Anatomy of a Camera Bag
We continue our series of mildly interesting articles on matters of utmost import:
The Camera Bag…
For some photographers, the camera bag is a vital piece of equipment. Not only is it a space for protecting valuable gear from the elements, but it’s a space of concealment for other bits and pieces too. For others, camera bags are unnecessary barriers preventing the photographer from having the camera ready to capture the decisive moment. I fall into the first camp, with my bag not only a space for camera equipment, but for notebooks, novels and empty packs of cigarettes to trick bystanders into thinking I smoke. While some bags do undoubtedly impede shooting, with the camera under dozens of pockets behind zippers under patented military grade water-resistant GORE-TEX® unreachable on your back, there is still something to be said for a high quality, no-frills bag. I have found such a bag and am going to show it to you (the internet sometimes calls it a “review”). Sans unboxing video, as this is a bag and did not come in a box.
Billingham have been making camera bags in England possibly since the time of the Romans*. It may or may not be that long, regardless the products they produce reflect a fine attention to detail that has been all but lost in the mass consumer market. The Billingham Hadley Pro (RRP AUD$375) is a mid-sized bag capable of carrying multiple 35mm bodies, lenses and film. This style of bag, synonymous with Leica-inspired street photography, need not be limited to Cartier-Bresson wannabes.
*check before publishing
It is very much a traditional-style bag, made from canvas with a leather trim. It is available in black (an eminently sensible choice) or tan (for those who love safaris and wish Zimbabwe was still called Rhodesia). The canvas gives the bag a natural water resistance, without delving into the world of synthetic waterproof fabrics which can often look cheap and nasty. The main flap covers the top of the body and fastens to nickel quick-release toggles.
These straps are adjustable depending on how full your bag is. This design does away with the loud zips and click-fastener systems seen on other popular camera bags, resulting in faster and quieter access to the camera/novel/notebook/cigarettes/One Direction Annual you may be keeping inside the bag. The rear of the bag features a waterproof zippered flat pocket, perfect for keeping documents or a slim flask of liquor in.
As nice as the outside of the Hadley Pro is, inside the canvas flap the bag really shines. For such a comparatively small bag it is endlessly versatile. The main compartment sits in the canvas bag and is partitioned by velcro dividers. Depending on your desired equipment setup, the bag could store one 35mm body with a couple of small lenses and film, or two rangefinder-style bodies, lenses and film. For the record, I’ve had it as full as one Leica body with two lenses, Nikon dSLR with superzoom, Nikon remote release cable, passport, hard drive backup device, missus’s compact camera, headphones and yesterday’s copy of the International Herald Tribune (it’s still a better read than today’s Herald Sun).
The entire main compartment is in fact removable, meaning larger items can be stored if necessary. This makes the inside of the main bag another useful space for storing documents and keeping them flat. In my case, it’s usually a book of a Beat poet whose work I’ve never actually read, but looks enticing to attractive young undergraduates studying literature and/or philosophy whom I sit opposite on the train. I would not recommend this compartment for storage of larger hardcover fiction titles, such as those by word assemblers Dan Brown or Robert Ludlum (or any of his ghost writers). Aside from the fact that they won’t fit, you are doing yourself a disservice and look entirely ridiculous reading it in public. Buy a Kindle or something. At least you can read your trash in hidden shame behind the shiny veneer of anonymous plastic.
But I can hear you all crowing, “$375 is far too much for a camera bag when I can’t put canned ham on the table to feed the children of us, the humble working families struggling what has the government ever done for us”, and I would be inclined to agree had I not experienced
the aqueduct this bag. With your common or garden variety camera bag often running above $100, this bag is really not that much more, considering what you get for your money. Billingham offer a five year warranty with their products and they are incredibly well wearing. Having owned the Hadley Pro for over three years and travelling tens of thousands of miles throughout my time with it, the price has been well worth it and should some calamity ever befall my bag, or a strap break or wear out, Billingham actually offer a repair service with replacement components. Other bags I have used over a lesser period of time have since been retired with extreme prejudice. The most wear my Billingham can claim is a cigarette burn which, like a scar on a person, makes it look far more hardcore and well travelled.
Camera bags aren’t for every photographer and Billingham’s range will not be suitable for all bag-using photographers. But if you are in need of a well-made, highly protective camera bag, a Billingham may be your answer. And it earns instant street-cred in fancy European camera stores. Just sayin.