By request, I’ve decided to do an overview and review of the three camera transportation systems that I’ve come to own in the last year. Somehow it seems that indeed, I have become an aficionado of camera backpacks.
My SLR life began with a search to find the ‘right’ backpack. I was looking for something that would easily transport all of my stuff but wasn’t imposing in size or weight, or would otherwise discourage me from actually using it. I had five criteria to meet:
– small(er) size = volume/weight
– is of a backpack configuration (not a shoulder bag)
– carries a laptop
– has a compartment for lunch/a sweater/personal accessories
– has some measure of water resistance/waterproof build
I settled on Lowepro as a brand almost by default. I purposefully checked out other bags (Kata, Crumpler, Think Tank, etc.) during the process so as to employ the greatest due diligence, but none of them met my needs nor had the comfort, innovation, value or general appeal that Lowepro does. Lowepro is an excellent and forward-thinking brand, and I am comfortable saying that I have no need to look elsewhere.
Given my criteria, however, it seems an impossible task to create a carrier that can hold everything I want and still be of smallish nature. In fact, it is apparently an unavoidable dilemma to have to choose between a small bag, one that ports a computer and one that can stash personal items like a sweater or lunch. Lowepro has not yet released a “Black Hole 300AW,” thus the reason why I have three bags.
To date I have accumulated a Lowepro Vertex 200AW, a Lowepro Dryzone Rover and a Lowepro Slingshot 200AW. Each fits a specific niche very well, but none can do everything. These are the three pictured below:
(L to R: Lowepro’s Vertex 200AW, Dryzone Rover and Slingshot 200AW)
My feelings about each bag are as follows:
Lowepro Vertex 200AW
Pros: slim build, considering its volume; weather resistant zippers and fabric; easily accessed memory card/filter/small items pouches on front lid; versatile mesh pouches and patented Glide-Lock straps for tripods, accessory add-ons; solid, comfortable harness system; holds a 15″ laptop in a separate, protected pocket.
Cons: no room for personal items without sacrificing camera equipment space; not a small bag in general; not waterproof.
Lowepro Dryzone Rover
Pros: hardcore drysuit-style waterproof zippers and waterproof camera compartment (and it floats); generous separate compartment for personal items (lunch, clothes); solid harness system; has an innovative HydraPak portable hydration system that can be removed if desired; relatively modest size overall.
Cons: waterproof camera compartment is big and bulky – quite hard and inflexible (troublesome getting into an airplane overhead compartment); rather heavy; considering its size, camera compartment doesn’t hold a lot of camera gear; does not have space for a laptop; getting into camera compartment via waterproof zipper is tough (though understandable); adding a tripod makes this bag quite large and obstinate; missing some of the nice touches of the Vertex – a place for pens, keys, specific areas for filters.
Lowepro Slingshot 200AW
Pros: ultra-small and compact look and feel; lightweight; holds a smart amount of gear (useful for assignments and shorter trips where equipment is pre-planned and not much is needed); sling style and support strap comfortably fits on your body; small extra compartment for additional gear and separate pouch for filters and batteries.
Cons: simple zippers and materials keep cost down but make the bag itself somewhat fragile; sling style can start to wear down neck and back after a while; no ventilation mesh for airflow on user contact points; does not support or hold a tripod of any size; would not support larger lenses; accessory compartment is limited to gloves and a hat, but anything larger is out of the question.
Maybe it sounds like I’m coming down hard on each bag, but certainly that is not my intention. I enjoy the assets of each bag significantly; otherwise I wouldn’t own all three.
I find I get the most use out of the inexpensive Slingshot 200AW, since it is small, convenient and practical for daily use. I defer to this bag usually for shooting local events on assignment. I use it while shooting at important political events, and find that I can sneak around busy black-tie events without too much difficulty (or spilling peoples’ drinks). For those sorts of events I can load it with a flash, a second lens, batteries, filters, memory cards and business cards. The Slingshot 200AW also doesn’t look like a camera bag to the unfamiliar. Thus it is equally useful on urban, night-time and street-scene shoots, where perhaps you’re worried about drawing attention to yourself.
The bag I typically travel with is my Vertex 200AW. I enjoy its versatility in terms of carrying all the photo equipment I need, plus my laptop and various other things to pass the time on flights. Rather than needing a second carry-on, I can devote some of the camera equipment space to hold chargers, sunglasses and books. Clever, easily-accessed exterior pockets capably consume personal items like my iPhone, keys, notebooks and pens. And despite what it might look like in the line-up, it is not as big as you think. Its box shape is tightly packaged. There aren’t many straps flopping around and no one part of the bag is bigger than another. The Vertex 200AW also features water-resistant zippers which gives me peace of mind if it begins to sprinkle such as in this instance. If it rains hard, there’s an all-weather cover that I can deploy.
Which brings me to the Dryzone Rover. Ironically, this is the bag I use the least but is also the most expensive. Employing drysuit caliber zippers, this bag literally floats if dropped in water and protects camera gear entirely. I suppose it would make a handy floatation device if necessary. It also has a spacious compartment for lunch and a sweater, which is separate from the camera area – nice in case something leaks or spills. The Dryzone Rover provides reassurance when I’m sailing or kayaking (like on this trip) that my camera equipment will be safe no matter what. But the downside is that traveling with this bag means I need a second carry-on to handle my computer. Therefore it is purpose-specific and living in Calgary at the moment means I don’t use it a lot.
Each bag is useful, functional and wonderful. I would recommend each for the purposes I’ve outlined. But beware, if you’re in a bind and have to choose between a computer or a sweater, or between big or small, you could end up just like me and owning all three.