A while back on the blog, I offered some suggestions for choosing a camera bag for travel, including use in the Disney Parks. I’ve since gone through a few camera bags, and thought I’d offer insight based on what I’ve learned via my thoughts on the Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L AW camera bag I’ve been using recently.
In posting a topic about this in our Discussion Forums, I learned that “best” is highly subjective–much moreso than I thought. While I am mostly concerned with photographic utility, others want something that mixes form and function (camera bags don’t tend to be exactly stylish), or that can hold photography gear and other supplies for a day in Walt Disney World or Disneyland.
In determining what your personal “best” camera bag would offer, you have to ask yourself similar questions about price, size, style, layout, compartments, and more. I usually recommend those getting started purchase a bag they can grow into as they add some gear, so as to avoid upgrading bags every 6 months. Budget and size are probably the easiest questions to answer, whereas layout and style are not so easy, mostly because determining your ideal bag layout isn’t always possible until you’ve used a couple of bags.
As for style, it’s tricky because utilitarian bags lack it completely, and some stylish bags sacrifice utility to a degree. However, for a lot of people, the look of the camera bag is understandably important. Most camera bags I’ve encountered pretty much scream “dorky photographer,” which is fine for me because I am a dorky photographer, so the label fits.
I’ve sort of resigned myself to that, but it doesn’t have to be the case. Especially after reading about the likes of Kattee Messenger Bags, the Kelly Moore 2 Sues Bag, and the Koolertron Waterproof Vintage Messenger Bag, I’ve come to realize that there are fully-functional bags for those who have some fashion sense. Even the Crumpler 5 Million Dollar Home bags offer a minimal design-style that doesn’t scream “camera bag.”
Those are things to consider, especially if style matters. Fellow photography dorks, read on for the bag that’s my new favorite…
After using 5+ different camera bags in as many years, the one I’ve arrived at is the Lowepro Sport Flipside 20L AW. Lowepro makes a few variants of this bag, with the Lowepro Sport 10L being the smallest and the Sport 45L being the largest. I can hold my Nikon D750, Nikon D810, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8, Sigma 35mm f/1.4, and Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye in the main compartment of the 20L bag, making it the ideal size for me.
In typical Lowepro fashion, the main compartment is totally customizable, and I tried out a few different set-ups. I was even able to swap out the 70-200mm for the larger Sigma 150-600mm. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of space–and that’s just in the main compartment. On the front of the bag there’s also a compartment that’ll hold random junk; while hiking in the Canadian Rockies, I threw in a down jacket, energy bars, and other assorted items. All of this in a size that is small enough to qualify as a personal item on most airlines. If you don’t have quite this much gear, consider downsizing to the Lowepro Sport 15L, which still offers plenty of space and the same core features.
For me, the biggest upside here is that this is a bag that I can use both for hiking in the National Parks and in the Disney Parks. What’s a good bag for one often isn’t a good bag for the other, and my alternative to this one was a $250+ F-Stop bag with a larger size that probably would have prevented me from using it in the Disney Parks.
A few of the features aimed at hikers–such as the hydration pack (I purchased this one for hiking) compartment–probably are unnecessary for Disney, but they don’t hurt. Most of these features are actually just as useful in both locations. For instance, a big one that a lot of people probably don’t consider when purchasing a bag for Disney is breathability. The shoulder straps and back panel here are light-weight and are perforated with circular holes to keep you cool. The significance of this cannot be understated–it’s a huge deal for me.
Other bags I’ve used have thick, black padding that basically becomes a sponge for sweat. It’s not exactly pleasant to have a thoroughly soaked shirt after a few hours in the Florida heat and humidity thanks to your camera bag. While the padding here takes a minimalist approach, this is very welcome from my perspective, as other bags I own end up developing a permanent ‘funk’ smell after less than a week of use. Even after long hikes, I’ve had no issues with soreness due to the padding, as the bag does a good job distributing weight.
Another upside of the relative minimalist approach is that the bag is super light. The package was so light when it arrived in the mail that I was worried it’d be flimsy before I opened the box. Fortunately, it’s both lightweight and well-constructed, so win-win. It also has a rain cover (hence the “AW” or “All-Weather” in the name) that I found effective in rain and snow.
Then there’s the color. I don’t know why 95% of camera bags are black, but that’s both impractical as it soaks up sun and dull in terms of style. I wouldn’t go as far as to call the blue Lowepro 20L stylish, but it looks better and less “camera bag-ish” than all of my other bags. I would have opted for the orange color as I like the way it looks even better, but thought it would show dirt too easily (I’m pretty rough on my bags–they often end up on dirty ground).
Another big thing that matters to me but may not to others is that this bag has a dedicated tripod sleeve. Most bags have ways to attach tripods, but they are left exposed. This puts a thin layer of fabric outside the tripod; that small child who runs into you in line for Haunted Mansion will thank you for that (well, not literally, but you know what I mean).
One thing others may like about this bag is that the gear compartment can be removed entirely and you can use the bag as a regular hiking bag. I’m not a fan of this. It makes the bag less stable with the inner compartment shifting around slightly in the bag. I’d file this under mild annoyance as it’s really not a big deal, but it would’ve been nice it Lowepro had a velcro strip all the way around the outside of the liner and inside of the bag to hold that inner compartment in place.
My bigger issue with the bag is its lack of dedicated memory card pouches and just poorly designed organizational pouches, in general. I’m a Lowepro loyalist, as I think their bags offer great value for money, and this is the first Lowepro bag I’ve ever had that doesn’t have an excellent system of organizational pouches and dedicated memory card tabs. All of the inner pockets are full-size, meaning smaller items like remotes and memory cards just sort of settle to the bottom of the bag, making them difficult to find.
I’ve purchased a memory card case to deal with this issue. Another issue is that while Lowepro claims a 15″ laptop will fit in the outer compartment, there’s no way that’s true, unless these are some sort of fancy new “metric inches” or something that they’re using to measure. One welcome organizational feature is the little pockets on the waist straps, which are great for energy bars, batteries, or lens cloths.
Overall, this is my new go-to camera bag, even with the above-mentioned complaints. No camera bag is perfect, but the Lowepro Sport 20L comes pretty close for me, and offers a set-up that suits my purposes just as well as a much more expensive bag would (although I’m sure those F-Stop bags are exceptional). Lowepro has a tendency of addressing common complaints with its bags and releasing updated models, and I’m really hoping that happens here, as this bag is a few minor tweaks away from total perfection (for me).
Want to learn more about photography to take great photos in the Disney theme parks and beyond? The best place to start is Tom’s Ultimate Disney Parks Photography Guide, which covers a variety of topics from links to tutorials, tips, and tricks to recommendations for point & shoots, DSLRs, lenses, and more!
If you do want to purchase new photography equipment, we recommend the following trusted & authorized retailers. Buying from these retailers helps support this blog, and doesn’t cost you a thing:
For other photography equipment recommendations or photography tips in general check out a few of my top photography blog posts:
Best Books for Improving Your Photography
5 Indispensable Tips for Better Vacation Photos
Choosing the Best Travel Tripod
Choosing the Best Camera Bag for Travel
What do you think of the Lowepro 20L? What’s your idea of a “perfect” camera bag? Any other features you consider important? Please ask any questions or share your thoughts below, and I’ll offer my feedback!