Videomaker's guide to finding the best camcorder bag or to match your budget and your needs. Because your camcorder needs a nice home.
The importance of buying the proper camera bag or case cannot be overstated. Your camera will last longer and be easier to transport. You will protect your camera from any unnecessary accidents by storing it in a case or bag. Not all bags are created equal, though, and that's where this buyer's guide comes in handy. Your bag or case needs will depend on a number of factors, all of which, when carefully weighed, will help you make the right decision. Whether you are a seasoned videographer who has bought many bags and cases over the years, or maybe you are someone who is ready to move your camera out of its original cardboard box, this buyer's guide will fill your needs. In order to make the decision process easier, we have laid out some simple steps.
Step 1: How Will You Use the Bag or Camcorder Case?
The first step in deciding what to buy is first deciding how you will be using it. Understanding what your needs are will go a long way in making the buying decision easier. Start by identifying the kind of videographer you are. If you are an amateur that will shoot video on the weekends or any chance you can get, your needs will differ from the needs of a pro. Some videographers need protection for their camera when in storage or during transportation. Cases are an excellent alternative to a camera bag. You do not have to be a professional to see the importance of placing your camcorder in a case. I have a close friend that is also an avid weekend videographer. He has a bad habit of dropping camcorder bags, so he purchased a hard case. Now he doesn't need to worry about dropping the case and breaking the valuable equipment inside. Identifying your needs goes just beyond your skill level. Think about how often you shoot as well as where you often find yourself. Indoor and outdoor environments call for different protection for the camera.
Step 2: Making Sure Your Camcorder Case Or Bag fits Your Camera
Equipment needs will be the next step in your buying process. Your choice of camera, lights and other accessories can and will play a part in the type of bag or case you choose. Take a look at your camera. Note its length and design. You may want to refer to your owner's manual and jot down the camcorder's dimensions. Since it is the main piece in this discussion, it's a good idea to get its measurements accurately so when you shop for the right bag or case you see how it fits. And actually try to get one that's a bit bigger than the dimensions, so if you keep batteries and accessories attached, they won't be crunched. (NOTE: It's a bad habit not to remove the battery when you aren't using the camera, but we all know most of us don't follow this rule.)
Some cameras have separate thin nylon bags that either come with the camera when you buy it or are available to purchase. These rarely do little more than cover the camera. You won't be getting any sort of real protection for the camera. Nor will you have any good extra storage compartments. Some videographers find that no matter how carefully they plan ahead, they always find they are missing something. They end up carrying a lot of gear with them. If you are one of these videographers, consider buying a separate bag or case for your gear accessories. Your mode of transportation can also dictate your bag or case choices. Maybe your SUV needs to have some suspension work done soon. You will not want your camera to take the brunt of the jolts, so consider placing the camera in a hard case. Will you need to carry your camera with you go out to sea? Well, here you will want to think about a lightweight, waterproof bag or backpack, so your camera will be ready to go when you need it.
Step 3: Your Design and Material Choices For Camcorder Cases and Bags
The third step is to look at the type of materials you will be deciding between. Some materials you will find in cases and bags can range from cheaper vinyl to metal. You also want to keep an eye out for case and bag closure methods. Snaps and hook-and-loop fasteners are not as secure as a strong zipper. Well-constructed bags and cases will have bigger zippers, which will last longer. You should also look at how the zippers were fastened. Sewing the zipper versus gluing it makes a big difference in durability.
Good vinyl can be an excellent material choice. Leather is always a good choice for a bag because it is durable and strong.
Besides just the actual case or bag construction you want to look at the type of design. Bags can be either backpack style or messenger style. Backpacks will need to have strong straps for both your shoulders. Some will have an extra strap that goes around your waist, which you may or may not like. The straps should be wide enough to be comfortable for long-distance carrying. Zippers should be easy to open and not stick. They should have big enough handles that you can grab them easily. Photographers love backpacks and a lot of videographers use them as well. If you want to carry your camera with you, but do not want to lug around a bag in your hand, the backpack style bag can really come in handy. On the other hand, the carrying bags should have a shoulder strap as well as regular handles. Both should be very comfortable and secure. If you aren't traveling on foot for long distances, you might not like the backpack style, it might not store as easily.
Cases are an entirely different matter. Cases will have handles on the side and some on top. All handles should feel good in the hand and allow enough room for all hand sizes. Cases can also have wheels. A good case that will last a long time will have big wheels with metal attachments to the bottom of the case. Bigger wheels allow for easier rolling. Smaller wheels, while lighter, will not roll as easily, and are not as heavy-duty, thus shortening their lifespan. Cases can have a variety of shapes and sizes to choose from. You can choose a regular hinged lid to a suitcase style or even a case that opens from the side. Your equipment and personal preference will dictate which works best for you. A well-made case will feel strong, and it will be able to take a pounding without any damage to the camera inside.
We have spoken about the outside so far, so now it's time to talk about the insides. The most important thing to keep in mind is how your camcorder fits in the bag or case you choose. You are looking for a secure and snug fit. No matter what camcorder case or bag you choose, the camera must fit with enough room to close the bag or case properly. It is of little to no use if you have to force the bag or case closed with the camera inside. The chances of damage to the camera increase greatly in situations like that. You can look for bags that offer straps that allow you to strap your camera in for an even more secure fit. Bags will come with compartments on the side, front and even inside for extra storage. Keep in mind that adding a lot of extra batteries and other equipment will add to the overall weight of the bag. All of these extra compartments should also be constructed well. One of the biggest advantages of using a case is they're bigger, giving you more space. How that space is allocated can be changed depending upon your needs. Foam can be cut and placed to perfectly fit your camera, as well as any extra gear you want to carry. The biggest advantage to foam is that you can buy more and reconfigure your storage allocation anyway you want.
Step 4: Making Sure Your Camcorder Case Or Bag fits Your Budget
The final step is probably the single biggest factor in any videographer's buying decision: the all-important budget. So you're probably asking yourself, why place what many of you consider the most important factor in choosing a bag or case last in the list of considerations? When shopping for a camcorder case, it's important to look at the features and enhancements that different camcorder cases and bags will offer. Ignoring the price allows you to look at the most important factors. These factors can include the material used as well as the construction of the bag or camcorder case. Comparing factors without the question of price will make it easier to get the right bag or case to fit your needs.
The important lesson here is this: People tend to forget that they have to protect their gear as much as possible. A $1000 camcorder needs just as much care as a $10,000 camera, unless you're a lottery winner and have money to burn. You chose to spend $100, $1000, or $10,000 on that camera for a reason, and you don't want to have to shell it out again until you want to buy the next gee-whiz cam, not because you have to. So until then, you need to protect it. Bumps, dings, scratches and broken parts are usually caused in transport or during poor storing conditions, not when you're actually shooting. So consider how you're going to protect it, and then the price will seem worth it.
Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Bag and Case Manufacturer's list.
John Devcic is a freelance writer and videographer.