Camera Bags - They Are Always Too Small

The title is not a complaint. It really isn't. It's an observation on having purchased and lived with more camera toting gear, bags, backpacks, satchels, wraps, straps, and cases than I care to remember. Every single one of them was quickly became too small. I was thinking about this today when I pulled out my Domke F-803 to grab a pamphlet that I jammed in the back pocket about a week ago. I just ordered a new F-803, this one is in the new "ruggedwear" finish. I assume it will be as durable as this one has been. Yea I know it doesn't look too too bad in this image but trust me I have worn holes in it and it's time. This one has been around the planet a couple of times and it really shows. The hooks are actually rusty.

On to the stupid thought of the day, the reason all camera bags are too small. You know the answer, it's because we all insist on taking way way way too much stuff. Everything gets crammed in that can possibly fit. Now that is not a bad thing but what really happens is things you don't need or at least don't need on this outing find a home. Once something has found a home in a bag, it seems to never leave. It hangs around forever and then every time you get new gear it then needs a home and you get a bigger bag. If it ever leaves, it's too late and you already have a bigger bag and any space is used up for the next generation stuff that eventually you will get rid of - but… not till you have a new bag.

I just quickly contrasted these two camera "bags". My largest single bag and my smallest single bag. They are not the greatest examples right now for me but they will serve. Let's take the Domke F-803 first. What do we have here?

  1. Leica M6
  2. Leica 50mm Summicron
  3. Leica 50mm Elmar
  4. Leica 90mm Elmarit
  5. Leica 35mm Summicron ASPH
  6. Minolta Flash Meter IV or some such thing.
  7. Some extra batteries - A76's or S76's
  8. A flashlight
  9. A pencil
  10. A sharpie
  11. An old Nikon cleaning rag I forgot about
  12. A few rolls of TRI-X, TMAX 3200, Portra 160VC, Some TMAX 100

That's not too bad but what you don't know is what is NOT there that usually is:

  1. Leica M3
  2. Voigtlander 50mm Nokton f1.1
  3. A digital Point and Shoot
  4. A bunch more film
  5. Travel guides, maps, passport, credit cards, iPod, cigarettes, business cards, a notebook, assorted writing instruments, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Wow - so what is the issue, an F-803 is small right? Yes and I want to keep it that way. What the hell am I doing with a light meter and three 50mm lenses in that bag? How about a flashlight that I never use, i fact the batteries are dead, I forgot about it years ago. Well I guess it's not a problem but what usually happens is that stuff migrates to a slightly bigger bag as soon as you have just one more thing that you must bring. Trust me NOTHING else will fit in there the way it is normally packed. In reality I could carry an even smaller bag with the stuff I actually use on most outings, and even trips. Maybe like that really small one, the Domke F-5XB, it's like half the size. Trust me If you know the F-803 and you just saw my list you may be scratching your head about how I got all that in there in the first place. It's not pretty.

Moving on to the big camera "bag", actually it is a Pelican hard case. It's is absolutely the biggest container I will carry. I have some bigger stuff from Lightware that is for my strobes but I am talking camera carrying here. This thing is much bigger than it looks, let us see what is inside today:

  1. Hasselblad 500 CM body
  2. Hasselblad 501 CM body
  3. Zeiss 50mm CFi FLE
  4. Zeiss 150mm CFi
  5. Zeiss 80mm CFe
  6. 3 A12 Film Magazines
  7. A PM-45 Viewfinder
  8. Adapter rings for a Proshade
  9. A Proshade
  10. Two Extension Tubes
  11. A box of various filters
  12. A Polaroid film back
  13. A Propack of old film
  14. A Sekonic Zoom/Spot/Ambient flash meter
  15. Some batteries that probably don't work

Wait a second… A Polaroid film back, you have to be kidding right. Nope - I haven't used that thing since I started chimping digital for exposure and lighting tests. WTF? The rest of it's not so bad, well the old film and batteries are but hey… Actually all of it is ridiculous, really do you think I need all three lenses, a bunch of filters, extension tubes, two bodies, and three film magazines every time I shoot with the 'blad? Of course not but what happens is that when I shoot MF my built in reaction is to just grab the "minimal" kit. Yes that is what I considered a "minimal" kit of medium format gear a while ago. A minimal kit for what you may ask. Well, a minimal kit for anything, having no idea what I was actually going to shoot.

Here is some practical advise for those of you new to this photography gear game. There is no such thing as a minimal kit when you have no idea what you are actually going to shoot. Don't try to build one and jamb it in a camera bag, or a camera case. Try this little exercise for a little while, even if you do it mentally - physically is better but if you just won't or just can't then mentally will have to do.

Buy yourself a new camera bag, a ridiculously small one compared to what you normally carry. You probably already have several but they are old an boring so buy a new fancy cool looking one to get you motivated. Nothing motivates like a new piece of photo gear. Keep your old bag to. Unpack all of your equipment, every last thing so that all your bags are completely empty the big ones, the medium ones, the brand new itty bitty cool one you just bought and put all your stuff in a cupboard or something that you cannot possibly carry around with you. Next time you go somewhere to photograph, I do mean anywhere with any intent to make an image, decide before you go what kind of images you will make and pack that tiny new bag with as much stuff as you can fit that will help you get the pictures that you want to take. No more that is it. Go ahead stuff all you can in there but it must be the little new one.

Do this over the course of a few weeks. This may cause way way more anxiety than you think it will but it's worth it. When you get home take it all back out and leave nothing in the bag. Obviously don't blow a gig, do it on everything else, spec shoots, portfolio work, personal projects, family outings, whatever. I swear this will help you out in two ways. You will be far better at selecting the minimal equipment you need to make what kind of shot you intend and as a bonus you will actually get to the point where you will want to carry less all the time. Some of you may actually get better images to boot without the confusion and complexity that more gear clutters your brain with.


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