When it comes to camera bags, you’ve a lot of options. Over the shoulder or backpack? Designer or functional? Showy or understated? And, of course, then there’s the question of how much to spend. There’s no point in paying for expandability and features you don’t need, but in time your ambitions might outgrow a smaller bag.
Fortunately, the Expert Reviews office is packed with photographers of all stripes, from power-zoom users to ridiculously over-equipped DSLR enthusiasts, so we’ve plenty of bag recommendations. Here, we’ve broken them down for you, detailing which bags are best for which kind of photographer, and what extra features they offer.
How to buy the best camera bag for you
What size of bag should I be looking for?
If you’re looking for a camera bag that’s precisely big enough to accommodate your current photographic equipment, you’re doing it wrong. Instead, try this thought exercise: think of your dream photographic expedition, and buy a bag for that. That means you’ll want space for the biggest lens you’re ever likely to use, your dream camera body, a handful of wider lenses and, of course, a laptop and a handful of hard disks for backup. Now we’re talking.
So my bag should have space for non-photography items too?
Even if you’re not a back-up-every-day kind of photographer, a separate space for a tablet or laptop will work wonders when it comes to keeping you moving. With a few ancillary pockets for hard disks, notebooks, pens and your passport, your camera bag can be the only thing you need to carry.
Ok, I’ve found one with enough space. Now what?
Flexibility is everything. A good camera bag should have adjustable, ideally removable dividers, so you can tuck up everything nice and tight whether you’re carrying one lens or five. You certainly don’t want your equipment to get bashed around in transit. Also think about how your bag opens: bags that only open from the top are prone to accumulating forgotten odds and ends at the bottom; ones that unzip all the way make it easy to access all your gear.
Which type of bags are best for different camera types: DSLR, Mirrorless, Compact etc?
If you use mostly light gear, such as mirrorless cameras and pancake lenses, a stylish messenger-style bag should do you fine. But for heavier kit – such as full-frame cameras and pro lenses – it’s likely to quickly get uncomfortable. Consider a backpack with double shoulder straps – and, for added comfort (and nerd) points, a hip strap as well to balance the weight and ease the strain on your shoulders.
What should you do before splashing out?
Bad news, internet shoppers: you really, really need to try out a camera bag in person before you commit to it. That’s true of even cheapo, sub-£30 bags; it’s most definitely the case with £200-and-up pro models. What does it feel like on your back? Is it easy to adjust, even when it’s heavy with kit? Is your gear accessible when it’s in there?
If you insist on buying online then UK distance-selling laws give you 14 days to return it. Try it out as soon as it arrives, and send it back if it’s not perfect. You – and your back – will regret it if you don’t.
READ NEXT: Chosen the perfect bag? Then maybe it’s time for a new camera, too. Our roundup of the best cameras of 2017 should give you plenty of food for thought
The best camera bags from £20
1. AmazonBasics DSLR Gadget Messenger Bag Large with Orange Interior: The best cheap camera bag
Price when reviewed: £20
Cool brand? No. Snappy name? No. Top-notch design credentials? Not especially. But while Amazon’s own-brand camera carrier may lack the cachet of, say, National Geographic’s, there’s plenty to be said for a well-made shoulder bag that barely scrapes the twenty quid mark.
It won’t suit photographers who routinely take the kitchen sink with them: a full-frame camera and a couple of lenses will fill this bag more or less to the brim. But if you’re rocking a mirrorless camera, this may be all the camera bag you ever need. It has enough space for a crop-frame body with a lens attached, plus one or two other smallish lenses, and there’s a pouch at the back for a tablet. Extra pockets allow you to keep a few spare memory cards or a (very) slim external hard disk with you too.
Key specs – Type: Shoulder-style bag; Tablet/laptop compartment: Yes/No; Internal dimensions: 254 x 127 x 178mm (WDH); External dimensions: 130 x 200 x 300mm (WDH); Empty weight: 0.73kg
2. Billingham Hadley Pro Canvas Camera Bag With Tan Leather Trim: The best camera bag for classic style
Price when reviewed: £189
Tipping up at a shade under £200, this canvas and leather khaki number is all class. With stitched leather straps and brass fittings, its classic look is underpinned by modern camera-bag trappings. The leather straps have a quick release strap so you don’t need to fiddle with them to get your gear out, and there’s room enough for a big DSLR and a few lenses. Velcro dividers inside let you customise the size and layout of the bag’s compartment – or you can pop the padded lining out entirely, allowing the Hadley Pro to double as a good-looking, practical weekend bag when it’s not on photography duties. Meanwhile, a pair of decent-sized pockets, with poppers to keep them shut, give you options for carrying hard disks, filters or memory cards.
It’s not huge: only the very smallest laptops will fit, and photographers with more than one camera should probably look elsewhere. It’s also a little disappointing that the shoulder strap – the obvious way to carry the bag when you’re out shooting – doesn’t have a pad to ease the wear on your shoulder and clothes. Instead, it’s a £30 option.
Still, when it comes to combining practicality and style the Hadley Pro is a winner. If you’re looking for a medium-sized camera bag while the rest of your stuff chills at your hotel, it’s hard to find a better-looking option.
Key specs – Type: Shoulder-style bag; Tablet/laptop compartment: No/No; Internal dimensions: 340 x 80 x 230mm (WDH); External dimensions: 350 x 120 x 280mm (WDH); Empty weight: 1kg
3. LowePro Pro Runner BP 350 AW II: The best all-round camera bag under £150
Price when reviewed: £139
After a go-anywhere camera bag, but don’t want to shell out for a high-end beast? The LowePro Pro Runner could be for you. It’s a compact little number – just 40cm tall – but it will take a full-frame DSLR (or two) plus a decent assortment of lenses. You might need to steer clear of enormous ultra-telephotos, but a decent 70-300mm should be fine. Owners of either full-height DSLRs, or DSLRs with battery grips, should try before they buy, as there’s a chance the extra height will pose a problem.
The thick front pocket can fit a tablet, and there’s a CradleFit pocket as well – a suspended compartment within the bag designed to shield a laptop from shocks and jostles. In this model it will only take a laptop up to 13in, but laptops up to 15in can be carried in the pocket at the front of the bag.
A decent handful of additional pockets means you should be able to get everything bar chargers and power cables into a single bag. It’s not as capacious as pricier bags, but for under £150 this bag holds a lot of gear for the money. Perfect for gap-year photographers.
Key specs – Type: Backpack-style bag; Tablet/laptop compartment: No/Yes; Internal dimensions: 290 x 115 x 395mm (WDH); External dimensions: 315 x 140 x 460mm (WDH); Empty weight: 2.4kg
4. National Geographic Earth Explorer camera holster S: A classic choice for old-school explorers
Price when reviewed: £30
Who knew National Geographic made camera bags? Well, technically they don’t – the bag itself is made by tripod giant Manfrotto, and branded up for stylish, adventurous types.
Stylish it certainly is. Finished in khaki green and made from cotton and canvas, this is a bag for travellers who yearn for the days when a trip to Africa involved a float plane and pith helmet. It’s a modern piece of kit, though: the zip on the main compartment has a clever seal that gives the bag – and its occupants – a little waterproofing.
You can’t keep loads in it. The “S” stands for “small”, and DSLR photographers – particularly aspirational types with full-frame cameras, battery grips and pro lenses – probably shouldn’t apply. But if you’ve got a mirrorless camera with maybe one or two lenses, bags don’t come much better looking than this.
Storage for accessories is minimal. There are no external straps to connect even a small tripod, and the pocket on the front is good for a USB cable and perhaps a lens cleaning cloth and not much else. Next to the AmazonBasics bag it’s comparatively limited, and it’s a tenner more expensive to boot. But which is going to look better on your Instagram feed?
Buy the National Geographic Earth Explorer now
Key specs – Type: Shoulder-style bag; Tablet/laptop compartment: No/No; Internal dimensions: 90 x 111 x 130mm (WDH); External dimensions: 125 x 125 x 165mm (WDH); Empty weight: 0.32kg
5. ThinkTank Airport International V3.0: The best for big budgets and bigger lenses
Price when reviewed: £359
American firm ThinkTank’s flagship camera-carrier isn’t cheap, but then a bag suitable for carrying five figures’ worth of kit probably shouldn’t be. You want capacity? You’ve got it. It’ll take two full-height DSLRs (or regular DSLRs with battery grips) with lenses, plus another two to four spare lenses, plus a laptop up to 15in AND a tablet – while a bunch of other pockets provide storage for notebooks, memory cards, cables, hard disks and so on.
ThinkTank’s build quality is legendary among professional photographers: watch any gaggle of paparazzi and you’re bound to spot a few ThinkTanks in there. Top-notch materials including ballistic nylon, abrasion-resistant zips and a water-repellent coating on the outside mean this bag should comfortably survive downpours and disasters. When the weather really comes in, an included blue rain cover with internal seams allow you to bolster the bag’s waterproofing even more.
The Airport International V3.0 is designed to accommodate a whopping 500mm f/4 lens – with a few others alongside – yet will still fit in the overhead locker of all but the smallest domestic jets. So if you’re hiring the lens of a lifetime for a safari, the Airport International V3.0 should see your kit there safe and sound.
Key specs – Type: Backpack-style bag; Tablet/laptop compartment: Yes/Yes; Internal dimensions: 33 x 16.5–19.1 x 47mm (WDH); External dimensions: 356 x 203 x 533mm (WDH); Empty weight: 4.4kg
6. ThinkTank Glass Taxi: The best pick for long-lens luggers
Price when reviewed: £129
The ThinkTank Glass Taxi occupies a slightly odd photographic niche: it’s ideal for photographers with one big telephoto lens, and not a lot else. It’ll hold a 500mm f/4 super telephoto, as long as it doesn’t have a camera attached, or a 300mm f/2.8 if you insist on putting both your lens and your camera in your bag.
To be fair, if your equipment is more normally-sized equipment it’s much more useful: the adjustable foam dividers allow you to fit a couple of big camera bodies and a series of normal zoom lenses, but you can forget about stuffing a laptop or even a tablet inside.
It feels supremely well-made, and the included waterproof cover is another plus. And where the Glass Taxi really excels is its expandability. The thick band on the front allows you to attach accessories from Think Tank’s Modulus range, which runs from small bags to separate DSLR holster pouches and lens holders. So if the Glass Taxi won’t hold everything you want right now, you can probably expand it to do the job.
For the price it’s a very appealing bag – although photographers with big dreams might find themselves updating sooner rather than later.
Key specs – Type: Backpack/shoulder-style bag; Tablet/laptop compartment: No/No; Internal dimensions: 211 x 203 x 414mm (WDH); External dimensions: 216 x 241 x 432mm (WDH); Empty weight: 2kg
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