13 December 2009

Lowepro Toploader Pro AW series bag review

The new Toploader Pro AW series bags come in 3 sizes, the 65AW, 70AW and 75AW. I have all three bags, and this review will cover them all.

Although I have both a Shoulder bag (Lowepro Commercial AW) and a backpack (Lowepro Pro Trekker 600AW), there are times when you don't need or want to carry around a big bag. This is when the Toploader Pro AW series bags come into their own. If I am shooting in a crowded area, I will often just use one camera and lens and keep it in a Toploader Pro AW. If I need a second camera and lens, I can always use two of these and put them on a waist belt, or at times, I will have one and my assistant will have another one and I can switch as needed. I also use the Toploader bags if I am doing a short hike to a location and I know I will only need the one camera. It can also fit on the waist belt of my Pro Trekker 600AW, which is quite handy when I am hiking a long distance to a location, but also want to have easy access to a camera.

Overall, I have been quite impressed with both the build quality and design of the new Toploader Pro AW series bags from Lowepro. The top pocket will easily fit my phone and wallet and also has two dedicated sleeves for memory cards as well. The front pocket will hold my remote controls and a lens cloth and both the 70AW and the 75AW will fit my Nikon SB-600 speedlight in the front pocket. There is also an outside pocket that holds my car keys. Of course being a Lowepro bag, you can attach an additional lens case, or other accessory using the Sliplock system. All three bags also come with the all weather cover to keep it dry in the event of wet weather or more often in my case, keep the bag dust free when out in dusty field conditions.

The biggest issue for me is ensuring that any camera bag I buy can actually fit the gear I need to put in it. The Toploader Pro 65AW will fit my Nikon D700, with grip and my Nikon 105mm Macro lens. This bag will not fit with any of my other lenses as they are too long to fit in this bag. The Toploader Pro 70AW will fit my Nikon D700, with grip and any of the following lenses that I own: Nikon 105mm Macro, Nikon 14-24mm 2.8 lens, or my Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 lens. The Toploader Pro 75AW will fit any of the above plus it is just large enough to fit my Nikon D700 and my 70-200mm 2.8 lens. I say just large enough because it is quite a tight fit with this combination, but it does fit. My only concern is that if Nikon decides to make the upgrade for the D700 a bit fatter from front to back, then I won't be able to fit the 70-200mm 2.8 lens in the 75AW, as there is NO room for any more length, it really does JUST fit in. I have found that Lowepro often makes there bag dimensions tight, which is good for keeping your gear secure but at the same time, leaves you with no room for new camera bodies that may have bigger dimensions. New pro camera bodies are coming out about every 12-18 months, but Lowepro normally updates their bags in a particular series only every 4-6 years. I think they need to leave a little bit more room in their dimensions in the bags to compensate for this.

I am a bit of a bag hog, so I bought all three, but if you were on a budget, I would go with the 75AW as it will fit any lens up to the 70-200mm 2.8 and it comes with a divider. Having the divider in there means that you can adjust the height so that if you were using a smaller length lens it would still fit securely and not hang loose in the bag. You could even fit another smaller lens underneath the divider and carry 2 lenses with you if you wanted to.

19 November 2009

Lowepro Pro Trekker 600 AW review

Ok, so after months and months of waiting (maybe it has been weeks and weeks, but it seems like months and months), my Lowepro Pro Trekker 600AW finally arrived this morning. Given that they just arrived in Australia on Monday and I had mine on order since before they even announced the release of the bag, I like to think that I am one of the first photographers in Australia to get one. First impression as the delivery guy was bringing the box in to my gallery was that this was going to be a BIG bag, and it is.

Starting from the top of the bag, there is a protective cover that also doubles as a waist pack. The laptop padded case that comes with the bag only holds a 15.4” laptop, but the compartment itself will hold up to a 17” laptop (which is what I have). It just means it won’t be in a padded case, as the outer lining of the backpack is not padded. There is room to fit up to 3 tripods (not that I ever carry more than one). There is a holder on the front, one on the right side, and one underneath the bag. The new design for holding the tripods looks good, although I will have to wait until I get the bag in the field to see if it holds the tripods correctly. The right side of the bag also has a storage area that includes a couple of deep pockets and a couple of memory card holders. The left side of the bag holds a hydration pack or can double as more storage.

The main compartment is deep enough to hold a Nikon D700 with grip attached, without the top of the camera sticking out over the top of the bag. The main compartment looks the same as the previous Trekker series bags, but with more room in them. The inside lid also has loads of pockets, all with protective covers so that you don’t scratch your gear with the zippers. There is also another 4 memory card holders. All of the memory card holders come with a really cool feature that lets you change the tab to show whether you are storing a blank or full memory card in it. Overall, my first impressions are that this bag is the best thing that Lowepro has ever made, well worth the wait. The only thing left to do is to configure the bag to fit all of my gear, although I am not expecting any problems, with ample room in the bag for everything. Once I configure the bag, I will post a video showing the bag with all my gear in it on my YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/KENGOLDSTEINPHOTO).

I had been using a Photo Trekker AWII for about 5 or 6 years and found it to be very handy when hiking long distances into the bush for photo shoots. I managed to always fit two bodies with lenses attached plus a few extra lenses, remote cords, film, memory cards, etc in no problems. Then, a few months ago, I upgraded my bodies from Nikon D300’s to Nikon D700’s. This is where I came into trouble with the Photo Trekker AWII, as the D700 body with a grip attached was too tall to fit in the bag. I then thought to myself, ‘what am I going to do now?’ I knew that I could buy a Pro Trekker AWII, but since I knew that the Trekker AWII models had been out since about 2003 or so, I didn’t want to invest in a $500+ bag that would be superseded by a new model in the coming months. I phoned around and spoke to a few people at Lowepro, who indicated that a replacement bag would be coming out in the next few months. And so the waiting game began. In the mean time, I would have to settle with lugging my gear around in a couple of my Toploader Pro AW bags. I have all three of those (the 65AW, the 70AW and the 75AW, great bags but that’s for another review). I also have a Commercial AW bag, but that is not suitable for hiking. Now as good as the Toploader Pro bags are, lugging two of them over your shoulder on a 16km hike through dense rainforest is not exactly good on your neck, plus it also meant I had to also carry an additional backpack for my water as well as carry my tripod in my hands (rather than attached to a bag, like on the Photo Trekker).

Ken Rockwell has said that “Pro” photographers don’t use camera backpacks and to just carry in what you need in a smaller bag. In fact, on his website (http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/bags.htm), Ken says, “Never use a backpack; you can't shoot out of them and they carry too much. Backpacks are popular with newcomers and make a lot of money for bag makers, but experienced shooters don't use backpacks.

Photographers don't use backpacks because you can't get your gear out of them as you're shooting, and photographers don't carry that much gear at any one time. Photographers need to get to their stuff as they shoot, which means either stuffing lenses in pockets, a waist bag or a shoulder bag; never a backpack."

Well Ken, in fact I am a professional photographer, and yes I DO use a camera backpack on a regular basis. It is quite obvious that Ken does not do a lot of hiking with his camera gear. As I stated above, even just having one camera and one lens in a small shoulder bag is not too comfortable on a long hike to a photo location. If I am going to photograph a waterfall that is say an 8km hike away, I will want at least two camera bodies with me as well as two different lenses. Why? Well, let’s say that my main objective is to photograph the waterfalls, so I want a wide angle lens for that. I will also need to bring a telephoto lens as well so that if I come across any wildlife that I want to photograph, I don’t need to worry about getting to close and scaring them off (which is what would happen if all I had with me was a wide angle lens). Now, I could listen to Ken and just throw my 70-200 2.8 lens into my normal backpack with my bottles of water, etc. But I also like to carry a second body just in case I drop or damage a body. I also prefer not to change lenses in the field where possible, as it just increases the risk of dust, dirt or moisture getting into the camera. I will concede that Ken is right in saying that it is not easy to quickly grab a camera out of a backpack as you need to take the backpack off and then get a camera out, but what you can do is strap a Toploader pro onto the waist belt of the backpack and keep one camera in there, or just keep a camera out and in your hands. After all, with a camera backpack, your hands are free from carrying anything else.