Buying Guide
By Mike Henson
on 1.15.14

We know you love leather bags, and so do we. But there are times, say, when you’re toting your photography gear, that you need a more all-weather, utilitarian alternative. In fact, we’ll say it now — leave the leather for trips and commutes. Canvas camera bags have stood the test of time because they’re durable, they repel moisture and they only look better with age. That, my friend, is exactly what a great bag should do. Try that with ballistic nylon sometime. We’ve rounded up our favorites and put them through their paces to come up with our list of the five best canvas camera bags for the discerning photographer.

PRIME-TIME-PROMO-GEAR-PATROL

Domke F-2 Ruggedwear Shooters Bag

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Best Bag for the Photojournalist: Back in 1975, Jim Domke, a photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, was tasked with creating a utilitarian camera bag, the kind that could safely hold a photojournalist’s most vital equipment and take a beating in tight city avenues. From this assignment, Domke bags were born, and today Domke, owned by Tiffen, still makes the brawniest camera bags in the business. The F-2 Ruggedwear Shooters Bag is our favorite in their lineup. Its interior space is ample; its padded inserts are customizable, and its canvas is treated with eco-friendly waxes for protection from the elements. As if all of that weren’t enough, this bag’s canvas comes already distressed, so when slung over your shoulder, it’ll look like you’ve had it since Nam. Oh, and did we mention it’s made in America?

ThinkTank Retrospective 7

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Best Bag for the Unseen Paparazzi: The problem with most camera bags is that they look like…camera bags. Think Tank has made a name for themselves by solving this problem: they make the most inconspicuous camera bags on the market. Since every twenty-first century man now carries a messenger bag, the Think Tank Retrospective 7 blends right in with the horde without hindering you from getting that million-dollar shot. It’s capacious enough to hold your DSLR and a few lenses, and even has a pocket for an 11-inch Macbook Air. “Sound Silencers” at the bag’s flaps allow you to open and close the bag without rising above a whisper decibel level. The Retrospective 7 is a good-looking bag, but it’s completely nondescript. As quickly as it’s noticed, it will be forgotten — but if you’re buying this bag, that’s exactly what you want.

Billingham Hadley Pro

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Best Bag for the English Gentleman: Though they began as a tackle-bag maker for fisherman, Billingham quickly became one of the most well-respected names in the camera bag industry. Based in England and still family owned, the company proudly makes each of their bags by hand with the finest waterproof canvas, leather trim and brass hardware. The Billingham Hadley Pro is the perfect bag for the photographer who finds solace in the marriage between form and function. With expandable pockets, adjustable interior foam padding, and a cleverly placed top handle, the Hadley Pro is both pragmatic and handsome. Buy beware: this bag isn’t cheap, but you’re also not going to replace it, and neither will your son when you pass it on to him.

ONA Bowery

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Best Bag for the Minimalist Shooter: Founded in 2010, ONA is the youngest company in our roundup, but don’t let that fool you: these people know how to make a camera bag. The ONA Bowery is a minute stud for the photographer who carries only the essentials: camera, one or two lenses, and the car keys. It’s compact and built for action with antiqued brass hardware, a full-grain leather strap, and side flaps to protect your gear in the rain; you can even remove the shoulder strap and use it as an insert in a more spacious bag. While it’s available in several colors, the Field Tan is like wearing your favorite jeans with a blazer: casually stellar.

National Geographic Africa Series Medium Satchel

National-Geographic-Gear-Patrol

Best Bag for the Photographer on Safari…Literally: When you think National Geographic, you probably don’t think camera bags. But think about this: Nat Geo publishes some of the most breathtaking photographs taken by some of the most ballsy photographers, and those photographers need solid gear. The NatGeo Africa Series Medium Satchel is the camera bag for the outdoor photographer who might find himself taking snapshots at a family barbeque one day and spooning with a lioness in Namibia the next. Made from polyurethane-coated canvas, the Medium Satchel is water repellent, and it even has a zipper-closable polyester lining should you drop the entire bag in the Nile (but we don’t recommend doing this). The Medium Satchel is a hefty bag, but it travels well thanks to a strap on the back that can be slipped over the handle of your suitcase. Long story short: your loved ones will still worry about you being trampled by a rhinoceros, but they’ll know that your camera gear is safe.

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