For many years I was a steadfast Billingham user. I liked the traditional style, the fawn canvas, the leather, the webbing straps, even the brass buckles, all of which added to the beautiful craftsmanship manifest in all their products. I also admired the overuse of modern trimmings such as Velcro but most of all I wanted to support ‘the small family firm’ in the greedy globalising world. On one occasion I even rang them up and commissioned a tripod case which they fashioned to my dimensions and to the usual impeccable standard. Their service matched their bags and I carried them to all the corners of the earth. From rainforests to the peaks of the Himalayas they garnered the patina of travel, became aged and individual, blotched by stains and scarred by tears, so that I would recognise my Billingham in a line up of all the worlds others. Americans often loved them, my dog chewed all the zip pulls from them and in the shabbier spots I often slept with them to safeguard my gear. There are still a few old photos of me with my trusty 550 knocking about but this is only because I never have enough photos of me to give people, thus they continue to publish ancient ones. Keeps me young I suppose! In truth I switched to Lowepro in 2004 and for all the wistful nostalgia above, I’ve never looked back.
Okay, so what led to this change in allegiance? Well, it was nothing more than the purchase of a 500mm F4. I say ‘nothing’ but actually this was a pretty significant event, certainly financially! Anyway, the bottom line was that this new baby wouldn’t fit into the 550 with the rest of the necessaries and that bag was the biggest they made. Thus after years of brand loyalty I had to look elsewhere. I went shopping and considered the ‘opposition’ for the first time in my life, picking and pulling bags about to see if any could match the quality of my old friends. Then Mark Hoskins (now at Daymen) very kindly sent me a Tamrac backpack bag to review. I was a bit apprehensive about ‘going to the back’ after a lifetime of ‘side-slinging’ because I thought it might take too long to get the kit out when the action started. Nevertheless I excitedly filled the bag with all my usual bits and pieces and marvelled at the way it all sat safe and snug in the many padded compartments. But then I picked it up… and put it straight down again. Now, I’m no he-man, no pulsing-pec, gym going, weight lifting, body building athlete but I’m not exactly a wimp either, but there was no way that I would be able to carry that lot without instant crippling injury. When I unpacked enough to make it realistically portable the bag wouldn’t support what was in it – it sort of sagged and collapsed, not because of poor design or quality, simply because it was too big for the job. So I went shopping again and this time found that the smallest and lightest bag that would carry what I could was the Lowepro Photo Trekker Classic. It is a basic bag but it also allowed the backpack straps to be folded away and came with a shoulder strap so if the move to the back backfired I could still use the bag. In truth I couldn’t fault this product. I have to say that the protection is not full on, but then I’ve only dropped a camera and a bag once each in twenty five years of photography so this never bothered me. What led to the upgrade to the Lowepro CompuTrekker was my last trip to the Antarctic. The weather was pretty bad and the former bag doesn’t pretend to be waterproof and thus I spent a lot of time unpacking and drying wet lenses and even longer repeatedly re-drying the bag. Given that my next trip was to snowy Sweden to try and get some wolf pictures I thought a more robust carrier might be sensible.
I’d long ago gone over to the ‘back’ side so ideally I wanted nothing more than a more weatherproof version of the PhotoTrekker with maybe a bit more padding. But not too much as it would still need to look like it fitted in one of those bloody box frame things that check-in staff point you to every time you try to board a plane. To say that this has brought us to a very raw nerve would be an understatement. Look, all I want to do is to be able to carry a basic working kit, including the 500mm, to my destination so that I can do what I’m going there to do. Please tell me how I am meant to do this with a 5kg limit on a bag the size of a loaf of bread? And if the weight is so damned critical how is it that I can go airside and buy literally tonnes of stuff in all the shops? And why don’t airlines have a passenger allowance, why don’t they weigh us and our bags? I’d quite happily diet to get my laptop safely in the cabin with me. It’s a farce, a fiasco and a blight on the travel industry for all serious photographers. And don’t even think about suggesting I put the ‘big gun’ in the hold… I want my £4k baby to arrive with me – not to be orphaned in Ulan Bator!
Okay, minor rant over, and anyway the Lowepro CompuTrekker is meant to be ‘flight-size-friendly’. I’ve measured it when its loaded and it does pretty much conform to the average dimensions published on the airline websites (25 x 50 x 45 cms) – not that it stopped the witch at the last desk demanding that I try and cram it into the ‘box’… And not that the size is any less of an issue than the weight… 5 or 10 kilograms… Fiasco! Okay, okay, rant now definitely over!
I like the bag but I would customise some changes. I’ll never use all the straps that are designed to carry a tripod attached to it and sadly these cannot be easily folded away or even better detached. I’m close to cutting them off; the only thing stopping me is the knowledge that I’d be damaging a very nicely made product. There are a couple of pouches but an external pocket with a zip to put keys and change into would be nice as I’m reluctant to stuff such hard scratchy things in the sacred inner chamber. And it would mean that every time you wanted a cuppa you’d have to open it all up. The back is very well padded, to protect you and your laptop which slots in behind the main compartment through a zip on one side, but the bottom is not as well protected as the Lowepro PhotoTrekker. I’ve added my own extra rectangle of reinforced plastic to protect the items at the base of the bag when it’s put down on the ground. These gripes aside the bag scores highly and I wouldn’t swap it. The shoulder straps and zips exude confidence, it’s still not waterproof but it’s all but – I had a couple of damp patches in Sweden but things were extreme, ferocious snow, minus 20 degrees and lots of opening and closing in the elements. The fabric is the same as that formerly used for Captain Scarlett’s underpants, and it seems to be wearing well; no marks or scuffs (I no longer wish to embrace the patina of age, I want it to look brand new forever). Inside it’s as flexible a space you could ask for with far more dividers than you possibly need supplied as standard and it has nice high sides so your kit is unlikely to fall out when it’s open on uneven ground. The pockets on the underside of the lip have the zippers hidden beneath little flaps when they are closed so that they don’t scratch your lovelies and there is plenty of room here for knick-knacks. Carrying wise it’s definitely a step up from the Lowepro PhotoTrekker, much more comfortable padding all round. I had a 3km hike with a full load of around 20kg each morning on my Scandinavian expedition and aside from multiple heart attacks I was in perfect shape.
The following all fits into it, but sadly not to fly;
- 1 DSLR Pro camera body
- 500mm f4 telephoto lens
- 70-200mm zoom lens
- 17-35mm zoom lens
- 1.4X converter
- Big flashgun and IR Sync gadget
- 1 spare battery, charger and mains lead
- Plenty of memory cards
- Angled viewfinder
- 2 x polarising filters
- Small laptop (11 inch screen) and mains lead
- Portable Hard Drive
- Lens Hoods for all lenses
- And all the junk; cable release, cleaning cloths, plastic bags, etc
This doesn’t include the ‘soft pockets’ on the lid which are ideal for gloves, hat, hand warmers or sun cream and some pulp fiction.
The rest has to go in a hard case to travel, but only after a prayer to the Gods of Baggage Handling, spare flash batteries, charger, Arctic Butterfly stuff, back-up hard drive and some discs, mess of leads, etc .
I love Lowepro now. I’m fully converted and I’ve got two more bags for other occasions, a Lowepro Micro Trekker 200 and a Lowepro Stealth Reporter D650 AW . They all get used and they all deliver without fail so I can’t see another defection on the cards. I’m just wondering what they would say if I phoned them up with some dimensions for a matching tripod bag… perhaps that would be the real test!
10/10 Build quality
10/10 Does what it says on the can
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