The Nikon D3400 we recommend to budding removable lens photographers, costs close to $500. Add a few additional lenses into the equation and things get really expensive, really fast. As you're likely not made of money, protecting your pricey photographic investment with a modestly priced camera bag makes a whole lot of sense. To this end, I've spent the past few weeks testing a wide range of camera bags. They're made from a range of materials, boast a variety of different features and, as you'll see, come in a number of different configurations, so as to meet the needs of as many of our readers as possible. But, for all of the differences between them, each of them shares one thing in common: They're reasonably priced.
What makes a good camera bag?
A camera bag should offer your camera system a reasonable amount of protection against casual abuse and exposure to the elements. How much protection is reasonable is up to you. But, for most people, I feel it's safe to assume that your camera bag's padding shouldn't add too much to the already considerable heft of the photographic hardware inside of it. If a bag's too heavy, you may not be inclined to use it. So, unless you're going into a war zone and need the protection that a thermal plastic or aluminum camera case can afford, look for a bag made using lightweight, but resilient materials like ripstop nylon or Cordura. These'll help to keep the sun and wet off your camera gear, while you spend your time roaming the earth in search of the perfect shot. Better still, consider buying a camera case that comes with a stashable rain cover. It might not seem like an important feature for your bag to have, but you'll be grateful that your camera and lens collection is dry if you ever get caught in a downpour.
No matter which style of bag you opt for, you'll want it to provide quick, easy access to all of the hardware inside of it—it's difficult to capture a moment when it takes a millennium to get your camera and glass out to take a picture. In addition to accessibility, you'll also want your camera bag to be able to act as a stable platform for you while you change lenses. Look for beefy straps and designs that make it easy to open and access your gear without having to remove the bag from your body.
The inside of any bag you pick to carry your photographic hardware should be a blank canvas that can be compartmentalized with thick, padded dividers, as needed. This allows you to ensure that no matter which camera body you own or which glass you feel like bringing along with you, it'll be wrapped up in snug, customized protection. And should the time come where you want to buy a new camera, you'll be able to keep on using the same old camera bag—simply adjust the bag's interior to fit.
In the interest of ensuring that you're able to get your hands on all of the bags we'll discuss here, I've chosen reasonably priced gear from manufacturers that are easy to find online and in brick and motor shops.
And now, here's Thrifter's suggestions for affordable camera bags, perfect for any budding DSLR photographer:
Build your own
If you're a minimalist or have an unhealthy attachment to a particular backpack in your life, the idea of bringing a mission-specific camera bag into the mix might give you the 'no' feeling. I sympathize. Dealing with a chronic neck injury as I do, it's hard for me to find a backpack that's both functional and comfortable. If any of this sounds like you, you'll want to consider buying a camera bag insert that'll allow you to use your existing backpack or messenger bag to safely carry your camera and lenses without having to forego your favorite carry system.
The Tenba BYOB Camera Insert comes in a number of colors and sizes, making it possible to turn almost any bag you already own, be it a purse, messenger bag, daypack or a backpack designed for extended travel, into a safe space to store or camera, glass and accessories. The BYOB 9, for example, is perfect for hauling a compact DSLR, point and shoot camera or mirrorless camera system and some vital accessories along with you. What's more, some Tenba BYOB inserts are insulated. This helps to protect your hardware from temperature extremes, but can also keep beverages cold—drink up!
Kick it old school
Those traditional top-loading cube-shaped camera bags you see everywhere? They're shaped like that for a reason. Not only can they hold a respectable number of lenses, extra batteries, and a full-sized DSLR camera body, their large maw makes it easy and safe to use the bag as a mobile platform for changing your lenses out on the go. The only real downside to them is that, with their carry capacity, it's easy to overload one and, with its single strap, all that weight will be poorly distributed. If you can live with that, then we've got a camera bag for you.
The Ape Case Metro Collection Standard DSLR Camera Case is designed to hold a standard sized DSLR, two lenses, and a flash. What's more Ape Case ensured that the bag will also accommodate an iPad, for editing your photos on the go, and all of the cables, extra SD cards and spare batteries you might need to keep on shooting all day. And, as its exterior made of 600-Denier Rip-Stop Nylon, it'll stand up to light rain and a reasonable amount of abuse, keeping your expensive hardware safe and dry for years to come.
Got the Message?
Messenger bag-style camera cases are great because they don't look like camera cases. This makes you less of a target for thieves when you're traveling with your expensive photographic gear—you want that. You may also like that, due to their longer dimensions than a traditional camera case, they also allow you to haul a more diverse collection of hardware, including laptops, tablets or even a compact camera drone if you're so inclined. The downside to going with a messenger-style bag is that they aren't as easily accessible as a traditional camera bag, with its wide opening, can be. Additionally, the weight of what you've stashed inside of your bag will be carried on one shoulder. This might be OK for short excursions but could cause you some discomfort on longer trips.
If you crave the discreet style and diverse carry options that a messenger-style bag offers, check out Tenba's DNA line of messenger bags. They come in four different colors to match your style, feature removable padded inserts, and a built-in rain cover. Depending on the size you choose to buy, the amount of gear you can carry with a DNA Messenger Bag is pretty diverse. The DNA 15, for example, can hold a 15" laptop, a full-sized DSLR and up to five lenses (even a 70-200mm!) As well as a variety of accessories. Meanwhile, the DNA 8, the smallest messenger bag in the company's DNA line, is sized to hold a mirrorless camera system with 2-3 lenses and an 8" tablet.
Distribute The Load
If you plan on taking longer trips where the weight of your photographic hardware might wind up becoming a literal pain after hauling it around all day, consider picking up a backpack-style camera bag. Not only will its dual straps ensure that the weight of your hardware is evenly distributed across your shoulders, many also come sporting enough space, in addition to what you'll need to carry your camera and glass, to pack some sundries, a water bottle or a light jacket.
The LowePro Fastpack 350 DSLR Camera Backpack is built tough, by one of the best-known names in the photographic accessory industry. Priced at well under $100, the Fastpack 350 is designed to fit a full-sized DSLR with a lens attached to it (up to 70-200mm in size,) 2-3 extra lenses and a number of accessories. Like any good camera bag, you can modify its interior with adjustable, padded compartments to meet your needs. Want to get your glass or other gear without having to set your pack down? No problem: slip an arm out of one of the pack's straps and you'll find that it's possible to access your camera from the side of the Fastpack 350. A separate padded compartment is designed to safely carry laptops up to 17" in size. There's also stash pockets on the outside of the pack for sticking water bottles and other sundries into and a generous amount of interior space to hold everything you might need for a day's worth of street shooting or a quick hike in the countryside.
The only real downside to owning one is its size: having a larger bag means that you'll be less agile while shooting, especially since we as a species have a weird tendency to pack more than we need and to carry as much as we can. You can stuff a lot of gear into this bag and, if you're not careful, you could end up paying for it. Nothing sucks the joy out of a vacation faster than an injured back that got kinked up by carrying too much camera for too long.
Sling That Thing
A sling pack incorporates some of the best—as well as some of the worst—aspects of all of the other styles of camera bags we've talked about here. Like a traditional cube-shaped camera bag, a sling pack can carry an ample amount of photographic hardware in it. A good one will let you access that hardware from a door in the side of the pack, just like a camera backpack will: just slide it around in front of you, change out your lens and get back to shooting. And just like a backpack, when you're not using it, a sling pack can be swung onto your back and out of the way. Want to discreetly carry your camera hardware? A sling pack is good for that too—like a messenger-style case, a sling case's silhouette doesn't advertise that it's full of expensive hardware. That said, as with a messenger bag or a traditional cube-shaped camera case, the weight of what you throw into a sling pack will have to be borne on a single shoulder, which as we've discussed, can lead to injuries if you're carrying it for a long time or tend to overload yourself with photographic gear before heading out the door.
Sound good? Then check out the LowePro Slingshot Edge 250 AW sling pack.
Lowepro says it's for use in urban environments, but it'll also work a treat on day hikes and other situations where carrying a mid-sized DSLR, a few lenses, accessories and personal items might be desirable. The Slingshot Edge 250's side opening camera compartment makes it easy to get in and out of your bag and back to shooting without having to remove the pack from your body. And, as it comes with its own weatherproof rain cover, you'll be able to keep your hardware dry should the heavens open up while you're out and about. As we discussed at the top of this feature, a good camera bag should always have moveable interior panels so that as you add new hardware to your photographic arsenal, you won't be forced to buy a new bag to accommodate it. The Slingshot Edge 250 has this going for it. It also comes packing a separate compartment sized to carry important gear like your passport, headphones, and smartphone. Need to stay hydrated? No problem: the outside of the pack comes with a built-stash pocket sized to fit most popular reusable water bottles.
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