Large Format Backpack? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread


I shoot landscapes, either with a 4 X 5 with a Graflex Crown Graphic or a Calumet Cambo NX. I bring the usual handful of small field lenses, 1 dozen film holders, etc., and a great old Tiltall tripood. Recently I have been having serious shoulder problems from many years toting a heavy camera bag. I need to get a backpack for my field photography. There are so many backpacks out there! I'd appreciate hearing recommendations, and pros/cons of different bags.


Matt Kierstead

-- Matthew A. Kierstead (, March 23, 2002


Hello Matt: If the problem is with your shoulders rather than your back, select a pack with the best shoulder straps available. In that category I think LowePro is second to none. Camera bags are OK for press photographers that need equipment quickly on the spot and carry only a few pieces. Backpacks are much more appropriate, I think, for what you do. You are late in realizing the problem but perhaps doing it right, now, will help. It seems to me that the first task is to identify the culprits and that means knowing the weight of each of the things you carry, then decide if their are worth their weight in your shoulders. Specifically, get a mailroom scale and weigh each of your lenses and get rid of any that use #3 shutters, then have your tripod weighed; the post office will surely be glad to help. Weight-wise your Tiltall tripod is outdated, a Gitzo carbon will save you grams. Take care.

-- Julio Fernandez (, March 23, 2002.

I use the LowePro Pro Trekker and would highly recommend it. It's harness system is second to none, in my experience, and there's plenty of room for your gear.

-- Mark Windom (, March 23, 2002.


I think that the the weight problem may not be in how you carry the 25-plus lbs. of gear, but that you carry the 25-plus lbs. of gear.

I don't know what kind of film you use, but it could help to get a Quickload or a QuickChange holder.

Do you need all of the movements of the NX? Could you create the same photographs with a Tachihara or similar camera? If you used a lighter camera, you could probably double (at least) the weight savings by using a lighter tripod.

Also, if you lower the weight of the camera/film holders/tripod, you may be able to use a lighter and smaller backpack.

-- Matthew Runde (, March 23, 2002.

I agree that maybe you should lighten your load a bit and save your health.
I have yet to shoot 24 sheets of film in a day! Are 12 holders necessary?
I am amazed that you actually carry around 16lb of camera...
If you are able to, you might want to reconsider all that weight and go with a lighter/smaller camera - I find that 2 lenses are sufficient for 99% of my shooting (maybe not for you, though).
I use a LowePro Classic, and I agree with the previous post that they are second to none in their harness/weight distribution design.

I do mostly day hikes, so it is easier for me to go light - Camera, 6 holders, 2 lenses, meter, filters & holder, teeshirt, socks, windbreaker, trail mix, et al. - all under 20 lbs.

-- Matt O. (, March 24, 2002.

pro trekker AW was my choice, weight ok (compare to others with roller) Maybe it's too big for your use, you should go in a shop, and try to put all your stuff in bags... I bring : 55mm/4,5, 90/5,6, 135/5,6, 180/5,6, 240/9, technikardan S45, super rollex67, flashmeter, tripod, 5 film holders. It's nearly full !

-- dg (, March 24, 2002.

I carry all of my large format field gear in a Tamrac 787 photo backpack. It will handle 4x5 field camera, 3 lenses(mounted on lensboards), Kodak Readyload holder w/20 sheets of Ektachrome and 20 sheets of T-Max, light meter, focusing loupe, filters, tools, etc...It has additional outside pockets to hold dark cloth and personal items(food, water, etc..). Your tripod will mount to the outside of the pack. It has very confortable shoulder straps and waist belt( to help support the load ). I've carried this all day without too much trouble (even at 46 years old and not in that great of shape). Try it, you won't be disappointed.

-- Robert C. Eaves (, March 24, 2002.

I use the Lowe Pro Photo Trekker AW. I carry (typically) a Toyo filed camera (the older and larger 5x7/4x5 model), 65, 90,150, 210 and 300 mm lenses; all on lens boards. I bring about a dozen 4x5 film holders, a Polaroid 405 back, a Minolta Autometer IVf meter, and a BTZS focusing hood.

There's also a smattering of the usual supply of bits, like filters, a Cabin loupe, cable release and so forth. I hang a small tripod chair to the outside of the bag since I find that sitting and being comfortable means that I get to look through the viewfinder for longer periods of time and that means better pictures.

I like the bag a lot. If I strap it on properly I find that I can walk for kilometers without being aware that it's there, and that has to be the highest compliment for a bag like this. I've also traveled by air with this bag and it complies with the airlines stow it "under the seat" rule.

If there's one think that I don't like about the bag it's that I can't put a tripod sling/mount on it, so I have to hand carry my tripod. Lowe Pro does sell such a mount for this bag, but it turns out that there were two (or more) Photo Trekkers and it will only fit on one newer than mine; something Lowe Pro doesn't mention at all in their literature. The newest bags may well come with the tripod sling built in, but that doesn't help me much.

-- David Grandy (, March 24, 2002.

I went with an external frame backpack (Dana Designs K2) instead of a traditional photo backpack. The main motivation in going this route is due to comfort and cost. I tried different photo backpack in my local pro photo dealer, though some of them were comfortable, but the cost drove me to a outdoor store. I tried different backpacks both internal and external frames. The external frame proved to be the most comfortable.

To protect my gear, I went to purchase rubbermaid plastic cases from Walmart. I could fit a 4x5 camera, 2 lenses, polaroid 545i holder (or 6 film holders, meter, filters, rain coat and snacks. In the area of the backpack where one would normally attach a sleeping bag, I tie my tripod (Bogen 3021) instead.

I have hiked with this outfit for 3-5 miles and find this setup to be ideal.

So go to an outdoor place, bring your 4x5 outfit and try different backpacks and see if this works...


-- Peter (, March 25, 2002.

I use three back packs for different systems. Without going into a lot of detail, the one thing I've found that makes a big difference in comfort for me is the width and padding of the shoulder straps. I have a Tamrac something or other that has shoulder straps about an inch wide and not very well padded. After only a short time the straps feel like they're cutting into my shoulders. I also have a Domke Outpack. The straps on it are about two inches wide and heavily padded. It's much more comfortable than the Tamrac.

-- Brian Ellis (, March 25, 2002.


I have the same Cambo that you have. Since I don't have a smaller, lighter camera, I take it with me where I want to take photos, and just deal with the weight. A good backback with a proper suspension system makes a lot of difference.

My backpack is a Kelty Redwing 2900. I purchased it on sale at REI, but I have seen it for a good price ($79) at Sierra Trading Post ( This is an internal frame, front loading pack with a very good waist/hip and shoulder suspension system. I think that any pack with a good suspension system will do wonders for your shoulder! Most of the weight in my pack is carried on my hips. The shoulder straps are wide, and when everything is adjusted properly, it feels great. It is heavy, but once it is on, it does not feel as heavy as it does picking it up.

I purchased some heavy duty foam, and cut the pieces with an electric carving knife. There are cutouts for the camera, my lenses, and some of the accessories. Other accessories reside in the varous pouches on the exterior of the camera. One 1/2 inch piece of foam covers the whole bag. A thicker piece sits on top of it. That is the one with the cutouts. I put the camera in the bag, mounted on the short wide- angle rail. I keep a lens mounted on the camera. One thing I have found: Now that I have been using the camera this way for a while, I find that I want to get a new piece of foam to rearrange things.

Another alternative I am considering is to protect the camera somehow (perhaps just with the dark cloth, and protecting lenses and other valuable items in tupperware or similar containers. I have read that others use foam cutouts to hold and protect lenses inside the tupperware. It might be worth a try, because you will get more useable space in the bag. You do, however, lose some protection, and the organization that the foam liner provides.

One tripod leg fits through the cross country ski holder on the side of the bag. What a luxury! No need to carry the thing over my shoulder any more. The other ski holder holds my long monorail.

Another strategy that might make things more portable is to purchase an adapter board for the 45NX that allows it to accept Technika style lensboards. (Who knows, Calumet might even offer a Graphic to Cambo adapter. I never checked.) At least for lenses mounted on a flat board, this will save lots of room in your pack. My Technika to Cambo adapter was cheap (bought on E-Bay with 3 other boards for $99!) but the new ones cost almost $250! I have seen them go on E-Bay for $80- $100. You can get inexpensive, but nice, Technika style boards from Midwest Photo Exchange. They are made by Nikon.

I carry my film holders in an Eagle Creek day pack with the waist belt folded in. I just clip it to D-rings the outside of the pack. It holds 10 or so 2-sided holders.

This combination is less expensive than the photo backpacks. I think that the suspension system is better than that in most photo backpacks. The drawback is that you have to be creative in figuring out how to carry the camera and the other pieces, because it is not pre-divided.

I have used this system for day long hikes, and it works great.

Hope this helps.

-- Dave Karp (, March 25, 2002.

The main thing is to get a backpack that allows you to carry most of the weight on your hips. The shoulder straps are only used to stabilize the load. If you are hiking on level ground, you should be able to loosen the shoulder straps completely.

If you go to a good outdoor/backpacking store, the staff should be able to help choose a pack that fits you.

I am using a Gregory Reality pack for hauling my gear. It has a front-load panel. I put my lenses, meter, quickload holder, and other accessories in a Pelican 1450, which just fits through the opening. The camera is either folded in the darkcloth, or stored in a Pelican 1400. This setup has been very good for dayhike outings.

-- Michael Chmilar (, March 25, 2002.

I like the dedicated camera backpacks for 35mm (I have a large tenba and a small tamrac). For LF, however, I have found a simple Kelty Redwing to be much more to my liking. It's much lighter and more comfortable than my tenba backpack. I use the small lens case (which holds my 90 and 210 mm lenses plus loupe) and quickload film and holder carrier from Justin Gnass ( I load as follows: QL carrier + 2 boxes of film at bottom. Camera wrapped in btsz darkcloth in middle (with meter of to the side of it). Tamrac filter pouch (from their modular system) at the top. Compression straps keep things from moving around. I could easily squeeze in some extra stuff, plus there are three external pockets (which I use for snacks, a water bottle, a reflector set, and odds and ends).

-- Noshir Patel (, March 25, 2002.

I have used a number of backpacks which, without exception, I overfilled to the point of becoming a beast of burden. At age 55 I sold my Lowe-Pro Super Trekker and went back to the pack (no pun intended) that I was introduced to by my Uncle Sam back in the sixties. While the camping experiences were quite forgetable, the military backpacks had some distinct advantages as they do today. 1. Cost. An army surplus "Alice" pack can be purchased in any one of three sizes. The cost at an army surplus store is usually less than $60 including the metal external frame. I keep on pack with large format gear and outdoor stuff for my nature photography and another with 35mm equipment for my Formula 1 shooting. I can switch the one frame to whichever pack I need.

2. They don't say CAMERA EQUIPMENT PLEASE STEAL ME by their appearance. I would rather look like an old geezer with a ratty looking army backpack than a photographer with lots of stuff with me.

3 You can customize the interiors to suit your needs with foam panels, dividers etc. and they have a ton of generous pockets.

4. They are virtually indestructible.

In short, you can find a lot of handy photo carrying gear at you local army surplus store or on the web.

Hope this helps, Good Shooting

Bob Parsons

-- Robert Parsons (, March 26, 2002.

Like others, I purchased a pack that has not special compartments, etc. It has one, large area that in which I've placed foam rubber. I cut out squares so that I have compartments for lenses, camera, some filters, etc. My pack has an additional smaller pack that attaches to the flap of the larger pack with velcro.

This pack is lightweight, and all items are fully protected. While it has more room than my Domke for my medium format, it weighs less. Although my tripod is a dead give-away, it also doesn't have, CAMERA(S) written all over it.

-- neil poulsen (, March 26, 2002.

As Michael said above, you should find a back pack with a wide padded waist belt that allows most of the weight on your hips instead of the shoulders and back bone. We can name some, but it would be better to test some and find the one that suits your morphology best. I personally use a Tenba PBA, perhaps not the most refined, but works well for me.

-- Paul Schilliger (, March 27, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ