Photography & Video Shoulder Bags, Sling Packs, Backpacks, Waist Belt Systems and Rolling Bags - 2009 Product Roundup Review - Part 1
by: Howard Carson, December 2008-January 2009
Requires: Camera gear
It's time for our third annual round up of shoulder bags, sling packs backpacks, belt systems and you-name-it from all the brand name camera bag manufacturers.
All the big guys (Lowepro, Tamrac, Tenba, Kata, Crumpler and so on) have revised, updated and expanded their product lines. The medium size makers (including Delsey, Domke, Hakuba, Kiesel, M-Rock, Petrol and Think Tank) have also made lots of updates, introduced new materials and new, functional designs). Several of the low-end makers (including Case Logic) have made some quality and design improvements introduced in new models that are really quite good.
This year we reviewed 29 different bag makers — two fewer than last year. We added Gura Gear, but we dumped Hama from the listing (because the company has reduced its models lines and just hasn't crept outside of Germany), Roots (because the company is ignoring quality and photography to focus on variety and style), Targus (because the company is not well focused on camera bags), and World Richman (because the company is really an OEM maker, and besides that, hasn't improved or significantly revised its lines in years).
Digital photography continues to expand beyond all reasonable expectations. Everybody, it seems, has one or two digital cameras of some sort. Whether it's a camera phone, point & shoot, prosumer, entry level digital SLR, pro SLR or film camera, if you're going to carry it around, you need something reliable, secure, weatherproof and easy to access in which to store your gear. If you're traveling by air, you also need a bag which holds a lot, meets international air travel carry-on bag size restrictions, and which also works well and comfortably when you're wandering around at your destination.
We used seven criteria to judge bags:
- Construction - stitching, binding zippers, types of clasps and closures, application of velcro or generic hook & loop materials, strap padding, stress points.
- Suitablility - do the bags hold sufficient gear for their various sizes, hold and provide easy access to all the gear the manufacturer claims, and work well in the environments and situations for which they're designed.
- Weatherproofing - protection from rain, snow and dust mainly, protection from ground moisture, and how well gear is protected going in and out of the bag.
- Versatility - internal pockets and storage compartments, adjustability of internal dividers, internal customization, adjustability of the carry system.
- Padding - does it protect gear from external impacts, does it separate and protect gear against damage from other items in the bag.
- Price - value compared to items of similar style and quality from competing manufacturers.
- Usability - what is it like to use a number of different bags from each maker. We begged, borrowed and bought dozens of bags.
Although our results necessarily provide an averaged conclusion taking into account models from all the styles offerd by each maker, the verdicts provide a starting point for your shopping and will help you eliminate makers which either just don't measure up or which, more simply, don't have anything that meets your usage needs or interests. Herewith, we present our comprehensive 2009 annual list and general review of all the camera pouch, waist system, shoulder bag, gadget bag, sling pack, backpack, case and rolling bag makers anyone could possibly care about.
Billingham - Description: Moderate range of high quality, very expensive, distinctive camera bags & photography vests which are versatile, moderately weatherproof, moderately padded offering average to very good protection against impacts and good to very good weather protection. Care and attention to stitching, construction and use of the right materials for various applications is excellent. Verdict: These are great looking bags in classic shoulder and backpack styles. Some people refer to Billingham as the luxury quality bag maker, but that doesn't really do justice to how well the products work. Interior protection is extremely well designed and the bags are as good as Kata and Lowepro at keeping out moisture when left on the ground. The bag dual metal buckle and brass stud/stitched leather lock flap closure system is generally somewhat awkward until regular use breaks in everything. Generally very quiet bags which function well in most shooting environments. Any of these bags will last for decades of regular use. We like them a lot, despite their high prices. We like the Hadley and Hadley Pro messenger-ish designs, which for many photographers may be the perfect travel and walkabout bags. The messenger-style designs certainly work better for digital SLRs with attached zoom lenses than the decidedly film SLR-oriented interior configurations and form factors of the more traditional Billingham designs. If you don't really have the money, stay away from these ones. All of the small & medium shoulder bags and the Hadley models meet international air travel carry-on bag size restrictions. Quality and the distinctive Billingham look command attention, so if you've got a few hundred dollars, pounds or euros lying around, what the heck. The pricing is a killer, and for that reason the bags are only 'just' recommended — just.
Boda Bag - Description: Based in Seattle, Washington, Boda Bag produces an expanding line of lens carry systems complete with waist belt, shoulder strap and size choices which are purpose-built, weatherproof, moderately padded, offering good to excellent protection depending on your application. Construction quality is very good. Verdict: Another domestic U.S. maker that emphasizes quality and usability over all other concerns. We've actually used a Boda Dry as a top-loading carry for a D700 w/70-200mm f/2.8 attached (it worked perfectly), but the bags work best for carrying 1, 2 or 3 long lenses and associated accessories. Built-in memory card storage. A couple of Boda Dry Jr. samples we looked at had top flaps with zippers sewn a bit too close to the seam which make running the zipper around the corner a bit tight. Polycarbonate shoulder strap attachments on our Boda Dry have held up perfectly over the past year. The rubberized, padded bottoms offer lots of protection from ground impacts and soakings. It's all serious looking stuff that is highly regarded by pro photographers. Both bag models meet international air travel carry-on bag size restrictions. The bags are expensive and designed to be used all day, every day. Recommended.
Camera Care Systems (CCS) - Description: Semi-pro, enthusiast and consumer camera bags and packs in modern and classic styles, average weatherproofing, and moderate padding and protection, reasonably well-known in the UK but rarely seen in North America. The Billingham-ish design of the Heritage series is quite nice, but several steps down in quality (though still good) and even more steps down in price compared to Billingham. Verdict: No significant updates to the distinctly film camera oriented designs. Construction hasn't changed over the past couple of years and we still feel that the acetal/plastic buckles seem a bit too thin to withstand the rigors of daily use and we've come across two different broken ladder lock buckles on Gladstone models. There's real brass and leather trim in the Heritage line if you care about that sort of thing. The main usability issue is that accessing gear and moving gear in and out of these bags during inclement weather seems to overexpose things. Slightly noisy in some environments. The newer Freestyle Freeman Holdall is a cut above the rest, offering an improved form factor for full size digital SLRs with attached zoom lenses. Weather protection in the Freestyle line seems excellent and the line offers an accessory pouch system loops for additional storage in a variety of sizes. Several shoulder bag and backpack models meet international air travel carry-on bag size restrictions. Good value and good quality at moderate prices for budget conscious photographers.
Case Logic - Description: A large range of smaller bags and cases for compact and prosumer cameras, and an expanding line of medium size backpacks and shoulder bags for full size digital SLR systems. Average quality and inexpensive, moderately usable, with average weatherproofing and light padding. Verdict: We don't consider this maker to be a serious contender for anything except casual use — with a couple of exceptions (see below). Interior seams in smaller bags and cases often have edges that can abrade vulnerable device surfaces. Large bag, pack and case construction seems to have improved with the addition of serged or bound edges on exposed seams along with the addition of much better lining material. If you don't have anything else, these bags are certainly better than nothing. Use them long enough and you'll begin to understand why people get so attached to dedicated camera bag designs from other, more focused manufacturers. Case Logic seems to also do rebranding work for other companies and it appears as though its SLR Camera Backpack was re-badged for Nikon in 2007 & 2008. We weren't impressed by that backpack and felt, the first time we saw and examined one, that a high profile camera and optics company like Nikon should have made a better choice. The Large SLR Camera Case certainly looks impressive and technical (similar to the RoadWired POD cases actually), but the top flap is long and awkward in use, the interior body/lens suspension system is dysfunctional and the wedge-shaped side pockets can't properly hold a wide range of non-wedge-shaped lenses, flashguns, and so on. Ignore our "better than nothing" comment above if you're considering the new XN-SLR line (backpack, messenger bag and sling bag) because the new models are a breath of fresh air. The messenger and sling models in particular are well-designed, very functional, offer very good weather protection, incorporate Case Logic's new molded/padded-EVA SLR cradle system along with lots of secondary storage. We're not crazy about the majority of Case Logic products, but the XN-SLR models are recommended and meet international carry-on luggage restrictions. The sling bag is similar to the Kata T series, but significantly better because of easier access, user-friendly secondary storage and more versatile main compartment access.
Crumpler - Description: Well made, interesting looking, versatile camera backpacks, shoulder bags, belt pouches and rolling packs with moderate to good weatherproofing, light to medium padding and protection in most carry models, excellent padding and protection in the new rolling cases, and some generally thoughtful designs. Verdict: The large top/front flaps on the shoulder models have to be clipped shut in order to safely use the top carry handle. We've dumped our old 7 Million Dollar Home model more than once because of that design issue. Crumpler has listened and responded to complaints about its noisy, over-large velcro flap closures on most shoulder bag models by reducing the amount and configuration of velcro while still maintaining reliable closures. The lineup is changing somewhat for Spring/Summer 2009 with the introduction of double clips to secure the front flap on all the Million Dollar Home bags as well as custom sized velcro keepers to silence the bags so you can just use the polycarbonate clips. The excellent quality belt pouches are still noisy and still suffer from awkward flap design. Although Crumpler has gained rapidly in popularity on the street, most people who notice your Crumpler bag still won't realize you're carrying camera gear. Crumpler shoulder straps and sliding pads are well designed, and we wish more bag makers would copy the sliding pad idea. The new Bucket (SoupanSalad) bag is too deep and often feels unbalanced even when only moderately loaded. The 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and Brazilian Dollar Home models which seem to be very popular, are a semi-messenger style shoulder bags. Well made and offering good weather protection, they also feature a huge front flap which sometimes gets in the way when you're trying to get your camera into or out of the bag quickly. So we'd like to see some improvements to top loading access such as a zippered quick access slot in the top of the bag/flap. The new Cork & Fork Trolley Case (rolling case) is a combination rollerboard with a removeable backpack/insert. The Cork & Fork is similar in concept to and a bit larger than the Think Tank Airport series (smaller than the TT Airport International, larger than the TT AirStream), with the added usefulness of the well configured and balanced, hideaway backpack (which the AirStream does not have). The Crumpler designs and colors remain interesting, engaging and mostly good looking. Cork & Fork, Million Dollar Home (except for the Brazillion), Bucket and the Keystone (backpack) models meet international air travel carry-on bag size restrictions. (Ed. Note: Updated February 2009)
Delsey - Description: Consumer, enthusiast and semi-professional lines of pouches, gadget bags, shoulder bags and backpacks, good functionality, average to good quality, moderate weatherproofing, moderate padding and protection, and regular year-over-year improvements in quality and design. Verdict: Well hasn't Delsey just changed ever so much for the better over the past two years. Delsey continues to gradually improve and expand their offerings, and has taken a much more direct step toward bag designs which are much more versatile for consumers looking for an all around bag (have a look at the PRO Photo Notebook Briefcase or the Cortex series), enthusiasts (Trolley & PRO Trolley, Xeo) and pro/semi-pro use (PRO Trolley, PRO Bag series). Relatively quiet construction. The styling won't knock you over, but functionality and purpose-built features including thoughtfully designed secondary storage may make you a believer. Delsey is not well-known in the greater photography community, but with designs like the ones which dominate the current product lines, it should be. Delsey seems to have kept its prices very competitive. Most PRO, PRO Trolley and Xeo models fit within international carry-on luggage restrictions. Delsey also offers its Corium shoulder bag models, which we've used and really like for their slim profiles and good capacity, made of pebbled leather exterior and cloth lining - one of only two bag makers (the other one is jill*E) offering good quality and usable leather camera bags . Weatherproofing is generally good throughout the line, but outer protection in the PRO and Cortex models is very good. Check the sizes yourself, but quite a few of the better lines meet international air travel carry-on bag size restrictions. Overall, good value for the money. PRO and Cortex lines are recommended.
Domke - Description: Enthusiast, pro and photojournalist quality shoulder bags & photographers vests, moderately weatherproof, light to moderate padding, but versatile, well made and popular, with some models more expensive than competing bags from Lowepro, Tamrac, Kata and Tenba. Verdict: Photographers who love and use Domke bags really, really like them. A lot. We've got a couple in our own collection and they're genuine classics which remain functional and reliable go-to bags. A thin, integrated cellular foam perimeter/outer wall pad would help the classic F-series a lot without adding noticeable weight and would also help to prevent these bags from deforming too much when fully loaded. The rule is, never overload a Domke shoulder bag. Do so and you'll quickly become really unhappy with the bag. We rate the F3 Super Compact as one of our top four all-day walkabout bags (along with the Billingham Hadley, Lowepro Classified 160 AW and the Tamrac Messenger 4 model 5534) for carrying a full size DLSR, 2 lenses, accessories, phone, MP3 player and CF cards with a bit of room to spare. Many Domke bags provide a classic photojournalist look that's hard to resist. Most models are very quiet. Lots of classic treated canvas Domke models are now also being offered in weatherproof Cordura with perimeter padding and better shape retention. New-ish bag accessory items such as the Dri-Safe pouches (for ensuring that bodies, lenses or flashguns are fully weather protected inside your bag) are excellent additions to the line. The F-803 Satchel line is really a very moderately sized, modified messenger bag style that is really well done, very well made and extremely functional. Photojournalists take note or anyone else who needs to carry a moderate amount of gear unobtrusively. The J-1 and J-3 series remain very film camera-oriented which means that the removeable padded inserts work best when storing your camera without a lens attached. The problem of sensor dust never existed back in the day, so we think that digital SLR users are much better off stowing cameras with lenses attached rather than risking the occurence of sensor dust because they have to remove a lens and cap the camera body in order to stow the camera. J-1 and J-3 series bags can be configured to stow a camera or cameras with lenses attached, but you won't be making the most efficient use of the space. We've never been crazy about the dual, metal, top flap clips on the F-1, F-2 and F7 bags. Hate those clips . They keep pinching and if your bag is loaded up you'll need two hands to unclip. Check the size of your bag to be sure, but most Domke models meet international air travel carry-on bag size restrictions. Highly recommended.
Gura Gear - Description: This is a new company which started up in 2008. Gura makes a professional, lightweight backpack with a design approach similar in concept to the Moose Peterson pack. The Gura Kiboko backpack uses high strength competition sailcloth and thin, high density padding to build an exceedingly tough, airline compliant pack with hideaway straps, and both shoulder & top handle carry straps plus decent secondary storage. Verdict: It's better padded than the Moose Peterson design and therefore does a much better job of protecting gear from damage due to bumps & bangs while slinging, hiking or stowing. A serious, dedicated photography backpack for wilderness trekking. Quiet design, excellent construction, great zippers & pulls, excellent integrated waist/hip belt, excellent moisture repellency and weatherproofing, and a fully adjustable interior. A great choice for wilderness walkabouts, trekking in any weather, or just hauling a surprisingly large amount of gear from point A to point B. Pricey but very, very good. The Kiboko just fits within international carry-on luggage restrictions. Highly recommended.
Hakuba/Velbon - Description: Semi-pro and consumer range pouches, shoulder bags and backpack systems offering average to good quality construction, good versatility and plenty of features. The bags are made with moderate weatherproofing and moderate padding all at average prices, making them an acceptable alternative to low and mid-price models from Lowepro and Tamrac. Verdict: Nothing special. Not bad, not great, and about equal to Camera Care and Case Logic products. Design and styling are uninspiring but prices are quite low, which makes this maker a moderately good value for budget conscious shoppers. There are trade-offs for low pricing though. For example, the shoulder straps on the Blackrock bags are sewn onto the polycarbonate attachments. We've certainly seen other bags with sewn-on shoulder straps, two of the best examples being the Tamrac Messenger 4 and Domke F series. But the Tamrac and Domke straps wrap right around the entire bottom and both sides of the bags and integrate attachment loops and other secondary storage. Not so with the Hakuba model. At these prices, lots of design shortcuts are bound to exist. The Pro series looks a lot like some older Lowepro models (which were great in their day) but without the benefit of Lowepro's superior construction and interior designs. Still, if you're on a budget, the Hakuba Pro series shoulder bags and backpacks are better than the rest of the product line while remaining relatively inexpensive. Check actual measurements to be sure, but quite a few of these ones meet international air travel carry-on bag size restrictions.
jill*E - Description: Good quality fashion bags in shoulder, hand-carry and rolling styles, with typical fashion accessory pricing too, but maybe worthwhile because the bags are well designed with moderate weatherproofing, moderate padding and good functionality. Designed exclusively for women up to now, jill*E is releasing its Jack line of men's leather camera bags in early 2009. Verdict: My wife owns one of these shoulder bags and she reallly likes it (despite asking me to cut off the useless, purely decorative and heavy metal rings on her model). The bags are popular because they offer all the functionality of a good camera shoulder bag without looking anything like a camera bag. The company is now four years old and has established itself with good quality, relatively compact products. Quiet designs that look like typical women's shoulder bags. Durability seems to be on par with comparable size bags from the top tier makers. Construction and materials seem to be well thought out. Prices are above average for good quality shoulder bags. One of only two makers (Delsey is the other one) offering serious camera bags in leather. The Medium Leather Bag is a model of clearly conceived design with an inner form factor that works for everything from a prosumer camera up to a full size digital SLR with attached mid-size zoom. Most jill*E bags, including the Large Rolling Bag, meet international air travel carry-on bag size restrictions. Lots of color choices. A different approach that works well. Recommended.
Kata - Description: For photography and video enthusiasts, pros and heavy duty users offering excellent quality and unique designs, with reasonably good functionality, very good weatherproofing and excellent padding design. Kata's background and experience designing and manufacturing military gear lends a distinct Operator air to most of its camera bags. Verdict: We really like Kata's products. The company's Israeli military equipment design and manufacturing background shows up in all its camera bag products in the form of serious padding protection, economic use of interior space, and versatile carry systems. Pricing is surprisingly competitive. These great looking bags will last a very long time. Kata has expanded its lineup every year to compete with Lowepro, Tenba, Tamrac and Think Tank. Unfortunately, Kata added its 3IN1 series this year, a trio of packs with a versatile strap arrangement which can be worn as a sling pack (left or right), backpack or shoulder bag. Problem is, Kata has also added hard-shelled zipper wells which are difficult to use, and the zippered top flap on all three of the 3IN1 models does not open far enough to allow full interior access to the main compartment — a style-over-functionality decision not typical of Kata. The other knock against Kata is that its use of velcro closures in some models (e.g., the GDC Torso Pack T212 or T-214) makes them too noisy in some shooting environments. Down with velcro; up with zippers, clips, snaps and clasps. The new Kata messenger-style models (DB453 & DB455) apppear overly bulky, have stitched-in-place shoulder pads, and do not carry well when slung. In use the bags look huge mainly because of the massive top flap. The MC series shoulder bags offer well designed storage space which is partly restricted by a tapered, zippered top flap opening. Based strictly on our own experiences with the T, DB and MC series we doubt that Kata is spending enough quality time testing new designs in the field. With the existence of the excellent Lowepro SlingShot line and the appearance of superior sling-style bags from Case Logic, M-Rock and Tenba, Kata should seriously consider redesigning it own sling models — the T-212 and T-214 are each about an inch (2.5 cm) too small all around and lack any sort of useful secondary storage. Kata seems to be holding the line on retail pricing, so value is improving. Despite some reservations about interior access in some models, we still regularly recommend these bags for their toughness, looks, generally good functionality and excellent weathproofing. Many shoulder, backpack (R-103) and sling models (T-series, 3IN1 10 & 20) meet international air travel carry-on bag size restrictions.
Kiesel - Description: Good value for money, small but carefully designed range of backpacks, shoulder bags and pouches offering moderate weatherproofing and moderate padding. Verdict: Fair-to-good quality, decent looking bags that aren't marketed very much in North America, which is a shame because Keisel prodcuts seem to offer good value. Construction materials tend toward ballistic nylon, which is a perfectly good choice but not as abrasion resistant as Cordura. Shoulder strap mounting points on the TZ500 Pro shoulder bag prevent easy opening of the top flap. Kiesel is generally ranked at the low end of the scale, but the company does not make the same sort of junk found at the bottom of the Case Logic, Promaster and Sumdex lineups. If you're on a budget and you've got access to Kiesel bags, give them a look. The Canvas line seems to be an effort to imitate some of Domke's success and while the bags aren't bad, weatherproofing needs to be beefed up. Kiesel may have a new messenger style camera bag shortly, but the link on the Kiesel web site goes to an empty page. We used a CS310 Canvas bag and a DX320 Shoulder bag on and off for about two weeks. They're dirt cheap and surprisingly functional, but I wouldn't travel with them because the straps, clasps, clips and interiors just won't hold up over time.
Lightware - Description: Professional quality cases for camera gear. All cases provide high impact resistance, good to excellent weatherproofing, and high prices. Lightware offers a well designed range of backpacks, carry bags and rolling systems. Verdict: The touring and professional crowd who have to repeatedly move gear from location to location like several of these models. The backpack models have proven to be very good performers. Designs are not flashy, but good construction quality is evident along with good use of space. We had a chance to use a BP2214 backpack on a three day trek over a year ago and found it well designed and very well constructed. We used a MultiFormat 2012 carry-on during two brief trips to central Canada and were pleased with the utility, functionality and (surprisingly) the look of the thing. In September 2008 we used an MB1606 Digital Messenger for some urban walkabouts in Montreal and Boston and were really pleased with the functionality, light weight, strength and quality of materials. For enthusiasts, semi-pros and pros. Check sizes to find out if your choice meets international air travel carry-on bag size restrictions. Generally quiet gear. Recommended.
Lowepro - Description: Offers the most comprehensive range of belt pouches, gadget bags, professional and consumer shoulder bags, backpacks, waist belt systems, sling packs and rolling camera bags for all photographers and videographers, providing good to excellent quality, versatility, excellent weatherproofing for most models, good to excellent padding systems for most models, and competitive pricing. Verdict: We haven't actually done a model count, but it appears as though Lowepro makes almost as many models as the next two competitors combined. The Lowepro line is impressive for its size and variety, for the huge number of weatherproof models, general consistency of quality from bag to bag, and for competitive pricing. Some shoulder bag models (e.g., Magnum AW and Elite AW) have difficult top/main compartment zippers which require quite a bit of use to break in. Some of the pouch designs have awkward flaps. Most Lowepro bags last a long time—decades of regular use. Several styles and technical designs (the Rezo and Nova lines in particular) continue to evolve and improve every year but are being seriously challenged by Tenba Xpress and Tamrac Xplorer 100/200/400 models. Several models (Rezo 1xx series and the new Novas have front heavy designs (pouch in the flap as well as pouch in front of the main compartment) which are not quick to access and which unbalance the bag when both front pouches are moderately loaded. We recommend the Flipside series as a great choice for motorcycle and bike riders. The Sling Shot AW series now includes the positively enormous Sling Shot 350 AW which accommodates a 17" laptop and a huge pile of camera gear but is unfortunately (like the Tamrac Velocity 10x) way too large for a single strap, sling pack. Most active photographers and pros own at least one or two Lowepro bags. We've got a collection of Lowepro bags for travel, hiking, walkabouts and short day trips. Pro models are generally quiet bags, but the consumer and enthusiast Rezo and Nova models still use some velcro. The new Classified AW series is a near-perfect photojournalist and all-day walkabout shoulder bag line that has completely impressed us with thoughtful, versatile, easily accessible and extremely well made design. The Classified, backpack and heavy duty bags offer superior all-weather protection and built-in rain covers just to make sure. Bewildering selection. If you can't find something that suits your needs, you're likely only going to be satisfied with one of the purpose-built exotics from Gura Gear or Moose Peterson, or something different or just plain expensive from Billingham or jill*E. The heavy duty Compact AW remains one of the toughest, quietest, most versatile and weatherproof camera bags every made, used by war correspondents, photojournalists and many other serious photographers for many, many years. We've been using a Compact AW since it first came out many years ago and although it's been beaten, dunked, run over, soaked, frozen, stuffed and dropped far too many times to count, it's still going strong. For anyone carrying two pro size digital SLRs with attached lenses, the Compact AW or the Stealth Reporter D400 AW are superb choices. A large number of Lowepro shoulder bags, messengers, sling bags and backpacks meet international air travel carry-on bag size restrictions, but check sizing before you choose a particular bag. Highly recommended.
Moose Peterson - Description: This bag/pack system is a favorite of some outdoor photographers and is well made, quite versatile with good to excellent weatherproofing at medium to high prices. Verdict: Unusual but conservative design offering very little internal padding for your gear, but the backpacks work as advertised and designed. The maker is a well known photographer and his three main pack styles more or less define his personal preferences grown out of decades of photography assignments. Not for everyone, but when you need a backpack system like the MP models, it's either Moose Peterson or the new Gura Gear (see above). Very quiet bags meant for wildlife, trekking and general outdoor wildlife shooting situations. Recommended.
National Geographic - Description: A nice looking line of soft canvas outer/nylon lined shoulder bags, backpacks, waist systems and pouches with light weatherproofing, light padding, reasonable pricing, and good quality for casual use. NG has released a new line of totally synthetic, jet black, fully waterproof shoulder bags. Verdict: I own two of the shoulder bags and I like them for casual use only. The problem is that they're insufficiently padded for careless use and the bottom of the bags don't offer much protection from ground moisture. Lots of pockets and an unconventional flap and snap lock system help to create a very quiet, organic looking bag. The shoulder bags are very comfortable, but deform and sag if overloaded. The shoulder pad slips off the shoulder very easily, so the bag is easier to use and more comfortable when slung. The new, shiny black, flexible synthetic, waterproof line is austere looking, somewhat ugly, with difficult to use zip-lock closures and uncomfortable shoulder straps — all of which stands in stark contrast to NG's traditional back-to-the-earth designs and natural construction materials. So far, the only place we've seen the new line is at the huge NG store on Regent Street in London (UK). There you'll find half a dozen other camera-ish bags, some of which (the messenger styles in particular) are quite nice. As of this writing, none of the new bags have shown up on the NG web site or at photography retailers. The two shoulder bags and the backpack model are available at photo retailers everywhere. They all meet international air travel carry-on bag size restrictions. Not quite recommended because of a lack of protection and the need for a lot of waterproofing treatment before you can safely use the bags during inclement weather.