Camera bags that don't look like camera bags

Discussion in 'Accessories' started by welly_kiwi, Oct 16, 2009.

  1. Hi all,
    First off, I do hope this question hasn't already been asked; the search for 'camera bag' and various other forms of the phrase didn't seem to turn up the answer that I'm looking for so I thought I'd ask it myself.
    I'm moving on from my crumpler bags. Don't get me wrong, I love them dearly, and they've served me well. But they look like camera bags. I actually bought them after a lot of research on bags that don't look like camera bags, and they almost make it in that category, I can't put my finger on what it is but people do seem to realise straight away that they're carrying gear.
    So I'm after some recommendations. I've been looking at the National Geographic shoulder bag - and I think this has a shot of looking like a basic messenger bag, if I rough it up enough, but I'm worried about it's interior padding, has anyone used these before?
    I'm also looking at the, but a bigger version that would hold more equipment.
    What do you all think? Has anyone had a similar quest, or better yet, have any of you tried the above bags or ones you think fit the bill? I'd love to hear what you have to say.
    My reason for the camera-bag-in-disguise (if anyone is curious), is just that I do like to shoot in some shady locations from time to time, but once I get a camera bag I like to stick with it, so it needs to be able to be seen at weddings as well.
    Many thanks!
  2. I think this is an interesting subject because some people looking for bags that don't look like camera bags end up getting stuff like the think tank urban disguise but that one looks like a computer bag! Does that make it less likely to get stolen? I think not.
    I think you should get something that is NOT a camera bag and have the gear in that. You can get inserts for another camera bag, like billingham, and put that inside a regular bag or maybe a backpack.
  3. I like to shoot a lot of street photography too, sometimes in shady locations, and I also like to use the same type of gear for weddings. I've looked at a lot of bags (bought far too many, too) but eventually settled on Billingham as the best style for my needs, based on a two body kit with prime lenses.
    For street shooting I use a khaki billingham that's been used and abused over the years. It's marked, lightly torn, kind of grubby - and no one has ever looked at it twice. Definitely unprepossessing, and never mistaken for a laptop bag. I've been to a lot of high theft areas and never attracted the slightest attention.
    For weddings I use the exact same model of bag but in black - it's crisp, presentable, light and highly portable - perfect for my needs. Looks great with a suit, and most importantly, doesn't scream photographer, ninja or swat team.
    They both use the same inserts, making it easy to move the kit from one bag to the other without repacking. I just undo a single press-stud, lift out the entire interior, and drop it in the other bag.
    They also make bigger bags that can accommodate larger kits - they'll fit two bodies, 24-70s, a couple of primes and a couple of speed lights quite easily.
  4. I hear of people using kiddie diaper bags. who's gonna steal that! ;)
  5. When I travel I put my camera bag inside of a grungy ice chest I got from the Goodwill. It not only protects my camera from heat but doesn't look like something worth stealing.
  6. Have you looked at Crumpler's back packs? When I'm trying to go incognito (and don' t mind having to set it down to fish something out), my Crumpler Karachi Outpost - which carries body, several lenses, a laptop, etc - looks nothing like a camera bag. I just look like a guy with a soft-ish pack.
  7. All the bags mentioned (save the diaper bags which require a decoy baby, and ice chest) so far scream "steal me" to any savvy thief/holdup man. And they seem too small for a wedding bag, too. You should insure your cameras, but if you use a Billingham, buy life insurance, too. :)
    When street photographing in hi-risk locations, specially when taking public transit there, I dress the part, and carry a battered (dragged behind my bike on a rainy day over a bouncy trail) two-compartment soft-sided lunch bag for my gear. It never gets a 2nd look.
    To the OP: Any messenger bag can be fitted with the Domke inserts (be sure to stabilize them by fitting velcro patches inside your bag). Go to a 2nd hand shop and get one that's seen better days, but has its seams intact.
  8. Welly,
    once you take out your camera in that seedy place, the jig is up: everyone in the neighborhood will know you have a $5,000 Leica/Nikon/Contax/Canon/ ... rig in there.
    So: what do you do then? I wonder if you will actually just parade your bag with goodies through seedy town, as a sort of dare or if you are going to take that camera out at least once? Do you want to take pictures? If yes, any bag will do. If not, what a waste of effort ...
  9. Why do you care if the bag looks like a camera bag?
    If you are actually using your camera, it's going to be rather obvious that the bag on your shoulder is holding other camera gear.
    If you're just transporting your camera, I'd suggest that how you carry yourself is going to be a bigger factor in being mugged you than what brand your bag is. If you are worried about shooting in a shady part of town, I would suggest a threatening-looking partner would ward off more would-be thieves than a tattered bag. Once you remove your camera from the bag, your "cover" will be blown.
  10. I really like thinktank bags they don't really look like camera bags but the do look high quality.
  11. As someone already noted, the ThinkTank bags look like laptop bags. It's like disguising your Mercedes Benz as a BMW. And as someone else noted, as soon as you use your camera, the disguise is blown anyway.
  12. All discussions about the usefulness or not of "doesn't look like a camera bag" bags aside, I wrote this article a while back that covers a lot of the common smaller bags that get mentioned in discussions such as these:
  13. Old flight bags of the sort the airlines used to give away are an inexpensive possibility, but require some padding.
    Old military gear bags can also be handy, but there are some obvious pitfalls such as using old Israeli paratrooper shoulder bags in Gaza. It's hard to find a military organization that isn't disliked by someone, someplace.
  14. Crumpler is victim of their own own success. The "does not look like Camera bag" concept is so popular and all the Crumpler stores make Crumpler a target for thief.
  15. I use four Domke bags, two satchels and two regular bags. Actually two of them are Chinese knock-offs, better made by far than the current Domkes (the ones that Domke are complaining about on their web site). The F-2 is my favorite but Domke now charges $200 for it! The old Domkes at least were very well made and great to work out of. You can spray the canvas bags with a Nikwax product that will make them waterproof yet leaves the canvas soft. As an all-round bag I recommend the F-2 (or the Safrotto equivalent) a bit bigger than what you have in mind but canvas collapses nicely...
  16. I use a Billingham and a ThinkTank, along with a Sig and a Ruger.
  17. I bought a Lowepro Flipside 400 in all black for that very reason. Looks like any other modern sportsy type backpack. Bonus-- the main compartment zipper isn't on the outside like a normal pack, it's on the inside, up against your back.
    Normally, I carry this monster & it just screams "mug me", wherever you are.
  18. I use Timbuk2 messenger bags with Domke inserts.
  19. I do recall a thread just like this one about a year ago. It was right after I picked up two Fossil messenger bags - soft, durable canvas with leather trim, plenty of pockets and adequate padding, easy (and quiet) open clasp closures and a great, comfortable, solid strap. I don't see the exact ones on the Fossil site right now, but I got both of mine on clearance for about $20 apiece.
    They're the best non-camera camera bags I've ever used. I never use my Domke F-5 or whatever it is any more. These bags are vintage and worn looking, have plenty of room for a Leica M body and a few primes and about 10-15 rolls of film without missing a beat. Also room for all other normal gadgets, phone, notepad, etc...that photogs usually carry around. The canvas conforms to my body when I carry it, making it comfortable and secure feeling. All hardware is triple stitched and leather reinforced, better than most camera bags. It's weather resistant enough and has enough padded compartments that I don't worry about it - I'm not dropping this from a height on concrete, or checking it in at the airline counter, but you wouldn't do that with any camera bag anyway would you?
    It really surprises me that no one seems to have discovered these as ideal for those who want a good, functional and reliable "non-camera camera bag". Give 'em a look.
  20. Here's a good example of what I'm talking about. FYI.....
  21. Most of Josh's recs look, er, like camera bags--the only exceptions being hi-mileage Domkes. The Billinghams are just too posh and would encourage colonial memories grudge muggings in some parts of the world. Ratty old Domke F2 bags afford a lot of invisibility.
  22. An ice chest (or soft cooler bag) may look like something worth stealing if the potential thief thinks it might contain some cold beer... I think that the diaper bag is your best bet, until you take the camera out...
  23. Domke canvas bags.....cut and/or destitch the logo's off....take outside to a particulairly dirty piece of ground and stomp on the sucker for awhile. instant "hi mileage" Domke
  24. Love my Lowepro Flipside, except for the little orange camera-on-a-tripod emblem at the bottom. Doh!
  25. Giottos Lefoto has some messenger-style and other designs that don't look like camera bags.
  26. Tamrac manufactures the Express series of messenger bags that do not look like typical camera bags. They come in khaki and in black ultra suede. The Tamrac Adventure series are built on a similar chassis as the Express series, but are all nylon and do not have the ultra suede, and do not have a zippered pocket on the inside of the front flap (probably not a big deal). The Adventure series appear to have a more water resistent and durable outer cover, but at the price of appearing more like a camera bag. Both series appear to be well built and well padded, and are comfortable to carry.
  27. I can't recommend Domke anymore. Over the years their construction quality has taken a nosedive. I recently bought an F-5XB and the canvas was so thin you could actually see your fingers through it if you held it up to a ceiling light. The last F-5XB I owned from about 10 years ago was much better. I also agree with Peter N; it's a little ironic that the Chinese knock-offs that Tiffen complains about on their own site are actually better designed and built than the originals.
    I have nothing against Crumpler products, but their websites are a lesson on how not to design a site. Every time I think about buying a Crumpler product, a visit to their site for more information always turns me off and I end up buying something else.
    On the other hand, I've always been impressed by Courierware's Incognito camera bags and am still a little mystified as to why they aren't more popular than they are.
  28. As an "incognito" bag, I use a Timbuk2 messenger bag with some random Japanese brand of insert. They are bulletproof, waterproof, comfortable to carry...the list goes on. The issue would be buying one large enough to use at a wedding, but they come in many flavors.
    To me, Domke/Billingham/arbitrary canvas bag are what I think of as camera bags.
    And just as a gripe, did you know that in Japan, Timbuk2 sells a custom insert for their bags? Go into any camera store there and you will find Timbuk2 bags with camera inserts. They are well thought out and much nicer than Domke or the like.
  29. The NatGeo bag is very obviously a camera bag, I don't think it fools anyone. I also agree that ThinkTank's look like computer bags, which on my list is even worse. I suggest buying a regular bag and padding it.
  30. Hi,
    Maybe you should try these:
    I´ve been using Marimekko-bags decades along with "conventional" camera bags like Billingham, Tamrac etc.
    Esa Kivivuori
  31. "And just as a gripe, did you know that in Japan, Timbuk2 sells a custom insert for their bags?"
    Do you have a link? Perhaps they'll export the inserts.
  32. I like the Domke satchel bags. Not so much because they don't look like a camera bag. More because they are the right size and shape for what I carry. One body, two or three lenses. Flash. Other stuff.
    And, FWIW, I tried the Courierware bag and it's nice for the most part but a bit too "squishy". Makes it hard to work out of fast because the shape of the bag is always shifting as you put stuff in and take stuff out. I like the fact that the Domkes are slightly stiffer.
  33. Slings/messenger bags are nice for a few hours of shooting, although for a full day of walking/shooting, they can seem pretty heavy. All the weight is on just one shoulder at a time.
    If you're looking for just a messenger bag then Courrier ware has some very durable ones that you can even customize if you send in fabric. They have some foam inserts available for support and padding (or depending on the bag you can make your own if you sacrifice a few external pockets) and its well disguised as a camera bag. The bags are made out of some really tough nylon and last forever. I've had mine for over 10 years and besides a camera bag it has also served as book-bag and a diaper bag ;)
    It seems that one constant among long-time photographers is the accumulation of a variety of bags that they have tried and now never use or use under specific conditions. Bring your gear with you when you're trying out bags and don't rush yourself. As others have said, it doesn't help you too much if your bag doesn't look like a camera bag since inevitably your camera will come out of it. I would focus on something comfortable to carry that accommodates how you use your gear.
  34. I quickly scrolled through the info and didn't see anything about a shootsac. I love mine and it's a messanger so I keep it right on me the entire time...
  35. An old photographer I knew was always leaving his gear lying around. He once left a Hasselblad with a couple of backs and lenses in a south London cafe. They were still there , lying in a corner where he left them, when he went back. They were in an old and battered ex British Army khaki webbing backpack. Maybe go look in your army surplus store!
  36. It depends on how much gear you are trying to schlep around. I use a old Mountainsmith Tour Lumbar pack. It's great to throw over your shoulder and has a waist-belt as well. I use it exclusively when I am traveling overseas and it doesn't scream camera gear. I can usually fit my Nikon F2SB, two or three lenses, a bunch of film, guidebook and a rain jacket inside. It also has a couple of outside mesh water bottle compartments that can be used as well (thinking like a small lens in an OP/Tech snoot boot).
  37. Courierware photo bags are high quality messenger bags with padded inserts. They don't look like a photo bag, they're understated, and keep equipment safe. What more could you want?
  38. How about a Diaper Bag ? Use a clean diaper to cover the equipment and ball up one stuff it in a corner, might want to use a little coloring on the balled up one. Now who would want to take a diaper bag with dirty diapers inside. :)
  39. Walmart used to sell a "cooler bag" with a strap. The outside looks soft but it has a stiff plastic liner inside. It def requires padding, but it fits smaller kits nicely. They come in a variety of sizes and all of them scream "lunch".
  40. After looking at several bags that didn't scream "camera bag" I settled on this Artisan&Artist bag:

    Note that on the Japanese site you can find a larger selection of their bags (many of which do look more like camera bags): and there is a note on that site that the "" site is no longer the official distributor. I got mine at Glazers Camera in Seattle.

    The bag is very well made from quality materials, have a clever design, and (in my opinion) look really good. I think most camera bags are u-g-l-y. For me choosing this bag was probably 90% about aesthetics and only 10% about camouflage.

    If need be, I can fit a D700, 105mm VR, 24-70f/2.8 and 14-24mm f/2.8 and a 13" MacBook in it at the same time, but is probably too small for a vertical-grip camera like a Canon 1D or Nikon D3. Before this bag I was using a similar looking non-camera men's messenger-style bag, but it's nice to have something actually designed for camera equipment, with padding and dividers.
    As far as theft goes, I'm not sure the non-camera-bag bag is a huge advantage. I was mugged once carrying a very plain backback. The thieves got away with only a paperback book and a banana. And I've also lost all my camera equipment in a home burglary, and those thieves made off with any sort of backpack or bag laying about the house. Point is you can probably get robbed at any time, no matter what kind of bad you are carrying. Having insurance and keeping your wits about you on the street is your best bet. If you do get robbed, hope you aren't injured, take a deep breath and tell yourself it's not the end of the world (even though it totally sucks).
    Good luck!
  41. I quickly scrolled through the info and didn't see anything about a shootsac. I love mine and it's a messanger so I keep it right on me the entire time...​
    That's because the ShootSac is an interesting idea on paper but doesn't work very well in practice. I know a couple of photographers whose lenses have fallen out of a ShootSac and shattered to pieces on the pavement.
  42. When shooting lightly with my D40 or N90, I just use an blue lunch cooler with a shoulder strap. Everyone thinks I carry food in there.
  43. Tony, these days, how long would it take the London or NY City bomb squad to explode a ratty old khaki backpack found abandoned in the street?
    Anyway, I'm thinking it really doesn't make too much difference. A bag means one is carrying something. If it's at all heavy (and anyone half-way observant can tell the difference between the way people walk carrying a newspaper & lunch vs a camera or laptop) then it's either a computer, camera, or canned ham. Any of those can get one robbed in some areas.
  44. I have more camera bags than I will ever admit. Now, I carry a messenger bag and pad my equipment w little neoprene bags or domke wraps inside. "Real" camera bags are often terrible to work out of, look silly, are way overpadded and often don't fit your particular equipment so well anyway. A possible exception is old Domke. Another shortcoming of camera bags is that they rarely accommodate other stuff, like a windbreaker or lunch. I do still use my old battered khaki Billingham Hadley, but leave the insert out. Heavily padded camera bags seem best for taking all your stuff to an event such as a wedding where you can set it down in a corner and retrieve stuff as needed, not for wearing and shooting. If you are walking and shooting, you are best off with a bag that you don't mind wearing, not a specialized camera bag.
  45. gdw


    If you don't have to carry much gear the inexpensive soft sided lunch bag mentioned above is ideal. I once sit mine down in a convenience store on main street in Houston while I was picking out a cold drink. Walked off and left it, got across the street to the bus stop before I realized what I had done. I could just see several hundred dollars worth of gear walking away. Got back to the store and it was sitting just where I put it. They have worked for me for the last five years. Even if I am carrying a camera and shooting it still says photographer dude with lunch not photographer dude with expensive camera gear in lunch bag.
  46. I second what Henry just said about the Billingham Hadley style bag. I use mine as a general shoulder bag as well as a camera bag but seldom use the inserts. This will hold a Hasselblad with lens and a spare back or a Century graphic. For anything more than this any good padded rucksack is the answer and will help avoid the back problems associated with carrying heavy gear on one shoulder. Also if you need to carry food and drink and waterproofs the rucksack is much more convenient.
  47. rjf


    I use a large fanny pack made by Redhead and sold at Bass Proshops for use by hunters in the field. It has tons of pockets and holds three lens , flash and all the cords, filters, flash cards. batteries and a bottle of water. You can also attach a whole line of accessory pouches to it for extra space. It's weather proof, extremely sturdy, and only cost $30. Better and cheaper than any camera bag I've ever tried. And beiing a fanny pack no one can snatch it away. Check it out.
  48. a bag that looks unlike any camera or laptop bad would necessitate carrying a smaller kit. i use the following. cheap, durable yet fashionable. i carry a body with prime lens attached, another prime, a small flash and a few small face towels. mine has lasted for over two and half years.
  49. I use a war surplus gas mask pouch. Rugged and doesn't look like a camera bag. It does look like a gas mask pouch - which does potentially raise some eyebrows. Lots of bags will work until you actually begin to swap gear in and out. Then there's no secret.
  50. Hi Guys,
    Wow I'm astounded by the number of responses, thank you for your input and valuble feedback.
    I completely agree with Danny Wong that Crumpler bags are victims of their own success, I do love them to pieces, but they can't help but be known as a camera bag around the world.
    I really like the idea of putting Domke inserts into old bags, but I'm still thinking of it as the back up strategy, as I like the idea that a bag might be designed from scratch to withstand impact.
    For those who asked what the point was since when I bring the camera out everyone would know; I often travel through shady parts of town to get to a secluded area for shooting, so I may wait until the coast is clear to take the camera out, hence why I want to look pretty casual getting there. I do agree that if someone sets out to mug you then there's not a lot one can do, but I figure it can't hurt to mitigate the risk and bring the odds a little in your favour :)
    Peter N, thanks for the recommendation on the Nikwax product, I haven't seen it over here but I'm about to go searching online, because the product I use leaves everything stiff and honestly isn't particularly waterproof.
    AJ, ha, that's exactly how I feel with my crumpler bags right now.
    To everyone who gave a favorite bag recommendation, I've listed them all and am about to embark on an online website hunt to check out what you're using, thanks so much, word of mouth recommendations are priceless for this kind of thing.
    Adrian, I know what you mean about messenger bags being a bit painful after a full day of shooting, but I'm not keen on backpacks and it seems like messenger is the next best thing, maybe I'll have to rethink that.
    Esa, those Marimekko bags are stunning, a little too stunning I think or I would pounce on one right now!
    David Franzen, I agree, it's really only a matter of odds, it was the thread a couple of weeks ago about Bob getting robbed that got me thinking about ways to minimize the chances of it happening, but I certainly like your come-what-may approach.
    On another note, it was really good to hear what you guys were saying about the canvas quality in the Domke bags, it's put me off buying one altogether, so thanks for the tip.
    As far as how much gear I carry around, this bag would be to carry the two large dslrs, 3 lenses and some small accessories. My laptop and tripod etc go in a different bag. Well, actually the tripod sticks out the top of a separate bag, flat out refusing to even get halfway into it.
    To everyone who mentioned diaper bags and lunch bags, it's a really interesting idea, my only thought is I was kind of hoping for a bag I could use at weddings as well. I know it's a hard balance to strike, but I'm leaning towards the bag inside a bag idea, maybe a good camera bag inside a diaper bag so I can take it out of the diaper bag for weddings? Has anyone else done that?
    Thanks again everyone for all your help.
  51. If the discussion is still going - how do you adequately pad a diaper bag or army surplus bag so that it has some semblemce of organization?
  52. Jacqueline L, besides ordering inserts from Domke, Tamrac, I often read about usage of "closed cell foam". Well, I would be happy to try that only if anybody (at a retail shop) around here knew just what the hell is it, let alone take my money for it. Closest thing so far I have found is foam padding for chair seat pads or quilts (at Walmart from a local manufacturer in various thickness).
    A primer of sorts from The Foam Factory.
  53. david_henderson


    I would focus on something comfortable to carry that accommodates how you use your gear.​
    This is much, much more important than disguise. Sadly, many things that don't look like a camera bag don't perform like a camera bag either. Or they look like something maybe more attractive too a thief.
  54. Jacqueline - I did consider buying one of these until my wife pointed out they look more like laptop bags and you are much more likely to get mugged for your laptop by some junkie than your photographic gear and since we travel sometimes in third world country s and although the Urban Disguise bags wouldn't look out of place in a city they look far too businesslike to use in a village in India, or Indonesia, I use a well used olive drab Domke f2 that looks like something that came out of an army surplus store but is a real "shooters bag" because it's easy to "work" out of even at the run , and although I own a Billingham 550 and a 335 the Domke is the bag I prefer, it seems to swallow up however much equipment I put into it, and the one use the most.

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