The search for the perfect camera bag! I have spent my entire photography career looking for this Holy Grail of accessories. As most photographers have discovered, there is no “one” perfect bag.
When carrying my Canon 5D MKii with 2 lenses and a speedlight, I found my Naneu Pro Bravo Backpack to be the best solution for short outings. But it wouldn’t accommodate a laptop, so when I travelled I would use my Naneu Pro K3L, which was a much larger backpack.
After I ditched the Canon gear for the Olympus E-P2, the Bravo became too bulky, so I switched to the Kata Panorama U Ergo-Tech Bag, which fit a 13″ laptop and the E-P2, a few lenses and a small speedlight. This bag was still too big to carry around while shooting, so I would end up leaving the bag in the car or hotel and just take the E-P2 with a lens attached and 1 lens in my pocket.
With the Leica M9, I needed another solution. I didn’t want to carry the camera and lenses around without a bag, especially in sketchy areas of town where I like to put the camera away. None of my current bags were small enough to fit the Leica equipment efficiently, so I was once again in search of the perfect bag. After hours of research online, reading every review and forum post I could find, I narrowed it down to the brand new Think Tank Retrospective 5 and the Billingham Hadley Small Shoulder Bag. I decided to try the Retrospective 5 in Pinestone, a nice dark beige color, a little different from the standard black bag.
The Retrospective 5 arrived the day before my weekend trip to San Diego, a great city to break it in. At 2.3 pounds (1.0 kg) the bag is lightweight and offers a generous amount of storage space (Interior Dimensions: 9.5” W x 7.8” H x 4.5” D or 24 x 19.5 x 11.5 cm) for its compact size (Exterior Dimensions: 10” W x 8.5” H x 6” D (25.5 x 21.5 15 cm). It provides side and interior pockets, an expandable outside pocket, and a wide pocket on the back, as well as loops on the side to strap on accessories. I loaded the bag up with the M9 and 5 lenses, 2 batteries, 2 SD cards, business cards, a wad of cash for tips, and business cards, yet it weighed less than 6 pounds fully packed, light enough to carry around town all day.
Other handy features include removable dividers, extra dividers for multi-level storage, a Velcro silencer system, a rain cover, and a removable carrying handle. The Retrospective’s fully adjustable canvas strap holds very well and doesn’t slip off your shoulder easily. When I wore the M9 around my neck, the bag only had to hold 4 lenses and accessories. With the bag positioned around my back, I would barely notice I was carrying anything, but the bag provided easy access when I needed to change lenses. The Retrospective 5’s small size and accessibility made me think that I had found the perfect bag at last!
View of silencer system and Velcro strips
Velcro silencer system, in non silent position
Alas, when planning a subsequent plane trip to Seattle, I discovered again that no single bag can meet a photographer’s every need. When flying I like to take my eBags Weekender eTech Convertible for my clothes and a messenger bag for my laptop and camera gear. Since the Retrospective 5 would not fit my 13″ Samsung 9 laptop, I was once again on the search for another bag. I couldn’t find anything that was small enough to tote all day but large enough to store the laptop. I then thought about an old John Peters canvas messenger bag my wife bought at a camera show. The large inner pocket fit the Retrospective 5 and another inner pocket fit the Samsung 9 with room to spare for all of my laptop accessories.
John Peters Messenger Bag outer view
Samsung 9 in smaller inner pocket
Think Tank Retrospective 5 in larger inner pocket
Samsung 9 and Retrospective 5, fits perfectly
This setup will be small enough to fit under the seat on the airplane, and easy enough to remove the laptop going through airport security. When I leave the hotel, I can stash the laptop in the in-room safe and take the Retrospective 5 out of the messenger bag to keep on my shoulder as I head out on the town.
While the quest for the one ideal bag-that-can-do-it-all may be an impossible dream, the savvy photographer can coordinate a combination of bags that makes shooting-on-the-go easy, convenient, and comfortable.
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