How To Choose The Best Camera Bag To Keep Your Gear Safe Without Sacrificing Style

So you have a camera (or two, or four!).  Maybe you have multiple lenses to rotate through, and a tripod you need to tote around. Regardless of your photography style, you know it’s important to take good care of your gear. Luckily, you have a lot of options when it comes to finding the perfect camera bag for dslr photography equipment.

What’s The Best Camera Bag For DSLR Photography Equipment?

Spending money to protect what you currently have is cheaper in the long run. Camera bags are necessary accessories in this regard, and they help you carry all your gear at once.  They’re one of the most basic accessories that every photographer needs, but they come in all different shapes and sizes.  And if you’re taking part in our weekly challenge, you may be looking for a pack to take with you!  So which bag is the best bag for you?

Photo by: Zhao
There are a lot of variables that go into finding the perfect camera bag–how much equipment will you carry? Is it only for your camera, or will you also carry personal items? Read on to find out how to choose the camera bag that best suits your needs.  Photo by: Zhao

There’s No Such Thing As The Perfect Camera Bag

Because there is no such thing as the perfect style of photography!  Everyone has different needs for a carrying case. These depend greatly on your style of shooting and the environments in which you will be using your camera.  If you’re a versatile photographer and you shoot in a variety of situations, you may find that having one bag isn’t enough.  It’s okay to have multiple bags for different scenarios.  Here I’ll share a variety of cases which have proven their value, and the types of photography they suit well.  Read on to find out what camera bag meets your needs!

Compact Cases

Ideal for: Everyday use, Point-and-Shoot cameras

If all you are carrying with you is a point-and-shoot, or a small bodied camera and single lens combination, then a case which just fits your camera may be all you need.

This Lowepro compact camera case is available for under $10. A small investment to protect your expensive camera.

While your camera may fit easily in a pocket or purse, these won’t protect it as well as a dedicated camera case. LCD screens and lenses may be scratched by your keys, pens, or other items sharing a pocket. Dust, which inevitably accumulates with frequent purse usage, can get into the cracks of your gear.  You want to avoid all of this!

Carrying a compact case can prevent scratches and shelter your camera from dirt and provide protection from water damage.

A Couple Of Our Favorite Small Cases

Since camera cases fit so close to your gear, there are often cases made specifically for your model.  However, there are also cases which fit a variety of cameras.  The Ruggard HFV-260 is an extremely affordable means of protecting your gear from bumps.  You can even find close fitting waterproof protection, such as the Overboard Waterproof Roll-Top SLR Bag.  Small cases and bags such as these are the most economical and will go a long way to protect your equipment.

Messenger Bags and Slings

Ideal for: Street photography, Short day trips, Small one- or two-lens kits

These often stylish bags are great for when you don’t want to advertise your presence as a photographer.  Many street photographers want to remain as discreet as possible.  Unless you are toting a large kit in preparation for specific, precise photographs, messenger bags are a great way to carry your smaller arsenal and keep your camera within reach for spontaneous moments.

While using a messenger bag, you can blend in with the crowd.  Bags which lack logos identifying themselves as camera bags (and therefore carrying valuable goods) also make great travel options, because they allow you remain inconspicuous.

Photo by: Zhao
Messenger style camera bags are increasingly popular because they protect your gear and keep you looking stylish. Photo by: Zhao

It is true that you can stick your camera into any bag you have, but those designed specifically for carrying photography gear provide better protection.  Adjustable padding fitted around your gear protects it from bumps and minor accidents.  Some even come with small rain covers for when conditions worsen unexpectedly.  You can also find ones with designated accessory pockets, which are handy for carrying spare batteries, remote shutter releases, and lens filters.

Messenger and sling bags provide quick and easy access to your gear, without requiring you to take your bag off–you can just rotate them around your shoulder!

Keep in mind that bags which only have one strap may become heavy to carry by the end of a long day, even if the weight of the camera was negligible in the morning.  If you have a bad back or neck, you may want to avoid messenger bags or slings.  These bags are also smaller and many don’t accommodate large lenses very well.

The ONA Bowery Camera Bag is the perfect size to carry your camera, a lens, a few personal items without being too bulky.

Stylish Options

ONA is a luxury camera bag manufacturer.  These bags will secure your place amongst the most fashionable photographers.  They make camera bags of all sizes, but their leather messenger bags are the most sought after.  The ONA Bowery Camera Bag (shown above) is compact enough to not be a distraction on the street. That being said, it easily holds a DSLR with an attached lens and a spare to boot!

If you’re looking for something a little less high fashion and a little more urban, Tenba might be the company for you. Their DNA messenger bag line puts functionality first with weatherproofing, easy access for gloved hands, and considerations for ergonomics while bike riding.  The DNA 15 accommodates 2-3 lenses, plus a flash and accessories–a great option if you need to carry around a little more.

Tenba offers a versatile line of camera specific messenger bags that vary in size making it easier to find the right fit for your needs.

Backpacks

Ideal for: Travel photography, Adventure photography, Landscape photography, Full day trips

If you’re carrying around multiple lenses, or you need to transport more than just your photography kit, you’ll most likely need an upgrade from a messenger bag to something larger.  Your first priority in choosing a camera bag should be function; fashion is a nice secondary focus.  But don’t despair–having a backpack doesn’t mean you have to be less fashionable.  Many camera bags are aesthetically designed too!

camera bag for dslr
Camera backpacks are versatile, large enought to hold a considerable kit, and highly portable. Photo by: Jhong Dizon

Just as certain backpacks are designed to accommodate laptops, photography backpacks exist to house camera equipment. You can find backpacks which are designed to house only photography gear. However, there are other bags which have designated protected regions for your photography gear, while the remaining volume holds other content.

Best Camera Backpacks For The Active Photographer

camera bag for dslr
F-Stop gear makes high-quality camera bags perfect for adventure and travel photographers. But their boutique sized business makes it hard to keep up with demand for their products–expect a wait time if you order one of these exceptional packs.

F-Stop Gear is a company which designs bags specifically for active and adventurous shooters.  If you’ve ever wondered what Jimmy Chin uses, it’s F-Stop Gear!  They produce the outer bag and internal camera units separately, allowing you to choose the configuration you need.  Their Guru UL is an ultralight 25L pack, making it suitable for carrying around a small kit plus a few snacks or accessories.

I own the Kashmir UL, which is a sister to the Guru UL. However, the Kashmir is specifically designed for the female physique.  What I love about these bags is that the material is high quality, it really is super duper light, and it sports a rear access panel.  This means that I’m less concerned about having something stolen while I’m busy being a tourist in a crowded place!

Beware, however, that F-Stop is a small (though well known) company, and they have struggled to grow with demand for their products.  You often need to wait weeks, sometimes months, before your order is fulfilled. Don’t rely on placing an order two weeks before your scheduled trip!  This is a company to do business with if you want quality, and are willing to wait a long time to get results.

camera bag for dslr
This Lowepro camera bag safely stores an entire kit and is made by one of the most trusted brands in the industry.

Of course, Lowepro is a name that couldn’t be skipped in this list.  Trusted by photographers worldwide, it’s impossible to visit a famous landmark without seeing a Lowepro bag being toted around by someone.  They make a wide array of options to suit every need. I recommend checking out their Protactic line.  These bags are meant for serious photographers with a lot of gear to carry around, making use of multiple accessory attachment points.

Backpacking Bags

Ideal for: Adventure photography, Landscape photography, Multi-day trips

camera bag for dslr
Purchase padded inserts to turn your 60L hiking pack into an adventure proof camera bag. Photo by: Zach Dischner

If you’re into adventure photography in wild, remote places, you may be reaching the point where carrying a proper backpacking bag is necessary.  Unfortunately, there’s little choice available for multi-day packs built around a photographer’s needs first.  But if you do have an expensive camera, don’t just shove it into the 60L pack you already own!

Adventure Camera Bag Options

F-Stop Gear is pretty much the only company making dedicated large volume camping packs for adventure photographers.  However, if you can’t wait for their supply chain to reach you, check out the Granite Gear Aji panel loader.

And, while we’re on the topic of panel loaders…Your gear may seem safe snuggled in there with your sleeping bag, but it will fare much better in a designated photography section.  You can purchase a separate padded unit and load it into your multi-segmented backpack.

camera bag for dslr
You can buy padded inserts to fit into your existing backpack or messenger bag. This option from Timbuk fits several lenses, flashes, and a DSLR easily.

Bonus Tip: When packing your panel loader, remember to keep weight as close to your back as possible.  The lower down it rests, the better you will be able to carry the weight.  Panel loaders often have easy access to all compartments, so it’s not necessary to have your camera at the top of the bag.

Roller Bags

Ideal for: Studio photography, Event photography, Gear transportation

Roller bags are the easiest method of transportation, especially for larger kits.  You don’t have to carry the weight on your back, and they’re often quite heavy duty protection-wise.  However, they are the least versatile.  You probably don’t want to drag one around all day.  And, unlike a backpack, when you’re immersed in your photography, you need to find a secure place to store it while your attention is diverted.  Additionally, they’re the least mobile, and you’re not going to want to take them off of established footpaths.

camera bag for dslr
For the traveling photographer, roller camera bags make air travel considerably less stressful. Photo by: Hernán Piñera

However, they’re great for transporting large amounts of gear at once.  Roller bags make ideal cases for capturing events, such as weddings.  They’re also great for making sure any photography equipment you need to check on a plane arrives unharmed. Just remember to let them know your bag is fragile!

Top Roller Bag Choices

Since these bags offer a lot of heavy duty options, they can cost a pretty penny.  The Think Tank Photo Airport Roller Derby provides excellent protection for your gear. But excellent protection comes at a high price, making this bag targeted more at professional photographers.

camera bag for dslr
The ThinkTank Roller Derby fills the needs of the professional photographer on the go.

Lowepro makes great alternatives for a much more reasonable price tag.  Give their Pro Roller x200 a look if it’s a roller bag you want!

camera bag for dslr
The Lowepro Pro Roller is a more affordable roller option with similar features as the ThinkTank Roller Derby.

Finding Your Perfect Camera Bag

There are tons of camera bag manufacturers out there, far too many to be listed here.  While the selection is far greater online, your local photography store should also have a variety of bags.  Unless you know what bag you want, getting to try it on (with weight as heavy as your kit!) is a great idea.  Whether you want something stylish, light, or heavy duty, there is a bag out there with your name on it!

If you have some specific questions about a certain camera bag, the PhotoBlog forums is a great place to connect with fellow photographers. Strike up a conversation in the Equipment thread or share your thoughts in the comments sections below.

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About the author

Jessica Arwen Best

Jessica is a software engineer, photographer, climber, and traveler. She's currently living out of a truck while driving through the Americas, and finds inspiration in nature and wildlife. Some of her favorite things in life are ice cream, passionfruit, animals, and going to remote places.

  • I have the Airport Roller Derby and absolutely love that bag. I can fit all the gear I usually travel with inside it, plus it’s just right the size to use as a carry on so I don’t have to worry about checking my equipment. I would definitely recommend that bag.

    • Yes, that’s a good point — choosing bags which fit in the carry on racks is definitely a great way of keeping your gear safe (and always with you!).