Camera Bags: A Rant of Frustration from a Woman’s Perspective

|, Blog, Gear, Opinion, Photofocus, Photography, Rants and Ramblings|Camera Bags: A Rant of Frustration from a Woman’s Perspective

I’m a woman, and I like purses and bags. I am also a photographer, and so with that I tend to collect lots of cool bags. Yay, bags! I have more than I will use, some come and go with my photography style or locations I travel to, and some have stuck around and have been used for a very long time. Yet I am always on the hunt for a bag that fits my needs in many different ways.

The are so many different types of camera bags: backpacks, purses, messenger bags, sling bags, and more. For the purposes of this article, I am lumping all bags into one of two categories: Girly purse bags, and “standard” camera bags. Keep on reading to find out my thoughts on these two categories of bags.

The “Girly-Purse-Camera-Bag”

At one point, I decided to try one of the “girly” purse camera bags (click here to read a review of one of these bags from a few years back). In theory, it sounded great. I could carry my camera with me anywhere, and also look cute in the process! So, I bought one. And, I used it a few times before I realized how awful it was as a camera bag. What professional photographer could seriously use this while working?!? It became so heavy on my shoulder, even with just one camera and a few lenses, or even just with one pro camera body and a small lens, that there was no way I was carrying it anywhere. Plus, there was so little padding on the sides that I would not have trusted this bag to hold expensive camera gear. There seemed to be more attention put towards the aesthetic and look of the bag, and less on the functionality to make it usable to a photographer carrying pro camera gear.

Are all girly-purse-camera-bags like this? I sure hope not! But a quick search on B&H Photo for “Camera Bags for Women” shows me what there is to offer, and those skinny, pad-less straps don’t give me too much hope.

That girly bag was the first (and possibly the last) purse-camera-bag I was ever going to purchase. When I see other women post glowing reviews about these types of bags, three possibilities pop into my head:

  1. They were given the purse for free and wrote a review about it.
  2. They use it because it looks good, in spite of the fact that it is uncomfortable (the “four inch heels” of photography).
  3. They have a very small camera setup (tiny SLR with a plastic kit lens, point-and-shoot, or mirrorless).

I will admit that now that I am starting to shoot with a mirror-less camera, these types of bags could potentially have a place on my shoulder. A lighter camera would equal less weight, so the straps wouldn’t be as big of a deal. However, unless I could see these bags up close and personal (instead of just perusing an online catalog) I don’t think I would risk it. And, considering that I still use my Canon gear for some travel and landscape work, a bag like this would likely just replace my everyday-purse to store my small Fuji X-T1 and attached lens.

The “Standard Camera Bag”

Next comes the other side of the coin, the “standard” camera bag that is made for anyone. And, by anyone, I (somewhat sarcastically) am referring to men. I have searched far and wide for the “perfect” camera bag that is comfortable, holds the gear that I need to use, functions well, and doesn’t look like it was made for a guy. Honestly, that’s very difficult to find. I don’t want a bag that is a super bright color or has frilly decoration on it, just something that isn’t boxy, black, and has certain straps that just don’t fit certain parts of women (if you catch my drift).

Are there only a bunch of men making professional camera bags for photographers?

There are plenty of great bags on the market right now. But, I’m a girl, and I tend to have certain “odd” bag needs that may not be a priority for men. Here are some of the frustrations I have with many of the “standard” camera bags that I have tried:

  • Most of them are black. I don’t want a hot-pink bag, just something not black. To me, black is boring and it SCREAMS “Look! I’m a camera bag!”. The majority of the quality, useful and professional camera bags I have seen on the market are black. ThinkTank Photo has started to make some with different colors, particularly in their Retrospective line (one of my favorite messenger bags, FWIW). And my current favorite for travel and landscape is the f-stop Loka bag (I have two: one in a greenish-tan, and another in blue).
  • Where are my side storage pockets? I’m a girl, and I don’t carry my iPhone in my pants pocket. It is incredibly frustrating when I get a camera bag that is lacking some sort of small pocket for a smart phone on the outside of the bag. Or, it is so small and tight that I have to wedge my iPhone in there just so it fits. Drives me bonkers. The best side pockets I have ever seen so far are the mesh pockets on the ThinkTank Photo CityWalker 10 (CLICK HERE to read my review about this bag).
  • Girls have boobs. Ok, so yes, an obvious statement. But I have at least one bag that has a front strap with not enough length to clasp in the front, and it’s positioned in an uncomfortable spot on the strap (when it is clasped). It’s possible that they are only testing this bag with men, or with women who are not (ahem) as curvy as some of us.

And Finally, “My Favorite Bags”

In order for me to want to use a camera bag, it must have all of the following features:

  • Comfortable straps
  • Well-padded
  • Holds a sufficient amount of camera gear without being uncomfortable to carry
  • Additional small storage pockets (inside and out)
  • Not black (this is not a requirement, but highly desirable)

And, if you’re wondering, this is the typical Canon* gear I will carry with me on a landscape-photography outing or while traveling overseas:

  • Canon 5D Mark III
  • Canon 70-200 f/4L IS
  • Canon 24-70 f/2.8L
  • 100mm filters and holder
  • Batteries and charger
  • Accessories (lens cleaners, cable release, GPS)

* I am also starting to use my Fuji X-T1 more and more, but this will not change my needs and desires for a camera bag. :)

It sounds like a simple task, but finding good bags has proven to be quite difficult. Here are some of the bags that I have used in the past, and currently use, that I have found to work very well with my photography:

Hopefully, one day I will find the “perfect” camera bag for my needs. Or, maybe I should just make one of my own! (It’s about time for a Nicolesy-branded camera bag, don’t you think?) ;)

Alright, rant over. So now, it’s your turn! What are YOUR frustrations with bags? What are some of your FAVORITE bags of all time? Tell us in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you.

By | 2016-12-18T17:00:52+00:00 October 13th, 2014|11 Comments

About the Author:

My name is Nicole and I'm a photographer, author, & educator living in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. When I'm not making photos I'm writing books and tutorials for my online store, Learn more about me and my story here.

11 Comments

  1. Henrik October 13, 2014 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    Try to look at Billingham, my girl love the Hadly Pro. Best regards

  2. katesiobhan October 14, 2014 at 1:48 am - Reply

    AMEN. I wear my fstop with all the straps tightened and it still doesn’t sit right. And i’m not even small, nor thin! It’s comfortable, but for sure not made for a woman’s body. F-Stop Gear please let me and nicole be your model bodies for your new line of gear for women. All those lady bags either 1) look like purses 2) are in dumb lady colours 3) aren’t big enough because apparently ladies don’t shoot with as much gear as men. It’s #3 that really, really gets to me.

    • Nicole S. Young October 14, 2014 at 4:43 pm - Reply

      Yeah, the #3 gets to me, too. I will probably always travel with my bulky Canon gear (now that my landscape experience with the Fuji X-system was less than ideal), so I need something sturdy. F-stop so far are the best, but my boobs prevent me from clasping the chest strap without squeezing the air out of my lungs. :)

  3. Charlene October 14, 2014 at 4:59 am - Reply

    Honestly? I think your expectations are out of line with reality. I don’t think it is possible to comfortably wear a full frame camera and 24-70 & 70-200 plus all the extra accessories over your shoulder for an extended time period…..male or female. Weigh everything you want to carry.Betting its equivalent to a baby….now look at how babies are carried “hands-free”. It’s not over a shoulder.

    I’ve come to the conclusion there is no perfect camera bag and there never will be.I bought a largish Kenneth Cole leather bag , in an unabashedly girly colour, too big to be called a purse, too small to be called luggage) and found a padded camera insert liner on eBay that fit it. The insert has enough padding to keep my gear safe-ish and the bag has enough style to not look like a camera bag.But I only put in one body & one lens plus my “stuff”(wallet, phone). If I’m taking any more gear than that it goes into my Think Tank rolling bag.My shoulders have never been happier.

    But if you ever find the mythical perfect bag please share!!

    • Nicole S. Young October 14, 2014 at 4:46 pm - Reply

      Have you ever used a ThinkTank Retrospective? Sure, I don’t carry a ton of gear when I use it (mostly for day-use or walk-around-city type of shooting). They have the MOST comfortable straps I have ever used with a camera bag. Use it side-by-side with a girly bag, even with a simple setup (let’s say, a Canon 5D3 and 24-70mm lens), and you’ll feel the weight a LOT more with the girly bag.

      Bottom line, I don’t need or want a purse for a camera bag. That’s where the girly bags go wrong. I don’t need it to be pink, or bright, or dainty. I am a professional female photographer with a different shape than a man, and I would like a professional bag that works for me and other female photographers.

      And sure, there is never the “perfect” bag. Even if I designed a line of bags, they wouldn’t be perfect for everyone. Our needs are different at different times, and they change over the years.

  4. Rob Follett October 14, 2014 at 9:46 am - Reply

    What Charlene is trying to say is “Sherpa”…. And I agree with her! I have the same gear as Nicole, and the words “comfortably wear” is an oxymoron….

  5. Carol October 14, 2014 at 10:24 am - Reply

    Totally agree with you Nicole. I have been searching for years for a good
    functional camera bag and have yet to discover it. Think Tank camera bags come close.

  6. Stephen Cupp October 14, 2014 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    Have you tried http://kellymoorebag.com/ I’ve seen a few and they look nice. As for me (a guy) I use the Think Tank Airport Security Roller Bag. I got tired of wearing all that gear so I roll it with me. I also have a Think Tank Urban Disguise if I just want to take the camera and two lenses with me.

    • Nicole S. Young October 14, 2014 at 4:41 pm - Reply

      Yes, I have. And that is one of the bags that prompted this post. It was so uncomfortable and could not seriously hold much more than a tiny body and plastic kit lens. Plus, with the type of work I do (travel/landscape) a roller bag is not practical. Plus I have a Pelican 1510 for that if I need one.

  7. Mel Rolleri November 17, 2014 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    have you tried the new gura gear uinta backpack? i’m planning on getting that one…..although all the reviews are from men. hope it’s just as comfy for ladies!!

  8. Avestra February 14, 2016 at 11:03 am - Reply

    My rant about products intended for women is very different from yours. I don’t like the feminine aesthetics (I hate pink, I hate glitter, and I love black and dark blue), so I have completely given up on products marketed for women. I buy my clothes, bags, wallets, even razors in men’s department. Men’s shirts have buttons on the right side (I am right handed, so that is more comfortable for me) and men’s pants have big and comfortable pockets (I don’t use make-up and carrying a purse for just my keys and wallet is too much pointless weight).

    I am very (androgynously) thin, so body shape is no issue for me, however I am shorter than most men. So my issue is that men’s stuff often isn’t available in my size. Backpacks are usually intended for people with a longer torso. The smallest shirt size in most stores is too big for me and so on.

    As for comfort while carrying photo gear, I prefer belt bags. Something like ThinkTank belt system or Spider Holster (for a quick access). Or a backpack with a good hip belt if I need to bring lots of stuff. Carrying weight on one shoulder is just too uncomfortable.

    I know that the self-appointed fashion police declares fanny packs to be not fashionable, but avoiding back pain is more important for me.

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