and yet important aspects when choosing a camera bag. While one could assume that storage space, pockets or tripod mounts might take more precident over comfort – the reality is that Camera equipment is heavy and you’re going to be carrying it around for extended amounts of time.

And thats the main point, you want to be able to carry your camera gear comfortably and as fatigue-free for as long as possible. The first thing you will need to asses is how the camera backpack or bag fits your body and your size. It’s recommended that before you buy something online, you should at least try it out once in person first.

lowepro camera bag straps

The shoulder straps should be well padded and it would be ideal if theres a little air flow between your back and the bag (an especially important feature for a hiking camera bag). If you’re a sports ir wildlife photogrpaher or generally carry large lenses, then its recommended that you ensure that your camera bag has a chest and waist straps to ensure maxium support.

A chest strap stops the shoulder straps from drifting to the sides and allow for a more equal distribution of weight on your shoulders.

Of course not all waist straps are made equal. Some backpacks only have basic straps – but more expensive and durable bags have proper padded waist straps which allow you to center the weight on your waist and hips.

It also makes ergonomical sense to have a bag where you can distribute your camera equipment as close to your back as possible – so thats something to look out for as well.

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Camera Bag Size

Before buying your camera bag, you have to ask yourself what equipment you want to be transporting with it. Keep the following points in mind:

  • Do you carry around just one or multiple cameras?
  • How many lenses do you normally take with you?
  • Whats the biggest lens you own? Will it fit?
  • Do you use a tripod? How big is your tripod?
  • Do you need space for cables, SD Cards, Batteries, Filters and other accessories?
  • Do you need a laptop sleeve/compartment in you camera bag?
  • Can you change the interior layout of the camera bag and adjust it to your needs?
  • Do you need extra space for non photo related gear?

Ideally, we prefer camera backpacks not only fit our camera gear, but also everything else that we might need on a day out – like water, snacks and maybe even a flashlight. Of course space is always limited, but when you’re out and about, you want to be able to take as much of your essential equipment with your without either a)leaving it at home or b)taking a second camera bag with you.

lowepro camera bag open back
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Another point that when overlooked is sure to drive you crazy is accessibility. When choosing a camera backpack, pick one that allows you quick and easy access to your equipment. Theres nothing more annoying than having unpack your tripod, take our jacket, water bottle and everything else that you’ve stored in your camera bag just to get to your camera.

Compartments and sections for spare batteries, filters, memory cards, camera straps and everything else that you might need should be easily accessible. Its worth paying attention to well organised and modular compartments, easy to use zippers or clips, and sufficiently large openings.

There should be several small pockets that you need to be able to open quickly to keep the “odds and ends” in order. Better designed camera bags often have multiple openings – one at the top, and one in the back that can opened when the waist band is attached.

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Compartments and Division

Very closely aligned with accessibility it the topic of camera bag compartments. Many camera bags offer the possibility of switching out out and adapting the various segments within the bag. You can individually adjust these compartments depending on what camera and how many lenses you want to take with you. In most cases these compartments are made up of small walls with velcro fasteners.

lowepro camera bag open back modules
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Build Quality

The reality is, your camera bag is meant to be used, and it will suffer some abuse. Rain, dirt, rough surfaces. Of the course of a year, you’ll most likely taking out your camera and your lenses over a thousand times. And over that stretch of time – your camera bag is going to have to protect your equipment against the elements, bumps, and falls.

When buying a camera bag, here are a few factors to keep in mind regarding the quality of the bag:

Check the quality of the seams. Loose or poorly manufactured seams are a bags weak point. They’ll easily break or come undone and you’ll have a water seeping in and your gear falling out.

Check the zippers. Zippers are super important and are subject to the most wear and tear. Zippers tend to be the first thing that break on a camera bag. Make sure that the zippers run smoothly but are also sturdy.

Interior Padding. Your camera equipment wasnt cheap, and youd like to keep it intact – even if your backpack takes a bump or fall. Make sure that the padding and partitions are thick and stable on the inside. If you can adjust the interior compartments, make sure that they hold securely.

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Tripod Holder

Even if you don’t own a tripod, or aren’t sure if you’re ever going to use a tripod, you should think twice about buying a camera bag that doesn’t have a tripod holder. Its an extremely practical feature to have, doesn’t cost any extra – and if you do end up using a tripod, you’ve got a comfortable way to transport it.

lowepro camera bag tripod holder
Are you looking for the perfect Travel Tripod for your new Camera Bag? We’ve got you covered! Check out our Best Travel Tripods of 2020 article!
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Rain covers

Another extra worth paying attention to are rain covers. Quite a few camera bags offer pull our rain covers and these tend to be quite useful when caught out in the rain.

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Picking out the right style of camera bag

While picking out the right size of camera bag is a comparatively easy task, picking out the right style of camera bag is slightly more tricky. Over the years, the camera bag market has expanded rapidly offering every more choices in terms of style and functionality.

While some people may prefer a backpack style bag, others will opt for a shoulder bag or sling bag. It’s always important to factor in what your plans are and how much camera gear you need to carry around as not every style of camera bag fits every purpose. The reality is that you’ll most likely end up buying at least 2 different styles of camera bags to match your photography style.

We’ve listed the most popular camera bag styles below with their strengths and weaknesses.

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Camera Backpacks

lowepro flipside 400 aw II camera backpack
  • Most comfortable carrying option
  • Hands free carrying
  • Versatile carrying capacity and options
  • Great load distribution
  • Size variation to accommodate different body types and gear needs
  • Accessing equipment can be cumbersome
  • Can be bulky
  • Have a tendency to be overloaded

Camera Backpacks have become one of the most popular camera bag choices on the market. They’re easy to use, easy to pack, and ultra portable. But because of this versatility they also have a tendency to be overloaded with gear – and not camera backpack is suitable for hiking or long journeys due to insufficient back ventilation and shoulder support.

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Roller Bags and Hard Cases

Pelican Air Case 1535
  • Extremely safe
  • Easy to transport
  • Weather and dust proof
  • Can carry the largest volume of equipment easily
  • Heavy weight. Empty cases alone can weigh over 10 lbs
  • Bulky and cumbersome
  • Little flexibility when customising compartments

Rolling cases and hard cases are the best way to transport large amounts of camera gear. Especially hard cases have the advantage of ensuring that your camera gear is loaded up securely. very convenient way to carry around a large amount of heavy gear. While they do offer the most protection especially while travelling, they can be uncomfortable and cumbersome to carry if they don’t have wheels attached to them.

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Camera Sling Bags

Altura Photo Camera Sling Backpack Bag
  • Small and lightweight
  • Quick and easy to access camera gear
  • More comfortable than a shoulder bag or messenger bag
  • Low carrying capacity
  • Can be uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time
  • Can be as bulky as camera backpacks without the advantages

Camera Sling Bags are a hybrid of Camera Backpacks and Shoulder Bags. At best they combine the comfort and capacity of camera backpacks and the ease of use and practicality of a shoulder bag. While typically smaller than camera bags, they rest on your back with a single padded strap than can add a bit of stress after long usage.

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Camera Shoulder Bags

Peak Design Everyday Messenger Bag
  • Quick and easy to access camera gear
  • Small and portable
  • Usually can’t fit larger lenses
  • Can be uncomfortable to wear after long periods
  • Weight is distributed poorly<

Camera Shoulder Bags biggest redeeming feature is that you can access your camera equipment quickly. They tend to be small and versatile and are great for short trips. But because all its weight is centered on one shoulder it can be uncomfortable to carry for longer periods of time.

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Pouches and Cases

Lowepro Lens Case 9 x 13 cm
  • Lightweight
  • Instant access
  • Very mobile
  • Very limited carrying capacity
  • Poor gear protection

Camera and Lens pouches attach to your belt and offer your the most direct hands free access to your gear. While Camera pouches tend to be made for smaller cameras and not DSLRs, DSLRs can be attached to your belt as well. If you’re looking on going out with the most minimal camera bag, lens and camera pouches are for you.

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TL;DR – Things to consider when buying a Camera Bag

When figuring out what camera bag best suits you, think about what type of photography you do. Are you specialised in landscape photography? Do you travel a lot? Do you mainly work in a studio or in fixed locations? Asking and answering these types of questions will help you determine if you need a camera bag, or a traveling case or a hard case – or maybe even just a simple sling bag. When you’ve settled on a camera bag style (or maybe even two), look out for these factors:

  • Pick a camera bag thats made out of high quality materials. Cheap materials wont last long, and wont protect your gear. It’s better to spend a few dollars more and get a product that will last and protect your gear.
  • Comfort and convenience are king. Theres hardly something you’ll regret more than carrying around your camera gear and being uncomfortable. Pick a bag with padded straps, choose a camera case with wheels, buy a sling bag with the right length straps. Anything to make your experience more comfortable.
  • How protected do you want your camera to be? Some bags have minimal to no padding, while others have a completely closed cell foam interiors.
  • How big do you want or need your bag to be? Be realistic as in 99% of the cases, you wont be carrying around all your lenses, cameras and equipment. But don’t be too stingy with space either – remember that you might want to take a jacket, some water and other daily accessories with you.
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Why are camera bags so expensive?

The main reason why many camera bags are more expensive than others is because they use high quality materials and high quality production techniques to ensure that you get the best most durable camera bag.

How do I choose the right camera bag?

When choosing a camera bag, always think about what you need your camera bag for, and what you want to do with it. Are you going to carry lots of equipment? Or are you going to go hiking? Pick the bag which best suits your photography style.

Do you need a camera bag?

No, you don’t need a camera bag. Will a camera bag make your life easier? Yes it will. Just for the convenience to have a secure and comfortable mode of carrying your camera equipment is worth the investment.

Can I take my camera bag or case on to a plane as carry on bag?

While, the actual sizes and weight restriction vary among all Airlines, you can take your camera bag or camera case as a carry on if its dimensions are around 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches and weighs around 15lbs.

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