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Editorial: Curse of the Crumpler

Photographers on holiday seem firmly divided into two camps: those who proudly, or perhaps obliviously hang their cameras round their neck, and those who pull a camera from a hidden pocket to the surprise of all around, almost like a magician's rabbit. Call me paranoid, but I fall firmly into the latter camp. Whether I'm travelling in poorer countries, dodgy neighbourhoods, or simply strolling round the familiar streets of my own town, I just don't like advertising the fact I'm generally carrying a load of valuable camera equipment.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not one of those people who buys an expensive camera, then never takes it out in the fear of it getting stolen. I'll always carry what I've bought, but just try and ensure the least number of people around me know about it. This is why I've never been a fan of dedicated camera bags. You know the ones with buckles and compartments which cry out "grab me, I've got at least two lenses and an SLR in here"! I mean, come on, some are so obvious, they're even shaped like cameras.

But there's a reason dedicated camera bags exist, and that's because the well-designed ones both protect your equipment and present it easily to hand. And as someone who's spirited away numerous lenses, filters and batteries about their person, I know the untrusting solution is far from convenient when a photographic opportunity presents itself. What the canny travelling photographer really needs is a bag that's discreet, yet designed with their specific needs in mind.

My own somewhat Heath Robinson approach to this in the past was to pack equipment into padded jiffy bags then stuff these into normal shoulder bags or rucksacks lined with extra padding and plastic sheets for waterproofing. Most would then buckle under the weight, thereby requiring extensive manual reinforcing around straps. The result was rarely attractive, but did the trick while never attracting unwanted attention. Fortunately today though, I'm pleased to say I've discovered a far smarter solution: the Crumpler bag.

Crumpler bag - looks innocent enough...  

This Australian brand prides itself on being tough, and certainly in my (albeit short) experience with them, the strap's not broken and the material itself proved resistant to minor showers. All but the cheapest ones also have padding and a number of pockets making them ideal for discreetly carrying around a load of camera equipment. There's even a number designed specifically for photography with adjustable compartments for lenses, although I'm personally not fond of them because they look a little too much like traditional camera bags.

That's why I've personally gone for the anonymity of the Crumpler 'McBain's Baby XL' for my recent photographic trips. It's a compact 'courier' style shoulder bag which just happens to be strong, padded and ideally shaped for slipping in a DSLR with a couple of lenses. I can casually sling it over my shoulder and you'd be none the wiser to its contents. Or would you?

Whoa! Tasty camera kit within!

Trouble is, it seems everyone else has the same idea. These days almost every photographer I come across is carrying a Crumpler. You spot the familiar shoulder pad and logo around tourist destinations only to find a smart-looking camera invariably pulled out.

It's got so bad I can't wait to meet a Crumpler owner with no interest in photography what-so-ever. Indeed the opportunist camera thief should forget about slashing random backpacks in the hopes something valuable falls out and instead just grab every Crumpler bag they see - from my experience, a large percentage will be jammed with tasty kit.

And so it is: the curse of the Crumpler. The bag which once offered a discreet way to carry photographic kit has become a victim of its own success. I'm still very fond of mine, so will stick with it for general use, but those wanting to anonymously transport camera gear may have to look elsewhere.

Gordon Laing, May 2006

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