Over the last seven years or so, I’ve bought quite a lot of camera bags. I used to think it was just me that kept trying to find the right bag, but apparently this is a common problem for photographers. There was that big Crumpler bag, for instance. While it was a Good Thing for carrying lots of stuff around, it’s just that bit too big and awkward, and I stopped using it quite some time ago. I’ve used a Lowepro backpack, which again was good for carrying lots of stuff, but suffers from the fundamental problems of all backpacks: it sticks out behind you much further than you think it does, making it both awkward and anti-social to use in public, and getting into it to remove kit, or change lenses involves slinging it around, balancing it with one hand, opening it with another and holding your camera with another, which is a bit tricky. So, fundamentally, what I need is a shoulder bag. They’re much easier to manoeuvre around people, easier to get into, and generally less annoying.
The UNDFIND bag I got last year comes close, and indeed, if I’m going out with a camera and don’t need to take much else, it’s a good choice – doesn’t get in the way, nicely padded, and easy to get into.
But what if I want to carry more stuff? Like a charger, laptop, card reader, cables, Kindle, and so on? Well, I’d need something bigger, and this is where my latest bag comes in. I’ve shied away from Billingham bags in the past because they seemed to be quite expensive, and at the time, I wasn’t all that keen on the apparently complicated buckles and things. But I happened to see one in Jessops and picked it up, and handled it, and began to wonder.
Much reading, research and dithering later, I used part of the credit those nice WEX Photographic people gave me for the Canon 5D Mark III to get the moderately large Billingham 335. Much of the dithering was comparing the various models on offer, and I eventually settled on the 335 because it has a handy carry handle as well as a shoulder strap, and its padded interior can be reconfigured by adding different (optional extras, of course) dividers. It’s got a separate front section that will comfortably hold my 11″ MacBook Air, and should handle a 13″ laptop just as easily. There are two front pockets that can be used for all manner of other bits and pieces – for instance, my Kindle Paperwhite will fit neatly into one of them, with room to spare.
On recent days out, I’ve been able to take the Fujifilm X-E1 and all the lenses I currently have for it, a pouch containing spare batteries and memory cards, reading material, and I’ve even been able to stuff a light jacket on top.
For my trip to Wales, I added two of the optional Delta pockets. These use leather straps to wrap around the base of the shoulder strap which are secured with strong snap fasteners. Their well-padded interiors have drawstring closures, and the top flap is kept closed by two more of those heavy-duty snap fasteners. I used one for chargers and cables, and another kept my Kindle in a convenient place, so I didn’t need to open the main bag.
When it comes to travelling, the key question about any bag is this: will it fit on the ludicrously shallow overhead racks on the cramped Cross Country Voyager trains? Even with the extra pockets, getting the Billingham on the rack wasn’t a problem. It was also easy to get on to the quite small rack on the Arriva train that took me from Cheltenham to Pencoed.
Thanks to the wider shoulder pad I bought with the bag (yay! another optional extra!), carrying the bag around all day during the Llangollen-based holiday was perfectly comfortable, and it’s been a good platform for swapping lenses quickly and easily.
The canvas material is waterproof, there are brass feet to protect the bag when it’s on the floor, and the whole thing looks and feels remarkably well-made.
So far, I like it. Is it the perfect bag? Will it keep me happy? Who knows…