A camera bag serves a much bigger and better purpose than just a bag with an insert.
Confession: I've failed to find the perfect camera bag. Here at The Phoblographer, we've probably reviewed the most camera bags on the market. Of course, we stand by ethical statements and won't review some brands, but we're pretty comprehensive. Everyone makes good camera bags. No one makes a perfect camera bag, at least for me. Many have gotten very close. But when I couldn't find what I wanted, I started modifying camera bags to fit my needs. All of them failed over time. I'm writing this piece because of many folks who like using regular backpacks or messengers and throwing their cameras in there. But that's really not the best idea. Here's why.
Protection of Your Gear
Many modern camera bags don't have protection built-in. Camera bags often use some of the highest-grade zippers around. I can't tell you how many times I've been on the NYC subway and seen someone's bag randomly open. That's seldom happened with a camera bag. There are reasons for that. If they don't have to do with the zippers, it's all about the extra protection. Velcro lets you have quick access and adjustable protection. Magnets let you get in and out really fast. But many other random bags just don't have these.
Then you get into protection of your actual camera gear. Some dividers make protecting them really easy. Think of it like this: how would you transport glass bottles? I'm talking about a bunch of them. You'd probably wrap them carefully and separate them to give them extra padding. That's what you do with the glass in lenses. And you'd also do that with electronics like a camera.
Designed for Comfort on Your Back
Camera bags often have extra ergonomic advantages. There are things like sternum straps and waist straps. In the long run, those help keep your back in better shape. It will feel better. You'll sleep better. And your feet will thank you for distributing the weight a lot better. Trust me: I do a ton of photo walking. And as a guy who's walked many miles with 35lbs of camera gear on his back, camera bags really do help.
Weather Resistance Like No Other
Many standard bags aren't designed to stand up to rain or snow for long periods of time. But most camera bags are. Their zippers and other entries are often fully weather sealed. There are little flaps that sometimes help to protect the interior's contents from the elements. Overall, I can't really say that a camera bag has failed me in bad weather conditions. But I've surely had something like a Jansport get the contents inside pretty wet.
Long Term Durability of a Camera Bag
Now, this last one doesn't apply to all camera bags. I've had ONA bags break on me after a few years. But there are loads of great mainstays. Old DOMKE bags often outlive their original owners. The same goes for various Billingham bags. Tenba, WANDRD, Manfrotto, Thule, Think Tank, and Gura Gear. These brands make fantastic products. Those products haven't failed us over prolonged use. I can't say this for Peak Design, Portage Supply, and several other brands. But again, some camera bags are really truly made to last. If you're a fan of the term "One and done," then a camera bag is probably in your future.