Johnny Martyr’s Camera Bag Essentials

By Johnny Martyr

We tend to take them for granted but camera bags and what we put in them, besides our actual cameras, can make or break a shoot. Regardless of if you’re a hobbyist or a professional photographer, film or digital, or both, you never know when some small item might just save your ass!

Below I want to share some specific product recommendations that have gotten me through everything from international travel to 12 hour local wedding shoots and even simple backyard portrait sessions.

Everyone will have their own needs and personal preferences when choosing a camera bag but since we’re talking about what to put in them, I thought it was worth noting the two that I’m currently using. After this, however, I’ll move onto stuff that I think anyone can benefit from keeping in whatever bag they choose.

Just a heads up – the images here are from Amazon and are clickable. I get a small commission from your clicks and purchases that will go towards maintaining this site. So if you see something you like, take a closer look. Thank you!

My Bags

As a photojournalist, I need camera bags that I can wear and access all equipment quickly and easily in medias res. For me, this usually means a large shoulder bag or reasonably compact messenger bag.

For my big, all day wedding shoots that require three to four camera bodies, 30-50 rolls of film and a compliment of lenses I haven’t found anything better than the Domke F-1x. I used to use a smaller, more popular Domke F2 which could fit all my stuff but it was cramped and could be difficult to keep organized. So I bought the next size up, not to carry more stuff but just to give everything some breathing room and not feel like I might be taxing the structure of the bag. I’ve owned/used other smaller Domke bags that have withstood many years of hard, professional work and trust the brand to make affordable, durable and traditional products.

The Domke F-1x is produced in canvas (two colors) or ballistic nylon (black only):

Domke F-1X Little Bit Bigger Canvas Camera Bag, Olive

Domke F-1X Little Bit Bigger Canvas Camera Bag, Sand

Domke 700-F1B F-1XB Ballistic Bag, Black

Another cool point for Domke bags is that they are basically a system. You can buy various other accessories for the bags and customize them to a degree. I use a thick shoulder pad accessory on my strap. The F-1x comes with one 4-section divider unit and I added a second one to the main interior space.

Domke 725-310 FA-031 U.S. Post Office Shoulder Pad , Black

Domke 720-240 FA-240 4 Compartment Insert, Green

When I’m just walking around downtown doing some street photography or doing a portrait session, the ONA Prince Street has been great. It’s handsome and expensive looking without being ostentatious. It strikes the balance between respectable style and discreet utility. I wrote up a more detailed review of the ONA Prince Street shortly after I first got it and still stand by my findings. The Prince Street is available in canvas and leather and in different colors:

ONA – The Prince Street – Black Waxed Canvas

ONA – The Prince Street – Field Tan Waxed Canvas

ONA – The Prince Street – Olive Waxed Canvas

ONA – The Prince Street – Smoke Waxed Canvas

Ona – The Prince Street – Antique Cognac Leather

I removed the laptop section pad and tend to pack my ONA Prince Street in one of three ways using the supplied padded dividers in roughly four equal spaces:

–Three cases of 35mm + one camera with a normal lens mounted

–Two cases of 35mm + one camera with a normal lens mounted + an extra lens

–Two cases of 35mm + two cameras with different lenses mounted

What film cases am I talking about? Read on!

Media Storage And Organization

The first media storage products I want to give a shout-out to are for 35mm and 120 film but I’ve got a digital recommendation also, just to prove I’m not a complete luddite!

Once upon a time Fujifilm released these plastic 35mm film cases and later discontinued them. Japan Camera Hunter revived the product by manufacturing, selling and popularizing them again. I bought one of the JCH cases years ago and it was somewhat costly given what it is. I discovered that, like many things, there were Chinese clones on eBay for a fraction of the cost. So I bought a bunch of those and compared both film cases in a blog. Today, the cost of the Chinese cases has gotten about on par with the JCH cases and Kodak also sells some much nicer metal ones for about double the cost of the plastic cases. So you have some more options today but the Chinese cases, when purchased through Amazon still seem to be the least expensive and equally effective.

A variant on the film cases that Fuji nor JCH has reproduced are combination 120/35mm plastic cases. Since I also shoot 120 sometimes, I picked up a set of these at some point before Kodak also reproduced them in metal. I like the flexibility in owning these although, they don’t cradle 35mm film quite as tightly/neatly as the dedicated 35mm case, so I use these as overflow for my 35mm and when I’m shooting 120 or both 120 and 35mm. If you’re not as picky or shoot more 120 than 35 though, I would recommend these as a great budget film case. eTone appears to be the current brand they are going with now!

Whichever film cases you choose, I do highly recommend them because they allow me to keep track of all of my film. No more lost rolls sitting in the bottom of the bag. When I go on a typical wedding shoot, for example, I bring one or two cases of 100 ISO, one or two cases of 400 ISO and one or two cases of 3200 ISO – all 35mm. Throughout the day, I shoot the film and return it to the case once it’s spent. I can always open each case to get an immediate inventory of how many rolls I’ve shot and how many I have remaining. I have started keeping rubber bands on the cases too. I don’t think the JCH cases come with them and 90% of the time I don’t need them, but in the event that I accidently drop a case, the last thing I need is film spilling out all over the ground.

I recommend using some type of film case enough. And even if you don’t shoot as much as I do, they make half size cases to hold five rolls each.

While I haven’t purchased a digital camera for myself (not counting telephones) since the Nikon D200, I still buy a fair share of my wife’s digital-centric gear. Something that immediately turned out to be a wise purchase and continues to present well are Pelican memory card cases.

These little hard plastic cases contain hard foam inserts that neatly house either SD and Micro-SD or Compact Flash cards. The week after I bought these, Stephanie accidently dropped her camera bag in a creek during a wedding. We kept shooting like it didn’t phase us but when the clients weren’t looking, I surveyed the potential damage. Even though her bag had about an inch of water in the bottom and a number of items were soaked through, the Pelican cases protected her assortment of memory cards containing previously taken photos as well as empty cards for the remainder of the shoot. I’d rather lose one of her D810’s during a shoot than a memory card and its back up.

But also, these cases just make you look organized and professional. When Steph pulls them from her bag, I’ve witnessed a few people comment that it’s a nice looking product. One guy even said something to the effect of “wow, only a professional would carry something like that!” It may seem silly but little things like this instill confidence in people that they are working with the right folks. But most of all, these cases are my little way of nudging my wife, with her often crazy disorganized bag, to tidy up a bit!


Most classic camera shooters are very familiar with the common A76/357 type button cell batteries. You can buy them here or any corner drugstore.

But it wasn’t until I bought my first Leica that I became aware of a lesser known 1/3N type of battery. Many classic cameras that have LED meters or similar electronics (such as Nikon FM/FE series) require not one but two A76 batteries.

Rather than putting two A76/357 batteries in those cameras, you can put just one 1/3N battery in their place, which I like because it’s less small stuff floating around in my camera bag to get lost. And the 1/3N’s are lithium so they last even longer than silver oxide A76’s.

These are the batteries recommended by Leica for M6 and newer M cameras but they are compatible with anything else that requires two 1.5 volt A76 type batteries.

Regardless of if you choose A76 or 1/3N, keep extra’s in your bag! I check or change my batteries before most shoots but it will be that shoot you didn’t remember or have time to check that they will die!

Identification & Protection

For years, I used plastic luggage tags that you can slip a business card into as the only means to label my camera bags. With years of work, these tags cracked and the business cards fell out or fell apart. They began to look ragged and wouldn’t have really served their purpose once my bag had some miles on it. Before leaving for Europe this year, I bought some really nice, durable brass luggage tags as an upgrade. The tags are made of a heavy gauge brass and are impossible to flex by hand. The engraving is deep and black paint filled. So even if the paint comes off, which it’s not supposed to, the text will never disappear and could always be repainted if desired. They look perfect with my ONA bag and it’s brass hardware. These tags are extremely durable and are reminiscent of materials used on classic cameras. I almost feel like spraying them in black gloss and filling the engravings with white paint! They cost a bit but will probably outlast my bags and even me, while still looking great the whole time. You might want to get your email/website/telephone engraved on them as opposed to your address because you will still be using these tags in 40 years!

I should mention, however, I did throw away the flimsy faux leather straps that came with these and opted for conventional split rings like the ones used on keychains, to attach the tags more securely. Still, I think these are the finest, least expensive, solid brass engraved tags that I could find. They come in a set of three.

Next up, the best investment in your camera bag I can think of. In addition to the luggage tags, I began using Apple Air Tags both on my camera bags as well as on the straps of my most valuable cameras. If you order Air Tags directly from Apple, they’ll also engrave them for you at no additional charge. But shipping will likely be faster from Amazon. It took several weeks for the set I ordered from Apple to arrive while it was the usual two days from Amazon.

To attach the Air Tags to my bags, I bought black plastic Belkin holders that bayonet lock around the tag and feature a small loop for clipping onto a spilt ring. The design seems simple and effective though there are more expensive, attractive and secure options available. I like to attach my Air Tags to conspicuous places rather than hiding them because I think they may function as a theft deterrent. The Bekin holders have stood up to airport luggage abuse so I’ve been very happy with them.

And yes, there are numerous alternative holders out there but I found this one to be cheap, light weight and, importantly, the split ring secures the locking mechanism. So even if the two halves of the holder twisted and began to unlock somehow, the split ring would prevent the holder from coming open. Very smart.

To attach the Air Tags to the 14312 neckstraps of my Leica’s I used black silicon cat collar holders. I like these because they are small, soft and light weight. They also came with clear plastic decals that cover and protect the Airtags from scratches and keep them looking proper.

If you use a wider neckstrap, here is a similar product for dog collars that will thread a wider strap.

Well, those are my best recommendations for camera bag essentials. I keep a ton of other weird, random things in my bags such as business cards, Advil, Sharpie markers, a flask, and numerous other do-dads. But I am not sure you need to hear about all that!

Let me know if you pick up any and try anything I’ve mentioned here, or also if you have some other recommendations. I’d love to hear some more.

Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

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