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Reviewing shooting bags

From: Shooting on the Road, from Gear to Workflow

Video: Reviewing shooting bags

If all you typically carry is a single camera and a single lens, then you probably don't need a shooting bag of any kind. You might want something to put your camera in when you pack it into another bag, but you don't actually need anything to facilitate shooting. If you tend to carry multiple lenses though, or flashes or other accessories, then you'll want a way to carry all of that extra gear along with your camera. A good shooting bag is one that allows you to carry exactly what you need for a particular shoot and that provides easy access to all the critical pieces of gear inside.

Reviewing shooting bags

If all you typically carry is a single camera and a single lens, then you probably don't need a shooting bag of any kind. You might want something to put your camera in when you pack it into another bag, but you don't actually need anything to facilitate shooting. If you tend to carry multiple lenses though, or flashes or other accessories, then you'll want a way to carry all of that extra gear along with your camera. A good shooting bag is one that allows you to carry exactly what you need for a particular shoot and that provides easy access to all the critical pieces of gear inside.

As with any bag, your most important consideration is to figure out what all you need to carry. I have a core set of lenses that I carry in most places: my 24-105 and my 16-35. These cover the focal lengths that I use the most and they give me a good mix of lengths and speeds without requiring me to carry huge pieces of glass. Sometimes though, if I think I'll need more reach, I'll add a longer lens. Or if I think I'm going to be shooting portraits or working in low light, then I'll add maybe my fast 50.

So I usually use a shooting bag that's big enough to carry my camera body and three lenses, even though most of the time I'm only carrying two lenses. Now depending on what you're doing, you might need some other things, foul weather clothing or snacks or water or something to read and so on. These concerns all inform your shooting bag decision. Now there are lots of bags out there from lots of bag vendors and there's no way that we can show you everything that's out there. But I would like to show you some bags that have some especially nice features and walk you through some of the concerns that I think about when I'm looking for a bag.

When I'm shooting, I like to be able to get to my other lenses as quickly as possible, and so these days I'm mostly using this Tamrac Velocity bag. It's a shoulder bag, it goes over one shoulder, and I can put it either on this shoulder or put it over my head, which works a little bit better. And what I like about this bag is I can put a couple of lenses inside it and still have room for my camera with a lens attached. So when I'm walking around and I need access to my camera, it's right here on my hip.

What's great about the shoulder bag is it frees up my back for other things. If I'm hiking, I can put a hydration pack on, or if I've got more stuff to carry, I can put a daypack or even a camera backpack that has other stuff in it. When I'm actually shooting, everything I need is right here. I don't have to be taking a bag off; I can just get my camera out and go. Now one thing to think about a bag, when you're looking for it, is you really need to work through the handling of it, because if you're working with an SLR and multiple lenses, you're going to be changing lenses and you need a way to manage all the stuff that you have to hold through that process.

So I've got my camera that I need to take care of. I've got this lens. I've got the lens that I'm going to change to. Where do I put all that stuff? Well, with this bag right here on my hip, it can be holding this bag. It can serve as a little workspace for me while I change lenses. A couple of quick lens-changing tips here. I see people working with two hands to get their lenses off. Just so you know, it's very easy to get the lens off with one hand. This is the lens release button right here. As I go in to grab the lens, I can just bump my finger into it and twist and very quickly get the lens off.

If I've got the camera on a strap hanging around my neck, I can just do all that one hand. I don't need to hold it with this hand. I can just come in here and get the lens off, stick it in the bag, get out the other lens, and get it onto the camera. As far as getting the other lens on, I've got this cap that I need to worry about. It's pretty easy to get rid of that with just is one hand. You can either put it in the bag. I tend to hold it in my mouth--I don't know why. So, lens goes on, and then I get the cap onto the other lens, the lens that I took off. So the bag is not just a place to hold things; it's kind of a workspace that I work with while I'm changing lenses and so on and so forth in the field.

Some other features of this bag that I like is--it doesn't have a lot of features, but it's got just enough extra storage to deal with the extra things that I need to carry. Extra media cards, a white balance card. I also tend to carry this very small little reflector here, not just because it's adorable, but because it's very handy for portraits when I'm shooting up close and that kind of thing, and all of that stuff that's in here. I'll also usually stick a little wired remote control in here in case I'm going to be doing low-light shooting and want to get off the camera. So, this is a nice bag.

It's maybe a little small. I can only get these three lenses in my camera in here, a couple of accessories. If I want to go for something bigger, I could go for something like this Lowepro messenger bag, which I really like. It's a classically designed messenger bag. One thing that's really nice about it is it doesn't look like a camera bag. If you wanted to go stealthy with your camera, this is a great way to go. A couple of nice features about this bag. It's got a lot of space inside. This bag comes, like many of these bags that we're looking at, comes in many different sizes. When you're looking at bag specifications, you'll very often, if it's an SLR bag, see vendors talking about pro camera or compact camera.

What they're talking about is typically a full- frame camera or a camera with a battery pack in it or a cropped-sensor camera, which is a little smaller. So I've got room in here to carry lenses and my camera. These dividers are all movable and these days that's pretty standard. They're this velcroed in. I can put them in any configuration I want. They're L-shaped. They have a bend in them so they can form little shelves inside of the bag, which is nice. The camera just goes in like this. There's a lot of extra space in this bag.

I've got a big compartment right here, which is nice, and there's a lot of little dividers and things for holding media cards and so on and so forth. Something that's interesting about this bag is when I close it, it's just a magnet that holds this shut. But it doesn't hold it shut really well; it holds it shut well enough, but if I'm going to stick this in an overhead compartment on an airplane or something, I might want it to be a little more sturdy. So I can lift this up and unfold this and stick it underneath here and now I've got these big Velcro patches which hold it shut and that's much sturdier.

You may think, well, why not just leave those on there all the time. Because they're real noisy. So I can put it basically in this quiet little stuffed mode where it's just a magnet that's holding it shut. Another really nice feature back here, I can open this up. I've got a zippered pocket, except that I can unzip the bottom of the pocket and this becomes a sleeve that fits over the handle of the suitcase, so it makes it much easier to carry around. Now, the downside to this bag and that Tamrac bag is that they keep all the weight on one shoulder. If you think you would like things more evenly distributed and you want a little extra carrying capacity, then you might consider a backpack.

Here's a very basic Lowepro backpack. It holds lots of stuff and yet it's still very small. You can see inside I've got a lot of rearrangeable compartments. I've got a lot of zippered pouches over here, more over here, stuff on the side, but it's pretty basic in terms of its functionality. To get anything out of it, I have to take it off completely, turn it around, set it down, open it up, all that kind of stuff. I can't get access to it without taking it off. Because that might be a bit of a hassle, you might want to consider something else, maybe something like this. This is another Lowepro bag.

This is the DSLR Video Pack. So they're aiming this at people who want to shoot video with their SLRs, and it's great for that, but it also has nice features just for still shooters. It's got this nice contraption over here that you can put the leg of a tripod in, or the leg of a DSLR video rig in, and a place to cinch stuff up up here. So I can carry a tripod or a shooting rig on the side, actually on either side. A lot of flexibility in that regard, which is nice. I've got a big pocket up here on top. But what's cool about this, as far as a backpack goes, is I can put it on as a backpack and all of my gear is in there.

When I want access to the inside, I can simply slip one arm out and the whole thing slides over here, and now all I have to do is unzip, and you can see I've still got the sectioned camera compartment in here. So I can easily get that out, zip it back up, and just put the pack back on. So this is a way to--this is a backpack that I can get inside without having to remove it completely. Very compact, very lightweight, a very nice bag. If you're a really active shooter, either because you move quickly through a situation or because you shoot in situations that require you to climb or maybe scramble up and down hills or maybe you ski or run or something, then you might want to consider this Lowepro Photo Sport bag.

Again, I've got, up here, a nice big space that I can easily stuff power bars and maybe fleeces and things to stay warm. And then I've got the same contraption here on the side like the video bag has. You can see there's a nice big compartment here. Now what's cool, in both of these bags, about this compartment is that this little box that the camera fits into actually compresses inside the bag. So if I don't have the camera in here, I can squish this down to get it out of the way to open up a lot more space inside.

And in that regard, this bag can double as a way of carrying a lot more gear. Something else that's nice about this bag is I can unzip this back here and I've got room to put in a hydration reservoir. So this bag can actually serve as my camel back. And I don't have to bother and zipping that all the way. There's just a thin little pouch back there. Stuff my hydration reservoir in there, and now I'm carrying water and all my camera gear. One of the big changes in going from a shoulder bag like this to a backpack like this or any of the other backpacks is these packs are big enough to hold a lot of that extra stuff that I might want to carry: water, and so on and so forth.

Whereas, with these bags, I typically carry my camera stuff in here and use another bag to carry all that other stuff. Again, the upshot of all of these bags is they're meant to be used for active shooting. They're not just for getting my gear from one place to another. If I don't have much in gear to take or I'm not traveling very far, they may work for that. But mostly, they're about when I'm really shooting, this is the bag that I use to hold all my stuff. Of course shooting is not just about cameras these days; it's about post-production also. So if you want to carry on your computer or take some extra gear like that, you might need a slightly different bag, and we're going to look at those next.

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Shooting on the Road, from Gear to Workflow

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