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Field Test: M Classics Compact Bag

by Chris Gampat on 09/30/2010

M Classics Compact

If you want an elegant, durable and discrete camera bag then you may want to check out the M Classics Compact. As a bag meant to hold smaller DSLR cameras, expect something similar to the BJX bag reviewed and not the Domke F2. This bag was given to me as a gift from the creator, Seth Levine.

About the Bag (From M Classics)

Fabric: Cabriolet cloth, same as spec’d by Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and BMW in their convertible topped cars. It’s a colorfast acrylic weave backed by embossed cotton/poly cloth. In between is a layer of butyl rubber for waterproofing. It has all the durability, clean-ability, waterproofing, and function that one would expect from their car top.

Leather: Hand selected, vegetable tanned, saddle and bridle leather.

Hardware: Solid brass

Design: The design philosophy is focused on speedy access to the gear, discrete looks, and all-day comfort.

- Straps attach at the rear of the bag for a comfortable hang-angle to access gear….easier and faster than reaching around a side mounted strap.

- The shoulder strap has a sliding pad as well as adjustment slides on both ends. This allows for a very high carry that is favored by many photojournalists. The high, under arm carry makes for stability while running.

- There is a suspended “speed pocket” inside. When the camera is placed on its left side in this pocket, the right side of the camera is well positioned under your hand as you reach in the bag for a fast shot. That pocket is reinforced with leather so that “re-holstering” the camera is fast and easy as well. This fast in and out makes for very discrete shooting on the street.

- Two front pockets provide space for miscellany like films, meter, batteries, even another camera body.

- Two additional accessory pockets are inside for cell phone, media/memory cards etc.

- There’s a map/document pocket inside as well.

- The Velcro on the underside of the flap spans its length so that the flap will sufficiently grab some portion of the Velcro on the front pockets, even when simply dropping the flap. No need to carefully reposition the flap when trying to grab a fast shot.

- We provide two small leather backed Velcro patches so that you can selectively disable as much of the Velcro closure as needed for your shooting scenario. At weddings or when shooting other quiet events, even a small noise from Velcro can be a problem. This system gives the photographer control.

Construction: Our bags are all bench-made, by hand in our small New England shop.

In Use

At any one time I was able to fit in:

- Leica M7with 50mm Summilux and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 12.1MP Micro Four-Thirds Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera with LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 Aspherical Lens(all attached)

- Canon EOS 5D Mark II 21.1MP Full Frame CMOS Digital SLR Camera with EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lensnot attached. At other times, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8was in there with the Canon Speedlite 430EX II flash

- Arctic butterly

- A bottle of Vitamin Water along with keys, lens cleaners, a bottle of Purel, a spare shirt, etc.

My only problem is that a Apple MacBook 13.3-Inch Laptopcannot fit into the bag. Perhaps an Apple iPador netbook would be able to fit into the back pocket. A camera like a Sony a55 would have no trouble at all fitting into the bag with a lens or two. The larger pocket of the main part of the body could perhaps hold two or three primes, actually. The pads that go over the velcro straps could also double as very small dividers.

There are even smaller pockets inside to hold business cards and money. This could hold filters with little ease.

Unfortunately as well, a large zoom lens like my 80-200mm F2.8 L won’t fit in there. That means that if you’re a prime lens shooter, you’ll probably die for this bag.

While using this bag, this is the first time that I never had what I call, “strap stains” that came from the strap of a camera bag pressing against your flesh and absorbing the sweat through the shirt. The reason for this lies partially in the design. First off, it forces the user to pack light. Second, it seems to just hang by your side instead of try to bring your torso down.

Photographers that don’t always need a laptop with them and that will perhaps carry a camera and one or two lenses may want to consider the M Classics Compact to help ease potential back problems.

The bag was also able to stand up to a full week of pouring rain in NYC as well as keep everything inside safe. I only wished that the bag fully closed. There are sides where someone may stick their hands on, which is great for quick access but bad for security in the NYC Subway. Thankfully, the subways are safe.

According to Seth, “If the bag is really packed up to the brim, the flap would perhaps distort somewhat and then wind up being a bit more vulnerable. It could also have been that it wasn’t a driving rain storm with forceful walls of rain coming down. I imagine that that could change things as well.”

Amazingly, overtime the bag didn’t seem to distort all. It has been my everyday bag while heading out to work where my 7D and a lens or two would be stick in there. In actuality, a 7D with a lens attached can fit into the larger pocket just fine with little to no trouble.

The fact that the bag doesn’t close fully isn’t totally a bad thing, there is the fact the gear inside can be accessed quickly. In addition to that, it actually is hard to open and will throw anyone off that first tries it unless they are familiar with the bag. The front latch needs to be pulled in order to open up the top flap.

I believe that many photographers that don’t need to take loads of gear with them will appreciate the Compact bag. Of all the bags I’ve used, it is the most comfortable. What’s even better is the shoulder pad: which is made out of leather instead of a soft cushion. Believe it or not, I found this to feel much better than something like the BJX. The BJX bag functions as more of a one strap backpack though—able to hold two-three lenses and a body. Of course, none of these can hold as much as the Domke F2.

Image taken with the Canon SD4500 complete with the new Hybrid Image Stabilization feature (on a moving train)

At the moment, it is my go-to bag because of the simple comfort it gives me. My 7Dwith Sun Sniper One-Padded Sniper Camera Strapand Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USMcurrent live in there.

Head over the M Classic’s website and shoot Seth, the creator, an email if you’d like more info about it. It isn’t displayed on the website, so you’ll have to specifically ask about it.

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