Looking for a roller camera bag? Backpacks and sling bags tend to get a lot of the spotlight when it comes to carrying photo gear, but don't count out the versatile roller bag. Letting the ground do some of the work for you, these wheeled cases are the perfect choice for zooming through an airport or busy train terminal.
Filled with customisable dividers to keep your cameras and lenses safe, roller camera bags are rolling suitcases that provide a less straining solution to carrying your gear. They tend to be tougher than sling bags or messenger bags, with a rigid back and base and scuff protection on the outside. Some will also convert into a backpack, providing you with the best of both worlds.
While you may be tempted to buy the biggest roller bag you can possible afford, something smaller can be a better choice, especially if that means you stay within airline carry-on limits. Exterior thickness can be a factor here, as carriers may reject a cabin bag that's more than 23cm thick. Going for something around 20cm is the smarter bet.
Here we lay out a few things to keep in mind when picking a roller bag...
Five things to look for in a roller bag...
- Flight friendly? A bag measuring 55 x 35 x 23cm will see you through most airline check-ins – but many airlines won’t allow more than 10kg in weight.
- Divide and conquer: Interior width is critical when packing larger lenses. Well-designed dividers can adapt to super-telephotos.
- Built to last? Roller bags can take a lot of abuse. Wheels should be replaceable, while reinforced outer corners and undersides add longevity.
- The complete package: Look for bags that boast a laptop slot and a tripod attachment system. Easy-access outer pockets are a bonus.
- Little extras: A roller bag with a pair of backpack straps helps with stairs or rough ground. Expandable compartments are also useful to have.
Best roller camera bags in 2021
Though it's designed with pros in mind, the Manfrotto Manhattan Roller Runner 50 is priced at a point where pretty much anyone could be tempted. Designed with a flexy camera shell that can adapt to suit the particulars of your gear, this rolling backpack is designed to fit a pro-level DSLR with around four lenses, including an attached 70-200 f/2.8. It'll also have space for extras like an action camera or even a small drone.
Whether you're looking to glide through airports or commute into the city, the Manfrotto Manhattan Roller Runner 50 will make for a dependable companion, as it can roll smoothly on its two wheels or its removable insert can be converted to a backpack.
It can fit into airline carry-on requirements, so makes for a great choice for city breaks or short photographic trips. The camera compartment can be quickly accessed via the top of the bag, and the three handles give you three different carrying points for the ultimate in versatility.
Roller bags are often smooth movers but can sometimes be lacking in capacity and durability. You'll have no such issues, however, with the Lowepro Pro Trekker RLX 450 AW II, a seriously impressive roller bag and backpack designed for the intrepid adventurer. It can carry two DSLR or mirrorless bodies with a 200mm lens attached and five or six extra lenses, as well as additional accessories like a 15-inch laptop, flashguns, chargers and more.
The interior can be completely moulded to suit your needs thanks to the internal dividers. Unlike some roller bags where the backpack functionality is a little unwieldy or impractical, the Lowepro Pro Trekker RLX 450 AW II converts fully from one to the other, with an option waist belt and harness for extra stability.
All this tech and capacity means this is one of the heavier bags available, as well as one of the more expensive, but we'd highly rate it if you need the ultimate in peace of mind when transporting your gear in a roller bag.
At first glance this looks like a typical roller camera bag. Its external 55 x 35.5 x 23cm dimensions meet most airline cabin baggage requirements, and this translates to an equally practical 47 x 32 x 18cm interior - enough for a decent selection of full-frame cameras and lenses in a variety of configurations. A large, top-loading slot on the front panel can accommodate a 17” laptop, and there’s a tripod attachment on one side.
The Reloader Switch-55 is also beautifully made and feels reassuringly rugged. Its internal skeleton resists hard knocks and abuse, while generously thick internal padding cossets your gear.
But the standout feature of this bag is that it can also be worn as a backpack. Discreetly stowed in a concealed front pocket are two wide shoulder straps that pack impressively flat. The conversion isn’t the quickest, but the end result is surprisingly comfortable. Despite the straps and quality build, the bag still weighs a reasonable 4kg.
This may be one of the priciest camera roller bags you can buy, but you get what you pay for. It's built for pro photographers, and the interior is cleverly shaped to fit a pair of gripped DSLR bodies and lenses as large as a 500mm f/4. There’s also space for a 15” laptop and 10” tablet, plus a tripod on the side. It’s carry-on suitable at 53.3 x 35.6 x 20.3 cm, though we measured the external thickness at 23cm.
Though many of the bags in this guide are built to last, the Airport International V3 exudes quality at every point, from the handle to the zippers. It lacks the sheer rigidity of a hard case, but zipped shut it still manages to retain its shape when stood on, partly thanks to the excellent, well-padded rigid dividers.
Smart touches include a four-stage extending handle that only intrudes half-way down the bag when stowed, generously-sized underside scuff panels, a stout zipper lock, and even a coated cable and combination lock to tie the bag to an immovable object.
The Reloader-55’s boxy design and 55 x 35 x 23cm dimensions fully use the carry-on size limits of most airlines. That gives it a very practical interior size and layout for camera gear. You can also fit a 17in laptop and 10in tablet in slots on the outside of the front flap for easy access, and the underside of the flap contains plenty of pouches for filters and memory cards. There are also subtle extra features - a nice touch being an integrated zipper locking point on the side of the bag, which secures the main zippers more elegantly than a padlock. This bag also gets the essentials right. Manfrotto’s extra-thick dividers are sized to fit perfectly around full-frame kit while giving unmatched gear support and protection. Outside, the tough exterior is well-reinforced on key wear points, and includes user-replaceable wheels of a common size.
It’s a shuddering experience: you’re about to board your plane, only to be told there’s no more room for cabin baggage and your precious camera gear will have to go in the hold, at the mercy of baggage handlers.
This needn’t be a worry if you’ve got a Tenba Air Case. Designed as a cross between a conventional roller bag and a tough hard case, the Air Case is exceptionally crush-resistant. We were able to stand on the bag and it easily retained its shape - only the Think Tank Airport International V3 bag comes close, unless you step up to a hard case. The secret is a solid internal construction that encases the whole bag - not just the top, bottom and rear panels. It’s basically a hard case dressed as a roller bag.
The Air Case range comes in many sizes: the Roadie Air Case Roller 21 is cabin-compliant at 53 x 35.5 x 23cm, and though it’s substantial construction restricts interior space to 45.5 x 30.5 x 15cm, it’s still a practical space for gear. There’s also an easily removable camera insert, but sadly no laptop slot.
Unusual among roller camera bags, the Alta Fly 55T boasts a four-wheel design for ultimate maneuverability. And the features don’t stop there. You also get backpack straps so the bag can be carried over rough terrain, and Vanguard includes generous lower back padding and a simple waist strap to further lighten the load. There are even covers for the two rear wheels to protect your back from dirt. Despite all this, weight is still a reasonable 3.9kg, and while the overall rigidity is nothing special, gear padding is sumptuous.
However, the 4-wheel setup inevitably eats into interior capacity, as the 54.9 x 34.6 x 21.9cm external dimensions shrink to a bijou 40.9 x 31.1 x 11.4cm inside. You can fix this by stepping up to the larger Alta Fly 58T, but that’s not carry-on compatible like the 55T. Alternatively, there are the 49T and slightly larger 48T that use a conventional two-wheel design and sacrifice backpack straps to maximise internal space.
Pelican’s entry is sized to fit within most carry-on limits, but should it need to go in the hold, this ultra-tough hard case will shrug off any abuse. Hard cases are usually far from light, but Pelican’s Air range uses a clever honeycomb construction and light plastic to reduce weight without compromising toughness. The result is the 1535 Air weighs less than some conventional roller bags, and that's including a full foam interior. This is easily customized to suit your gear and offers great padding, though it’s tricky to adapt to differing kit loads. Peli does offer a customizable divider set instead, albeit at extra cost. Other drawbacks with the Air case compared with the other bags on test include a handle that extends around 10cm less, meaning the case is more prone to clipping your heel as you walk. The hard utilitarian design won’t suit all occasions, and you can forget extras like laptop or tripod pockets. Sold as the Peli 1535 Air in Europe.
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