Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stealth Camera Bag

(Cross posted from my personal blog).

So I finally got around to throwing up some pics to Flickr of my "Stealth Camera Bag" which I raved about before. The inspiration came from this article (via lifehacker). The idea is simple, take a generic and boring looking messenger bag and fit it with foam and padding to protect a camera so you can wander around the or foreign area without lugging around a Lowe Pro bag that screams "mug me, I've got expensive photo gear here!".

Most of the work here was done by my lovely wife, as the bag I found needed a bit more work than the article described (it was a single big interior pocket and not segmented like they found and she felt doing it right and sewing things properly was better than slapping a cut up old t-shirt in with duct tape :)

Anyway. My idea for this was to allow me to use it as a laptop, going-to-work bag as well as a photo bag. A little bit of design and voila! Here are the "build" pics:

Open Bag from Front
First of all the overall view of the finished product.

Laptop Mode Top View
Here's the top view in "Laptop" configuration. It's got a piece of cloth sewn on both sides along the seam, made a bit longer to accommodate the laptop and it's extra padding in the left hand side. Note the small bits of stick on Velcro on the inside of the pocket, those'll come in handy in camera mode.

Laptop protector
This is the laptop in it's padding. It's basically a three fold chunk of cloth with foam inserts in each section. It's not a perfect fit, but as it's stuffed into a cloth area so perfect fit doesn't matter that much.

Ready for work
Fully stuffed for work.

Full Open
For when I want to put in a camera (the real purpose) I use the bits of Velcro (see above) to close the laptop area and now it's open with more stick on Velcro in a familiar looking configuration for anyone with a camera bag.

Stealth Bag With Dividers
... which I use to stick in standard camera bag dividers stolen from another camera bag. It's not perfect, but it gives side padding and creates a familiar and usable triple section setup. There's a fair amount of adjustment in the center area, though it doesn't make it as snug as a "real" camera bag.

Lens Padding
This is another bit of folded padding, this time a 4 fold section, each with it's own foam padding, and configured so it can be wrapped around something, say a longer zoom lens.

Stealth Camera Bag
In full camera configuration. Note the zoom lens on the right wrapped up in the second chunk of padding and my beloved K20D sitting happily in the middle. Lots of room on the other side (and front pockets) for flash, more lenses, etc.

I've been using this bag as my full time work bag for a week or so now, and for one weekend of photowalking and here's what I've found so far:

  • Sits nicely and comfortably across the shoulders. Much nicer than my laptop backpack as I don't have to have one hand on it for security (I tend to carry my backpack off of one shoulder only). Seems to stay comfortable for longer, even with laptop and workstuff in it.
  • Easier (marginally) to get in and out of compared to my Lowe Pro bag, and way easier to get into than my "proper" camera backpack.
  • Feels way more subtle carrying it around, and could potentially even be something to not alert people I'm a tourist on my next Mexican vacation (assuming my sunburnt or white skin doesn't of course).
  • Flexible! Easy configuration changes with a small towel, tuque or t-shirt for padding.
  • Lots of room for everything I've needed to lug around. Fits personal stuff (phone, wallet, etc) along with K20D with 16-45/4, Sigma 70-300, DA 40 Limited, walkaround P&S, batteries, spare memory cards, etc.


  • There isn't a "top" handle so it's a bit odd to pick up the bag, I tend to grab it from the side and worry about it falling to the side and dumping everything out.
  • The interior isn't perfectly padded compared to a real camera bag and I'm not sure how much I'd trust it to take a fall.
  • The flap is a bit large, so the distance you have to go to get into the bag, and the amount of cloth you need to hold up if you're changing lenses is a bit much. Fairly easily mitigated though.
  • The Velcro in the front isn't the most secure thing in the world. The option of a proper buckle that can be optionally clipped for longer trips might be nice.
  • The Velcro really needs to be properly sewn in, the stick-on stuff isn't all that great.
  • The colors are a bit.... uhm.... unexpected compared to the green of the canvas. Course, I'd have to be crazy to bitch about what my wonderful wife did set up for me!
As an aside all pictures taken with the K20D at ISO 1600 (other than the last one with the K20 in it of course). Minimal PP needed except for a slight bump of the noise reduction in lightroom, even at 100%!