Camera Bag Guide

Your camera bag is your third most essential piece of photography equipment, next to your camera and lens. Your camera will spend the majority of its life within your camera bag, and so you'll want to choose a camera bag that satisfies your needs as a photographer. Your camera bag should be accessible, portable, secure, durable, and comfortable. In this guide to choosing a camera bag, we will examine just what these factors mean to you. You will also learn what type of camera bag will best suit your needs.

Taking Stock

Camera bags are available in a variety of shapes and sizes to match the virtually unlimited amount of unique combinations of gear photographers rely on. The first step in choosing a camera bag is to take stock of your photo equipment. Are you a digital point-and-shoot photographer or do you rely on an SLR for your regular shooting? Will you need to carry multiple lenses and accessories, or is your mobile photography more streamlined?

After you have assessed the amount of gear you will be regularly using with your new camera bag, your next step is to focus on what kind of shooting you will be doing. Different bags are available for different types of photography, such as large, rugged bags for outdoor photography and sleek, compact bags for urban photography. Flexible bags that will provide ease of use in almost any situation are also available. For more information on the different types of camera bag types, see our overview of camera bag styles.

Key Factors

By now, you should have a pretty good idea of what kind of bag you are shopping for. Whether a camera pouch, sling bag, or backpack is the camera bag solution you're after, these considerations are universal: access, portability, security, durability, and comfort. Weighing the benefits of certain bags against your specific needs is vital, and you will find that some factors may be of a higher priority to you. Make a list and shop for the sweet spot, where your priorities are met with versatility and value.

Access – Photography is all about timing, and the ability to access your camera on the go is essential. The smallest camera bags mostly allow for quick, direct access to your camera, while bulkier cargo bags may hinder the immediate availability of your camera. If access is of the utmost importance to you, there are several options available. Smaller camera bags such as pouches, sleeves, holsters, and belt packs all feature enhanced access with slim profiles, light weight, and optimal positioning. If you need to carry more gear, but access is also a top priority, check out a hybrid camera bag, like the sling: sling bags feature cargo space comparable to that of a camera backpack, but also allow for quick transitions from being worn on your back to sliding around to the front of your body for easy and direct access to your camera and gear.

Portability – All camera bags are portable by definition, but some models happen to be more portable than others. For instance, it may not be practical to take a rolling camera cargo bag out into the foothills for a nature shoot. On the other hand, you may need to carry more gear than what's afforded by an ultra-portable camera holster bag when traveling to a shoot. Define portability your way, as the optimal   degree of mobility with the amount of gear you'll carry on a regular basis.

Security – There are two driving factors in camera bag construction that take into account the security of your camera. First, there is the obvious: protecting your camera and other photo gear from bumps, drops, and the bustle of life as a photographer on the go. Less obvious is the potential for gear theft, and how camera bags of various types can protect your gear from being stolen. Let's take a look at these two factors separately.

    • Protection - the construction of your camera bag will have a lot to say about the shelf life of your camera. Countless different protective materials are available for camera bags, and some camera bags are made by utilizing high-tech, military-grade materials and design innovations. On the other end of the spectrum, canvas and leather bags are the most basic form of protection offered by a camera bag, but then again, not everyone is shooting in the urban jungle.

    • Theft Deterrence - The first thing to know about theft deterrence is this – if theft deterrence is your highest priority (and no, we don't blame you), you should consider a compact bag that can be literally attached to your body and will never leave your person or your sight. Pouches, holster bags, and belt pack camera bags are all great options for photographers who value security above all else. Sling bags are a great innovation here, as they allow for more storage with a design that stays attached to your body while shooting as well as on the go. If security is less of a priority, but still important to you, there are several options for going stealth with your photo gear. Look for sleek designs with few markings and construction that minimizes the typical top-loading camera bag shape.

Durability - As your most essential photo accessory, you want your camera bag to have a long life. The right kind of camera bag can out-live several cameras and gear configurations. To get the most out of your camera bag, classic types such as the top-loading shoulder bag offer the most flexibility for photographers on the go. Top-loading shoulder bags are generally the most versatile camera bags in terms of carrying cameras plus accessories, and there are several different types of construction that ensure a long life for your bag. Classic camera bags, like the canvas and leather camera bag, are tried and true. More rugged bags, like hard-shell bags and those made of cutting edge synthetic materials, also provide a strong backbone for your camera bag. You can find these materials and a variety of configurations in other types of bags, as well. Rolling camera bags with modular padded compartments or a holster bag that just does the job, just right, can also be considered highly durable options when paired with quality construction.

Comfort - Above all else, your camera bag should comfortably fit your gear. Your camera bag should also comfortably fit you, the photographer. Some very basic decisions need to be made based on comfort. If you just hate carrying shoulder or messenger bags, go for a backpack or sling bag. If dragging a rolling bag behind you on your commute to and from shoots sounds like too much of a hassle, avoid that option and go for a backpack, sling bag, messenger, or shoulder bag.

Comfort is a basic yet often overlooked necessity. Test out a few bags at a local photo shop. Fill the test bag up with some gear as an approximation of what you will be carrying in the bag you buy. Do this even if you don't consider comfort a high priority; you'll thank us later.

Now that you know what to look for in a camera bag, check over our detailed list of the many different styles of bags.