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Review: The Ona Union Street Camera Bag

by Chris Gampat on 11/09/2011

“I hate you,” that is what Lead Reviewer Mike Pouliot said to me when I told him that Ona sent me the Union Street Messenger for review. Ona camera bags have been a buzz in the photo community for a little while now. Characterized for being gorgeous, they are also quite pricy. Upon request, Ona sent me a black Union Street bag for review. Due to personal tastes, black suits me more than the tan version, though the tan version is also very nice. Since my M-Classics Compact bag recently broke, I’ve needed another novelty bag but with much more practicality to it.

So can the Ona keep up with a real-life working photographer and content developer?

UPDATE: You can get them at B&H Photo now by clicking this link.

Tech Specs

Taken from Ona’s website.

  • Handcrafted with premium Waxwear
  • Leather detail and base
  • Classic tuck-lock closure
  • Antique brass hardware
  • Removable laptop area divider
  • Room for a DSLR camera and up to 3 lenses
  • Adjustable shoulder strap
  • Dimensions: 16.5″L X 11″H X 5″D

Build

The Ona may be the pretty one amongst camera bags, but it comes loaded—with pockets! You can stuff a ton of stuff in there. The back can be divided up up to three different ways. In the photo above I have a Canon 7D with 50mm f1.4 attached, a Mamiya 7 II and film. In the back is my Macbook.

The material used to make the top flap is a bit stiff so that the bag keeps a regular shape no matter how much you cram into it.

Here’s a better look at that view. The bag has a lot of padding. Think of it as a Crumpler bag but with amazingly stunning good looks on the outside. An interesting but nice touch is the magnetic leather strap on the back pocket. This helps keep your laptop securely in place.

That’s just the main compartment though. There is also another compartment right in front of that. To be very honest, you can’t store more than very thin items here. However, there are dividers for things like business cards, money, CDs, flash drives, earbud headphones, your phone, etc.

The back of the bag also features another pocket that closes with a magnetic tab. I usually store my business cards, ID cards, and keys in here. Once again, this is an area for random little things. However, this one doesn’t have dividers.

The bag also features a suitcase handle for quicker on-the-go access when needed. Plus, there is the leather shoulder tab on the strap. There is a tiny bit of padding to it, but not that much. In the winter when I’m wearing a thick peacoat and sweater, that’s fine. However, it may be a different story when the summer comes around.

The designers also paid attention to little things as well, such as the details in the clasps that close the main part of the bag. To open the bag, you’ll need to press down on the claps and then slide them upward.

The bag is also covered in leather accents, which make it very nice.

In Use

I’ve used the Ona over a period of around three weeks where I took it back and forth to work everyday and throughout my journeys at Photo Plus and the afterparties. For those of you that attended the show, you’ll know that on the last day it snowed extremely hard in NYC.

By that time, the bag had went through very hard rains and then took lots of snow pounding it as Gevon and I walked four blocks to get to the subway from the convention center. To be honest, I thought that my gear in the bag would be soaked because of just how wet the outside feels when something like that happens.

However, through both rain and snow the Union Street kept the gear moisture free and dry. I was extremely impressed.

During the show the Ona managed to hold my:

- Canon 5D Mk II

- 35mm f1.4 L

- 580 EX II

- Phottix Odin TTL triggers

- Rode Videomic

- Light Craft Workshop Fader ND

- Cowboy Studio LCDVF

- Apple Macbook

- Lots of my own business cards

- Lots of vendor business cards

Though the Ona served me extremely well, I actually couldn’t help but yearn for my Think Tank Retrospective 30. The reason for this is because it allows me to have quicker access to my gear and I can hold a ton more gear in there. However, sometimes less is more, and it would throw off my back after long hours of walking the trade show floor. It’s actually better that I used less gear and kept the Ona on me.

The Ona is also much stealthier. Accessing your gear is very quick and silent. With the Think Tank, you’ll have to get through the velcro, which makes a very loud noise when you open the top flap up. The Think Tank is also nowhere as gorgeous, though they make very nice and very useful bags. Correction: the Think Tank has a velcro silencer. I just barely use it because the Velco provides extra security to me.

The Ona Union Street Messenger is more for the street photographer; at least it is in my opinion. I can stuff my entire Micro Four thirds camera system into this bag with all of my lenses (at least 7) and still have room for my laptop and other things. However, that statement can be shot down by the fact that the bag survived near hell and back. If I had a bag like this on my shoulder all the time though, it would get worn down. And I wouldn’t want a bag like this to be worn out. Something like this deserves care, and I actually wish that the company shipped the bag with another wax coating for me to rub on to take even better care of the bag.

Conclusion

Can I recommend the Ona? Despite the high price tag, yes. The bag has a thin profile that oozes sexiness. Additionally, it more than surprised me throughout the tons of abuse I threw at it. The bag has become a constant companion to me everyday to work and I’ve even recommended it to the buyers at B&H Photo Video (now in stock). For the first time, I have a smaller camera bag that can hold and protect my laptop, DSLR, medium format camera, film cameras or my entire Micro Four Thirds lens system and still have room for the small stuff.

And it does so while maintaining its stylish good looks. Once again though, I feel like with the abuse I throw at it and the gorillas that board the NYC subway every morning who bump into people, the bag will probably need another coat of wax to protect it after a while.

It’s the first bag that I’ve used that I like to think of as a piece of clothing. You need to maintain it, wash it, iron it, etc. This is a bag that you’ll want to take good care of despite the fact that it can take the abuse.

In the end, the Ona has won my heart and I’m glad that I get to keep it. With that said though, I still do wish that the company would somehow find a way to allow my to have even quicker access to my gear and that the bag came with a wax and cloth for me to brush on every week or so.

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