The Bag Lady with a bad case of GAS

Since my photography obsession really kicked in, I've often wished I could re-visit many of the awesome places I've had the chance to see - but this time, with all the right camera gear.

For many years, "packing the camera" was simply a matter of tossing my little, and I mean TINY, Canon Ixus into my handbag, putting the charger into the suitcase, and off I'd go. No need for even a second memory card because the files were so relatively small. My trusty point and shoot was small and light - and simple. Ah, those were the days my friends....

When I upgraded to the Canon EOS 400D with two kit lenses, even travelling with that kit through the UK and Turkey was fairly straightforward - a nice little compact Canon shoulder bag held the camera, an 18-55mm and a 55-250mm lens, a couple of filters, spare battery, memory card and charger. It could be carried onto planes - even packed into a larger carry-on bag, and it was still all pretty easy.

And then I made it difficult for myself. Enter, stage left - the Canon EOS 5D, a couple of big (and heavy) wide angle, zoom and macro lenses, external flash (and requisite batteries plus their own charger), polarisars, neutral density filters, spare batteries, memory cards AND laptop (as a backup to the prospect of a memory card failure). When I started to upgrade gear, I bought a Lowepro Pro Runner 450 AW DLSR Backpack to lug it all around - and while I love the Lowepro, I've noticed after about 6 months of use, that it's pretty damn heavy when fully packed...and that's not incuding a tripod!

Despite the weight issue, I decided the Lowepro backpack was still the safest and easiest way to transport my camera gear on my recent trip to Japan. It fit within the carry-on luggage size guidelines, although I got a bit nervous about the weight....all up, I reckon I walked onto the plane with about a 9-10kg weight hanging off my shoulders...a tad over the allowable 7kg. Good thing the bags weren't weighed at any point, but I know that some airports and airlines can get a bit anal about all of that...

When I went out for daytrips in Japan, I left the laptop in the hotel room and cleared out the chargers from the backpack, and for the most part, it was heavy, but bareable for a day of walking around. It was winter, so I wore a thick coat everyday, and that seemed to make the whole backpack thing a bit more uncomfortable than usual - and then....enter stage left, Yodobashi - one of the largest camera stores in the world.

This 6-storey gadget megastore exceeded my expectations in terms of the range of electronics they stocked. There was a full floor of camera gear, with glass cabinets that stocked pretty much every camera and lens across every brand you could imagine. I have only ever seen the full compliment of L-series lenses in a Canon brochure, but Yodobashi has every one on display - and the staff were more than happy to take them off the display, attach them to your camera and let you have a play. The drool was somewhat embarrasing....

I priced lenses, and even with the tax-free price and a fairly strong exchange rate, the lenses I were looking at were easily a couple of hundred dollars more than some of the shops back in Australia...

But the range of camera bags was pretty astonishing - certainly larger than any range I'd seen in Australia, so I started to investigate in more detail.

I came across the Vanguard series of bags, and liked their bags for zoom lenses. The bag below (the 17z) fits the 5D with a 70-200mm lens on it, plus a few small accessories. There's even an in-built rain cover (like those on the Lowepro bags), and a bizarre looking leg strap attachment (see Picture #3 below for how it works!).

Given the momentous occasion of being in Camera Heaven, I decided that I needed to celebrate by purchasing one of these Vanguard zoom bags.

I put it through its paces over the next couple of days, and what it actually made me do, was cut back the gear to what I actually needed each day - which ended up being the 5D and the 24-70mm lens, my macro lens and the tiny Lensbaby Composer and Fisheye optics (the Vanguard bag will fit the zoom lens or a couple of smaller lenses, so is quite versatile). The side pockets accommodated spare batteries and memory cards, credit cards and my passport.

What I like about this bag is that it's worn over the shoulder, which is kind of like a backpack in distributing the weight. Most importantly it allows you to keep both hands free.

I like that there is a flap inside the bag that suspends the camera body (with the lens pointing downwards). It seems to be a safe way of carrying the lens, and it lets you whip the camera out whenever you need it - and put it back just as quickly - particularly in combination with an R-strap (which is still my most favourite camera accessory ever). The bag is well padded and all the fittings feel pretty robust. It even felt more comfortable over my thick coat, perhaps because there was one less strap to get all the material caught in.

Now that I'm home, I'm looking forward to heading out to one of my usual photography haunts - like the Botanic Gardens, and taking only as much gear as will fit into the new bag. It's not that much bigger than the Canon bag I used to take out - just longer, to accommodate the bigger lenses.

As for using the leg strap, can't imagine I'll be using that anytime soon - and I'm not sure I could stifle a giggle if saw anyone else wearing their camera gear strapped to their inner thigh....I guess it takes all sorts.

And as for the desire to keep travelling - well, that's as obsessive as it ever was. I'm sure I'll still debate which bag and which gear to take on the next trip :)


  1. You were lucky with your hand luggage Mel. Last month my son and daughter-in-law got sent back upstairs to the check-in to have their hand luggage weighed and tagged, as did everyone else we watched going down the escalator at Brissie international for boarding. Ben's bag was 10kg and they made him take out a couple of books and put them in a separate box checked through since his suitcase had already gone. That security lady must have had grumpy beans for dinner!!

  2. Wow - unlucky!! I think we were slightly lucky in that we flew domestic flights out of BNE and an international flight out of Cairns. They seemed to be fairly relaxed at Cairns International Airport. Mum had space in her hand luggage if I had to offload gear.