The Digital Photo Guy

Photo Vests Are Cool

by on May.26, 2011, under gear, Monday Morning Tips

What to Look for in Photo Vests

Many photographers, mostly guys, collect camera and gadget bags. I, on the other hand, own just one gadget bag, one backpack, one LowePro Technical Harness & Belt system with assorted lens cases, two Pelican 1510 carry-on cases, one Pelican 1650 case, one Calumet WT411 case, three Interfit light stand/tripod bags and assorted laptop cases.

I’ve always resisted the urge to buy a photographer’s vest because they seemed so pretentious and geeky. I thought only photographer “wanna-bees” wore vests. That all changed recently when, on a whim, I bought a Weekender Traveler vest. I won’t say how much I overpaid by buying on a whim but, suffice it to say, with a little research, I could have paid much less on Amazon. The vest fit well and really surprised me with its versatility and utility.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be of poor quality and one pocket started to tear out almost immediately. Here are some things I learned about photo vests in the short time I’ve owned one.

  1. 1. Be sure there is, at least, one zippered pocket for your wallet and valuables. This zippered pocket should, preferably, be on the inside and, if possible, lined with a waterproof liner.
  2. Is there a convenient pocket for your cell phone where it doesn’t stick out nor does it get lost in the bottom of a cavernous cargo pocket?
  3. If you plan to use the cutesy “D” rings, be sure they’re metal, not cheesy plastic. I hate when I lose my hand grenades because the plastic “D” ring breaks.
  4. Buy one that’s loose because it won’t be after you fill the pockets with a Canon 580EX II, Canon 70-200/2.8L, six spare batteries, spare memory card wallet and a partridge in a pear tree.
  5. Look for cinch tabs on the sides to take up slack when you’re just trying to look cool as opposed to actually carrying gear. Otherwise, it fits like a cheap suit.
  6. Be sure there’s a large back pocket for a 70-200 size lens. While you’re at it, you might want to check for a water bottle size pocket that holds the bottle upright.
  7. Be sure there is a pen and notepad pocket but not a whole bunch of small, useless pockets.
  8. Tall, thin pockets are virtually useless unless you plan to carry tall, thin things. The contents fall to the bottom and are a pain to remove.
  9. Eschew labels. I hate logos like Canon or Nikon or LowePro emblazoned on my gear. If that’s your thing, have at it but birds fall out of trees laughing when they see ‘togs that look like walking billboards.

Piqued by my experience with the Weekender, I searched for a better quality vest designed specifically for photographers. In the end, I settled on a Tamrac 153 World Correspondent’s Vest. I went with the Tamrac because I’ve had excellent service from Tamrac. When my Tamrac straps began to come apart, I returned two to Tamrac and they repaired both at no cost. I thought that was a good sign that they would stand behind their products.


5 Comments for this entry

  • Dick

    My Columbia is a no name Chinese model and serves me well. It’s very light weight & I bought it for our Costa Rica trip several years ago.

  • Dick

    Hi Lee, I also wear a vest at times, especially when bird watching and walking some distance from the car. Mine is a Columbia, for better or worse, it has a zippered inside pocket and most of the other pockets are secured either by zipper or Velcro. Enough room for second lens (big one is on the camera already), water bottle, notepad, etc. Much easier to use than a backpack for me.

    • Lee

      Hi Dick,
      I’m beginning to suspect, as Andy pointed out, it’s us old guys who wear vests because they’re comfortable and versatile as opposed to fashionable, like the young guys want. I’m going to order one from the on-line shop Andy linked to see how a “no-name” Chinese vest compares to a Tamrac Chinese vest.

  • Andy Kliss

    Hi Lee-

    I also use a vest at times, although since I bought the Think Tank belt and pouch system, I rely on it almost 100% of the time.

    I too felt that wearing a vest was seemingly pretentious and felt awkward wearing one, until I realized that I’m approaching 60, don’t suck in my gut anymore when a femme fatale approaches and could care less what I wear when out in public. If you need to replace your current Tamrac vest, may I suggest the Fox Outdoor Safari Photo Vest? It’s BIG, has oodles of pockets, is vented for those warm days, plus has a large rear pocket that I use for stuffing a small, 12 inch folding reflector for use in shading small objects or adding some side light to macros. Don’t let the “cheap” price fool you; the build is quality stuff, the zippers are big and the material is substantial, although feels rather soft. Below is a link to an online retailer that offers it. Anyone wishing to purchase a vest, doesn’t wish to spend a bunch of dinars, and/or is not sure a vest is for them, this is a great investment (pun not intentional).

    Below is a link to one retailer:


    • Lee

      Hi Andy,
      Thanks for the link. I may order one of those to compare against the new Tamrac. For the price of the Tamrac, I can buy 2.5 vests at your source, although I don’t know what I’d do with that half vest!

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