Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Lightest Camera Bag?

Update September 6, 2016: you can find a newer version of this review here. It has lots of new information on how I've improved how I pad my camera.

Most camera bags seem like they were designed so that wrestlers can take a few shots in between bouts of being hit with folding chairs. The bags are heavy, padded, and generally bulky.

If I'm hauling a lot of gear to work, or on an airplane, the wrestler-style bags are wonderful. I like that I can fit my entire office and almost all of my camera equipment into my Think Tank Urban Disguise 60 V2.0.

But if I'm walking around the city or attending a food event, the wrestler bags are just too much. The wrestler bags are too heavy, too bulky, and seem to universally make my shoulders sore and sweaty.

I've spent some time looking for the "perfect" camera bag. If you read many photography websites, you'll find that bags are a popular topic. There are tons of options out there.

With the possible exception of Gura Gear bags, they all seem to trend towards greater complexity and padding, and so on. Even the Gura Gear Chobe 19-24L weights "less than the 3 lb mark" without the padding, and "well below the 4 lb mark" with the padding. I'd expect a bag made from sail cloth to be a bit lighter.

My Canon 7D with the EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS lens only weighs 3.7 pounds combined (including lens hood). Does the container for the camera really need to weigh as much as the camera? These wrestler bags seem like the luggage equivalent of buying an over-priced extended warranty for a consumer item. In the unlikely event that I'm hit with a folding chair, I'll be glad for that bag. But while I'm waiting for that chair should I suffer through the shoulder pain?

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier as pouch
The Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier folded into a pouch.
My search for a better walk-about camera bag led me to the Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier. The Travel Courier is a lightweight, simple bag that folds into a tiny pouch. It's made of ripstop nylon and mesh, and other bits. It looks very minimalist, maybe even a tad strange. But the concept and execution are brilliant.

The zippers are super-smooth with little grabbies added to make them easy to find. The strap is made of a squishy mesh which lets a little air through, and offers a little padding along the entire length of the strap.

Inside the main compartment, there is a smaller zippered compartment big enough to fit a cell phone or wallet. This pocket reverses,  and the entire bag stuffs inside for packing. The bag has a smaller zippered pocket in front, which is ideal for a lens cloth, sunglasses, or a phone. The zippers are all of the super-smooth YKK variety, which bag nerds seem to appreciate.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier with Domke Wrap
The Domke wrap next to the un-packed Travel Courier.
Remember, this bag has no padding at all. The material, while strong, is thin enough that you can see through it when the light is right. Without contents, the bag lies flat. When the bag actually contains stuff, the clever design works to give it some nice structure. There is a loop of elastic cord captured in the fabric at the top of the bag surrounding the opening to the main compartment. This cord gives the bag some structure and shape. It also seems to help prevent your stuff from dumping out of the bag when open. The design impresses me with it's clever minimalism. Unlike many bags, the shoulder strap attaches to the bag at the very top. There is little chance of the bag capsizing when held by the strap.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier with Domke Wrap inside Do I trust this bag to carry my camera unpadded? Heck no. While I don't need my bag to take body blows, it will occasionally be jostled and set down on hard surfaces. I add padding to the bag in the form of the Domke F-34L 19-Inch Protective Wrap. The wrap is a large square of padded cloth. A strip of velcro-like fastener lives at each corner of the wrap, allowing the user to secure the padding as they see fit.

To use the wrap in the bag, I fold it into a simple trough shape with each corner attached to a neighbor as seen in the photos. This protective envelope fits perfectly into the bag, giving it shape, and a lightly padded cradle for my dSLR.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier with Domke Wrap and 7D inside According to my kitchen scale, the combination of bag and wrap weighs 10.36 oz, which is about 0.6 pounds. That weight seems a lot more reasonable when compared to the weight of my camera.

This is the bag I've been using for a couple of weeks now. The dSLR goes into the now padded main compartment, my Lytro camera goes into one of the mesh water bottle pockets on the side, and my 4G iPad goes into the spot between the wrap and the back of the bag.

So far, this is the best camera bag I've ever owned. I find it lightweight, more comfortable to wear than a camera on a strap, and quite handy. I also think it makes me significantly less sweaty than a bag with traditional shoulder straps.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier with camera supported by strap
The Travel Courier full loaded with dSLR and lens, held by the strap.
Incidentally, since getting this bag I have not used my Black Rapid strap.

*Moving Average Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. We also participate in Patagonia's affiliate program. Buying from these links helps to support Engineering Adventure.

9 comments:

FJ said...

Just stumbled on this post. Looks great. I just ordered the same components.

Thanks for posting.

John M. P. Knox said...

Awesome FJ,

Let me know how you like it!

kaleid(oscope) said...

So glad you posted this! I've been looking for something that I can use for day trips when I backpack but that folds flat and is lightweight in my pack. This looks perfect and will provide some nice protection for my camera!

John M. P. Knox said...

Hi kaleid(oscope),

I'm glad you like my discovery! Let me know how it works out for you.

Scott Foster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Foster said...

Just came upon this recently…

I just got the same combination for my D3s, 105G 2.8 Micro, 50G 1.4, 21 2.8 Zeiss. The bag holds everything together very well and keeps it close to your body. I keep one lens on the camera and the other lenses are inside neoprene stuff sacks. I can even put my Gitzo GT1544T tripod on the top of the camera gear, and zip the bag - barely!

I cut the inner stuff sack out since it just got in the way, plus it makes the setup a little lighter. I got the bag and wrap in black, which helps keep everything in stealth mode. I can even slide a camelbak waterbottle on the outside pocket, leaving the other side pocket empty.

This is an impressive setup for anyone carrying around camera gear and wants to go unnoticed.

John Knox said...

Thanks Scott, that's great. I can't believe you fit that all in!

spice3d said...

Scott, thanks for turning me into the Patagonia bag. Love it. Went a little different route to protect the bag contents. You can see what I did here http://seriouslytrivial.com/2015/08/03/super-versatile-lightweight-camera-day-bag/

Laxmi Rai said...
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