RIP, my trusty but imperfect Kata W-92
I started my career using a Kata Waist Pack W-92 that was given to me pre-journalism. I would sling it across my chest or back, tight to my body so I could run/climb easily and avoid theft in tight crowds (seen in the photos below). It wasn’t made to be worn that way but it did the job and has been a loyal bag, despite the back pain. When I actually wore it properly on my waist, the biggest downside was what a smooshed disaster it would become when the camera wasn’t in it (seen above). The interior materials are now literally crumbling I've used it so much over the past 5 years, and he’s finally ready to rest at peace. The fibers are packed tightly with dust, sweat, blood and God knows what else - like a little vault of all the experiences, good and bad, that went into the making of my photos from Egypt.
Shoulder bags? Not for me.
I've seen most of my olleagues use shoulder bags. I figured there must be something to it, so briefly I tried the Lowepro Passport Sling. It’s affordable, lightweight and has good space inside for what I need. However, it just reinforced why I’ve never liked shoulder bags – the weight is unevenly distributed on my shoulders/back and killed after a few hours. Boobs get in the way. It makes me feel clunky when I need to move quickly. (To be fair, those first two also occurred with wearing my Kata cross-body)
I also often work in places where putting it down on the ground for rest isn’t an option, which was a pain (literally). Long shooting days with a shoulder bag left me crawling into my massage place (thanks Thailand), my lower back shooting flames.
I couldn't find many photojournalist-specific reviews about waist bags, so in my research for a better day-bag solution for lady bods, Think Tank Photo was kind enough to let me try out some of their options. I have to say that so far, it’s completely revamped how my body feels after a shoot, and an extra bonus - my organization:
Full disclosure - when I'm working I usually spin it around to the front of my body so I can rest my camera on it or avoid potential theft in crowds
1. Change Up Beltpack v2.0 - For my Canon D Mark III with 24-70mm f/2.8 attached + 20-700mm f/4 detached
2. Lens Changer 25 v2.0 [modular] – For my 50mm f/1.8 when needed or accessories
3. Stuff It! [modular] – Great for accessories + perfect for the Zoom H4N audio setup when I’m working with audio.
4. DSLR Battery Holder 4 (for long days) + CF/SD + Battery Wallet (for half-days)
5. Pixel Pocket Rocket for CF/SD cards - I received this at the Eddie Adams Workshop in 2013, and it's excellent.
(Also pictured - the back of my half-portion of a Black Rapid Double Strap. It isn't attached to the bag, but I guess it could be for extra support. Think Tank does include a removable strap for this)
I was originally considering the Pro-Speed Belt modular system, however, I decided to go with the Change Up Beltpack since it happened to fit the exact kit that I use. What's great is that there are still small sections on each side of the pack that can accommodate the modular additions, so I have the Lens Changer 25 & Stuff It to add/remove depending on the shoot. (I plan to try the full-modular belt system in the future out of curiosity, and suggest possibly leaning in that direction if you don't have a similar kit to mine.)
Each item has its own little rain cover, and incredibly well-designed pockets and slots for the intense organization, which is one of my weak points. Most importantly - it’s more comfortable than anything else I’ve tried, with the weight all securely on my hips. In the case, I do want to shift it to my shoulders, or even position the pack on my chest (like while driving a motorbike or on cramped bus journeys), there are removable straps to do so. They have structured the opening of the Change Up in a way that maintains it shapes whether empty or not - unlike my old Kata's crumpling issue when empty. Think Tank has paid close attention to the small details of what makes a difference in photographers' versatile needs.
I’ll address quickly what you’re probably thinking – “But it’s a massive fanny pack/bum bag!”
I’m trying to make photos, not a fashion statement. I used to be worried about the style of the bag until I kept feeling like a human claw after long shoots. The long and short term physical benefits and comfort of taking the weight of a DSLR & lenses off your upper body are worth SO MUCH more than anything else. There are many reasons that others might not prefer waist bags – but please don’t let it be aesthetic if you tend to have back strain. Ideally, we all want to be able to take photos in 20 years, and without back-related medical bills that our freelance budgets inevitably won’t be able to cover. So consider it!
(While we're on the topic - check out the Better Back for the hours you spend sitting in front of the computer. Don't laugh - it's amazing)
Using my new Think Tank waist system while on assignment for the New York Times at the Wilson tennis ball factory in Thailand