You’ve got the plane tickets, booked the accommodation, maybe arranged a photo guide and spent months reading the guide books! The time to pack comes and you eagerly load up your camera equipment. Then you pick up the bag and realise that all that f2.8 glass and those big bodies weigh as much as a small child and that this will give you a number of problems on your travels.
Not including the carry bag, a basic kit of 2 pro grade bodies, a 70-200 VR, a 17-35 f 2.8, a 1.7 teleconverter and a 50mm f1.4 will weigh in around the 6kg (13lbs) level – plus batteries, chargers and so on.
Few photographers are willing to check in their equipment (although I have read of some in the USA who use FedEx to ship Pelican cases to location when they are travelling within the US) so that means you need it with you as carry on luggage. The carry on limit is usually 7kg, so in this scenario you cannot use any bag weighing more than 1 kg (2.2lbs) empty.
Given that most roller bags and camera backpacks weigh in at around the 3-4 kg mark when empty (around 7lbs) they are not useful in this scenario. The Think Tank Ultralight backpack might just get you aboard if you fill your coat pockets with the batteries and cables!
Also, of course, you need to work at the other end and personally backpacks are no help to me for this. I simply don’t want to put down the bag in the dirt, mud, dust – or worse – whilst I fiddle about getting whatever I wanted, only to decide a few minutes later that I actually wanted something else and have to do it all again….!
It is hard to find a space in the Souk to take your pack off, doing so risks the attention of thieves and pickpockets and at the same time you are exposing your kit to the dust, dirt, monsoon or whatever is happening where you are at the time.
Ah – the traditional shoulder bag must be the solution you cry! No. Great for working from, keeps the gear close and all of that. However, if you set off for a long day shooting in steamy Malacca in temperatures of 38 C (100 F) with 7kg (15lbs) dragging one shoulder down, you will soon regret it. Then next time some of that stuff will stay in the hotel and you’ll suddenly see that award-winning shot that you need the lens you left behind in order to get!
I have even contemplated doing whole trips with just a Canon G11 or something and leaving everything else at home! Of course, a Leica M9 would save a lot of hassle, but at NZ$ 10,000 just for the body – and manual focus only, which my eyes are not really good enough for these days – it’s not a viable option really because for so many other assignments, a DSLR is a better tool so I’d need to invest in two systems.
There is a solution! Beltpacks. I use the Think Tank Speed series – usually the Speed Racer. They have the ability to hide the belt away and become shoulder bags for more urban travel and to accept an optional backpack harness. The gear is close at hand when working, the hip belts wide and comfortably padded. The belts also accept the Think Tank Modular and Skin system pouches to increase carrying capability. I usually have the water bottle pouch on one side and a lens pouch on the other.
Unless someone invents the ideal camera bag, photographers will continue to confound their significant others with an ever increasing collection of bags! I have 9 at last count.
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