Some photographers make capturing the perfect shot their life's goal. In recognition of my modest talent, I've set my sights a little lower: I'm after the perfect camera bag. That's right. Forget trying to make that one immortal image – the one that will be reproduced in art history textbooks for future generations between shots from Cartier-Bresson and Adams. If I can just find a camera bag that doesn't offend my back, my pride, my wallet, or my desire to keep my stuff safe I think I can die a happy and fulfilled photographer.
Part of the problem as I see it is that the best functional solutions in designing a camera bag are often the ones that make you look unbelievably, unrelentingly stupid. I found the working arrangement of Lowepro's new Flipside DSLR bag (which allows you to convert the backpack to a beltpack and work platform on the fly: see our review for more) to be perhaps the most comfortable and convenient of any mid-sized gear hauler that I've ever personally used – maybe even nice enough to convince me to lay down my own hard earned cash for one. But at a baseball game a few weeks ago, one look at a stereotypical "gear geek" amateur photographer who was strolling around with one of these Flipside bags dangling beltpack-style from his left hip has turned me off to the whole idea.
With his beltpack taking a below-the-belt swipe at everyone who tried to walk past him, the guy looked oblivious and silly. He looked like the kind of guy who might know the specifics of MTF data for his lens collection from memory, the kind of guy who might want to strike up a conversation with a fellow photographer about noise characteristics of various sensors. He also looked like the kind of guy who was probably carrying $10,000 worth of photo gear around his waist. If I were looking to make it worth my trouble to mug someone, I know who I'd follow out to the parking lot.
I hope no one at Lowepro reads this and takes offense. The Flipside is a great bag that takes a unique approach to a tough problem. Several other great bags give their own takes on the same issue. The problem is not with the bags so much as with the problem itself: it would seem that there are precious few solutions out there that yield comfort and convenience (which the Flipside has in the bag, so to speak) without also sacrificing a lot to undesirable conspicuousness or just plain ridiculousness. And the ones that do manage to succeed on this score tend to serve up another issue in the process: they're just too small to be of much use if you want to carry more than the basic two-lens consumer SLR kit.
In short, while there's a lot of great stuff out there, I'm still looking. No reason to rush the work of a lifetime, after all.
(On a related note, we're always interested in finding out about people's favorite gear. So what are you looking for in a camera bag? If you have a hauler that you love – or one that you love to hate – drop a reply about it in the discussion forum.)
Round Up is a regular editorial column published twice weekly on DigitalCameraReview.com.