Bill Pierce
Nuts & Bolts

In Search of the
Perfect Camera Bag

Why is it that photographers have more camera bags then Imelda Marcos had shoes? Is it the search for the perfect bag? Is there a perfect bag? Do we search because the blood of Sir Lancelot flows through our veins. A long time ago, professional camera bags were made of leather. Then the best of the leather bag makers found that there was much more money and prestige in making top of the line golf bags. In the interim between cowhide and the canvas gadget bags of Domke and Billingham, photographers turned to fishing bags.

Premier among these were the Brady bags sold in London. For a great many foreign assignments, you flew to London and transferred to a flight to your final destination. Staying in London for a day could minimize the effects of jet lag and, more important, give you time to buy a new Brady Bag. When you would buy a bag, usually the Gelderburne, and the clerk would realize you were an American photographer off to an assignment, he would say, "Yes, Mr. McCullin was in here a few days ago, just before he departed." - firmly establishing the Yankee rebels were following behind the English photojournalists.

I still have my Brady bags. They have held up at least as well as me. Should, however, I need a new one I can now buy it on the web at this website.

Rumor has it that Martin Billingham, the head of the firm that produces Billingham camera bags, was once the chief cutter for Brady. Some of the Billingham bags certainly look like they evolved from Brady bags. They are less suitable for carrying the bodies of wet trout, more suited for the bodies of expensive cameras. The Billingham website will let you make comparisons with Brady and decide whether a phishing bag or a fotography bag is most suitable for you.

(Nor should we ignore the fisherman's other contribution to our profession, the vest. The Campco website is one of the zillion sites that offer a variety of vests. I list it because they have my favorite vest, the Ranger Vest. It's small; it's simple, it's big pockets have zippers; its hooded collar doesn't let neck straps tear up your shirt collars; it's all cotton, has no mesh and is cheap, $28.50.)

Some photographers, of course, will make the decision of how to carry their gear based on the feeling that reel men (excuse me, real men) don't use camera bags. And, while fishing bags are acceptable, military surplus is even better.

My favorite in this catagory is the gas mask bag, clearly macho enough to make up for any testosterone deficiency of the wearer. Visit the Major Surplus Survival website here. At the same site, you can visit this web page and this one for even more military bags.

The Fatigues and Surplus Gear website will lead you to a bag advertised as good for carrying shotgun shells. It's a good small bag (10"x 8"x 3 1/2), quite economical ($9.95) and available, not only in conventional colors, but camouflage.You can also find shoulder bags, including a medical equipment bag that is quite good.

Of course, being from NYC, I feel that the real macho men are bike messengers. Timbuk2 makes bags for bike messengers. The smallest, the Peewee, is a good bag with a body strap that keeps the bag from falling from the shoulders of speeding bikers or getting snatched from the shoulders of naive photographers.

There are larger sizes available along with computer bags, telephone and radio holsters, ditty bags and socks. Yes, socks; this is a site that services bike messengers.

It wouldn't be fair to talk about bags and not mention the one man who wasn't a fisherman, a hunter or a soldier when he designed his bags. Jim Domke was just a photographer. Still is. They're good bags.

Bill Pierce
Contributing Writer

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