When I first started out with this photography hobby I got a little Canon backpack that fitted my first 500D and it’s single lens. The back pack seemed adequate and I still have it. Then I added a flash, then a tripod, then a second battery, then a lens and pretty quickly I realised I need something bigger. You also quickly realise as with most hobbies, as you go along and get more serious about it, the gear does start to get pricey and pretty quickly the value of the gear you walk around with has a heavy price tag. You need to make sure your camera bag protects your gear , but what do you get and how do you decide? What works and what not?
I experimented with a few and made some bad choices along the way. Every bag has a specific purpose so if it is a backpack, roller or sling bag you really have to think about what gear you are taking with you, how you will pack it and how well it protects your gear from bumps and knocks? I must also say there is no such thing as the perfect bag. Every person will have different needs, requirements and personal preference so chances are you end up with more than one. With this in mind for me the requirements came down to a few basic things.
Make sure it is made from durable materials and zippers. Adjustable padding is a must. Your gear will change and you will want to change the configuration of how you pack the bag so most bags have some sort of inner padding that you can customise. The padding keeps your gear from bashing about. If you travel make sure it can fit in the plane’s overhead compartment. Weight quickly becomes an issue if you travel or hike with your gear. I will easily pay more for something that is just a few grams lighter. It all adds up and you have to carry it. If it has to go into checked baggage make sure you can lock it. That said the TSA locks works well when you travel through customs, but a hard case will be much better so your gear can’t be crushed.
I had a few different bags, but eventually I settled in with the guy’s from LowePro and I have never looked back. I have four of their models now and I just don’t put my gear in anything else. Well there is the Manfrotto bag, but that only holds the three tripods.
My go to bag is the Pro Runner 450. I love this thing. It is as close to the perfect bag as you will get. You get a slightly smaller version, but I can get most of my gear into the 450 and it can even attach the tripod. It can be used as a backpack, suitcase and has wheels to drag it along. It does have a rain cover and the straps tuck into the pack so it is tidy. It even fits in the overhead luggage on the plane although mine is always over the 7kg limit. It is not perfect, but it is a pretty good all-rounder.
I have the FastPack 250 as a day out bag. It fits only the essentials , but you can fit other goodies in the top compartment for your walkabout. You can fit the notebook and iPad easily, but the tripod has a trick to it . The only issue with this bag is does not have a rain cover, but then it will fit with you under your umbrella.
Update : I got really wet recently with this bag recently going through short a rain spell. It is still ideal as a daybag or jut out for a short walk, but if you intend to go close to waterfalls or rainy places perhaps something else will work better as the material does not protect so well in the wet.
My mans bag is the Stealth Reporter D400. This little one is handy if you attend functions where you cannot take in backpacks. It fits the basics including the iPad. I mainly use it these days to carry other equipment like battery grips, lights and cables. It is completely weather sealed so if I pull its raincoat over on it can sit in the rain
My latest acquisition is the Rover Pro. I have not had the chance to use this one yet, but what a bag. Build for longer walks where you have to carry a heavier pack this is built for a good tramp out in the wild. You can attach your sleeping bag and hiking tent to it with the tripod on the side. It even has a hydration system for when you get thirsty. Your gear fits into two internal pouches internally and even they are sealed. In the top half you can insert other goodies you might need on your tramp. Everything is easily accessible and there are straps and hooks for a lot of additional items you want to carry with you.
So I have had a chance to test the rover pro on a few day walks and even a small overnight trip. This is not a bag for camping and I do not think you should consider it if you are planning a long tramp. If you can buy the internal pouches separately they would still protect your gear in another backpack. However this is an awesome bag for a day out hike or even a two-day tramp. I got a hydration reservoir from amazon that slipped into the one side and the tripod on the other. I managed to attach a sleeping bag and a small tent using the straps and ties and even though it did get a bit heavy I could still manage a good hike without the straps cutting into me. I think the straps did well considering the weight and the waist belt helps, but they are yet to invent the bag that can break the laws of physics when it comes to heavy pack. Gear was easy to get to when you stop to take a shot and nothing got wet. The only place I can really fault this bag is that it would have been nice to have some separation method between the top and bottom sections with a flap or something. Little things like car keys do slip through and you need to unpack the whole thing to find them. So key-points if you are looking at something like this : This is not a hiking or camping bag, but for photographers that want to go for a longer tramp that you might stay out for a day or two this works quite well and I would think you can get everything you need for a three-day tramp even.
LowePro Protactic AW450
This is my current bag and unless something mind blowing is invented, this is my only bag. Ever. Fullstop. No more camera bags will ever be needed. Well it will be for a very long time anyway. This bag is as close to the perfect bag I have ever had. They come in three sizes, but because I have a few lenses I got the 450 and all of my gear does fit in this bag quite easily including some stuff I might need while out shooting. My gear is easily accessible via the main opening and the side pockets although I do not use the the side pockets frequently. I travel with the bag as well and it fits the notebook quite easily, but if you are going to take it for a tramp perhaps leave the notebook at home. If you add a notebook it makes the bag quite stiff and the notebook is on the side against your back. Perfectly fine for short outings, but perhaps not long walks. One of the best features of this bag is that the top has a zip and a hard shelf perfect for keys, wallets and passports or anything you need to keep close, but safe. The outside of the bag has hooks to attach all sorts of things like water bottles or a tripod. Mine came with a little bag you can attach, but I used it on a different LowePro. And that was another plus. It would seem as if my LowePro bits are interchangeable between them. The material protects my gear, but can withstand the knocks and general rough handling. I got quite wet the other day and although the bag was out in the rain with me the inside was dry.
It comes with all the good things you would normally expect from LowePro like internal compartments you can customize and the rainjacket. The back has a material that allows it to breathe so it is cooler on long walks and the straps are padded for comfort. I am a big fella so I do not use the waistbelt and I was quite happy to remove it, but it it has it’s own zipper pockets for small stuff. It fits in the overhead compartments on planes, but also under the seats. Although I think mine easily breaks that silly 7kg limit.
There is only two real issues with this bag if I have to fault it on anything. The zips can be a bit of a hassle. If you are in a hurry they always seem to get stuck. I think mainly because I am very impatient and since it is a soft bag, the sides sometimes bends making it harder to zip up. Then the old story of weight. The more you pack in the more it weighs so I am not quite sure they can be faulted for that, but I do think broader shoulder straps will help.
Speaking of getting wet in the rain
One thing you have to be prepared for if you want to do wildlife or anything in New Zealand is wet weather. All my Canon gear is weather sealed, but it was not made to sit in the rain for hours. Canon’s wording on the weather sealing for the 5D III is pretty unique. When asked how wet it can get Canon stated “…it can stay out in the rain as long as you can.” It was a bit hard to find in New Zealand, but this rain cover works just fine for rainy days.
I came across this rainsleeve on Amazon and for $6 it works pretty well. It now goes into my ProTactic as default, simply since it is small and light