By Rick Berk

Boulder-Beach-Maine, landscape photography, camera bags, backpack, travel, photography, bags, gear

One of my biggest quests as a photographer who travels is not the search for the perfect shot, but for the perfect camera bag. No doubt you have come across this problem as well. With every bag or backpack I’ve ever owned, the dividers that come with the bags never seem to fit the gear perfectly. They leave compartments that are either too small to hold the lenses I need them to, or so large that the lens I am keeping in that compartment has too much room to move. The result tends to be a lot of wasted space in the bag, and gut-wrenching decisions over which lens to leave behind.

The gear I’m trying to fit includes all of the following: Nikon D810, a flash, 14-24mm lens, 16-35mm lens, 24-120mm lens, 80-400mm lens, 105mm macro lens, and a 24mm f/1.4 lens along with my set of 4×5 glass filters, just to give you an idea. Yes I know there are redundancies, but I have my reasons. So what’s the solution?

ThinkTank Airport Takeoff, backpack, roller bag, camera bag, photography, travel,

I started working with this. You can see that there’s plenty of wasted space and two compartments that I can’t fit a lens in. My 80-400 doesn’t even fit!

For me, the solution was to get rid of the dividers. I’m using a LowePro ProTactic 450AW and a ThinkTank Airport Takeoff. Which bag I use depends on the type of trip I’m taking. Obviously, you still need to pad your equipment. Bags get swung around, put down, picked up, and banged into. The gear moves inside it and without that padding, one way or another it will eventually suffer damage. One option to pad your precious cameras and lenses is to use wraps. There are several brands that make wraps, and they come in varying sizes, to fit different pieces of equipment.  The thing I didn’t like about this option is that when you go to re-wrap the lenses or camera, it takes some time (at least for me) and I didn’t really like the wraps I tried.

Completely removing the dividers from the ThinkTank Airport takeoff allowed me to fit everything I wanted, with plenty of room to spare.

Completely removing the dividers from the ThinkTank Airport takeoff allowed me to fit everything I wanted, with plenty of room to spare.

I went back to dividers after the fiasco with wraps, and gave up on the idea for a few years. But recently, I’ve gone on a few trips where I had to choose something to leave behind, because I just couldn’t get the dividers configured properly. Usually, it meant leaving behind a lens I doubted I’d have a need for, but I always end up wishing I’d brought later.

So I revisited the idea when I was in a camera store and found myself staring at neoprene lens pouches. Neoprene pouches provide padding, and come in various sizes that fit each lens in my kit, without being too snug, or being overly large. The pouches allow me to position lenses and cameras in the bag against each other, without having to worry about how the dividers fit. The neoprene is generally 4-5mm thick, so two pouches side by side have about as much thickness as the velcro dividers do.

camera bag, getting the most from your bag, travel, photography, lenspouch, lowepro protactic 450 aw

This is the LowePro ProTactic 450 AW. I used two dividers to support the lenses and keep them from shifting in transit, but eliminating the middle dividers allow me to fit gear more snugly.

After ripping all of the velcro dividers out of my backpack, I found I could fit everything I listed above pretty nicely. However, I did notice that after wearing the backpack while hiking, the items had a tendency to settle to the bottom, which made it difficult to find things when I opened it. I finally settled on a hybrid solution that has been working extremely well.

I have two full-width dividers running across the LowePro ProTactic backpack. At the bottom of the backpack I placed my 80-400mm lens, with no pouch. It is the only item in this compartment. In the next compartment is room for three lenses, in neoprene pouches.  Next, I used one of the velcro dividers to house my camera, on the side. What I’m then left with is a space that can take one or two more lenses in pouches, or my filters, or one lens and my filters, with some smaller accessories like lens cloths or a flashlight tucked in the middle.

So here’s how to do it:

  • Measure each lens you plan to store in a pouch.  The interior dimensions should be about a half-inch larger than the lens. I used the LensCoat Lens Pouches.  The beauty of using the pouches is that if I decide to remove a lens from the bag, it is still protected from bumps and drops.
  • Depending on how you arrange things, you may want a neoprene camera pouch as well. I’m using the LensCoat Body Bag pouches. Choose the one that best fits your camera.
  • I purchased a Sharpie silver marker, and some stencils from a craft store, to label the outside of each pouch, for easy identification.
  • I find that if needed, I can fit more into the camera bag, because I’m not limited to what the dividers will allow me to do. It’s still not the ever-elusive “perfect camera bag” that every photographer I know is searching for, but for me it is just a bit closer. What is your ideal camera bag?

    lenspouch, pouch, sharpie, stencil, lens, padding, travel

    Using a silver Sharpie and a stencil, I marked each pouch to identify which lens was inside.

    IMG_0892

    Lens pouches marked for easy identification

    Have you come up with any other invention solutions to this issue? Do share in the comments below.

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