For the past few months, one bag has really dominated my use: the Tenba DNA 15 backpack. The Tenba DNA messenger line was designed for commuters in large cities and was billed as being stylish–though quite honestly it’s nowhere near as eye catching as their Cooper series. The Tenba DNA 15 backpack follows the same ideology but brings the idea to a backpack. They’re nice, but more so in a functional way that gives a photographer all they need while not being super ugly, breaking the bank, or making you look like you subscribe to the bro culture deeply rooted in everything Peak Design ever manufactured. Instead, the Tenba DNA backpack is a beast all in its own, incorporating a roll-top style design, pockets on the side, pockets within pockets, and a really nice way to access your gear.
Best of all: it works really, really well when you’re traveling on airplanes.
Pros and Cons
- Solid build quality
- Weather sealing
- Roll top design lets you accommodate a lot of clothing, gear, etc.
- Can become very compact
- Straps that go around your chest and waist
- Survives the snow
- Stores away well in an airplane’s travel compartments overhead
- Sometimes the zippers can be finicky
We tested the Tenba DNA 15 Backpack with the Fujifilm GFX 50S medium format system, Adorama Orlit flashes, Sony cameras, lenses, various film cameras, etc. Man, what didn’t I put in this bag? It even held clothing, shoes, laptops, headphones, eye drops, tripods, etc.
Specs taken from the Tenba website listing
3.7 lbs(1.7 kg)
11W X 18H X 8.5D in. (28 X 46 X 22 cm)
10W X 8.5H X 4.5D in. (25 X 22 X 11 cm)
10W X 15H X 0.75D in. (25W X 38H X 2D cm)
Fits a laptop up to 15 inches
When you look at the Tenba DNA 15 Backpack, you’ll see something that looks like many other backpacks out there. It’s got the same style as pretty much every single roll top you see around the city. But there isn’t any sort of big logo on there and so folks may think that you’ve got just a backpack. Of course, if you stuff a tripod in there that’s a different story.
Speaking of a tripod, the Tenba DNA 15 Backpack has two pockets–one on other side. One is expandable mesh, the other is a bit more fixed with a little bit of expandability.
Both pockets are solid and well built. Either side also has a strap of some sort up top in order for the bag to hold things tightly in place.
The front pocket is one that’s quite different from most camera bags. On the Tenba DNA 15 Backpack you’ll find this pocket that you can stuff small things into. I usually put eye drops, keys, microfiber cloths, batteries and SD cards in here.
Behind this pocket is a whole other sectional pocket. This comes out with a bit of force–as it should to keep your gear properly secured. Inside this area is the divider system. Like all things Tenba, the dividers aren’t that big: they’re just right. They can accommodate a whole lot of kit too. Here I’ve got a Leica M4P, a Hexar AF, a Lomography Lomo’Instant Square, and film packed away. But I’ve also put a GFX 50S without a lens into one of these slots with ease.
Coming back to the outside, we’ve got this special lock. It’s part magnet, part slide. It keeps the top section secured.
Unroll the top section all the way and you’ll see that the bag can expand a whole lot. You can stuff days worth of clothing up top and have your gear down in the bottom.
Inside of this top section, you can see a laptop storage sleeve in the back. But otherwise, it’s deep and flexible. I’ve put full monolight systems and a camera into here with no issues or worries about anything. I’ve also had drones in here.
Perhaps some of the best things about the Tenba DNA 15 Backpack is the strap system. These straps are comfortable, but not as nice as the old Vinta options. However, they’re designed to give you even more comfort overall. There is a strap system that closes the backpack straps over your chest for extra security when you’re hiking, travelling, etc. It feels so much more snug when it’s right against your body.
Speaking of which, there’s also a massive lumbar support section that when you get perfectly right against your lower back, feels absolutely perfect.
The Tenba DNA 15 Backpack also has a waist harness system. Combine this with the lumbar support and the straps that hug your chest and you’ve got one heck of a very comfortable camera bag.
The Tenba DNA 15 Backpack has been with me through heavy snows in Canada, heavy snows in NYC, rain in NYC, airports, airplanes, subways, and on hikes. I’m amazed at how durable it is. The material on the outside isn’t the sexiest, but it’s functional and doesn’t get dirty very easily unless someone has done something like put chalk on a picnic table. Considering the privileged folks who inhabit the Williamsburg waterfront, that’s bound to happen if you’re in the neighborhood! But luckily, it all wipes off easily.
The bag is more or less a jack of all trades when it comes to build quality. Have I seen tougher? Yes, the Shimoda line is beastly; but that’s designed and priced accordingly for the Chris Burkard type of photographer. Have I see sexier? Oliday currently has my heart; waxed canvas will always win me over partially because a sexier bag is nice when I go to meetings as it suits my classy-30-something, young male, business owner attire. Are there bags that can carry more gear? WANDRD PRVKE Pack arguably can; but it’s much more tailored for travel than it is for everyday use as a professional photographer. But as it is, the Tenba DNA 15 Backpack sits strictly right in between all of them.
Ease of Use
During my testing periods, I wondered about certain things like quick access. You can sort of do it if you keep the bag around your waist via the belt system and swivel it around carefully. Then you can access the main lower pocket. You could also go into the roll top instead. But for me and backpacks, I’ve always found that no matter what, it’s generally better to take the thing off and go about accessing my gear that way. I’ll give credit to Peak Design with their side entry access, but I’m a portrait shooter, street photographer and urban geometry shooter. How often do I really, genuinely need quick access? I’m usually prepared beforehand, and if I honestly need access that quick, the moment I want to photograph will be gone.
An issue that I have is the placement of the laptop sleeve–deep inside the top section of the bag. When you’re going through TSA lines, it means you need to open up the top, open up the other latch and then go about doing your thing with the baskets and all to get through airport security. I’d much rather have been able to have a zippered pocket that is heavily lined and padded along the back of the Tenba DNA 15 Backpack which allows access to it quickly.
In addition to that, at one point the zipper for the lower main pocket can get stuck because of how sharp the turns are around the section. So in real life, that can mean that you need to really slow down. Luckily, there are two zippers, so you can set it up to open and close one way or another. In real life, you’ll figure out a way to make it work for you.
The Tenba DNA 15 Backpack is very much a bag that you would bring with you when you’re going to be working as a photographer. It accommodates to the city lifestyle very well and can even lend itself to the weekend warrior who is taking the time to go on a trip or something. I recommend it for any working professional photographer and any hobbyist who doesn’t put a major emphasis on looks. However, I’d be dishonest in not saying that Tenba could benefit from a canvas and leather option–which I’d gladly buy. Tenba provided this bag to me free of charge though and I will surely continue to use it. It’s one of the best bags that I’ve tested due to its versatility. Is it a master of all things? No. But it performs more than well enough in a variety of situations.
The Tenba DNA 15 Backpack receives our Editor’s Choice award for best backpack for working photographer in a city. It gets five out of five stars. Want one? Check out Amazon, as they’re $199.00 there.