Camera Bags: The Scourge of Photographers?
Did Weegee use one? I don't think he did. Does Salgado? I doubt it, but I don't know. What about Nachtwey? He didn't in "War Photographer," although he did use a waist pack to carry film and notes. Maybe he does now.
Anyway, I've made a lot of observations since I started shooting, about half a year ago. At first, I got a camera bag. Somewhat large, but I stuffed it full of stuff...Camera, lens, flash, batteries, etc. It ended up hurting my back, and it really inhibited me. When I used it, I would always keep my camera in it. So, I would have to put it down, get out my camera, etc. to get a shot. Not a very fluid workflow.
So, I stopped using it.
Recently, I went to NYC with some friends. One of whom is a fellow photographer. He does use digital, but he never gave me crap for using film. He cheekily asked me why I hadn't upgraded to digital yet, but also subtly complimented me as he said something along the lines of "only artists use film anymore...I'm not arty enough to use it."
Anyway, he brought a rather small camera bag, more like a soft-case for his camera. But, whenever he wanted a shot, he had to stop, take his camera out, etc. (He also had a zoom lens that he would fiddle with, but that is for another thread.)
(Also, I read the often-loathed Ken Rockwell's "How to Carry Less" [I thought it said Lenses, ha]. I don't know why he can be so hated and yet so trusted by so many. He has good points, he has bad points, and he says a lot of stuff tongue in cheek. I like to read his stuff because I like to look at lenses and cameras, just like everyone else.
What I'm trying to get at is that I think camera bags are a stupid thing to have. Instead of bringing a bunch of lenses with you at once, just bring one. Maybe two, if you're going to bring a second body with you.
I just feel like I've been improving much faster as a photographer by only using my 35mm f/2. I feel like I'm considering the composition much more, and so on. It also allows me to be more spontaneous, as I just fling my camera on to my shoulder and go. I don't even sling my camera around my neck anymore.
I love cargo pants. I can fit batteries, film, flash, a portable media player, etc. into them comfortably, and without imposing on anyone. A somewhat small camera slung over one's shoulder is much more unassuming than a massive camera bag. Even if I get some kind of telephoto lens that I want to haul around, I'll probably just replace my flash with it in my pocket.
And when I bring a tripod, it gets slung right over my shoulder, next to my camera.
So, does anyone have anything else to add? Possibly a justification for camera bags?
Last edited by AutumnJazz; 09-01-2008 at 10:32 PM. Click to view previous post history.
Depends on what I'm shooting and where I'm going.
For street shooting, it's best to be unencumbered. A bag gets in the way.
If I'm going somewhere unfamiliar and shooting landscapes, I've got time to think and set things up, and it might make sense to bring a five or six lens kit.
If I'm traveling, I might bring more than the full kit in a bag, but I usually won't bring everything with me on any given occasion. Some times I'll carry a camera on a strap and a couple of lenses in a waist pack ("waste pack"? sounds unpleasant); sometimes it's just one camera, one lens.
With my new Kata waist pack, I can carry my 2x3" Technika and five lenses, so that's a way to carry a big kit in a small package.
Of course with the 8x10" and larger cameras, a bag or a case protects the camera and keeps everything together, but if I'm shooting out of a car, I can keep the camera set up and ready to shoot in the trunk or on the back seat.
I shouldn't try to spell when I'm tired.
Just try a search for "waste level finder" and you'll get all kinds of interesting results. It sounds like an instrument that tells you how full the septic tank is.
A justification for camera bags?
I have non-denominational backpack that I like to use when travelling. That way if Im not actually taking a photo it doesnt yell "I have an expensive camera. I am a tourist. Engage me in conversation and try to con me".
It does however mean that fleeting moments have flitted away by the time you get the camera out. Although given the old plate camera I mostly use these days in urban travel it wouldn't make that much difference. A leica it aint.
I have been taking less and less more and more even when using non-vintage stuff: Bessa-T with 21mm lens is the other trip camera. Thats it.
Last edited by bnstein; 09-01-2008 at 11:02 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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There is everything to be said for not carrying more equipment than you need. on the other hand it is vital to carry the equipment you do need in an ergonomically correct way, otherwise you're looking at a lifetime of back pain. I personally carry my normal everyday outdoor gear (a Fuji GW690III and a Leica) in a small LowePro backpack. My way of working is to proceed fairly deliberately to a certain location, at which time I will hang the camera and a meter round my neck and put a couple of spare films in my pockets so that I don't constantly have to dive into the bag. If I were into street photography. I would have the camera round my neck all the time, but these days I absolutely do not do this and do not wish to look like a photographer all the time. A padded camera bag is virtually the only storage medium that protects against hard knocks and rain, cargo pants offer maximum convenience but zero protection, gear carried in cargo pants will be damaged often!
Almost random thoughts . . .
I would almost never traipse around an unknown city or gathering without some sort of bag to tuck the machine away when desired. 35mm sized gear can work into a modest waist pack unless one gets heavy on telephotos -- not a problem here as I don't own any long stuff. I've used a couple of shoulder pouch-like things much smaller than any traditional camera bag. The trick is to find something that can be set up as a top loading holster sort of container that can be left unzipped for quick access without gear falling out. There are holsters, of course, but I really like less camera-obvious containers if possible.
I find the gear carrying situation to be hugely variable. Perhaps that's why I have a closet full of assorted camera bags, belt pouches, shoulder straps and whatever. On a kit, I tend toward the minimalist approach -- after all, I'm a hobbiest, not a commercial photographer. I chuckle when I read discussions where people debate the optimum set of six or seven lenses for their latest camera body. I did wind up with four, plus a teleconverter, for one of my earlier cameras. It's the fact that two of those lenses hardly ever found their way onto the camera in 15 years -- plus the price of decent lenses -- that helped formulate my current philosophy. My silly theory is that even if I could magically acquire a Canon 15 - 350mm f2.0L zoom lens to become my ultra-universal walk-around do-everything lens, I would every now and then still encounter a situation where I wished it was wider, longer or faster. Meanwhile it would always be costly enough to make me paranoid about waving it around in strange surroundings and wear me out with its ungainly size and weight.
So I figure, go light, get used to it. I'll miss one every now and again, but that happens anyway. Traveling, I lean toward one modest zoom and one fast prime for those indoor no-flash situations, smile and be happy. At the time of my first trek to Italy, I only owned 3 lenses for my Canon A-1 and I left one of them home. The left behind was the FD 35 - 105 f3.5 macro zoom, a great and classic lens, but it's huge and weighs more than the camera. And having only a few items in the bag makes it far easier to get stuff out.
Now I admit most of my major travel has been sightseeing, not "photographic missions." When I go to do a specific photo project, I am likely to take every thing I think I might have an outside chance of wanting. But usually such projects involve traveling via auto and if not local, staying in hotels, so even if I have a bunch of kit on the trip, I'm unlikely to convert myself to a pack mule every time I go out for a few pictures. I've noticed sometimes it's liberating to carry a 35mm with 50 mm "normal" lens and just make it work.
Perhaps it's my full geezerhood, but even 20 years ago I noticed many cameras carried on a neck strap seem to multiply substantially in weight as the day wears on.
My latest bag-to-be (for the collection) is a padded belt pouch large enough to fit my Perkeo II and a couple of extra rolls of film. (I think there's a Tamrac Modular system pouch with my name on it ... )
DaveT (running off at the keyboard)
Backpacks are one choice, and I recall Salgado mentioning that, though I don't think it was a dedicated camera backpack. I have lots of bags, probably more than a few people, though I need them because I carry lots of gear to paid shoots, and sometimes I need to fly somewhere with lots of gear. The reason for lots of gear on a paid shoot is that I need back-up gear. Unfortunately I am like a walking Lowepro catalogue with all the bags I now own. Of course, my large format bag is absolutely necessary, because large format requires too many items, partially due to the type of camera I use (Weegee had a Press camera, though very limited in choice of movements).
When I am shooting ideas, concepts, or more general portfolio images, then sometimes I simplify to one camera. I have a small backpack for just-in-case, and between areas transit . . . sometimes more of an anti-theft device than a gear choice. There is something challenging to one camera and one lens, and it is good to minimize . . . sometimes.
Gordon Moat Photography
Choose the bag first
It really helps to start out with a bag whose size and shape you like, and then limit yourself to the gear that fits comfortably in it.
I have two small shoulder bags. One is just right to fit the 35mm kit I like best - 24mm, 35mm, 85mm lenses, one body, a small flash, some film, spare batteries and a couple of other small accessories. It works, and is reasonably light (not least because it is all Olympus OM kit).
The second bag is just big enough for one of my Mamiya bodies (TLR or 645) and a couple of lenses, and a small hand meter.
I try to keep each of the small bags close at hand, so I can have at least one with me nearly all the time.
When I was in Thai recently for the ladyboy photos I used a very large camera bag for 2 reasons. I was carrying a converted Polaroid razalle 4x5, a quantum flash, a quantum turbo battery, 6 graffmattic backs. I was also carrying a Mamiya twin reflex camera with a back up lens (which I needed when my original lens broke down one shoot)...I also carried a Vivitar flash for the Mamiya along with a bantam battery pack plus 8 rolls of 220 and 6 rolls of 120 film, plus a notebook and a picture book (to show my subjects). Try carrying all of that stuff without a bag!
The second reason is I did not want to advertise that I was carrying all that gear; because of possible theft problems and also problems from the people that benefit from the sex industry financially (they are not too big on photographers making sympathetic images of the workers).
I guess what I am saying is that bags are often needed, I am sure Salgado uses something, how can he travel in all those difficult environments without having a bag to protect his equipment at times. If your going out to do street photography for the day then maybe you can just use a vest or pocketed pants with a 35mm camera and 1 lens but for many other occasions some kind of bag is mandatory.
One of my favorite bags is a shitty looking thing that’s all banged up. I remember going to a camera dealership in Malaysia and taking my 2 Mamiya 6 bodies out of the bag along with 2 lenses. The camera guy in the store asked "why do you carry such expensive equipment in such an ugly broken down bag?" The reason I do is because I do not want to look like I got $10 000 in camera equipment in the bag, it is functional and also a disguise!