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Photographers and the Search for the Holy Bag

Sep 22

In Equipment at 2:09am


Photographers. If somebody offered us a cool bag in lieu of a day rate, we’d probably take it. I can’t tell you how many times over the course of my career I’ve just about keeled over with the rapture at the sight and feel of some shoulder borne, web slung, wheelie driven mix of cordura and zippers. Gotta have it. Just gotta. Hence my garage is a bag graveyard, strewn with relics of cases gone by and zippers gone off the rails. Once mighty containers, with the double stitched linings and the thirteen secret zippered, waterproof compartments in the front flap alone, hang lifelessly, toting only dust and the occasional mouse turd. (Photo above by Will Foster.)

So, we’ve had a good tour of bag land, and have finally arrived at some conclusive (for us, anyway) evidence that bag science is finally delivering on the promise of a cure for the bagaholic shooter. We’ll be posting intermittently (did I have to say that, faithful readers who put up with my erratic blogging?) on bags we have experimented with and are fond of. While I stop short of saying we are in bag heaven, the mix of Kata, Thinktank, and Moose bags have really elevated the game.

Let’s start with the big guns, what we do our heaviest shipping with, the Kata line. We use their OC line, a mix of mostly 88’s and 97’s, with a couple 86’s mixed in. (Check out the website, the numbers correspond to different sizes.) I have to say that our experience across the board with these guys is pretty flawless. They are made from some type of ballistic material that can probably fend off an RPG, hence since traveling with these, I have had zero, zero damage to my stuff, despite the fact that there are certainly some airline bag handlers, disgruntled with lifting them, who have played bombadier with these puppies, dropping them out of the airplane to the tarmac without the benefit of mechanized conveyance.


The interiors, blessedly, are the color of a school bus. Makes sense. Every drop some tiny little biddy bastard screw thing, or plastic whozimawhatsis down into the hold of a standard black bag? You might as well have dropped it into a black hole. (In fact, you did.) The yellow brick road interiors of these bags simply makes sense for mostly black photo gear. They also smartly divide up the top flap into zippered compartments for the interior, and hollow spaces (2 of them) on the top of the exterior. These two pics are how we travel with speedlights. The whole nine yards fits into one bag….SB900s, SD9 battery packs, SC-29 cables, SU 800, Maha chargers, Flashpoint stuff, Lumiquest light shapers, Honl grids, Ray flash, gels, batteries, Hoodman loupes, instruction manuals, Wave tool, Swiss Army knives, gaffer tape, and spare batteries. Everything is numbered, and color coded with tape.


We throw this puppy into FedEx, or the hold of a plane. It survives admirably. The question mark is the wheels. They have hung in there, mostly, but I have busted a couple of sets over the last year or so. (They are independent of the case, thus replaceable.) But, as I hark back, I have busted the wheels on virtually every case I’ve ever owned. Ever smash a set of the built in wheels on a Pelican case? Not a happy day. The wheels turn into non-spinning lumps and the bag turns into the equivalent of an anvil. (Ever swung a heavy, hard, plastic type case, loaded with gear, out of the back of a Suburban, and before it hits the ground, the first thing it makes contact with is your shins? Oh, my. You feel like you just attached a set of jumper cables to your lower legs, the way you start hopping around.) The Kata’s are padded all around. And the zippers, the Achilles heel of most bags, have remained resolutely intact.

All in all, great bags, well thought out, and good protection for the gear. Next up, quite soon, bags for the smaller stuff. Thinktank, and how we’ve adapted them to our traveling ways, more Kata, and the Moose bag.

More tk….

richard Hales says:

on September 22, 2010 at 2:37 am

Slightly more capacious than my 20 year old Billingham

Terje Myller says:

on September 22, 2010 at 2:44 am

Oh my, the two necessities of life, bags and women. My fav bag is still the big soft sandcolored Domke which I bought in 1989. Use it every day.

Adam Ziaja says:

on September 22, 2010 at 3:45 am

Awesome! 😀

matthew pace says:

on September 22, 2010 at 5:17 am


Totally agree with KATA..a point you might have not meantion is that they stac on the wheels…eg. I have the OC and the large Reporter…it fits on top of the OC bag and over the wheels,

The inside can come out to be a soft bag on an assigment as well.
Being a “Baggie” myself, owning more that my wife does, I really love this series.
PS. If you are ever in Miami, we would love have you as presenter at our ASMP event.

Bob says:

on September 22, 2010 at 7:09 am

I thought you couldn’t carry batteries in checked bags on a plane. They have to go carry-on with you. Something to do with fire systems on the plane, as I recall. Did I read the above correctly that you check your batteries?

Tim Skipper says:

on September 22, 2010 at 7:45 am

I’m not a baggie addict, but I will enjoy following these to see if there’s a bag that will really make me happy. So far I haven’t found one.

Ang says:

on September 22, 2010 at 8:17 am

Hi Joe;
Love your sense of humor and outlook on things.
As for the bags and gear; well I’m still a newbee and on budget, so I’m not quite there, not just yet…. but its good to know that I will be in great company when I do get there lol… Take care and all the best.

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on September 22, 2010 at 8:23 am


I thought it was just me. From Domke (still have my canvas original models) to backpack I could never lift (and would give a Sherpa a problem), I have bought most of them. With a bad back, it makes it even more challenging, as I have never been known to pack light. I look forward to the Think Tank review as that is the brand that I have been using, and they seem to fit almost every need. It is more than one bag. One for travel and general cram it all in, then one to take to the shoot with most of what is needed, then the bag that will fit most of what you need, and you can carry for hours, to the belt system (and watch out when you unbuckle that baby – like a fat man losing a button on his pants – I should know!).

My most dreadful bag story was at your workshop. I go to pull my 70-200 out of my shoulder bag, and hear that kaleidoscope sound in my lens. Not a good sound at all. But it was the filter that shatters, and not the lens elements, and with careful examination and a lot of concern, it was fine. I remember your offer to use your lens if needed, and I will never forget your generosity. You must have seen that sheer terror and lost dog look on my face.

You blog a lot more than me, and more than most. I seem to remember you have a job that requires some travel, don’t you? You need to pay for those race cars. Can you double clutch?

Bill Bogle, Jr.

Jay Mann says:

on September 22, 2010 at 8:44 am

Hey Joe,

I have spent more time thinking about which bag to buy than the actual gear ( there really is not much selection of bodies and lenses). As you know I move very couple of years, and the guy who gets my house after me always inherits the bags which are no longer in favour. For my jungle travelling, a backpack don’t work because I have to be able to access without taking it off. Sling bags don’t work with my bad shoulder ( bicycles, mountains..need I say more?) Waist bags? Ummm No. So it is back to the traditional over shoulder ( other shoulder) photo pack with a belt strap. Its also nice for wearing in crowds because I can put it in front and make sure little hands keep out. :) Now I have decide if I take the large one or the small one, lucklily they are both black so I don’t have to worry about matching with my shoes.


Jacob Härnqvist says:

on September 22, 2010 at 8:54 am

Great entertainment as usual! I really love reading this stuff. Makes me laugh AND learn at the same time, doesn’t happen too often.

Justin Van Leeuwen says:

on September 22, 2010 at 9:05 am

Oooooho – gear talk! My biggest question right now is moving with the Ranger Quadra’s… just a two pack set, with lights maybe no mods (but the adapters). Are you traveling with any of the Kata bags this way? Love to know.

Paul says:

on September 22, 2010 at 9:51 am

Hi Joe

Very timely blog. I’m testing out few configurations for a November job in Egypt – shooting for a week on one of those beautiful twin-masted wooden boats on the Nile. Have to travel very light. So I just packed everything (I could fit…) into a new Tamarac Evolution 8 for a quick job in Baja (where I am now) to see if it works. Well – it’s very very challenging, and I’ve never had to think harder about what I really need to take vs what I really want to take. I can certainly think of a zillion things I didn’t bring, but I’m making myself think about how to best use the gear that I did bring. It’s actually a somewhat cool exercise. I’m not sure that this bag is the right one for the job, but this is good dry run…

I’m looking forward to the Moose Bag installment.

Best –


Eric Muetterties says:

on September 22, 2010 at 10:17 am

I love the Think Tank bags and I’m looking forward to your thoughts!

FS Gilbert says:

on September 22, 2010 at 11:13 am

I used the Domke in Europe and loved it. Then my daughter showed up at the Red Sox game with us carrying a MountainSmith bag. That is all I use now. It carries my D700, an extra lens and flash.

BTW, Joe, why do all the manufacturers of bags have them in black? My Domke in sand was cool in the heat of Provence.

DaveM says:

on September 22, 2010 at 12:14 pm

I’m a big fan of Kata since I bought the KT DR-467I-BG Digital Rucksack. Still use it when I want to travel light. When I need more gear I use the Kata OC-84 GDC w/wheels. I recently purchased the Kata KALSB54 LS-54 Light Stand Bag. Their stuff is well built. I’ve had other photographers comment on how good the cases look and impressed at how much gear I can travel with on location with no assistants.

The bright yellow interior is nice. I don’t know why others go with black. Always easy to find small parts in my bag.

Tim Worms says:

on September 22, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I recently got a ThinkTank on sale and am very happy with it so far. I’m interested to hear what you have to say about them.

As well, I really look forward to seeing what smaller bag you might recommend for a light amount of gear.

I await your wisdom, sensei McNally.

Tim L says:

on September 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm

That first shot is classic! Another great read. Thanks, Joe.

Dennis Hoover says:

on September 22, 2010 at 4:44 pm

My girlfriend has a name for my bag obsession, ” Bag Whore… ”

” Hi my name is Dennis and I’m a Bag Whore. ”

Love my Think Tank bags.

And FS Gilbert,all bags are black so that your significant other won’t notice when you buy another one. Black tends to make the pile look smaller.

Erin Wilson says:

on September 22, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Just a thought about your bag graveyard… if you could ever handle parting with them… drop them off at a tailor or seamstress to fix the broken bits, then have an auction to support your favourite charity. In fact, I bet all the big guns at Photoshop World would contribute too. If you had a bag auction at PW, between you, you could probably raise enough funds to support the orphanage (that Kelby supports) for an entire year.

Just a thought.

Nikki says:

on September 22, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Ahhhh, bags, I love them and have a closetful. My husband keeps asking why I need another bag, but it seems I’m always on the search for the ‘perfect’ one. However, I always seem to default back to my Domke shoulder bag. I call it my ’round the world bag’ and it’s still my favorite.

Pat Delany says:

on September 22, 2010 at 7:58 pm


When I was a kid, my best friend and I spent countless hours playing with G.I. Joe, a 12″ tall “action figure” for those unfamiliar with U.S. toys in the 60’s and early 70’s. It wasn’t until a new kid moved into the neighborhood and joined our army that I learned the truth. His older (and much cooler) sister one day dismissed us boys as a bunch of little irritants that played with dolls. Her description of our macho action figures devastated me, my developing sense of manliness (I had a crush on her), and my relationship with G.I. Joe. Things were never the same again. Now, here we are 40 years later I read that you will be commenting on bags and you confess to possessing a multitude. I experienced flashbacks to the army of G.I. Joes I had assembled and realized I’m doing the same thing with my ever growing collection camera bags.

After mulling it over I came to a realization. Judging from the attendees at your workshops (you yourself even commented on it at one workshop), and the comments posted in response to your blogs, you draw a decidedly male audience. So, it is with that knowledge that I feel comfortable admitting to the world (really just the similar thinking male portion of it that read your blogs, sporadic as they may be), I too get jazzed about collecting bags. Like my wife, I am in that never ending search for the one bag that works best. So, since I do not travel on a regular basis with enough lighting equipment to light an X-47A Pegasus, I really look forward your promised blog on the ThinkTank bags. I look forward to your pearls of wisdom on the subject. Please post soon!


Deb Cobb says:

on September 22, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Very timely post! I’ve started my search today for a new bag for an upcoming trip to Paris. Although I LOVE my think tank belt, it’s hard to blend in while wearing it.

I’m also a fan of Kata – exactly for the reason you mention – the yellow interior (I suppose it’s built really well too- but I can FIND all those little pieces I drop!)

I can’t wait to see your next post! –

Best, Deb

Glyn Dewis says:

on September 23, 2010 at 2:04 am

Hey Joe,

I can’t comment on the Kata range but as for ThinkTank….love it!!! I’m using the Airport Security Roller…strong, portable, a Tardis for fitting kit in but a big plus….it’s inconspicuous.

The bright yellow interior as in the Kata would be a BIG bonus though; no longer the ‘needle in a hay stack’ scenario when searching as you say for the screw or similar that drops inside.


Rich Charpentier says:

on September 23, 2010 at 9:26 am


Maybe I’m a pack junkie. It probably comes from my heavy backpacking days. Like the months I spent hiking the AT. I still haven’t found “the bag” that offers a great mix for the outdoor photographer who spends too much time in the back country and goes way too far…..

If you ever have thoughts on such a bag, or you stumble across the ultimate back country photo bag please be sure to include that one on your blog!

As always, great post!


Max Archer says:

on September 23, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Looking forward to the Think Tank post.

I just gave up on shoulder bags, after many years of back and shoulder pain and the hassle of carrying them. I replaced my Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home with a TTP Airport Antidote 2.0 and couldn’t be happier with it. I have a side project documenting comic and sci-fi fans who make and wear replica costumes, and travel to many of these events, doing shoots without an assistant or any production crew, and the AA2.0 has changed the way I work, from home to the airport to the hotel to the convention floor and photoshoot locations. I just did an event where I had my gear all day long for three days straight, and hallelujah, no pain at the end of it all! One other massive improvement with the backpack is that I can thread through crowds much more easily than with a large shoulder bag, and the built in combo lock means I don’t worry about somebody messing with the gear from behind me.

Now, I’m no Joe, since I do almost everything with two speedlights and the camera’s pop-up as CLS master, but for a “light” setup like mine, this is great. I toss a couple manfrotto nano stands, a 24″ ezybox, and most of an interfit strobies portrait kit (minus the dome) in a nondescript Samsonite suitcase and I’ve got a serviceable field kit ready to get thrown on a plane and shipped off to a location. One thing I really wish photo gear manufacturers would copy from the luggage industry is the “spinner” style wheels, where the bag has four casters on the bottom. These make it much easier to get through airports and crowds, since the bag can be upright and next to me, rather than dragging behind me.

Anyway, enough of my life story! Looking forward to reading Joe’s take on the TTP and Moose stuff.


Will Foster says:

on September 23, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Great post, but hmmm… I don’t remember taking that photo :-)

Hee says:

on September 23, 2010 at 10:06 pm

i love my Kata’s line! For the School bus color’s sake! You just feel safe putting your gears in yellow sponges!

Cheers! Great post and pica!


Paul says:

on September 24, 2010 at 9:36 am

Wow! That is a lot of gear to carry. I am also looking for a solution that holds the essentials on-location. I love the Pelican cases for durability but I want something with faster access.

If you come across one on wheels that works well on-location and one that an assistant can easily manage please post what you find.



Daniel Mast says:

on September 24, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Love this! The only thing that I would love more is if I could see larger images of how you have your bags composed. That is all!

Tera says:

on September 24, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Great review! It is good to hear that women are not the only ones with a thing for bags.

It is impressive to see how you organize and keep track of that much equipment!

Ken Toney says:

on September 25, 2010 at 9:17 am

Joe, what are you doing in my office? It’s that much of a mess.
Scoot suggested the Think Tank Airport when I went to Vegas and it was awesome! I am afraid to check any electronics but I did pack my Gitzo in my check.

Brian Morgan says:

on September 25, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on bags for lighting. I’ve been hauling things around to local assignments in plastic cartons (like those found at Target) and now I’m going to try out one of the Kata bags for my lighting gear. I enjoy all you share with the community – thanks!!

Tom says:

on September 27, 2010 at 6:47 am

Hi Joe
Have you used Crumpler bags in the past? If so, do you rate them highly?

Neil phootgrapher says:

on October 6, 2010 at 5:01 am

Do you remember when you had to carry 2 camera kits 35mm & med format!! its so easy now just one bag. Wellington photographer

Matthew Brown says:

on October 8, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I’ve been using the Kata R-104 for about a year now and I don’t know how I’d ever live without it.

Thankfully, I did a ton of research prior to purchase, so I didn’t get sucked in to the hype of the billion other bags out there that look so promising but fail to deliver.

And Joe, you’re right on.. If I were part of an RPG attack, I’d want my Kata on my back. :-)

– Matt

Chris Martin says:

on October 9, 2010 at 2:11 am

When, oh when is that Thinktank adaptation post coming out? I am headed to Tanzania next month and am hugely fretting over gear and transport – can’t think only photo gear on this one. The trip is for my company’s foundation and charitable work. Normally I would just be shooting, but this time shooting and installing a well and water distribution system. Since I will have to wear my gear 24/7, I am trying to adapt a non-photo backpack and my Thinktank modular stuff. I am dumbing down the normal list of gear and thinking I want to use modulars in the bag for transport and then replace the backpack belt with the Thinktank belt and attach the photo gear while on-site. Would love to see your ideas as if I don’t get this sorted out soon my brain will definitely explode!

FLS Brendefur says:

on October 10, 2010 at 6:01 am

Genius! Haha, love your blog!
Funny picture, looks like your bags are going to eat you or something 😀

DanFig says:

on November 14, 2010 at 9:00 pm


Great post, you mentioning your garage full of old bags got me thinking. What if you held a contest and gave away your old camera bags as a reward. I think a genuine-mcnally camera bag would be a great score for budding photographers. Of course following where the bags go ala the would be even cooler.
Figured I’d float the idea out to you…
Keep up the great work- your work is a inspiration to photographers everywhere!

ps. I never met a camera bag that didnt need a little modification!

Firmy Czestochowa says:

on December 5, 2011 at 10:50 am

Very funny text. I wish to create as good work. Our town is interesting and we think that it is bander to you.

Kasey Arroyo says:

on January 21, 2012 at 11:18 am

Great, thanks for sharing this post. Cool.

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