I’ve shot documentaries, TV interviews, news stories, and large events all over the country, and there are few pieces of equipment I rely on as much as my camera…bag. Whether I’m shooting with a professional documentary camera (usually a Sony FS-7 or Canon C-series), or DSLRs, or even all-in-one ENG (electronic news gathering) cameras, I look for bags that have enough room for the camera’s body, at least three lenses, all my media (cards or SSDs), batteries, a small external monitor, SDI and HDMI cables, and small rolls of gaffer’s tape. Obviously, keeping the gear safe is paramount, so ample padding and reinforcement is necessary, as well as the ability to create different compartments that’ll hold it all snuggly.
I also pay particular attention to ergonomics and design. I’m protecting not only my equipment, but also my back. My complete camera kit weights about 20 pounds, so any bag I use needs to be comfortable over long periods of time. It also needs to fit on a plane with me; I never like checking something as valuable and delicate as my video camera when I fly. Finally, good bags are rugged and weather-proof enough to survive life on the road.
Luckily there’s a wide variety of high-quality bags available. Larger, suitcase-style bags have a lot of padding and can often hold the most equipment, but unless you’re rolling them, they’re not always easy to lug around on a shoot. Backpacks are comfortable and spacious, but sometimes feel a bit bulky. And messenger-style bags provide quick access, but sacrifice space and protection. With that in mind, here are four bags I’ve used, abused, and continue to rely on over the years. Keep in mind that I’m limiting these choices to bags designed for shooters who use the type of compact cameras typically found on documentary, commercial, corporate, and event shoots. Bigger movie cameras often have their own custom bags or road cases, which are outside the scope of this list.
So gear up, and happy shooting!
Converts into a roller bag. Amazon
This feature-rich backpack is my current go-to bag for my documentary and other shoots. The roomy, 13-inch by 17-inch main compartment easily holds my camera body, three lenses, batteries, media, and extras like a 5-inch monitor, cables, and lens cleaning supplies. (And when I shoot with DSLR-style cameras, I can fit two bodies.) The tough, semi-rigid sides don’t crumple, and combined with thick padding, resist outside knocks and shocks. Padded dividers attach with velcro to create individual compartments, and numerous pockets both inside and outside the bag conveniently store pens, notebooks, travel documents, call-sheets, lens filters, and snacks. The Trekker BP 450 AW II has thick, padded straps that ride comfortably on my shoulders, and a removable waist harness to help distribute the weight. (Full disclosure: Comfortable as it was, I unclipped the waist harness to cut down on bulk.) What really sold me on the Trekker BP 450 AW II are its small wheels and collapsable handle; converting this into a roller-bag when lugging my 20 pounds of equipment through an airport was a luxury I never knew I wanted until I finally had it. (The first version of the Trekker 450 AW, which I previously owned, was just a backpack.) The bag fits in most standard airline overhead compartments, though it’s worth checking ahead when taking smaller, regional flights.
External pocket accommodates a laptop. Amazon
This rugged, surprisingly classy suitcase-style camera bag can safely store all your gear in its 13-inch wide, 18-inch high, 7.5-inch deep main compartment. Internal dividers with velcro attachments allow you to configure the bag in a near-infinite number of ways, while two large, zippered compartments inside the main lid hold media, small tools, card readers, and cables. A full-size outer pocket accommodates laptops and tablets, making them easily accessible while hanging out at the airport gate. And just like many suitcases, the bag features rollers and a retractable handle to make navigating airports easy, and it fits in most standard domestic and international flight overhead compartments.
Water-proof plastic protector. Amazon
SKB makes plastic, hard-shell cases designed for the most rugged shoots, and features a padded divider system designed by Think Tank that safely secures your gear. The 20-inch by 13-inch main compartment has customizable, cushioned dividers and can hold multiple DSLR, mirrorless, or video camera bodies, as well as lenses, batteries, and accessories. Three large, transparent pockets inside the hinged lid hold media and cables, and they can be removed to clear out more space. The case features wheels and an extending handle, as well as a fold-down side handle for carrying. SKB cases are water- and dust-tight, and include secure trigger-latches that open easily—but only when you need them to. They’re airline carry-on approved, as well. (Pro-tip: These cases make great ottomans when you need to put your feet up after a long shoot.)
Lightweight shoulder option. Amazon
The Manfroto Bumblebee is a lightweight, messenger-style shoulder bag designed for shooters who aren’t carrying too much equipment and don’t need the level of protection provided by suitcase-style bags and hard cases. It’s designed to carry a DSLR or mirrorless camera, with a couple extra lenses, batteries, and small accessories. However, with some careful packing, you can fit a stripped-down Sony FS7, Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro, or Canon C300 and extra lens. A convenient front, zippered pocket has space for pens, cell phones, and other small bits of kit, while a second internal pocket provides space for a laptop or tablet. A wide, padded strap comfortably supports the weight of the bag and equipment, and a convenient top handle makes it easy to grab the bag and go. (Which sounds like a no-brainer, but I once used a similar bag without a top handle; it was one of the most annoying camera bags I’ve ever owned. Never underestimate the little details.)