Here Are the Advantages a Messenger Bag Has for Photographers

Most photographers swear by their messenger bags.

How does the saying go? You can pry it from my cold, dead hands, right? Well, that’s how some photographers feel about their messenger bags. Messenger bags have a unique appeal to those who want to be more fashionable or old school. They’re very functional and have lots of uses. The wider ones can act as a platform for doing other things. They also can hold all the gear you really need. We’ve reviewed a ton of them over the past decade. So in this infographic, you’ll learn what we’ve come to know.

Messenger bags are fantastic. They’re not as great for your back as backpacks, but they still offer lots of value. Quick access and fashionability are the biggest reasons for messengers. They tend to lean towards one direction more than the other. But generally speaking, the perfect mid-point is the Tenba Cooper lineup of messenger bags. (They’ve got canvas and leather.) However, if you don’t need quick access, it’s hard to beat the tried and true Billingham bags. We know that you’re curious, so here are some of our favorites:

  • Billingham Hadley Pro in Navy: This is an incredibly comfortable messenger bag if you snag it with a shoulder pad. As long as you’re disciplined and don’t overload it, you’ll be fine. Generally speaking, I’d say don’t put a laptop in there: that throws the weight off.
  • Billingham Hadley Pro 2020: This is the bag I tend to keep my old school, analog Polaroid gear in. It’s fantastic for the summer.
  • Portage Supply Mariner: Admittedly, this bag had a strap break on me. But they’re very affordable and exceptionally comfortable.
  • CRAVAR Rana 13: Made of vegan leather, these things are the most rigid bags on the market. Stuff it with an excellent, padded divider system, and you’ll be all set.
  • Blackforest Vinson Messenger: An small, excellent camera messenger. It’s impossible to over-pack it and make it bulky—lots of generous padding inside.
  • Hawkesmill Jermyn Street: Our Copy Editor, Mark, has this right now. It carries all the gear a street photographer needs while also being stylish.

If you live in a city, a messenger bag has a particular advantage. If you pack yourself onto public transport, you’ll realize that it’s crowded. So you need to make your profile as slim as possible. Messenger bags often do this better than backpacks. My only real wish is that more of them had a strap to put around your waist to help with the weight distribution. Despite this, you really shouldn’t overpack a messenger bag. It can really throw off the alignment in your spine. And if you’re on your feet all day with one of these strapped on, it can get uncomfortable. In fact, my shoulders hurt just writing this post and thinking about when I used to use messengers in my 20s. These days, I use them with lighter and less gear. I’m not packing a laptop, camera, lighting, and multiple lenses into a messenger bag anymore. Instead, they’re mostly used for available-light shooting. And I often won’t even bring a laptop. At most, I’d put a small flash, modifier, laptop, charger, headphones, microphone, one camera, and a lens in there. Even just listing that sounds heavy to me, though.

We’ve reviewed a ton of camera bags, be sure to check them out.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.