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A covert bag for traveling in cities


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#1 ajurjans

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Posted 07 March 2016 - 12:34 PM

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Hi, fellow X-shooters,

For quite a while now I've been looking for my unicorn - a comfy bag that would attract zero attention in tourist crowded streets. This year I am planning to visit London, Porto, and, most importantly - Barcelona. As many of you might know, Barcelona is notorious for thefts there - quite a few of my friends have lost their camera gear and my girlfriend was lucky enough to quickly realize she had been stolen from, caught the guy and asked her purse and passport back.
This is why I am looking for a bag that:
could take x-e2 body and 2-4 lenses (the largest in dimensions being XC 50-230)
Would also take a 1 liter bottle of water, a small umbrella, a gorillapod and few other smaller items (spare battery, lenspen, maybe a raincoat)

The bag can be a backpack or shoulder bag. if it is a backpack, the main access to camera compartment has to be from the back.
The looks. It should NOT look like a camera bag - I quite like the function and looks of national geographic bags, however, those bags scream "I have pro stuff in me, take me!"
A rain cover is a plus.
Durable material, however, not leather.
ABSOLUTELY NO large canon, nikon, fuji, lowepro, thinktank or other logos on the front.

I quite like the design of this bag http://www.vanguardw...ags/veo-37.html however, I fear that it still looks too much like a a camera bag. But perhaps it is my paranoia :D

What is your experience?
Ah, and tips on barcelona and Porto spots are also welcome.
Thanks!

Currently Fuji X-E2, 10-24, 50-230.
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#2 milandro

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Posted 07 March 2016 - 02:56 PM

I am afraid that whichever bag you will take with you, it will be very difficult not to be conspicuous if you carry a camera and 4 lenses.

 

The moment you take you camera from the bag and you change lenses ( otherwise why taking 4 with you?) you will attract attention.

 

Expert thieves on the ramblas would immediately spot you as a tourist and they would suspect a camera and lenses in any large or even small bag.

 

My advise to people who are afraid of their camera being taken from them is to avoid a bag altogether, especially when you are in Barcelona, and put your main lens on the camera.

 

Then carry the camera on one shoulder and wear a jacket or at least a body warmer or something without sleeves ( if too warm) to make it less visible and protect the camera from being snatched while not photographing. Have one or two other lenses in the pockets, preferably if closed with a zip.

 

The other thing that I would advise is to always be with at least one other person and while you are shooting have the other person act as a look out. People being relieved of their telephone while phoning in the streets is absolutely not unheard of and the same can happen with a camera while you are concentrating looking in the evf.

 

Good luck!


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the popular expression wishful thinking is an oxymoron!


#3 ajurjans

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Posted 07 March 2016 - 03:17 PM

Thanks! From your words I understand that my concerns are probably real.
The trip is going to be in July, so my usual approach with lenses in the front pockets of an army-style jacket will be of no use.
Another option is just to go with any regular shoulder bag, which does not look like a camera bag, however, I hate the mess inside - lenses, gorillapod, water bottle, etc.
I am not overly concerned about my phone - my work requires me to constantly be aware of my phone and its whereabouts. Camera is my main concern this time.
I assume I would not change the lenses all the time - only for some shots and definitely not on the Ramblas :D
I am also planning to travel with my gf, and checking out for each other is something we always do. i also have some tricks on how to attach the camera to myself and the bag, so neither can be easily taken.
Its a good thing that an x-e2 with 18mm or 27mm attracts less attention than any canon dslr, though.
I am not sure about the gear I would be taking with me, it is still to be planned (thats why I said between 2 and 4 lenses).
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#4 milandro

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Posted 07 March 2016 - 03:25 PM

I might have been giving you the impression that is is a jungle out there in Barcelona and it is not as bad as it might sound. Lots of people go to Barcelona, shoot plenty of pictures and have no problem at all!

 

But you want to square a circle and bring a ton of stuff in an invisible bag from which you occasionally will take out a camera and occasionally switch lenses. Thieves, if at all present ( and they are but not everywhere all the time) will certainly spot this movement.

 

Dorky as it might  be, a vest offers the possibility to both hide your camera ( as opposed to have it hanging from your neck) and carry all the things you need.


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the popular expression wishful thinking is an oxymoron!


#5 ajurjans

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Posted 07 March 2016 - 03:29 PM

Well, I certainly don't expect it to be like Norway or Finland, where I could just put a lens in the outer pocket of my backpack (intended for water bottle, easy to reach without taking the bag off) :D
A friend of mine had her ff Sony camera and lenses stolen in the airport - the camera bag was on the large suitcase, with the handle of th suitcase going through the side of the bag - someone asked her something and a second later only the suitcase was there.

If we talk about Spain, I know a few persons, who bought an iphone on the street... And got a rock in an iphone box :D
And a truck driver who instead of a laptop bought 3kg of very expensive salt :D

Edited by ajurjans, 07 March 2016 - 03:31 PM.

Currently Fuji X-E2, 10-24, 50-230.
My instagram feed at: http://ljubvi.net
Reviewer of photo-equipment for the leading Latvian tech-site http://kursors.lv


#6 milandro

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Posted 07 March 2016 - 03:41 PM

Airports, stations and whatever place is linked to traveling are, by definition, everywhere in the world, places where thieves are sure to find good pickings.

 

People always travel with money, passports, and valuables.

 

We have pickpockets here in the NL too and I am sure that this crime is not unknown in Norway and Finland too.

 

Good Luck and stay loose 


the popular expression wishful thinking is an oxymoron!


#7 Vidalgo

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Posted 07 March 2016 - 04:45 PM

 I quite like the function and looks of national geographic bags, however, those bags scream "I have pro stuff in me, take me!"

I use NG bags all time, have 3 ones various sized. Except of the smallest one, they have very useful features - not easy to open, very hard to cut.



#8 darknj

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Posted 07 March 2016 - 05:01 PM

Best advice I can give you, limit your lenses down to 2, maybe 2 lenses and add the 27 to go with you. Anything more is going to need more decent bag unless you do not mind lens stacking nor having them jiggle all in your bag.

 

As for the bag itself, you will be best served by converting a regular bag into a camera bag. Steal some padding here and there from your camera bags and make it a bit better for your camera and lens.

 

But if you want to add the bottle, the gorillapod, the umbrella along a rain coat for the bag, it's going to scream "I got stuff inside!". Plus most of the pickpocket are able to detect a tourist from a local from a glance. The thing that will make you out is the clothes. If you aren't dressing at local shops, you will stand out from the locals at lot more.

 

Rather than trying to find a bag that will make you fit in, pay more attention to your surroundings, if you look alert, keep a certain distance from the anyone unknown, no matter how nice/pretty/innocent they look should already be something.

A simple "I don't know, I can not help you" goes a very long way to keep your gear safe.

Avoid any kind of external sign of wealth, that means ANY jewelry, even your wedding ring stays at home or in a bank's safe, simple clothes, I personally like to pack clothes only for the first and last day and buy what I need locally. And pick practical stuff over design and look.

Travel light during your visit, leave most of what you don't need at the hotel rather than with you. Everything you need should fit into a single bag, no more than that.

Keep photocopies of your passport, leave the real document in the hotel and take the copies with you, make several of them if needed, it's cheap and still worth it as official document should you be in a pinch. Make copies of outside and inner page with your ID picture and if you have a VISA in there, copy it too.

 

If you are not traveling alone and setup a very simple rule of never watching in the same direction. With my wife, we always watch in opposite direction while standing next of each other, if we are being approached, I pass my stuff to her and turn around so she is clearly within my view and don't get whatever map/paper they would be holding in my face. Even better if we can find a nice wall to block anything from coming from behind us.

 

Those are my rules and they work for me as I travel to Asia around once a year.


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#9 cug

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Posted 07 March 2016 - 06:37 PM

Easy, stay away from the shower for about four weeks, sleep in your closes, keep the same clothes on for four weeks as well and pack your stuff in something like this and you'll be perfectly safe.

 

black-canvas-aldi-shopping-bag-BKC9J7.jp

 

Everything else is just fooling yourself.

 

Pay attention to your surroundings, use a bag that closes with a non-simple mechanism and don't dress like a complete dork and you are about as safe as all the other tourists that will roam the same streets. 

 

Just one thing: it's not the bag that attracts attention, it's YOU. 


Edited by cug, 07 March 2016 - 06:37 PM.

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#10 ajurjans

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Posted 08 March 2016 - 12:07 AM

Thanks for the advice!

I am afraid that looking touristy will be unevitable, as it will be the peak of the season + I am from Northern Europe and will be white as a reflector, compared to any spaniard out there :D

+ as I said, me nd my gf have worked out a rather decent method of moving through crowded streets - the one carrying a bag always half a step ahead, the other keeping close behind, etc.

If you have been in Spain in July, then you'll know that water is an absolute must have and has to be kept near at all times. It is no fun to be in the streets of Murcia during siesta time, when almost nothing is open and it is +46 degrees Celsius out there.

The reason why I am thinking about a bag as a half-remedy is simple - from my experience, nothing attracts more attention than a person rumbling through his/her things or even emptying a bag on the table, etc. Order and everything precisely where it has to be is the key to success, in my opinion. Then, it is essential to keep track of people around and other surroundings and, most importantly, never stop moving. One Hand on the bag (if shoulder bag), the other always covering the camera and the lens, etc. No need for stopping if I just want to grab the water or even change the lens or battery, etc. The moment you stop and start going through your stuff in the bag with both hands - is when anything can happen.

I know what I am talking about :) Me and my girlfriend have been followed more than once while abroad and we've always managed to spot the thing. This specially happens in markets, where lots of people are moving, stopping, etc.

 

The bag does not attract attention, however, it signals what's inside - and NG definitely signal "expensive".


Currently Fuji X-E2, 10-24, 50-230.
My instagram feed at: http://ljubvi.net
Reviewer of photo-equipment for the leading Latvian tech-site http://kursors.lv


#11 jlmphotos

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Posted 08 March 2016 - 01:09 AM

Here are my two cents.  Nondescript, extremely light.  ZERO padding.  PLENTY of pockets. Nice zippered compartment inside for important papers, phone etc.  I normally use a Jill-E insert inside for some padding.  Holds my X-T1 with mounted 18-55 in the center, 16mm and 23 on either side.  The two end pockets, which close securely, I keep my 35 1.4.  If I'm packing the 55-200 then either the 16 or the 23 go at the other end. 

It is totally non-descript.  No labels or markings, looks like an old military bag.  

This is the link

 

I gave up my Retrospective 7 and 10 for this bag.


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#12 ajurjans

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Posted 08 March 2016 - 02:44 PM

It seems, I might stay with this option, as it has the covert camera compartment, totally nondescript looks, good number of outer pockets.
I only wish the padding for the straps would be better and that there was an additional chest strap, but that could be sorted, I guess.
http://www.ebay.co.u...ag/171857063169

Edited by ajurjans, 08 March 2016 - 02:46 PM.

Currently Fuji X-E2, 10-24, 50-230.
My instagram feed at: http://ljubvi.net
Reviewer of photo-equipment for the leading Latvian tech-site http://kursors.lv


#13 cug

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Posted 08 March 2016 - 06:23 PM

Looks too big for my personal taste. I use a standard daypack, non-photographic backpack and put a hydration bladder inside. Yeah, I know, some people are worried about flooding their equipment, I've never heard of that happening though, but of course, there is always a first time.

 

The problem is, no matter what I do, my wife looks like a tourist even when we are just walking to the local shopping center, while I look out of place in many places as well, just not as a tourist. 

 

Overall, people tend to over-complicate things a lot and then come up with "solutions" that are just as dorky and obvious as running around like a photo journalist on assignment. You'll likely have a camera out. To a petty thief that means that every pocket on you has the potential for high value camera gear and your wallet will be full of cash to buy artisan water and Starbucks soy lattes. The more you fight that, the more the impression that you have something to hide is there. 

 

Live with the fact that people will recognize you as a tourist but make it in a way that they consider you a target that isn't worth bothering with. Be aware of your surroundings, be alert, don't behave like a stoned out druggy on seeing that "once in a lifetime photo opportunity" that is, just that moment, also photographed by a thousand other people.

 

As bad as it sounds, but when it comes to surviving, you don't have to outrun the lion, you only have to outrun a single other person around you ... and there are enough out there to make that one easy in the "urban jungle".


Edited by cug, 08 March 2016 - 06:26 PM.

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#14 kim

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Posted 08 March 2016 - 11:35 PM

Get good insurance and forget about the worries, just enjoy your trip. Keep your bag zipped/clipped and your camera in your hand and strapped/leashed. You'll be fine & if your gear goes missing report it and go have a beer, let the insurance worry about things.


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#15 ajurjans

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Posted 09 March 2016 - 11:12 AM

ok, kim, you have no idea how much I wish that could be possible.
In my country insurance market is waaay underdeveloped, they mainly insure cars and buildings.

Currently Fuji X-E2, 10-24, 50-230.
My instagram feed at: http://ljubvi.net
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#16 Vidalgo

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Posted 09 March 2016 - 12:25 PM

That's me on Barcelona streets with camera, some years ago. :rolleyes:
My camera was permanently attached to my right hand by neck strap and good big grip allowed to me long walks without a noticeable discomfort. I used collapsible rubber lens hood, maybe it looks ugly but works fine.
I was lucky to catch some looks of thieves, when they are made quick visual check of me as a potential client and I'm sure they was very confused of such non-typical situation and how to deal with it.

Attached Files


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#17 Naddan28

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Posted 09 March 2016 - 10:21 PM

I use a Billingham bag, not obviously a camera bag. Having very nearly had my Fuji gear stolen in Rome (literally the thief had his hand on the bag but a kind shop owner shouted him away) a couple of pointers:
1. Don't assume thiefs look like thiefs - mine was in a suit just tying his shoes!
2. Keep your bag In your eyesight at all times - mine was carelessly under a seat and I was drinking. Stupid error. If I have to place my bag under a table etc, I at least wrap the strap around my legs so it can't be moved.
3. As horrible as it sounds, in some European cities you just can't relax to much. Barcelona and Rome being probably the worst two!
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#18 milandro

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Posted 10 March 2016 - 10:11 AM

I am afraid that if that’s the spirit of suspicion that you travel with, I can assure you are never going to have fun anywhere.

 

Unfortunately, on top of the resident population of thieves, since the opening of the borders in Europe, all sorts of people travel more easily and that includes bands of thieves too.

 

They move around following seasons and events. If you are going to Cologne for the Photokina you will see what I mean.

 

 

However there is no need to go crazy about any of this but you simply have to make sure that you don’t do too many stupid touristy things.

 

Travel by taxi if or walk ( best investment in safety especially if you are 2 or more people) instead of taking crowded busses or underground.

 

Travel in company. Don’t take too many things, travel light.

 

If you are tired ( and not alert) stop take a rest, enjoy the place but if you are moving around and about when tired or jet lagged you will be an easy target.

 

Leave you passport ( you can carry a photocopy with you) your full wallet and too much money in the hotel’s safe put a camera, as I said before, on one shoulder but under a piece of garment ( vest, jacket) put your main lens ( preferably a zoom) on the camera and keep another lens ( if you think you need it) in a zipped pocket, best if with a pocket at the inside the jacket or vest, Jeans jackets have a huge space usable as a pocket created by the applying of the material to provide an outside pocket where you keep nothing.

 

Do use a decoy light backpack where you put things of no importance ( water, food, maps, tripod... if you must!)  and that would be  easily accessible, the few seconds they have would be wasted on trying to access that and you won’t have left any valuables there.

 

 

 

By the way add Paris( 3rd most pick-pocketed location)  and London ( officially 10th place but I would say much more) to your list.

 

@https://www.youtube....h?v=2nGXqcAvVjM


the popular expression wishful thinking is an oxymoron!


#19 Tom H.

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Posted 16 March 2016 - 09:38 AM

As a sort of paid-to-travel professional, from my experience Spain is your worst destination as far as pick pockets go, Barcelona and Madrid especially. Our airline keeps statistics on theft and robberies of it's staff and customers. Out of all our destinations, Madrid is at number 1, Barcelona at 2 and Malaga at 3. New York is at 4, Paris is at 5 and London only at 11. From our entire African network, only Kinshasa makes the top 10 at spot number 7.

 

Just use a plain messenger bag, and rotate it forward so you can keep your hands on it in crowded places. Subways and other public transport are the prime hotspots. Watch out for little kids, gangs employ minors because they can't be held when they're caught. Keep your back against a wall if possible, if you see someone suspicious, just stare them down. That usually gives them the message that you're not some bloody tourist.

 

If you see something strange or some popular street artist whom everyone is watching, be aware that this usually is the decoy that is used so pickpockets can strike. They just cut open your bag with a scalpel. You'll never feel it. In Budapest, thugs often start fights between two accomplices, just so that innocent bystanders are distracted. In a few seconds, people get robbed and they never knew what hit them.

 

If you stop to eat, drink, just wrap the strap of your camera and/or bag around a chair leg or other fixed object. Often a runner will grab your bag and be gone before you know what happened.

 

Keep valuables in the safe in your room at all times, I've had people come into my room several times already, even while I was in it. Keys are easy to copy, and a few minutes away is all they need. I don't carry a wallet. I just keep cash and 2 credit cards and one ID in my front pocket. The phone I usually stash away deep at the bottom of my bag.

 

Also, don't take too much stuff. I tend to travel with only one camera and maybe one extra lens. Less is usually more when travelling. If you don't need a bag, just leave it in the safe.

 

I use a ThinkTank Retrospective 5, with all the inserts removed. Just because it looks plain. You don't need that padding anyway.

 

And most importantly, have FUN. I'm away some 120 days a year and all these tips are common sense, but they never stop me from doing what I want, where I want. Apart from the prime tourist hangouts, you'll be just fine.


Edited by Tom H., 16 March 2016 - 11:42 AM.

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#20 ajurjans

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Posted 16 March 2016 - 02:48 PM

Tom, thanks!

What a great response. I guess I can then say that I am prepared for Barcelona, as I've been to Madrid and have spent quite some time in Malaga on the larios street - it did feel safe to me back then and nothing happened, although, I did use precaution as always.

I think some people misunderstood me for someone who is on their first trip. :)

In Morocco and Southern part of Spain I took an old canon film camera with me - did the job, made me look less attractive for the gangs. But plenty of useful advice both on traveling as a tourist and on the topic of bags as well.

 

 

Thanks again, everyone!


Currently Fuji X-E2, 10-24, 50-230.
My instagram feed at: http://ljubvi.net
Reviewer of photo-equipment for the leading Latvian tech-site http://kursors.lv



 
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