The right bag

I sat in on one of Michael Willems excellent workshops where he made the comment that most professional photographers have five or six camera bags. I was sitting in the back of the room saying to myself that’s “crazy talk” Michael only to go home to find I owned six! Now I own a dozen and the closet in the second bedroom is getting filled up.

So what bags do I use? Well it depends. On the photo trip to Algonquin Park last month I took just two bags and both from the same manufacturer: Think Tank Photo.Shape-Shifter-4

My main bag was the very interesting Shape Shifter. This is one specialized camera bag. First it won’t hold every camera and lens that you own (this is a good thing). It will hold up to a 17″ laptop and it took my 15″ MacBook Pro with room to spare. The inside of this bag is very different from regular top-loading bags or ordinary backpacks. It has neoprene pockets that allow you to carry two camera bodies (in my case a D-300 with battery grip on and my wife’s D-90) with lenses detached plus three lenses (I packed an 18-200; a 12-24; and the 105mm Nikon macro. Then I found some space for my 50mm f/1.8 in a soft bag and my 35mm f/1.8. Okay so this is a nice number of bodies and lenses to use in the field for at least a week or so.

The big deal with the Shape Shifter is it has an expandable zipper section that allows you to pack a lot of gear on your back (it is approved for carry-on when you fly) and then once you’ve got your cameras out with lenses attached the bag shrinks down to being a manageable narrow backpack and not a big bag that gets into the way. The zipper actually compresses the overall depth of the bag a full three inches. This is so cool.

Now that you’ve got your cameras and lenses safely stored away it’s time to pack your cleaning equipment, filters, light meters, flash(s), computer (in a separately zippered pocket), memory cards (which are held in a especially designed portable carrying case), plus all the other stuff we “think” we need in the field. In fact, if there’s a complaint I have about the bag is it has too many pockets. I’m kidding here but not by much. There are so many zippered internal pockets that it’s tough to remember where you put each item that you packed. A process would be helpful here. In other words, put your stuff in the same place each time you use the bag. For example I packed all my chargers in the bag as well as a GPS unit and several other odds and ends in the big pockets. My filters and cleaning stuff went into an interior pocket and I had still had tons of room left over.

Okay now you’ve got all your stuff into the Shape Shifter, here comes the best part: The bag fits really well on your back. This is one (if not the best) of the best fitting bags I’ve ever carried. It distributes the weight of your equipment over your shoulders really, really well. And even though this is a soft bag it feels like a …what…oh yeah…a tank 🙂 I mean it. This is one sturdy bag. Nothing shifts and nothing bangs around inside as you carry it. It exudes confidence. I loved using this bag and I can give it my highest recommendation. It’s not an inexpensive bag but you get what you pay for. If you can find one at Henry’s Cameras take your equipment with you and try it out. I’m sure you’ll be walking out with this bag if you need to carry your equipment in the field or want to have a secure and comfortable way to carry your equipment on aircraft.

So that’s the Shape Shifter but I also took a second bag with me (and I’m glad I did). I got my hands on a Speed Demon bag. Speed-Demon-6Now I’ve wanted to check this bag out ever since I saw it on one of the photographers for our local newspaper. The bag is designed to be carried around your hips with the bag facing forward where you can quickly get to your lenses or flash. You can also carry it like a fanny pac which isn’t such a bad idea if you’re humping your equipment over trails and big broken rocks along an Algonquin river and finally it comes with an over-the-shoulder strap. Because the bag is shaped to fit against your body, the shoulder strap works because the bag hugs to your side as you carry it. This is very clever design which I haven’t seen done well be anybody else. Most bags are like beer coolers that you carry over one shoulder. This is very uncomfortable and exhausting. Not so with the Speed Demon.

The bag can handle one camera with a medium-size lens straight down and maybe  a second lens separated and protected by a velcro divider. The front-zippered pockets can handle your memory cards and other small items. I used the bag to carry three lenses while Marion and I walked with our cameras with lenses attached around our necks. Next time, I’d limit my lenses to one on the camera and one in the bag with enough room left to put the camera away. This is so I can hitch the bag securely to me as I scramble over the landscape getting into position to shoot. Remember I’m also carrying a tripod (Manfrotto 055XPRO3 with a Manfrotto ballhead) so I don’t want equipment swinging around my neck as I move. It would be too easy to smash a camera against a rock as I was climbing.

If you can’t tell, I loved this bag. In fact, I used it a couple of weeks later when I shot a special event for the Stephen Lewis Foundation and it worked really well. I wore it around my front and my lenses and flash units were right at hand. And, guess what? Despite the weight of the equipment it made carrying all that equipment easy.

And I guess I’ll have to get Marion her own bag as she loved our time in Algonquin Park. Then I’ll have one more bag but one that doesn’t get stored in my photo closet. Neat stuff.



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