Review: Vanguard Alta Fly 49T Roller Bag

All images and words by Feroz Khan. Used with permission.

If there’s one thing photographers are obsessed with, as much as with bodies and lenses, it’s camera bags. In the nine years or so that I’ve been shooting professionally, I’ve owned no less than 10 different backpacks or roller bags. Most of them have been phased out as my gear list got bigger or as my personal requirements for a camera bag changed. Despite looking them up before, I’ve never owned a Vanguard one so far. I took the Alta 49T for a few spins around Dubai, to see if it matched up to my current bags of choice.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Two wheeled, with front feet to enable the case to stand unaided
  • Quick snap buckles inside the bag
  • Sturdy single-rod trolley handle
  • Tripod holder
  • Padded laptop sleeve inside
  • Zipped side pockets with soft cases for cable and document storage
  • Removable dividers and interior compartment as a whole
  • Meets most airline carry-on size regulations

Cons

  • No backpack option (invaluable sometimes during travel)
  • Wheels are hard and noisy on pavements
  • Gear at the base of the bag gets squashed
  • No inbuilt cable lock system

 

Gear Used

  • Nikon D810 (gripped) with a Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 II attached
  • Nikon D4
  • Nikkor 24-70 f2.8
  • Nikkor 17-35 f2.8
  • Nikon SB-910 speedlight
  • Macbook Pro 15″
  • 3 x Pocketwizard triggers
  • Cables and card readers
  • 3-Legged Thing Punk tripod

Build Quality

This is a heavy duty bag but is surprisingly light for its size. I took it to two rooftops in the hazy Dubai summer, as well as the desert on a foggy day, and it performed quite well against the humidity and dust. No sand seeped in despite the winds outdoors and all it needed was a quick few puffs from a blower to get the dust cleaned off the surface. The top handle is padded with a breathable mesh while the trolley handle has a ribbed handle and is comfortable to grip. It also comes with a full sized rain cover, which I really doubt I’m ever going to use in this city.

Whatever material they’ve used to make the exterior is of extremely durable quality and looks and feels extremely weather proof already.

Ergonomics

At first glance this looks like most other rolling cases on the market, but a fair bit of thought seems to have gone into the design to be able to house such a large amount of gear in a relatively less-than-average sized bag.

The rear of the bag houses nothing more than a slot for your ID or business card. The left and right sides have bonus pouch slots that can be safely stored and zipped up inside, but only the left side has a carry handle which could come in handy, especially when placing or removing this bag from an overhead compartment. An elastic compartment which can easily hold a bottle or a tripod / monopod (aided by the support straps) sits on the right.

The front of the bag has two main sections – the smaller two-zipped compartment above which comes with the smartly tucked away rain cover. This allows for a multitude of filters, card, spare batteries and other accessories to be easily stored, with a handy slot for an iPad mini or similar sized tablet. In addition to this, this section also has two straps as well as a neatly hidden base pouch for your tripod. While this isn’t my preferred location for a carry on tripod (I always prefer the sides), Vanguard has built this section especially for use with their Alta Pro tripod series that can be stored in their Alta Action Tripod bags. Two snap buckles on either side provide added reassurance when opening your bag.

Alternating between using the telescopic trolley handle and the one attached to the bag is something I found cumbersome, simply because the single bar trolley handle needs to be tucked back in first. On my other case which utilizes a two bar handle system, I would simply grab the handle on the bag by putting my arm between the two bars. Not a deal breaker for most, but this is something I do a lot, especially when I travel, and having to fold down the trolley handle is time consuming when on the go.

Ease of Use

One of the really useful features is the ability to open the bag without having to lay it flat, owing to the pair of snap buckles inside the main compartment. I don’t have to worry too much about gear falling out each time I open it up (I’m paranoid about this). The interior is a contrasting bright yellow and is completely removable as a whole (attached by Velcro to the top of the bag).

My bag was fully loaded, but the Macbook Pro 15″ sat snugly inside the laptop slot with ample room to spare.

After using the bag for a handful of weeks, another problem I noticed is the inner dividers aren’t firm enough. As a result, any gear that’s at the bottom of the bag is tightly squashed from the weight of the cameras and accessories stored above it. I don’t usually keep anything more than filters or radio remotes at the bottom of my bags but when I do need to use these, I have to lay the bag flat on the ground, and completely unzip the front. Also, I’m now reluctant to place delicate items like filters right at the bottom. I suppose this section in the Alta49T will remain reserved for cables and the like going forward.

I also wish this bag had a backpack option. Not being the largest model in this series, I would have expected it to have shoulder straps tucked in neatly which could be drawn out when required.

Conclusion

I especially like how the bag never toppled over backward during my field tests and it would appear that a lot of thought has been put into the weight distribution of this case. I always had the bag completely full wherever I went and it never really gave me any trouble on level ground or otherwise.

Can the Alta 49T replace my current rolling bag? – No, simply because it cannot house my 200-400 f4 lens which I carry with me to all my sporting events. However, for almost every other kind of shoot this is a very useful bag, capable of storing a lot of pro sized gear (two DSLRs and three lenses at least).

Built for the photographer on the go, Vanguard gets this one right on most counts.