Finding a comfortable way to carry around your gear is always a challenge for photographers. DSLRs are heavy. Lenses are big. Many enthusiasts—even pros—are turning to mirrorless cameras and their small footprints as a way to lighten the load. But you still need a bag, the perfect bag, to accommodate your shrunken gadgets.
I recently sold my Canon 7D for a Sony NEX-7. All of a sudden I was bringing my camera everywhere, shooting more, and enjoying it more. But the large backpack I used to carry it—and its many lenses—was bulbous and unnecessary. Out with the old and in with the new!
So what makes a good bag for a mirrorless camera? It should be small enough to not feel like a burden. It should be stylish enough to carry around on an everyday stroll without looking like a tourist. It should provide quick access for street-shooting. Lastly, it should have enough storage for a couple of lenses, accessories, and maybe say, an iPad or similar device.
The five bags we had the pleasure of trying out were varied in look and size, all under $150. Here they are in order of our least to most favorite.
National Geographic Earth Explorer Midi Messenger Bag
You always see these Nat Geo bags in camera stores and just want grab one and go on safari. Unfortunately, reality isn't quite as fun. This bag is just overly complicated. The interior is a mess of floppy misshaped separators, and the exterior is replete with buttons and straps that are nothing but a fuss. Next. $80
Domke Small Messenger Bag
The low-key, rugged canvas of the Domke looks and feels great, but the odd shape—taller than it is wide—is terrible for small cameras. Your gear will get lost at the bottom, and it's hard to make use of all the available space. There is no flat slot for a notebook or tablet. Moving on. $90
Lowepro Event Messenger 100
This bag has great structural integrity. It holds its shape and has clearly defined compartments. Lowepro excels in this department. Unfortunately, it's too small to be an ideal, versatile carry-around. It looks like something you'd pick up in that Ritz Camera at the mall, and is awkward for some of the larger mirrorless cams out there. Pass. $50
ThinkTank Retrospective 5
Now we're getting somewhere. The Retrospective 5's worn canvas looks great. It packs a surprising amount of exterior and interior storage, all easily accessible. It also has a effective rain cover. Sadly, it's also just a bit too small. Just one more inch of width and you could fit an iPad, but as it is, it will hold a camera, a couple of lenses, and not a whole lot else. $138
Tenba Mini Messenger
This is a terrific camera bag. Sure, it looks a bit corporate, but it's shockingly functional, with tons of varying storage with sublime structural integrity. Perhaps the best part is the zipper on top that gives immediate access to your camera without even having to tear at any velcro. The Tenba is larger than the others we tried out. We even comfortably carried a 5D Mark III with a lens. If you don't mind that bit of extra girth, it's an all-around delight. $94