Photo Backpacks 2010; Innovation Paves The Way

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I’ve seen more innovative camera backpacks in recent months than in the past five years. One innovation encompasses truly ergonomic designs aimed at providing hours of comfort. Another involves lighter-weight construction to further relieve the strain of lugging camera gear. We’re also seeing a trend toward convertible packs, which can be configured as backpack (traditional double shoulder harness) or sling (single strap running crosswise over the chest). There is also one bag in our group that works as a backpack or wheeled luggage—not a new concept, but worth considering if it meets your needs. Other sizes/colors may be available in these product lines. Undeniably, this year’s crop sports an impressive array of photo bags.

I examined each of these bags using two key criteria. First I wanted to see how easy or difficult it was to remove and return a Nikon D300 with an 18-200mm VR (plus lens shade) attached in the preconfigured camera cradle. It should fit easily but securely; even a bit tight is okay. Then I checked whether a Canon 70-200mm f/4L zoom (with lens shade attached) would fit comfortably. I prefer lenses to stand on end. If not, the lens should fit horizontally—and all without any serious restructuring of the dividers. That’s especially important when changing lenses on the fly to grab a shot.

I tested each harness system and wore each bag, judging them on comfort. With one exception: the Jill-E bag, which was made for the slight build of a slender woman—a poor fit for me.

Regrettably, the one bag that was not quite ready for our evaluations was the AIRBAK U120 (www.tocad.com/$99 MSRP), which I previewed briefly at PMA. This daypack takes a different spin on ergonomic comfort, through the use of an air-filled bladder system.

As kind of a “Read Me” file you might want to check my “notes,” which appear at the end of the article, before you read through this report.

Laptop-Compatible (Via Padded Section/Sleeve/Insert)
This group consists of bulkier, often more robust packs, largely due to the laptop section and/or ergonomic design. Included are several convertible packs. None of the daypack/sling bags I looked at worked satisfactorily as sling bags. In fact, they did more to hinder than foster the overall utility on most bags.

Boblbee Megalopolis Aero G3
(www.hpmarketingcorp.com/$299 MSRP, excl. photo insert)
Category: daypack
Features: rigid ABS plastic outer shell plus nylon; complete protection against shock and the elements; access via top panel; airflow back panel; ergonomic with lumbar support; numerous lash points for extra gear, including tripod (cargo straps included); one outer pocket
Camera section: consists of an optional customizable/padded camera insert that can also be carried as a shoulder bag; holds a D-SLR with lens attached and several more items (not overly spacious, but deep enough to hold a 70-200mm f/4 zoom)
Laptop size: 15”
Exterior dimensions & weight: 22x12x6”; 4 lbs (excl. camera insert)
Evaluation: This uniquely designed bag is arguably the ultimate photo pack for the photographer trekking across open country on foot, bike, or skis, with an excellent harness system for enduring comfort.

Boblbee Megalopolis Aero G3

Crumpler C-List Celebrity CL-02-01A
(www.crumplerbags.com/$445 street)
Category: backpack
Features: nylon construction; airflow back panel; tripod sling; moderate-sized outer pockets (with extra room inside the bag); rain poncho
Camera section: customizable/padded removable insert occupies length of bag; high-visibility interior; holds one D-SLR with lens attached and much more, including a 70-200mm f/4 zoom, but not ideally suited to long, fast optics; zippered rear-access panel for added security, plus zippered partition to keep gear from spilling out when bag is opened
Laptop size: 15”
Exterior dimensions & weight: 21.25x13.5x10.50”; 7.65 lbs
Evaluation: This is a handsome and sturdy bag, if pricey. The shoulder straps were a bit stiff, but I’m sure they can
be broken in over time. I’d recommend this pack to the fashion-conscious nature enthusiast.

Crumpler C-List Celebrity CL-02-01A

Dolica DK-30
(www.dolica.com/$99 street)
Category: twin-tier, convertible daypack/sling
Features: polyester construction; airflow back panel; tripod sling; rain poncho
Camera section: customizable; padded; holds D-SLR with lens attached, several lenses, including a 70-200mm f/4 zoom, flash; front plus side-panel access
Laptop size: 15”
Exterior dimensions & weight: 13.8x10.2x18.1”; 3.7 lbs
Evaluation: With a fairly comfortable harness system (except for the narrow waist belt), this bag manages much better as a backpack than sling bag. Deduct points for the lack of exterior pockets.

Dolica DK-30

Domke Propack 418
(www.tiffen.com/$239 street)
Category: backpack
Features: cotton canvas construction; airflow back panel; tripod sling; mesh water bottle pocket; roomy front pocket; rain flaps; rain poncho
Camera section: customizable/padded removable insert occupies full interior; holds two D-SLRs with lens attached and much more, easily including a 70-200mm f/4 or longer lens
Laptop size: 17”
Exterior dimensions & weight: 14x9.5x19.25”; 5 lbs (approx.)
Evaluation: This is largely a throwback to the traditional photo backpack, with a reliable harness system, but with the addition of a laptop section—not fancy, but functional and well constructed.

Domke Propack 418

Kata Bumblebee UL-222
(www.manfrottodistribution.com/$275 street)
Category: twin-tier daypack
Features: nylon construction; lightweight; ergonomic with lumbar support; airflow back panel; tripod sling; water bottle and other exterior pockets; rain poncho (also serves to deflect heat)
Camera section: customizable/padded removable insert; high-visibility interior; holds one D-SLR with lens attached plus other gear, including a 70-200mm f/4 zoom
Laptop size: 17”
Exterior dimensions & weight: 15.2x11.8x20.5”; 5.1 lbs
Evaluation: This is one of the most exciting and innovative bags in this group, and a joy to wear, with a groundbreaking harness system (at least among photo bags). This is a true nature trekker’s pack and the one I’d choose for a serious hike.

Kata Bumblebee UL-222

Lowepro Pro Runner x350 AW
(www.lowepro.com/$229 street)
Category: convertible roller backpack
Features: polyester construction; airflow back panel; tripod sling; rain flaps; rain poncho; spring-loaded trolley handle
Camera section: occupies full interior; customizable; padded; holds two D-SLRs with lens attached and much more, although long lenses must be stored lengthwise
Laptop size: 15.4” widescreen
Exterior dimensions & weight: 13x11.2x18.3”; 9 lbs
Evaluation: While wearable as a backpack, this heavy, boxy-looking pack works better as a roller. It appears better suited to the wedding/event photographer than the nature enthusiast.

Lowepro Pro Runner x350 AW

Naneu Adventure K4F
(www.naneubags.com/$259 MSRP; optional photo insert: $24)
Category: twin-tier daypack
Features: nylon construction; designed to government standards for a field pack (weight capacity to 50 lbs); airflow back panel; ergonomic with lumbar support; mesh water bottle and additional roomy/padded outer pockets; weather/dust-resistant zippers; rain poncho
Camera section: optional customizable/padded camera insert designed to hold a D-SLR with a 70-200mm f/4 lens attached plus two smaller lenses (with additional room between insert and padded walls of bag for a shoe-mount or ring flash and/or lenses in protective pouches)
Laptop size: holds two 17” laptops
Exterior dimensions & weight: 18x21x10”; 5.45 lbs (excl. camera insert)
Evaluation: This bag should be able to weather any storm you encounter on the trails. While the capacity and lack of a tripod sling may be limiting, this pack’s quality construction and excellent harness system should otherwise give you lots of mileage.

Naneu Adventure K4F
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