Q. I have a 35-mm automatic camera. When I use it, especially when we're traveling, I just toss it over my shoulder (it has a shoulder strap) and carry it that way. At home I put it in the drawer between uses. Everybody advises me to get a camera bag. What do you think?

A. Buy a bag. They are great tools and can last a long time.

The main thing is to get the right size. Never buy a bag that you're comfortable with -- buy one that's somewhat too big. This will take care of that extra lens or that other camera or that special flash that you buy later. Remember that your costly equipment stays in that bag most of the time, so be sure you buy one that's insulated against weather (some closets get very cold in the winter) as well as shock.

The best of today's bags are made from Cordura nylon, coated to keep out moisture and dust and help cushion against impact.

Most of the better bags come with dividers, some of them adjustable, some of them with a curved indentation to better hold the barrel of a telephoto lens. You should look for a bag with a generous closing flap. This will help keep out moisture as well as over-curious pets and people.

There are three types of closures: Velcro, which is easy to open and close; zippers, mostly made of nylon to keep them from rusting; and snaps or clips, which are the best but also the slowest.

If you're planning to carry a heavy load (more than one camera, a flash and film), check out the carrying strap and handle. Try to buy a bag that has its strap running under the bag for added support. Some have carrying handles as well as straps and I saw one that even has a back- pack type strap.

Most of the bags I looked at were less than $100, although prices vary from $20 to $200. Where to find them? I like to look at bags in camera stores, especially stores with a sizable inventory. I also like to look for a bag in a store where the sales person is knowledgeable. Most good stores will demonstrate and show you how your equipment will fit.

The best soft bags I saw were standard brands such as Tenba, Domke and Tamrac. I also took a look at the hard cases. Most are made of sturdy aluminum and come with foam rubber inside. You can cut that foam out to exactly fit your own equipment.

This type of storage protects your cameras better then anything else, but there's the disadvantage of being slower to use. You can't just reach in and grab your camera. The case has to be set down, as would a suitcase, opened and then the camera pulled from its snug, form-fitted slot. They are sturdy, though. In fact I saw one line of waterproof cases. Once closed, the case will float; the seal is that good.

The hard cases I saw ranged in price from $15 to $250.

Related, but somewhat different, is the camst. The ones I looked at were made of sturdy nylon and contained 22 pockets. The two pockets for cameras were padded and closed with nylon zippers. Most of the other pockets, for lenses, filters, film and other accessories, close with generous amounts of Velcro. There even is a quiver on the back for holding a tripod. Sizes are true and you don't feel as if you were in a straight jacket. In fact, I liked the vest approach so much I may ask for one for Christmas.C 20071.