New life
for an Old Camera Bag!


Text and images (c) 2013 by David S. Young.

Over the years, I've "renovated" several camera bags, turning them into custom fitted cases.

Doing this has several advantages.  The first is that you end up with a case which fits your needs, tastes and equipment. The second is that by carefully fitting the gear, you can get more stuff, in less space. Certainly more so than with commerical bags designed to hold most things well, but never your stuff really well! Lastly, by using an old,  but still in decent condition, bag you end up with a kit that does not look like it holds the modern, expensive gear that it does.  This can be a huge advantage, when travelling in third-world countries - or even in certain neighbourhoods, at home!

This time, I used a bag that I've not used since I took an Olympus OM-1 to the USSR (now called Russia - for those of us too young to remember), back in 1975.  (Even I was amazed that I still owned it!)  And, it did seem fair to be putting another Olympus in it!

Of course, if you don't have such a bag, there are tons to choose from at used camera stores and trift shops. Just be patient until one with potential comes along.

I'd just purchased Olympus's new EM-1, with a couple of their small lenses.  Being a semi-pro photographer, I wanted top quality, but in a small, light, package that I can take anywhere.  The E-M1, the new 12~40/2.8 PRO zoom, and the 75/1.8 prime lens filled the bill.  For more reach, I added an older, well-loved, 200/4 Micro-Nikkor.  A great lens!

This combination gives me (after allowing for the crop factor) a 24 to 80mm zoom, an very-fast 150mm lens for portraits and medium-tele work, and a 400mm f4 lens for those times when you simply need "reach", whether for wildlife or simply something a good distance away.

This project is neither difficult nor expensive, but it *is* very time consuming.  You have been warned!

Start by taking all the innards out of the old case.  All you really want is the shell.

Then, fit a new bottom to the case.  In past, I've used baltic ply - most often used for model aircraft - strong & light, if not particularly cheap.  This time I used a piece of old hardboard, that used to be the backing in an 11x14 picture frame.  Since my new case was 9x9 inches square (about 23cm sq.) the dimensions worked out just fine.  I cut it to size on a table saw and rounded the corners.  

I laid the equipment that I wanted it to hold on the base and experimented with dozens of possible layouts, until one just seemed to work.

Then, using balsa-wood (for both strength and lightness) cut and make the 4 sides and major dividers.  To hold it all in place, I use the paper tape made for mudding drywall (at your local builder's supply for around $3 for 250 feet or about 75 meters).
I do this by folding the paper along the pre-made score. Using contact cement, coat both of the boards and the paper and let them dry.  When dry, carefully place them together.  Using paper on both sides of the piece being joined makes it both lightweight and very secure.

BTW, regular contact cement is faster, as it dries faster ... but it is very smelly and shouild be used with adequate ventilation.  This time I used "low-odour" contact cement (by LePage) and it dries more slowly, so the job took longer.  But, there was absolutely no noticeable fumes! Lovely!

In this case, as the board came from the back of a damaged frame (from one of the wildlife photos I sell) and it still had an "about the photographer" label on it.  Since
, on the bottom, it would not be seen; I decided to leave it there as identification - in case of theft.

At the left, you can see three sides and the main divider, already built.

At several points along the way, it is adviseable to physically hold your gear in the spots allowed, to be double-sure that it will all fit as planned.

I made one mistake, of about 1/8th of an inch, making the spot for the main lens to small.  Tearing it all out, at starting again was most annoying, but my own fault.

When you've got all four sides done (below left), it's best to fit the frame inside your case (below right), just to be sure!  You don't want to go to a lot more work, on something which will not fit!

When you are satisfied that all is well, remove it, as it's easier to work on, outside your case.
Finish making and securing your dividers, and when that's done, you can cut small strips of soft velour fabric. Using contact cement, apply them to the tops of all the dividers.

Your case will soon begin to look like this...
When all the tops are done, make the sides and bottom covers.  I do this by using contact cement to coat pieces of ceral box, cut to fit, I glue the fabric to one side, then turn it over and coat the edges of the insides.  I cut the corners at 45 degrees to the sides, so that when the fabric is folded over, it does not overlap itself and thus take too much space.

When one is made, I glue it in place, and then move on to the next.  This is far slower than making all the covering bits at once .. but it solves the problem of having to allow for size of the covers on one side, when making the covers for the other side of a compartment.

I use closed-cell foam rubber for the bottoms of camera and lens compartments, as well as the sides, whenever space allows.  In the narrow bits between lenses and cameras, I fit in small holes for filters, SD cards, spare batteries, etc.

When all is said and done (this one took me the better part of 3 days), you end up with a case that looks old on the outside, but holds all your gear so it's neatly and readily accessible.

A - Olympus E-M1 Camera body.
B - Olympus 12~40/2.8 PRO Zoom lens (mounted on body)
C - Olympus Flash (came with the camera)
D - Olympus 75/1.8 Prime lens.
E - 200/4 Micro-Nikkor lens with Oly's FT to mFT adapter.
F - Spare 16gb SD Card
G - Spare batteries x3 (The empty space is for one still on order.)

Since a 16GB SD card holds nearly 900 RAW images, one in the camera and one spare will do me, for a day.  As the batteries are small (it's a small camera!) each one is good for only about 300 to 350 shots. But, with one in the camera & 3 spares, again, I'm good for a day, as I rarely shoot more than 1000 images in a day. If you do, there is space in the front pouch for more!

Battery charger(s), cord, extra filters, etc., all fit in the front pouch.

In the end, it all fits in a 9x9x4 inch (23x23x10 cm) case that weighs just 6 lbs or 2.7kg. At the airport, it and my small, 10" laptop both fit into a small tote that matches our luggage and becomes my carry-on! With a total weight of under 10 pounds (~4.5kg) it fits neatly under a seat or in the overhead bins.

If you found this, or any of my reviews, helpful, please consider supporting this effort by purchasing my e-book, "A Brief History of Photography", It is, by far, the most complete, up-to-date, history of photography, anywhere and should be required reading for every photographer.

"A Brief History of Photography" is just what it says it is. Fast paced and easy to read, yet it covers the history from 1614 right through to early 2020.  Spanning the equivalent of 450 printed pages, it covers not only the chemistry, but the seminal cameras, films, sensors, lenses and accessories of their day; along with their companies and their inventors.

It includes hundeds of "trivia" entries - which offer little-known background stories on both the inventors & their inventions. Profusely illustrated.

To learn more, click  on the book, at the right.

You can also read it on just about any platform via free apps from

If you've found this review helpful, you might enjoy some of my other reviews, found here.  You might also enjoy
my wildlife photos, all taken with Leica or Olympus glass.

If interested, you can also find my antique Debrie Sept and 1950 Beauty Six (one of only two known to exist in the

Thanks for reading.

Last updated: 27 February, 2015