I’ll just say it right off the bat. I have camera bag issues.
My main problem is that when I find something that works for me, I use the @$&! out of it and life is good for a few years. Then, long after it’s discontinued or radically altered in some way, it breaks, falls apart or just reaches the end of its useful life, which leaves me out in the cold. Or, I decide to change my methods, like buy a new lens and same thing happens.
Hmmm… this seems to be a regular pattern in my life. I say this after stumbling around the web yesterday and finding lots of great software that won’t run on my aging, non-Leopard G5 PowerMac, and then thinking about what won’t run on the new Mac Pro that’s on the way.
Anyway, the same thing keeps happening to me with camera bags. When I first started shooting, twenty and a half years ago, I carried all my gear around in this awkward, dorky looking square shoulder bag that I quickly outgrew. It worked well enough for walking around the city, but it wasn’t very practical for outdoor photography.
Enter the Tamrac 515 Compact Zoom Pack. Great little bag, in fact, I used it for years. Took it Nepal in 1993 and used it to carry my camera during my trek up the Baltoro Glacier in 1994. The thing worked great. It’s durable, compact has a second pocket and it keeps your camera right there in front of you where you want it. Can’t really say a bad thing about it.
However, in 1996, I bought my first Photoflex Galen Rowell Chest Pouch. I fell in love. I’m talking the real thing here, with roses, candy hearts and all that other stuff. It was exactly what I’d been looking for all my life- at least all the years I’d been a photographer.
It was perfect for what I needed- a small padded pouch with a waist belt with a zipper and velcro closure that allowed you to carry it on your waist, where I usually carry it, or on your chest by using your camera strap and the velcro closure. I could easily wear it while running, climbing, biking or hiking and still have access to my camera. Of course it was, it was designed by the grand master of adventure photography himself!
Combined with the lens cases that went with it, I took that thing EVERYWHERE with me and used it until the first one fell apart. I bought a second one, and have used it just as much as the first. Probably more.
Unfortunately, the thing is on it’s last legs, and of course, Photoflex doesn’t make them anymore. I’ve sewed it up numerous times and last fall, I took it over to my friend Eric’s shop (He makes bike bags) who put it under his bar tack machine. That helped with the torn belt stitching, but the foam is still totally compressed and lifeless.
Enter my LowePro MiniTrekker AW. A few years ago, I made friends with the marketing director at LowePro. She saw what I do and gave me a bag to try out. I’ve been using it ever since and I love it. In fact, I love all the LowePro stuff, I think it’s all made really well.
The MiniTrekker allows me to carry all my gear, plus the other 6 essential items that always live in there, and head out into the outdoors for some serious photo shooting sessions. I’ve even run with it for a few miles at a time during some of my recent trail running shoots. I LOVE this bag, but it’s not what I use in the backcountry. That’s when I need the smaller pouch and lens cases. LowePro does make smaller bags, but I’m just so stuck on my old Photoflex Chest Pouch that none of their holster bags seem to work for me. That’s where I probably just need to get over my issues and try another one of their bags.
I do like the shape of the LowePro holster bags, but I’ve grown so accustomed to having my camera face outward as opposed to down in front of me. That way it doesn’t get in the way of my legs. The LowePro Topload Zoom AW is great, but I’m a little guy and don’t have a very big chest. That thing is just too big for me. Plus, it’s not a true belt back- the strap is attached by D-rings, it’s not sewed directly onto the pack. The smaller model, the TopLoad Zoom 45 AW won’t hold my big DLSR and Nikon 14mm lens.
Same goes with the Tamrac bags. I’m not saying that either of these brands are not really good bags, in fact they are. Lots of other adventure and outdoor photographers use them and love them. They’re built to last and they get the job done. Again, I just have issues.
I know that there are some other companies out there, like Think Tank, Kinesis and Mountainsmith that have good products, but I just haven’t found exactly what I want yet. I’m just too damn picky. The Mountainsmith Aurora actually looks like a pretty good choice, but I haven’t had a chance to try one out yet.
So, the search goes on, although, more and more, its looking like I may just end up taking my dying chest pouch back over to Eric’s shop this winter, where we’ll dissect it and completely remake it with fresh foam and fabric. Pretty much make a complete Six Million Dollar Franken-bag. We have the technology. We can rebuild it.
That is, UNLESS I can find another bag that works for me in the meantime. Help. (This is where you offer suggestions.)
And if anyone, I mean ANYONE comes across one of those old Galen Rowell Chest Pouches that are impossible to find, (believe me, I’ve looked on Craigslist and eBay) pick it up and contact me- I’ll buy it from you.
Edit, April 2012: My please have apparently not fallen on deaf ears. I have finally found a replacement!!