Most of us start the same way - you buy your first camera and maybe the salesman throws in a camera pouch so your precious new toy does not get damaged. Kit lens, one memory card - nothing else needed to take photos of your family important moments or capture holidays. Some of us however will be searching for more, some of us will "catch that bug" and after a while with the kit lens will understand that they need more. Additional lens will be the next purchase, spare battery, extra memory cards, maybe a flash gun. Your photos are improving, your camera goes with you everywhere, you experiment, photography becomes your passion. Then comes the time when you start looking for something to haul all this equipment in - something that will be comfortable, that will keep your camera safe and secure and something that would be stylish - preferably!
My serious photographic journey began about twelve years ago and I quickly realised the importance of a decent camera bag - however there was always something more important to purchase and in the beginning I used a "normal" backpack instead and I would wrap my camera in a piece of clothing to keep it secure. Then there were some cheap, poorly made "camera bags" that would manage to keep my gear relatively secure but were a far cry from stylish or sturdy.
Today - well today it is different. First of all - I have way more equipment then I used to...Secondly, I learned, the hard way, that there is no substitute for quality. It has taken me years to learn photography and a part of this learning was also to find out what bag/backpack works for the kind of photography I do.
This article will be about that - about the search for the perfect camera bag!
I specialise in adventure/travel and sports photography - it is both my passion and full time job. You can read about my last big assignment here. Oceans, deserts, ice, mountains, caves are my playground. Not only am I not in the studio where you are far from the elements but most of the time I will be far from a car, electricity and shelter. My camera equipment needs to get there with me and usually the way to get to locations I shoot involves long treks, climbs or cycling.
Initially I searched for one camera bag to do it all - to be with me on the plane, at the back of the jeep thrown from left to right, on an assignment and when climbing on the wall somewhere in the mountains - ohh and ideally this bag could also hold some everyday neccessities like clothes, torch, some food. And two or three speedlights too! Lastly - I wanted that bag to house my mac Book and be presentable enough to use it as an everyday office work bag, without breaking the bank too :) After years of trying and even in act of desperation thinking about designing my own bag I finally realised that what I am searching for does not exist. I realised that it would have to be a combination of bags/backpacks and cases in order to fulfil the list of my requirements.
Sturdy and safe to withstand long rides at the back of the jeep or flights. Smart looking for business meetings and corporate assignment where small amount of equipment is used and the elements are not a threat. Comfortable, packable and solid to haul a mini studio on location. Pelican case model 1510 (see the photos above) ticks the first box. Lowe Pro Urban Reporter 350 for everyday business use. What about the last one - the most important one, the backpack that would allow me to trek/climb to locations with a few lenses and at least two camera bodies?
I heard about Think Tank before - never had a chance to use anything from these guys before however. One day - after paying 400 eur for fixing my 70-200 2.8 after being used in rain I purchased Think Tank Hydrophobia and was I blown away with the quality - 10 out of 10, great design perfectly made albeit a bit costly.
Same as with Hydrophobia it is crafted with thought and quality - really top class materials and design. Apart from the pack there are also straps that allow you to attach a tripod and rain cover. I am a stickler for quality but there was nothing I could find that would make me worried that it might brake. The first assignment I took the shapeshifter with me was Tough Mudder Ireland. It was tough - I can take desert, I can take frost, snow and jungle but one thing I hate when taking photos is rain. Long day with Nikon d4s, Nikon d810, 70-200 2.8 and 24-70 2.8 plus some strobes on my back. Twelve long, wet and miserable hours of mud and rain. The course was ca 12 miles long taking the participants from grassy fields, through forests and lakes and back to the finish line. I had to move between obstacles swiftly in order to catch the best parts of the action. My means of transportation was a Fat bike - and Shapeshifter was perfect here. On my back, my hands were free, comfortable - covered with rain cover. My gear came back home without a scratch!
Very often I take photos of various cycling races where I use either my own motorbike (I can then easily follow the cyclists) or I am being a pillion passenger on a motorbike when someone else is driving it. This allows me to take some unique shots while in motion. In both cases I need a way to store my gear where it is easily accessible and my hands are free.
The Shape Shifter has been with me everywhere for the last 45 days - and I shoot 2-3 times a week - from Tough Mudder through Challenge Galway and all the Irish Skoda Cycling Events and finishing in the forests of Mayo shooting for Kona bikes. It is a comfortable, well designed and beautifully made backpack for serious photographers. Below are some photos of what can actually goes into the pack with me.
As you can see it can take quite a lot - jacket, torch, think tank hydrophobia, rain cover, led lights, pocket wizards, nikon d4s, Nikon f100 (yes, I shoot film too), Nikon d810, 17-35 2.8, 300mm f4, two speedlights, spare batteries, wallet, mp3 player,glasses. It will also take my Mac Book pro 15. A video below shows how all this goes inside the pack.
All this fits nicely and pack still is comfortable to carry - be it on a back of the motorbike or riding a fatbike. I have taken it through it's paces and it delivered - with a small hitch that I was actually happy to find as without that one might accuse me of lack of objectivity. The name of the pack (Shapeshifter) comes from a fact that it can be transformed from a regular looking backpack that can be used as your everyday office/college pack into a full size small studio carrying pack. See pictures below.
So where is the hitch? The zip - and do not get me wrong, the zips are as sturdy as it comes - maybe even too sturdy. When you unload the pack and want to revert to it's "civilian" shape the zip can sometimes catch the fabric underneath. It can catch it so well that it can take a few minutes to free it up again.
Ok, time for some conclusions - this is a good product - it is extremely well made (you just know that your son/daughter will be getting it as a gift in 20 years time). It is very comfortable - even when packed to the brim. It can be used as your office on the go as it has so many pockets for Laptops, notepads, books, files, keys, cards and anything in between.
Finally - it can fit a small studio when needed that will comfortably rest on your back until it is needed.
In the end - photography is not about equipment, lenses or packs - these things are just tools and for me it is important if these are not in a way of creativity. This backpack is not!
Thanks SnapperStuff for lending me the pack!