July 18, 2012

Response: Shoulder Bag or Backpack?

My recent review of the Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise 60 V2.0, a shoulder bag capable of holding a small citadel, has raised several camera bag related questions from readers.  One question I wanted to address came from Twitter follower Nicola Cocco, a photographer form Bassano del Grappa, Italy.

Nicola asks, "I'm thinking of buying the Think Tank Photo Shapeshifter backpack, do you have any thoughts about it? Also, do you prefer a shoulder bag or a backpack?"

Read my response after the break.

I use a range of camera bags including shoulder bags, belt pouches, backpacks, and rollers.  Unfortunately, there is not one camera bag to rule them all.  Thinking about it now, I realize I have more invested in camera bags than most amateur photographers have in entire camera kits.  While that is a frightening thought, each bag serves a specific purpose and actually makes my work easier.

Here's a breakdown of how I use my camera bags:

Think Tank Photo Retrospective 30 – I use this large shoulder bag for personal assignments or any time I'm shooting for fun.  It's stylish, easy to carry, and holds one pro sized DSLR with any number of lenses and flashes.  It can carry two bodies but weight starts to become an issue.
***Quick tip*** Always buy your bag one size larger than you think you'll need.  It's nice to be able to pack a sandwich and drink or a jacket when you're on a photo adventure.

Think Tank Photo Shapeshifter – I recently acquired this backpack for my editorial assignments after nearly breaking my back with the Urban Disguise 60 V2.0.  It's capable of carrying my basic two body, three lens kit, along with my laptop, hard drives, flashes, and Pocket Wizards.  When purchased in the right state of mind, the Shapeshifter is amazing.

The Shapeshifter is not designed to be worked out of.  Simply put, this is not a shooter's bag.  Cameras cannot be transported with lenses attached.  Hoods have to be reversed for storage on longer lenses like the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS.  Where this bag excels is in carrying gear from Point A to Point B.  Once at Point B, you take out two camera bodies and two lenses, zip the backpack closed, and begin shooting.  I typically use the Shapeshifter to move my gear to Point B, then transfer lenses, flashes, and accessories into my Think Tank Photo Skin Pouches, and leave the Shapeshifter with my laptop in the trunk of my car.

Think Tank Photo Airport International V2.0 – I bought this roller for two reasons: security and convenience.  With three locks, my excess gear can safely be stored at weddings, corporate, and sporting events.  I use the Airport International V2.0 when I need to carry EVERYTHING.  Multiple camera bodies, flashes, lenses, accessories, Pocket Wizards, light stands, everything.  Getting the weight off my body and rolling behind me is a huge health benefit, especially when I have a long day of shooting ahead of me.  The roller also works great for travel, as it meets domestic and international carry-on requirements.

Think Tank Photo Skin Modular Pouches – If I had to choose one type of camera bag that I like the most, it would be this belt system.  The weight gets positioned around my core, so fatigue isn't an issue, the pouches are extremely easy to work out of, and they are modular.  With just three pouches, I can carry any combination of the gear I own.  I typically use the Skin Modular pouches in conjunction with the Shapeshifter backpack and Airport International V2.0 roller.

Would I use these pouches while hanging out with friends in San Francisco?  No.  But when I'm getting paid, nothing beats the versatility and comfort of a belt system.

F-Stop Loka – This is the ultimate backpack to actively shoot out of.  The Loka and every other F-Stop backpack are designed off backpacking backpacks, which means several things: support, light weight, and durability.  F-Stop uses a padded Internal Camera Unit (ICU) for camera gear, with several sizes available to fit your needs.  Although the F-Stop Loka has the same external dimensions as the Think Tank Photo Streetwalker Hard Drive, the Loka can hold a jacket, food, gloves, bottles of water, and so much more.  This is all due to design and only having padding where it is needed (in the ICU).

I used the F-Stop Loka 10 hours a day for 30 days while on assignment in Vietnam last summer.  Not only did the backpack carry all of the gear I needed (2 bodies, 3 lenses, and 1 flash), it carried my laptop, rain jacket, food, and toiletries.  It was comfortable and easy to work out of.  Any time I need to carry more weight and actively shoot, I take my F-Stop Loka.

It's hard to pick just one type of bag as my favorite because I use them all very differently.  As an amateur photographer, I would probably suggest the Think Tank Photo Retrospective line as my favorite.  As a working photographer, the Skin pouches easily win.

There you have it Nicola!  I hope you and many others found this extremely long answer to a simple question useful.

If you have any questions you want answered, be sure to ask them in the comments below, on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

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