by Alex W.
Photographers are notoriously picky when it comes to their equipment, and that choosiness doesn’t go anywhere when trying to decide what to actually carry their gear around in. After all, a good camera bag can do so much more than just hold your photography gear.
They can make your long hikes more comfortable, keep the rain off your precious lenses, or make your street shooting a more stylish outing.
But choosing the right camera bag can be a nightmare. Not only are there dozens of brands out there, but they span across several different categories of camera bags. Do you want a simple shoulder bag, a larger messenger bag, or are you looking for the best camera backpack out there?
Whether you’re buying a new camera bag for yourself or for that special photographer in your life, we’ve got you covered with some of our favourites right here!
The most popular type of camera bag is undoubtedly the lightweight and versatile shoulder bags. Unless you’re shooting landscapes or wildlife, the chances are that a messenger style of bag will be perfect for you.
They come in all variety of sizes, and the over-the-shoulder carrying system means that access to all your camera gear is quick and easy. As you’ll see below, a lot of them can be ultra-stylish as well, making them perfectly usable as an everyday bag for other belongings too.
If you’re looking for a sleek, stylish, but ultimately very functional messenger bag for your camera gear then the Peak Design Everyday Messenger is the ticket for you. As you can see it certainly looks the part, but it comes packed with useful features.
The MagLatch system makes opening and closing the bag an absolute breeze, but also serves to keep your gear secure when out and about town. It also comes with cool little folding dividers for your camera gear, which can be folded origami-style to make a bespoke bag that works perfectly with your gear.
These are just two of the many features of the Peak Design Everyday Messenger. It’s also got a rigid and expandable design so the bag never loses its shape, a laptop sleeve in the back, a quick access zip at the top, and a weatherproof shell. One of the most underrated features is there colour coded stitching inside the internal pocket, which means you always know which SD cards and batteries are fresh.
The Everyday Messenger is available in 13 and 15 inch sizes and can fit a full size DSLR, 3 lenses, a laptop, a tripod, and plenty of filters, SD cards, batteries, and other accessories.
Tenba are up there challenging Peak Design with their Messenger DNA 15 inch slim bag, and they’re doing it very well too. The Tenba Messenger DNA looks the part and is extremely weather resistant thanks to it’s sewn hinges and rugged construction.
Just like the Peak Design Everyday Messenger, this is also a very functional and easy to use bag. The main compartment holds a DSLR, 2-3 lenses, a laptop, and a medium sized tablet.
The Messenger DNA also features a special clip mechanism, with Tenba’s ‘Whisper Hook”‘ closure offering almost silent operation. Their magnetic clip system is also claimed to be the fastest clip in the world.
In our opinion, the Tenba Messenger DNA Slim isn’t quite up there with the Peak Design Everyday Messenger, but it’s quite a bit cheaper as well. For us, it’s worth every penny, although if your budget is a little bigger I would recommend the Peak Design.
If you’re looking for value for money, you really can’t go wrong with this AmazonBasics DSLR bag. It doesn’t have the same gorgeous designs of the more expensive models, but it’s definitely functional enough for the casual photographer.
It can fit a DSLR along with 2 lenses and a bunch of other accessories, and even comes with a tablet compartment as well. The removable interior allows you to customise the bag to suit your photography needs as well.
Does it stand up to the previous messenger bags in terms of style and functionality? In a word – No. However, it’s a fraction of the price and for this amount of money you simply cannot buy a better bag.
The ONA Brixton sits at the top of the chain when it comes to stylish camera bags. It’s a beautifully made bag that comes in either Italian leather or waxed canvas, although it does give up some of it’s functionality in favour of style.
The ONA Brixton can hold a full size DSLR along with up to three lenses. Add in a 13-inch laptop and four removable dividers to customise the bag and you have a relatively practical bag on your shoulder. The only downside is that it doesn’t feature the innovative clasp mechanisms of the Peak Design and Tenba offerings, but if you’re willing to sacrifice that for a timeless design then we can recommend it highly.
If the messenger bags are a bit too much for your gear requirements, you can’t go far wrong with this compact little carrying case.
Lowepro are a leading name in the camera bag department, and if you only shoot with one lens then this is the perfect bag for you. It can be carried over the shoulder and fits a DSLR with an attached kit lens comfortably, along with spare memory cards and other accessories.
Obviously the Lowepro Adventura isn’t suitable if you’re planning on taking an arsenal of lenses and accessories with you, but for those times when you just want a minimal amount of kit it’s perfect. Not to mention the fact that it’s an absolute bargain!
Sometimes a shoulder bag just isn’t enough. They work well when you’re only carrying a small amount of gear and prefer not to have a bulky backpack strapped to your back in confined spaces, but some situations demands a more comfortable and spacious system.
Nature photographers are the most obvious market. No photographer wants to go hiking up a mountain with a messenger bag over their shoulder and a tripod under their arm. They want a more practical solution, and these camera backpacks offer just that.
Most of these are available in a number of different sizes too, so you can buy whichever one fits all your photography kit in.
As we’ve already mentioned, Lowepro are a leading brand in the world of camera bags, and their backpacks are where their main focus lies.
There are many different models in Lowepro’s camera backpack range, but the Flipside is my favourite by a distance.
It offers all the things you would expect from a backpack – Ample storage, overall weather resistance along with a built in rain cover, comfortable and adjustable straps for those long hikes. The list goes on, but the main selling point is Lowepro’s innovate Flipside technology.
It allows you to spin the backpack around your on your torso, secured by the sternum strap, and tilt it forwards. The result is that you have full access to the opening back panel without ever needing to put the bag down. This is an absolute lifesaver when it comes to hostile environments such as the coast, because nobody wants their expensive camera gear covered in wet sand.
The rest of the backpack is pretty standard, although very well made. It has a tripod attachment system and a variety of extra pockets, and the 400 AW variety can hold a DSLR with 300mm lens attached, 4-6 extra lenses, an external flash, a 15 inch laptop and a 10 inch tablet.
The Lowepro Flipside comes in sizes varying from 200 AW (DSLR + 3 lenses and 7 inch tablet) up to the 500 AW (DSLR with grip and 400mm lens, 1-2 extra camera bodies, 4-6 extra lenses, 15” laptop and 10” tablet).
F-Stop are one of the high end manufacturers of photography bags, and while you do have to pay for the privilege of an F-Stop bag you are very unlikely to be disappointed.
The Tilopa bundle here offers an huge 50 liters of storage and is designed for those long expeditions into the wilderness. It comes with their massive Pro Large Internal Camera Unit, which can fit more photography equipment than you’ll ever need in.
Just to put this into perspective, you can take 3 pro DSLR bodies and up to 11 lenses in this ICU. The more likely situation is that you’ll take a more reasonable amount of photography gear and fill the ICU with all the other necessities for a multiple day hike. Because that’s what this is designed for – The photographers who love their expeditions.
Yes, it’s very expensive for a backpack. However, if you plan on going off camping or hiking for days on end then you want to be confident in your equipment. Multiple veterans have said that this is made as well as any military spec equipment they’ve used, so you can be 100% confident that this will withstand being put through it’s paces.
We’ve already reviewed the Tenba Solstice 20l backpack here, and that experience left us in no doubt that it deserves a spot on this list.
It offers everything you could need for a day out shooting at a more than reasonable price tag. There’s enough space to fit 1-2 DSLR bodies and 4-6 additional lenses, as well as coming with tripod storage and a tidy compartment for a tablet.
You would never expect it to hold this much looking at the size of it. It looks tiny, but inside you are rarely struggling for storage. One of our favourite features is the top loading compartment which can be used to store personal items or a DSLR with an average sized lens attached. We opted to keep a Nikon D810 in there along with an 18-35mm lens, and it gave us quick access to the camera without having to open up the back panel.
The Tenba Solstice is available in three sizes – 12l, 20l, and 24l.
Vanguard are best known for their tripods, such as the excellent Vanguard Alta Pro 2, but they aren’t too bad at making camera backpacks either.
The Vanguard Alta Sky 45D is a fantastic option for those long day hikes out with your camera. The interior offers ample storage, fitting a DSLR with attached lens (up to 70-200mm f/2.8), 2-3 additional lenses, accessories, and then a second mirrorless camera plus additional lenses as well.
This is more than enough for most photographer’s needs, and it’s even split into two separate compartments as well, allowing you to keep two different camera systems completely separate if you desire.
The main section can be accessed with the traditional opening back panel, but also quickly accessed from both the side and the top of the bag. It comes with a weatherproof cover as standard and offers numerous other side pockets for carrying everything you might need.
The thing that makes the Vanguard Alta Sky stand out, though, is their fantastic tripod carrying system. It’s got four straps and a fold-out pocket to keep your tripod fully secure and stable while you’re out hiking, and it can even be used to carry a drone instead if you’re more of an aerial photography kind of person.
Every backpack so far has been fully focused on functionality and practicality when out on long hikes, but the ONA Camps Bay takes things in a different direction. If you’re wanting a backpack for the city, then you’ll want a bit more style to go with the substance.
That’s exactly what the ultra fashionable ONA prides itself on. This timeless waxed canvas backpack doesn’t resemble any other photography backpack out there. It just looks like a stylish backpack for day-to-day living, but it has room for a camera plus up to seven additional lenses, as well as a compartment that holds up to a 17” laptop.
It has thick meshed shoulder straps for comfort and a small compartment for miscellaneous personal belongings too. The ONA Camps Bay backpack is expensive, there’s no getting away from that fact, but it certainly delivers as well. It holds much more gear than you would expect looking at it, and it’s a perfect bag in situations where appearances do matter, such as wedding photography.
If you’re looking more towards the budget section of camera backpacks, look no further than the surprisingly good AmazonBasics offering.
It’s not as stylish, functional, or comfortable as some of the other entries in this section, but it does the job of holding your photography gear very well considering it’s rock bottom price. It will hold up to two DSLR bodies along with up to four additional lenses, plus a little extra room for various accessories.
It has thick, padded shoulder straps as well as the load reducing chest and sternum straps that are real lifesavers in those tough climbs. It does fall down when it comes to breathability and weather resistance, but given the price it’s hard to be too hard on it really!
Not every type of camera bag is covered within these two categories, so we’ve added some of our favourite bags placed in the more niche section of the camera bag market.
If a messenger bag is a bit too bulky for your taste, Peak Design offer an excellent and compact item in their Peak Design Everyday Sling bag.
It has 5l of storage in the main compartment and can easily fit a mirrorless camera plus 1-2 additional lenses. If you’re not on the mirrorless bandwagon yet, it can fit a DSLR with a single lens.
In addition to the main storage compartment it also has an extensive network of additional pockets for batteries, SD cards, and any other small accessories you might want to carry. It can even be worn around the waist instead of over the shoulder!
If you travel a lot for your photography, the chances are that you categorically refuse to stow your photography gear in the hold. I know I do! You will probably have also suffered the trauma of trying to haul a fully loaded camera backpack through an airport and halfway across the world. It’s not fun at all, but Think Tank have this excellent solution.
Simply put, it’s a regular carry-on case that is designed specifically with photographers in mind. It can fit a 15” laptop, a 10” tablet, 2 DSLRs with attached lenses, up to 7 additional lenses, and a whole heap of accessories. It’s made to meet most international and US carry-on requirements and offers the perfect way to transport your gear as a travelling photographer.
If you’ve already got a bag that suits almost all your needs, you might want to think about just adapting that bag for your photography needs. That’s where Internal Camera Units (ICU) come into play, and the F-Stop ones are unsurprisingly excellent!
They come in a variety of sizes, but the Medium Slope ICU can fit up to 2 DSLRs inside along with up to 6 lenses, which is more than enough for most photographers. You simply put all your gear in the protective, water-resistant shell and then slide the whole ICU into your existing bag.
This is a perfect solution for those photographers who like to go off camping. You probably already have a camping backpack to fit all your overnight gear in, but what about your photography gear? Do you try and find some way of putting your cameras into the camping backpack, or do you try to cram all your camping gear into your photography bag?
Neither of those solutions work well, but using an external ICU is a great option.
Having the right camera bag is essential to your comfort and ease of mind as a photographer. You want to spend your time photographing and improving – Not worrying about whether your gear is safe and dry.
Fortunately, there really are options out there for all manner of photography and for all levels of budget. The cheaper options will do a job if you’re shooting on a shoestring, but generally it ends up more cost effective in the long run to buy the more durable and longer lasting bags.
About Alex W.
Alex is the owner and lead writer for Click and Learn Photography. An avid landscape, equine, and pet photographer living and working in the beautiful Lake District, UK, Alex has had his work featured in a number of high profile publications, including the Take a View Landscape Photographer of the Year, Outdoor Photographer of the Year, and Amateur Photographer Magazine.