As most photographers that sometimes buy or change gear can attest, the search for the perfect camerabag is an ongoing and never-ending process. I have had god may know how many camerabags in my possession, of which some have been returned almost immediately and other have lasted considerably longer. After switching gear from my fullframe Canon 5D mk II to the smaller Fujifilm system, I ditched all my previous bags and settled on the Billingham Hadley small as my day-to-day bag for my Fujifilm XE-1 and accompanying lenses.
For a while my bag acquisition syndrome was under control, mainly because the Billingham proved to be a very satisfying bag. However, in the summer of 2014 I went on holiday to Syracuse, Sicily. On the program were both city trips and hikes, and while the Billingham was perfect for a day casual or professional photography, a day-long hike would probably result in some serious back and shoulder pain. So I began looking for a backpack.
My selection criteria were the following:
- It had to fit my (then) current gear: Fujifilm XE-1 and 18/35/60 mm lenses
- In addition it had to fit some accessories and my Gorillapod Zoom tripod
- There had to be a place for a bottle of water
- Additional space for other gear (jacket, lunch, sunglasses etc.)
- Durable, of course
- There had to be some way of waterproofing the bag
- Preferably some way of easy access to photography gear
- Light and small: I really dislike having a mountain on my back. It had to be just big enough for the requirements above, but not larger!
- Preferably some way of removing the camera compartment, so that the bag could be turned in a daypack with relative ease.
- Comfortable on my back
In the end I settled on the Lowe Pro Hatchback 16l AW. This bag was not only relatively cheap (I think I paid about €60,-), but it also seemed to fit my requirements more than any other bag on the market (that wasn’t around €400,-). I’ll go over some of the features and my own experiences with this bag:
The hatchback is called this way because the entrance to the camera compartment is against your back (let’s call this the backside of the backpack). This means that your gear is very safe from thieves (as there is no way of removing the camera gear while the backpack is on your back). At first I was a bit dubious about my own access to my gear, but in practice this didn’t bother me. You either put the bag down and remove your camera or you twist the backpack around your body while leaving the waist strap on and open the camera compartment in front of you while the back hangs from the waist strap. This last method works very well and means that you can switch lenses without putting the bag to the ground, which is very useful in dirty or wet environments.
The camera compartment comprises the lower part of the backpack and fitted my body and three lenses snugly. This is not a bag for a dslr and large zoomlens! After addition of the Fujinon XF23 mm the compartment fits 4 lenses and a body, but this is less practical, as you have to stack lenses. As an example of what I usually carry in the compartment (this is a bit tight):
- Fujifilm XT-1 with XF 23 mm f/1.4 attached (hood reversed)
- Fujinon XF 18 mm f/2.0 and Fujinon XF 35 mm f/1.4 stacked
- Fujinon XF 60 mm f/2.4 macro (hood reversed)
- Polafilter, lenspen, extra cards and extra betteries
The backpack has two side pockets. One I use for my Gorillapod Zoom tripod and the other for a bottle of water or thermos flask (0.5 l). The top compartment has two netted pockets and one zippered pocket. I usually place some extra accessories in here, like a cable release, chargers, my wallet and my sunglasses. In addition, in this pocket there is space for a lunchbox and a (small) jacket. Don’t expect too much space, but it can hold surprisingly much. A tightly stuffed upper compartment does reduce carrying comfort though. To the front of the bag is a shallow pocket that I use to place my ipad or a map. This pocket is further subdivided into two layers.
In my experience the fabric that makes up the outer layer of the bag is very durable. There were plenty of occasions in Sicily where I put the bag down on rocky ground and moved it a bit, but no visible scratches or dirt marks can be detected. At the bottom of the bag a rain cover can be taken out of a special pouch for heavy rain. In light rain I don’t really bother with this cover, as it restricts the shoulder bands a bit and the fabric can stop light rain. The camera compartment also has an additional “storm cover” that can be folded around the compartment to protect it further from the elements.
The hatchback 16l is not a very deep bag (from front to back). I find that I really like this. You don’t stick out to the back much, which is handy in crowded places. The small dimensions also contribute to the low weight. The fabrics used are not the lightest, but all in all it’s not a heavy bag.
The padding on the back consists of two panels, one against the upper compartment and one against the camera compartment. I was afraid this would be uncomfortable, but it isn’t. Instead, it is surprisingly comfortable, even after a daylong hike. The shoulder straps are also padded, and both a chest and a waist strap are included. These straps are thin, so don’t expect the waist strap to support the weight of the bag on your waist (this isn’t necessary though, since the bag will never weigh a lot due to the dimensions). The waist strap can be easily removed and reattached if you want to.
One final feature is that the camera compartment can be removed. The divider in the middle of the bag can be folded away and you can use the backpack as daypack if you want.
I found that there were very little negative points to this bag. The camera compartment is rather small, but that means the bag can be compact as well. It certainly fit a lot of my gear. One rather minor point is that the camera compartment is not really flexible in placing dividers. The velcro can only be attached in certain places (something Lowe Pro does often). I would prefer it if it could be attached everywhere.