The search for the perfect camera bag is one that lasts many photographers years and can cost a fair amount of money. For a long while I was pretty happy with my Lowopro Primus, which could happily fit my old Nikon D3 along with a wide angle zoom and the 80-400mm.
When I upgraded to a D800 though, I also switched to using a 70-200 f2.8 as my telephoto lens, and all of a sudden my kit wouldn't fit in my bag. It's also a pretty heavy bag so I started looking around for alternatives.
There were quite a few frustrating "this would be perfect if only..." and "this is great, but why didn't they..." moments, but over the last couple of years I've found the Lowepro Photosport 200, which that pretty much ticks all the boxes, and after using the bag extensively on trips I thinks it's time I got around to reviewing them. I've also now switched to the considerably smaller Fuji X system so I'll try and write these reviews from the perceptive of a full frame dSLR system and also a smaller mirrorless system.
First of all, the things I need in a camera bag are:
- A camera section with enough room for a body and attached wide angle lens, along with space for a telephoto zoom. These are usually the only two lenses I carry and I don't need loads of specialized camera equipment space. Ideally the bag would also allow me to fit in the body with the telephoto attached as it's annoying to have to take the lens off every time I put it back in the bag.
- Plenty of space for other stuff like a fleece or outer shell, as well as things like GoPro mounts and filters. Also, if I do take along extra lenses it's almost certainly a small prime like a 50mm, so I normally drop this in the top section inside a small padded lens case. Ideally I'd like this to be a 50/50 split with the camera equipment part.
- An external attachment for a tripod.
- It needs to be small and light. Certainly small enough to be carry on luggage for both international and domestic flights, around the size of a daypack and with good straps and support on the shoulders and hip straps for when it's carried fully laden on a long hike.
I've just come back from traveling around Indonesia with the Photosport 200 as my camera bag and feel like I've got to know it pretty well. It served as my carry on luggage and then when we were there and as my daypack for when I went out for a hike or sunset/sunrise shoot. I didn't use it for walking around town because backpacks are not so great for this kind of thing as access is always a little limited. For this I use the Lowepro Passport Sling II, which is great for quickly pulling out a camera and folds flat, taking up almost no space in my luggage.
What first drew me to the Photosport 200 and what I like about it the most is the design and style. It's built for trail running or cycling from really lightweight materials. Most camera backpacks seem to be made out of really thick inflexible material, but this is made from the kind of light, soft and flexible material that tents or hiking backpacks are made out of. It is however very durable and waterproof and also has a rain cover included. Throughout the trip the pack was subject to a wide range of conditions from dirt and volcanic dust in Mount Bromo, to spray and mud in waterfalls in Bali. It kept everything inside clean and dry, and after a quick wipe down looked as good as new. The stitching and all the zips seem pretty tough, and loops on the zips make it easy to unzip when wearing gloves.
The design of the bag is nice, it's quite tall but slim and not too deep which makes it fit comfortably along the spine. The back is rigid with some kind of lightweight plate or frame, which is curved to the shape of the spine and padded with foam that lift it away from the back allowing ventilation to circulate there.
I was able to carry around 10kg (which is as much weight as I would ever need to carry in a bag like this) comfortably for hours on end. The length of the bag means that the sturdy hip straps are well located and along with the adjustable sternum straps they do a great job of taking the weight off of the shoulders.
The interior spaces of bag are just about perfect for me. The camera compartment is in a lined internal compartment accessed via the side. It's split into two sections separated by a divider which can be moved and adapted a little, but not much. F-Stop and Crumpler bags have almost infinite capacity for different configurations, but that's rarely the case with Lowepro bags. This doesn't have to be a problem of the camera sections are well designed, which they are here, but still, I'd like to have more options about how I arrange the inserts.
There's space there for a dSLR like the D800 and wide angle zoom, with space in the other section below for another lens. I doubt a longer lens like the 70-200mm f2.8 would fit but there's enough space there for the shorter 70-200mm f4. This won't fit in while attached to the camera though (sorry there are no photos of this, I sold my Nikon system before I wrote the review). However, as I've now switched to the Fuji X system the camera compartment is pretty much spot on. There's plenty of space for a Fuji X-T1 with a zoom and Really Right Stuff L-plate attached, and plenty of space for another zoom to fit easily in the section below. Equally, I could also fit the camera with one of the zooms and two prime lenses in the lower compartment.
For my trip to Indonesia Fujifilm Portugal lent me an X-T1 to take along with my X-T10 so I was carrying two bodies as well as two extra lenses, the 14mm f2.8 and 35mm f1.4, which Fuji Portugal had also lent me. I almost never carried all that equipment with me while out shooting but when we were traveling by train between different places and when we were on the plane I had both bodies and all four lenses in the bag. I found that I could fit the X-T1 with one of the zooms in one section and the X-T10 with one of the primes in the smaller section.
The other zoom and prime fitted inside padded lens cases in the top section, which I'll get to later. As I said, the camera compartment is lined and separate from the rest of the bag (although it is attached and can't be removed). There's a gap between the inside of the lining and the padded camera compartment which also offers a little storage for small flat things, I kept my Lee filters and filter holder here as I've shown in the photo below
The camera compartment can be shrunk around the equipment by pulling on a drawstring, so if you're using small kit like the Fuji system then the gap between the lining and padded compartment will be quite big. With a bigger camera and lens like the D800 or 5D then there will obviously be a lot less space here. For me though it's extremely useful.
Pulling the drawstring and closing the padded lid (which is fastened by Velcro to the back of the external opening when not I use in use) pulls the camera compartment snug around the equipment fixing it in place so it doesn't move. This is very effective for protecting the gear and stops things from moving around while the bag is being thrown into overhead lockers or bounced around on your back while hiking.
One little niggle is why Lowepro didn't put some small storage for a card wallet or cable release on the back of the lid. There doesn't seem to be any reason why (<em>edit - since I wrote this, Lowpepro have updated the bag and it now has pockets for card storage here)</em>, but overall the camera compartment is well designed, easy to access, and the perfect size for people like me who take a limited amount of kit.
The top compartment fastens with two buckles and has a drawstring to pull it tight like a regular hiking backpack. I found this effective at keeping water out and quick and easy to access. The compartment is pretty big, considerably, bigger than the camera compartment and there's plenty of room for a lot of stuff. I could easily fit in two padded lens cases (one for a small prime, the other for a telephoto zoom like the Fuji 55-200mm (which is 12cm long) along with a fleece, a GoPro and a small pouch containing two Anker battery backs when I used the bag as carry on luggage. For the various times I took the bag out hiking there was always enough to space to put whatever I needed; a spare pair of shoes, a padded outer shell and various mounts for the GoPro. It's really roomy and probably has about 14 litres of space.
The way the camera compartment is designed means that there is space down one side of it and along the top of it which can be accessed from the top compartment. This really increases the storage capacity of the bag as you can slide stuff into these spaces without taking up any of the space in the main part of the top compartment. For example the bag containing the Anker battery packs fits down the side of the camera compartment along with a head torch, and would also be possible to fit a small table top tripod down there as well. The space at the front of the bag on top of the camera compartment fits a folded pullover or thin outer shell like a wind jacket.
This means that there is enough "non camera" space for everything I need for a day hike like food and extra clothing and probably enough space to go overnight as well.
There's also a zipped pocket in the top compartment which I used to carry a card wallet, a spare battery wallet, the cable release, a multitool, and a small pouch containing AAA batteries for the torch and spare GoPro batteries.
The drawstring top and compression straps on the top compartment keep everything in place when it isn't stuffed full.
There's a small zipped pocket on the lid of the top compartment which is great for things like a phone, a wallet or passport, and I never had any problems with water getting in.
There's also another open pocket all across the front of the bag which I don't really use much but you could easily get a lightweight shell in there, or a hat and gloves.
There are other pockets and storage on the outside, all of which are useful. The back of the bag has a pocket for a hydration bladder which runs the whole length of the bag. There are also loops on the shoulder strap to keep a drinking tube in place. When it doesn't have a hydration bladder in it this pocket is big enough for storing an iPad.
Both hip straps have pockets which are great for things like headphones, cleaning cloths or small bits and pieces.
The bag has no dedicated system for carrying a tripod but there are a couple of ways a tripod can be successfully attached to the bag. The most effective for me was to use the elasticated pocket for a water bottle that's located on the opposite side of the bag from the entrance to the camera compartment. It's easy to fit two legs of a tripod I here, and the top part of the tripod can be secured using one of the compression straps. Below left is with a Gitzo 1 Series Traveller tripod
I also use this with a this a Gitzo Mountaineer Series 2 (above right), which is a pretty light tripod. The Series 1 Traveller fits better but it's still perfectly manageable with the Series 2. I'm not sure how well it would cope with a heavier or bigger tripod though.
The other option for a tripod is to use the straps and loops that are located along the bottom of the bag which would also be great for a lightweight tent or sleeping bag. While these straps would hold a heavier tripod with no problem it would stick out quite a long way on either side of you.
This is fine perhaps if you're just out in the wilderness but if you're anywhere near civilization it'll more than likely mean you crash into things or have to go through doors sideways!. It also limits access to the rain cover. Speaking of the rain cover, it's great and does what it says on the tin, and it's also really useful to cover the whole bag making it impossible for pickpockets to access any of the bags openings if you're in a crowded place.
The final exterior feature of the bags and one I don't use are the two fastenings at the top of the bag which combine with the loops on the bottom to carry trekking poles or an ice axe (which funnily enough I didn't take with me to Indonesia). I wondered if these could be used to support a tripod but they're not strong enough.
Overall, this is the best camera backpack I've used and is currently my go-to bag for anything that isn't street or wedding shooting. After spending a lot of time carrying it on my back packed full of gear and traveling with it on planes, trains, ferries and minibuses, after shooting from it on long hikes, working with it up mountains, next to waterfalls and the ocean, I've been impressed by how comfortable and practical it is. If you need to carry a lot of stuff or if you have a pro-sized dSLR/large dSLR with battery grip then you'll probably find the amount of space for camera stuff a little lacking. However, for my typical needs of a mirrorless body and two or three lenses the storage is absolutely spot on and there's plenty of space for the times when I need to carry more. It doesn't have a dedicated tripod attachment but the system I used was perfectly workable and didn't affect the functioning of the bag in any way.
It's lightweight, waterproof and pretty much my ideal backpack at the moment.