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Most of us photographers suffer from episodes of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). A new lens, another camera, flashgun, you name it. Everything to fuel the believe that it will get us better pictures (or just because we are total gear heads).

Then comes the next urge for an acquisition: a fitting bag. Contrary to gear, we are often struggling to make a choice. There is a lot involved in getting the right bag. What will you be using it for? Street, travel, storage? Does it have to be an inconspicuous bag, or must it stand out and be really stylish. What about the form factor? Backpack, sling bag, shoulder bag, messenger style… Will you be carrying only your camera gear or all kind of day to day items as well?

Bag companies are very aware of this and offer a broad range of equipment bags. Just take a look at the offerings from brands like Domke, LowePro, Ona, Think Tank and Peak Design to name but a few. They all promise a lot and also cost a lot. It’s no problem to buy a bag costing as much as a nice new prime lens for a Nikon DSLR. Most of them have one big downside for me. Because of the padding and dividers they are more bulky, heavy and less flexible in fitting something besides a camera and lenses than a non-camara bag.

I’m quite sure that we all own our share of ‘photo’ bags, I know I do… Some of us switched from DSLR’s to mirrorless, so that big bag isn’t suitable anymore.

Some of us are really getting the hang of shooting with primes and the standard small bag is getting way too small to fit all those primes.

Another problem is that you might need a specific bag for all your different photo endeavours and assignments.

I use a variety of camera’s, from a DSLR with a big zoom, to small and mirrorless cameras. As we all are in progress of doing 365 project, having a camera on you every day is sort of essential. Still, on many occasions I have more than one bag to carry. A small camera bag with equipment and another bag with a wallet, iPad, lunch, water bottle, keys, etc.

To me, this kind of defeats the purpose of having small camera.

Recently I went on a trip that only allowed for one small camera with a small lens mounted. There was no room for a photo bag. I had small compact camera bag that fitted my X-Pro1 with an 18mm, I even had to leave the lens hood at home. This little bag fitted nicely into a 30 litre backpack.

This got me thinking: The most important reason I don't throw my camera in one bag with the rest of my stuff, is that I don't want it to become damaged.

So, what would be the ultimate photo bag?

I started by asking myself: What is it that I want in a bag?

  • doesn’t look like a camera bag, discreet, unassuming;
  • I like retro stuff, hence my preference toward the Fuji X system…
  • Gear is heavy enough as it is, so a weight and bulkiness should be limited;
  • flexible for multiple endeavours, so a little adjustability would be nice to have; fit day to day items and a camera and sometimes lenses and/or a flash side by side;
  • robust and able to handle various weather conditions;
  • not too expensive;
  • messenger style.

The Bag

I searched the internet for a particular type of bag that I really liked and that reminded me of a bag I had in my childhood: a canvas army bag. I found out that there are lots and lots of them for sale. You could also visit a local army dumpstore. They come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes.

The best part: they are really cheap. I’ve seen these kind of bags around from all over the world: British, Polish, German, Swiss, American, Russian, Japanese, you name it. I just bought a 37 year old Czech army m60 canvas sidepack, a.k.a. Bread Bag for only € 12,50.

This is how mine looks like:

I really like the inconspicuous look, robustness and retro style.
I really like the inconspicuous look, robustness and retro style.

Protecting your gear

This is a tricky part. You can get inserts that will instantly transform any bag into a photo bag. What I am afraid of, is losing the flexibility that I am after. I found that lens Wraps would do the trick for me.

Two 11” and a 15” wrap side by side
Two 11” and a 15” wrap side by side

These are square pieces of fabric that use Velcro on each corner wrap and secure almost anything in a lot of different configurations. You can buy them in different sizes to fit different pieces of equipment.

I started off with size 11” to fit the X100, an 18mm lens and size 15” to fit an X-Pro1 with a 35mm lens or a DLSR with a prime lens. These should protect my gear from run-ins with each other and items like keys, usb-sticks, pens, iPad, iPhone and so on. The ones I chose are from Domke. I really like the type of Velcro they use, because it is soft and does not scratch your skin or equipment.

Filled wraps
Filled wraps

Weather proofing

Most of these bags smell a bit funny. You could of course wash them, but I noticed that mine repelled water really well. So maybe the smell comes from some kind of impregnation treatment. If you get a bag that isn’t water-repellent, there are several ways of doing this.

Canvas and other textiles can be waterproofed by using a special impregnation agent or by waxing it with Fjällräven Greenland Wax, which will alter the look and texture of the bag.

Canvas on the other hand is quite thick and robust. The fibers also expand a little when getting wet, stopping rain from getting in.

The heavy downpour of rain this morning provided an excellent real-world test
The heavy downpour of rain this morning provided an excellent real-world test


Having an inexpensive bag means that you should not be too afraid to alter it to better fit your needs. You could sew in more pockets, alter the closure system with Velcro or magnets, get another strap.

The end result

For going to clients, office or just running errands, this bag really suits me very well. It holds personal belongings next to well protected gear of choice for that day. It is smaller than I expected, but it fits a full size iPad, iPhone 6, wallet, X-Pro1 with 35mm in a wrap and the 18mm in a wrap and a Leatherman Super Tool 300. I am sure a can squeeze some other stuff as well.

The heavy downpour of rain this morning provided an excellent real-world test
The heavy downpour of rain this morning provided an excellent real-world test

Bag, totally dry on the inside after 20 minutes of walking and biking in the pouring rain. Inside: X-Pro1 with a 35mm lens in a 15” wrap, 18mm lens in an 11” wrap, wallet, keys, small spectacle case.


So is this the ultimate photo bag? In the end I realised that isn’t so much about the bag itself. It’s about how you protect and fit your items in a bag you really like. The Domke wraps do help a lot in getting this done.

I Guess it still comes down to having different bags for specific purposes. For most of the time that I carry a bag the purpose for me is to be able to carry gear and belongings in one flexible small bag, so mission accomplished.

I did notice a few downsides to this approach. For one, gear wrapped in lenswraps tend to be a little more bulky. You can fit more gear in a good padded bag with dividers tuned towards holding specific gear, it is more efficient in terms of storage-space.

I also feel that gear might be a bit better protected in a purpose-built camera bag. I don't want to drop a camera bag, but do feel more confident when it would happen with a totally padded bag.

If I am on a payed photo assignment the focus lies on getting a satisfied customer. If this means taking a lot of equipment with me, I will certainly go for a purpose-built camera bag. The convenience it provides for accessing gear and changing lenses fast and getting easy access to a flashgun, etc. is a big plus.

Wraps can be a great means of transportation-protection, but can be a little fiddley when you need to handle different equipment fast. I will not, however, shy away of taking it along on an assignment for keeping a second camera and personal stuff.

I would like to hear from other 365-ers about their favourite bags!

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  • Grace

    Hi, interesting article! I have been on the lookout for the perfect bag because the one I use at the moment isn't really working for taking my camera with me everyday. I need a bag that can hold my cellphone and wallet as well as my camera, and extra lenses. I have just acquired a third lens, so that the bag which I was using to carry the camera and my one extra lens is no longer secure when carrying the three items together. As it has a magnetic closure, if the bag is too full it doesn't close properly and I have had my lenses fall out a few times. Luckily it has only happened inside and not from a great height so no damage to the equipment. I have been looking at the Ona Bowery bag as a possible option, only problem being that its so expensive. I like the look of the lens wraps you used, only thing is I feel it might be difficult to change lenses quickly?

    • Joost van Halm

      Hi Grace, thank you for your comment. The wraps are indeed a little difficult to use quickly. On the other hand, as you can see on the pictures, you do have a save and soft space to work with your gear once you lay a wrap flat. So a wrap can be convenient, even if you are not using for wrapping your gear. By all means buy an Ona Bag, they will be good value for money. The problem might be that you wil run out of space and than want to buy another bag. Still, if you are planning on a trip with just a little gear you can always pick it up again. I still use every bag I ever bought. Also take a look at the ThinkTank Retrospective of just walk in to a Dump Store and buy a set of dividers in a camera store.

      • Grace

        Haha I actually spent some time researching camera bags again after reading your article. I ended up buying a think tank retrospective 5 from their website, but have only just seen your comment. I have a camera backpack for if I was travelling, but I just wanted a bag I can grab everyday with my Olympus OMD EM5 and a lens attached plus my other two lens. And maybe some room for a few accessories. When I looked into the think tank I saw it has internal pockets which the ONA doesn't have, plus it was a lot cheaper. I'll let you know how it goes.

      • Joost van Halm

        Wow Grace, that's very nice, congats with the purchase! I own a similar bag, the LowePro Pro Messenger 180aw. I use it for assignments or for specific 'photo only' trips. I use it for my Nikon D300s and three lenses including a big 50-135 tokina. It's a lot bigger than the retrospect 5, which I have contemplated for the fujifilm x-series. I think you will be very happy with it, I love to hear from you once it arrives!

      • Grace

        It arrived! 😄 I really like it. Haven't configured the insides properly yet but just the default setup works quite well( plan to move the dividers around a bit..) and theres probably room for another lens or two if i had them. Lots of pockets to put lenspen, cellphone, etc in too. It's a bit heavier than my other bag but the strap has a nice pad on it so it seems fine so far to carry around, haven't been on a really long walk with it yet.

      • Joost van Halm

        Congrats with the new bag @Grace! I'm sure you will change the inside a few times to set it up to your liking. I was in a camerastore last week and they had the retrospect 5 and other sizes. Very nice bag, very good size!

  • Aaron Langley

    Nice post. I thought about contributing to this blog, but I should probably spend that time on school work. I don't usually carry a camera around in bag. If I am walking around and bringing my dslr, I usually use a Joby Pro Sling Strap. If I am not using my dslr, I will use my cellphone. It's not the best, but I use Camera Zoom Fx and it works okay. I used to use a the Timbuk2 Commando with the Commuter Camera Insert, but my gear outgrew that bag. I now use a Pelican 1560 case with the padded dividers. I have room to add stuff and everything is organized. If I need to move it, everything is safe. It was an expensive purchase, but worth it to me.

    • Joost van Halm

      Wearing you camera by a sling only is fine. I guess you only take it with you when you plan to shoot. I hardly plan and therefore use a bag whenever I go out, just in case I stumble upon a nice opportunity. Those pelican cases are very nice! I was thinking about one for assignments and use it with a trolly. I'm looking forward to see a post sometime if you have less school obligations.

    • Satoshi T

      a waterproof treatment to the tough army bag, cameras protect separately. It's a exciting article that with original ideas.

    • Paweł Kadysz

      Thanks for the article! As for my bag - I have one camera backpack which can hold a DSLR and up to 4 different lenses + the one mounted on the camera, and there's still some space for additional stuff. Since I stopped using DSLR long time ago, I don't use this backpack anymore.

      For my E-M5 I got the Olympus Bag. It's small, holds 2 additional lenses, has pockets for cables filters and memory cards. I even managed to put the charger and the additional battery in there as well. I hardly ever use it though, since I mostly shoot with just the 45mm lens, and there's no need for me to have additional lenses with me.

      At first I tried to be as careful with my gear as possible, but as I continued to do 365 projects I got used to the fact that the gear wears out. And actually, I like all the scratches and other marks on my camera. It makes it look like it's been used properly. Sure, I'm not throwing my lenses around, but I'm just not as careful as before.

      But this army bag of yours looks really cool. I'll try to look for those sales in my town.

      • Joost van Halm

        Thanks @Paweł for posting the article on Tookapic!

        I agree with you that gear just suffers from use. Al long as the glass is kept clean and scratch-free, I'm happy. One piece of equipment ages more beautiful than another. I really liked is when the chrome from my older camera's whore out an showed the brass underneath. Plastic just doesn't age very nicely.

        When I was at the London GPP (Gulf Photo Plus), I strolled through London for four days with my X100 under my jacket on a BlackRapid Curve Sling. I did fare a lot better than a friend who accompanied me with his Canon 5D mk III with a big lens and a bag.

        Any bag can be ok as long as you can live with some scratched and bumps and if you are able to keep water, sand and dust out!

      • 365 Shades of Calvados

        Great article!!! Actually I was thinking about sewing a custom photobag myself but then again, altering an existing bag might be way easier. Thanks for the hint with the lens wraps.

      • Artur Łobocki

        I also use a similar bag. It is an old bag which was used as packaging for a gas mask in army. It is very comfortable and is not noticeable as a big photo bag. And the best of it, cost $ 2 😀

        • Joost van Halm

          Hi @Artur, I guess this makes us hipsters of some kind? Nice to hear you came to the same conclusion for your bag. Do you use protective wraps of do you just throw you gear in like @Paweł does?

          • Artur Łobocki

            I must admit that I don't use protective wraps (but now I'm thinking about it if I should, for gear safety). I just used the waterproof preparate on the outside surface. Besides I carry inside a plastic bag to hide the camera in it, in case of a heavy rain.

          • Joost van Halm

            Hi @Artur, the protection I use wil not help in heavy rain, but I left my bag outside for a night in the pouring rain (on purpose, without gear...) and it repelled everything very nicely (37 year old impregnation!) so I'm not afraid of rain getting through.

            I don't mind the occasional bump, but I hate scratches on my screen and I also hate screen-protectors (unless someone knows about an excellent one for the X100 and X-Pro1 that is...)

            Keeping a plastic bag inside just in case is a good idea anyway!

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