A few more thoughts on bags, before we leave that topic (not a usual one for us—normally I don't cover bags):
Consider that my most important "camera bags" have been these:
• A clear plastic bag I keep folded up and tucked in my back pocket. The current type I use are sold in boxes at the grocery story labeled "Food & Bread Bags," and don't have any sort of closure. A box of them costs a dollar or two. Why these? Just in case I'm caught out in the rain carrying a valuable camera. Stick the bag over the camera, and it stays dry.
• A soiled and well-worn brown craft-paper grocery sack of the type you can still get at most any non-specialty grocery store. When I was photographing in D.C., half for freelance and half for art, I'd keep my camera in this old grocery bag sitting in plain view on the front seat of my ratty '87(?) Mazda 323. Thieves will seldom break into a car to see what's in a soiled old grocery sack with the top rolled closed. Some trash strewn about the interior of the car helped fortify the ambiance of total worthlessness*.
An important point, brought up by a commenter: cheaper cameras need better bags. Cheap cameras are frail and delicate. Top pro Nikons, by contrast, are made to stand up to wars, literally. You just don't need a lot of padding for a Leica—they are built to be very tough, and will be just fine in a lightly padded bag. That's part of why they make you pay the big bucks. People only baby Leicas because they paid a lot of money for them and they're being solicitous of their investment, not because the cameras demand or require babying. It's actually not even appropriate. Sling the thing over your shoulder and go.
(Note: The above opinion might be out of date, a holdover from the era of the F4 and M6. Caveat emptor.)
Deconstructing the Hadleys
As I get into the minutiae of Billinghams, it becomes evident that there is not one model called a Hadley, there are three: the Hadley Small, the Hadley Pro, and the Hadley Large. And also a much smaller bag called the Hadley Digital, which I'll leave aside.
• The Hadley Small (i.e., the plain old Hadley—but not "the Original," which is no longer made) is 10 1/4 x 2 3/4 x 7 1/4 on the inside (all these measurements are WxDxH, in inches) and weighs 1.5 lbs. $232 at B&H.
• The Hadley Pro has interior dimensions of 13 x 3 x 9—that is, quite a bit wider, slightly deeper, and almost two inches taller than the Small. It has several added features including a zippered waterproof slot for papers on the body side, the ability to add pouches on the ends, and most especially a reinforced top handle. The weight is increased to two and a quarter pounds. All that will cost you $50 more.
• The Hadley Large has interior dimensions of 14 x 2 3/4 x 10—that is, even a little bigger than the Hadley Pro, one inch wider and one inch taller, albeit just a smidge less deep. It omits the special features of the Pro but weighs the same. Costs just a touch less than the Pro.
Pace Jason in the comments yesterday, be careful which color you buy, because these things last and last.
Oh, and for that last reason, these are probably not good bags to buy if you like buying lots of bags on an ongoing basis. One of their main advantages is longevity, and long use is the only thing that will make the high initial outlay sensible. So if you like to buy bags like clothing, constantly switching and swapping and changing styles, a Billingham probably isn't the thing. It's really only for you if you're the type to keep something a long time.
I recommend the Hadley Pro, as I find myself using the top handle a lot with my old bag.
When the rain comes
I'll tell you why I'm not interested in the Think Tank Retrospective: it has a rain cover. That is, it has a bag that you're supposed to put the bag into when it rains. To me, this violates Occam's Razor. The bag should be the bag. It shouldn't need to go into yet another bag.
But then, Santa's flying reindeer always bugged me. Why not just have the sleigh fly? Then you don't need flying reindeer. When you're inventing imaginary motive power, why imagine more than is necessary? I dislike redundancy.
All I can envision as I watch this is myself becoming very frustrated and annoyed as I struggle with the rain cover following a sudden cloudburst, as I and my expensive bag get wetter and wetter. As Oren might say, "bah."
An important item to put into a camera bag: A checklist of everything that goes into the camera bag.
Oh, and by the way: unless you're a pro—if you're a hobbyist photographer photographing for fun or art or interest: I'd recommend as a guiding principle that you should never carry, and probably not even own, more gear than you can fit into a Billingham Hadley Pro or a Think Tank Retrospective 7.
If you have more gear than that, change your gear, not your bag.
Oh, well, okay, that advice won't suit everybody. And shouldn't. We are a larger community than can be fitted by one such general rule; we are all up to very different things. Not everyone is like me. And you are perfectly able to make your own decisions in this regard.
But anyway, think about it.
(Thanks to CarstenW, who found the video for me)
*For the same reason, photographer-themed vanity plates are a very bad idea. When there is expensive equipment in the car, never advertise that there might be expensive equipment in the car.
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
David: "Plastic bag. I do the same thing. Though, last week I was caught on a beach (Lake Michigan) in a sudden and lasting downpour during a long photo walk...didn't have my plastic bag, just my camera. I put it under my shirt and under my arm...soon getting soaked, so I walked up to the 'garbage line' on the beach...where stuff gets washed up by the wave line. Started scouring for plastic pags or old mylar balloons, of which there are plenty...found some plastic, shook it off, wrapped my camera in my shirt to keep sand from the bag off of it, and wrapped the shirt and camera in the plastic. Worked fine. Soon realized that the bag smelled like a fish had died and rotted in it. Who cares? My camera was dry and I enjoyed a long walk in the rain after I adjusted my brain set to 'you're walking in a downpour that won't stop, deal with it and enjoy yourself.' Name of bag...dunno...the Alewife?? WAHOOOOOOOOOO! I always try to pick one lens for what I'm working on and try to never carry a bag.
Øyvind Hansen (partial comment): "The main problem with Billingham products is that they really need to be broken in. When new they look a bit stiff. With age they only become nicer and more alive, much like many other quality items that lasts a lifetime, like fine leather shoes, mechanical cameras and wooden musical instruments."
psu: "Re your principle that you should never carry more gear than you can fit into a Hadley or a Retrospective 7: Indeed. Back in the day I had this rule for the Domke F6 (or 803).
"I considered buying a Hadley this year for my Oympus kit. But I decided that the bag just looked too fussy. Too many buckles and doodads and flaps and things. I bought the American hipster version of the bag instead. A tiny bit cheaper. A bit more straightforward. I still find it too heavy compared to the Domkes."
Mike replies: Your comment makes me wonder if everyone understands the reason for the "buckles and doodads." I might be wrongly assuming it's obvious just because it's obvious to me after using it for a quarter of a century.
They're purely functional and quite brilliant (I do think they come from much older tech, saddlery probably; and there must be a proper name for it, although I don't know what it is).
You set the desired degree of "tightness" or "looseness" of the top flap using the buckle. But you don't undo the buckle to get the top flap open or to securely close it. At the top end of the strap, there's a hole with a wide and a narrow end. That fits over a metal stud with a sort of knob or head on it. The stud goes through the wide end of the hole easily, but when tightened down to the narrow end—as shown above—the strap won't come off the stud. And of course any upward pressure on the top flap pulls the metal stud and the narrow end of the hole in the strap together.
It works very well—a sort of very early quick-release system. You don't use the buckles on an ongoing basis. On mine, it's been years since I've touched the buckles.
Mike Stone: "I assisted the rather eccentric Jane Bown on a shoot for the Observer in London back in the late '80s. She arrived at the studio with her entire kit in a supermarket plastic carrier bag, two OM-1 bodies, a 50mm and an 85mm all wrapped in old tea towels."
Mike replies: I love Jane Bown. One of my favorite photographers....
Slummingangel (partial comment): "Women and shoes, men and camera bags. This is a sweet and funny series on male Imeldas! Sadly, though, nobody's mentioned beauty as a criterion for bags, just as almost nobody mentions beauty in policy-making or beauty in health care. But it's an important standard, maybe as important as functionality. Jonny Ives, Apple's great designer, said at Steve Jobs's memorial service that Steve's life represented 'a victory for beauty.' Even the fine Billinghams are stolid looking and leagues away from beauty."
Robbie: "The Retrospective series fabrics are stil very water resistant. I've walked for hours in rain and sleet without rain over and the contents have stayed perfectly dry. It is laminated with an impermeable later and DWR coated I think, at least the green and blue colors are. The black is a natural canvas and may be less resistant. I leave my rain cover at home without worry."