Photography & Video Shoulder Bags, Sling Packs, Backpacks, Waist Belt Systems and Rolling Bags

Photography & Video Shoulder Bags, Sling Packs, Backpacks, Waist Belt Systems and Rolling Bags - 2008 Product Roundup Review - Part 1
Reviewed by: Howard Carson, February 2008
Manufactured by: Various
Requires: Camera gear
MSRP: US$9.99-US$599.00

Reposted in its entirety from Kickstartnews, to view the original post and more visit Kickstartnews.

Everybody who visits this blog most likely owns a digital camera of some sort—point & shoot, prosumer super zoom, digital SLR, camcorder and all the associated gear and lenses. It stands to reason that everybody who uses a digital camera needs a decent camera bag. So we decided that a little research was in order (and besides, our previous list is two years old). We found that a few manufacturers have changed their lines dramatically, a few have built on strengths, a few new ones have appeared and a couple of marginal manufacturers have either disappeared or exited the camera bag business. This time we looked 30 different bag makers.

During this review we looked at six categories of interest:

1. Quality of construction - stitching, binding zippers, types of clasps and closures, application of velcro or generic hook & loop materials, strap padding, stress points.
2. Suitablility of purpose - do the bags hold sufficient gear for their various sizes, hold and provide easy access to all the gear the manufacturer claims, and work well in the environments and situations for which they're designed.
3. Quality of weatherproofing - protection from rain, snow and dust mainly, protection from ground moisture, and how well gear is protected going in and out of the bag.
4. Versatility - internal pockets and storage compartments, adjustability of internal dividers, internal customization, adjustability of the carry system.
5. Effectiveness of padding - does it protect gear from external impacts, does it separate and protect gear against damage from other items in the bag.
6. Price - value compared to items of similar style and quality from competing manufacturers.
Although our results necessarily provide an average for each maker, taking most of each makers models into consideration, the verdicts provide a starting point for your shopping and will help you eliminate makers which either just don't measure up or which, more simply, don't have anything that meets your usage needs or interests. Herewith, we present our comprehensive 2008 list and general review of all the camera pouch, waist system, shoulder bag, gadget bag, sling pack, backpack, case and rolling bag makers anyone could possibly care about.

Billingham - Description: Large range of high quality, very expensive, distinctive camera bags & photography vests which are versatile, moderately weatherproof, moderately padded offering average to good protection. Verdict: These are great looking bags in classic shoulder and backpack styles. Some people refer to Billingham as the luxury quality bag maker, but that doesn't really do justice to how well the products work. Interior protection is extremely well designed and is as good as Kata and Lowepro at keeping out moisture when left on the ground. Generally very quiet bags which function well in most shooting environments. Any of these bags will last for decades of regular use. We like them a lot, despite their high prices. If you don't have the money, stay away from these ones. But great quality always works, so if you've got the money, they're highly recommended.

Camera Care - Description: Professional and semi-pro bags in modern and classic styles, average weatherproofing, and moderate padding and protection, but the line is rarely seen in North America. Verdict: We've only handled two models and both were well made. The only real issue is that accessing gear and moving gear in and out of these bags during inclement weather seems to overexpose things. Slightly noisy in some environments. Good value at moderate prices for budget conscious shoppers.

Case Logic - Description: Lots of smaller bags and cases for compact and prosumer cameras, mainly average quality and inexpensive but still usable, with poor weatherproofing and light padding. Verdict: We don't consider this maker to be a serious contender for anything except casual use. If you don't have anything else, these bags are better than nothing.

Crumpler - Description: well crafted, good looking, versatile camera backpacks, shoulder bags, belt pouches and rolling packs with moderate weatherproofing, light to medium padding and protection, all backed by a terrifically funny web site. Verdict: The top flaps on the shoulder models has to be snapped shut in order to use the top carry handle. We've dumped our 7 Million Dollar Home model more than once because of that design issue. While quality is very good, a massive piece of top grade velcro on the top flap makes several models the noisiest of any bags in this roundup, something which is not good if you're trying to blend in. The excellent quality belt pouches are also noisy and suffer from awkward flap design. Although Crumpler is gaining rapidly in popularity on the street, most people still won't realize you're carrying camera gear. Down with velcro; up with zippers, clips, snaps and clasps. I really like the shoulder bags but Crumpler doesn't get a recommendation because they're too noisy.

Delsey - Description: consumer and semi-professional lines of pouches, gadget bags, shoulder bags and backpacks, good functionality, average to good quality, moderate weatherproofing, moderate padding and protection, and more versatility since we last looked. Verdict: Delsey continues to gradually improve and expand their offerings, but this maker is still very much consumer oriented. Relatively quiet construction. The styling won't knock you over. Good value for the money though and that's important.

Domke - Description: professional quality shoulder bags & photographers vests, moderately weatherproof, very lightly padded, but versatile, well made, popular and expensive. Verdict: Photographers who love and use Domke bags really, really like them. A lot. We've got a couple in our own collection and they're genuine classics. A thin cellular foam perimeter/outer wall pad would help a lot without adding weight and would also help to prevent these bags from deforming when overloaded. The rule is, don't overload a Domke shoulder bag. Do so and you'll quickly become really unhappy with the bag. Domke provides a classic photojournalist look that's hard to resist. Most models are very quiet. Recommended.

Hakuba/Velbon - Description: semi-pro and consumer range pouches, shoulder bags and backpack systems offering average to good quality construction, good versatility and plenty of features. The bags are made with moderate weatherproofing and moderate padding all at average prices, making them an acceptable alternative to low and mid-range models from Lowepro and Tamrac. Verdict: Nothing special. Not bad, not great, and about equal to Camera Care and Delsey products. Design and styling are uninspiring but prices are quite low, which makes this maker a good value for budget conscious shoppers.

Hama - Description: lots of selection but quality is average or below average with average functionality, average weather protection, and, well, just average everything. Verdict: I think we included Hama in this roundup just for the sake of some low-end contrast. We found stitiching problems, binding zippers and uncomfortable shoulder straps. Not interested now, but we'll have another look at Hama next year.

jill-E - Description: good quality fashion bags in shoulder, hand-carry and rolling styles, with typical fashion accessory pricing too, but maybe worthwhile because the bags are well designed with moderate weatherproofing, moderate padding and good functionality. Verdict: My wife owns one of these shoulder bags and she reallly likes it. The main reason is that these bags have all the functionality of a good camera shoulder-style bag without looking anything like a camera bag. The company is relatively new, but they seemed to have found a good target with good quality products. Quiet designs that look like typical women's shoulder bags. jill-E bags are too new for us to gather any opinion on long term durability, but construction and materials seem to be well thought out. Prices are a little above average for good quality shoulder bags, but still affordable. Too new to recommend, but keep an eye on these ones.

Kata - Description: for photography and video enthusiasts, pros and heavy duty users offering excellent quality and unique designs, with good functionality, good weatherproofing and excellent padding design. Verdict: We really like Kata's products. The company's Israeli military design and manufacturing background shows up in all its camera bag products in the form of serious padding protection, economic use of interior space, and versatile carry systems. Pricing is surprisingly competitive. These great looking bags will last a very long time. Kata is expanding its lineup every year and is starting to earn nervous glances from Lowepro, Tamrac and Think Tank, although it still has a way to go to equal the huge lineups offered by or attract the photographers loyal to those three very well established competitors. The only knock against Kata is that its use of velcro closures in some models makes them too noisy in some shooting environments. Down with velcro; up with zippers, clips, snaps and clasps. Highly recommended.

Keisel - Description: good value for money, small but carefully designed range of backpacks, shoulder bags, waist systems and pouches offering moderate weatherproofing and moderate padding. Verdict: Nice quality, decent looking bags that aren't marketed very much in North America, which is a shame because Keisel prodcuts seem to offer good value.

Lightware - Description: professional quality cases for camera gear with high impact resistance, good to excellent weatherproofing, and high prices. Lightware offers a well designed range of backpacks, carry bags and rolling systems. Verdict: The touring and professional crowd who have to repeatedly move gear from location to location will like several of these models. The new backpack models are very good too. Designs are not flashy, but good construction quality is evident along with good use of space. We've never used any Lightware products, but the reports from actual Lightware product owners and users are quite good. Generaly quiet gear.

Lowepro - Description: offers the most comprehensive range of belt pouches, gadget bags, professional and consumer shoulder bags, backpacks, waist belt systems, sling packs and rolling camera bags for all photographers and videographers, providing good to excellent quality, versatility, excellent weatherproofing for most models, good to excellent padding systems for most models, and competitive pricing. Verdict: We haven't actually done a model count, but it appears as though Lowepro makes almost as many models as the next two competitors combined. The Lowepro line is impressive for its size and variety, for the huge number of weatherproof models, general consistency of quality from bag to bag, and for competitive pricing. Some shoulder bag models have difficult top/main compartment zippers. Some of the pouch designs have awkward flaps. Most Lowepro bags last a long time—decades of regular use. Several styles and technical designs continue to evolve and improve every year. Most active photographers and pros own at least one or two Lowepro bags. I have my own collection of Lowepro bags for travel, hiking, walkabouts and short day trips. Pro models are generally quiet bags, but the consumer models use too much velcro. Bewildering selection. If you can't find something that suits your needs, you're either too picky or you just don't like conventional bags. Highly recommended.

Moose Peterson - Description: this bag/pack system is a favorite of some outdoor photographers and is well made, quite versatile and provides moderate padding and good to excellent weatherproofing at medium to high prices. Verdict: Unusual design indeed, but it works as advertised and designed. The maker is a well known photographer and his three main pack styles more or less define his personal preferences grown out of decades of photography assignments. Not for everyone, but when you need a backpack system like the MP models, there's nowhere else to get one. Very quiet bags, ideal for wildlife and outdoor shooting situations.

National Geographic - Description: a nice looking line of soft canvas & nylon shoulder bags, backpacks, waist systems and pouches with light weatherproofing, light padding, reasonably priced and offering good quality for casual use. Verdict: I own two of the shoulder bags and I like them a lot. The only problem is that they're insufficiently padded for careless use and the bottom of the bags don't offer much protection from ground moisture. Lots of pockets and an unconventional flap and snap lock system help to create a very quiet, organic looking bag. The shoulder bags are very comfortable, but deform and sag if overloaded. Not quite recommended because of the lack of padding and ground protection.

M-Rock - Description: consumer quality waist sytems, backpacks, shoulder bags, pouches and a couple of sling bags which look like good Lowepro clones but with a couple of extra features not found in Lowepro and Tamrac models. The line also provides moderate padding and moderate weatherproofing. Verdict: The newer M-Rock sling packs are real challengers to Lowepro's excellent SlingShot models. The smaller M-Rock styles offer good protection and access, but zippers are sometimes awkward to use. Otherwise, the M-Rock products work well and make economic use of space in their (mostly) compact designs. Well worth considering, especially the single SLR pouch models. Recommended.

Naneu Pro - Description: interesting designs, above average consumer quality and some semi-pro models including extremely versatile backpacks, shoulder bags and sling bags, with moderate to good padding, moderate to good weatherproofing, and very reasonable pricing. Verdict: We had a hard time finding these ones and tracking down actual owners and users, but they seem to be gradually increasing in popularity. Carry and comfort levels are quite good and the interiors are versatile. A bag maker to watch. Not recommended yet because we don't know how well the bags hold up over time, but quality and wear reports seem good so far.

Pelican - Description: the first name in weatherproof, impact resistant, hard shell cases used all over the world to carry, protect, store and ship camera gear of all kinds. Verdict: Anybody who has to regularly check their camera gear on an airplane, train or bus, or who has to move gear from location to location needs to consider a Pelican, Lightware or Versa-Flex case or set of cases. Pelican offers a huge range of water tight, dunkproof, weatherproof, highly impact resistant, extremely well padded cases in tiny sizes all the way up to large suitcase and crate models. For good reasons, these are the cases most pros turn to for shipping and project travel. Pricey, but worth every penny. Highly recommended.

Petrol Bags - Description: an extensive line of professional shoulder bags, rolling bags and medium to large custom bags for photographers and videographers, offering good weatherproofing, moderate to good padding, very good construction quality and high prices to match. Verdict: Petrol is a new maker on our horizon who is gaining respect and popularity for good design and good looks. All the designs we've seen make economical use of space and operate quietly. Most of the line is starting to gain traction with serious amateurs, enthusiast and semi-pro photographers. That's a vote of confidence in the value. Recommended.

PortaBrace - Description: similar to Petrol but with competitive feature additions, similarly large model line, primarily for videographers, providing professional quality with prices to match. Verdict: we haven't used PortaBrace products extensively, but even occassional use has made it clear that these bags provide pro video shooters with good products. Materials and overall designs are somwhat different from competitors and a number of products are offered which accommodate specific cameras and associated gear. Quiet, well padded and structured designs offering secure closures and good access. Recommended.

Promaster - Description: below avearge quality consumer camera shoulder bags, pouches, backpacks and rolling bags, all for occassional use, and offering only light weatherproofing and light to moderate padding. Verdict: Don't let the company name fool you—this stuff isn't pro quality and we actively dislike products which are so aggressively named and which fail so thoroughly to meet the standard set by the name.

Roots - Description: consumer quality designer label shoulder bags, belt pouches and cases, but the surprise is that most of the bag designs are actually quite good, with moderate weatherproofing and moderate padding, priced above average because of the label. Verdict: Ah Roots—jack of all trades, master of few. However, these camera bags are reasonably well made, most likely in one the same factories that crank out lots of other products for Roots. In any case, they're not a bad choice but they're also not our first choice although compact camera and point & shoot camera owners could do worse. Some variations in construction quality from sample to sample have been observed recently, along with reports of binding zippers, which would seem to indicate general quality control issues.

Sumdex - Description: consumer camera shoulder bags and belt/shoulder pouches, with light padding and surprisingly good weatherproofing, but only average quality construction at average or below average prices. Verdict: Companies like Sumdex just can't get any traction with retailers in the face of huge store footprints occupied by established players such as Lowepro. The quality of Sumdex products can vary significantly from sample to sample. Not recomended.

Tamrac - Description: lots of variety with almost as much choice as Lowepro, good to excellent weatherproofing, moderate padding, average to good construction and remains the photographer's or videographer's choice when the bag you want from Lowepro or Kata is just a bit too expensive. Verdict: Tamrac has found its niche just below Kata and Lowepro and seems happy to own its particular segment. There are some minor quality concerns in some samples, which means that consumers should compare at least two bags of the same model before taking one to the checkout counter. Tamrac offers almost as many models as Lowepro, which means that you'll find a bewildering array of choices. If you can't find a model that suits your needs, you're either too picky or you just don't like conventional bags. Recommended.

Targus - Description: inexpensive, consumer grade camera shoulder bags and belt/shoulder pouches, providing moderate to poor weatherproofing, light to moderate padding and below average construction quality. Verdict: Construction quality can vary noticeably from sample to sample, so shop carefully. A limited range of models which are very competitively priced doesn't alter the fact that functionality is limited compared to higher priced and better known competitors. If you get a lot of use out of your camera gear, it's probably best to look at another bag maker.

Tenba - Description: offers a good selection of enthusiast and semi-professional camera backpacks, shoulder bags, sling bags and rolling bags rivaling the wide selections from Lowepro and Tamrac, with moderate weatherproofing and moderate padding. Verdict: Tenba seems to be a good maker that needs to find some way of gaining traction in the marketplace in order to get more of its products into retail stores and in front of photographers. Construction quality seems consistently good from bag to bag, designs are relatively quiet, and Tenba offers a range of capacities to suit a variety of needs. The sling bag models compare very well to the excellent Lowepro and Kata models, offering a more versatile shape. Recommended if you can find them.

ThinkTank - Description: specializes in waist and harness mounted camera bag systems as well as a superb line of rolling camera bags and backpacks, offering professional quality, excellent features, moderate to excellent padding and good weatherproofing. Verdict: Think Tank products compared side-by-side to similar models from Lowepro and Tamrac sometimes don't look as though they'll work properly. But they do—extremely well actually—and stand up to many years of continuous use. Generally higher priced, made in the U.S. The waist belt & harness systems offer terrific versatility, the swing around model in the backpack system is unique and highly functional, and the rolling cases offer superior features including security and real considerations for the needs of travelers. Generally quiet operation. Very good value. Highly recommended.

Versa-Flex, Inc - Description: ATA style professional photo cases, rolling cases, tripod and custom cases, all of which provide excellent padding & protection along with good to excellent weatherproofing. Verdict: Cordura nylon outer shells with wraparound multi-density foam padding covering steel rim frames basically describes Versa-Flex products. If you're doing location shooting—photo or video—and you need to move gear quickly and safely, these cases are an investment worth considering. Highly customizable interiors, padding and foamed reusable packing fittings make packing and unpacking on location quite easy. Quiet operation and secure handling. Mainly for pros, production houses and touring companies. Highly recommended.

Vested Interest - Description: professional quality photo and video carry vests with lots of built in features and surprisingly competitive pricing. Verdict: If you like photograpy vests, particularly if you prefer a vest as your main carry method, you have to consider the Vested Interest line. Design and construction, weather resistance and durability consistently work to provide a wearable carry that's attractive to people such as journalists who have to move fast in difficult and dense environments. Pocket closures are velcro, which makes operation somewhat noisy, but in the typical busy urban locations for which these vests are best suited, noise isn't much of a factor. If you need one of these, there aren't a lot of choices out there and we're glad this choice is so good. Recommended.

World Richman - Description: if you've seen branded department store or photo retailer camera bags chances are they were manufactured by World Richman, but while prices are quite low, quality and functionality is similarly below average and reliable weatherproofing and padding is either light or non-existent. Verdict: Not my first choice and not even my last choice, World Richman-made store branded products are sometimes what you'll find being given away during promotions and as purchase incentives. You get what you pay for. Along with most store brands, not recommended.

NOTE TO AIR TRAVELERS: Carry-On Camera Shoulder Bags, Backpacks, Sling Packs & Rolling Cases - Think Tank is the only maker in this roundup which directly and specifically deals with TSA and airline carry-on size restrictions. Nonetheless, all of the makers offer models which meet carry-on size restrictions. It's about time that all the makers made some efforts on their respective web sites to make it clear which models meet current carry-on size restrictions. So if you're purchasing a camera or video bag for carry-on use during air travel, you have to check its size on the manufacturer's web site, compare the dimensions to the size restrictions imposed by the airlines you'll be using (as listed on various airline web sites), and never, ever believe a salesperson's opinion about any of this. Checked Bags - Never, ever check any camera bag that isn't hardshelled, heavily padded and designed to withstand being tossed around in the hold of an aircraft. Tripods - Carbon fiber tripods may be allowed on board, but forget about metal tube tripods. In any event, all tripods can represent a minor safety hazard in the cabin. So our advice is to pack tripods in checked luggage.

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