Photographers' guide to photo vests
Photography vests can be good for distributing the weight of a limited amount of photography gear and for keeping film and accessories handy. In fact, for carrying limited amounts of gear, no other tote option is more convenient.
The drawback to photo vests is that a full one can be heavy on your shoulders and can be awfully uncomfortable in hot weather (I know an 85-year-old photographer who won't wear a vest for that reason, and still insists on lugging a camera bag with him instead). I own a vest, and sometimes I use it, and sometimes I don't, depending on the circumstances.
The best vest fit
The one thing I don't like about many vests on the market is that they're long. They hang down well below your waistline. Some photographers don't mind that. But I don't like it because, when you walk, the lenses in the lower pockets bounce around on your thighs. It's uncomfortable, and I get nervous that if I turn around too quickly, some thousand-dollar lens will swing into a brick wall.
The photography vest I usually use is a Domke, which I've had tailored to bring the bottom of the vest up to just below my belt, thereby solving the afformentioned problems. For about $10, a tailor can adjust the length of most vests. Still, a better, albeit more expensive, option is to have a shirt-maker work on the vest, as he or she will be an expert on making the altered garment fit the best it can.
Buy a good vest
Another issue is quality: Don't skimp. I have one photo vest that years ago was given to me as a media gift at a tennis tournament, but I can't use it the material is so thin that pins on metal lenses rip through the pockets. Also, I suggest getting a light-colored vest; I have a black one I never wear because it absorbs too much heat from the sun.
Also, try to avoid vests made of 100 percent cotton. When you sweat, cotton absorbs and retains the moisture from your body, making the vest uncomfortable to wear on a hot day. A fabric constructed of a combination of cotton and polyester will breathe better and let moisture evaporate more quickly.
Other quality issues:
Your vest options
Another problem with photo vests is that, like most accessories adapted to the photography market, they're overpriced. A good photo vest can easily cost you well over $100.
To resolve the cost issue, some photographers use what is marketed as a "travel vest." It's essentially the same product made by the same companies, but is marketed under a different name to a different niche audience. I've even seen some photographers use fishing vests (an even cheaper option) to stow their camera gear.
The primary difference (when there is one) between photography, travel and fishing vests is the size of the pockets. Good photographer's vests are designed with oversized pockets that can accommodate camera lenses. Travel vests will sometimes have pockets large enough for that purpose, while fishing vests rarely will. (However, fishing vests often come with series of smaller pockets that are ideal for neatly stacking Flash cards or 2 or 3 rolls of film.)
Other usage notes
Some things to keep in mind when using a photo vest:
If you want to carry snacks in your vest, keep them in their own pocket, separate from any gear or film. You don't want a bag of salted peanuts or a chocolate candy bar wrapper breaking next to your fisheye lens.
Bogging down the lower vest pockets puts increased stress on your shoulders. To help distribute the weight of your gear, keep small lenses in the upper pockets. Also, if you have a lot of gear in your front pockets, the vest will pull against your neck; distribute the weight by putting some heavier gear (such as a medium-sized lens or a Turbo battery) in the vest's rear pocket.
Photo vests are an airborne photographer's best friend. When boarding a plane, gear that you don't want to check as luggage might not all fit in your carry-on bag. Put the overflow in your vest and wear it onto the plane.
Before you buy a photography vest, try it on in the store. Ask the salesperson if you can put some lenses in the pockets so you can tell how the vest will feel when you're using it in the field.
Some Vest Manufacturers
© 2002 - 2008 Chris Nicholson