Choosing the best camera bag can be a bit tricky. It’s sometimes hard to know exactly what one’s needs are in a bag. An enthusiast photographer with a single compact camera body will have vastly different needs from a professional wedding photographer.
Camera bags differ from camera backpacks in that they don’t usually offer quite as much storage space. There’s usually enough room for 1-2 camera bodies as well as a smaller selection of lenses. But the price of camera bags tends to be lower as well, and they are easier to carry onto an airplane, into events, and to other places where a heavy camera backpack would be a hindrance. They also come in several styles, including a messenger bag and holster designs.
Each of the camera bags in this article are for the interchangeable lens (DSLR/mirrorless) photographer; compact camera owners may find smaller camera cases a better bargain. Camera bags are as varied in design as the photographers who use them – but what should you be looking for when shopping for one?
What Should I Look For in a Camera Bag?
The material of your bag is one of the most important concerns on this list, but not necessarily one that will disqualify any one particular bag. Synthetics like nylon, cordura, kodra, polyester, and propylene are some of the most common bag materials due to the lower price of manufacture, durability, and water resistance or proofing.
Nylon is by far the most common synthetic used in camera bag creation. While it tends to tear once punctured, it’s strong and very water resistant. Rip-stop and ballistic nylon are also commonly found in camera bags and backpacks due to their resilience. The nylon weave of these models is far more densely woven and uses thicker threads to keep the bag from falling apart nearly as easily.
While this level of reinforcement is nice to have, it’s also more expensive. This means you’ll need to consider whether you need this level of protection carefully. If you do a lot of outdoor shoots in the forest, then branch snags, thorns, rocks, and other natural hazards are worth protecting against. But an interior event photographer could easily put that money towards customization, style, or other elements of the bag.
Cotton canvas is the most common natural material for camera, bags but leather is a second choice when style is most important. Waxing is the classic water resistance treatment, but if it’s not re-applied as needed, the bag will lose the ability to shed water over time. DWR (durable water resistant) chemical spray treatments are another way to give cotton bags a bit of water resistance. It’s usually best to assume that if you’re going to be exposed to the elements regularly, a synthetic blend or full synthetic camera bag is your best option.
This changes depending on the photographer, of course. The more bodies, lenses, and additional gear you have to carry, the bigger the storage capacity required. Photographers with long lenses should pay special attention to the interior dimensions. Better yet, take your gear into the shop and arrange it within the bag there to ensure it meets your needs.
It’s also important to inspect the integrity of the seams and straps on bags with large storage capacity. Often, the bag will appear to be incredibly well constructed except for the stitching that holds the strap to the bag or joints where heavy gear can cause stress or fabric fatigue.
Customization is handy to have in a camera bag because as your gear selection evolves, we want to ensure the bag remains relevant. Foam flexible inserts are one way camera bags allow you to change the interior layout. Often, these inserts use Velcro to secure them into place at angles and compartment sizes of your choosing. You can have an extra-large central compartment for your full-frame DSLR body one day and a smaller one for your mirrorless one the next without sacrificing space. Sometimes there is the option to remove straps and handles as needed.
While not as common on camera bags compared to backpacks, modular designed bags are becoming more and more common. They allow photographers to swap out entire compartments for a fully customizable experience. Many camera bags also have sleeves for laptops and tablets to ensure you can work in the field at full capacity.
Best Camera Bags of 2019
Peak Design Everyday Messenger V2
The original Everyday Messenger was a solid hit and one of Peak Design’s best releases. Founded initially as a Kickstarter project, Peak Design met their goal and has since released several products. The Everyday Messenger V2 was released in 2018 and features several upgrades. The flex-fold dividers and fabric on the internal pockets are made more durable and the exterior waterproofing is more reliable.
With two sizes available, there’s a messenger bag for every photographer. The Peak Design Everyday Messenger Bag 13" (Charcoal) is best suited to carry a mirrorless camera body plus two lenses and accessories. The Peak Design Everyday Messenger Bag 15" (Ash) will hold a full-frame DSLR body with three lenses plus accessories.
Customizable Design and Easily Accessed
You can typically find flex-fold dividers in camera bags and backpacks. They allow you to decide exactly how big an individual compartment will be and whether it will securely hold a camera body, zoom lens, pancake prime, laptop (via the installed laptop sleeve), or anything else you care to fit within.
Even other dedicated photography bags sometimes neglect your tripod. The Everyday Messenger includes a sleeve to fit a single leg combined with an internal zipper compartment to secure the entire tripod to the inside of the flap.
The MagLatch system is elegant and works just as you’d expect. The magnetic clasp can attach securely to one of four ladder lock points along the front of the bag. As a magnetic design, it makes manipulating items one-handed easier than ever and ensures it’s easy to keep your camera in hand in the field. If you don’t care to fully unlatch the bag, a zipper along the top flap offers an alternate access point.
Photographer’s Bag and More
One nice thing about this bag is that it functions for everyday use just as nicely as it does as a photography tool. While the flex-fold divider system is best suited to keep your lenses and camera bodies organized, they can also be placed to keep books, pens, and other tools securely in place.
Each of the inner pockets is also color-coded to aid in organizing. You can instantly identify dead batteries, specialty lenses, cables, and more by pocket, rather than requiring you to root through each one.
The price tag of the Peak Design Messenger V2 is up there, but it definitely shows. With its chic messenger bag style, Peak Design also ensures you’ll always feel trendy while toting your gear, something professional photographers would be wise to remember. While you’ll always sink the majority of your money into your gear, first impressions are important.
Excellent Water Resistance, Average Durability
Anything going into this bag is safe from light and moderate water exposure. You’ll have peace of mind with the waxed 400D nylon exterior and DWR undercoat. While 400D is slightly on the weaker side in terms of sheer durability, as a day bag it’s more than sufficient.
Hikers and people rough on their gear should consider 600D nylon or above for its superior abrasion and puncture resistance. The zippers of the Everyday Messenger V2 are also water resistant, securing an otherwise common weak point of camera bags.
Think Tank Photo Airport Takeoff V2.0 Rolling Camera Bag
While the name is somewhat unwieldy, the Think Tank Photo Airport Takeoff V2.0 is definitely not. When traveling abroad, it can be a bit nerve-wracking to hand off your sensitive photography gear to the ticket agent. After all, you don’t know how careful everyone who handles your bag will be.
This Think Tank design ensures your photography equipment will remain at your side until you step off the plane. The 1680D ballistic nylon construction makes it by far the most durable bag here, and the DWR (durable water repellent) coating ensures moderate rain won’t be much cause for concern. But if you find yourself trapped in a monsoon, the interior polyurethane rain cover will provide an additional layer of protection.
Large yet Carry-on Size
While several of the bags here are carry-on sized, it’s once you start to get into the larger end of the camera bag selection that things can get difficult. Bag manufacturers don’t always outright tell you if a bag is a carry-on size since that’s not necessarily their primary consideration. And once you get gear into a bag, it may give you trouble at TSA inspection.
The rigid form of the Think Tank V2.0 ensures it won’t become a hassle. At 14” x 22” x 9”, it’s just small enough to fit into an overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you. Given how large the bag is, it also has a pair of shoulder straps that allow the bag to double as a backpack. The straps can be conveniently stowed away in zippered compartments when not needed.
Excellent Storage Capacity
As one of the larger bags here, the Think Tank V2.0 comes with enough space to hold two full-frame DSLRs, 2-4 additional lenses, a 17” laptop (within a separate padded compartment), a tablet, and extra camera accessories, like batteries and chargers. It uses the removable flexible foam divider system that is common to photography bags. This allows you to tailor the size of the compartments to securely cushion any size lenses and bodies.
The only real downside to this style is that it’s fairly unremarkable on the inside. There are no hidden pockets or other gimmicks. This bag is all about premium materials and construction rather than unique styling.
While it’s a pricey model, it does have several notable exterior features worth looking at. Given how much weight the bag can carry, the bottom wheels are a welcome addition, especially after a long flight. The telescoping handle features reinforced metal components that aren’t as likely to fail as the plastic ones common to lower end bags.
The side pocket, combined with the compression strap, allows you to attach a tripod to the exterior, though that does compromise the form factor a bit. The unsecured front pocket is a fine place for document storage as well. A final stealth feature of the Think Tank Photo Airport Takeoff V2.0 is that it’s specifically designed to be repairable by the owner in case parts wear out.
- Fits 2 DSLRs with lenses attached plus 2-4 additional lenses, 15" laptop and a 10" tablet; or Fits 2 Gripped DSLRs with lenses detached plus 4-6 additional lenses, 15" laptop and a 10" tablet. Max Lens: 400mm f/2.8 attached (hood reversed)
- Camera rolling bag holds up to a 400mm f/2.8, two standard bodies and other assorted lenses
- Large front pocket fits up to a 17" laptop and a 10" tablet. (Check with your airline for current carry-on requirements)
- Integrated backpack straps with comfortable shoulder harness and back panel padding
- Exterior Dimensions: 14" W x 21" H x 8" D (35.5 x 53 x 22 cm), Internal Dimensions: 13" W x 18.5" H x 5.3- 6.8" D (33 x 47 x 13-17 cm), Laptop Pocket: 11.4" W x 16.3" H x 1.4" D (29 x 41.5 x 3.6 cm) Lightly padded pocket fits a laptop in a sleeve or slim case, Tablet Pocket: 9.8" W x 9.4" H x 0.8" D (25 x 24 x 2 cm), Weight: 8.7-9.7 lbs. (3.9-4.4 kg) Depending on accessories used
Domke F-2 Original Shoulder Bag
First released in 1976, the Domke F-2 Original Shoulder Bag is a classic bag that’s hardly changed over the decades. Domke makes several bags, but the F-2 is the size that will appeal to the vast majority of photographers. The Original Shoulder Bag features a classic waxed cotton canvas construction that looks stylish and has a rugged feel.
Pure cotton canvas is a bit dated compared to synthetics and cotton blends; but if you really want that vintage feel, then the Domke does a great job of capturing it. This is the shoulder bag all of the cheap knock-offs on Amazon are trying to copy, but without the quality construction that Domke offers.
Also Available with Nylon Rip-stop
Professionals who want a bit more durability and are willing to sacrifice that vintage styling for functionality should look at the limited edition Nylon Rip-stop Rugged Wear version. While it’s significantly more expensive than the cotton canvas, rip-stop Nylon is also significantly more durable, puncture-resistant, and innately water resistant.
It’s also worth noting that the F-2 Original does use treated cotton canvas for water resistance so you’re not entirely up a creek if the weather turns poor.
Immense Amounts of Space
This is the bag for the professional who can’t afford to leave any gear behind; like the wedding photographer who doesn’t have time to run back to the car for an extra lens, flash unit, or body, for example. The Domke F-2 can easily hold two full-frame DSLR bodies, plus 6-10 lenses.
Six compartments round out the interior; four centered around a central divider system and two side compartments. Six pockets around the body of the bag give even more storage for additional accessories. There are two front pockets, two side pockets, a zipper pocket under the top flap, and a back pocket for maps, tablets, and other flat items.
Given how heavy the bag can potentially become, users have the option of employing either the rugged shoulder strap or a hand carrying strap on the top. The bag also features a removable padded bottom that’s been stiffened to preserve the form of the bag and keep gear from sliding around too much. The rest of the bag isn’t stiff, allowing it to conform around your body as you haul your gear and remain comfortable.
Simple, yet well designed is just one of the great features about the Domke F-2 Original Shoulder Bag. There are plenty of little things that are worth looking at as well, like the O-rings on the bag that allow you to attach additional items like extra straps or carabiners.
The Gripper Strap (shoulder strap) also runs entirely around the bag, rather than just being sewn onto the sides. Anyone whose purchased a lower end bag has had those sewn joints fail at one time or another. This is especially important given how much gear the F-2 can potentially carry.
- Ideal for two digital cameras with or without motor drives, multiple lenses up to 300mm, flash unit & small tablet computer
- 12 compartments and pockets which includes a patented padded, adjustable & removable 4 compartment insert system
- Proudly made in USA from tough and durable 100% cotton canvas
- Adjustable non-slip Gripper Strap securing the bag to your shoulder comfortably while travelling or in use
- Removable padded bottom stiffener and hand carrying strap for moving the back at quick notice
Thule Perspektiv M Toploader
This lesser-known Swedish company has come up with a great camera bag for photographers not wanting or needing to haul several components at once. The Thule Perspektiv M Toploader sits low on the hip or back and has a lower storage capacity compared to the other bags listed here.
While you won’t be hauling several lenses on a day shoot, if you have a standard lens, like a 24-70 f/2.8, that you’ll be leaving on the camera all day, the Thule model becomes an attractive option. If you like Thule’s styling, but need more storage space, the Perspektiv Daypack is a great alternative, offering enough room for a full-frame DSLR body and three additional lenses plus accessories.
Unique Top-loading Design
The Thule Perspektiv offers an alternative to traditional bags and backpacks. The main pocket opens directly from above, giving instant access to the exterior without dividers to interfere. A pair of foam protective pieces keep gear from sliding around.
While not as customizable as flex-fold dividers or internal straps, the foam design combined with the smallish size of the bag is more than enough to keep your gear from being damaged by accident. The bag can be worn as a bag within a bag, backpack, sling or holster styled on the hip.
Waterproof Outer Shell and Resistant Design
Given how important keeping your electronics dry can be, Thule decided to go double duty when it comes to water protection. The Perspektiv M Toploader uses what they call “Cloudburst” technology: durable welded and taped seams, water-resistant Nylon fabric, and waterproof YKK RCPU zippers.
All of this inspires confidence in the relatively unknown Thule brand. YKK brand zippers are the finest in the world and are renowned for their fail-safe, quality Japanese manufacturing. Even if the Nylon and zippers should fail, the Perspektiv includes a hideaway rain fly that doubles as lumbar support when stowed in the back pocket. The rain fly will ensure that even a torrential downpour won’t penetrate to your gear.
Tenba BYOB 10 Bag Insert
Sometimes photographers don’t have a specific bag for photography gear and have to cram their gear into a bag they already own. This is especially true if you happened to blow all of your funds on the latest body or lenses. As an inexpensive alternative to a dedicated camera bag, Tenba’s brilliant BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) inserts are just the thing for you.
Pairs with any Bag
At first, this bag seems like an odd choice because it’s more of a carrying case than a bag. But the brilliance of Tenba’s design is that these carrying cases are meant to fit into any bag you want to use to carry your camera. It even works if the bag isn’t meant to carry a camera, such as a purse, suitcase, or messenger bag.
This allows you to bring your camera anywhere you could otherwise bring your favorite bag to, without standing out nearly as much. The Tenba BYOB series also includes a Nylon sling style bag to ensure you aren’t stuck with just a carrying case.
Simple Yet Well Designed
The exterior pockets are well designed to pair any additional accessories you require along with your cameras. Two side pockets offer extra storage for larger items, while the two front pockets provide space for slim items like tablets or smartphones. A fifth rear pocket also allows the zipper cover to fold back into it to give instant access to the cameras and lenses stored within.
The Tenba BYOB 10 can hold a full-sized DSLR or mirrorless body with 2-4 lenses, depending on their focal length and weight. With a max dimension of 10.5 inches, the Tenba isn’t suited to carrying a laptop into the field, but does have enough space for a tablet or other smart device. And given the “BYOB” styling, the exterior isn’t particularly puncture or water resistant. The BYOB 10 is strictly meant to keep a selection of camera gear organized within a secondary bag but does an excellent job of it.
- PROTECTION IN ANY BAG: Designed to carry & protect a camera inside a larger backpack, suitcase or handbag, the BYOB's soft shell easily molds to the shape of a carrying bag. They work with a variety of camera systems, with pockets to organize accessories
- INSERT YOUR CAMERA: The BYOB 10 fits a DSLR or mirrorless camera with 2-4 lenses & accessories & features padded dividers that are adjustable to fit multiple configurations, & a zippered top cover that can be folded back to allow quick access to gear.
- INDUSTRY LEADING EQUIPMENT PROTECTION: For 40 years, Tenba has been building industry-leading equipment cases for rental houses, studios and professional imagemakers. Our cases can withstand being shipped or checked as luggage while ensuring protection
- HEAVY DUTY: Our Transport series is a collection of maximum-protection cases for everything from cameras to computers, lighting to grip gear & more. Made with ballistic & Cordura nylon, YKK zippers, seatbelt-grade webbing, & heavily reinforced stitching.Features interior dimensions of 10 inch W x 7.5 inch H x 4 inch D ( 25 X 19 X 10 centimeter )
- COMPARE THE QUALITY: Compare our camera bags, air cases, messenger bags, laptop bags & travel bags to similar products from Timbuk2, Travelon, Tous, Herschel, Vera Bradley, Chrome, Manhattan Portage, Eastpak, Tokidoki, Asus, Patagonia or Kenneth Cole
We’ve included a diverse selection of bags to meet the needs of as many kinds of photographers as we could. Large capacity bags, like the Domke F-2 and Think Tank V2.0, are well designed to hold your main and backup camera bodies, accessories, laptop, and entire lens collection safely and securely for an all-day shoot. Rugged Nylon construction helps keep your gear waterproof and resists any tearing or punctures.
But if you’re more of an enthusiast looking for a bag for a day shoot, the Thule Perspektive M Toploader is a great intermediate choice that sits at your hip and gives quick access to the gear within. Given how waterproof it is with its “Cloudburst” design, it’s a great choice for outdoor photographers looking to hike to a scenic location in inclement weather.
The Peak Design Everyday Messenger V2 is meant for professionals and enthusiasts alike, with enough storage to satisfy either. It also has one of the best flex-fold divider designs and extra feature selections on the market. Tenba's BYOB 10 is an intriguing modular styled design meant to pair with any existing bag you may have yet also acts as an excellent stand-alone camera case or bag. Each of these bags is well designed, priced right for the features you get, and one of the best on the market in 2018.