How to choose the best camera bag for what you photograph

When it comes to choosing the best camera bag for you, the most important factor to consider is how you’ll use your camera bag.

A camera bag serves two purposes:

  • To protect your photography equipment
  • To transport your photography equipment

Next you have to look at how much gear you have and where you’re going with it.

So, to help you decide which is the best camera bag for you we’ll look at the four types of camera bags you can buy and why each one is good.

But first I think two frequently asked questions need to be answered…

How to choose the best camera bag

This is me caught in the act of photographing textures. Not particularly exciting, but even on an outdoor portrait shoot I’ll have my camera bag on my back if I’m shooting solo.

1. Why are camera bags so expensive?

The best way to explain why good quality camera bags are so expensive is with a little story.

Many years ago I was on my way out of a venue at the end of a wedding. I’d packed up all my gear and was wheeling my camera case away from the partying wedding guests. Just as I was reaching the door a tipsy guest accidentally dropped his full glass of beer and it landed on my “expensive” camera case.

Not one drop reached the inside of the case, even though it didn’t have it’s rain cover on (because why would you when you’re indoors?). My very expensive cameras, lenses and flashes weren’t harmed at all. This was of course a massive relief, but even more so because I had another wedding to photograph the next day and wouldn’t have had enough time to get more gear before the 10am start.

My bag stank like a brewery until I cleaned it, but who cares when it could have been so much worse.

Also, the bag is now 12 years old and still going strong. The only reason I’d replace it is that newer roller bags are lighter.

All of a sudden the bag doesn’t seem expensive at all!

You’re paying for good design, top quality materials and a solid build to protect camera equipment that costs a lot more than the bag.

2. Which camera bag brand is best?

Just like with good cameras, there are so many great camera bag manufacturers who cater for every type of photographer from hobbyist to professional.

Some camera bags are aimed at photographers who just want something practical (like me) to carry and protect their gear. Other photographers value style, so prefer to have something stylish that’s also practical.

Whatever your criteria, it’s essential you make high quality your first priority when choosing a camera bag.

My brand preferences are:

That said, I have slipped in one extra brand to my favorite picks listed below, because it’s just so stylish!

3. How do I choose a camera bag?

Because photography is my job, I have three of these four types of camera bags and they’re all great for different reasons:

  • Camera roller bag
  • Camera backpack
  • Shoulder bag aka messenger bag
  • Sling bag

My activity and how much gear I’ll need determines which camera bag I’ll use that day.

Each type of camera bag comes in different sizes. So, regardless of the type of bag you choose, you need to assess if it’s big enough for your gear. In fact, I’d go slightly larger than you need, especially if you’ve got your eye on another lens. This way you won’t outgrow your camera bag too quickly.

(PS – If you do purchase through one of these affiliate links, it won’t cost you anything extra, but I may get a small commission.)

Camera roller bag

Yesterday I had a personal branding shoot on location at my client’s office, so I needed to take quite a bit of gear, including lighting, to the shoot. My roller bag was the best camera bag on this occasion.

When I travel by air to a shoot my roller bag is ideal, because I can take quite a bit of my gear, including my laptop, as cabin baggage. So there’s no risk of my bag going missing and I avoid the potential nightmare of having to hire photography gear at very short notice in a foreign country.

Essential requirements of a camera roller bag:

  • Retractable handle for easy wheeling
  • Shoulder straps (folded away) to carry if needed
  • Well made, but replaceable wheels
  • Laptop pocket
  • Solid construction with firm outer walls
  • Movable, padded dividers to arrange your gear to suit you
  • Sized to be able to carry on as cabin baggage
  • Big enough to carry 2 camera bodies and several lenses

My top 2 roller bag picks

Manfrotto Manhattan Runner-50

  • Rugged
  • 35 x 20 x 50 cm
  • Water repellant fabric + rain cover

Lowepro LP37272-PWW Pro Trekker RLX 450 AW II

  • Rugged
  • Fits 2 camera bodies + up to 6 lenses
  • Fits 15″ laptop

Camera backpack

If I’m shooting at an outdoor location with minimal gear and the likelihood is that I’ll move from one location to the next, I usually opt for my camera backpack.

This way I can keep my backpack on my back while shooting. With my gear on my back I don’t need to be distracted by having to keep an eye on it, which is particularly important in a busy area.

I can also pack my laptop into my camera backpack, which is great if I want to stop for coffee between shoots and catchup on emails etc.

This is also the bag that I take on holiday.

Essential requirements of a backpack camera bag:

  • Adjustable, padded shoulder straps
  • Padded back
  • Rain cover
  • Laptop pocket
  • Movable, padded dividers
  • Big enough to carry 1 camera body and at least 3 – 4 lenses
  • Quick and easy access
  • Separate compartment for other items, e.g. a jacket

My top 2 camera backpack picks

Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L 

  • Stylish
  • Weatherproof
  • Fits 15″ laptop
  • Side and top access

Lowepro ProTactic 350 AW II Modular Backpack

  • Rugged
  • Well padded
  • 2.2kg
  • Fits 13″ laptop

Shoulder bag / messenger bag

The bag I use least is my shoulder bag (also known as a messenger bag), mainly because I prefer to carry a bag on both shoulders so that I don’t pick up any back strain.

I’ve also found that when photographing with a bag hanging off one shoulder it’s difficult to avoid movement blur in the photos. The movement of the hanging bag, even if subtle, affects my stability so there’s more of a chance of camera shake, especially when using longer focal lengths.

That said, shoulder bags are great if you don’t carry much gear and you’re photographing in an urban environment, or any busy area. In my opinion the biggest advantage is that nobody can sneakily open up a zip to get their thieving hands on my gear. Sad, but true.

Essential requirements of a shoulder bag:

  • Padded, adjustable shoulder strap
  • Movable, padded dividers
  • Rain cover
  • Big enough to carry 1 camera body and at least 2 lenses
  • Memory card pockets

My top 2 camera shoulder bag picks

Peak Design Everyday Messenger camera bag

Peak Design Everyday Messenger

  • Lifetime warranty
  • 30-day returns
  • Fits up to 15″ laptop
  • 1 handed MagLatch closure

Billingham Hadley Pro Camera Bag

  • Super stylish
  • Great range of colors
  • Waterproof zippered back pocket

Sling bag

Sling bags are great if you want to get easy access to your camera without taking your bag off your back. For this reason they’re popular for street photography.

Sling bags are a mix between a camera backpack and a shoulder bag, because when not in use they hang across the back. To access your camera, you just swivel the bag around to hang across your front.

The only reason I don’t have a sling bag is that I don’t like having a strap going across my chest.

Essential requirements of a camera sling bag:

  • Padded, adjustable strap
  • Padded back
  • Movable, padded dividers
  • Small laptop or tablet pocket
  • Big enough to carry 1 camera body and at least 2 lenses

My top 2 camera sling bag picks

Think Tank Turnstyle 20 V2

  • Stabilizer strap for active shooting
  • Attached rain cover in pocket
  • Suits all heights

best camera bag sling style

Peak Design Everyday Sling 10L

  • Padded cross-body strap
  • Weatherproof
  • Fits 13″ laptop

Leave a comment

If you have any questions about how to choose the best camera bag for you, let us know in the comments.

Also, I love good news, so if my camera bag tips have helped you, share that too.

3 thoughts on “How to choose the best camera bag for what you photograph”

  1. Hi Jane,

    I use a Lowepro messenger bag for two lenses and a DSLR with lens but wear it across the body which gives good access on the move. I sometimes carry an extra camera and 100-400 telephoto lens in a Lowepro Toploader Zoom bag across the opposite diagonal. They are secure, no need to hunch the shoulder to stop them falling off and I have easy access to the contents. However, two bags are not suitable in a crowded place! The Zoom bag is also great to carry on its own when I will stick with one lens. I also keep a 40mm pancake lens in a pocket if carrying the telephoto.

  2. This semester I decided to take a class on digital photography, and so far, it has been interesting. Before, I never bothered to learn about all the settings on the camera or how to take a picture. Nevertheless, thank you for all your tips.


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