Photography & Video Shoulder Bags, Sling Packs, Backpacks, Waist Belt Systems and Rolling Bags - 2008 Product Roundup Review - Part 1
by: Howard Carson, February 2008
Requires: Camera gear
Everybody owns a digital camera of some sort—point & shoot, prosumer super zoom, digital SLR, camcorder and all the associated gear and lenses. It stands to reason that everybody needs a decent camera bag. So we decided that a little research was in order (and besides, our previous list is two years old). We found that a few manufacturers have changed their lines dramatically, a few have built on strengths, a few new ones have appeared and a couple of marginal manufacturers have either disappeared or exited the camera bag business. This time we looked 30 different bag makers.
During this review we looked at six categories of interest:
- Quality of construction - stitching, binding zippers, types of clasps and closures, application of velcro or generic hook & loop materials, strap padding, stress points.
- Suitablility of purpose - do the bags hold sufficient gear for their various sizes, hold and provide easy access to all the gear the manufacturer claims, and work well in the environments and situations for which they're designed.
- Quality of weatherproofing - protection from rain, snow and dust mainly, protection from ground moisture, and how well gear is protected going in and out of the bag.
- Versatility - internal pockets and storage compartments, adjustability of internal dividers, internal customization, adjustability of the carry system.
- Effectiveness of padding - does it protect gear from external impacts, does it separate and protect gear against damage from other items in the bag.
- Price - value compared to items of similar style and quality from competing manufacturers.
Although our results necessarily provide an average for each maker, taking most of each makers models into consideration, the verdicts provide a starting point for your shopping and will help you eliminate makers which either just don't measure up or which, more simply, don't have anything that meets your usage needs or interests. Herewith, we present our comprehensive 2008 list and general review of all the camera pouch, waist system, shoulder bag, gadget bag, sling pack, backpack, case and rolling bag makers anyone could possibly care about.
Billingham - Description: Large range of high quality, very expensive, distinctive camera bags & photography vests which are versatile, moderately weatherproof, moderately padded offering average to good protection. Verdict: These are great looking bags in classic shoulder and backpack styles. Some people refer to Billingham as the luxury quality bag maker, but that doesn't really do justice to how well the products work. Interior protection is extremely well designed and is as good as Kata and Lowepro at keeping out moisture when left on the ground. Generally very quiet bags which function well in most shooting environments. Any of these bags will last for decades of regular use. We like them a lot, despite their high prices. If you don't have the money, stay away from these ones. But great quality always works, so if you've got the money, they're highly recommended.
Camera Care - Description: Professional and semi-pro bags in modern and classic styles, average weatherproofing, and moderate padding and protection, but the line is rarely seen in North America. Verdict: We've only handled two models and both were well made. The only real issue is that accessing gear and moving gear in and out of these bags during inclement weather seems to overexpose things. Slightly noisy in some environments. Good value at moderate prices for budget conscious shoppers.
Case Logic - Description: Lots of smaller bags and cases for compact and prosumer cameras, mainly average quality and inexpensive but still usable, with poor weatherproofing and light padding. Verdict: We don't consider this maker to be a serious contender for anything except casual use. If you don't have anything else, these bags are better than nothing.
Crumpler - Description: well crafted, good looking, versatile camera backpacks, shoulder bags, belt pouches and rolling packs with moderate weatherproofing, light to medium padding and protection, all backed by a terrifically funny web site. Verdict: The top flaps on the shoulder models has to be snapped shut in order to use the top carry handle. We've dumped our 7 Million Dollar Home model more than once because of that design issue. While quality is very good, a massive piece of top grade velcro on the top flap makes several models the noisiest of any bags in this roundup, something which is not good if you're trying to blend in. The excellent quality belt pouches are also noisy and suffer from awkward flap design. Although Crumpler is gaining rapidly in popularity on the street, most people still won't realize you're carrying camera gear. Down with velcro; up with zippers, clips, snaps and clasps. I really like the shoulder bags but Crumpler doesn't get a recommendation because they're too noisy.
Delsey - Description: consumer and semi-professional lines of pouches, gadget bags, shoulder bags and backpacks, good functionality, average to good quality, moderate weatherproofing, moderate padding and protection, and more versatility since we last looked. Verdict: Delsey continues to gradually improve and expand their offerings, but this maker is still very much consumer oriented. Relatively quiet construction. The styling won't knock you over. Good value for the money though and that's important.
Domke - Description: professional quality shoulder bags & photographers vests, moderately weatherproof, very lightly padded, but versatile, well made, popular and expensive. Verdict: Photographers who love and use Domke bags really, really like them. A lot. We've got a couple in our own collection and they're genuine classics. A thin cellular foam perimeter/outer wall pad would help a lot without adding weight and would also help to prevent these bags from deforming when overloaded. The rule is, don't overload a Domke shoulder bag. Do so and you'll quickly become really unhappy with the bag. Domke provides a classic photojournalist look that's hard to resist. Most models are very quiet. Recommended.
Hakuba/Velbon - Description: semi-pro and consumer range pouches, shoulder bags and backpack systems offering average to good quality construction, good versatility and plenty of features. The bags are made with moderate weatherproofing and moderate padding all at average prices, making them an acceptable alternative to low and mid-range models from Lowepro and Tamrac. Verdict: Nothing special. Not bad, not great, and about equal to Camera Care and Delsey products. Design and styling are uninspiring but prices are quite low, which makes this maker a good value for budget conscious shoppers.
Hama - Description: lots of selection but quality is average or below average with average functionality, average weather protection, and, well, just average everything. Verdict: I think we included Hama in this roundup just for the sake of some low-end contrast. We found stitiching problems, binding zippers and uncomfortable shoulder straps. Not interested now, but we'll have another look at Hama next year.
jillE - Description: good quality fashion bags in shoulder, hand-carry and rolling styles, with typical fashion accessory pricing too, but maybe worthwhile because the bags are well designed with moderate weatherproofing, moderate padding and good functionality. Verdict: My wife owns one of these shoulder bags and she reallly likes it. The main reason is that these bags have all the functionality of a good camera shoulder-style bag without looking anything like a camera bag. The company is relatively new, but they seemed to have found a good target with good quality products. Quiet designs that look like typical women's shoulder bags. jill-E bags are too new for us to gather any opinion on long term durability, but construction and materials seem to be well thought out. Prices are a little above average for good quality shoulder bags, but still affordable. Too new to recommend, but keep an eye on these ones.
Kata - Description: for photography and video enthusiasts, pros and heavy duty users offering excellent quality and unique designs, with good functionality, good weatherproofing and excellent padding design. Verdict: We really like Kata's products. The company's Israeli military design and manufacturing background shows up in all its camera bag products in the form of serious padding protection, economic use of interior space, and versatile carry systems. Pricing is surprisingly competitive. These great looking bags will last a very long time. Kata is expanding its lineup every year and is starting to earn nervous glances from Lowepro, Tamrac and Think Tank, although it still has a way to go to equal the huge lineups offered by or attract the photographers loyal to those three very well established competitors. The only knock against Kata is that its use of velcro closures in some models makes them too noisy in some shooting environments. Down with velcro; up with zippers, clips, snaps and clasps. Highly recommended.
Keisel - Description: good value for money, small but carefully designed range of backpacks, shoulder bags, waist systems and pouches offering moderate weatherproofing and moderate padding. Verdict: Nice quality, decent looking bags that aren't marketed very much in North America, which is a shame because Keisel prodcuts seem to offer good value.
Lightware - Description: professional quality cases for camera gear with high impact resistance, good to excellent weatherproofing, and high prices. Lightware offers a well designed range of backpacks, carry bags and rolling systems. Verdict: The touring and professional crowd who have to repeatedly move gear from location to location will like several of these models. The new backpack models are very good too. Designs are not flashy, but good construction quality is evident along with good use of space. We've never used any Lightware products, but the reports from actual Lightware product owners and users are quite good. Generaly quiet gear.
Lowepro - Description: offers the most comprehensive range of belt pouches, gadget bags, professional and consumer shoulder bags, backpacks, waist belt systems, sling packs and rolling camera bags for all photographers and videographers, providing good to excellent quality, versatility, excellent weatherproofing for most models, good to excellent padding systems for most models, and competitive pricing. Verdict: We haven't actually done a model count, but it appears as though Lowepro makes almost as many models as the next two competitors combined. The Lowepro line is impressive for its size and variety, for the huge number of weatherproof models, general consistency of quality from bag to bag, and for competitive pricing. Some shoulder bag models have difficult top/main compartment zippers. Some of the pouch designs have awkward flaps. Most Lowepro bags last a long time—decades of regular use. Several styles and technical designs continue to evolve and improve every year. Most active photographers and pros own at least one or two Lowepro bags. I have my own collection of Lowepro bags for travel, hiking, walkabouts and short day trips. Pro models are generally quiet bags, but the consumer models use too much velcro. Bewildering selection. If you can't find something that suits your needs, you're either too picky or you just don't like conventional bags. Highly recommended.
Moose Peterson - Description: this bag/pack system is a favorite of some outdoor photographers and is well made, quite versatile and provides moderate padding and good to excellent weatherproofing at medium to high prices. Verdict: Unusual design indeed, but it works as advertised and designed. The maker is a well known photographer and his three main pack styles more or less define his personal preferences grown out of decades of photography assignments. Not for everyone, but when you need a backpack system like the MP models, there's nowhere else to get one. Very quiet bags, ideal for wildlife and outdoor shooting situations.
National Geographic - Description: a nice looking line of soft canvas & nylon shoulder bags, backpacks, waist systems and pouches with light weatherproofing, light padding, reasonably priced and offering good quality for casual use. Verdict: I own two of the shoulder bags and I like them a lot. The only problem is that they're insufficiently padded for careless use and the bottom of the bags don't offer much protection from ground moisture. Lots of pockets and an unconventional flap and snap lock system help to create a very quiet, organic looking bag. The shoulder bags are very comfortable, but deform and sag if overloaded. Not quite recommended because of the lack of padding and ground protection.