I can count on three fingers the most needed and purchased camera accessories for beginner photographers and filmmakers. The first one is kind of obvious: the camera itself – most likely with a kit lens. A tripod is the second. And a camera bag comes third; a backpack, or something to protect and carry your crispy, newly purchased camera. You have just spent a few hundred on a camera, so a protective case that transports your gear is not the first thing you might consider all the way through. This wisdom develops after spending a lot of time with your gear.
You might find yourself checking out bag reviews after getting that second lens, a tripod or a flash kit. Suddenly your first bag seems to be getting smaller, and you’re ready to gear up.
What should you be looking for?
Fully understanding what you should be looking for in a bag takes getting to know your gear and predicting your future gear. Even for seasoned photographers, it is a challenge to pick the right bag; Does it store my 500mm lens? Can I bring this as a carry-on? Is this bag deep enough for a battery grip? Less obvious questions pop up too; Should the camera compartment be accessible via the front, or the back? Do I want a bag to get stuff from A to B, or do I want to bring it on a weekend day-trip?
Don’t panic, we’ve got you covered. In this guide, we will look at nine contemporary backpacks, carry-alls and other units to protect and transport your gear. We’ll be considering them on the following aspects;
- Gear protection
- Weight distribution
- Camera accessibility
Some bags may seem expensive but they often keep your gear safer than the cheaper ones. And at the same time, a more expensive bag might save your back. So, it’s often worthwhile to spend a little extra here. The right bag might even prevent you from walking back-and-forth to your car three or four times, which is valuable time and energy that you’d rather spend on talking to your client, setting up, or getting a drink (no joke, stay hydrated).
If you spend hundreds (or even thousands) on a camera, why spend the minimum on protecting and moving your equipment? Getting a good bag is essential to your shoot, whatever that shoot might be. Bags and cases might all look the same, but just like with cameras, the right advice makes it pretty hard to buy a crappy one nowadays (except maybe for this camera). Most bags have all the standard features like laptop sleeves, good camera padding etc.; the usual perks. So what makes a good camera bag stand out?
My first ever real backpack was a Naneu Pro Military Ops Bravo – a heavily padded, military aesthetic, rear-access backpack. It seemed decent at the start. It was about the right price, it featured brightly colored dividers which made finding my gear a lot easier in the dark and it included a rain sleeve – sounds good, right? It was far from ideal. Its boxiness all but broke my back when lugging it around for five weeks, and its accessibility was just awkward.
Today, at least a dozen backpacks, cases and years of experience further, I can shine some light on what I would be looking for in a good camera bag.
A backpack might be the first thing you think of when looking for something to bring or store your camera in, and for good reason. Backpacks are affordable, easy to use and an established piece of equipment for photographers and filmmakers. Cases, slings and messenger bags all have a funny weight distribution which would make my back – and therefore my chiropractor, sorry dude – cry.
So what should you look for in a backpack, specifically? Next to having good weight distribution, a backpack should be comfortable and fit the right amount of gear for you, in the right place. Let’s look at some options:
F-Stop bags work with custom Internal Camera Units (ICU for short). This brand was the first to fully develop these into a good working system, something nowadays widely replicated (and perfected) by the competition. You purchase an empty shell and separately get yourself the camera compartment that suits your needs. F-Stop also provides bundles for adventurous photographers, with different size camera compartments, accessory straps and rain covers.
With an F-Stop bag, you can decide if you want to fill your bag to the top with an XL Pro ICU, or go with a Slope Medium, and fit some extra socks, shirts and thermals alongside your hardware. Getting the freedom to choose as a creator is amazing, making these bags wildly popular with all types of creators. You can fit a full wildlife set in it, and bring a tent and a sleeping bag, or you can fit a RED Cine camera set in there—no problem. These bags are advertised for the outdoor photographer, though I spot studio-based photographers with them all of the time.
This particular bag is a tricky one to start with; the Magma Red colour is recognizable from miles away, which is something I personally love. My favorite part about this color is that no one will accidentally step on it in a dark environment. Unfortunately, not everybody shares my passion for these bright aesthetics.
- Colors: Magma, Cypress Green, Anthracite
- Capacity: 50L
- Weight: 1.93kg
- Dimensions: 28.4 x 34.8 x 62.3cm
- Frame: Aluminium internal
- Material: DuraDiamond 315D HT Ripstop Nylon
- Multiple size ICU’s with backside access available
- Overall great weatherproofing
- Fits kind of everything you might be able to think of
- 20 Year Warranty
- Grey dividers make it hard to find gear in the dark
- Not officially allowed as carry-on
- Requires extras for full functionality
- Most expensive bag from our test
WANDRD are a relatively new player in the photography game. After years of struggling with finding the best backpack, the WANDRD brothers decided to go and develop their own backpack. On traveling the world, checking out the available options on the market, listening to all of their friends and hearing their needs, they braved their way into the world of design and production.
Right now, they have a solid foot in the game and produce one of my favorite backpack designs.
The PRVKE (pronounced: provoke) has had many updates, listening to user feedback, adjusting zippers, pouches and the Camera Cube Dividers. The latter is not necessarily to my liking, as the original ones were the only companies making solid but snug, compact dividers—something I loved. You can imagine that every cm counts in a 21L bag, so I was devastated upon learning that the V3 update had new Cubes, with thicker dividers. At least my gear is super well protected now.
The PRVKE is for the everyday user, the traveler, and the photographer who cares about quality, function, and style. These bags also come naked and need a Camera Cube (all brands come up with their own name for these things, but camera cube sounds the most straightforward) to protect your gear. The Camera Cubes with customizable protection give you the flexibility of having your camera bag seamlessly turn into a travel or everyday bag. These backpacks have enough space for your lunch, clothing, tablet and whatever else you need, alongside your camera related gear. The cool thing with the V3 update is that now there are optional ‘full size’ Camera Cubes available, that cover the entire bag, so you can bring loads of extra gear compared to the standard Cube.
- Colors: Blue, Green, Black and limited Edition Grey
- Capacity: 21L
- Weight: 1.3kg
- Dimensions:43 x 28 x 17cm
- Integrated SD card organization
- Material: Tarpaulin and Ballistic Nylon
- Allowed on plane as carry-on
- Compact and super comfortable
- Kick-ass design; neat, swanky look
- Great day-bag for light shoots
- Unpronounceable name
- Updated dividers take up more space
- Back access only provides access to half the bag
- Weather-resistant but not waterproof
When I think about camera backpacks, this type of one pops up in my head. A sturdy, black backpack with camera access on all sides, a laptop sleeve and a hardened top shell. My draw to the ProTactic (review here) comes about as unsurprising, as this bag has been part of the Lowepro line-up for quite some years now. And with good reason. It ticks most of the boxes for a lot of photographers; it fits a large amount of gear, has a laptop sleeve, mounts tripods and accessories on the outside, and conveniently doesn’t break the bank.
- Colors: Black
- Capacity: 25L
- Weight: 2.84kg
- Dimensions: 36 x 22.8 x 52cm
- Quick side camera access
- Fits a 15” laptop
- Great value for money
- Loads of camera access points
- Fits a ton of gear, also on the outside
- Though it fits a lot, it’s quite bulky
- Not the nicest to carry
- Aesthetically, it looks like a camera bag
The Morally Toxic brand is part of British company 3 Legged Thing; known for bold designs, amazing style and great tripods. This brand offers a different perspective on a sometimes—and often!—dull photography and video scene. Some people like to be different, some brands do too. I like their products and their attitude, but it might not be for everyone. The Valkyrie bag is described as the ultimate camera backpack for photographers who are tired of plain, corporate-looking camera bags. No two bags are the exact same, and you’re sure to stand out with this backpack.
- Colors: Onyx, Emerald & Sapphire
- Capacity: 20L
- Weight: 1.6kg
- Dimensions 44 x 33 x 19cm
- Dry pocket
- Detachable memory card wallet
- Unique, bold design
- Well conceived rugged internal dividers
- Built-in tripod carry straps
- It draws attention to itself
- Front side camera access – not my favorite
- Adjustable hook-mechanism does not fully close
While some bags compete over which one carries the most gear, this bag seems to try harder to be a hiking & daytime bag than a camera carrier. This great-looking, comfortable backpack fits a full-frame camera with attached 24-70mm, plus maybe one extra lens. Next to that, there is room for about 19L of other accessories like filters and batteries, or non-camera equipment. The bag does not feature a tablet or laptop sleeve, so keep that in mind if this is a dealbreaker for you.
Lowepro states that their latest PhotoSport BP is made from 75% recycled fabrics. This might not be on the top of your priority list, but I can certainly think of quite a few photographers who really care about their footprint and the environment that is often their subject. To be honest, I think the idea of using (at least partially) recycled materials should be a standard for the world we currently live in.
- Colors: Black/Blue and Black/Grey
- Capacity: 24L
- Weight: 1.5kg
- Dimensions 27 x 22 x 50cm
- 75% recycled fabrics
- 3 liter hydration pocket
- Looks like a hiking bag – and it kind of is
- Super comfortable carry due to great design (comfort and aesthetic)
- Versatile, modular design
- Fits a minimum amount of gear (5L only)
- Not the biggest fan of the drawstring system in the top compartment
- Probably most useful as a sideshow bag
Peak Design started out as a highly stoked team, making amazing camera accessories with high-quality standards. It’s to be expected that their bags have been developed with a similar passion; with love, enthusiasm, a great eye for design and an ear for its users. Their stylish camera bags were an instant hit and are definitely worth checking out.
The 20L Everyday backpack is, no secrets there, a compact everyday backpack. Though it’s designed to be a quick grab ‘n shoot bag, I had a hard time fitting gear into the unique divider design. I felt like it just couldn’t hold half the stuff I wanted to bring.
- Colors: Black, Charcoal, Midnight, Ash
- Capacity: 20L
- Weight: 1.85kg
- Dimensions 56.49 x 30 x 21.01cm
- Made from part recycled material
- Unique origami-style FlexFold divider design
- Every day and Photo carry combination
- 2 side & 1 top handle – love handles, give me more handles on bags
- Zips all the way open, so you get great access – but don’t let your stuff fall out
- Material subject to wear and tear
- Not great for heavy gear
- Confusing sternum strap
- FlexFold dividers are a little difficult to customize
- Feels a lot smaller next to the PRVKE 21L
Rollers & Cases
Generally speaking, cases fit loads more than backpacks, and tend to keep your gear super safe. Tunisian Air dropped my case while loading it on the plane, as I watched from afar when it fell off the belt. The corner of my case is still chipped as of today, but fortunately there was no damage on the Zeiss CP3 lens set that was safely stored inside it, so it did its job.
The two most obvious differences between backpacks and (flight) cases are the outer material and the way you transport the gear. Rolling a case in an airport is amazing, and saves the weight on your shoulders. But when you have to wander some less than well-paved streets, a different carry solution might be preferable. Some brands feature backpack straps for their rollers, which in certain situations can be amazing. You don’t want to be carrying 50kg of gear over a 2km beach front.
Nanuk (pronounced na-nuuk) builds its cases for unforgiving environments, protecting your essentials while on set, or underway. Their cases have increased in popularity whilst facing fierce competition from the likes of PeliCase. Nanuk seems to be having the upper hand when it comes to camera cases, with broad colorways, inserts and custom options.
- Colors: Black, Blue, Graphite, Olive, Orange, Red, Silver, Yellow, First Aid
- External Dimensions 55.9 x 35.6 x 22.9 cm
- Internal Dimensions: 52.1 x 28.7 x 19.1 cm
- Weight: 5.3g
- Airline check-in approved
- Lifetime Warranty
- Amazing range of color options
- Waterproof (IP67 rated), dust & shock proof
- Two PowerClaw triple action latches
- Fairly priced compared to the competition
- Weighs a bit more than a similar sized backpack would
- More difficult to move on uneven grounds due to small polyurethane wheels
- Hard to fling on your back when needed
My first tripod was a Manfrotto, a 055XPROB that I thought about replacing often, but never seemed to. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Manfrotto as a reliable supplier of, well, almost any camera accessory I can think of. I might have been hesitant about an ‘accessory manufacturer’ making a backpack, but I could not have been more wrong.
I always dreamed of a way to comfortably carry my flight cases, and Manfrotto delivers with this hybrid system. The Manfrotto Pro Light Reloader Switch-55 (review here) is a well designed rolling backpack hybrid, with added features you’d expect from a roller/case. It comfortably fits two camera bodies alongside a wide variety of accessories, lenses, batteries, etc. In addition, you can store a 15-inch laptop and a tablet.
- Colors: Black
- External Dimensions 55 x 35.51 x 23.01 cm
- Internal Dimensions: 46.99 x 32 x 18.01 cm
- Weight: 4g
- Fits international carry-on sizes
- Strong but lightweight construction
- Fits loads and loads of gear
- Hybrid roller & backpack
- Airplane ready with integrated TSA lock & rainsleeve
- Dedicated tripod straps on side
- Not super comfy the way a backpack is (but no good roller bags are, so that’s totally ok)
- Not the cheapest on the list (but does come with rainfly)
- The practical design is not the most stylish aesthetic
Bonus Section – The Camera Cart
A good camera cart is fully collapsible, fully adjustable and tool-free. It folds down to a compact size that fits in the car, with wheels tucked inside. A camera cart serves not only as the monster truck that moves your gear, it’s simultaneously a holding for your crew and a visible spot on location or set.
A cart safely transports your material to your work location, on arrival it provides a working-height, clean workspace which, after the shoot, folds up nicely into your car. It’s rumored that some seasoned users are able to set it up in under 60 seconds.
Even when packed with a 120cm slider, as a camera assistant I’ve been able to wheel these Gargantuas into most tight spaces and elevators, transporting my gear to the upper floors.
Adicam Standard Camera Cart – $1,200 (Adicam)
The Adicam might be a lesser-known player in the camera cart world, but it definitely earned its stripes over the past few years in the capable hands of many aspiring content creators.
These carts are compact, movable and fully customizable workplaces on location. If you have the right car, it drives right in without even folding it.
Its fair weight of 38 kilogram might not sound inviting, but what if I tell you that you can carry up to 200kg of gear on it? I did once haul 80kg in a camera backpack, but will never repeat that stunt.
- Foldable double-deck model
- Folded dimensions: 17.5 x 63 x 104.5cm
- Assembled dimensions: 102.5 x 63 x 104.5cm
- Weight: 38kg without accessories
- Max load: 200kg
- 9″ pneumatic wheels with brakes
- Optional laptop, tripod and light stand-mounts
- Gets loads of kit from A to B in one walk
- Provides a solid holding for your gear
- Instant, clean work-table on any location; never need to put anything on the floor
- Need a car to move from A-B
- Does not go up stairs
- Very heavy
- Set-up takes time and skill
- Quite the investment
You can buy the Adicam Standard Camera Cart for $1,200 on the Adicam website.
Tips for buying a camera bag
No matter if it’s your first, second or just the next bag you buy, it won’t be an easy pick. But here are some things you might want to ask yourself to help with this decision:
- What do I want to bring – what does it need to fit, and, if this changes from day to day, should my bag be able to change with it?
- In which situations/conditions do I want to bring my bag – all-weather, plane, or mostly in the back of the car?
- What am I willing to spend? – a lot of bags come with 10, 20 or even a lifetime warranty. Is this something that interests you, does this make it easier to go for a slightly more expensive option? This falls together with “how long do I want my bag to last?”
- How are the ergonomics? Maybe the most important of them all; please go to a store or maybe a friend who has the bag you’re looking for, and try it on. I’ve seen stores where they have actual camera-plus-accessories size weights so you can try on the bag with some weight in it. Another, more straightforward option is to bring your gear to a store, and check if it all fits.
- What will my future bring? No, I don’t mean “will I be pretty, will I be rich?”, but if you’re on the verge of getting a decently sized, heavy tripod or looking to expand your lens set, it might be wise to think of the future when shopping for a bag.
- How often will I use it – this seems silly, but a studio-based photographer might not need a 60L outdoor camera backpack, and they might be happy with a trolley and a daypack. Consider the type of shoots you’ll be doing in the foreseeable future and think, does this bag have the features I need for that? Will you bring the same bag for a weekend trip abroad? If so, you might consider something customizable.
- Does it come with a Camera Cube / ICU or will I have to buy one separately? Having to purchase optional—but very much needed—parts for your bag can get expensive quite fast. Make sure to check out if the bag comes with a rain cover, and see what a camera cube might set you back. Being able to get yourself a secondary cube for, say, flash accessories, next to one with a drone kit might be amazing, though, and save you a lot of hassle on repacking your bag.
- Accessibility is a thing to consider. If you’re just moving your stuff from A to B, you don’t need quick camera access. If you’re just going from your house to the car to the studio, you might not need a handy H2O bladder or IcePick mounts.
No two photographers nor gear needs are the same. I’m happy to see a lot of different options in backpacks across the field, both in terms of specs, colors and even environmental choices. Though the market seems saturated in carry solutions, there are always companies that come up with amazing new features, designs and innovations.
Getting a bag that suits your creative needs will make you a happy creator. When I secured my first serious gig, I got myself a brand new hard-case, which was a horrible thing to lug to the other side of an unknown city, by foot. Knowing what gear to bring, and what to leave at home is a whole other skill.
What are your favorite details or top needs in a gear carrying solution, what is the one feature you are looking for when shopping for a new bag?