Timbuk2 Messenger Bag – Photography With Less

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Over the years I have acquired a small stash of photo gear. When I started buying this equipment I convinced myself that I needed it. I had visions of making money shooting events (but not weddings) and real estate photography. I even entered into a partnership with a local Tae Kwon Do school to do photo-booths for their events which meant buying two-studio strobes, umbrellas and remote triggers1. I had developed a bad case of gear acquisition syndrome (GAS).

Most of this equipment did not fit into my photography bag, a Kata backpack that I won in a competitions several years ago. I would stuff that bag so full it weighed almost as much as a 6 month old baby. Over the years the bag had hiked the Sourland Mountain Preserve, and the streets and bridges of New York City. The wear and tear was starting to show. The Kata needed to be replaced.

Co-incidentally around the same time I decided I needed to replace the Kata, I started consulting again. I had a backpack style bag for carrying a MacBook, iPad, a handheld scanner (copies of time sheets), headphones, chargers , etc. That backpack was a gift from a vendor and I had it for several years. One day one of the straps failed and I almost lost the MacBook and iPad to cement. Clearly I needed a replacement.

I did my research online and asked a few friends who consult for suggestions. I was torn between a backpack and a messenger style bag. According to my research, backpacks were easiest on the body since they distributed weight evenly. Messenger bags tend to hurt the shoulder if worn too long and if you had poor strap. But, the research also suggested that backpack were seen as less professional than messenger bags. The backpack could make the wearer seem like a college kid. But I wanted the space and utility of the backpack but professional look of the messenger bag. I also wanted to save some money and didn’t want to buy two bags — one for photography and one for consulting work. I wanted on bag. A friend suggested the TimBuk2 messenger bag.

TimBuk2 Camera Bag
TimBuk2 Camera Insert

The TimBuk2 Bag

This article isn’t a review of the TimBuk2 but given how much I have already written, it would seem that way. I purchased a customized TimBuk2 Messenger bag with wide shoulder strap and camera kit insert. The bag is rugged nylon. I think this bag will last me a long time. It has slots in the main compartment for holding an 13″ MacBook, my 9.7″ iPad Pro, my Grado SR60 headphones, a Moleskine notebook, and a sandwich. There is an inside zippered pocket where I keep cables and charges, spare batteries, and emergency diabetes supplies; that’s my daily setup.

For weekend photowalks and excursions I empty the bag and slide in the TimBuk2 camera insert. The TimBuk2 camera insert is padded with two moveable inserts that creates three compartments. The compartments are adjustable and removable. There is just enough space to hold my Nikon D5100 with AF-S Nikkor 35 mm f/1.8 DX lens attached in one compartment, either my AF-S Nikkor 85 mm f/1.8G or AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR DX lens in the other, with the last compartment holding essentials like my ML-L3 wireless remote trigger, spare battery, TriggerTrap dongle, and headlamp. For night photography I swap out a lens and use the compartment to keep my Nikon SB-600 flash. For macro photography I swap out a lens and use the compartment to keep my Kenko DG extension tubes.

This setup has worked well so far. Despite packing only the minimal amount of great I have had few regrets with my TimBuk2. I think this sort of minimalism has actually helped my photography. Before I go out on a field trip I am forced to think about what I want to accomplish. Do I want to shoot landscapes? Moving water? Macro? Now instead of going out and shooting a bunch of disconnected images I arrive at my destination ready to focus on the shoot. Instead of packing every piece of gear I have because “just in case”, I can focus my attention on just a few things.

One other benefit of choosing to bring less gear with me is that I have less fatigue at the end of a field trip. Carrying less gear means less strain on my bag and shoulders. I have walked for hours with my old Kata bag packed with gear and by end of a field trip my back and shoulders would hurt for the rest of the day. Not so with the TimBuk2. The bag feels lighter and I feel less strain across my shoulders.

I think this arrangement will continue to work for me. That means I have some equipment which I want to get rid of. And perhaps use that money to buy me a new lens.


  1. The owner and I actually split the cost of two AB-800 strobes, stands, umbrellas, and remote triggers. 

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