Equipment review – a camera bag that is a joy to use

The occupational hazard of photography is the continuous accumulation of gear and the subsequent need to have it all with you.  Camera bags slightly larger than purses once accommodated all the needs of the roving image maker.  Now it seems a rolling steam trunk barely holds all the camera bodies, lenses, cables, batteries, memory cards and assorted gadgets needed to successfully create photographs.

My camera backpack once snugly held all my gear, all I needed to get out in the woods and make pictures.  Obviously a little education is a dangerous thing as evidenced by the multiplying effect photography school has had on the contents of my bag.  What was once a convenient tool is now a burden, an overstuffed, taxing impediment to my outdoor photography enjoyment.  Each time I see a composition I’m interrupted by:  take off the bag, find a level place to put the bag, unzip the bag completely, open the bag completely, dig around to find what I need and take it out, take the photograph, reverse all steps in order to move on.

Sure, I know great photographers can take landscapes, portraits and macro flower pictures with one camera and lens but I’m just not there yet in my skills.  What I need is an accessible, smaller, more utilitarian tool.  And the will to decide what’s the fewest gear I need for a session.

For the tool, I’ve found one that is working.  Sling bags offer the carrying ease of a backpack with the accessibility of a shoulder bag.  They do this by sliding from you back  around to your chest to offer a small window into the bag.  After some at-the-store research (yes, I carried all my stuff there to see what fit the best…great help from Mark at Rockbrook Camera!) I decided on the LowePro SlingShot.  Been using it for almost two weeks and it’s great for my needs.

You can read all the features and benefits of this bag here.  I selected it over other brands because the side opening was larger and had two opening options:  partially and fully.  This means if I only need my camera I unzip it partially; if I need to rearrange the contents I open it completely.  And there’s the little things that appeal to my sense of good design.  The rainflap is built into a pocket.  There are covered flaps for memory cards.  There’s an elastic band inside the top pocket to hold a cellphone or external hard drive.  Why they even put a small microfiber cloth in the main compartment, always available to clean your lens (or glasses).  There is a small loop and pouch for a monopod (or small tripod) but I think that would just get in the way of the in-the-field use of the bag.

Use is, well, easy.  Pick up the bag with your left hand, raise it over your head and down to your right shoulder and you are ready to go.  When you want to shoot, reach back and grab the bag, slide it around and up to your chest, unzip the flap, reach in for your camera and go.  You can even rest your elbows on the bag while shooting – a built-in image stabilizer!  So far while using the SlingShot I’ve only had to take it off once I was done and putting it away in the car!  Easy to carry in the field?  When in the backpack position there is a snap-lock piece of webbing that comes around your right side to secure the main strap and keep the bag in place on your back.

Does it carry all my gear?  No, hardly, but it forces me to think, plan, and decide – what gear do I really need for this session?  And this is just good practice on the part of any photographer.  Thinking about what gear means you’re thinking about possible compositions, which means you’re visualizing and working both sides of your brain.  Do that and creating those great images will become easier.