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How to Choose a DSLR Camera Bag: Tips and Advice

Updated on August 25, 2013
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Rose is a full-time freelance writer who frequently writes about education, special education, DIY projects, food, Milwaukee, and more.

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Why do you need to purchase a camera bag for your SLR camera?

It always surprises me when people are reluctant to purchase high quality bags for their SLR cameras. You just spent at least $600 (if not considerably more) on a great piece of equipment. Don't you want to protect it? I know that the SLR camera world is a slippery slope. Once you have a camera, there are a lot of accessories that you want to get. A bag isn't the most exciting item on the list. However, it should be one of the first things that you get. The processing of choosing an SLR camera bag may seem relatively straightforward, but there are a number of factors that you want to consider before you make a final decision.

What do you need to consider when you purchase an SLR camera bag?

 
Factors
 
Safety
Washable or not
Pockets
Bag style and accessibility
Comfort
Versatility
 
Need for multiple bags
 

This video demonstrates over-the-top camera bag testing, which is fairly amusing.

Safety

Safety is first and foremost for any camera bag. As you look at various bags, consider the following factors:

  • SLR insert. A camera bag should have a specially designed SLR insert (see photo below for an example). Typically name brand bags (i.e. Lowepro) have built-in, mass-produced inserts while handmade bags (i.e. the type you can buy on Etsy) come with removable mass-produced or handmade inserts.
  • Padding. Does the bag have sufficient padding? Look for waterproof padding on both the bottom and sides of the bag.
  • Zippered top. It is not essential that all of the pockets and pouches in the bag have zippers, but the main compartment where the SLR will sit should have a zipper.
  • Front flap. A flap that folds over the front of the bag and secures in some way (i.e. Velcro) provides both safety and security.
  • Weather proofing. Will the bag hold up under various types of weather? At the very least, the main compartment should be 100% waterproof.

The handmade SLR insert that came with my camera bag is fully removable. This allows me to wash the bag and to use it for other purposes.
The handmade SLR insert that came with my camera bag is fully removable. This allows me to wash the bag and to use it for other purposes. | Source
I use my bag extensively in a wide variety of environments. As a result, it can get pretty dirty. I love being able to put it in the washing machine.
I use my bag extensively in a wide variety of environments. As a result, it can get pretty dirty. I love being able to put it in the washing machine. | Source

Is it washable?

I realize that many camera bags are made of leather or canvas and are not machine washable, which is fine. I love having a fabric bag that I can put in the washing machine, but I know that this isn't a great fit for everyone. I would at least think about whether you want the option for spot cleaning. If you take your bag with you for extended periods of time around town or on vacation, it will inevitably get a little dirty. Spot cleaning can make a big difference.

Another important factor to consider when looking at machine washable vs. non-machine washable bags is whether or not the bags have removable inserts. Bags with removable inserts are more versatile, as they can be used for numerous other purposes and functions.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
I have three deep interior pockets in my SLR camera bag.I have two even deeper exterior pockets in my SLR camera bag.
I have three deep interior pockets in my SLR camera bag.
I have three deep interior pockets in my SLR camera bag. | Source
I have two even deeper exterior pockets in my SLR camera bag.
I have two even deeper exterior pockets in my SLR camera bag. | Source

Pockets

You'll be hard pressed to find a camera bag that does not include at least one or two pockets. Think about whether you want interior or exterior pockets or both and consider the following questions:

  • What type of gear are you going to carry with you? What do you own now and what are you likely to purchase within the next year or two? You want a bag that you won't "outgrow" in six months.
  • What non-camera items do you want with you? One of the biggest reasons that I bought the bag that I did as my primary day-to-day camera bag is because it could also function as my purse.

An adjustable bag strap allows you to fit a bag for your specific height, body top, and personal preferences.
An adjustable bag strap allows you to fit a bag for your specific height, body top, and personal preferences. | Source

Is it accessible? Bag style and adjustable strap(s).

  • Do you prefer backpacks or shoulder bags? This is a personal preference. You have to be realistic about how you'll use the bag.
  • Is it important that the strap(s) is/are adjustable? Adjustable straps ensure that you can customize the fit of the bag. If you have a single strap for a shoulder bag that adjusts, you can wear it over one shoulder or cross-body style.
  • Is it accessible? No matter where you are taking pictures, you want to be able to get to your camera quickly.

Toby discusses some of the pros and cons of using various types of camera bags for wedding photography jobs.

Is it comfortable?

If you plan to carry the bag for long periods of time (which is the case for most SLR users), you want a bag that is really comfortable. Make sure that a comfortable bag is also a good fit for your needs and preferences.

You may not own this lens now, but are you thinking of purchasing one in the near future?

Is it versatile?

Most SLR camera bags are not cheap. When you purchase a bag, you want the assurance that you can use it for a minimum of one to two years. If you're barely able to fit all of your current gear in it, it probably won't last you very long. Think about the gear that you'll be acquiring over the next couple years and how your photography use may change over that time (i.e. taking more vacations, committing to more weddings and/or other professional photography jobs).

I have a laptop/SLR backpack that I love to use for traveling. It's great on airplanes.
I have a laptop/SLR backpack that I love to use for traveling. It's great on airplanes. | Source

Do you need multiple bags?

Many people have a smaller bag for casual use around town and a heavy duty bag for professional work and traveling. One of the most common reasons that photographers purchase multiple bags is because they want one that can also house a laptop. It can be really nice to have that laptop bag, but you don't necessarily want to use it all the time.

I am so happy with this camera bag purchase and hope that other SLR users are able to find bags that are such a great fit.
I am so happy with this camera bag purchase and hope that other SLR users are able to find bags that are such a great fit. | Source

If you own an SLR, do you have a camera bag for it?

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© 2013 Rose Clearfield

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    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Thanks, MsDora! I think that the price makes a lot of people hesitate. I know that it's a lot more fun to buy a prime lens than a camera bag, but you're right that the protection is necessary and important.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Great information! I understand the reluctance to pay the price because it is not actually a part of the camera, but the protection is necessary and important. Thank you for sharing your insights.

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      myconsumerboard, as long as it's functional, it will work! That's the most important thing. Thanks!

      Thanks, Eddy!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      5 years ago from Wales

      Interesting and very useful.

      Eddy.

    • myconsumerboard profile image

      myconsumerboard 

      5 years ago

      My DSLR bag is pretty boring to look at but it's functional. Love the print and color on this one. Good tips!

    • randomcreative profile imageAUTHOR

      Rose Clearfield 

      5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I'm so glad to hear that, Rosie! Thanks!

    • Rosie writes profile image

      Rosie writes 

      5 years ago from Virginia

      Great pictures and easy to read.

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