One thing I have always struggled with during years of photography is finding
confidence in my images a good photography bag. Not a single bag I have owned has quite met the demands of a photographer, and there is no single solution to the dilemma. Between the two of us here on TheTimeChamber, we currently own eight camera bags, all of which are iterations of the previous purchase in an attempt to find that perfect something.
If you browse any of the photography bag manufacturers websites, they are littered with glossy images of people hiking in the hills, or walking through cities, looking happy with the bag strapped to their back whilst taking photos. In searching through their products, they proudly state that the bag can fit a professional camera body (or two), 17 lenses, a tripod, a tablet, a laptop, a 70 inch TV, a hydration bladder and a folding lawn chair. Now i’ll be honest, if I filled any of my camera bags with the maximum that the manufacturer states it can hold I would need to put in some serious gym time to be able to carry it, and would probably fall over as I swung it onto my shoulder. I should clarify that I realise that most photographers wouldn’t carry that much with them on a trip, other than to get themselves to where they are going to be based. I have a theory that you shouldn’t carry more than three lenses as you’ll get lost in the choice, but I’ll save that for another post.
My biggest criticism of all the camera bags that I have looked at is that the manufacturers don’t take into account what a photographer actually carries with them on a day out, beyond mountains of photographic gear. All of them have clever solutions of organising camera gear neatly, and most of them contained some sort of pocket for sundries such as batteries and SD cards. None of them had any useful space for food, water or extra layers without sacrificing gear space. This was a problem and it has prevented us from upgrading our trusty Lowepro Flipside 15L that has been our bag for nearly a decade. However, during a recent trip to Skomer I realised that I had finally outgrown the bag and that full day trips require more space. The hunt was on for a new bag that suited my needs.
The Problem: Lowepro Flipside 15L
The Lowepro Flipside 15L has served me well for nearly a decade, and seen us travel all over the world with it carrying a multitude of gear within it. I particularly like the back entry system which provided me with a lot of assurance that someone was not going to fish about in my bag when I wasn’t paying attention. Since an upgrade to the Nikon D750, and the purchase of a 300mm telephoto, the space within the bag has been pushed to the limit. Careful packing means that I have been able to fit the equipment, food and other sundry items into it; but the draw back has meant that careful repacking of the bag has been required every time something is removed. This is not helpful when changing to a different lens outside on a blowy day.
During our trip to Skomer Island I packed a lot of photographic gear into The Flipside Pro 15L bag as we planned for both Wildlife Photography and Landscape Photography. I also packed lunches, snacks, water and a JetBoil to make tea to see us through the day and avoid returning to the accommodation. There was no space left for additional clothing and I made do by carrying my camera everywhere as I was busy photographing everything! On our journey home, I got thinking about what I needed from a bag and started searching for the perfect fit. That’s when I came across F-Stop bags. I had heard of them before, but dismissed them as expensive, over the top and complicated with their modular storage system. They also don’t have a dedicated UK store, something I was wary of as I like to give possible camera bag candidates a good shake. I have since realised that there are somethings where investing good money is worth it, and I quickly realised that a camera bag was one of those areas.
I will however continue to use the Flipside bag for some photography trips where one or two lenses are carried as it is small and useful for cramming into underground spaces!
The Solution: The F-Stop Lotus 32L
In anticipation of two week trip to Canada, and after much deliberation, I clicked buy. I had decided that we wanted a bag that could lug around my camera gear, and be filled with a days supplies; or with a small internal storage unit, used for an overnight bivvying trip on the South Downs. I purchased my F-Stop Lotus 32L, with a small ICU (Internal Camera Unit), medium slope ICU and set of external straps in a hope this would provide flexibility needed for many trips. Furthermore, the 32L bag is small enough to be used a carry on for both International and European flights. Is the F-Stop Lotus 32L the perfect bag? After a year of using it, Yes and No.
My first real test of the bag was on a holiday to Canada where we planned to visit Montreal, Quebec, see the Whales in the St Laurence Estuary and go hiking in the national parks. It worked perfectly during this trip, I found the bag comfortable to carry in 15+ mile hikes, it had enough room to carry a days supply of food/water and the camera geared I wished to carry. Adjustable waist straps and an ergonomic design meant that it was comfortable for for a day long hike. Subsequent day trips have confirmed my thoughts on this and it feels like a very well thought out and built bag, and able to stand a decent douwnpour. It combines both back entry zip, which is useful for access the ICU modules, and a top entry zip which is useful for grabbing a sandwich through. This is something that seems like a minor addition, but it is a very useful feature and prevents all the stored camera gear from getting soaked if it is raining and you need to grab an extra layer. However, it is slightly too large and cumbersome for a walk around a city, but this isn’t a problem as I have a small sling bag I can use for such occasions.
At first I was skeptical about the requirement to purchase an ICU with the bag, but having switched between the small and medium depending on the trip, I have changed my mind. They allow a certain amount of flexibility in equipment choices and what other items are carried. I would say that the medium Slope isn’t as good as it should be and I plan to sell it for the none sloped version at some point in the future. I am not sure why they designed an ICU with a slope to it, as it makes configuring the inside tricky as the dividers are also sloped, so compromises have to be made. In hindsight, the sloped medium is designed for gripped bodies, something I don’t own! The only other downside to both the small ICU and the Slope Medium ICU is that they are not long enough to stow my D750 with 300mm lens attached, and I think the Large ICU will be too large for my needs. I will probably explore other options to allow me to stow the combination in the bag. A strong positive for the ICUs as they are removable, they can be used as temporary storage of camera gear, this is great as it stops gear being strewn around rooms haphazardly. I have also not found a decent use for the bag straps, and the existing straps on the bag are useful for strapping a tripod onto.
It may not be 100% perfect, but this bag fits the bill for my requirements. The final test will be using it for an overnight bivvying trip in the UK somewhere. If you have struggled to find the perfect bag, I can highly recommend the F-Stop series bags.