I’ve always worn photo vests and have watched them evolve from a convenient way to add a few extra pockets for film/memory cards and filters into wearable camera bags, which may be why some, camera bag manufacturers also make photo vests. A CEO of a bag company that doesn’t make vests once told me “camera bags are luggage; vests are fashion.”
To help you make a fashionable choice for your next vest, here’s a checklist of what to look for when shopping:
Functionality: What kind of photographs do you make? How much gear do you carry?
Fit: Is it tailored to size or are there adjustment belts or tabs? Some vests are an adjustable one-size-fits-all while others use small, medium, large sizes that seem aimed at men’s suit sizes. Female photographers should try them on to determine what that best fits them.
Construction: Is it well made? Are there buttons, zippers, Velcro? Which are the easiest for you to use in a given photographic situation. Look at other elements such as the strength and durability of zippers or pulls, and then examine details such as stitching. One of the biggest changes in vest design over the years is increased use of mesh to keep you cool.
Style: You don’t have to be Ralph Lauren to know that an event photographer needs a vest that’s different from one a nature photographer uses. Maybe you need something that blends in at either situation, which is why vests are available in different colors. You may even decide that you need more that one for different photographic assignments.
Price: This last factor should matter least in the decision process, since a well-made vest will last you a long time and the price is quickly amortized over a number of assignments. An inexpensive Banana Republic vest that Mary purchased for me twenty years ago is still serviceable, and I still wear it from time to time because it comfortably fits under a shell parka.