Let's face it. Camera bags are dorky. Okay, that's a bit unfair. The majority are more about function than they are about the aesthetic. Meanwhile the aesthetically pleasing ones run into some issues. Either they're too expensive or they're not entirely functional. However functional or aesthetically pleasing they both run into the same problem: they're hellaciously obvious at being camera bags. This isn't much of a problem if your bag's main purpose is to ferry gear safely from one location to another. Hell, it isn't even a problem if one doesn't care what their bag looks like. But what if you're a street photographer? What if you just can't not have a camera wherever you go but don't want to be blatant about being a photographer? What if you just want to channel your inner hipster and be different? Solution: re-appropriate any bag to your liking and make that your camera bag.
This idea isn't original but it is common enough that a lot of practical people (read: cheapskates) out there to have already done it. The process is pretty straightforward. Find a bag you like. Make sure your camera and all your daily shooting essentials fit. Add protection et voilà, a camera bag that's personal.
Protection? Protection from what? Ze Germans? Well, they don't make cameras like they used to and glass often cracks if subjected to sudden impact. Fortunately you can purchase padded inserts separately. I like Domke. For a good start I would recommend picking up an army surplus canvas bag for a plethora of reasons. They're plentiful and they're inexpensive. Not to mention they're durable by default. Mine is actually a Gas Mask Bag from the Army of the Czech Republic, or at least it was advertised as such. Canvas is great because it's tough and pliable. The downside? Not all that waterproof. Fortunately there's a tried and true technique to solve that problem and I'm going to show you how it's done.
Things you'll need:
So I used snowboard wax because I couldn't find the supposedly readily available anywhere paraffin wax in the supermarket.
Step 1. Take your wax, put it in the tin that you don't care for. This is assuming you don't have a double-boiler. Now if you don't have a double boiler use a pot that's big enough to fit the tin inside. Fill the pot with water and boil it over the stove. Place the tin inside the pot and wait for it to melt.
Step 1a. Crack open a beer for the wonderful job you're doing so far. Also, the wax is going to take a couple minutes to thoroughly melt so you might as well.
Step 2. Once the wax has melted down to its liquid state take the paint brush and start coating the bag. How many times you ask? This is entirely up to you. What I did was apply extra coats on the top flap and the bottom panel of the bag. I even coated the straps.
Repeat Step 2 as many times as needed. The wax dries pretty quickly and this part gets a bit messy. What you're going to do now is work the wax in to the canvas just so the coat is applied evenly. That way when you're done, it'll look like this.
Step 3. Take your bag and stick it into an old pillowcase and stick that in the dryer on Permanent Press. This part of the process is to cure the wax. Sounds crazy that you're melting the wax twice but it's all part of the process. Repeat as many times as needed.
Step 4. While the bag is drying, kill some time and play with your cat.
Step 5. Once your bag is out of the dryer now you can "assemble" it by inserting the padded compartments.
I suppose that it should be said that make sure the inserts you bought fit. It takes a bit of finagling.
Perfect Fit. Room For my camera, another lens, portable tripod, moleskine notebook and pen.
No one will ever know.
So it isn't the most elegant of solutions but one can argue it is one of the more ingenious ones. I've ventured out in drizzling weather and sure enough, the wax repelled the water and it beaded off to the side. I've had this particular bag for about 2 years and it's held up to the rigours of travel just fine. I waxed it about a month ago and I now at least have piece of mind knowing that if I'm ever caught out in some foul weather, I can at least rest assured that my camera is well protected. Find your future camera bag and Domke inserts on eBay, just like I did.