If you enjoy combining photography and bicycling, read on. Otherwise, I apologize for this little digression from our usual topics. —Alan
Late last year I made the switch from a “Super Zoom” digital camera to a digital SLR system. Now, instead of carrying a single self-contained camera, I frequently carry a camera body and 2-3 lenses with me on the bike; it’s taken some experimentation to figure out how best to do this.
In the past, if I was carrying just the body with lens attached (and possibly one extra lens), I placed them in a small LowePro camera bag and placed the camera bag inside my Arkel pannier (I wrote about it here). This was an OK system if I was traveling light and I didn’t need my pannier storage space for something else. The problem is that I often wanted to carry more than one extra lens and I also frequently needed the pannier for carrying groceries, books, etc. — I really needed a way to carry the camera and lenses that didn’t involve the pannier.
After shopping around and reading endless reviews on the web, I ended up with a Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home (odd name, but nice bag). The 7MDH as it’s called, is a medium sized, messenger-style camera bag that, from the outside, looks pretty much like any other medium sized messenger bag. The difference is that the Crumpler is generously padded, it has some structure, and it comes with adjustable inserts and storage pockets like a traditional camera bag. The fact that the it looks like a messenger bag and doesn’t scream “Look at me, I’m carrying a load of expensive camera equipment!” is a real benefit, particularly if you traverse gritty neighborhoods on a regular basis.
Messenger bags are popular for good reason. They place the bulk of the load on the small of your back where it has less leverage against your upper body, and unlike backpacks, they’re easy to access and they don’t make your back so sweaty. Like other messenger bags, I find the 7MDH quite comfortable on the bike (far more so than a backpack). Even fully loaded, I can ride across town and back with no discomfort whatsoever.
The size of the 7MDH is deceptive — it holds a surprising amount of gear! As a matter of fact, if you’re not careful, you’ll end up carrying more gear than you actually need because it all fits so tidily. I can comfortably carry a Canon XSi camera body with lens attached, three extra lenses, speedlight, charger, spare battery, Gorillapod, and miscellaneous accessories, all with room to spare. The 8 internal dividers are held in place with Velcro and can be configured in a variety of ways to suit your particular kit. There’s a pocket on the front for carrying papers or a book, a mesh pocket inside the lid for small items, and straps on the side for clipping on whatever suits your fancy. The overall layout is intelligent and makes good use of the available space.
The 7MDH is extremely well made. The cloth, stitching, zippers, and fittings are all of the highest quality. The velcro closure is industrial grade and quite strong (almost to a fault), the sliding shoulder pad is comfortable, and the overstuffed interior provides more protection than my LowePro and Tamrac camera bags. At $140 retail the 7MDH is a bit pricey, but it’s a beautiful piece and the price seems justified considering the quality of the workmanship and detailing that went into the bag.
You wouldn’t carry a camera bag of this size for touring; it’s just too much weight on your back for a full day in the saddle. But for those times when you’re running errands around town or riding to work (95% of the riding I do), the 7MDH is an excellent solution. I leave mine fully loaded and stored in a convenient location so I can grab it on the way out the door any time the mood strikes me.
Please note: The bag pictured above is a 2008 model — the 2009 model is now available. For those with less camera gear, the “Million Dollar Home” is available in a variety of smaller sizes all the way down to the diminutive 1MDH.