Camera bags are arguably the most important accessory a photographer owns. Sure, they protect and store valuable equipment. But, to my mind, a good bag is integral to the way a photographer chooses to work.
A backpack style of bag suggests a more contemplative working process. The photographer stands, lowers his pack to the ground. Inside are large cameras, large lenses, perhaps a tripod. She sets up her camera, selects a lens, and waits. All before a picture is taken. This is the nature photographer, the landscape photographer.
Others use a shoulder or messenger bag. The photographer is in motion, capturing images on the fly, reaching into her bag intuitively, eyes never leaving the subject as he draws the camera to his eyes. This is the street photographer.
I own at least one camera bag for each of the several cameras I have ever owned, each geared to the camera it was intended to house and to the way I intended to use the camera. A home-made backpack for my large format Cirkut cameras. A large shoulder bag for my collection of Nikon film cameras and prime lenses.
These days, a penchant for long-distance walking dictates my camera and bag decisions. Something lightweight, compact, easy to use while striding down a trail, holding a walking pole in each hand.
In 2012, that was the Olympus OM-D E-M5 micro-four thirds format (MFT) mirrorless camera teamed with the diminutive Olympus 14-42mm zoom. It was a ridiculously compact and light package that swung lightly around my neck on a 30-kilometre walk but still rendered a DSLR-quality image. My bag of choice was a petite Lowepro all-weather bag – the Apex 100AW.
The combo saw me through 900 kilometres on the Camino Frances (the main Camino de Santiago route), 600 kilometres between Prague and Vienna, and the first 300 or so kilometres of the Henro pilgrimage on the island of Shikoku in Japan.
But inclement weather was always an issue. If it rained, the camera had to be tucked into its tiny bag and a finicky rain cover fitted over the bag. Not only was it a painful process, it rendered the camera inaccessible for the duration of the rain shower. And I really wanted to take pictures while walking in the rain.
Earlier this year, with the promise of a long-distance ramble across soggy Ireland, I looked for a solution to this self-generated problem. It started with upgrades to the newer “splashproof” OM-D E-M5 Mark II camera body and the Olympus 14-150mm Mark II zoom lens. Now all I needed was a bag that would allow me to quickly draw the camera out for a quick shot in the rain and return it, just as quickly, to its protective cocoon.
That bag is the Miggo Agua 35 Stormproof Holster. It’s the most unusual bag I’ve seen and definitely serves a niche market. And it meets my needs brilliantly.
The Agua’s roughly triangular profile has an outer skin of waterproof tarpaulin finished in matte black with a shock of blue along the top. Two zippers open a flap that is nearly the same size as the front of the bag. This gives the bag an IPX3 rainproof rating. Not submersible but good enough to survive a good downpour.
Pulling up on the two zippers quickly opens the bag, though I find the zippers can be left open during a walk. The flap is big enough to protect its contents during a modest rain.
Inside, a neoprene and lycra layer lines the outer shell and provides modest bump protection. The base of the triangular bag has a “cup” of firm, shock-absorbing material to protect the down-facing camera and lens inside.
Two quick-release buckles projecting from the bag’s top corners connect to the provided shoulder strap. Inside the case, another quick-release buckle protrudes from one of the top corners. This clips onto one of the matching buckles attached to the strap lugs on my camera.
Here’s how it works. I lift the flap and pull out the camera, which is tethered with one buckle to the inside of the bag. I lift the camera to my eye to take the picture. Because the bag is attached to the camera, it is dragged up as well. The photo is taken and the camera can be quickly returned to its protective enclosure.
It may seem awkward to have a bag dangling below the camera while taking a photo. But the case is light and doesn’t get in the way. It may look odd to onlookers but it does work. More importantly, I can retrieve my camera during a rain storm, take a photo and return it to the bag without testing the camera’s splashproof qualities too severely.
I also appreciate that my camera is discretely hidden in its bag but can be instantly drawn for a quick street shot.
For those times when a dangling bag is not workable – a low or high level shot, for example – the single buckle attaching the camera can be quickly released.
Don’t want to use the bag at all? The shoulder strap can be detached from the bag and reattached to the quick-release buckles on the camera. The empty bag can be strapped to a backpack using its two matching buckles.
The strap, by the way, is a well designed one of heavy nylon strapping with a good cushion over the shoulder. Length is quickly adjusted using two pull tabs. The quick-release buckles are robust and lockable for extra security.
There are a few limitations with the Agua bag. It is strictly designed to hold one camera and one lens. There is a stretchable pocket to hold a lens cap or a filter (but without a case). There is also a stretchable pocket to hold an SD card (again, without a protective case) which seems much too vulnerable. I squeeze a very small micro cloth between the outer shell and the inner liner, for those times when the camera gets a bit too wet for comfort.
Trying to stuff anything else into the bag – I have tried – is either impossible or will make it hard to quickly fit the camera back into the case.
Want to carry an extra battery, a lens cleaner, another lens? Not in this bag. My workaround is a small Sea to Summit waterproof case and a carabiner. I can attach it to a loop on the Agua shoulder strap or, better yet, to my backpack if I’m on a long distance walk. It holds a couple of spare batteries, a lens cleaner and a spare SD card.
The bag comes in three sizes, the Agua 25, 35 and 45. Miggo’s website indicates the maximum internal dimensions for each. Measure your equipment carefully and do not try to force a few extra millimetres of lens or camera body. This will just make it harder to slide the camera back into the bag.
I am using the Agua 35, and my lens-camera combination is close to the maximum dimensions for that case. This includes an attached lens hood. I’m a big believer in hoods. They help control flare and shield the lens from rain drops. And they keep the front lens surface off the floor of the camera bag. The lens cap stays at home.
I was initially concerned that the bag might be too big. In fact, it fits tightly against my body. Because the camera normally sits inside the case as I walk, there is less “body clutter”. Gone is the camera slung around my neck and the bag over my shoulder, each swinging wildly to its own rhythm.
The Agua has had a good five-week field test in Ireland. It spent twenty days crossing the island on rugged trails and the remainder on city streets. I can’t say that the weatherproofing of the camera, lens and bag got a good workout. The promised rain for which Ireland is famous, never really materialized. Only the occasional shower. Otherwise, the bag performed as I had hoped.
I quickly got used to the bag being tethered to the camera and rarely disconnected the pair. I never felt the need to ditch the bag and attach my camera directly to the strap. I felt more comfortable with it protected inside the Agua, especially while slipping and sliding over wet, boggy terrain and climbing over fences. In town, I felt less like a tourist with the camera hidden inside the case. Yet, with one quick movement, I could have the camera at eye level, ready to take a picture.
I bought this bag to solve a weather problem. But it has become my everyday bag. The one I can walk with around town, camera discretely hidden yet ready for a quick photo. The one I can take everywhere without worrying about a possible rain shower. The one that sits lightly and comfortably on my shoulder.
If you are a one-camera, one-lens kind of photographer, if you want to take pictures while you walk or bike, then I would highly recommend you consider one of the Miggo Agua cases.
Purchasing the bags can be difficult. Although other Miggo products can be found in Canada, the Agua Stormproof bags do no seem to be available. I purchased mine through New York’s B&H Photo. The price at time of publication (October 27, 2016) is US $57.99. A great value!
Photos by Gail Perry.