If you have spent a lot of money on your digital SLR or compact system camera, you’ll want to keep it safe on your travels. We put a range of bags and cases to the test, judging them on practicality, capacity and looks.
Some are designed to carry a lot of kit, others just the basics. All those in our lineup offer removable dividers and padded protection for your equipment and many offer a whole lot more, including storage for laptops and tablets, the ability to carry a tripod, and weatherproof covers and finishes to keep the rain at bay. Some, like the Billingham and Gitzo, are beautiful to look at and will turn heads, while others, like the Trakke, are highly practical and slip inside existing bags to keep costs down.
Gitzo Century Traveler Messenger: £145, Wex Photo
Our Best Buy – celebrating Gitzo’s 100th anniversary – is stylish yet super-practical. The Italian leather trim with its carbon fibre-look finish oozes quality, and there are some great features including a magnetic clasp, which locks the main flap in place when you let it close. For easy access there’s a zip the full length of the main flap so you can reach your camera quickly and discreetly. Two of the side pockets have locking zips for extra security and there’s room inside for a DSLR with 18-200mm lens plus a couple of lenses and a flash. A 13in laptop slides into a padded slot at the rear of the main compartment, and there’s a fold out rain cover in one of the outer pockets to keep the weather off that smart nylon and leather body. You’ll find space for phones, notebooks, pens and other small items in a zipped section at the front, while a zip across the bottom of the bag hides a handy fold-out holder for a smaller tripod.
Thule Aspect DSLR Backpack: £120, Wex Photo
Heading out into the hills for a serious landscape photography session? This whopper could be for you. Thule is better known for roofboxes and bike racks, but it has come up trumps with this spacious carrier. The main padded section will hold a DSLR with medium-sized zoom lens, a couple of spare lenses, and all your bits and bobs. At the back is a zipped section big enough for a 15in laptop, and on top is another zipped compartment for clothes, food or other items. The padded shoulder straps and belt made it super-comfy to carry, even over longer distances and tough terrain while fully loaded, and there’s a loop and pocket on the side to take a medium-sized tripod.
Tenba Tools BYOB 10: £29.99, Amazon
Not everyone wants, or needs, a separate bag for their camera gear. The handy little “bring your own bag” insert will keep your kit safe while slipped inside a rucksack or shoulder bag. It appears quite small yet we squeezed in a DSLR with 18-200mm lens, spare camera body, a 50mm lens plus a small flashgun. There are stretchy side pockets for a phone or other items, plus a zipped section in the lid for cables or filters. You also get a D-ring on the outside to attach your keys. Take out the padded dividers and you can fold it flat to stow away when not in use.
Osprey Ultralight XL: £28, Amazon
Despite its XL label, this holster-style, padded holder is suited to smaller DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. We liked the sculpted shape and found it perfect for our trusty Nikon D3300 with 18-55mm kit lens. The main compartment offered a snug fit with no room for the camera to rattle around. There’s a belt loop with velcro closure, plus a padded strap with pad if you want to sling it over a shoulder. There is little room for anything other than a camera inside, although there are elasticated side pockets and a zipped section in the lid where you can store a couple of flat items. Buy it if you want protection without the need to haul around a larger bag.
Lowepro Flipside 200 AW II: £104, Amazon
It’s a smaller backpack than the Thule but this still holds a serious amount of kit. Along with our DSLR and a couple of lenses it carried a flashgun, charger and 8in tablet. There’s also plenty of space for notebooks, pens, maps and a loop for your keys. For added security, you access the main compartment from the body side – perfect for on the Tube as no-one can pilfer your camera in a crowded carriage. With your arms out of the straps and the waist belt in place you can flip the bag down in front of you to reach your equipment without putting it on the floor. There’s room for a medium-sized tripod and a water bottle in the side pockets plus there’s a fold out rain cover.
National Geographic MC5350: £179.95, Manfrotto
When travelling, it’s not always a great idea to draw attention to your expensive camera kit. This summery-looking backpack licensed by the makers of the US magazine looks more like a bag you would tote your shades and suncream in. Pull out the section housing your camera gear and you can turn it into a full-on beach holdall – but make sure you keep any sand away from your equipment. In photography format it will hold a DSLR with zoom, a couple of smaller lenses, a flashgun and plenty of bits and bobs. There’s a padded, zipped section at the back to hold a laptop, plus a loop at one side to secure a tripod. We found the padded harness with chest strap really comfortable in use, and there’s a handy grab handle at the top.
Manfrotto Pro Light FastTrack-8 PL: £109, Wex Photo
Here’s a clever idea that will attract urban snappers – a sling bag which does away with the need for a separate camera strap. You replace it with the included lockable attachments, clip them to the sling and away you go. When you’ve finished shooting, just slide the bag around your chest and put the camera away. It takes a bit of getting used to, but we grew to really like it. The top pocket on the bag is big enough to hold a DSLR with shorter zoom – in our case an 18-55mm – and there is room inside the bag for spare lenses and other kit. There’s also a padded and zipped section at the back for a 9in tablet.
Trakke Camera Bag Insert: £95, Trakke
If you bought Trakke’s Wee Lug Mk2 – our messenger bags Best Buy – you’ll appreciate this bright orange accessory made from tough, dry-waxed cotton. It’s also designed to work with the Glasgow firm’s new Bannoch messenger. It’s a really simple design – just a big orange insert with padding and moveable dividers which you can custom fit to your camera kit. A velcro lid, carrying handles and removable shoulder strap mean you can also use it as a standalone bag in an emergency, freeing up extra capacity in your messenger. It easily held our Nikon DSLR, two zoom lenses, a flashgun and a spare camera body.
Billingham Hadley Small Pro: £200, Jessops
We couldn’t review camera bags without including something from Billingham, a favourite with press photographers the world over. This smaller offering from their range is unashamedly old-fashioned, but exquisite. We loved the detailing, especially the brass “clogballs” on the lid which you push through the leather closing straps. Securing them is fiddly at first but as the leather grows more supple you’ll manage it one-handed. Billingham’s Stormblock material incorporates butyl rubber bonded between two layers of fabric, so you don’t need to worry about the weather getting in. If you can’t be parted from your bag, whip out the padded camera insert – which held our DSLR with 18-200mm zoom, a 50mm lens and flash – and you can use it as an everyday bag. There’s a leather-backed grab handle, plus a canvas strap for which you can buy a leather pad for extra comfort. It’s available in a six colours including smart sage and chocolate through to a vibrant red.
The Verdict: DSLR and compact system camera bags and cases
We really liked the Gitzo both in terms of looks and practicality. It’s not too big to be cumbersome, nor so small that it limits your equipment choices. The cavernous Thule will suit anyone out for a day’s serious shooting, but if you are looking for old-school style and adore leather, brass and canvas then dig deep and go for the Billingham – properly looked after, it could last you for decades.
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