Photographers probably already know about Lowepro, who produce a large range of quality camera bags and other photographic related equipment. Well, they have now also added an optics range of bags designed for those who mostly use binoculars or spotting scopes and I recently got the chance to test their Field Station, a belt-pack designed to give you a hands-free and comfortable way to carry your binoculars and other birding gear.
Designed for bird watching...
The Lowepro Field Station is far more than just a bag that you carry your binoculars in as it also has a rather unique and ingenious shelf that slides out of the bag, on which you can have your bird book, field guide or even a tablet-style computer like an iPad attached. This shelf is not only steady enough for you to be able to make notes on, but it also means that when you spot a bird, you can look it up, leave the book open at that page and continue to observe the bird through your binoculars, going back to the book at any time for further reference or to make notes.
As well as your binoculars and field guide, the bag also has a number of pockets and compartments in which you can carry a bunch of other gear that you may have or need for a full day out in the field.
...but not only for birders
Whilst the Field Station has been aimed at birders, I feel it has the potential to be very useful in a wide variety of situations. This would include general wildlife observation and even field researchers who often use binoculars and who could use the steady platform to write down their observations and notes. Artists could also use the shelf to make quick sketches on a pad whilst out in the field.
Using the Field Station
Weighing just 1.6lbs/0.7kg, it is far lighter than my favorite camera backpack that I usually use to carry my gear. It is also far more compact making the Field Station ideal if you want to travel light with just your essential gear.
Having taken it on a number of walks, I must say that it really is comfortable even when fully loaded with my full sized 8x42 binoculars, a large bird book, a compact camera, a small bottle of water, my cell phone, my keys and a wallet.
I have found that the most comfortable way to walk with it, is to swing it around and use it more as a bum bag and then twist it back to your front when you need anything from it.
Accessing your binoculars and your reference book from the bag is fairly quick and easy, although to make it as quick as possible and to ensure that you don't scare away birds with the un-zipping sound, I tended to keep the lid closed but unzipped. This is not a problem because the binoculars fit very snugly in their pocket and as does your book in the shelf section. Things like your money and keys can be kept in a number of other pockets that have their own zip to keep them safe.
Initially I though that the shelf may be a little gimmicky, but after trying it, it is works really well and it is something that I really grew to like. In the past I would often not bother to take my bird book or other reference books with me as they would often get damaged in my back pack and were just too much of a pain to access. With the Field Station, there really is now no reason not to take one with you as both of these problems have been addressed. I also like the attention to detail with the elastic strap that you can use to keep a place in the book for even quicker access.
Size of Binoculars
I tested the Field Station with a variety of different binoculars: I had no problems fitting any compact or mid-sized (objective lens diameters of around 32mm) binoculars into the bag. Full sized roof prism binoculars with objective lens diameters of around 42mm fitted very tightly into the binocular compartment, but this “pocket” can be removed if you feel that it is too tight, or if your binoculars are a bit bigger than normal and then they will fit comfortably in the main compartment.
Unfortunately I did not have any full sized porro prism binoculars with me, these are generally less streamlined than roof prism designs. My guess would be that a 42mm porro prism binocular would fit, but you would definitely have to remove the binocular compartment.
Plenty of Storage for Personal Items
The bag’s exterior has two mesh pockets, one on either side, both of which have an elasticated top. The pocket on the right also comes with a flap that is fastened with Velcro. These make ideal places to carry things like a small water bottle, batteries, pencils or even your lens cleaning kit. Then on the front there is another pocket that can be zipped closed.
Inside the bag, there is another zipped pocket under the lid, a snap keyring holder and a small pocket that looks like it had been designed to hold a mobile phone.
A Compact Photography Bag?
One feature that I really like about this bag is it’s versatility: on my walks I always like to take some sort of camera with me and on my first few tests with the Field Station, I just took my compact camera which easily fitted next to the binoculars in the main compartment. This camera is fine for taking general scenic shots, but is just not good enough when it comes to taking quality photos of birds and other wildlife.
For this, the camera that I have been using is the Fujifilm Finepix HS20 EXR, a fairly large bridge camera that is not mush smaller than most SLR’s. To fit it into the Field Station all I did was remove the binocular compartment, which worked pretty well.
I used my favorite binocular harness, the LockDown Optics Deployment System, which meant that on my walks I now not only had my bird book, binoculars and best camera with me, but was still completely hands free. Excellent.
I thought that the Lowepro Field Station is very well made with high quality materials and it was comfortable when worn for long periods, even when full. For bird watching it is excellent, but it's versatile enough to use in a variety of different situations. The flip out shelf is a great feature that has been very well thought out.
Overall I really like this bag and would recommend it to anyone looking for a small lightweight solution to carrying your essential field equipment.
|Build Quality||9/10||Very well made and what you have come to expect from Lowepro|
|Design||9/10||Very innovative shelf and clever use of space on a small bag|
|Capacity||7/10||Won’t carry the kitchen sink, but is ideal for just the essentials|
|Style||7/10||It may not make the cover of Vogue, but still much better than carrying everything|
The rest of the range
The Field Station is part of the innovative new Optics Series range by Lowepro, specifically designed to meet the needs of wildlife watchers by providing a carrying solution for binoculars, spotting scopes and field guides or a notebook.