Home Accessories Finding the perfect camera backpack — with difficulty

Finding the perfect camera backpack — with difficulty

 The Tom Bihn Synapse 19 isn
The Tom Bihn Synapse 19 isn’t a photo bag but it does accommodate the Billingham Hadley Small insert, leaving loads of space for other stuff. It is also supported by a range of accessories, including these tethered pockets of various sizes to keep all your travel gear in order

I admit it. I vacillate constantly between backpacks and messenger-style bags. Is today a Billingham Hadley Pro or a Billingham Rucksack day, just to stay with one brand? Most times, though, the choice is between one of the Billingham photo bags and my trusty Tom Bihn Synapse which nicely accommodates the “bucket” camera insert from the Bellingham Hadley Small. It also has a wealth of other advantages, including a range of accessory pockets.

 The Billingham Rucksack 35 is a rather superior photographer
The Billingham Rucksack 35 is a rather superior photographer’s carry-all but it lacks some of the extra pockets and tailored photographic detail of specialised backpacks. It is probably going to stand the test of time, though, built as it is like a brick tortoise house.

While I find the messenger style bags, exemplified by the Hadleys, to be more convenient for quick access to cameras and gear, there is no doubt that the weight of the strap over the shoulder can be annoying on a day out. The Hadley Pro and larger bags of a similar design go get tiring when stuffed withe odd Leica SL and 24-90mm zoom.

Backpacks, on the other hand, tend to be far more comfortable, with a much better weight distribution and less pull on the shoulders. Their downside, as we all know, is that you need to dismount the bag when you need access. I suppose it’s horses for courses and it comes down very much to personal choice. As I get older, though, I look for better weight distribution and I have been tempted on many occasions to look for the perfect bag. Often I’ve looked at more serious backpackery or rucksackery but can never make up my mind.

Last week, though, I found what is possibly the most comprehensive review of photographic backpacks you could hope to find. It is compiled by British expat Mark, now doing the rounds as a wedding photographer in Sydney. His Shotkit.com web site is a new discovery and I will be paying repeat visits.

So, if you want the inside out story of photo backpacks look no further than this comprehensive review at Shotkit.com. If you are interested in the ingenious Tom Bihn system, take a look here. And our own Bill Palmer did a popular review of his choice of bags back in July.


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  1. As I mentioned last week, I have a slight problem with the beautiful designs of companies such as ONA and Billingham…

    …Bags from such companies in my view, scream from the rooftops… MUG ME!

    So I have a Billingham Hadley insert as Mike describes above, which I insert into my day bag of choice…

    This is usually a Berghaus (?) mini rucksack.

    Occasionally however, I find that one of the two "Apple" bags fit the bill. The large one can be used to carry the insert, with a body and some lenses, and it has a useful string arrangement that allows it to be used as a backpack or as a messenger bag…

    … and all for only 5p.

  2. Mike I think as U.K. Resident in charge of Leica and assorted other cameras u should use your clout start an online petition for Barbour to make line of camera bags! HA

    • Never thought of that, John. But I have something at the back of my mind that says Barbour did once make bags out of their Thornproof waxed cotton material. I’ll have to investigate.

  3. Cute and stylish little camera backpack that Billingham 35. To me it looks like an invitation to every pickpocket within reach. 😉 Why do almost all the photo bag and backpack manufacturers design backpacks with easy access from the outside, instead of making it more difficult to snatch a lens from an unwary photographer? Easy access from the outside–don’t we always have to take off a backpack to get at the contents? Then, why not allowing access from the backside only? I use backpacks like this for many years and they work beautifully.

    • That’s a good point. Those big brass zippers on the Billingham are something of a temptation. There’s actually a lot to be said for a backpack that fills from the back, leaving a smooth, thief-proof outer covering. Back to the drawing board….


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