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Don’t Be Limited By The ‘Camera Bag’ Shelf | Turn Any Bag Into A Camera Bag

By Kishore Sawh on May 20th 2015


I know I’m not alone out there with my disdain for the average camera-bag, or in fact, most camera bags. The evolution of the camera bag has only now reached the intersection of utility and design, whereas before it remained strictly at the dead-end of utility. Those who thought otherwise are to be found at the intersection of Ego & Denial.

Still, most camera bags still sort of shout that they are camera bags, in turn, pegging you as a photographer. Of course, there are a few companies changing this, ONA, being one and UNDFIND another, but if you manage to break free from the restrictive ‘camera bag’ shelf, there is a world of options that look better, and now with the common availability of inserts of all kinds, you can turn any bag into a camera bag. In the video herein, Caleb Pike from DSLR Video Shooter shares how he converts messenger bags and backpacks into unique camera carrying solutions, as stylish and functional as he would like. The key to doing this successfully, according to Pike, is to “…keep your in-bag gear packed the same way.”

He uses 3 different packing solutions that are easy enough to procure:

Domke Wraps

Constructed of padded knit nylon with a non-scratch nylon backing, these squares can be wrapped around small cameras, lenses, electronic flashes, tools, or anything else that will fit inside a bag or case. Touch fastener tabs on all four corners allow them to be wrapped in any shape. They seem easy enough to use, and surprisingly strong hold. They come in a series of sizes and colors and are also inexpensive with prices starting around $11.

Porta Brace Lens Cups

These are single lens protectors designed to carry and protect a Canon, Nikon or many other lens brands. They are lightweight, and the cup is padded with soft polyfill with nylon interior lining. The exterior is lined with soft Veltex and can be easily connected to the lining of Porta Brace divider kit interiors for added padding and stabilization of the camera. Also available in various sizes and even for Cine lenses, and start around $20.

Porta Brace Stuff Sacks

These are simply padded nylon pouches with a zippered top that you can use to store all kinds of random peripherals we all carry with us. They come in various sizes, and you can get a pack of 3 for $30.

[REWIND: Tenba Packlite | New Lightweight, Collapsible, & Self-Stowing Camera Bags For Cheap]

Personal Choice


My Belstaff ‘camera bag’

I often get asked which bag I use so I’ll share here. Typically, I use Belstaff bags because I like things that look good, rugged, can take a beating, and still manage to be timeless. Granted they’re quite pricey, even more so than ONA bags, but there’s little better than old British military design, flared in Italy. The problem I had originally, is that it offers little protection should the bag drop, as I found out after taking a fall climbing a Tor near home in Devon. One broken lens later, I had to find inserts. I’ve used everything from Domke inserts to the inserts from a Kelly Moore bag, and they work like a charm. My advice, if you’re looking for a bag you can use while traveling or small assignments, skip the usual, and just modify the one you want.

You can find more from DSLR Video Shooter on this topic in their blog post, on their site.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ralph Hightower

    Heck, I take what is an unassuming lunch bag into work each day with me. It is a Subzero lunch bag that I use to take one or two cameras with me to work. The Canon A-1 and F-1N can fit in the bag with prime lenses (28mm, 50mm) attached or the 5D Mk III with the 24-105 f4L; but usually, I carry one of the film cameras in the bag.

    The wraps mentioned in the video will provide additional protection.

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  2. seoras logan

    One of my favourite small bags was a ‘workers’ course canvas bag, could be called a lunch bag (?) that I bought for £7. Ideal for a m4/3 + lens. Plus a little padding added.

    I also wonder why so many people buy usually expensive and heavy camera backpacks rather than improvise with adaptable padding, using more convenient and definitely more cost effective backpacks.

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  3. Mads Helmer Petersen

    Any one having a link to a web page where I can buy stuff like the things shown in the video ?

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    • adam sanford

      Sure, go to the original article @ dslrvideoshooter at the link below:

      All the items have blue links (in the text below the video) that take you to B&H or Amazon.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      MADS, you can click on the prices and product names in this article to be taken straight to B&H for each product. Cheers

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  4. Thomas Horton

    This is great. Often photographers ask about a bag that does not look like a camera bag. Unfortunately, most of the time they are advised to buy a bag from a camera bag manufacture. I have not seen any camera bag, made by a camera bag manufacturer that did not look like a camera bag… especially when the manufacturer’s name is on it.

    To be truly low-observable, it is important to chose a bag that blends in with the other people and the way you are dressed. Using inserts then makes the insides a camera bag, without changing the outside.

    Military surplus bags are strong, comfortable, usually inexpensive, and tend to blend in with certain cultures.

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  5. Paddy McDougall

    There are loads of inserts on amazon, I bought one for £19 which fits inside a north face rucksack which has room for a ipad. I take it on holiday as travel on luggage and it has room with the insert to also take change of clothes and other assorted holiday stuff. It takes a dslr, wide angle lens, 24-70l 50mm and Colin z series filters. When I get somewhere I use it as a day bag. Wouldn’t go back to camera bags.

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  6. David Blanchard

    Like most photographers, I have lotsa bags. They would be ever so much more useful if you could by inserts. I do use a system as shown here ford offline lens storage, but usually avoid that bag for everyday.

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    • adam sanford

      Tenba sells inserts for many sizes of bags. I drop them into all sorts of odd satchels I own.

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    • adam sanford

      Kishore, I have to roll my eyes at folks who (correctly) avoid putting their gear in telltale black foam coffins only to replace them with super pricey style pieces like Ona, Bellstaff, Billingham, etc. In one swift move, you gone from ‘photographer’ to ‘bougie world traveler worth mugging’. :-P

      I strongly suggest photographers buy into an *insert system* and not a bag design. I use Tenba inserts (they have many) and I can drop them into any one of a half dozen satchels I have for various needs — one is tiny, another is waterproof, another is breathable, another has a laptop chamber, another is simple/discreet, another is huge, etc. That way, the bag itself becomes a chameleon skin that changes as your needs do, but your gear remains protected and consistently organized.

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    • David Blanchard

      I checked out the Tenba site and was not overwhelmed with options. One idea I have tried with some success is visiting secondhand store looking for orphan bags of one sort or another. Often for a song I pick up a bag with reusable inserts. Bag gets dumped and inserts go into a bank.

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    • adam sanford


      I have a jillion leftover dividers from other bags that I’m not using, but I personally prefer a 5-sided insert with smooth outer walls like this one:

      So I can load 1-2 of these into a bag for a complete loadout, and I can easily slide them out of one bag an into another. Their other system, the BYOB, has a number of sizes, but basically works the same way:

      YMMV, but setups like these are modular, consistent, and turn a crappy canvas sack or laptop bag into a photo bag in a jiffy. I love them.

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    • David Blanchard

      @Adam If you need somebody to take those nasty ” jillion leftover dividers” off your hands, let me know :-)

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  7. PJ Gang

    I’ve done that with bubble wrap, and it work, ok but this look more stable.

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  8. Brandon Dewey

    Awesome, Ive been looking for something like this to protect my camera gear when i take my son hiking with me have i have to use my child carrier backpack.

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  9. Jason Markos

    I have the same Belstaff bag and love it – depending on what I’m doing, I sometimes use some form of padding for the camera. But without padding, it makes the bag much more comfortable when you using the camera and the bag is empty.

    Being a long time fan of Belstaff kit for on the bike, I confess I am also swayed by the looks ;)

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