(Photo via Clearing the Vision)
I was in a camera store in DC a few weeks ago and stumbled on a Tenba camera insert ($30) that fits perfectly inside my medium Timbuk2 Messenger, turning it into the ultimate stealth camera bag. (This is a much better solution than using Domke inserts, which lack bottom padding and structure.) It is big enough to hold at least one camera body, a couple of lenses, small flash, laptop, and still room for a little more. When you don’t need to bring your DSLR with you, simply remove the insert and your messenger bag turns back into a bag that swallows just about anything you throw at it. Or remove your laptop , keep in the insert, and you’ve got a dedicated camera bag. (Might be an argument toward getting a non-laptop messenger bag and a laptop sleeve or Brain Cell instead.) This kind of versatility is handy when traveling.
Since I don’t have enough camera gear to fill this up, I decided not to buy the insert just yet. Instead, I bought a LowePro SlipLock Pouch 60 AW ($30). It’s about half the size of the Tenba, making it just large enough to hold my Nikon D40 with the 18-55mm lens attached, leaving the other half of my bag free for books, netbook, Kindle, etc. This too has better padding and structure than the Domke inserts. The SlipLock has the added advantage of being able to be removed from my messenger bag and used as an independent camera bag, complete with rain cover. (The SlipLock is actually designed to hold just an SLR body rather than body with lens attached.) When in my Timbuk2, I open the flap of the SlipLock and tuck it behind the pouch for easy access to my camera. (Closing the flap when I know I won’t be shooting to hide that I have a camera in the bag.) I also remove the strap and coil it up inside the bottom of the SlipLock.
With the durability, weather-resistance, and incognito looks of a messenger bag – using either the Tenba insert or SlipLock is a really great way to carry your camera gear comfortably and out of sight.
P.S. -- A couple advantages messenger bags have over backpacks when it comes to photography:
1) You don’t have to remove the messenger bag to get your camera out to take a shot or change lenses. Quicker access to your gear means it’s more likely you’ll be able to get the shot you want to take.
2) In DC, backpacks are not allowed in many museums. (You have to check them at the front door.) Messenger bags are no problem to bring inside.