Like many other photographers I’ve tried numerous brands and designs. I don’t have an enormous amount of gear, but with a 70-200mm, a 100mm macro and a 17-50mm, along with a speedlite, filters, cables, diffuser and batteries my on the road kit begins to add up, both in terms of weight and required accessibility. After all, if we can’t easily access our gear then we’re inclined not to carry it or use it. Having only one camera body at present makes the situation worse with regard to having to change lenses frequently, but naturally this helps in terms of weight carried.
I typically shoot fine art nature and landscapes, and as a result I’m always carrying my gear from place to place, unlike say a portrait or studio photographer who generally remains in the one locale . I don’t want to generalize too much here, but … you know what I mean. Therefore, over the course of a day my gear gets pretty heavy and my back and shoulders can sometimes begin to ache, like recently when I traipsed about Angkor Wat in Cambodia for three days straight. Amazing, though painful it was.
As you would expect, I’ve had a number of bags throughout the years, but in this hands on review I’m going to talk about a bag that didn’t work for me and why that was, and a bag that I have found to be almost perfect. I’m not comparing the two bags, they’re different in style and many other facets. I’m simply stating my experiences here, I’m fully aware that others may have had different experiences with these same bags. However, I wish I could’ve read a review like this earlier as it would have saved me some money and frustration. These respective bags are: the Tamrac Velocity 9x and the Lowepro 250 Fastpack.
Let’s start with the Velocity 9x. After perusing numerous YouTube clips and researching this bag on Tamrac’s site I was sure it was the bag for me. It boasted easy access to one’s camera with the longest (70-200mm) lens attached. It has removable partitions to suit the size of your other lenses. The front pocket is large and can easily accommodate batteries, filters and most other miscellaneous essentials. The flip top opening away from the body is an ingenious design. I’d like to see it on more bags. It is also a sling bag that couples as a backpack. It seemed perfect, if a touch small. The advertising that accompanies this bag shows it as being comfortable to wear and it allows quick and easy access to your camera for those on-the-spot photo opportunities. This all sounded great, but in reality I found this bag to be incredibly uncomfortable.
There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the padded shoulder strap is too short. I’m not tall by any means yet I found that when slung there wasn’t any padding remaining on my shoulder, it instead hung down my back. Secondly, the cross sling strap is so incredibly uncomfortable for a woman that with a heavy load you could do some permanent damage to your chest area, something akin to a mastectomy! And finally, when the bag is tightened to wear as a backpack the sling strap almost chokes you as it comes far too high up across your throat and under your arm. Moreover, the weight of the bag is still halfway down your back and not even remotely comfortable. The literature selling this bag does not show front on views with women wearing it, nor does it show the bag with any weight in it. Both of these scenarios make all the difference. Needless to say, I’m more than disappointed with Tamrac, usually such a reliable company, in this case, producing such an ill-fitting camera bag.
Conversely, the Lowepro 250 Fastpack is a real gem. As the advertising suggests you can “go all day” with this lightweight comfortable bag. It is extremely well-padded both for your gear and your shoulders, and it sits nice and high on your back so as to promote good posture. It also has a waist strap to help deflect the weight onto your hips when carrying extra heavy loads. The compartments are cleverly designed with no need to take the bag off in order to reach for your camera. The backpack slings sideways to reveal a smart side pocket through which you can access your camera in just seconds with any sized lens attached up to a 70-200mm or a 300mm. There are a few small pockets and a mesh area to put a smallish tripod – though more useful for a water bottle than a tripod it must be said. The front zip pocket is nicely hidden and protected with a weather panel which also acts as a deterrent to wandering hands when in crowded cities or event arenas. The top portion of the bag is surprisingly large, big enough to put a light sweater, a water bottle, along with a book and even some extra camera gear. I often find myself putting my speedlite and a few cables in there as well. Another smart feature of this bag is the side slot compartment for a laptop. Great for long location shoots when you want to upload your images and get to work right away. The generous and well-padded storage area accommodates a 15.4” wide-screen laptop. More than enough for the work conscious photographer.
I don’t want to sing Lowepro’s praises too loudly, but they have a winner here without doubt; this bag is incredibly versatile and comfortable. The moveable partitions for your gear work well. My only complaint is that there isn’t any room to carry a 70-200mm lens if it’s not attached to your camera, unless it’s left loose in the top compartment which then wouldn’t leave it with much protection. Lowepro may respond and say it would be possible to make the partitions horizontal to the opening in order to achieve this but, in reality it doesn’t work. The bag, although superbly designed, is therefore a touch small. I found the next model up, the 350 AW to be a touch big. Perhaps Lowepro might consider putting out a 300 AW? As I think this would be an optimum size for many semi-professionals.
Susan Blick is the founder of Photoopolis and an Australian freelance photographer in Auckland, New Zealand.