Combination of protection, versatility, and mobility.

The problem with a huge photo bag is that you don’t need 80% of what’s in it, 75% of the time.

The solution is simple: don’t use your huge photo bag all the time. For the times when you are shooting with minimal accessories, you can get by with a much smaller bag/sac/case. Of course, you want to be pretty assured that you really aren’t going to need what you won’t have… but for the most part that’s a safe bet, and worth the mobility and versatility of a smaller pack.

My current small bag setup consists of the Lowepro Toploader 75 Pro AW… a shoulder-carry holster that fits a pro-sized DSLR and 70-200 ƒ2.8 lens with enough room left for a cleaning cloth or two. It has an all-weather shell that stores in a hidden pocket, a three-point detachable shoulder harness, and a few incredibly useful pockets and compartments — note the lenspen-sized pen pouch on the front of the bag — for accessories, spare cards, and batteries.

The opening on the top is nicely shaped for grabbing the camera quick-draw style. There is an older version of this bag that lacked the side opening and pronounced dip for the hand grip of the camera… suffice to say that both are intensely satisfying design elements. This bag that does whatever a demanding, sensible shooter wants it to. Even if you’re not using the AW cover, or not in the elements at all, this bag takes a beating. It’s got a great, rigid structure and tough materials… as well as bonded zippers for strength and weather protection.

To this marvel I’ve attached a tamrac lens pouch that fits either of my wide or normal tamron lenses. Also attached is an M sport watter bottle and pouch, which is perfect for a nikon SB600.

The ability to carry a wide zoom lens, speedlight, and long telephoto gives me immense power, and the whole package is small enough to fit in a messenger bag. This saturday I put this in my messenger bag and biked from Eastlake to the top of West Seattle and back. 20 miles, and even with all the weight in my messenger bag, I had no problems or soreness. With a large photo backpack, I would have had to ditch the messenger bag completely and stuff my dirty biking tools and supplies into the photo pack… and with a smaller camera bag I would have had to forgo the protection of this setup and likely leave the fast tele lens at home.

This particular setup isn’t too modular. I would hate to have to carry all three components everywhere… but I think the modular setup is extremely useful for keeping the load light and specialized for those trips where you might find any type of picture around the corner.

This particular Lowepro product gets my approval for any and all pro use. If you aren’t looking to make high quality images, just bring a small pocket sized camera. If you are… travel smart. Don’t bring what will only weigh you down, but make sure you’re not stuck without the tools you need.

As nice as mobility is, there’s something to be said for never being without a piece of equipment. For the most demanding shoots, or the photographer who needs to create a studio space with only what is on his back, I’d recommend having something a little more formidable than a feature-packed holster like the Toploader Pro series.

My big bag is a medium sized Tenba Shootout backpack. It’s less professional looking, with a stylish green two tone colorway that looks at home on the bus or on a mountain.

tenba shootout backpack

It's a bag with quality and features coming out of its ears. Yes, it has ears.

This bag does a ton. The front pocket is a tripod carrying system that has three ‘modes’ for all different sizes of tripods. The inside has reconfigurable dividers and enough space for around 7 lenses and two bodies. The side compartments allow access to the main pocket and also house tethers for battery and card pouches, which are included. The pouches also can be attached to the main straps of the bag, any of the many clipping systems, or the incredibly supportive lumbar strap. The back laptop slot is spacious, protective, and easy to use.

This bag is excellent for travel, location shooting, and local transport.

Get a pack that works according to your usage and needs. Just be sure that if your usage and needs vary, you can vary your packs to give you the best performance.

Before I had the Toploader, I’d use this bag to shoot events. I was too tempted to bring every flash trigger, tripod and light stand I own. The four or five components I’d ever need would have to be left with the bag, which became far too large and bulky to use in close quarters and crowds.

If you’re shooting in the great outdoors, you don’t want something that’s going to fall apart on you. A set of small pouches and bags that fall around eachother become more trouble than they’re worth, and the drawbacks of a modular system become apparent.

For travel, a modular system is just more to lose or have stolen.

The tenba system is phenomenal because you can access sections of the main compartment without taking the bag off, but you don’t have to leave anything exposed or hanging off the outer shell of the bag.

No system is perfect, but with quality packs like these you really can’t go wrong.


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