The best messenger bags for photographers do more than just carry your camera year. They also have a laptop compartment so that you can browse, edit and share your photos on the move – they also make great everyday commuting bags.
These are among the most popular types of camera bags around, and all the major manufacturers have made sure their stable includes a fair few of these stylish, lightweight options.
Well-regarded names like Manfrotto, Billingham, Think Tank and more have all produced multiple messenger bags designed to tempt photographers who are looking for something stylish and unfussy to carry and protect their gear with. Sitting on one shoulder or slung across your body, messenger bags are ideal for day trips and city breaks; if you're planning on an extended photo hike, or a trip that involves a lot of heavy camera gear, you may want to take a look at our roundup of the best camera backpacks instead.
Our picks of the best messenger bags are based on a number of factors, including capacity, weatherproofing, comfort, style and price. So whatever your highest priority when picking a camera bag, there should be something on this list to suit you.
Let's get to the bags!
The best messenger bags for photographers in 2020
The Hadley One's standout feature is a 13in laptop slot behind the main compartment. It’s a practically sized bag without being unwieldy, although you only get a half-width padded insert included. This will swallow a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, plus an ungripped full-frame body with a 50mm lens attached. The remaining space in the main compartment is great for personal effects, or you can add an optional second camera insert. Two large front pockets, meanwhile, are perfect for keeping lenses reachable during a shoot. But the real reasons you buy a Hadley One are its supreme quality, and a timeless style that’ll suit any occasion. The smell of the leather straps and reinforcing trim is worth the money alone, while the rugged canvas outer material and slightly domed flap shrug off abuse and a heavy rain shower.
Read more: Billingham Hadley One review
The Veo Range 36M/38M bags are light, practical and affordable shoulder bags with some neat touches. They can take a laptop and a good quantity of kit without feeling overstuffed and it’s great to be able to put a tripod in the base and not have to strap it to the outside – though it’s going to have to be pretty small tripod when folded in order to fit. The Veo Range 36M would be ideal for a mirrorless camera system (though it will take a DSLR too), while the 38M would be better for a DSLR system and a slightly longer travel tripod (up to 41cm folded length).
Read more: Vanguard Veo Range 36M review
The Peak Design Everyday Messenger is a bit of an icon in the world of camera messenger bag design. It looks as smart as a briefcase, but it packs in as much camera gear as any regular shoulder bag. There are so many clever design touches it's hard to take them all in straight away. So is it the best bag ever? Nearly, but not quite. It has a couple of features and quirks that might not suit everyone. The main compartment is covered only by the lid – there's no zipper – and the internal FlexFold dividers seem designed for larger cameras and lenses, so smaller items may rattle around.
The Signature 13 has a boxy 37 x 27 x 16cm exterior that retains its shape well and offers a high level of gear protection, with extra security from an internal zippered secondary cover. Although the bag is compact, arrange the quality dividers to split the main compartment into three sections and you’ve got an optimal layout for a DSLR with a 24-70mm lens attached, and two reasonably sized optics on either side. A 13in laptop will slot in behind, while a large expanding front pocket is ideal for a flashgun and filters. The manufacturing quality is top-notch; the wool-like fabric feels soft yet hard-wearing, and there’s a leather base and accents that’ll worry Billingham. A long, leather-backed neoprene shoulder pad is also especially comfortable.
The Noreg Messenger-30 is not just designed to be a camera bag – it can be turned into your work bag or overnight bag too. It's a regular shoulder bag with a removable padded insert that has its own shoulder strap, giving you a smaller photography bag for quick photo expeditions. And there's a removable padded 15-inch laptop sleeve on the back that you can unzip and take in to meetings, or just leave at home if you don't need it. If you just need an overnight bag that fits airline carry-on regulations you can take off the laptop sleeve, remove the camera insert and stuff in all the clothes, wash bag and other bits you need for your overnight stay. There are straps for carrying a tripod too, as well as a pull-out raincover.
Read more: Manfrotto Noreg messenger-30 review
Tenba's slick, upgraded Skyline 13 is a terrific messenger bag for zipping around a city with your camera gear in tow. It's capable of holding a mirrorless or DSLR camera with around 3-5 lenses, and can also hold a 13-inch laptop in its dedicated pocket. All this gear will also remain protected from the weather thanks to the tough, water-repellent fabric (which Tenba is confident enough in to forgo a dedicated rain cover), and there are tons of useful extra features like a carry-handle and extra zipped compartments for odds and ends. The interior dividers are customisable but only up to a point thanks to limited surface for the velcro to cling onto, which is a bit of a shame, but this is still a great, stylish bag for its price and well worth picking up.
The Century Traveler Camera Messenger features locking side-pocket zippers, and a class-leading Fidlock fastener that latches and releases the main flap effortlessly and silently. The flap has an easy access slot on top, under which is a compact but fairly practical main compartment that’ll just about stash a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV or a Nikon D850 with a small attached lens, plus a couple more optics alongside. Behind this is a sexy suede-lined 13in laptop pouch, although the two end pockets won’t fit much other than the included rain cover. As you’d expect from Gitzo, build and material quality are very good, with leather trim and premium hardware. The carbon-effect accents won’t be to everyone’s taste, but you won’t feel short-changed.
The Manfrotto Manhattan Speedy-30 Messenger has an attractive, streamlined appearance. It’s perfectly sized for use as carry-on luggage or as an everyday commuter bag. Inside it has a removable padded section for housing a DSLR or mirrorless camera along with four or even five lenses – including a 70-200mm f2.8. Manfrotto has used dense foam inside the dividers, so although they’re quite thin, they protect your gear nicely. There’s a mesh zip-closing top to the removable camera section, which means your valuables won’t spill all over the place when you pull it out of the bag. At the back of the bag there’s a padded laptop section that can accommodate a 15-inch laptop, and just in front of it there’s a padded pocket for a tablet. There’s another long zip-closing pocket on the inside of the bag lid, which is divided in two to help keep small items like pens, memory cards or business cards organized.
5 things to look for in a messenger bag
1. Will you need space for your laptop's charger and maybe an external drive?
2. Is the interior adaptable? It's often useful to make space for everyday items too
3, Velcro fastenings are secure, but they can also be noisy when you open the bag
4. A slimline bag will be easier to handle on buses, trains and aeroplanes
5. Don't get a bigger bag than you need. Big, overstuffed bags are unwieldy and tiring
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