How to Turn Your Satchel Bag into a DIY Camera Bag

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Turning a retro satchel bag into a real photographer’s bag is quite easy. All you need is an old camera bag (e.g. a LowePro one) with velcro inserts, scissors, super glue, sticky velcro stripes and, of course, time.

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Once you’ve converted your bag you can easily fit in one pro DSLR body with three prime lenses, a flash gun, a USB cable, tons of memory cards, a lens cleaning kit, and a spare battery — and you’ll still end up with some extra space.

Why a retro satchel bag? Mine was 100% leather, was very sturdy, and came with a 5 year warranty. No one will ever think of it as a photography bag, and although it looks tiny, it fits quite a lot.

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In my case I’m using a retro satchel bag that’s 15′ in size. It stores a Nikon D700 body; Nikon 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.8 lenses; a Nikon SB800 flash gun; a lens cleaning kit, a spare battery, lots of memory cards, and a USB cable. If desired, I can even add one extra prime lense and another flash gun. Or, instead of a Nikon D700 body, I can put in a Panasonic GH2 with a Rode VideoMic Pro and an adaptor for Nikon lenses.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how I converted my bag:

Buy (or receive as a present) a retro satchel bag that’s preferably 15-inches in size. Mine was empty inside, with main and side compartments. We’ll use main one to put the velcro dividers in, and the side compartment for accessories.

Get an idea what would you love to have inside. Do some fittings and come up with the idea how you’d love to arrange velcro compartments. Draw a sketch inside the bag with a pencil. Try out the padded inserts, and figure out which ones work best.

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Measure, cut, and attach velcro strips. They should be temporarily sticky. Don’t use glue at this stage.

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Insert the padded inserts, and then load the bag with all the equipment.

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If it all looks fine, remove everything and re-attach the velcro strips, except this time with super glue. Put everything back. (Do a velcro strip for the side compartment as well if required.)

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You’re done, try it out!

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About the author: Maksim Kalanep is a photographer and filmmaker based in London, UK. Visit his website here. This post was originally published here.

  • Antoine

    The idea is not new by any means, but you ended up with a really nice bag, and the pictures that illustrate the tutorial are beautifully done, good job !

  • Antoine

    The idea is not new by any means, but you ended up with a really nice bag, and the pictures that illustrate the tutorial are beautifully done, good job !

  • bgood

    Good pictures and instructions. Thanks

  • jerry

    that looks absolutely Beautiful, although I would be concerned about the protection factor where there isn’t padding. Also, you can buy an insert from amazon,

  • gabe sturdevant

    No protection for the camera body? I would put a layer of padding around the body. Overall very nice.

  • SMG

    The price of some of the leather satchels is as expensive as a Billingham bag, a already made photo bag. If I could get a leather satchel for cheap, this post would be great! Thanks for the info

  • eraserhead12

    nice bag! did the same thing with one of my purses (or rather, my grandma did). they sell foam padding at craft stores like joann, we just sewed them in fabric and added velcro.

  • PH3

    Excellent tip but the camera is a Panasonic Lumix & not a Nikon :(

  • Jim

    I know what’s shown here is just an example… but if you actually want to use the camera it’s not terribly practical to carry around a body with no lens attached.

  • fmfm

    From the article…

    “Or, instead of a Nikon D700 body, I can put in a Panasonic GH2 with a Rode VideoMic Pro and an adaptor for Nikon lenses.”

  • Maksim Kalanep

    Thank you Antoine!

  • Maksim Kalanep

    Hi Jerry, this was just my way of converting the satchel into something that will work for me. More padding can be added for sure =)

  • Maksim Kalanep

    Hi Gabe, I thought about it. There is padding at the bottom, not on the sides, as the way the leather is curved and stitched together provides extra protection as well, hard to explain.

  • Maksim Kalanep

    Hi PH3, I couldn’t take photos with D700 and have it inside the bag at the same time. I does fit in, GH2 was used as an example.

  • Maksim Kalanep

    Hi Jim, I see your point, but for me it works fine, I use it for transportation purposes, when I’m shooting I’m not taking it away into my bag, always have it on me.

  • Maksim Kalanep

    Hi SMG, I do agree. I did get this one as a present and converted it to be more useful in my everyday life. One large compartment just doesn’t work for me =)

  • Maksim Kalanep


  • DafOwen

    Doesn’t look like enough protection, especially the camera – this just compartmentalises the bag.

    Having an insert is ilkely better if you could get one that fits.

  • Maksim Kalanep

    Nice tip. I did it with what I already had.

  • Amy

    Where did you get that bag? <3