We Tried It
Billingham Equipment Bags

The large Billingham Packington camera bag (left) is an unusual yet practical model. It's similar in size and shape to an attaché or briefcase. It will easily carry a laptop computer, camcorder, or bulky 35mm SLR with many accessories with the optional detachable padded photo insert. The Series 3 soft camera bag (right) that was designed for a small SLR or rangefinder camera system is slim and sleek. The outside dimensions are 9x12x5.6" and it weighs just 4.9 oz making it ideal for the individual who wants to travel light and safely carry just a small SLR, several lenses, and a flash plus a few additional accessories.

In the last several decades I have glanced at and often closely looked over literally hundreds of different equipment carrying bags at dozens of trade shows in this country and at the largest one of all, photokina in Germany. In addition, I have tested at least a dozen different bags from various well-known firms. In all honesty I don't believe I have ever before encountered more prestigious looking bags as the two samples I recently got from Billingham (imported by Leica) to review.

These bags are made in England with traditional damp English weather in mind. Each is constructed of smooth-textured waterproof canvas coated with StormBlock, have top-grain leather trim and reinforcement points and solid brass metal buckles and zippers. The shoulder strap is extra wide (11/2") durable yet flexible webbing that does not cut into your shoulder even when the bag is fully loaded. Even the button-shaped metal feet on the base are brass. The interior is lined in black material for a finished look and each edge seam has a folded over leather piping which is meticulously stitched in place. A brochure states that the needles used are as small as possible and even the thread used contains cotton which swells when wet--all detail features designed to help keep your equipment dry. To say they impart a luxurious impression is an understatement. But, in keeping with their topnotch camera importer, these bags also command a premium price.

Our two samples were the large, spacious Packington and the small, more utilitarian, Series 3. The Series 3 soft camera bag, which was designed for a small SLR or rangefinder camera system, is slim and sleek. There is a long, shallow front pocket and another similar pocket at the back that has a zipper closure. A small pocket suitable for instruction booklets is located in the large top cover rain flap. Inside there is a removable heavily padded compartment with two movable dividers having a row of touch fastener hook and loop strips making it simple to customize the size of the compartments. Two snaps at the front and two more at the back secure the removable interior section in place. The interior dimensions are 7.6x11.4x5.4" while the comparable outside dimensions are 9x12x5.6". It weighs just 4.9 oz and lists for $320.

For the individual who wants to travel light and safely carry just a small SLR, several lenses, and a flash plus a few additional accessories, this Series 3 model would be excellent. The zippers are large and functional. For the main compartment there are two zippers so you can open it from either end depending upon which shoulder you carry the bag on. The zippers keep the contents covered so you don't even have to lock the two buckles that hold down the rain flap.

The Packington camera bag is an unusual yet practical model. In size and shape it is similar to an attaché or briefcase. It is large enough to carry cameras, camcorders, or a laptop computer along with many accessories. It features a zippered main compartment, detachable padded photo insert, roomy zippered front pockets, and a zippered external back pocket. Long, shallow pockets on each end have snap closures. There is an adjustable security waist strap and a rain flap cover with quick release leather tabs.

The sample Packington I received just had a large padded interior insert more suited to hold a laptop computer than camera equipment since there were no internal dividers. There is a nice rubber padded leather piece on the wide shoulder webbing that would make carrying a heavy load comfortable. As with other Billingham items, the detailing and workmanship were outstanding. It is a prestigious and practical accessory any photographer would be proud to use. The exterior dimensions of this generously sized bag are 12.2x18.8x8.2" and it weighs 3.8 lbs. The suggested list price is $385.

Billingham started making soft camera bags in 1978 and the original model is still in production today. In addition, the company also makes travel luggage and high-performance outdoor clothing all sharing a common ethic, straightforward practical designs, the very best materials, and are assembled to precise quality standards. They are intended for constant daily use year after year. I have seen an Alice bag a friend has used to carry equipment in often for many years and although there is visible wear, it is still as sturdy and practical as the day she first got it.

Their small brochure also shows pouches and pockets intended for attachment to the shoulder strap of the larger bags or to your belt to hold an item similar in size to a compact 35 or APS camera nearby. Stowaways are three sizes of multi-pocket holders for small items needed while traveling such as passports, keys, credit cards, and even a small camera. Each has a padded, zippered, main compartment plus four other pockets, two with zippers. Other items include a spacious Rucksack, TorsoShell backpack, photo vest, and two photo jackets. They even have a backpack harness accessory that converts several models of Billingham bags into a backpack. There are various sizes of drawstring pouches for keeping lenses or other items safely contained away from dust or sand. Most of the Billingham bags are available in khaki, black, or olive to suit a variety of tastes.

Although somewhat pricey when compared to other current equipment bags, there is no doubt that these handsome bags are extremely well made, practical, and should last a long time. Shouldn't your expensive camera equipment be housed and carried about in a top quality, durable bag? If so, this brand sure should be considered.

For more information about the handsome Billingham line of bags and accessories see your local dealer or contact Leica Camera Inc., 156 Ludlow Ave., Northvale, NJ 07647; (800) 222-0118, (201) 767-7500; fax: (201) 767-8666; www.leica-camera.com