Saturday, October 8, 2016

Gear Review: Brevite Camera Backpack

As I mentioned in my previous post, while the Crumpler bag is great for travel, it's not so great for day-to-day use, and in particular isn't great on a hike.  But then, neither are most hiking back-packs, being designed to be out of the way when you're hiking.

So when I saw the the Brevite kickstarter, I decided to take a chance and back it, and see if it would work out better for me.

Unfortunately, it's not well suited to me and my cameras.  But I think it would be fine for many other people.  An important clue in all of this was in the kickstarter campaign, and had I been paying closer attention, would have realized the issue I ran into in advance.

But first let's talk about the bag, and what it does well.

Styling-wise, it's clearly pulling from the JanSport classic student backpack, albeit a bit nicer looking with the leather accents.  Honestly, it's a bit too nice for hiking, it's the wrong sort of style.

Size-wise, it's very close to the Crumpler, which as I said in the last post, is pretty close to the typical student backpack size.

I'd not actually set them side-by-side before I took this pic, and was surprised at how close they are in external dimensions.  Because the Crumpler feels like larger bag, with all the space it has.  And the Brevite feels like a little bag, due to how little it has.  But it also feels "short" while wearing it.

Comparing published dimensions, it's 2" shallower than a JanSport, so maybe that's part of the issue.

Starting at the back, and going forward, there's the laptop and document pocket.

The two-layer pocket and smooth fabric works well for laptops and documents.  The next zipper is for the main, upper, pocket.

It's unfortunately too small for my needs.  It can fit a single rolled up sweater or fleece, a bottle of water, or other similarly items.  At least, that's all when the padded camera insert is inside it (which is visible at the bottom of the main pocket.

The front of the bag has two pockets.  The front-most is small and simple.  The second has a bunch of small loops that work for holding pens, smaller-diameter filters, memory cards, and the like.

Behind the front pockets is the removable, padded, camera insert.  It holds a body and multiple lenses with ease.

And it has a second way in (in the photo below).  This was the main selling feature of the bag.  A quick access into the camera pocket.  Two zippers (one on the bag, one on the camera insert), and it's open.

And it's too small for an FX-sized body, even one as small as a D600.  My old D50 just barely fits, with the viewfinder catching on the opening.

And this is what I missed in the campaign video.  They only show it being used with smaller form-factor cameras, like classic film bodies.  The campaign photographs show it with a larger DSLR and a big 70-200/2.8.  But it doesn't show how hard it is to get such large pieces in/out of the backpack.

That is where it just doesn't work for me, unfortunately.  It fails at being able to work with my standard kit, a D600 with either a prime or a versatile zoom like the 24-120/4.

Gear Review: Crumpler Proper Roady Photo Full Backpack

3 years ago, when living in Paris, I needed something for carrying camera gear on planes that was better than my 10yo daypack.

So I ordered this, having seen the Amazon Basics knock-off version of it:

Proper Roady Photo Full Backpack, by Crumpler

It's been utterly fantastic for carting camera gear and a latop on planes (or any other time I need to travel with the "full kit".  It holds a ton of camera gear and a 15" laptop, fits under-seat if it needs to, and is fairly comfortable once all the straps are adjusted right.

Here it is:

Size-wise, I consider it a medium-sized back-pack.  It's only a few cm wider and deeper than a standard student pack like the ubiquitous JanSport.

The grey and orange color was on clearance, now it seems to only come in black.  The outside has held up well, after many flights and photowalk trips.  The grey, with it's light texture seems to hide any dirt that it's picked up quite well.

Inside, the main compartment is covered with a separate mesh cover, so as you open up the bag to get at the inner flap, you don't need to worry about lenses coming out.

Another handy feature of the mesh panel and it's second pair of zippers is that you can only open it up in space to reach in for filters, batteries, etc.  But I've found that I tend to put almost everything in this main area, especially for a big trip where I'm carrying chargers, filters, multiple lenses, my laptop power adapter, the speedlight, etc.

Here it's carrying:

  • FX-sized body + 24-120 f/4 (well, except that I'm shooting with that one)
  • DX-sized body
  • 100mm f/2.8 prime
  • 18-200 DX zoom
  • 50mm f/1.8 prime
  • spare hoods
  • filters
  • charger
  • cleaning cloths
I no longer travel with the DX body, but in it's place I can put a speedlight (in its case), spare batteries, an external battery, cable, and charger for the phone, and portable external hard drive (photo backups).  It's amazing how much fits into it.

One of the dividers, I've never really figured out the right way to use, however, so I keep it curled up, and the space on the other side of where my FX body goes is filled by the camera strap.

The main pouch's inner flap also has a mesh cover with a zipper, giving access to an area that's good for small flat things.

This has little pouches for stuff like SD cards and the Nikon IR remote.

On the outside, there are compression straps that can be used for big bulky things like tripods.  I've never really used them except as extra closure insurance while traveling (as it makes it much harder to open the bag.

Hidden on the outside of the main flap is another pocket.  This is good for 1-2 books (3 if they're thin paperbacks).  But it works well enough for reading material when flying.  If you've switched to a kindle, it's probably perfect, but it's a bit small for larger format books or thick books.

At the back, there's a very soft, well-padded pocket that readily fits a 15" MacBook Pro.  I'm not sure if it would deal as well with a chunkier laptop like a ThinkPad.

Construction-wise, I've been worried about the stress on that zipper, since the straps anchor right at that zipper.  But it's never given any signs of being stressed, even when the bag has 20lbs of stuff in it.

Strap-wise, it has good shoulder straps, with a chest strap, and a hip belt.  It also has a mesh-covered padded back, to help with ventilation.

Unfortunately, the straps don't stow, so it can be sort of like an octopus when you get it out of the overhead bins on an airplane.  The curved straps and the chest strap together make it pretty comfortable, and I only bother with the hip belt when I'm going to be standing with it for a very long time.  It's not a great hip belt, but it works well enough to get some weight off your shoulders.

Overall, it's a solid bag.  But it has a few limitations.

It really can't do anything other than carry camera gear.  No side pockets, no document pockets, etc.  It's always taking the camera (and laptop), but leaves you needing another bag for anything else (books, clothes, knitting, etc).

What especially frustrating is that it doesn't deal well with paper.  Paper either goes in the main compartment, between the layers of mesh (where it's mashed out of shape by the stuff in the bag), or in with the laptop.  But the laptop sleeve is so plush that paper really don't want to go into there, unless it's in a folder.

Getting stuff out can be slow.

One of the reasons I put the camera with lens at the top of the bag is so that I can get a camera out by just opening the inner and outer zippers a bit, and reaching into the upright bag.  Perfect for stowing in the rear-driver-side footwell, and having ready access to the camera.

But if you need anything else, it has to be laid down flat, and the two sets of zippers opened.  Then everything is right there, but it's on a table or on the ground, and then back on your back...  It makes for slow cumbersome lens changes, and really limits where you want to open it up if the ground is at all dirty or muddy.

And so it's not at all a good bag for hiking.  It's actually pretty abysmal at that.  And it's not that great for photowalks, either.  But it is great for traveling by plane, train, or automobile when you need to carry a bunch of stuff.

So if that's what you're looking for, it's fantastic, and highly recommended.  But if you needs include other sorts of travel, with quick access to the camera (or other stuff), it's not the best.