Best Messenger Camera Bags

Best Messenger Camera Bags

For the urban photographer on the move, carrying around a bulky camera backpack isn't always the right solution.

Sure, you can carry more gear in them, but sometimes you need something a bit sleeker and more portable for shorter photo shoots - the camera messenger bag.

There are plenty of options available, but these are a few of the best camera messenger bags on the market right now:

Essential Features for Camera Messenger Bags

Camera messenger bags offer a great alternative to bulkier backpacks, but most photographers demand a lot of features and functionality in a very small footprint.

In order to get the right balance of capabilities, you'll have to know exactly what you want from your camera messenger bag.

Let's take a look at some of the most important aspects of the best messenger bags.

Gear Protection

The most important function of a good camera bag is to protect all of your gear during your travels, no matter what type of bag it is.

Because of the unique shape and style of messenger bags, this means they usually have to use thinner amounts of padding than you find in other bags - but that doesn't always mean they are less effective at protecting your gear.

Modern, high-impact resistance foam padding provides a surprising amount of impact protection for how thin it is, but make sure that all exterior surfaces are padded properly because in a busy urban environment, you never know where the next bump might come from.

It's equally important to make sure that the interior surfaces of your bag are equally well-padded.

Camera gear is heavy, and a solid impact from a magnesium alloy DSLR body could do some serious harm to a lens you've packed next to it if there isn't proper padding between the two.

Last but not least, don't forget to consider protection from the weather.

Because of their over-the-top flap style, messenger bags have two additional points at either end of the bag where rain, snow or dust can get in and ruin your gear, so ensure that there is an internal seal or some other method of weather protection such as a fold-out rain cover.

Carrying Capacity

A good messenger bag has to balance the ability to protect your various pieces of gear against portability and overall weight.

Most camera messenger bags will carry a mid-size DSLR with a lens attached and up to two lenses, as well as any extra batteries and other smaller accessories that you might need.

Some will even fit a full-frame DSLR and two lenses, but there aren't many bags on the market that will support a medium format camera, so you're better off going for a backpack or even larger case to transport such large and expensive gear.

Ideally, your messenger bag will also feature adjustable inserts that can be quickly reconfigured to match the particular set of gear you want to carry with you.

In addition to carrying a camera body and lenses, some of the best camera messenger bags give you the option of attaching a portable travel-sized tripod on the bottom or back of the bag. 

Just make sure that the attachment method is strong and secure, so you don't wind up accidentally losing it!

Comfort

Carrying a lot of camera gear for a whole day of shooting can quickly grow tiresome, and even the smaller amounts of gear you can stow in a messenger bag get heavier and heavier as the day goes on.

Ensuring that your bag is comfortable will give you the ability to stay out shooting longer, and help prevent chafing or blisters that can quickly ruin an otherwise great photo shoot.

If you're only using your bag to go to and from the studio or a particular on-location shoot, you're still going to want to make sure that your bag is comfortable for your commute.

This kind of situation gives you a bit more flexibility in your choice of bag, but it's still usually the smarter decision to choose a bag that is comfortable no matter how you wind up using it.

It's rarely possible to find a bag that is too comfortable, but you don't want to be stuck with one that limits how you can use it.

Look for a bag that has a well-padded shoulder strap and an easily adjustable length so you can modify it as needed to sit most comfortably on your body.

Some photographers prefer to keep them higher up on their back almost like a sling, while others prefer to keep their bags closer to their hip, and a long adjustable strap will allow you to mix it up as the situation demands.

Either way, extra padding at any of the potential body contact points is a bonus, because the repeated actions of walking with heavy weight bouncing against you can quickly grow uncomfortable.

Ease of Access

For those of you just looking to transport your gear from studio to shoot, this won't be much of a consideration, but if you're taking your bag with you on daily travelling photoshoots then you're going to want to be able to access your camera quickly and easily.

No matter where you are, travel photography often surprises you with unexpected photo opportunities that you need to be able to capture before they disappear forever, and losing a shot because you couldn't get to your camera in time is incredibly frustrating.

Of course, it's important to balance easy access to your gear against the strength and security of the fasteners.

You definitely don't want to leave a trail of gear across the city as you travel, so don't choose something that so easy to open that it can accidentally open itself.

Velcro is the simplest option, but over time it can become clogged with fibres and other outdoor detritus that can prevent it from providing a secure seal - not to mention that the sound may grow annoying after repeated openings, and it may even disturb your subjects!

Instead of velcro, it's usually best to choose a bag that has solid metal quick release clasps or a well-built zipper.

Zippers securely close off access to your bag while providing easy access, but they can be prone to wear and tear after extended periods of use so they are best when constructed out of solid metal with reinforced stitching on either side.

Clasps will provide slightly easier access and tend to last longer, but may not seal your bag quite as effectively, depending on how they are placed in the design.

Anti-Theft

As we've mentioned in our previous posts about camera bags, theft is an unfortunate reality in the world of photography, especially when you're travelling to new places through densely populated urban environments.

On a messenger bag, there are several points that a pickpocket could attack in order to steal from you: the bag strap, the connections where the strap attaches to the main bag, any loosely closed flaps on the bag and finally the actual material of the bag itself.

With that in mind, it's best to choose a bag that uses heavy duty synthetic fabric, waxed canvas or thick leather for the material of the bag itself, and strong metal fastenings for closing the main storage area and any additional pockets.

Metal or reinforced stitching should also be used for the connections between strap and bag, as these are subject to the most wear and tear created as you walk.

Last but not least, the shoulder strap should also be made out of similarly heavy duty materials, and some of the best bags will even include an anti-theft cable woven throughout for added protection against slash-and-grab thieves.

Of course, the truly determined thief could simply snatch the entire bag off your shoulder, but hopefully you'll be able to avoid this kind of theft by being properly cautious and watchful at all times.

Good observational skills make for a great photographer, and they also make for a safe photographer!

Style

Style isn't really an essential feature of a camera messenger bag, but it is often the deciding factor when you're trying to choose between two equally feature-packed options.

Camera bags are available in a range of styles, no matter whether you're looking for a hand-tooled leather vintage look to complement your personal style, or a no-nonsense heavy duty transport bag that doesn't even pretend to care about being a fashion accessory.

This will depend on how much style matters to you, but try not to prioritize looks over features and you'll be sure to find a bag you're happy with.

Best Camera Messenger Bags

Now that you know what to look for and what's possible, you've probably already begun to think about the features and functions you need for your particular situation.

Everyone has their own unique demands from their equipment, so keep those in mind as we take a look through our favourite camera bags.

Kattee Leather Vintage Camera Messenger Bag

The Kattee Leather Vintage Camera Messenger Bag has a canvas and leather exterior that surrounds a well-padded, microfiber-lined removable section for your camera gear.

Two adjustable interior dividers in the liner allow you to customize to match your gear, but you're only going to be able to fit a DSLR with attached lens and one additional lens (depending on which lenses you choose, of course).

The buckles and attachment points are all leather and metal for security, but don't let the brass buckles fool you - they're fake frontages that conceal button snaps for easy access.

This doesn't provide the best anti-theft security, but it makes it easy to access your camera quickly.

The strap is long enough to wear this bag cross-body, but the strap isn't padded very well which might cause you some discomfort during a long day of traveling and shooting.

MOACC BBK2 Canvas Messenger Bag

The BBK2 is one of the smallest messenger bags that we looked at, with just enough room for a DSLR body and a single lens, either mounted or stored separately.

You might be able to fit two small lenses in the padded internal section, but since the dividers only fit vertically, there's no way to prevent them from bumping into each other, so it's best to just stick to one.

If you want a larger size, you're better off with one of this bag's bigger cousins, the BBK 4.

If you shoot with a mirrorless camera, you'll be fine with this small size, and a lightweight assortment of gear won't strain the sturdy leather and canvas construction too much.

If you load it more heavily, however, you're going to start feeling the lack of padding in the shoulder strap.

S-ZONE Vintage Canvas Messenger Bag

Like most of the bags we looked at, the S-ZONE Vintage Canvas Messenger Bag has a vintage style exterior with a well-padded removable inner section for protecting your gear.

As this is one of the larger bags we looked at, the customizable inner dividers should provide room for a DSLR with attached lens and two additional lenses, depending on their size.

The primary flap has false buckles covering simple metal snap buttons for easy access to your gear, and an inner zipper to help protect against rain and snow, but the canvas of the bag is not treated to repel water in any way so keep that in mind if you shoot out of doors regularly.

In one of the more curious design choices, there is a strap on the back of the bag that can be used to attach a tripod, but it doesn't feature any kind of latch or attachment system.

If you shrink the shoulder strap in order to carry the bag by hand you might be able to make use of it, but this defeats the purpose of a shoulder bag, so you'll probably want to avoid bringing a tripod.

Peak Design Everyday Messenger Bag

Peak Design has a lot of experience designing equipment for professional photographers, and it shows in incredible number of features they have packed into the Everyday Messenger Bag.

The 15" model has room for a full-frame DSLR and up to 3 lenses, which are protected by a truly unique style of internal dividers that have a foldable design inspired by origami paper folding techniques which allows them to mold around your gear to avoid wasting space.

You've also got room for a travel or full-sized tripod, a dedicated 15" laptop pocket that won't affect your camera gear storage space as well as the usual smaller pockets for accessories such as batteries and memory cards.

Since you're going to load this bag up with a lot of gear, the extensible shoulder strap has built-in webbed padding that will allow you to carry it all day without discomfort.

You can access your gear quickly with Peak Design's proprietary MagLatch system, but your gear will stay secure because it can be a bit difficult to figure out the first time you use it.

There's also a convenient secondary strap to ensure nobody can make a grab for your bag, while keeping it firmly in place even if you have to move in a hurry.

Finally, the entire bag is fully weatherproofed right down to the zippers, so your gear will stay protected no matter where or when you wind up shooting.

The Prince Street by ONA

The Prince Street is made exclusively from fine Italian leather and weathered metal, and has room for a mid-sized DSLR with an attached lens, one or two additional lenses, and small 11" class laptop.

You probably won't have room for a full-frame DSLR with attached lens, so this bag is definitely geared towards smaller DSLR and mirrorless camera photographers.

The strap is well-padded and extensible, but feels bit more like a fashion accessory than a bag for serious professional photographers - though it is beautiful.

Under the main flap are two additional weatherproofing flaps to help protect your gear from the rain, but there is no internal zipper or other closure for extra protection.

Since the whole bag is leather, you're going to want to avoid using this in any kind of inclement weather in order to protect the finish and overall look of the bag, let alone your gear.

Kelly Moore Kate Messenger Bag

Despite the name, the Kate messenger bag is branded as a unisex bag and offers a decent amount of well-padded storage space for a DSLR with attached lens and two or three additional lenses thanks to its 3 customisable dividers.

It can also support a 14" laptop, but if you go this route you'll be sacrificing some of your camera gear space.

It has a decently understated look that doesn't scream 'expensive camera gear inside', which is a bonus since its canvas shoulder strap is a bit too narrow to handle much stress.

That being said, the stitching is well-reinforced and all the fasteners are solid brass.

The Brixton by ONA

A more serious and heavy-duty bag from ONA than the Prince Street model.

The Brixton has much more room, providing space for a DSLR, up to 3 lenses and a 13" laptop in its removable and customizable inner padded liner.

The strap is also well padded, but the flap fasteners have been swapped for slide-in brass buckles that allow easy access to your gear but not much in the way of anti-theft security.

This is a beautiful bag, made out of the same Italian leather as all of ONA's products.

Unfortunately all that leather gets quite heavy, as the bag weighs 4.1 pounds all by itself without any gear packed.

If you're just going from the car to the studio that's no problem, but after a day of travelling and shooting you're going to want to keep things as light as possible with less of a focus on style and more focus on functionality.

Our Best Pick

It's always nice to have a clear winner after a review roundup, but rarely is there such an obvious choice as the Peak Design Everyday Messenger Bag.

The other camera bags that we looked at all have their strengths from fashion to portability, but the Everyday Messenger Bag is the clear choice for both professional photographers and casual shooters who want to bring the right blend of gear for any situation.

In spite of its large capacity and carrying weight, the well-padded shoulder strap and secondary attachment strap allow you to handle that weight comfortably without leaving you wanting to put your bag down every few minutes for a rest.

While it's perfect for travelling to the studio or across the city to a location shoot, it's also approved as carry-on luggage for all major airlines, giving you the ability to keep your valuable gear close to you no matter where you choose to go in the world.

As if that wasn't enough, Peak Design also has a hassle-free lifetime warranty that is apparently very easy to follow through on - although it's much harder to find someone who's actually needed to return one of them!



Best Messenger Camera Bags

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About the Author Luca

Hi, I am Luca, founder and editor in chief at photographyambition.com. I am crazy about photography and I always have a camera with me. When I am not busy with my day job, enjoying my family or taking photos, I am on Photography Ambition to share what I have learnt so far.

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