Since my last camera bag review seemed to generate so much interest, here’s another one !

Things have changed quite a bit in the last 17 months, and the main issue with my original Lowepro is that it’s no longer large enough for a day out with my family: the primary problem being that my youngest walks everywhere now so we don’t have the extra load space of a pushchair anymore. A secondary issue is longer holidays, particularly when camping. It’s more cost effective to take my laptop with me than to buy enough CF cards for 10 days away, but insurance becomes an issue – my car insurance for contents stops at £250, and all items must be kept in the boot. Nothing in a tent is covered (which is fair enough), but it means that in order to cover myself under my household policy[1] I need to keep the items with me, so the new bag must:

  1. be as anonymous as possible
  2. be able to take my laptop as well as my camera
  3. have enough load space left over for food and water for one day

My previous requirement of being able to put the camera away quickly in order to help small children has been replaced by the load space as it’s unfair for my wife to carry everything for the day out whilst I just take my toys. The food and water size doesn’t have to be sufficient for 4 adults and isn’t meant for hiking in a desert, but if you’ve ever gone around a theme park (Legoland/Disney World/PlasticTatMerchandiseWorld/etc.) you’ll know that it’s a struggle to find a drink that doesn’t contain more sugar than a jar of honey, and anything to eat that isn’t so processed it could be sucked through a straw.

Drawbacks: It’s not a sling bag. They are seriously useful, and are very fast to access and provide a comfortable working area for swapping lenses without having to learn to juggle, or put things down on nearby walls. Taking this bag off it’s also obvious it’s a more traditional design, meaning that laying the bag down to get into the camera compartment means getting the straps and back panel wet and/or muddy, which will transfer nicely to your back once the bag goes back on. There’s no integral full waterproof covering but this is available as an accessory (and could be stuffed into the laptop pocket if you’ve got less than the maximum 17″ machine in there).

Advantages: It has just enough space for food and water for my anticipated use, is well padded and looks like a normal backpack. The side pockets are nicely elasticated and will hold a table-top tripod head down quite securely. It has both waist and chest straps to prevent movement, and the front mounting points allow extra filters/memory cards/mobile phones to be attached at a helpful height. The laptop pocket is large, and will swallow my 12″ PB sideways, leaving room for something slim (and non-abrasive !) in there too – perhaps a survival bag for placing on wet ground before opening the bag ?

One thing that Tamrac don’t appear to advertise is that the top of the camera compartment/base of the load space is held in place by velcro and can be totally removed. This gives a whopping 50cm load height down the centre of the bag, albeit with minimal side support in the top section. I’m not sure I can justify a Canon EF 500mm f/4.0 L IS USM, but at least I can boast that my bag is ready for it 🙂

In a head-to-head comparison of the camera load space (pictures available if there’s demand), it looks to be more spacious, and is indeed much deeper which would be good for larger camera bodies than my 350D, however when packing everything into the Adventure 9 from the 200AW I was surprised to find myself left with a handful of bits simply ‘left over’. The lack of the front exterior pocket and top space webbing mean that a lot of the little extras (eg: blower brush, optical flash trigger, cable release, etc.) aren’t easily placed. Yes, it has a removable pouch, but if that’s used to store cables for the laptop (as Tamrac suggest) then the camera parts are left loose. It definitely needs an extra small pouch to hold these things, and I can see myself going for the SAS filter pouch too, as there’s no way to easily put my current filter collection in an easily accessible external pocket.

With my basic set of lenses, flashgun, 12″ PowerBook and associated cables the whole bag weighs in at 1st 3lbs (7.7kg) – add in two 500ml steel flasks in the elasticated pouches and that will be at least 1st 6lbs (9kg) without food, so carrying this pack around all day will do wonders for my fitness level.

So overall, for wandering around a town for a day by myself I’d stick with the 200AW or possibly move up to the 300AW in order to carry more equipment, but for time with my family where photography is a secondary activity it’s a great compromise. If the 300AW had a laptop compartment then I would probably have spent the extra on that bag as the Lowpro wowed me with it’s cleverly designed and supremely useful placement of all compartments, but especially with the offer I found at Morris Photographic (£69 inc UK delivery, whilst stocks last) this compromise bag was an easy upgrade choice.

[1] Yes, there are dedicated photo and laptop policies out there, but nothing compares even slightly to extending my household cover for my equipment: the nearest standalone policy was over 3 times as much.