Looking for an attractive, inconspicuous, sturdy camera bag
August 11, 2004 10:24 AM   Subscribe

I need a new camera bag. I don't want a huge blocky "traditional" one, just one big enough for my SLR, a lens or two, and perhaps things like wallet, keys, cellphone, etc. (I don't want to have to carry my purse and my camera bag at the same time). Ideally a backpack or shoulder bag or something of that easy-to-carry nature, it should be fairly inconspicuous (i.e. doesn't scream "LOOK! I'M A CAMERA BAG!!!") and reasonably attractive. It should be well-built and padded enough to protect my precious camera. Suggestions?
posted by biscotti to Shopping (13 answers total)
I love LowePro stuff. I have a Topload Zoom Mini which is great but might be too small for you. Not much space for anything except a camera with attached lens, other than a couple rolls of film and spare filters. And it looks like a camera bag. But their website has tons of other styles.
posted by smackfu at 10:33 AM on August 11, 2004

Crumpler makes the only cool camera bags I've seen.

I use the Crippy Duck bag to hold my 12" powerbook and rebel (with an extra lens or flash stuffed in too). It's a bit tight, but it works better than the old messenger bag I used to use.
posted by mathowie at 10:57 AM on August 11, 2004

I would go to a pro camera store and check out Domke bags. You may not be able to find them locally, but if you do, they'll be in the shop where all the news photogs go for their gear. Alternately, you could check out the styles available at B&H Photo/Video

While they *are* expensive, the bags last forever, and are made from heavy weight ballistic nylon or canvas, and have velcro strips on the inside to hold any configuration of inserts. The satchels and pro bags are soft rather than foam-formed and don't usually scream "Camera bag" like most other gear does... I carry one of the satchels downtown and it's indistinguishable from most of the messenger bags that people carry. Be aware that the bags usually don't come with more than one or two padded inserts, if that, so you'll need to buy them...

I own a canvas satchel and a big-assed F1-X, which is astoundingly humongous and holds most of my gear.
posted by SpecialK at 11:03 AM on August 11, 2004

Another vote for Domke. Great range of sizes and ability to customize compartments internally by buying different inserts. Easy to get in and out off in a hurry without fumbling with fiddly zips. Really high quality workmanship and pretty much indestructable. Doesn't shout, "expensive stuff here!" Unfortunately, supply has been a little patchy the last year or two. A much more expensive but beautifully made alternative (I'm told) is Billingham.
posted by normy at 11:43 AM on August 11, 2004

Bought this backpack style CamSak for a trip to Chicago two months ago and I'm still really happy with it. So much so that it's used almost daily when I just zip the camera section off the bottom.
posted by answergrape at 12:04 PM on August 11, 2004

Second the Crumpler bags. We have one for the laptop and my new Budgie Smuggler should be in tomorrow. I am using it for exactly the same purpose as you, so I can let you know how it works if you are interested. Here is a Japanese site with some better pictures.
posted by dual_action at 12:25 PM on August 11, 2004

I second mathowie. I have the Private Diner. I've used a Tamrac before I downsized. This "Crumplah" is the best I've used by far in its class, IMHO.
posted by azul at 12:28 PM on August 11, 2004

err...make that third.^_^
posted by azul at 12:29 PM on August 11, 2004

I'm going to second Lowepro. I picked one up as a gift and she absolutley loves it. The Lowepro LX 320 functions as a backpack, holds her 35mm, 2 lenses, space for film and field guides. The particular one I got had a cellphone attachment on the shoulder straps, but this particular picture/spec don't seem to include it.

(sorry for the vendor link)
posted by mnology at 12:56 PM on August 11, 2004

I am in LOVE with the Crumpler bags. Anyone have a recommended vendor?
posted by JoanArkham at 3:31 PM on August 11, 2004

I bought my Crumpler backpack from the link mathowie provided. Very few places carry the Crumpler backpacks, but quite a few of them carry the Crumpler shoulder bags. B&H has the shoulder bags but not the backpacks, for example, as does my local independent photo shop a few blocks' walk from my apartment.

Domke bags are great but are more photojournalist-oriented--rugged and quiet to operate but with minimal padding (to reduce bulk and maximize mobility, especially in crowds). They have large openings that might be bad for carrying lots of small, loose items as one would with a purse, but most people who have used a Domke bags love them (I have two in different sizes). If you're more concerned about protecting your camera and having a bag for non-photography related uses though, you can use any ol' messenger bag with an insert to for an SLR body and lenses; many companies sell camera inserts for bags, including the aforementioned Crumpler and Domke. I think a nice Crumpler messenger bag is your best bet.

My own most frequently used bag is a Crumpler backpack. Lowepro ones have excellent shoulder/waist harnesses for hiking and whatnot, but they definitely scream "photography gear" and are often very bulky. I like the Crumpler ones better for casual usage--they don't look "serious" (read: holding expensive gear), are built very tough, are almost excessively padded for bumps and grinds, and are exceptionally well-designed. I once ran full-tilt for three city blocks having forgetfully left all three sides of the camera compartment to my backpack completely unzipped (with the compartment flapping crazily open as I ran), and then turned around afterward to find that nothing had budged from their pockets, let alone fallen out. Made a believer out of me for sure. I do NOT recommend trying this yourself though.

If you want to retrieve your keys and cell phone easily, you're probably looking at a shoulder bag and not a backpack, unless you get a sling-style backpack like the Tamrac Velocity series. I found the sling to be uncomfortable with heavier lenses, but it's another option to consider.

Lastly, it's impossible to get any kind of purely objective advice about camera bags, since personal preferences vary so widely. Make sure to try out as many of them in person as you can.
posted by DaShiv at 5:53 PM on August 11, 2004

Those crumpler bags look great -- just like what I've been looking for.

Given that I'm not going to be able to see them in person, does anyone know if I'd be able to fit a canon DSLR with a decent sized lens (28-135IS) into one of these, while the lens is still attached? All the pics show the body and the lens separate.
posted by kaefer at 7:44 PM on August 11, 2004

The Crumpler bags ARE great and stylish, but still look TOO good for some places
I go with my camera gear. When they are new, the bags themselves are attractive
to thieves, regardless of what is inside (I live in Brazil).
As they see more use they will become more discreet, of course. Professionally
I use Lowepro backpacks (the Dryzone has proved itself in torrential downpours
in the Amazon), but when I am in dodgy places I prefer to use the cheapest,
least attractive backpack I can, and protect cameras and lenses with neoprene
covers and wraps from Zing
. This has worked very well in favelas in Rio and other places where
one would prefer not carrying a nice bag. The neoprene protects the gear from
scratches and bumps. For street photography my personal favorite is the Tamrac
backpack with both side pouches removed (I also removed the Tamrac logos).
Last time I saw this at B&H the newer models had a mesh pouch in front which
I really don't like or need (actually the direction Tamrac design is heading
doesn't appeal to me at all). This backpack's main compartment fits an slr with
an 80-200mm 2.8 lens, as well as a flash, other lenses, film/cards, and even
a second body on the "half moon" top enclosure. You can hide the straps
and use an included shoulder strap, which is ideal for crowd situations. The
one I own is very old and not at all attractive looking, which I find perfect.
posted by ig at 9:16 AM on August 12, 2004

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