Being a photographer, camera bags are like shoes to my wife! I must have close to 10 different bags now and they are all suitable for different projects but no one bag does everything perfectly! I do have a couple of bags now that do most of everything that I need especially when it comes to travelling with my gear.
A few years ago we were travelling on a family vacation to Hawaii! I had my tripod attached to the outside of my Lowe Pro Vertex 300 Backpack. After we checked our bags the airline counter attendant asked me to put my backpack, that I was wearing on the scale. The bag came in at 37 Lbs. I was informed I could not carry the bag on unless I could reduce the weight to 25 Lbs! She then offered to check the bag. Asking if they would cover the 8,000.00 of camera gear in the bag if it was lost, she got her answer. The tripod immediately went in one of the checked bags and we started to divide up gear that I had. The Mrs.’s carry on got my 70-200 F2.8 L lens, my 580 EX Speedlight went in my sons bag and my rechargeable batteries and a my Canon Video camera went in my daughter’s bag. Finally the bag was light enough that I could carry it on board. Of course as soon as we got through security and at the gate, everything came out of the various bags and put back into the Lowe Pro and I was never bothered again.
I started searching for a new bag to use for travelling. As I typically carry a fair bit of gear I use one bag for transport to the final destination and another bag packed in the suitcase empty for day use wherever we are.I had heard a fair bit about Think Tank Bags and especially their Airport series so I took a very close look at them.
I ended up choosing the Think Tank Airport Airstream as my main travel bag. You see the bag itself is not overly large however I was amazed at what I could pack into the bag! The exterior dimensions of the bag are 14” Wide, 8” Deep and 17.5” High. It weighs in at 10 lbs with the dividers. There are a pair of roller wheels on the bottom and a handle. In addition there is a tripod holder on side of the bag, a small accessory pocket on the front side and an elastic pocket on the front designed for their Artificial Intelligence laptop bag or just a laptop itself. One of the nicest features of the bag are 3 built in TSA approved locks. One to lock the bag closed in case of gate checking it on a smaller aircraft. A built in cable lock that allows locking the bag to a table, desk, car etc. and another lock that allows locking of another item or bag(like the artificial intelligence) to this bag. The size of the bag meets all International and Domestic carry on size allowances and I have found that I can get it in the overhead bin of any aircraft I have travelled with it on.
The bag itself can accommodate up to a 400MM lens! My typical load out when I travel is one camera body, my 70-200 F4 IS lens, my 24 – 105 L lens, 430 EX II Flash, a 17 – 40 F4 L lens, 50mm F1.4 as well as my L bracket, wireless flash triggers, Rogue Diffuser, Sto Fen Diffuser, Lensbaby Composer and Sweet 35 optic, 1.4 Teleconverter, Vari ND Filter, Circular Polarizer, Sensor Loupe, Hoodman Loupe, memory cards, AA and AAA rechargeable Batteries, spare Canon batteries, lens pen, Op\Tech Rain Sleeves, remote triggers and lens cleaning cloths. All of this actually fits quite nicely in the bag. Then I put my laptop or Asus Android Tablet in the Artificial Intelligence bag and slide it into the front pocket.
While with all of this gear loaded in the bag it weighs well over the weight limit of most airlines, it’s small size doesn’t even get it a second glance.
Another option with this bag is that you can get an optional set of half height dividers. These free up 2” from the top of the bag down so that a laptop up to 15” can be stored inside the bag on top of your photo gear. I would like to see this bag have been offered with either the full height or the half height dividers and not be forced to purchase the second set. I have not yet purchased the half height dividers but will likely do so soon.
I have used this bag on several trips now and find that it is great for travelling! One of the disadvantages of this bag is that it is strictly a roller bag. It can’t be converted to a backpack style bag, however my laptop is usually in another backpack that I carry on board so I have no need for it to convert to a backpack. Think Tank does offer the Airport Takeoff bag that does feature hidden backpack straps but this bag is not as deep as the Airstream and is a little taller. If you are looking at a bag that can convert, I would suggest also looking at that bag.
My Day Bag
While my Airport Airstream bag is great if I am working out of a car or going to a location and working there, it isn’t great if I will be mobile and moving around. I have two bags that I usually pack with clothes and carry in my suitcase but one in particular has quickly become my favourite for day use. In the past I used a Kata 3N1 30 bag that is a sling/backpack style bag with enough room to carry my camera body with my 70-200 F28L or my 100-400 F4.5-5.6 L mounted on the body, 2 to 3 additional lenses, a flash and a variety of accessories (filters, batteries, light modifiers). However this summer I found a slightly smaller bag that has been my recent travelling companion.
I heard a little about the Lowepro Flipside Sport Bags on a podcast and so I decided to check it out. I went to the local camera store and had a look at the 2 models that were offered, the 10 litre and the 15 litre. After looking at the bag I decided on the 15L size. This bag will hold a camera body (with grip attached) with up to a 300MM F2.8 lens attached, 1-3 additional lenses, accessories and tripod or monopod on the outside. The bag exterior size is 10” wide, 9.1” deep and 16.9” high and weighs just 2.5 lbs. There is a side pocket that is designed to hold a water bottle, but I usually use it to hold spare batteries and accessories. The bag also features a built in rain cover, a built in tripod carrying system and a couple of hooks to hang other items from if needed.
The opening to the bag is on the inside (strap side) of the bag and the system is designed to be used with the waist belt. When wearing the waist belt you remove the shoulder straps, spin the bag around and can access the interior without needing to take the bag off. A couple of things I like about the interior opening is the fact that my gear is more secure when I am carrying the bag on my back and when I do need to get into the bag, especially in dirty or dusty conditions, the part of the bag that is on the ground is not the part that goes over my shoulders and only the outside of the bag gets dirty.
All of the gear inside the bag is stored in a padded camera box. There are additional flaps that can cover the gear in really bad weather and the entire camera box can come right out of the bag and it can then be used as a regular backpack.
The back of the bag is well vented and I have found that even in hot conditions where I am carrying the bag and all sweaty the bag does a good job of wicking moisture away and is well ventilated.
While I wish the bag was a little taller (the waist strap does sit fairly high on it) I have been able to adjust the bag so that I can easily carry it comfortably.
While I really likely this bag I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase a 20L version of this bag if Lowepro brought one out! Update (March 27, 2013) Lowepro has brought out a 20L version of the bag. Haven’t seen it in stores yet but will be sure to as soon as it is out!
While these two bags have met pretty much all of my travel needs over the last few trips, I find that there are still use my other bags depending on the shoot I am doing. I love my Kata 3N1 30 bag and my Lowepro Vertex300 also is used for some shoots. However I will continue to look for any other new bag that fits my needs as they come out.
Is there a camera bag that you can’t do without? Please share your favourites with our readers in the comments below!