The 2016 Camera Bag Plan

Women are unfairly stereotyped as “bagoholics” while photographers are hoarding a closet full of old camera bags.  Watch any photographer in a camera store and you’ll see him eventually wonder into the bag section.  I guess frequent travelers are constantly on the search for the best way to carry their luggage, but they also pale when compared to photographers.  As a photographer, fairly frequent flyer, and someone who lives with a fashion-conscious  lady I can easily say that my camera bag collection CRUSHES the amount of suitcases and purses found in our house.  There are probably 6 rolling suitcases we cycle through and Jess has around 10 purses that I can count.  How many camera bags?  30!  Yes, thirty friggin’ bags for carrying camera equipment of some sort.  Granted a few of those are for carrying batteries, cords, memory cards, filters and things like that, but 30 camera bags!!!

This happened to me because I never got rid of any over the last 10 years.  And some lenses come with cases that don’t work well in the field, but you have to hold onto that case for better resell value.  All that aside here’s the truth:

  • The camera bag that fits the right gear for each situation is a unicorn
  • Camera bags are way cheaper than other pieces of camera gear so one justifies their purchase easier
  • A newer, cooler, camera bag comes out every day

I’m in the process of building a new office and storage space for myself and have been surveying my stuff to figure out what I really need to build.  This endeavor made me realize just what I had in inventory and it was a shocker.  But it wasn’t enough of a shocker to fix my hoarding habit without some help…

While out shooting Bartlett Falls last weekend I realized I’ve been doing a lot of winter shooting in secluded areas that I could easily have an accident in. That “easily” word is implied because these locations typically have ice covered by snow that is on top of rocks because most of these areas are waterfalls or mountaintops.  This inspired me to begin using some brighter colored (all of my stuff is funeral black) things just in case a search needed to happen.  I also need to being carrying supplies that can keep me going for a good 24 hours if I become immobilized.  So, that put me in the bag market again because everything I have is black.

Before pulling the trigger on the next bag I dropped off quite a few to the local camera store (Green Mountain Camera) to use as trade-in credit toward new stuff.  This is my first time trying their process, so we’ll see how things go.

Anyway, the 2016 camera bag plan is to have a bag setup for the types of shooting I do:

Landscape (the most dangerous)

I usually have a general idea of what I’m going out to shoot before jumping in the car, so I know whether to pack a specialized piece of gear or not.  What I don’t know is whether the location’s conditions are good for laying expensive camera gear down and I have missed a few shots trying to find a suitable spot.  I have also missed a few shots from being lazy.  Lazy = not wanting to take the backpack off, lay it on dry ground, unzip and unpack the gear, take the shot, and then repack and reload it all back on your shoulders.  After shooting for a while you lose enthusiasm for going through that routine later, and that’s where some amazing pictures are shot.

MINDSHIFT_HORIZON_HERO_3QUARTER_TAHOE_BLUE_DSC_TRANS_2223_5fea7895-c0b6-4c32-8d80-15b4222ff114_grandeTake all that with the fact that my landscape locations are dangerous.  I should be brightly colored and carry survival gear.  This is where the Mindshift Gear Horizon seems to make the most sense.

It has a bright colored option and two sections to the bag.  A rotational belt pack makes it so I won’t have to take the pack off to get to my camera gear.  Within the pack it can hold a body and two lenses plus a filter or three.  That’s what I call a “no excuse” bag.  The top of the bag has ample room for an extra jacket, food, small camping blanket, and even a longer lens or macro setup.  It holds a tripod in a number of different ways and even has a spot for a water bladder.  If the perfect bag is a unicorn we might have a white stallion with a stump growing out of his head here.

Wildlife

Believe it or not this is probably the safest shooting I do (most of the time).  I’m carrying obnoxiously large white lenses from the car to the location.  Usually the location isn’t far from the car and it is usually on flat ground, in a marsh, or on a kayak.  The biggest worry is getting the gear wet.

Unlike shooting in dangerous locations where you want to be seen, wildlife shooting is a lot like hunting where you want to be hidden.  Camouflage, blinds, and decoys work exactly the same way.  The only difference is the type of shooting leaves a different outcome on the animal.  The worst thing a photographer can do is scare the animal away with a flash or scent.

This isn't my Bataflae. This is an example of how well it holds the big white cannons.
This isn’t my Bataflae. This is an example of how well it holds the big white “cannons.”  I can load my 600mm just like the big lens shown here or my 500mm with a body attached.
MINDSHIFT_FIRSTLIGHT_20L_HERO_FRONT_3QUARTER_WITH_CANON_GEAR_01-DSC_7845_grande
This 20L bag can hold a lot. What makes it nice is the thin profile. It won’t hold my larger Cannon lenses and that’s okay!

I employ the massive Gura Gear Bataflae 32L on wildlife shots because of the massive Canon 600mm f4L IS lens.  The 600mm requires more work due to a heftier tripod and gimbal head while the lens itself is too heavy to shoot by hand.  And it is long, so few bags can actually fit it.  The Bataflae can hold an incredible amount of stuff, but it is too big for casual wildlife shooting with smaller lenses like my 100-400mm and the 400mm f4 DO I love.

When carrying the lighter gear I’m thinking about using the Mindshift Gear Firstlight 20L with its lower profile.  I used to use the Think Tank Glass Taxi, but I found that bag too hard to take on and off my big shoulders.  I will probably use the Firstlight on macro shoots as well.  The Canon 180mm macro lens I use is nearly as long as that 100-400mm and macro also requires some sort of lighting-assistance device (a flash or reflector), focus rail in focus stacking situations, a tripod, and you always want another body & lens around for those non-macro opportunities.

Travel/General

You never know what your going to find walking around home or somewhere new.  I like to travel “DSLR light” which is a body, a general purpose lens, a longer lens, a circular polarizer, spare battery and a single flash.  I also like to have a spot for a water bottle.  That could easily be 10lbs of gear, so it needs to fit comfortably and be shiftable for sitting purposes.

Can be used on the waist or as a shoulder bag
Can be used on the waist or as a shoulder bag

I tried using the Think Tank belt system for this, but the need for two or three components made this a no-go for having a simple/slim profile.  Granted, the belt system is fantastic for events like auto shows and the components work well with other bags.  So, the belt system is fantastic for creating versatility, but I don’t like using it in general walk around environments.  Good thing Think Tank has a “speed” lineup with their smallest one being the Speed Demon.

The Think Tank Speed Demon can handle the load while staying relatively slim on either my waist or shoulder.  Because it is on the waist one can work out of it without having to lay the bag on the ground or worry about it flopping around on a shoulder within a crowd.

Snowboarding

Think Tank harness system for their Digital Holster
Think Tank harness system for their Digital Holster

Riding on the mountain requires careful bag consideration.  Most of the time I just keep a point and shoot camera in my jacket chest pocket, but when you want to get killer pictures of your friends nothing beats a DSLR.  One could employ the backpack, and I could certainly use either the Horizon or Firstlight for that.  But an easier setup is to have the camera ready to fire on your chest.

A chest bag helps to keep the weight more balanced and your camera in less of a target spot for tree limbs.  On top of that, my falls typically happen on my butt so risks to camera gear damage are less with a chest bag.

I use the Think Tank Digital Holster 20 with the optional harness system.  It keeps the camera in the “go zone” and also can work with another backpack if I ever go into the backcountry and need survival gear.

Why these brands?

I like to stick to brands that make products that work with their other products.  Apple is a great example of this.  Obviously camera systems like Nikon and Canon build cameras and lenses that work together.  Think Tank is a camera bag and accessory company that builds full systems of things that work together.  They are the parent company to Mindshift Gear, so the Gura Gear Bataflae bag is the only thing in this article that isn’t part of a larger system.  There are ways to attach accessories to the Bataflae, but it is so big I have yet to find a need beyond what can fit within the bag already.

With the Think Tank/Mindshift system I can configure special setups for just about any situation and do not need to keep 30 different camera bags around anymore.

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