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04-18-2013, 06:16 AM   #1
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Messenger bags - why are photo ones so easy to spot?

One idea behind messenger bags for photo gear is that they look like the bags that lots of people carry with just boring old work inside them - hence, less likely to be stolen. Nice idea. But the implementation leaves a good bit to be desired in many instances in my experience.

The most obvious issue is the logo. I know every maker wants you to advertize that you own their brand but on a bag that is designed for stealth adding a bright logo that says "CAMERA BAG" is not a bright idea. Fortunately most logos are sewn onto the bag and an sharp blade can take care of that very neatly and quickly. However, some are sewn into the bag itself and hence not easily or cleanly eliminated.

The second issue is more subtle but none-the-less an issue for me. I own and have used messenger bags for work for 15+ years. Most have not cost a fortune and have held up for years of heavy use. After looking at my old ones (kept around because they can still carry items even if they are no longer presentable enough for work) all of them, every single one, has detachable should strap and heavy metal hardware for the attachment points. This allows the user to change the strap, add a slide to the strap, etc. with ease. It also offers an external attachment point for d-rings and such. Now, I look at the messenger bag I own from Tamrac - the strap is integral to the bag. Why? Just why? Then I looked online at several commonly mentioned messengers and all but one appeared to have integrated straps. The exception appeared to be the Timbuk 2 Snoop, however upon closer inspection it has a clip on one side and the strap appears sewn directly to the bag on the other side - again, why? This feature makes the bags look different from regular business/school messenger bags and helps them stand out - which is the last thing you want if you went for stealth.

Then there are issues with padding. On the several I have handled the padding is thicker on the sides of the bag then on the bottom. Again, why? I put my bags straight down most of the time and try not to let my camera bag be placed between other bags thereby compressing it. The main point of impact in my experience is the bottom of the bag. So, why pad less there?

Next comes the flaps. I have several work messenger bags that have VERY well thought out and organized flap compartments and front of the interior (under the flap) compartments and additions that are of high quality and very functional. The photography messengers that I have handled all remind me of the messenger bags for school I had in the 1980s - cheap plastic, poorly thought out, or just not very much there at all. If Swiss Army can make flap compartments and additions that are solid, functional, and well planned why can't camera bag makers simply buy a couple and look at what they've done?

Finally, if you are going to make an integrated strap (again, why) then do one that has the following features:
  • Long enough for big people
  • Has a very good pad
  • Uses metal hardware for durability
Just in the past couple years I have see an explosion of camera bags from lots of makers. Many of them are variations of each other with little to distinguish them. However, there are many with genuine innovation and serious advantages. Messengers remains one area where I have yet to see genuine thought put into them instead of gimmicks and not much else.

04-18-2013, 06:39 AM   #2
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All very good, common sense observations.

I too have yet to come across the 'perfect' messenger bag, and I have 4 of them. One day someone will get it right, and they will then deserve a Pulitzer Prize..
04-18-2013, 07:13 AM   #3
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After much soul searching I purchased a Tamrac Zuma 7 messenger bag. And then I immediately set about making modifications - starting with swaping in the strap from my 30 year-old Tamrac convertible hip/shoulder bag, This is a combo PC/Photo bag, only you can't carry much more than a tablet, and heaven forbid if you also want to carry the charger. There is little 'give' to the sleek front pocket and none for the back slash pocket - it might as well not even be there.

Like you have said, it is just not well enough thought out, even just for digital photography. My 30 year-old Tamrac bag is a better design, but nobody anticipated trying to fly with both cameras and PCs back then. At the same time, the Zuma 7 is probably the best I have found to date for my needs.

To be fair, there are a lot of "me-too" overpriced mediocre PC bags out there, but I have had much better luck finding one that works with my gear - - so long as I don't want to also carry a dSLR .
04-18-2013, 07:16 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by Docrwm Quote
why are photo ones so easy to spot?
Crumplers can be de badged fairly quickly, but the dead give away for me, is a bulging bag that I can barely lift off the floor.

04-18-2013, 07:30 AM   #5
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I have a messenger type bag that was 'gifted' to me at a trade show, it has the vendor's logo on it. It is not a camera bag at all. I purchased a set of foam insert liners that fit and instant camera bag that looks nothing at all like a camera bag.
04-18-2013, 07:46 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by jatrax Quote
I have a messenger type bag that was 'gifted' to me at a trade show, it has the vendor's logo on it. It is not a camera bag at all. I purchased a set of foam insert liners that fit and instant camera bag that looks nothing at all like a camera bag.
Whose insert did you use?
04-18-2013, 08:00 AM   #7
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Re the comment about detachable straps:
Personally I prefer the sewn in straps of my Tamrac Rally 6 messenger.
Sewn in prevents twist of the strap, and lack of heavy metal hardware lessens the danger of damage to my lenses and equipment during quick access action and also reduces weight.

The other points I agree with.
04-18-2013, 09:07 AM   #8
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Have you looked at Tenba Bags?

04-18-2013, 09:48 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by mdave13 Quote
Have you looked at Tenba Bags?
I own a smaller Tenba that I like. I did look but not enough it appears because they have a Tenba 638-235Large Messenger that looks very promising. Thanks.
04-18-2013, 09:50 AM   #10
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Buy regular messenger bags and get padded inserts ... perfect photo-stealth.
04-18-2013, 09:59 AM   #11
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Why not get a Timbuk2 with camera inserts?

My Domke messenger bag is nice and ugly and dull. Everyone I have met thinks it is a normal messenger bag, and several people have commented how boring it looks.
04-18-2013, 10:17 AM   #12
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Billingham Hadley Pro.

If it's going to be obvious then it may as well be stylish!
04-18-2013, 11:44 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by top-quark Quote
Billingham Hadley Pro.

If it's going to be obvious then it may as well be stylish!
And expensive, don't forget that too. Yes, it is stylish. The problem with that is that my friends would be certain that I must have stolen it or picked up the wrong bag
04-18-2013, 12:20 PM   #14
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One of the issues with messenger bags and SLR cameras is the typical thick 'T' shape when a lens is mounted on the camera. Most messenger bags are on the thin side, however they have to be thicker to accommodate the height of the camera body. A thicker messenger bag almost always means there is a camera inside.The only way around this is to always carry your camera body without a mounted lens (or at most a pancake lens). A backpack on the other hand can look more 'generic', but I find it unacceptable to not have my key gear immediately accessible without moving a bag around my body.
04-18-2013, 12:28 PM   #15
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Many questions, here are my two centsfor each.

QuoteOriginally posted by Docrwm Quote
on a bag that is designed for stealth adding a bright logo that says "CAMERA BAG" is not a bright idea
Right. The only bag that does not scream camera to me is the Snoop by Timbuk2.

QuoteOriginally posted by Docrwm Quote
the strap is integral to the bag. Why? Just why?
I would guess, from past experience, that with heavy loads most of those metal attachment clips keep sqeaking whehn you move. And they are weak points that can break or detach themselves.

QuoteOriginally posted by Docrwm Quote
The exception appeared to be the Timbuk 2 Snoop, however upon closer inspection it has a clip on one side and the strap appears sewn directly to the bag on the other side - again, why?
To me it's the perfect solution. So I'd say "because it's great".

QuoteOriginally posted by Docrwm Quote
Then there are issues with padding. On the several I have handled the padding is thicker on the sides of the bag then on the bottom. Again, why?
The Snoop has equal padding on the bottom and the sides. My experience does not ressemble yours. You can always add a sheet of padding at the bottom, of course.

QuoteOriginally posted by Docrwm Quote
he photography messengers that I have handled all remind me of the messenger bags for school I had in the 1980s - cheap plastic, poorly thought out, or just not very much there at all. If Swiss Army can make flap compartments and additions that are solid, functional, and well planned why can't camera bag makers simply buy a couple and look at what they've done?
My previous bag was a regular messenger with an insert. I liked that it had a front pocket OVER the flap, but I disliked that the opening was narrow because there was a zipper there. I think it's a design choice and a way to keep cost down. Having used cheap inserts, I know that making a good, durable one costs money.

QuoteOriginally posted by Docrwm Quote
Finally, if you are going to make an integrated strap (again, why) then do one that has the following features:
Long enough for big people
Has a very good pad
Uses metal hardware for durability
I'll say that my Snoop fits all of this except the metal, but I disagree that metal is more durable.

QuoteOriginally posted by mrNewt Quote
Buy regular messenger bags and get padded inserts ... perfect photo-stealth.
I think that indeed Docrwm might be better offf with this solution. I looked at MANY regular bags before deciding on the Snoop, but all were flawed. For me the Snoop is worlds better than any custom solution. almost all regular messenger bags have top openings that are too narrow, none have straps for a tripod, none are as comfortable as the Snoop's strap for long use.
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