Bags & Cases; Photo Backpacks, Shoulder Packs & More Page 2

Another company that introduced camera bags with women in mind was Targus with their Getta range (one backpack, one bandoleer, one small digital camera case) and their Madison range (four over-the-shoulder bags). They seem to have concentrated more on looks than on any features that women photographers have actually requested, but hey, it's a start. For those with a weakness for fluffy-girlie stuff, Tote-Ally Cool Totes from AMM (All My Memories) are aimed mainly at the craft market but are actually well designed and functional; Accordion handbags (AMM again) have three little diamond-shaped picture frames on the front; and Sakar's latest clamshell digital cases were described as being in "girl colors."

Targus Madison

So: the trends so far are toward backpacks or bandoleers (for which the term "messenger" is increasingly standardized); toward wheels (including wheeled backpacks); and toward space for computers, or as some manufacturers grandly term it, "IT" (Information Technology). And more and more manufacturers are noticing that half the human race is female. Was there anything else?

AMM Tote-Ally Cool Totes

A brand-new company is Think Tank Photo. Two designers who used to work for one of the major manufacturers decided to set up on their own, and Think Tank Photo was the result. A particularly interesting aspect of their line arose from research (by the company) which confirmed something I have long suspected: women tend to carry less gear than men, and therefore are often interested in smaller bags. Another design criterion was accessibility and speed of use--which again are easier with smaller packs. Even their biggest bags are airline carryon compatible (subject to the comments at the beginning of the article) and for the kind of small outfit I carry, their smaller and mid-range bags would be ideal. What really interested me was their modular belt system, where the modules can be locked in place or left loose and moved on the belt: the company recommends the latter, so that you don't unconsciously acquire a "set" to your stance, leading to aches and pains before you realize it. Look at a modern soldier and you'll see how much stuff is carried around the waist nowadays, for accessibility as much as comfort--and the army can't afford soldiers with cramps and back pains.

The Great Outdoors
Yes. Waterproofing. More and more hard-sides are waterproof, with gaskets. Pelican introduced a dedicated laptop-only case, because laptops dislike water even more than cameras; Seahorse's new rolling case (American carryon legal) has a fully retractable handle so that there are no awkward projections (in case you have to check it in Europe!); and Storm Case introduced a slim-line case for either cameras or computers, carryon compatible in the US at 51x37x15cm or roughly 20x15x6". The new press-and-pull latches from Storm Case are a lot easier to use than the old fingernail-breakers, too. There are four sizes, but only two were shown at PMA because the others were still undergoing ruggedness testing: presumably they had not been adequately chewed by bears yet (see their advertising).

Not waterproof, but extremely rugged, is the Storm Case TL500i Trunk Locker with impressive exterior dimensions of approximately 36x19x20", 90x50x52cm. This is genuine MilSpec, in service with all the US armed services. This is not exactly a new product--it has been in military use for years--but this is its first civilian manifestation: a sort of Humvee of camera cases. As any drill instructor at boot camp can tell you, bear attack ain't nothin' compared with everyday military use. There are two press-and-pull latches and a hasp and staple for a padlock: I've ordered one (in olive drab, of course) to pick up at photokina, whence it will be carried home in finest military style on top of our Land Rover.

To return to waterproofing, though, a new player is B&W Outdoor, a German-based company already known for a variety of shipping cases. Their waterproof camera case range runs from tiny (the 2-liter Type 05, 22.5x18x8.5cm/approximately 9x7x3.5") to big (Type 65, 49 liters, 66x50x21cm/approximately 25x20x8"). The interesting part is that the mid-range sizes (Types 40, 50, and 60) can be carried in the optional Back Pack System: BPS 40, BPS 50, and BPS 60. These are not agonizing lash-ups: they are well designed and actually reasonably comfortable. I hope to be able to review one of these at some later date. They also do a Trolley range (Type 55 and 68 to special order only, Type 70 readily available) which predictably are wheeled versions of the next size down in non-wheeled Types.

Another very clever idea from B&W Outdoor is three-part hard-side/soft-side cases. The outer shell is a soft-side bag; then comes a removable gasketed lock-top box; then the camera bag insert. For shipping or maximum protection, the case is used with the box; for comfort and reduced weight once you have arrived at your destination, you remove the box and use just the outer shell and the camera insert. I'll need to try this before I am convinced it works, but it certainly should.

For extreme waterproofing, and other advantages as well, there's the VacuumSaver line of cases with a simple, manual vacuum pump. Put the lid on; pump; and you can reduce the internal pressure significantly, though not to a proper "hard" 30" vacuum. What's important is not so much the reduction in air pressure as the reduction in moisture and atmospheric pollutants, thereby greatly reducing the risk of corrosion and mold growth. I'd very much like some of these, preferably with the optional humidity indicators.

Not strictly a bag, but definitely waterproof, was the DiCApac range of soft underwater housings from GoShot, and then there were the underwater housings from SnapSights!: a choice of digital cameras (their own Pixtreme models), "reusable cameras" (again, their own basic point-and-shoots), and even an MP3 player housing. The great thing about SnapSights! was their pricing: $10-$20 for the camera and underwater housing together (35mm models) and not too much over $100 for the digital camera and housing.

DiCApac GoShot

A way I often carry stuff, though, is in pouches and bags in an unstructured bag or case--something as simple as a Zero Halliburton with all the foam stripped out, so I have an ultralight, ultra-strong, and very thin-walled case. Then I can pack clothes and cameras together. To protect the cameras from dust and lint as much as from knocks, I use mostly OP/TECH USA neoprene pouches of which (as ever) there were several new models at PMA, including SLR pouches for the newer, smaller digital SLRs, along with SNAPPEEZ soft pouches with sewn-in belt loops and magnetic closures. There's also a new, bigger size of "Hood Hat," a shower cap-type protector you can push over the lens shade of even your 300mm f/2.8. Another series of pouches that caught my eye came from Kodak Gear: bright colors and especially stripes make them easier to see in the dark recesses of a camera bag.

Kodak gear

What else did I come away with, apart from the CompuTrekker? Well, one of the cheapest bags at the show: $5 Stuff-Its are zip-top totes specifically for backgrounds, which have to be stored crumpled or you get lines where they have been folded. And a Werner-Hollingsworth round-the-neck Photojournalist travel wallet, with passport and card pockets on the front, and in the inner zipped compartment, useful pockets for carrying things in: ideal for travel and trade shows alike. These come free with many of the larger Werner-Hollingsworth bags--a wide range of classic camera bags and cases--but they are also sold separately at $12.50 each and they can take some of the stress out of travel.

Photojournalist wallet

Which means I'm ending where I started: making life easy when you're traveling. In this case, by plane. But when we next go to Eastern Europe in our old Land Rover (which was having a new chassis fitted while we were in Florida for the show), we'll use other bags, and next time we go to Paris on the motorcycle, we'll use something different again. There's no such thing as a universal bag--but somewhere, there's almost certainly the bag for you and your particular needs. The important thing in this is that one word: you. Don't be fooled by the ads: just look for the features you want. You'll find them.

Manufacturers/Distributors' addresses can be found on page 174.