Understanding the Camera Bag Types

Camera bags are made in several different styles, shapes, and sizes. In order to get the most value out of your camera bag purchase, you should shop for a camera bag that suits your needs. Whether you are   shooting family snapshots or professional landscapes, choosing the right camera bag will is one of the most important purchasing decisions you will face.

Our guide to the variety of camera bags made available by camera bag manufacturers is designed to aid your search for the camera bag that will best fit your camera as well as your budget.

Compact Camera Bags

Compact camera bags are small bags for small cameras. As technology advances have allowed camera chips and storage to decrease exponentially in size over time, manufacturers of digital point-and-shoot cameras have followed suit, building ever slimmer, lighter cameras.

Despite their size, slim digital cameras pack some mighty firepower into a small body. These types of cameras need to be protected and cared for just as you would with a professional SLR camera, as nicks or bumps can damage the delicate machinery within the camera just as easily. Fortunately, several types of camera bags are available for small cameras, providing a great degree of protection without sacrificing your need for mobility and quick access.

Additional benefits of compact camera bags include quick and easy concealment, light weight, and there are no travel restrictions on compact camera bags.


Sleeve style camera bags are the smallest and lightest of compact camera bags. Designed specifically for newer slim-style point-and-shoot cameras, sleeves provide a snug protective shell for your camera that can be carried:

    • Within another bag that you regularly take with you, such as a purse or messenger bag

    • Attached to the shoulder strap of another bag

    • Within a coat or pants pocket

The mobility and access of camera sleeves is unrivaled for the point-and-shoot photographer. In addition to protecting your camera, camera sleeves also offer some extra storage for a minimal amount of accessories, such as storage cards and mini-tripods.

You will find camera sleeves are made from no one typical source of materials. Everything from poly-synthetic protective materials to more elegant leather sleeves exist on the market, and they all serve the same purpose: to protect your camera at its most essential form of mobility and access.


Holster style camera bags are another form of compact bag designed to offer maximal protection and access in a limited space. Holster style bags, like sleeve cases, are made to attach to your belt or the strap of another bag, and in some cases do offer a strap attachment for light, easy shoulder carriage.

An advantage of holster camera bags is their relatively larger size and dedicated storage. Holsters offer the ability to carry a few extra accessories in addition to storage cards and mini-tripods, and the degree of protection afforded by their bulkier builds is increased over that of sleeve cases. While most compact camera bags are intended for use with point-and-shoot, fixed lens cameras, some holster bags are made to fit larger model cameras, such as SLR cameras.

Belt Bags

Belt bags are similar to holster bags in size, construction, and intended use, but tend to be somewhat larger and are meant to be attached either directly to your belt or with the aid of an included belt strap. Belt packs are sometimes derisively referred to as “fanny packs” but where protection, comfort, and ease of use are concerned, any fashion faux pas you may commit by wearing a belt bag is totally negated.

Additional benefits of belt bags are these:

    • Belt bags are great for action or spontaneous photography, where quick, direct access is a necessity. Belt bags outmatch even holsters and sleeve cases in this area.

    • Belt bags attach directly to your person, rather than within or attached to another bag, offering supreme portability and protection for smaller cameras.

Mid-Size Camera Bags

Mid-size camera bags are flexible options for camera protection and portability. Contrary to compact camera bags, mid-size options allow you to comfortably and practically carry larger SLR and DSLR cameras as well as point-and-shoot cameras, with the important distinction of retaining relative ease of mobility and access not found in larger bags. Mid-size bags include shoulder bags and hybrid sling bags, though several variations of these basic models are available.

Shoulder Bags

Shoulder bags are among the post popular portable options for professional and amateur photographers. As the name suggests, shoulder bags are designed to be worn off the shoulder, much like a messenger bag, purse, or tote. The bag you choose will be determined by your needs, and thankfully there are many options. Shoulder bags exist in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles, from smaller versions that allow carriage of a single DSLR camera plus an extra lens and a few accessories to larger versions that allow you to carry multiple cameras, lenses, accessories, and/or a notebook computer.

Shoulder bags are designed to carry several pieces of photography gear safely and comfortably. Movable padded compartments on some shoulder bags allow you to configure your storage space to suit your needs, and tough outer shells (sometimes treated with weather-proof materials) keep your gear secure from just about any hazard a life in photography can throw at you.

Sling Bags

Sling bags are the hybrid bag of the camera world. Designed to function somewhere along the intersecting axes of shoulder bag, belt pack, and backpack, sling bags enhance the mobility and access of these aforementioned camera bag models by moving along the body's counter for different modes of operation. Carriage and storage are performed by the sling bag as a hybrid messenger bag / backpack, cradled over the shoulder and around the back, while camera removal and access is made possible by “swinging” the bag around your torso to load and remove in front of you.

Sling bags are relatively new on the market, but offer many of the same benefits as shoulder bags and are gaining in popularity. Sling bags can range in size from larger options for one or two cameras plus multiple lenses and accessories to smaller options for one camera plus lens and fewer accessories. For extra portability and ease of movement, a smaller sling bag is recommended. Sling bags typically feature the same durable materials and configurable compartment space of shoulder bags, yet allow greater ease of use and natural body movement when carrying or accessing your camera.

Camera Cargo Bags

Large camera bags are those most often used by professional photographers on long, secure shoots and for extensive travel. The primary function of larger camera cargo bags such as backpacks and wheeled bags is to provide the greatest degree of storage and protection. However, this maximized storage and protection for your photo gear comes at the expense of mobility and access.

Camera Backpacks

Camera backpacks are an excellent option for the professional photographer on the go. Camera backpacks are just like regular backpacks, but they are specially designed to carry cameras, notebook computers, and other photography equipment.

Camera backpack bags vary in shape, but they are on the whole larger than side-slung shoulder or hybrid bags. Most camera backpacks can easily store multiple SLR cameras, le nses, accessories, and many models are available large enough to carry a notebook computer in addition to all your photography gear.

Camera backpacks are meant to be worn on your back with the aid of shoulder straps and, in some cases, a belt for larger bags. While camera backpacks are often bulky, they do allow a great degree of mobility while shooting, since there is no obstruction of your hands or view. However, accessing your camera and its parts can be a hassle, and should be weighed against the benefits of having the ability to carry most, if not all, of your photography gear with you on shoots.

Wheeled Bags

Large camera duffel bags or backpacks with luggage rollers and a handle are typically the largest type of bag you can find on the market. These types of bags are very similar to camera backpacks in most respects, and in some cases are essentially backpacks with the added benefit of the wheeled roller option.

Wheeled bags often feature padded compartments and the ability to store most to all of your portable gear within the bag. The safety of your gear in a wheeled bag made of durable materials is second to none, with the drawback being that you forfeit some degree of security, as having your equipment any place that isn't physically attached to you can leave your gear susceptible to theft.

Professional photographers generally use wheeled bags on stable, longer duration shoots where a wide variety of lenses and other accessories are required.

Now that you know what styles of bags are available, choose a camera bag manufacturer.