The Camera (Bag) Adds Ten Pounds
Some photographers work in the studio. Others of us load what we need on our backs and head out. Whether the destination is only a mile away or much further, we need a way to carry it. Over the years, I've purchased my fair share of camera bags. I still own enough that stacked up, they create quite a mountain. And in all those years and all those camera bags, I noticed a few general laws that seem to bear out.
First off, no one camera bag works well in all situations. If I'm just shooting around town, a modest sized bag slung over my shoulder works well. It's easy to reach the contents, but the bag can also be kept out of the way when I don't need to. Stuffed to its limits though and carried for some distance, shoulder bags can get somewhat uncomfortable. Even alternating which shoulder is carrying the load, at some point I find that I long for a bag that balances the load more equitably.
When I shoot on the beach, I prefer a waist bag or fanny pack. Large ones can carry a reasonable amount comfortably while still providing access to the contents without taking the bag off. Water, waves and sand are enemies of camera equipment. A shoulder bag might work, but they have a tendency to swing around from one side of you to the other when you bend over, and I really don't want my gear to go for an unexpected bath in the ocean.
Long before photographers discovered it, backpackers and infantrymen alike had determined the best way to carry heavy loads. The backpack is elegant in its simplicity. Two shoulder straps allow loads to be aligned with the body's natural center of gravity. Modern camera backpacks, as with modern backpacking backpacks, have gone far beyond this simplicity by adding hip belts and computer designed harness systems to increase comfort even further. For longer hikes, my favorite bag type by far is the backpack but they aren't without downsides. Most notably, it's nearly impossible to get at the contents without taking the bag off your back. All your gear is behind you. Even if you can reach around and scratch your own back, I defy you to get at the contents of a camera backpack while wearing it. If you're going to be doing more hiking than shooting, this won't be an issue, but if you want to shoot much along the way, you'll find yourself constantly taking off and putting back on your load. If you can deal with this inconvenience, a backpack can hold a lot more comfortably than any other method.
While in use, most camera bags tend to be full. You can think of camera bags as being the real basis of the old adage about closet size. No matter how big one may be, they're never big enough. Even my biggest camera backpack has its limits, and I've done my level best to exceed those limits on occasion. The lens you leave behind in the car may well be the one you wish you had with you some miles down the trail. If it will fit, the temptation to squeeze more lens or accessory into that back can be hard to overcome. I find I almost need to limit how much I carry with me by choosing a bag size first and then fill it, rather than attempting to choose a bag big enough to carry the collection of gear I want to bring. If I attempt the latter, I'm sure to end up carrying more than my back will appreciate.
Just as with most things, good camera bags don't generally come cheap. Occasionally, good deals can be had, but most of the time you get what you pay for, and top of the line camera bags can easily run over three hundred dollars. Each. And I'd suggest not skimping either. From personal experience, there's nothing more inconvenient than having a bag strap or zipper fail while in the field. A camera bag that isn't reliable isn't worth owning. Remember that all the expensive camera gear inside that bag can't be any safer than the safety provided by the bag that holds it.
Big bags not only allow you to carry more weight, they weigh more themselves. At least when you get up into the territory of camera backpacks, the weight of the bag itself shouldn't be ignored. A top of the line (in terms of capacity) camera bag can weigh between five and ten pounds. That's way more than a good camera and lens combined. Or is it "weigh" more? Of course that ten pound bag can hold a good thirty pounds of gear, but all this does add up. In a sense, the camera bag is a necessary evil, but it is interesting to consider their weight in relation to what's inside them.
One more point I'd like to bring up: keep your camera bag clean. A brand new bag can be a great way to transport your gear. After using one for long enough, it is sure to accumulate a degree of dirt and crud inside. That's just what happens when you frequently lay them on the ground and open them up to the elements. When you get home from a trip, don't just put your bag away. Take enough time out to empty the bag and vacuum it out before storing it. Your expensive camera equipment will thank you for it.
If you've shopped for a camera bag lately, you know the choices are practically limitless. Camera bags come in all sizes and all shapes. Clearly that shouldn't be taken literally, but it can sure seem that way. And as interest in digital photography has permeated deeper and deeper into the general public, the choices have continued to grow. New brands and new options pop up frequently. Picking one from this vast array can indeed be a daunting task. Keep in mind that if you haven't got more than one bag already, you probably will at some point.