How to find the bag or case for your cameras and gear that is right for your purpose.
As the great philosopher, George Carlin, used to say, “The whole meaning of life is trying to find a place for your stuff.” And anyone who has ventured into the world of video knows that it doesn’t take long before you have a whole bunch of stuff. The general rule in video production is: if you didn’t bring it, you’ll need it. So, you’ll need some kind of camera bag or case to carry all that stuff.
The architectural axiom "form follows function," plays well when a videographer begins the process of finding the perfect bag or case for the cameras, lights and microphones. Ask yourself, what are you planning to do? And, where are planning to go? If you are going to the Arctic Circle to record walruses, you’ll need to think about the temperature when selecting your carrying case. If you are going to the rainforests of Costa Rica to track the migration patterns of Baltimore Orioles, you will need to consider waterproofing everything. Ponder the project; if you are shooting a four-hour speech and didn’t bring a tripod, book an appointment with a physical therapist, because you’ll need one. If you are trying to sneak into a place for a candid angle on a story, don’t bring the large HD rig. Grab the camera that fits into your suit pocket.
Are you packing?
Before you click the buy button, determine the extent of what you plan to pack into one video bag. Look for the right kit to handle your gear and gadgets. It should be expandable because, as we all know, a camera leads to lenses, filters, batteries, power strips, lights, wireless microphones, transmitters, receivers, and before long, that nice small bag you bought with the camera is inadequate for carrying your gear. Most manufacturers will recommend a bag or case when you buy a camera or microphone, but they are sometimes limited and not that protective. Pick a bag that has customizable compartments, rather than fixed. As you grow, your bag can be reconfigured to match your machinery. And think about who you are. If you have a weak back, then avoid the backpack. If you have extremely heavy gear, check out cases and bags with wheels. If you are a weekend warrior GoPro action shooter, look for belts, holsters and slings.
Half in the Bag
Sure, you could go out and grab something from the local box store that might seem creative and unique, but if it’s not designed for that purpose, let the buyer beware. You could put your lights in a picnic cooler wrapped in old towels, but you’ll look pretty silly carrying it on to a set. And learn the lesson from the guy who over-stuffed the bag and just zipped it up around the protruding tripod. In the cab on the way to the site, the zipper loosened and valuable items fell out. Rule one: the bag must be snapped, zipped and clamped the way it was designed when traveling. Never let your gear be half-in-the-bag when you are on the move.
According to Delta Air Lines, a carry-on bag must fit easily in the space under the seat in front of you, which is approximately 22-inches x 14-inches x 9-inches or 56cm x 35cm x 23cm. If you travel by air, that is an important part of your decision of what bag or case to secure for your tools. If you can, try to never check video equipment on an airplane. Even with heightened security; theft continues to be a problem. But the real menace when you travel is breakage. Unless you’re shipping huge amounts of gear, always carry-on and make sure you know what kind of restrictions the airline places on its passengers.
Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag
The excitement of procuring new quality camera bags instantly evaporates when one is faced with the in-store decision stress. Online is helpful and a bit quicker, but get ready for hundreds of styles, kinds and compartments available. The popularity of video devices and accessories has driven the bag market. There are camera bags to match your photographic vest style. There are pink, teal, red, coral, purple and mustard colors, and floral, leaf, camouflage and chevron patterns to go with that new dress. It’s a whole new world of bag from leather, to pleather, to canvas; waxed or rawhide. Don’t be fooled by the styles, keep remembering that phrase: form (style) follows function. Ask yourself, will this bag carry everything I’ll need to do a good job? You are a videographer, not a model.
Top of the LineDSLR with your 24-70mm lens attached, extra lenses, sleeping pad, small tent, poles, a two-liter hydration compartment, a 15-inch laptop and it’s water resistant. This is $330; the cost of a hotel room in New York City for one night.
If you want to roll to your next gig, this is your bag. CineBags CB40 High Roller camera bag comes in stylish charcoal with black embroidery and has seven multi-sized dividers to configure your top of the line cameras, such as a RED ONE, SCARLET-X, ARRI’s ALEXA or similar-sized video camera. This water-resistant fabric has wheels with a retractable handle. There's also a laptop compartment, and storage pouches, including mesh pockets. The CB40 High Roller camera bag comes with a limited two-year warranty and a $299 price tag.
Another CineBags offering that seems appropriate is the limited edition, camera + laptop, CB 25B Revolution Backpack, which also holds all the parts of a 4k camera, four or more lenses, small secondary cameras and a laptop, plus it comes in digital desert camouflage for $269.
If you travel by air a lot, this top-shelf roller from Tamrac is the ticket. The Big Wheels Rolling StrongBox - LP2 made in the USA holds two DSLR cameras with lens attached and laptop. It looks more like a suitcase than a camera bag, but the good news is, it meets carry-on luggage requirements. The Big Wheels Rolling StrongBox - LP2 has built-in oversized wheels and a suggested retail price of $605, but as the name suggests, from cameras to microphones, this bag will keep all your valuables safe when you are on the road. This rolling camera bag is a virtual mobile studio.
A Case for Bagism
Many of us will travel with one camera and some accessories. If simple camera bags are what you need, let’s look at some bags around the $100 price tag.
Tamrac’s System 6 camera bag ($90) works well for those packing a DSLR or camcorder with lenses and accessories. This is the traditional format of two-side outside pouches, zippered front pouch for things like phones and media cards. The Lens-Bridge and LensGate dividers work with the form of DSLRs and their lenses to efficiently use space. The internal dimensions are 10.5-inches x 6-inches x 7.3-inches and the configurable sections will help you make it your bag.
Another get-it-done bag is the Lowepro Stealth Reporter D100 AW shoulder bag ($100) that’s designed for a DSLR with 2-3 lenses, media and accessories. Inside the bag, the adjustable dividers protect equipment from shock and scratching. The Stealth Reporter D100 AW also comes with a removable accessory pouch and memory card wallet.
One bag that certainly won’t win the beauty pageant, but is great for utility is the Domke F6 ballistic shoulder bag. It can carry a large film or digital professional camera. Its cushioned inserts to help give this bag a real military feel. It has nine compartments and two full length zippered pockets.
Microphones create specific challenges. Some of the new USB microphones sound great, but they tend to be a bit fragile. Pelican makes some sturdy hard cases that come in many sizes, colors and shapes, and they’re waterproof. Their very reasonably priced micro cases are great for smaller items; like microphones. We recommend the Pick 'n Pluck Foam Insert so you can customize the landing area for your item. You could use the same thing for smaller lights, but remember to not put a light in a foamed case until it cools.
One of the companies that offers some really great containers for things like iPads, compact cameras, hard drives and laptops is Case Logic. Their compact portable hard drive case features a durable hard-shell exterior and interior straps so you can securely and safely transport a hard drive. They also have a wide selection of bags and cases for less than $20 for the person who doesn’t need to carry that much. Their DCB-305 camcorder kit bag ($23) is perfect for the tourist who just wants to carry a small camcorder and power cord.
If you’re looking for a less geeky, sans-military, and perhaps more feminine approach, check out the colorful and bright shoulder bags from Cheeky Lime or Kelly Moore Bag Store. Not sure if the screaming green or bright teal will match every outfit, but the Rachel Cave floral shoulder bag from Cheeky Lime holds a DSLR, three lenses, tablet, phone, keys and has a removable shoulder strap. It’s a kind of urban camouflage for that secret video assignment, ($159).
Another non-eye-catcher is the Domke F-803, coming in styles like Waxwear, olive drab, sand, black and navy. This might not give you as much protection for your gear, but this Indiana Jones look is smart. The F-803 Waxwear shoulder bag has two interior compartments, two large expandable cargo pockets, gripper shoulder strap and a reinforced handle, plus comes with tube of ointment to help keep that organic look.
There is a time to throw your camera into a waist pouch and there is time to have it protected for rough travel. Take some time to figure out exactly what you want and read reviews from users. When a company makes a claim, see if those claims are disputed by the opinions of buyers. Camera bags should last for 10 years or more if you buy right. You paid good money for your gear, why not get a good bag?
The Nomenclature of Bag
Before you start your journey into the world of bags, you might want to know the terms and kinds of bags.
Camera bag: asking a sales person using this term will most likely produce the question, “What kind?” This is the general term for a bag that you put your camera in, bear with us.
Gadget bag: you will see this term used for the all-purpose video bag. You can buy them as a basic “one-size fits all” camera bag or a unit that is specifically designed for your camera.
Shoulder bag: sometimes also called a satchel, is a bag with a strap. Jack Bauer carries one in the show 24. This is also known by some manufacturers as a messenger bag, which can have wider straps.
Belt bag: we know this by many names, a fanny pack, belt pack, belly bag, Buffalo pouch, waist bag, hip pack, moon bag, or bum bag (British) and can be made of fabric or leather. It’s a small pouch secured with a zipper or clasp and worn by a strap around the hips or waist.
Holster bag: a bit bigger than a belt bag in order to hold a large DLSR with a large lens attached and is generally worn on the hip, like a gun holster.
Pouches: considerably smaller than a holster (in the range of 5-inches x 2.5-inches x 1-inches) and is great for smaller cameras. May or may not come with a strap.
Tote bag: looks like a woman’s purse or large recyclable grocery bag. Generally has two straps and can be carried on the shoulder. Sometimes has a zippered pouch in the front for grab-and-shoot.
Sling bag: the half-nelson of back packs. This strange-shaped bag usually has one strap and most well-designed ones have compartments for quick access. These are usually the size of a small backpack.
Backpack: first termed in the early 1900s, and developed by hunters and military for carrying heavy loads. The backpack is a favorite on college campuses and a well-designed camera backpack can carry tons of stuff. Healthy back required.
Dwight C. Douglas is a VP of Marketing for a major broadcast software company.