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Friday, 12 July 2013


I've been enjoying your bag-review posts, Mike. Here's a brief look at my Hadley Pro and what I managed to squeeze into it for a trip to Turkey: http://goo.gl/SEJZV

[Nice post, Doug, and very interesting to see what a Hadley Pro holds. Thanks. --Mike]

For those wishing to explore non-camera bags, I'd suggest taking a look at the Op/Tech website. All their products are available direct, not just through dealers, and they've got steep discounts on factory seconds. I can highly recommend their Soft Wraps: a square of padded material with velcro patches on the corners to hold it closed. It doesn't offer the speed of a traditional camera bag, but my D80 lived in one for six years while it rattled around in backpacks, waistpacks, and messenger bags...and I was able to sell it as EXC+. Op/Tech also makes a huge variety of neoprene slipcases, which is what I use for my Panasonic G3. Prices are quite reasonable, and much of the stuff is US made.

Crumpler makes some nice inserts; my wife bought one of the Havens for stuffing into whichever backpack she's hiking with.

For the real cheapskate, head over to your local fabric store and track down what's called "headliner fabric", which is a centimeter of open-cell foam with fuzzy polyester bonded to it. Sew together a box and you've got a bag insert to match whatever your favorite bag might be.

Now yesterday, I was intrigued by all that you wrote about Billinghams. Now I see that only one of three Hadley models has a carry handle ? This does not strike me as thoughtful design. A carry handle is something I appreciate on even the tiniest bag I own (a little Lowepro used for NEX) as well as the slightly large Kata Access.

Anyway, take a look here:

- Dennis

Well... as I read this series and the comments, the more I think I found the perfect bag; all the pros and a low price...
It maybe not as theft-deterrent as the paper bag though.

Walking around Rio de Janeiro a few years ago, and a little worried about the street crime in certain areas, I carried my camera in a plain blue plastic bag I got at a local convenience store. That gave me a lot more piece of mind than any padded camera bag would have.

We think alike, Mike. Great point about the rainproofness.The Bilingham Hadley is a very comfortable, beautifully made, probably everlasting bag. I have two, Hadley Small and Pro in black-on-black. The small is great for carrying a mirrorless system around town, while the pro is great for travelling - it can also hold a small laptop between the insert and the shell (though the bag won't mould as nicely to the body in that case). And it looks stylish in an understated, gentlemanly manner, the way a nylon bag never will..

The main problem with Billinghams product 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.

I used to know a photographer that used a baby diaper bag for his gear. His theorey was that very few would be thieves would have much interest in a diaper bag.

I am never, ever, without a "Food and Bread" bag in my back pocket, usually several. People think I am nuts because I keep expounding on their virtues. I hate the stiff zippy lock things. I was totally thrilled to see you mention them.

Instead of a plastic bag, I carry a shower cap (from a hotel somewhere or other a decade or two ago). The elastic around the base makes it fairly secure when placed over the camera from the top for extreme rain, and can instead be placed around the lens (leaving the lens sticking out but the rest of the camera covered) for moderate rain if something interesting enough to wet my equipment is going on out there. (Real photojournalists would of course have to deal with that a lot more than me!)

I don't think I've had a small enough collection of equipment to put in one of those specified bags since probably about 1982, personally, and I'm pretty amateur (back in the 1980s I did some batches of semi-pro work, and just a bit now and then more recently; back in college is was kind of a "pro" photojournalist for the alumni publications office). What's in my big bag now: D700+grip, 24-70/2.8, 70-200/2.8, Sigma 12-24, SB800 flash, 1.4x extender, Pelang 8mm fisheye. Plus spare batteries, memory cards, lens cleaners, remote radio release, polarizer, flashlight, pens, notebook, the usual cruft. That's about full, certainly for working configuration. What's not in the bag off the top of my head: Sigma 120-400, Nikon 135/2 DC, Nikon 85/1.8, Nikon 50/1.8 AIS, Nikon 35/2 AIS, Nikon 24/2 AIS, Soligor 500/8. I could certainly live without the manual focus lenses and the 500 mirror, though it's nice to have the small fast lenses for a few situations. And of course what this *doesn't* have is a spare body. Just the lenses that aren't currently in the bag will fill another pretty good-sized bag. I may have had more equipment at some points, when I had multiple bodies and more prime lenses. And I've used all of those lenses (that I didn't already agree were not required) for things I'd miss in the last six months. Also I have things for my Micro 4:3 system that I don't have for the Nikon, a macro lens and a full-frame fisheye, that I've used even more recently.

So I think your gear recommendations are unreasonably limiting, at least for my photography.

Those interested in the Hadleys might also want to look at Billingham's fStop series. The 1.4 is similar in size to the Hadley Pro, but slightly deeper and less tall, possible making it a better fit for those finding the Hadley too slim for their gear. The 2.8 is the same except a few inches narrower. Both take AVEA pouches and are available in the extremely handsome Khaki FibreNyte / chocolate leather combination. They lack the Hadleys' fully removable insert, however.

Carry handles: Yeah, my Crumpler 4 million dollar home (my full-time carry kit where the Micro Four Thirds gear lives) doesn't have a carry handle, and even on a tiny light bag like that I miss it. I end up grabbing it by the bag ends of the straps pretty often.

Personal peeve: Top zipper. Hate zippers on bags. It might be acceptable as a security measure that you aren't expected to touch when actually working, but the bag has to be reasonably rain-resistant without the zipper closed; you use the bag in the rain sometimes! And there must be a flap that goes over the top of the bag and down the front, wide enough to really protect the top. Ideally it should velcro in place, and then have actual fasteners for more secure carry (even the velcro is often enough to avoid dumping the contents). The velcro noise can very occasionally be a down-side, so a silencer scheme is useful. You can improvise your own if the bag doesn't have one, though. My current big bag, which I can't afford to replace, fails two of these, and it's been even more of a problem than I had expected (I've been having trouble finding a bag that works for modern pro-size bodies and lenses, everything is too small!).

All this talk of "expensive when new" and "start off being too stiff but nice when worn in" has put me in mind of something completely off topic that will be dear to the hearts of a few folks here......bicycle saddle bags by Carradice of Nelson.
Years ago I crossed Spain north to south with my Pentax Super A and two lenses safely carried in a Carradice handlebar bag (so not quite off topic).

"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."
I first got this idea after seeing David Hemmings in "Blowup." In the bathroom scene he is putting his Nikon in a paper bag...
Works really well.

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. Fogg bags come closest to being beautiful. I have an old Fogg butterflied backpack. Not sure they are made anymore. It's a lightweight bag, lean on padding, rain repellent, and discreet. The only thing wrong with it is that it costs an arm and a leg. And yes, it's beautiful in its utter simplicity--wonderful to look at and terrific tactility. It has all the materials of a Billingham, but put together in a balanced and pleasing way. I can't help but wonder, what if you'd asked a woman to write about camera bags? She'd likely have a completely different vocabulary for what is passable vs superb, useful vs pleasurable.

Just a coupla points:

Pro Canon 1D-series bodies are also built to literally stand up to wars, not just Nikons. In fact, I've never seen a Canon 1D body cracked through the frame. Nikon D2/D3's, yes, Canon 1-D's, no. (Doesn't mean they couldn't be, though.)

I'll stick to my Think Tank Retrospectives, thank you very much (I plan to buy a Retro 7 or 10 in the near future). I dunno, Billinghams camera bags and Belstaff motorcycle jackets; I'll pass. Just too old school British design for this kid.

As you point out, though, everyone has different needs, and therefore, different requirements.

And that's okay....

I remember buying a Billingham 225 just before heading to Fiji on a six month research trip many years ago. I had long wanted. Craved even. To me, a Billingham made me more of a photographer than any camera ever could. I was young - what can I say?

In Fiji, I stayed with a family in a remote village while I did my research. They approved of the bag. They asked how much it cost.

"A lot," I mumbled uncomfortably.

In fact, it was more than many of these wonderfully generous people could earn in a month from a 9 to 5 job in the capital.

And, of course, it didn't make me any better a photographer.

I laughed when I read your Think Tank rain bag comments, as I watched the same video and had exactly the same reaction. Especially in the digital world, protection from the elements IS often the reason to have a bag in the first place. Our cameras are computers now, and rain isn't a friend unless weather sealing is adequate, for camera and lens.

By the way, here's the video:


With respect to your last principle, I find your comments mostly relevant in the digital realm. In my film days, it was different bags for 35mm, medium and large format. Now it's almost silly to carry huge bags, as quality increasingly comes in small packages.

I do, however, make an exception for extended travel, when a big bag stores everything (on the plane or other transport), and a smaller bag is packed for smaller distances after arrival. For taking pics, unless it's bad weather, I prefer just slinging the camera over my shoulder and maybe having an extra lens in a pocket or belt pouch.

Here is a video showing how to attach the rain cover. I found by searching for "kind:video think tank rain":


That Hadley Pro does look sweet... Definitely black on black.

Good advice on the vanity plates. Same goes for stickers on a car, although it's not something you see much in the photo community. It is very prevalent in my other hobby, flyfishing, and the guys who cover their back window in stickers advertising expensive brands are just asking for trouble.

An effective waterproof expedient is two ziplocs, one sealed within the other. (Caveats: use fresh, freezer-thickness ziplocs and don't rely on this setup for snorkeling with your M9.)

>>...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

Truer words were never spoken. I never understood that principle. It reminds me of bananas at the grocery store that are sold in sealed plastic bags. Hey, the yellow stuff around the banana IS the package!

My Lowepro Bag carries cameras.
My Billingham Bag carries a patina.

Speaking of Leicas and non-padded bags, anyone here ever used the old Leica bag? I've had a couple of them, owned them both before I ever owned a Leica. I used them with Nikon F and F2 cameras and lenses. I think they might still be in the attic somewhere, all moldy and beat to hell.

Talk about minimalist, they had no padding and no internal compartments just a couple of pieces of cloth material inside that you could use to separate equipment. If memory serves, they were somewhere in the size range of the Hadleys. The two I owned were distinctly different in material--the first one was made of a tightly woven fabric and it was tan in color whereas the second was of a looser weave fabric and was a gawdawful burgundy color. They were fairly inexpensive at the time but I think the Domkes were more practical and cost a little less.

Re. the Think Tank Retrospective video: by the time you've stopped fiddling with the rain cover you'll be soaked to your bones. And so will be the gear.
Is the photographic community alien to the concept of 'umbrella'? I know it's a recent invention that remains largely unknown, and it's not very practical to hold one while photographing, but...

Tinted windows, a old black sheet to cover the gear/bags and as already stated, not keeping the front seats too clean has so far kept my gear safe when left in a car. And of course waiting for no one around you when pulling gear out.

I've used a Hadley Pro for years. It is the best bag I've ever owned and probably will ever own. Short of using a brown paper bag, it's the least camera bag-like thing you can get, certainly more discrete than any one of the thousands of Lowepro iterations.
I love my Hadley so much I wrote a review for my photography group because I wouldn't shutup about it!

When I bought my first (used) SLR in 1970, I used a plastic diaper bag to carry my camera and small assortment of gear. It worked well--light, waterproof and capacious. It was all I could afford, and besides, in the entire history of crime, no one has ever stolen a diaper bag.

“Thieves will seldom break into a car to see what's in a soiled old grocery sack with the top rolled closed.”

I like a dog food (kibble) bag, a little heavier duty...

I do understand why they make the buckles the way they do. I just feel like they'd get in my way. Same for the extra "flap" of padding at the top of the insert.

FWIW, the buckles on the Ona are actually little magnetic latches. As with the Billingham, the belt buckle itself is only used to adjust the tightness.

I actually never close them, the flap stays closed pretty well on its own. I hardly ever used to buckle my Domkes shut either.

Mike said "I dislike redundancy."

You can say that again!


A pet gripe of mine - carry handles attached to the top of the bag, so you have to latch the top to use the handle. And if you get careless with some of these bags you can even dump your gear on the ground. The carry handle on my Domke clips to the strap rings and can be picked up with the top loose.

Since it keeps coming up, I know the Billingham leather is functional, but it just looks so much like the phoney fasteners on many non-functional bags.

>Speaking of Leicas and non-padded bags, anyone here ever used the old Leica bag? I've had a couple of them, owned them both before I ever owned a Leica. I used them with Nikon F and F2 cameras and lenses. I think they might still be in the attic somewhere, all moldy and beat to hell.>

I bought one of those back in about 1978. It was NOT a very good camera bag, but...my 15 year old daughter uses it for a purse now. It's still going strong,even though a little ratty looking. It's her "vintage hipster bag".
I liked the TYPE of bag that it was though, so now I use a Hadley Pro and really like it.

Dogman asked: "Speaking of Leicas and non-padded bags, anyone here ever used the old Leica bag?"

I still use my tan Leica bag that dates to the mid 1970s. My wife at the time used another Leica bag to carry her oboe and reed-making tools.

About a year ago, I saw two of the tan Leica bags on eBay. Both were listed as buy it now; one for $200 and one for $400. I don't know if they found buyers.

There are reasons for not having a waterproof bag. Have you ever tried to dry one out, after the water gets inside, as it will? (You put a wet camera in the bag, and you've now got water inside -- and it will quickly be thoroughly dispersed inside.) The bag needs to breath. And quite frankly, if you can't pull the waterproof cover over a Retrospective, you can't operate a camera, either. My top estimate in learning how to do this is four seconds. If it takes longer than that, my friend, you have more serious problems to deal with than how to keep your camera dry...Pulling this cover over the bag is just another way to do what you were talking about when you said you carry a plastic bag in your pocket. Instead of using the plastic bag to cover the camera, you cover the whole camera bag.

Waterproofing a bag is also more complicated than a cover, which is basically just a plastic sack; trying to waterproof a large bag means additional weight and additional complication, and usually doesn't work all that well anyway...which you will find out only when all of your gear gets wet.

This principle of a rain cover, by the way, is used in most modern tents. The tent itself isn't waterproof -- there's an additional fly, which is rigged over the tent, to keep the rain out, with a two or three-inch space between the fly and the roof of the tent. The only part of the tent that's waterproofed is the floor and a few inches along the bottom of the sides. That way, the moisture inside (caused by your breathing) won't wind up condensing inside the tent and getting everything wet.

I like the Hadleys, they are nice, but I'm sticking with my paper bag it works. Great to hear all these reviews of the bags though.

The whole thing with a Billingham is that it is such a major fashion statement unto itself that you then must make way for the entire wardrobe, incl: a tweed jacket, an English driving cap, Oxfords, and a proper brolly.

Otherwise, there's really no sense being seen with one...


Look at this Steven.......nothing that men has made is indistructable given the right amount of Murphy Magic.

Greets, Ed.

I come from using a long line of bags....Swiss army gas mask bags were the first in the early 70's to a couple of custom made bags from a UPI photographer Alex Parsons to Domke's F1's,Crumpers, and Think Tank's...One thing they all had in them was a Large plastic garbage bag....It fit on the bottom with hardly a notice, until the heavens opened up and in about 20 second it was a raincoat over all of me and the cameras..quickly punching the three holes needed. Also it was good if you needed to get down in the dirt for a low angle or a changing bag when a film jammed or broke off the spool.

Quite a few years ago I had my perfect camera bag. At the time I was a salesman in a shop in London when a women came in carrying an almost exact copy of one of the smaller Billingham bags. The main difference was that it was somewhat smaller than a 225 and was made of a black rubberised material. It had real leather piping, brass work, similar straps etc. I knew it would be a perfect bag for my Nikon FM2n, 3 lenses, exposure meter, small flash, paper back novel, tickets etc which I afterwards found all fitted in. It was perfect because it was lighter than the Billingham and less bulky to carry because the fabric molded itself to the contents more easily. The second time this customer came into the shop I asked her where she got the bag from. Brazil, she said, which was in fact where she mostly lived although she came to London every now and again. If you would really like one, she said, I will buy you one and bring it in for you when I come back to London next year and you can pay me for it. I asked how much she paid for her bag? £30 she said. I'll tell you what , I said, there's a bag shop over the road. Here's £30, go and buy yourself any bag you like and give me the bag your wearing now. Much to my surprise she said ok and that's how I got my perfect bag. I used it for about 20 years until the strap had frayed so much that it was no longer safe . Not Billingham quality but better for me because of its lightness and lack of bulk. I wish I could buy another but I've never found one like it.

I'll second the Hadley Pro's inclusion of a hand grip. This didn't feature in my criteria when I bought the bag, but now I wonder how I could manage without it. And when using other bags without one, I constantly find myself frustrated when grasping for it. Messenger type bags are the main culprits. Why is it so useful? I've no idea. Maybe it has something to do with using the bag as an urban shooting bag, where the day is a constant succession of cafe's, bars, benches, public transport etc. Somehow it isn't quite so easy to pick it up with the shoulder strap. Sounds crazy I know.

These days the Hadley Pro is the largest bag that I feel comfortable stressing my shoulder with when filled to capacity.

Personally I have never found a Billingham that actually seems to fit what I want to carry (too big, small, deep, narrow....) and I don't care if they last forever if I have to match my gear to the bag or buy multiple £250+ bags.

I even shied away from the ThinkTank Retrospectives as well. I really can't see the value in wasting money on a dedicated camera shoulder bag when the average urban man-bag is a fraction of the price, has similar utility and looks totally un-remarkable these days. They don't scream "expensive camera" when you wear one either.

My favourite is the Troop Classic Messenger

Check out the price, weight, storage, expanding width and waterproof liner as well as all the external pockets. I should add I have three of these (one this colour, one darker and one grey all in different sizes) and I never paid more than £25 for one (on Camden market) though the ones I got had no laptop sleeve (don't need one).

Two Domke inserts (perfect fit) are great for one or two Fuji X bodies with lenses, or one body plus 2-3 lenses, or a body plus Gorillapod (and by association the same combinations of PENs, OMDs, NEX etc.). Leaves plenty of room in the outer pockets for accessories, a tablet, phone, brolly and even a water bottle.

For the D800 I just use a light jacket as a "floor". The bags provide plenty of protection, but you can also slide some bubble wrap or foam liner into the outside flap and rear pocket.

The oldest is going strong after 10 years and has nicely softened up and looks well used, but it completely intact and still gets daily use. So for the price of one Billingham I'm set for at least 100 years of bag ownership, but with bags to fit all occasions.

They will survive an hour of drizzle but since I take a poncho or small umbrella if heavy rain is expected (that covers me and the bag) I don't worry that much about waterproofing.

They also don't take up much room if you want to shove one in your luggage and use a roller bag for travelling.

However my one concession to Billingham was to purchase one of their excellent shoulder pads. The tan one is a perfect match for this bag.

So my solution is a combination of Troop, Domke and Billingham, but I am more than happy with the quality and utility of the end result, and although the inserts and pad are not cheap, they can be used with multiple bags.

I echo Robbie's and JC's remarks re: the Think Tank rain covers. They're only needed for protection from serious sustained drenching. The Reospectives will keep your jewels very dry during rainy strolls or wet snow. JCs comment about the trouble with truly waterproof bags is a good one; they never dry out once wetted.

But, really, how many amateur snappers go out in inclement weather? Really.

When someone defines a repeatable standard for waterproofness, then we will know if it's worth spending the money....

Spoilsport visiting again.

1. The "tough-as-nails-you-could-even-use-them-for-a-hammer" legend about film M Leicas is mainly that — a legend. Sure, they were more robust and durable than most other cameras. But I've witnessed at close quarters how banging them around in an unpadded bag could ruin them. Back in the molten lead Linotype era, the honcho fotografico at one of the newspapers I worked for had a habit of dumping his Leica M4-P and assorted lenses, with nothing more than thin chamois wraps around them, in an unpadded leather bag. A couple of years later I was offered to buy the lot. Finder and focusing were badly misaligned, the body and the lenses were dented, some lenses were badly decentered. A patient Leica technician cautioned me against the frequent confusion between heavy duty and abuse: Leicas were built for the former; foregoing sensible padding in transport was clearly the latter.

2. One aspect of Hadleys has not been discussed here: oh, heresy, they are also available in a synthetic fibre version (tradename "FibreNyte") as well as the traditional canvas. I have not been able to ascertain the chemical composition of "FibreNyte", although Billingham is forthright in describing its waterproofing: the fabric is bonded with butyl rubber to a polyester lining. FibreNyte is described as combining a soft touch with high abrasion resistance. Softness was less of selling point for the synthetic material used by Billingham before 2006, which was nytex (a ballistic nylon fabric lined with polyurethane); and before that, until 1986, classic cordura.
So why does Billingham sidetrack its conventional "natural" materials with synthetics? Without inside knowledge, and based on my very limited experience with loaned Hadleys (I've never owned one), I see four potential advantages: superior waterproofing, superior abrasion resistance, superior fabric dye stability, weight reduction; in that order.

3. Waterproofing is an applied science as well as an art. Unless I'm assured that the waterproofing lining of synthetic fabric does not exude plasticizers, or that natural fibre canvas is free of solvents from impermeabilising oils or waxes, I'll take a removable rain cover à la Think Tank any day. It is far more sensible and less obnoxious.

"But, really, how many amateur snappers go out in inclement weather? Really."


Whenever the Internet fora go overboard worrying about things like this, or "weather sealing" in cameras, or how plasticky cameras have become, I think of this classic thread in photo.net.


Start reading at around "Some where around 15-20 times per weekend, "...

I just figured out a bargain $20 camera bag: I bought a Husky big-mouth tool bag (http://www.amazon.com/Husky-18-in-Tool-BAG/dp/B008XMIEFA) at Home Depot, stuck in the removable insert from my Kata backpack, and swapped the included strap for a heavier-duty strap from a computer bag. I had easy access to my lenses in the field this morning - swapping back and forth between macro and telephoto - and didn't mind setting it down in the mud. If I'd done that with my backpack, I'd have muddy straps, and my Crumpler $5 Million Bag would have tipped over. With the top zipper, I wouldn't trust it in the rain, but then I wouldn't be swapping lenses in a downpour, either.

Contents: camera with lens, two extra lenses, flash plus cord, filters, Giotto blower, LensPen, remote trigger, reflector/diffuser, collapsible softbox for my flash, and water bottle.

Did you see these cool abuse videos (part 1 & 2) that really go after Nikon and Canon DSLRs (plastic ones with plastic lenses)?




You guys are either way too fussy or way too rich. I use a generic canvas bag I bought on the internets and provide additional structure with a bit of folded cardboard. I've taped bubble wrap on this, so three sides of the interior are padded. Works super fine.

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