Tips and Advice on Camera Cases

4. General Advice on Loading a Camera Bag

Avoid Loose Items. The main objective of the camera case is to protect the gear, especially to cushion it against shock. Ideally, each piece of delicate gear gets its own padded compartment where it fits snugly. If you load two or more loose items into one compartment, they can bounce and rub together which may damage them unless one is wrapped (a paper towel may work, but I prefer a soft leather lens bag or even bubble wrap). And if a compartment is too big for an item, it can bounce around as you move the case, and this can result in a surprising amount of shock to the item. Always make the item fit snugly, even if you have to add bubble wrap to fill a void.

Quick 'n' Easy. Another objective of a camera case is to be able to access the equipment quickly and easily. A photo backpack is good for this because the equipment is all spread out in a single layer where you can see it and grab it. Some large and deep shoulder bags don't work as well because they stack two layers of equipment. To get to the items on the bottom layer, you have to remove everything from the top layer, then lift a panel. This is perfectly acceptable if you always remove the top layer items anyway.

Leaving Lens Attached. Your camera case may give you enough length to leave a lens attached to the camera body. Sometimes I do this, especially with digital bodies where every lens removal can allow dust to enter the body and get on the sensor. But I always remove larger lenses from the body during travel. The length of these lenses can act as a powerful lever, and could put a fatal strain on the lens mount. One good bump could damage or ruin both the body and the lens.

Design for Balance. Internal Velcro dividers allow you to customize the layout of your gear. Be sure to consider the balance of the bag -- both when full and when you've removed a camera and lens. You may want to carry the bag while shooting, and you don't want it suddenly unbalanced. This is a concern for photo backpacks where balance translates into comfort. Most people seem to load the heaviest camera/lens in the center of the backpack so the balance is maintained if they are removed.

Loading A Backpack. One last piece of advice on loading a photo backpack: take a tip from real backpackers. Your pack will be more stable if you load the heaviest items toward the bottom and closest against your own back. For example, put lightweight film at the top, big glass (heavy lenses) toward the bottom. Don't strap a two-liter water bottle on top of the lid (try a one-liter bottle on each side). Keep hard items away from fragile items, sharp away from penetrable... this is common sense. Standard pack advice is also to keep hard items cushioned from your back so they don't jab you, but the thick padding on these photo backpacks alleviates that concern.

Avoid Spills. Finally, never put bottles (water or sunblock or, worst of all, DEET insect repellant) where they could spill onto your gear. Heat, altitude, and the low pressure of airline cabins can force containers to leak. Remember that the pack could be sideways or upside down during travel. If I carry insect repellant or sunblock in my camera bag, it first goes into a strong Ziplock bag with some paper towels to absorb any leakage.

Here's a Quick Tip on Recommended Small Items to keep in your camera bag.

Special Tips for Lowepro Trekker series or a Similar Backpack

Lowepro Photo Trekker AW II

  • Always close the zippers. Or if that's not practical in some situations, you'd better assume the main compartment is unzipped. That way, you'll avoid this heart stopping situation: you sling on your pack and hear the ominous sound of the contents scattering onto rocks or concrete or into the water.
  • Close and tighten the two side clips for the lid, especially if you strap heavy things to the outside of the lid. These straps relieve the zipper of strain, and serve as a safety backup should the zipper pop open (unlikely).
  • Strap small tripods to the side rather than the center of the lid. Attaching weight to the lid makes it more difficult to open and close. A heavier tripod may balance best in the center, but you'll probably be forced to remove it any time you open the pack lid.
  • Each time you dismount the pack, practice doing it quickly even if you're not in any hurry: unclip the belt and sternum strap, swing it down, open, and camera ready. You'll be amazed how fast you can manipulate this part of your camera system with a little practice, nearly as fast as with a shoulder bag or holster case. Because of practice, you'll be able to get the "lucky" quick shot by reacting quickly and efficiently.

Updated 20-aug-11   Contents copyright © 2001 - 2011 PhotoCentric.Net, All Rights Reserved