If I were buying an expensive DSLR camera, for the first time, all over again, I would resolve to make a good quality and good sized camera bag part of the overall cost.
You see, when I got my very first DSLR-type camera (a Panasonic FZ1000 “Bridge Camera”, buying a camera bag was pretty much a secondary concern.
I’d never spent so much money on a camera, before, and so the majority of my attention was focused on what camera to buy, without any consideration on how I was going to keep it in good condition when not in use. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I eventually realized that buying a camera was just one of a number of purchases that also had to be made, alongside buying the camera itself. Camera cleaning equipment (lens pens, microfiber cloths, etc.) was needed, as part of this “new camera package”, but also needed was the subject of this article… a camera bag – somewhere to keep the camera safe and in mint condition, not only when trekking out and about, but also when not using the camera (e.g. to keep any household dust from it – cameras really are like dust magnets).
As I mentioned a few paragraphs earlier, the camera I ended up with was a Panasonic FZ1000 – not strictly a “proper” DSLR, as the lens on this thing is fixed and it cannot be changed, which is something you can do with DSLR cameras. The FZ1000 is basically a type of camera that “bridges” the expertise gap between taking photos with so-called “point-and-shoot” compact cameras and more sophisticated Digital SLR cameras). This has disadvantages, in that you can’t invest in different lenses, such as a Fish Eye Lens or a lens with a longer zoom range. However, it has its advantages, especially in relation to storing the camera, as you only need somewhere to put the camera itself, and no further headache of where to store additional lenses.
While on the website where I purchased the Panasonic FZ1000 camera, there were also a handful of other related “recommended purchases” for the FZ1000 and one of these was the Lowepro 110 AW Camera Bag. I’d spent so long choosing the camera, that I just lazily added it to the shopping cart, without further considering the purchase. All I saw was that it was marketed at buyers of the Panasonic FZ1000, so just figured that would be what I needed. Besides, I was spending a heck of a lot on the camera and, by comparison, this Lowepro 110 bag seemed relatively inexpensive.
The mistake wasn’t a quality issue – it was a nicely designed and well made bag. Everything about it felt good quality. But… I hadn’t bargained on how quickly my haul of camera accessories would grow. The Lowepro 110 housed the camera in snuggly, but after that there was only room for just one lens filter (including its protective case); a spare camera battery; a remote shutter release (for taking photos without risking adding vibration into the camera when taking the shot); and a small lens pen (contains a brush and statically-charged tip for cleaning debris off the camera, lens, LCD screen and viewfinder). I ended up having to go out with a normal backpack that I owned at the time, into which I stuffed the additional accessories that wouldn’t go in the Lowepro 110, on top of which I put the FZ1000-filled LowePro 110, so that I wasn’t having to juggle carrying two bags over my shoulders. Trouble was, if I wanted to get at the accessories below, even if I didn’t need anything else in the Lowepro bag, it still had to come out so that I could get to the stash of gear underneath. It was all a bit silly.
So, it wasn’t long before I found myself on a popular shopping website beginning with “a” and ending in “mazon”, roasting my credit card for another camera bag – ultimately, the sort I should have looked at getting in the first place: a good-sized camera backpack that suited my photographic needs (I was needing to exercise more and so got into photography to make walking less boring) and had significantly more space for the gear I had accumulated. Once you get hooked on this hobby, camera accessories just seem to accumulate of their own accord and you seem almost powerless to stop, as you see “just one more” accessory that might take your images to the next level. I like photography; my bank balance doesn’t.
The new camera bag I ended up getting was a Vanguard Up-Rise II 45. I think it must have been an end-of-the-line model, where they sell off old stock cheaply, as they introduce a new and improved model, because it was about £85 (circa. US$120), when their new and improved equivalent, bought from Vanguard’s own website was over £200 (circa. US$284). So, that’s something to consider when choosing a camera bag… have a hunt around on popular shopping websites to see if discontinued models are being sold for significantly less than the equivalent new line in the range. The Vanguard Up Rise II that I bought was brand new and exceptionally high quality; no need to buy it second hand. I’m “well-happy” with it.
The Vanguard Up-Rise II is now my personal benchmark for a camera bag, should I need to purchase another one in the future. I’m not going to say I’m not going to consider bags by other brands, such as Lowepro, and I certainly don’t get paid for talking about Vanguard in this way, but I have to say that I would first check the current range of Vanguard bags, before looking elsewhere.
Okay, so after about a year of use and abuse, trekking out and about with my camera and 5-6kg of gear (yes, I weighed it), here are the 5 features of my Vanguard camera backpack, that I would want in any future camera bag purchase (and this would be the case, regardless of manufacturer or brand):
Lots of storage for accessories… In the space of one short year, I have accumulated 5x different lens filters; an external flash (speedlight); two compact travel tripods (UltraPod II and a Gorilla Pod Zoom); a larger travel tripod (3LT “Brian”); assorted cleaning equipment (air blower; microfiber cleaning cloth; lens cleaning fluid; lens pen); a head torch; 3x different flash lights and colored flash gels (for pratting about with light painting, when I have the urge); a battery grip and spare batteries, for camera and flash… and then I went and purchased a proper DSLR (Panasonic GH4, which replaced the FZ1000 in my bag), so I also needed space for a couple of lenses (I keep a short 12-32mm lens on my GH4, and the 35-70mm lens has a compartment all of its own). So, a lot of gear that I want with me when I go trekking with my camera. My Vanguard Up-Rise II 45 “just” holds it all, so I would only consider a similar sized bag in the future.
A pocket or strap to carry a tripod… It’s convenient to be able to attach the tripod to the side or the underneath of the backpack, without having to carry a separate tripod bag. I wouldn’t want a camera backpack without this feature, not for landscape or travel photography, which is why I got a tripod, in the first place.
Comfortable when wearing on the back for a few hours… My Vanguard backpack has nicely padded shoulder straps and a nice distribution of the combined weight of all the gear inside, so you can walk for a good couple of hours without feeling over burdened – sure, your own physical conditioning will play a part in this, but I love the weight distribution of the Up-Rise II, and also the raised pads on the back that allows some airflow across your back, so that you’re not accumulating so much sweat up against the backpack when hiking for a while.
A quick-access hatch for accessing your camera… This is one of the main features that I just wouldn’t want to do without, having experienced how useful it is. It just speeds up access to your camera, as you don’t have to open up the large zipped main compartment – just a quick release of a single clip; a pull of a single zip; and a rip-open of a Velcro patch. This is all done in an instant and is great should a sudden, photo opportunity spontaneously arise.
Rearrangeable dividers to keep your gear organized… In the main compartment of the Vanguard Up-Rise II, there are a series of padded dividers so different camera accessories can have their own pockets or compartments, without getting all jumbled up while you’re on the move. This also prevents expensive equipment from being knocked about against each other, potentially being damaged in the process.
So, that’s my 2 penny’s worth about choosing a camera bag for your brand new DSLR camera. Make it something you think about as an integral part of your camera purchase and consider what you’re going to be doing with your camera – if you’re going to be hiking with it, for instance, my recommendation would be a high quality camera backpack with plenty of storage space that can be organized how you need it; that has somewhere to attach a tripod; that’s going to be comfortable even after trekking for a couple of hours; and that let’s you quickly get at your camera when needed, to give you every chance of not missing those special moments that always sneak up without warning.