A beginning photographer is confronted with a bewildering choice in bags. As you may guess, every project needs its own type of bag for optimal operation. Pro photographers usually have a (large) collection of bags. But when you start with a tight budget it is no easy choice.
Basically there are shoulder bags and backpacks specially designed for photographic gear. If you plan to go out regularly for an outdoor shoot and under a variety of conditions, always choose a well reputed brand, never mind the higher cost. It is a very unfortunate when a bag breaks down in a remote place just when you depend on it.
For all around use I would first buy a shoulder bag. A good shoulder bag gives easy access to your gear while on the go and I can be quickly put down on the ground or on a flat surface. It’s easy to pack, versatile and flexible. Carefully select the size on the basis of your gear, but remember that you want to take non-photographic stuff with you as well (water, iPad/laptop, rain gear, food, glasses, etc.). If you have a DSLR plus, say, 4 lenses and all the other stuff it’s quite a weight on your shoulder. Therefore, avoid very long walks (although I climbed mountains this way).
For long hikes or cycling tours a backpack is the better if not only choice, so this would be equipment piece nr 2. A backpack needs to be taken off the back in order to get to or change gear. This is a major drawback of backpacks. If you have to change gear often, you quickly get tired of this exercise. Moreover, it has to be put down flat on the ground, before it can be opened. When packing up, do not forget to close the main compartment: it happened to me more than once that i did not notice the zippers were not closed when i picked up the rucksack, fortunately without damage.
What did i buy myself? My “workhorse” bag is a Billingham 445. It’s big, very very strong and well made, looks good and yes, it’s expensive. I bought mine second hand for half the new price. It has the right size for airplane carry on luggage. It’s worth every penny. Did I say it is expensive?
I have a photo backpack of National Geographic. It is of good quality, but not like a Billingham, and includes a good rain cover. It holds easily a DSLR + 4 primes or 2 big zooms and all the smaller stuff.
Since my Billingham is a bit too large for ‘fast moving’ city work, i looked around for a suitable intermediate size bag. I think I found one in the ThinkTank Retrospective 10. What a clever bag! Full with smart pockets, very well made and totally inconspicuous. I really like the material and texture. It’s on the far left in the picture. It holds easily a DSLR + 2 zooms or 2-4 primes + a collection of smaller stuff.
I have a few smaller bags, but they are not very useful.
There are other brands. For all the details check the websites. Check material, stitches, zippers etc for quality. As soon as you discover plastic, I would not buy it.
I often not only carry a photo bag, but also a tripod with a sling, but about tripods a next time.