What are the best small camera bags? What bag for your CSC, Mirrorless or Micro Four Thirds? How do you protect your gear, look good and not scream “I have a camera in there”?
(This review was last updated on 17th January 2017)
The problem is... choice is constantly changing and improving. So I'll keep this updated as much as I can to bring you the best and latest bags.
Initially in 2011 I had gone for a Domke F-803, a testament to how well these bags are made as it last me three years. It’s discreet and perfectly sized for a mirrorless camera plus a couple of lenses. Sadly after 3 years, it was indeed pretty battered and since then better bags have been introduced on the market.
So let’s get started with this review of more or less reasonably priced small to medium camera bags!
Let me add inconspicuous to that.
The aim here is to review camera bags which will not get you mugged or labelled as a photographer (oh god we wouldn't want that now would we!!!)
Weighing 1kg, this lightweight and flexible shoulder bag comes in a choice of 3 colours. Pinestone (I am reviewing), Black or Blue Slate.
My first impression is one of excellent quality, this is a seriously thick fabric. This bag will without doubt last you years making it well worth the small spend.
It is inconspicuous with no branding screaming “I have a cool camera in there, please feel free to rob me!”
I like the Pinestone (call it kind of Khaki) it’s very cool and would fit both urban shooters as well as countryside ones.
The shoulder strap is padded and non-slip. Not a deal breaker at all, but I find the padded element a little too thick and wide (a bit like the Lowepro reviewed below). It’s very comfy though which the Domke I was using so far wasn’t quite as much.
There is a way to silence the Velcro of the flap closures which is a welcome addition when you are shooting the old elusive dear or better even, that security guard having a nap...
You’ll fit an smaller CSC in the Retrospective 5 with 12-40mm lens attached and a telephoto or two small primes instead. I’m quite happy with a smaller CSC fitted with a prime lens and a telephoto on the side, 99% of the time it's all I need with me.
However If you shoot with a larger mirroless camera such as the Sony A7RII, you'll struggle a bit more with space. I am able to fit the Sony A7RII with Voigtlander 50mm f1.5 since it's a small lens with maybe another lens but it's a bit tight. Maybe go for one size up with the Retrospective 7.
Pocket-wise, the bag has plenty of them. A large back pocket with a zipper where you’d safely fit an IPad mini, one small pocket on each side (perfect for your mobile, filters, batteries…), a business card pocket under the top flap, and a large front pocket containing a rain cover and still leaving space for bits and bobs.
I actually fit a PIXI mini tripod by Manfrotto in that front pocket which is particularly useful when I'm out shooting cinemagraphs and timelapse and don't want to carry a heavy and larger tripod.
If that’s not enough, there are another 2 large pockets inside the bag. amazing how much you can fit in this small bag.
You can probably tell, I quite like it! Let’s see if the others are a match!
- Very compact
- Has the most pockets, very handy to carry lots of bits and pieces
- Very tough canvas, will last a good few years
- No visible branding / inconspicuous, your camera won't get stolen
- Looks great but no so much that you'll be worried damaging it (unlike the gorgeous ONA below)
- Velcro can be silenced
- A bit on the thick side taking in consideration the width (but really because I have nothing bad to say about it)
Let me start by clarifying that this leather Cognac version I'm reviewing is a pricier option than the regular "fabric" one, £210 vs £115. That far superior quality (at an understandably higher cost) has a big influence on how much I love this bag compared to the other three in this review. If you want to stick to the £115-£130 mark like the other three bags in this review, get the premium Waxwear version.
The ONA Bowery Cognac is a beautifully made full leather camera bag. It feels fantastic, the tan leather is thick yet flexible, it's soft, smells gorgeous and will protect your camera for years to come.
However you may find me to be too picky (but at that price who wouldn't). After only a few days use the leather gets scratches all over which kinda ruin the look in my opinion and it's odd as not really something I've seen happen with other leather goods. Then if you look closely at the top brass rivet on this photo, you'll notice it's off-centre. It may not seem like much but these are details I think should be picked up by some quality control.
It's definitely a camera bag for the fashion-conscious, there's no denying that, but I feel no shame in looking good using it. According to my fiancee this bag is the most suited for both men and women. The woman inside me does agree too, I'd be more attracted to this one if I was a lady!
A smaller CSC type camera fits perfectly with a 12-40mm lens and a spare lens. But again you'll struggle to get a Sony A7RII with anything else than a small lens such as the Voigtlander 50mm f1.5 or the Sony 28mm f2.8. No way the A7RII with the 90mm f2.8 Macro will fit there. So if you are a Sony owner, you'll want the size above, I think it's the ONA Brixton model.
The bag does have very few pockets so you won't really be able to carry accessories but I'm not sure that's the purpose of these small bags anyway.
There's a back pocket where I can't really see myself fit anything else than a notepad. And then two small front pockets for a spare battery, a few business cards, sd card and lens wipe maybe.
It's actually all you need as a bag for street photography.
As I said, if you need more space then ONA offers a wide range of larger bags.
- Put simply: The most beautiful camera bag I've ever come across
- No visible branding so less likely to get you robbed
- Secure but also quick and easy access
- Side weather flaps
- Antique brass hardware
- The leather will be covered in scratches (from your nails, watch, camera...) after only 2 uses which puzzles me as I am the most careful person.
- Not so many pockets
- So beautiful you may not dare take it in rough environments
- Close inspection reveals poor attention to detail and quality control (some rivets off-centre for example)
I've never been the biggest fan of Lowepro bags, yet I owned a couple in the past. They have always been very well thought out bags in terms of having the camera user in mind yes that's true. But very often, previously at least, I found them not particularly stylish and the branding gave you away straight away as a photographer.
This bag, priced around £130 has managed to change my mind and is a clear sign that someone at Lowepro has listened to camera users and paid careful attention to trends.
This is the largest bag of the 4 reviewed here. A bit on the large side for my liking but that's because I don't usually carry more than a micro four thirds camera body and two lenses.
However if you're the type to go out with 3 batteries, filters, an external flash, a laptop or tablet, 3 lenses, a camera body (even up to DSLR size)... that's definitely the bag for you.
It's kind of reminiscent of Think Tank bags in terms of pockets, fabric and shoulder strap. It feels like the big brother of the Retrospective 5, at a similar price.
- lots of space and pockets, can fit a small laptop / large tablet
- top flat has two options: Velcro or magnet for silent operation
- no visible branding
- very thick canvas will last years
- back pocket has top and bottom zip turning it into trolley sleeve
- the thickly padded shoulder strap is a bit too thick and rigid
- it's not a bag you fall in love with (but then if you fall in love with bags you have issues)
I recently added these two excellent bags for mirrorless shooters in a full separate review. Head there now to read the full review!
End words... If I had to stick to the £129 mark, of all I'd go for the Think Tank Retrospective 5. However, I would rather spend a bit more and get myself the Hawkesmill.