I’m a big advocate of using backpacks to carry my photo gear, mostly because they’re much better for my back. This was already discussed somewhat in Dealing with Camera Wrist/Shoulder/Back Pains. It’s also a lot harder to rip a backpack off me in a crowd than it would be a shoulder bag. On a big shoot I’ll use my Pelican 1510, but for smaller shoots or walkabouts that’s overkill – in those cases I prefer for my gear to be evenly distributed across my back. Here I’m going to test the new Lowepro CompuDay 250 backpack.
Innovative Camera access
The first thing I noticed is almost definitely its greatest strength. The worst part about using a backpack to carry camera gear is that in order to shoot you have to take it off, put it down and take your camera out. You’re likely to miss shots or just not bother taking it out at all. As I don’t do a lot of street photography this isn’t as much of a problem for me as it is for some, but there have definitely been times that I walked around with my camera all day and never took it out.
The CompuDay solves this by storing the camera in a side accessible pocket. Slide the right strap off your back, open the zipper and grab your camera. This is a genius design – or it will be if it works. We’ll see in the field.
Plenty of other pockets
Aside from that pocket there is a padded pocket for your laptop and a tall open area in the main section as well as a front pocket with all different size pockets for small things like your cell phone, iPod and other accessories. There’s even a removable pouch for cables and other small items.
Aside from the way the CompuDay stores the camera there are two other great additions I’ve rarely (if ever) seen on a camera backpack. One is that it includes a trolley sleeve on the back to slide it over the handle of your rolling luggage. The other is an external pouch for a water bottle. Finally someone realized that I don’t want to put my bottle of water in the bag with my gear!
Durability and Size
This is the most compact backpack that I’ve worked with that can carry both a 15″ laptop and a DSLR. It’s sturdy, well-made and attractive. The drawbacks I notice right off are that it is designed for a compact DSLR which means I have to remove my vertical grip, and there are no subdivisions in the main compartment to protect gear from each other, for example you don’t want a grip or flash bumping up against a spare lens.
The actual weight of a camera bag depends on what you put in it, but that’s not really what I’m concerned with. Perceived weight is how heavy it feels while wearing it and walking around for a full day and is dependent not only on the actual weight but also on how well the bag is designed. With that in mind I’m going to pack up my bag with all the gear necessary for a day of shooting including my laptop and head out around town for a while. While out I will also test how easy it is to get the camera out for a shot.
Packing the bag
Into my bag went my Nikon D300 with the Tamron 28-75mm on it, the MB-D10 grip, my Speedlight, card reader and laptop charger. I also threw in a few other odds and ends for weight yet everything is neat and easy to find and there was still room left for more. I didn’t bring an extra lens because of the padding issue. If I knew I didn’t need my grip or flash I could bring the lens instead, or if I had a lens bag I could use that. Honestly though, I wish they put at least one separator in the main compartment or included a padded lens bag, even if it meant dropping the less useful cable bag. I forgot to bring a bottle of water – that’s a habit I would have to break into. I would estimate the actual weight of the packed bag to be around 20 pounds, a good amount to be putting on my back.
I walked a couple miles around town, stopping to take photos as I saw them. Taking the camera out to get the shot was a simple matter of dropping the right shoulder strap, unzipping and grabbing the camera, already in my right hand in the proper position. I got the shot and put the camera away in seconds. More importantly the bag feels compact and lightweight on my back and I have absolutely no back pain or discomfort from it. I’m confident that I could walk all day barely noticing that I had all that weight on my back. Moreover, it’s so small no one would suspect that I have thousands of dollars in gear on me. I always appreciate discretion at such times.
A few drawbacks
The criticisms I found during the walk are minor but important to note. By the end of the walk my back was pretty warm. I don’t sweat much but if you do this might be an issue for you. A ventilation strip up the center like the The Crumpler Customary Barge has would probably solve this. Secondly the bag does not sit flat. It didn’t fall over but you’ll want to watch out for that. Look at this photo of it on the edge of a ledge. Would you feel comfortable with your laptop and camera leaning over an edge like that? It also makes it a bit harder to get in and out of quickly as you have to pull it upright first. That and the already noted issue of internal dividers.
Into the cafe
I figured since this was part of the workflow Lowepro had in mind when they designed this bag I should finish my walk in a cafe so I’m sitting here finishing this article. I downloaded the images from the walk into Lightroom while sitting here and the first thing I noticed was that I didn’t have to remove the camera to access my CF card. The less gear I have to pull out in a crowded cafe the better so this was an unexpected bonus. The small size of the bag made it easy to find a place to tuck it away while I work.
When I walked into The Cheeky Monkey I ran into two friends, one of them a photographer. They got really excited about the bag even before I showed them the seller. I slipped the strap off and pulled my camera out in seconds. The photographer said “Oh my God, you’re like Billy the Kid!” and decided to buy the bag right away.
This is flat out the best camera backpack I’ve ever tried. Naturally there are a few improvements I would ask for but overall this is great. For years The Crumpler Customary Barge has been my favorite daypack but this one trumps it easily. Between the fact that I can get the camera out without taking the backpack off and the fact that it’s smaller, lighter feeling and more comfortable I love this. Will I buy it? Quite likely.
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