It is a truth universally acknowledged that most camera bags are boxy, dull and lacking any sense of panache. While we can admit that if you're hiking through the Appalachian mountains substance should probably trump style, surely there's a happy medium for photographers looking for a winning combination of practicality and stylish flair?!
Thankfully, there is a light at the end of the bland black nylon tunnel. A growing number of luxury camera bags now offer premium leather or waxed canvas options (or even a combination of the two).
• Read more: Best camera bags and cases
Usually based on a classic satchel or messenger bag design, these bags feature some clever flourishes to make any photographer feel fashionable. However, while these bags might be seriously chic, they offer no less protection for your valuable camera kit. Designed to cosset your kit and provide a sturdy buffer against the knocks and scrapes of daily life, you no longer need to compromise between style and substance. Now, let’s settle into the lap of luxury and see what’s on offer.
Billingham has been creating premium handmade bags in England since 1973. Typical of the range, the Billingham Hadley One combines a three-layer waterproof material with top-quality leather and solid brass fittings.
Noticeably larger than the classic ‘Hadley Pro’, the Hadley One is similarly available in a range of canvas or FibreNyte color options with contrasting leather details.
The bag comes complete with a full height, half-length camera insert, so you can use the bag for camera kit and daily essentials. A full camera insert is available for an additional £60/$70, which will accommodate a full-frame DSLR with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens attached, plus a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens complete with tripod mounting ring, an additional medium sized lens and a pro-grade flashgun.
For weightier collections of kit, it’s worth splashing out on the SP50 strap pad to add comfort, which costs £34/$51. Other included highlights include an internal pocket for a 13-inch laptop, a rear zippered pocket for a tablet or documents, and two large ‘dump pockets’ at the front, with popper fasteners.
With the ability to make your tripod magically disappear, the Street Messenger 7749 bag from Gillis is the perfect marriage of efficient storage and effortless style. The 7749 bag is part of the prestigious range of Trafalgar vintage leather and waxed canvas/ leather camera bags. If you're not keen on this messenger bag style, try perusing Gillis' satchel, duffel, shoulder bag and backpack options instead.
Split into two main sections, the top zip opens to reveal a padded inner section complete with a removable camera insert with flexible dividers where you can store a mirrorless camera body, three lenses and a flash. On the lower right hand side of the bag there is a handy opening that allows you to store a tripod (or perhaps even a larger telephoto lens that would struggle to fit into the top section).
At the rear of the bag, there's a zippered pocket that can comfortably carry a 13-inch laptop. Meanwhile, at the front of the bag there's an additional smaller pocket that you can store a tablet or phone in. Unfortunately, there isn't a carrying handle on the top, which might put off some. However, the shoulder strap comes with a sliding pad as standard for ultimate comfort.
Just when you thought you were safe from the onslaught of black nylon camera bags, here comes the Gitzo. Despite being famous for luxury tripods that are massively expensive to buy, Gitzo's Century Traveler is very competitively priced for a camera messenger bag.
It’s not altogether nylon either, as the front flap is faced with premium Italian leather, which is also used for the top strap, baggage trolley loop and a few other flourishes.
Although reasonably slim and lightweight, the Gitzo can play host to a full-frame DSLR with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens attached, an additional 70-200mm f/2.8, plus a full-sized flashgun, or a bigger collection of smaller lenses and accessories.
There’s also an internal compartment for a 13-inch laptop, plus full-length zippered external pockets at the front and rear of the bag, and two smaller zippered pockets, one on each side. The front pocket has a built-in organizer section.
Access to the main compartment is via a clever ‘G-Lock’ pull tab, and there’s also a zip across the top flap so you can grab your camera without having to open the whole bag.
And lest we forget that Gitzo is predominantly a tripod manufacturer, the underneath of the front pocket has a separate zip that gives access to a pull-down tripod carrier for a reasonably small travel tripod.
With gorgeously aged leather and beautiful brass buckle details, if style is your number one concern then look no further. The Ona Prince Street Messenger Bag is beautifully designed and crafted from Italian leather in two color options (if you want to economize there are two canvas versions available too).
Inside this premium bag, there's ample room for a DSLR, rangefinder or mirrorless camera with an attached lens and two extra lenses. The padded interior dividers enable you to customize the organization of your kit to best suit your needs. There's also a handy interior pocket to slide in an 11-inch laptop or tablet.
On the front of the bag are dual front pouches for accessories such as your phone, keys, memory cards or batteries. Along with an adjustable shoulder strap with comfort pad, this bag also features a removable top carry handle for maximum ease of use on-the-go.
One of our favorite aspects of this bag is that it's easy to whip out the interior dividers, making this not only a superbly stylish bit of photography gear, but also a versatile bag for everyday use.
The best slimline luxury camera bag: Although it looks comparatively small and slim, the Think Tank Signature 13 can nevertheless accommodate a full-frame DSLR with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens attached, plus a 70-200mm f/2.8 and large flashgun, along with a 13-inch laptop tucked behind a divider in the main compartment.
Sprung latches with adjustable leather straps enable easy access to the main compartment, but there’s also a secondary internal zippered cover. You can use this for added security, or fold it away into a rear section if you don’t feel the need for it.
The front of the bag has a large additional pocket, with its own internal divider. One part of this is accessed by a leather strap with a popper. The other adds greater security, with an additional zip revealing an organizer section.
There’s yet another zippered pocket at the rear, plus a luggage trolley strap. The shoulder strap has a neoprene lining to enhance comfort, and there’s also a carrying handle on the top of the bag.
Unlike the full leather or canvas-like material that’s usually used in luxury bags, this one is made from rain-resistant wool-like material which is pleasantly soft to the touch. A waterproof rain cover is also supplied.