How many camera bags does one person need?

The answer for me has always been one per camera kit. I bought a camera bag when I bought my first Contax 35mm camera big enough for the camera and 4 lenses and various accessories. I bought another when I got my Contax 645 camera. Both of them were Lowepro soft cases, which fit inside a Pelican-like hard case. I also had a Tamrac Expedition backpack large enough for both cameras for a trip to Kauai.

When I bought my Canon 20D, I bought a relatively small Lowepro shoulder bag because I only had two lenses. I used that one bag for almost 7 years, even after I bought my new 5D Mk II. I did sell the giant backpack and buy a smaller one for the digital kit with a compartment for my laptop. It was a good travel pack and was often my carry-on.

I’ve recently been thinking about the difference between camera bags for storage and transporting versus camera bags for actively shooting. My old Lowepro bags are great for storage and transportation (especially when in the Pelican cases) but they weren’t the most convenient bag for carrying on my shoulder and accessing on the fly. They certainly had some features for it but still fell a little short. My shoulder bag was much better for shooting but not the best for storage and transportation.

One of the things that prompted my contemplation of the need for different bags is my discovery of Think Tank Photo. It is a relatively new company designing some of the coolest camera bags I’ve ever touched. They have bags for every need, including a Batman-type utility belt to carry all your gear around your waist.

After looking around at different bags and traveling across the country on assignment with Michael Grecco, I am moving away from the “one bag for each camera” philosophy and into the “one bag for each situation” philosophy. After checking out and owning many bags, I’ve pretty much decided that I will be buying Think Tank Photo from now on. I wonder if they’ll sponsor me.

Here’s the list of bags that I am adding to my equipment list:

Sling-O-Matic

My introduction to the ownership of a Think Tank Pro bag was the Sling-O-Matic 10. I had planned on getting a different bag but I saw the Sling-O-Matic and I was really liking it. It is more of an active shooting bag. It slings over one shoulder and across the chest to better distribute the weight.

One thing I always consider when looking for a bag is how it’s going to weigh on my shoulders. I am prone to headaches and carrying a shoulder bag all day will pretty much guarantee a killer headache. Think Tank Pro actually has a section on their website on taking care of your back.

The Sling-O-Matic is a great active shooting bag because it easily slides from your back to your hip for easy access through the top. Another very cool feature is how easily the strap slides to the other side so you can switch shoulders in a hot second. The Sling-O-Matic comes in three sizes from the 10 to the 30.

Change Up

The Change Up is a smaller bag for a body and a couple of lenses. It makes for a great active shooting bag when you want to travel light with maximum mobility. The thing I really like about the Change Up (and where it likely gets it’s name) is it can be used as a regular shoulder bag and also, hidden behind a zippered pouch is a connected, padded waist belt. It can be used with or without the shoulder strap to distribute the weight. I love this because I am way more comfortable with the weight around my waist than on my shoulders. I wish I would have know about this bag when I was walking around the streets of New York for my Project 90 Days. They also make larger speed convertible belt backs called the Speed Demon, Speed Freak and Speed Racer.

 

Urban Disguise

The Urban Disguise is my favorite type of travel bag and likely my next bag purchase. It is perfect for me as it has plenty of room for camera gear and space for my laptop and charger. Normally, when I travel, I have my camera bag and my laptop bag. If I’m going on a shorter trip and don’t want to check a bag, I need to combine the two to make room for the carry-on. This usually means taking my aforementioned backpack with the laptop compartment. It’s fine for the flight but not so good for carrying around at my destination and active shooting.

The Urban Disguise comes in five sizes from the 35 to the 70 Pro. All bags, except the 35 can hold a body and 2-4 lenses, depending on the size of the lenses. The larger ones have enough room for two bodies and multiple lenses, including the 70-200-size. The 60 and 70 Pro can hold a 17” laptop and the 50 holds a 15” while the 40 and 35 are for 13” and iPads.

I’m torn between the 50 and the 60. Even though I have a 13” laptop, I want the extra room so I can store the adapter and other accessories with the computer and leave the front area for photo gear. I am leaning toward the 50 but I am seriously considering taking my gear to the store and loading it to figure out which one is best. I’m not sure if they frown upon that at the store but I might find out.

Airport International

Think Tank Photo has 5 different sized rolling bags from the small Airport Airstream to the much larger Logistics Manager. The Airport series is designed with carry-on specifications in mind. The larger Airport Security bag meets US domestic carry-on requirements and the slightly smaller Airport International also meets foreign carry-on requirements. The smaller Airstream and TakeOff bags have backpack straps packed behind a zippered compartment.

I have used the Airport Security bags extensively in working with Michael Grecco both for local shoots and traveling across the country. These cases are great for traveling and also for storing between shoots. They can be configured for pretty much every combination of bodies, lenses, speedlights and miscellaneous gear.

I am planning on getting the International because it is only slightly smaller than the Security and will have me covered for domestic and foreign travel, which I hope to be doing a lot of.

Other Options

These are the bags that I have selected based on my needs and preferences. Think Tank Photo has many other options that I haven’t mentioned including the popular Retrospective shoulder bags and their line of speed belts and holsters.

This might seem like one big commercial for Think Tank Photo, and I guess it kind of is. After using my Sling-O-Matic and the Airport Security and getting my hands on their other bags, I am sold. The build quality is top-notch and they have a proven durability. But, even more importantly, these bag were obviously designed by working photographers. They just make sense like no other bags I have used. In some cases the differences are subtle but important.

I’m a fan and even became an affiliate. So if you click a link from this post, you will get some extra goodies when you order and maybe I can get that endorsement I’m pining for.


Just in time for Spring, Think Tank Photo announces a special offer on their popular StreetWalker™ backpacks. When you buy one of Think Tank’s spacious and comfortable StreetWalker® Pro or StreetWalker® HardDrive backpacks by April 30, 2012, you will receive a padded Pro Speed Belt™ for free!

Free Padded Belt
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  • John

    My favourites are the Shape Shifter in combination with the Skin pounches for active shooting. 

    I hate all shoulder bags from any manufacturer - never underestimate how heavy the bag will become when camera gear plus laptop are stored. Way too much weight to carry over one shoulder for any length of time. You're asking for injuries later in life. 

    • zenzino

      I agree. I can't tell you how many headaches I've gotten from carrying a body and three lenses in a shoulder bag. That gear gets heavy after a while.
      As a portrait and food photographer, I don't do a ton of active shooting but I definitely don't want to use a shoulder bag anymore when I do.
      I like the Urban Disguise for travel but I usually sit my bag on top of my roller suitcase rather than carry it on my shoulder.
      I'll have to take a serious look at the Shapeshifter, though.

      Don

  • I think these bags are very comfortable to carry ad they have very much space to different- different luggage.