Review: Lowepro Photo Sport Pro 30L AW Backpack

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Lowepro is a name that has been synonymous with outdoor and adventure photography for decades. While they may have changed many times over the years, they still produce an extensive line of bags that are meant to survive the elements. The Photo Sport AW series has been quite popular with hikers and outdoors-lovers as they are minimalist & lightweight packs which carry a modest amount of camera gear along with the essentials for hiking. I had the chance to spend some time with the new Photo Sport Pro 30L and my full review is past the break.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Lightweight materials make for an airy and comfortable pack
  • Side access for your camera is incredibly convenient
  • Can carry plenty of extras beyond just camera gear; making it very versatile

Cons

  • For how large the pack is, it doesn’t hold that much camera gear
  • While the material is durable against tears, it seems to stain easily
  • Straps seem to be pretty thin for a bag that can quickly get very heavy when fully loaded

 Tech Specs

Copied from Adorama’a Product Page

Material 210D triple-ripstop nylon with PU coating
Weatherproofing All Weather AW Cover
Type of Closure Zipper
Carrying/Transport Options Shoulder straps
Waist Belt Yes
Dimensions Exterior: 12.99×9.45×19.29″ (33x24x49cm)
Interior: 12.20×8.27×11.02″ (31x21x28cm)
Camera Compartment: 11.42×6.10×6.69″ (29×15.5x17cm)
Weight 3.74 lbs (1.7 kg)

Gear Used

For my time evaluating this backpack, I loaded it up with various sets of equipment, the main set was my Canon 5D Mark II with a wide lens (like my 20mm f2.8) and a Sigma 85mm f1.4 and 35mm f1.4 undeneath.

Build Quality

The Photo Sport series from Lowepro is designed around a minimalist light-weight technical pack principle. The materials and fabrics used indeed do come together to create a bag that is hardly noticeable on your back when empty but tough enough to withstand the elements. I’ve been on several day treks with this bag through various conditions ranging from the mountains to the ocean to the desert and so far, nothing has been able to snag, tear, rip or blemish this bag with the exception of one thing. Despite the durability of the fabrics, they do seem to stain when certain types of dirt or other material gets onto it. I realize this is not a huge fault, and I was able to clean the stains off, but I just found it odd to have that happen, when I’ve never experienced this with other bags.

Ergonomics

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The back of the Photo Sport Pro 30L has numerous attachment loops for trekking poles or ice axes (if you’re awesome!) as well as attachment buckles to carry a tripod on the opposite side of the camera compartment.

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The straps which will shoulder the weight of the bag are pretty thin if I do say so, but I will also say they seem to distribute the weight pretty evenly and even when fully loaded don’t dig into your shoulders.

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The back of the bag also features a “trampoline mesh” panel which will be what actually makes contact with your back; this panel allows a lot of air to pass through which will help keep you cool. I was using this bag out in the desert in 105+ degree heat and while I was an incredibly sweaty mess, the bag itself was completely dry.

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Inside the top flap is actually a handy pocket which you can carry smaller items like: memory cards, batteries, cable releases, tools or even small critters you pick up along your hike.

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Underneath the top flap (and after releasing the drawstring) is the main compartment for carrying all your “other stuff”. I found that it was great for throwing in a light jacket, a couple waterbottles and some snacks like fruit or a package of beef jerky. Additionally this is also where you can store a hydration pouch (like a camelbak) and route the hose through that grey panel seen at the bottom of the frame.

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Onto the side of the bag is where you’re going to store your gear. I liked how quick it was to access your camera, because that was always my biggest gripe about camera backpacks was always having to take them off to access your equipment, now you can just swing it off one shoulder and unload / load your camera into the side. Simple!

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You can see how snug things are inside, this is because I have the compartment cinched up very tight so nothing shifts around while walking. Underneath one layer of velcro dividers I was able to put another lens on its side, and on the right side (underneath the other divider) is another lens, giving me a comfortable solution for my usual trio of prime lenses (20/35/85).

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If you untuck the pull straps on either side and pull up you can also remove the whole compartment and use it as additional storage, turning it into a regular day-pack.

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Lastly, Lowepro also saw it fit to include a rain-fly with this backpack, and it is attached to the bottom of the bag. To pull it out all you have to do is simply undo the velcro enclosure and pull it right out of the bottom, very easy.

In Use

When the bag first arrived I thought it looked pretty impressive. I tried it on empty and found it to be easily adjustable to my frame and very comfortable, but then I looked at the camera compartment and scratched my head for a minute.

I thought to myself “this is an awfully large bag to carry so little equipment” (as a note, prior to adjusting the compartment, I was only able to fit my camera and two smaller lenses inside). So I proceeded to tinker with the (rather conveniently) removable insert to see if I couldn’t make it carry more equipment. Happily, this was a far easier task than I thought it would be, and my first impression was blissfully whisked away once I was able to adjust the compartment. It’s actually pretty clever because it uses a corded cinch-system to keep your equipment snug inside and prevent it from bouncing around while it’s on your back. Lowepro also demonstrates that this bag can carry a pro-sized (D)SLR with a 70-200mm zoom lens attached. (See the video below for a demonstration)

Lowepro Photo Sport Pro 30L AW Product Video from Lowepro on Vimeo.

However, I suspect that if you do this, you will not have room in the compartment for any other gear. I wanted to be able to carry my camera with at least three lenses total and I was able to accomplish this by adjusting the positions of the included velcro dividers. I was able to fit my 5D Mark II body with a wide lens like my 20mm attached (but also the noticeably larger Rokinon 24mm f3.5 Tilt-Shift I’m currently reviewing) as well as my two usual primes being underneath, specifically the Sigma 35mm and 85mm f1.4 lenses. Even for the sake of experimentation, I was able to easily fit my Hasselblad film kit into this bag and go out on a hike with it. Once I had it configured this way I was far happier with the bag overall. I really appreciated how much space was in the upper compartment because I could easily fit a light jacket, and snacks / water inside without making the bag bulky or misshapen. I then understood its purpose: it’s not a bag for hauling every stitch of gear you have up a mountain (there are other bags better suited for that purpose). It is a bag for hauling a smaller amount of larger gear on a hike, leaving plenty of room for other things you will actually need whilst on said hike.

Conclusions

Despite my inital sour-grapes first impression, I actually have come to really like this backpack for two specific reasons: it is quite comfortable on the back when fully loaded (even for a 6’3″ fellow such as myself) and it forces me to carry less equipment and gives me room for the things I need that I always regret leaving at home, like water. I think that Lowepro actually has a smartly designed bag for outdoors photographers. Yes, there are bags that carry more, but I don’t think that’s the point of this bag. If you are smart about what you take out with you on a hike, this is the perfect backpack for travelling light with larger gear. It’s available for $200 from retailers like Adorama and Amazon.


 

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