BitDepth 576 - May 15

My adventures trying to carry a laptop and professional digital camera in the same bag proved torturous...
Packing it in

If Wolverine carried a laptop and a digital camera, this ugly mutant might be slung over his shoulder. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Here's a problem that should have a simple answer. 
How do you pack a camera system and laptop for travel?
Ever since I rejoined the ranks of the gainfully unemployed, I've been searching for the answer to just that question. I know it isn't just me, because there are online forums busy with people exchanging tips and suggestions on finding the right bag to store two very different kinds of highly technical equipment.

This is really a 21st century sort of problem. Until recently, you took your cameras on location and came back to the darkroom to finish the work.
Now the darkroom is digital and it fits into a box that's half as thick as the phonebook and increasingly, it makes sense to be able to download and begin working on images on the road.
Neither camera nor laptop are items that any sensible traveller wants to part with, so bringing both on board means finding a bag that's compact, well-padded, reasonably light, and doesn't look like it will tax the capacity of the average overhead compartment.

It would also help if it didn't look as if it held valuables and left room for something other than the equipment, like some crackers and a book to stave off boredom.
Anyone who has ever had to travel with a comprehensive bit of camera kit and a laptop knows that finding a bag to gather all this stuff together is almost impossible.

Of course, some products do exist, and they can be loosely broken down into three broad categories, standard camera shoulder bags with a laptop compartment retrofitted into the back of the bag, standard laptop backpacks with a compartment for cameras fitted into the area where a student might put books or a traveller would pack clothes, and well-thought out, almost perfect solutions that cost a fortune. 
Basically, you can have quality, appropriate design or a good price, but not all three. Let's start at the top.

Think Tank Photo has considered almost every angle of this problem, creating a line of bags that fulfils not just the unique needs of a travelling digital photographer who wants to keep all his kit together but also some of the intangibles, like the look and feel of ruggedness paired with that utterly nondescript quality you want a bag that's likely to be carrying thousands of dollars worth of equipment to radiate.
I've had the opportunity to actually fondle Think Tank Photo's products, and their salesmanship undersells the work they actually put into their bags. But there is a catch. These bags are expensive, the kind of expensive you'd expect in a product designed to safeguard costly digital equipment which only becomes more valuable on the way to an assignment, but still, it's a fair chunk of cash.

When I started my quest for a bag that could marry a laptop case with a photo bag, I had something like their Airport Acceleration case in mind. Just about the only thing it's missing is wheels, and you have to upgrade your thinking to the Airport International case for those.
Traditional camera bag manufacturers and a few laptop case merchants have begun addressing the intersection of digital cameras and laptops, but most have chosen to stay close to their strengths. LowePro and Tenba have retrofitted several of their over-the-shoulder designs with a padded compartment for a laptop, while Crumpler and Naneu have built laptop bags and backpacks with camera cases stitched on.

After spending far too long dithering over these Frankenstein contraptions, I hauled my old Domke J-1 bag out and began measuring. The J-1 was designed long before laptops became part of a photographer's working kit, but it's a tribute to Jim Domke's now-dormant designs that the bag has a large pocket at the back that just happens to be big enough to hold a laptop sleeve.
I wedged a Booq sleeve into it and fastened it with carbiners to make a solution that marries both a purpose built camera bag with a sleeve designed to protect a laptop.

Now let's be clear, it's ugly as hell. The only saving grace of this mutant child of desperation being the close match in the black ripstop nylon that both are made from. But after bolting it together fifteen months ago, it's proved to be a remarkably useful solution.
Last week I managed to shove it into a tiny Tobago Express overhead compartment by separating sleeve from bag and wedging the whole unsightly mess in.

This isn't an elegant solution, but it works better for me than most of the early efforts to solve this problem that I've seen would have.
It's going to be interesting to see how bag manufacturers deal with this problem eventually, because airline travel is only going to become less forgiving of carry-ons, and no photographer I know is going to be happy about dropping his most crucial equipment in an unlocked bag on a conveyor belt into the unknown.

A new bag...

blog comments powered by Disqus