Everything is a compromise – bags are no exception.
Whatever your looking for these days we are spoilt for choice. There are loads of cameras, lenses and bags to carry it all in. But (you knew there was a but coming) when you get down to it most choices are a compromise. One way or another we don’t seem to get everything we want. Cameras don’t always have a certain feature or accessory available. That lens is too heavy or the wrong aperture or too big or… and that bag is never quite what we want. Wrong design, colour, material, internal padding too much or insufficient. To be fair sometimes we want to have our cake, eat it and expect desert on top. Unrealistic price / performance expectations come into it.
The killer featured DSLR will not sell for the price of a consumer model. The triple stitched leather strapping on an all leather bag will cost. That F2.8 zoom lens is bigger and heavier than the f5.6 zoom, of course it’s going to cost more. Then there is all the stuff inside the bodies and lenses (and bags) that we cant see. Different materials, coatings etc they will all affect the cost.
So what do we do? We compromise. Within a given budget we accept the things we want most, a combination of value, price, quality, weight, size, feel, features and anything else you can think of. This applies to most purchases we make, cars being a good example. Before I digress too far though back to bags.
We all look for the last bag. I have various messenger bags and backpacks and all of them are a compromise in some way. I have a Billingham bag. It’s a nice bag, swallows load of gear and looks good. I rarely take it out because of its the size and weight. Messenger bags are OK until I go out on a walk. While holding all my needs photographically, I struggle to carry a drink and a bit of food.
My camera specific backpack presents the same issue. Loads of space, well padded but quite bulky. There could well be bags out there that will do both, but these were bought within a budget and to fit the gear I thought I would carry at the time. I also don’t want something that overtly advertises a manufacturer or makes it obvious I have bag of gear. To be honest I think someone might be disappointed if they did swipe it.
So in continuing my search for a more suitable bag I decided to give ‘the insert’ a chance. These are bags of various designs and sizes that fit inside another bag. In other words you bring your own bag. This is also a brand name of an insert made by Tenba (BYOB). Now I’m not suggesting everyone go out and buy an insert, far from it. For some photographers they will be no good at all, those with anything bigger than a cropped sensor DSLR, or wide aperture glass will struggle. All I’m saying is I’m trying one to see if it works for the gear I carry and how I go out and take photographs.
After some research I decided to buy one with internal measurements of 25x15x10.5cm (no it wasn’t a Tenba). I didn’t want to spend too much as it was a bit touch and go as to whether it would meet my needs. It will fit my DX kit – a Nikon DSLR with 18-55mm kit lens, a 55-200mm zoom, three Cokin P size filters – polarizer, ND grad and full ND – with holder, spare cards and a spare battery. I always carry spare cards and a battery to avoid the camera becoming a paperweight when out and about. My Nikon is pretty good battery wise ( I rarely chimp or use live view when out and about) but I like to have a spare.
With the insert I can now use my range of hiking daysacks, backpacks and any other bag the loaded insert will fit into. I can go out with a non de-script daysack with my gear and enough munchies to keep me going all day. I no longer look like a walking vending machine with food and drink shoved in every available pocket.
One advantage is that you are carrying a minimum of gear. In reality those two lenses cover most of my casual photography needs. Thom Hogan calls it ‘The leave out the middle go DX as light as possible option (The Galen)’ full article here. If I’m going out for a specific purpose I will carry gear accordingly.
I am not one of those photographers that carries everything ‘just in case’, (sometimes I might take the camera out with just one lens and a battery). Is my ‘day kit’ a compromise? Certainly. Both of the lenses are F5.6 at the long end. Shooting ability in low light is restricted and as this is a ‘consumer’ kit it wont take a whole lot of abuse. On the plus side I do have two reasonable lenses that cover a good range of focal lengths with not much weight. Camera and both lenses weigh less than a kilo (or around 2.2lb for our non metric friends). It wouldn’t be the end of the world if the gear was damaged, dropped or some other calamity happened. I can carry this kit all day without feeling like I’ve done a military exercise. It’s probably lighter than the wife’s handbag 🙂
So, I think whether we realise it or not (or do it sub consciously) we make compromises. I will post an update on how the insert has lived up to my shooting style.