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The gadget bag (10/15/2006)
By Tom Hirsch

What kind of gadget bag do you need? Hard case, soft bag, shoulder bag, camera holster, waist pack, or back pack? Or do you really need a gadget bag at all? Answering the last question first, if you take pictures, yes, you need a gadget bag. The type of bag you need will depend on the amount of equipment you have and the type of photography you do.

Let's get the hard case out of the way first. For the traveling professional photographer or serious amateur who wants optimum protection for his or her equipment, this is the only type of case to consider. But for the rest of us, these cases would be too large, bulky, expensive, and totally unnecessary.

This still leaves lots of options. Soft bags come in a variety of sizes, styles and shapes. Some are carried with straps, some with handles, some with harnesses, and others on a belt. Which type is best for you is strictly a personal decision.

When choosing a bag, first determine how much stuff you'll be carrying. You have your camera, of course, and you will want extra rolls of film. It's also a good idea to carry a spare battery, a pad and pencil for note taking, a felt-tip pen, and the camera manual or a notebook in which you have written the camera functions that you will be most apt to use. You might want lens cleaner and tissue, or at least a soft lint-free cloth in a plastic sandwich bag. If you have an SLR, you will want a bag large enough to carry extra lenses, filters, a flash unit and spare batteries. You might also want to carry a second camera body.

When you are ready to purchase a bag, write down everything you would be carrying and take the list into a camera shop. The dealer can then give you a very close approximation as to the size of bag that would be suitable. He or she might even let you fill the bag with similar stuff so you can get an idea of how everything of yours would fit. If this is the case, walk around the store with the loaded bag so you can get a feel for how comfortable it would be.

Besides size and comfort, also be aware of the bag's construction. Both nylon and canvas material are good, but look for bad stitching or loose threads. You don't want anything to catch on the camera as you remove it from the bag.

You will want a bag with sufficient padding to protect the camera from unavoidable bumps. The bag should also be compartmentalized, at least to some degree. If you have a lot to carry, a bag with adjustable compartments would be preferable, but you'd pay for this feature. By removing compartments or altering their configuration, you could customize the bag to your own needs. If you select a shoulder bag, make sure that it has a wide, comfortable strap.

On the outside, the bag should be waterproof, and should have an overhanging flap, and possibly side flaps, for protection in rainy weather. You should be able to fasten down the flaps with Velcro or clips. Examine the exterior for seams. The more stitching there is on the outside, the more chance of water getting in. Seams tend to collect water.

One advantage of a waist pack is that your camera probably won't fit in it. This way, you have the camera strap around your neck, and the camera is always ready to use. The disadvantage is that you can't put the camera in the case when you want to.

As your interest in photography grows, your collection of photography stuff will probably increase also, and your gadget bag will eventually become too small, so you'll have to go through the selection process all over again.

Incidentally, in photographese, "stuff" is called gadgets. 


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