A Few Thoughts on Tripod Bags
Owning a good quality tripod doesn't come cheap. But if you want to get the best images you can, it's pretty much a given that you need one. So the question I want to explore today is, what about protecting that investment?
A good quality camera can cost a fair bit too. Add in the price of even a few good lenses and the total investment in camera gear goes up even further. Most of us use a camera bag to help protect all this when we go out shooting. But a camera bag serves an even more basic function in that it makes it possible to actually carry around all that camera gear in the first place. With only two hands, I can't really carry very much without something to put it all in. It's not that different from when I go to the grocery store. If I buy more than a few items, I'm going to need a bag to put everything in to get my purchases back home. Of course my groceries don't need as much protection as my camera equipment does, but the basic function of a bag to carry things in is the same.
So what about a tripod bag? There are lots of ways to carry a tripod without putting it in a bag. And in terms of numbers, both while camera gear and groceries generally travel in groups, it's uncommon to carry more than one tripod. One tripod in a bag is still one item. It's just now a bulkier item due to the addition of the bag. Granted, a tripod bag probably has a handle on it, but if all you want is a handle, a tripod strap should suffice.
In terms of protection, a tripod is designed to be set on the ground. That's why it has feet, after all. You pretty much have to set it on the ground in order to use it in fact. If you're careful, a tripod is plenty durable all on its own. If you're not careful, you can get some dings on a tripod, but aircraft aluminum and carbon fiber are nowhere near as susceptible to damage when dropped as are glass lens elements and solid state camera electronics. When in the field, my camera gear goes in a padded bag, but not my tripod. The extra bulk is simply not necessary. When I get back to the car, the tripod gets placed in the back with everything else. The camera gear stays in a bag and the tripod stays on its own without any added protection. There's little in the back of my car that could damage it.
A good tripod bag can provide an added sense of security if someone else is transporting your gear though. Airport baggage handlers are not known for their soft touch, but in a post-9/11 world you pretty much have to entrust your tripod to them if you fly. Rules for carry-on luggage are far more restrictive than they once were. You may be able to fit your tripod inside your other checked bags, especially if you take the head off. But it takes a fairly large suitcase to make this work and fairly large suitcases end up being heavy once packed. Weight limits for checked baggage is another thing that has changed in how airlines do business these days, and overweight charges can be steep. So even if you don't often use it, it may be a good idea to own a padded tripod bag.
The problem with buying a tripod bag though is finding one that fits properly. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you need one that is not too big, and not too small. This isn't that easy. I've found that most commercial tripod bags are either too small in diameter or too long for the task at hand. My favorite is the Bazooka line of tripod bags from Think Tank Photo which can cleverly adjust in length by a factor or nearly two.
One thing tripod bags have in common with camera bags is that not everyone will have the same preference. Buying either can be a personal decision. There are other good brands out there of course but do your homework before buying a tripod bag. Don't just assume that a bag will properly fit your tripod.