Camera Bag Review: Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack

The Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack is fantastic, but I wish they developed a version for the working travel photographer.

Perhaps products that I spend the most time on for reviews here at the Phoblographer could be camera bags. In fact, I spent two months reviewing the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack before I decided to sit at my desk and pen this review. The Tenba Cooper Slim messenger bag was well loved by us, but what they were severely lacking was a backpack style of camera bag. Having admittedly seen the prototype of this a few years ago under non-disclosure, I was quite surprised with how the final version of the Tenba Cooper Backpack DSLR edition turned out. The final bag is one designed for city photographers who have a bit more time to churn out their images. It won’t accommodate a 13 or 15 inch laptop. Instead, it barely fits an iPad Air 2. Instead, it’s more specifically designed to hold your gear and any other necessities that you need while out and about.

So if you’re the type of photographer who goes out to shoot, then comes back to your office or home to sit down and edit your images, then the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack is a camera bag you’re going to want to give a serious look at. But if you’re a photographer who needs to travel and your Lightroom or Capture One catalogs live on your hard drive, plus your laptop is your main workhorse editing machine, then you’re going to need to look elsewhere.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Solidly built
  • Very comfortable
  • I adore the exterior material.
  • Keeps your gear well separated
  • Feels great on your back
  • Despite the lack of pockets, you can still keep things pretty well organized.

Cons

  • The thick material is bound to make your back sweat when you go on a hike or through the subways.
  • The divider system separating the top of the bag and the bottom of the bag can come apart a bit too easily for my liking.
  • Getting into the bottom of the bag can be a chore sometimes.
  • I really wanted a laptop sleeve.
  • No straps for the waist or the chest
  • Can’t put in a 13 inch laptop
  • No side pockets? Really Tenba?
  • Top compartment can’t hold a small monolight. Tenba’s DNA backpack can though, thankfully.
  • Why is there no tripod socket?

Gear Used

The Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack was used with the Canon 6D, Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art, IRIX 15mm f2.4 Firefly, Sony a7r III, Sony 35mm f2.8, Sony 55mm f1.8, Godox flashes, and a number of other various things like books, etc.

Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack Tech Specs

Taken from the Tenba website

Catalog #

637-408

Weight

3 lbs(1.4 kg)

Exterior Dimensions

11.5W X 19H X 6D in. (29 X 48 X 15 cm)

Interior Dimensions

10.5W X 8.5H X 4.5D in. (27 X 22 X 11 cm)

Fits iPad or similar tablet up to 10 inches

  • Camera Protection with Classic Style – Cordura® canvas and waterproof leather for professional-grade protection. Hand-riveted zipper pulls add a distinctive touch.
  • Padded Tablet Pocket – Fits a tablet up to 10 inches.
  • Airflow Backpack Harness – Ventilated 3D airmesh keeps air flowing on hot days.
  • Included WeatherWrap rain cover is removable and reversible, with silver on one side to reflect the sun, and black on the other side for stealth.
  • Secure Rear Pocket – Safely store a wallet and passport where sticky fingers can’t get at it.
  • Zippered pocket in the front provides out-of-sight, out-of-mind secure storage for important items like a mobile phone and keys.
  • Removable padded camera insert protects a mirrorless camera with 3-5 lenses or a DSLR with 2-3 lenses (up to 70-200mm 2.8).
  • Padded camera insert slides out to convert the bag for general-purpose, non-photo use.
  • Waterproof, full-grain leather base panel is water and abrasion resistant. Protects the bag on a wet and/or dirty surface and is easy to wipe clean.
  • Protective EVA foam dividers can be repositioned in any configuration.
  • Tons of pockets and compartments to keep cables and accessories organized.
  • Exterior: Cordura® canvas with 2x water-repellent PU coating, waterproof, full-grain leather base and accents.
  • Interior: Silicone-coated, water-repellent ripstop nylon and soft, brushed tricot.
  • Hardware: YKK® zippers with hand-riveted full-grain leather zipper pulls.

Ergonomics

The Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack is a rather head scratching idea made manifest into a camera bag. Take, if you will, the idea of a pod. Said pod may have one point of entry. Or, let’s just call it a sack. Now make that evolve and give it a few points of entry via a zipper and round the bottom out with leather. That’s the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack. And despite its effectiveness, it still makes me scratch my head and wonder how and why Tenba decided to deviate so much from the norms of most leather and canvas bags and also from so many backpacks made over the years.

Look at this front image of the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack. If you took a Jansport bag and updated it to be a premium product, this is what it may look like.

As you can see, the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack has no side pockets. If you want to bring along a drink, you’ll need to put it in either the bottom or the top. Personally speaking, this is a tad nerve wracking. Ensure that the bottle is tightly sealed or that your gear is weather resistant.

The top of the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack has this little pocket. It’s great for your passport, wallets, keys, eye drops, painkillers, cell phone chargers, etc. Your personal stuff should go in here as it’s not very big.

Now here is the top of the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack and what you see when you look inside. Due to the design, you can’t fully open it up without some effort. You’ve got a divider in there for a small tablet along with other pockets aside from the large space. Sometimes I threw my camera in there.

By the top handle on the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack, you’ll find a small zippered pocket. I honestly never used this for anything else besides holding my keys. It’s too small for most things.

Turn to the back of the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack and you’ll spot the straps. There are no chest straps or waist straps. Why? I’m honestly not sure. It would’ve put the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack over the top in terms of comfort, especially when walking around a city. It would have also made your body even more warm, but you would’ve been fine.

Here’s the main compartment on the bottom. Again, it’s a standard Tenba design and the entire divider system can be removed along with the velcro’d divider separating the top and bottom.

Here’s a quick look inside the other pocket that I spoke about earlier. As I stated before, it’s for small, little things.

Build Quality

The Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack is built very solid. Don’t let its more attractive appearance fool you at all. Even the leather is well built. The bag doesn’t get dirty easily either; I took it into the forest and put it down on the ground with little to no soil getting on the bag. Additionally, we took it out into the rain where it suffered no problems at all. Packing the back filled with gear for a day and then trekking around with it during some of NYC’s hottest days proved it to also be very comfortable if not suffocating to the shirt below. Even after losing over 30lbs, it’s easy to have the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack leave strap marks on your shoulders and your back.

One thing that I needed to get used to is the little tabs on the sides of the zipper. This makes opening the zippers sometimes a two handed operation due to the shape of the bag. However, it also makes opening the zippers easier at times.

The build quality of the interior padding for your camera gear is also very standard. I didn’t have a single issue even when climbing rocks and having this bag on my back. Everything stayed remarkably separated. My only complaint is the divider that separates the top of the bag and the bottom of the bag. I think that having a hard, sewn-in divider the way that Olliday does might have been a better idea. As it is, the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack still isn’t going to replace my Oliday Journeyman.

Ease of Use

With the issue of the zipper aside, you’ll just need to rewire your brain a bit when it comes to using the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack. I purposely asked for the DSLR edition for review in order to pack it with more mirrorless camera gear. This proved, well, not totally possible with Sony, even though I tend to use small primes. The Sony a7r III with a Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 attached really took up quite a bit of space (and that isn’t a DSLR). The same goes for the Canon 6D Mk II and a Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art attached. If anything, sometimes it’s best to put your camera with a lens attached up top in the bag’s upper compartment while all your lenses and flashes go below. For some photographers, you’ll get a heart attack reading that. But to be honest, I couldn’t care much. My cameras are functional tools meant to do work. If they get beat up, then they get beat up. If they get broken, then I toss the bag and give them a scathing review. But the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack doesn’t at all deserve that.

What made me really rethink things though is the lack of external pockets. The Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack is pretty much a self contained unit with fours points of entry: the top zipper, the zipper allowing access to the lower part, and then the zippers for storing really little things. But if you want to get to those little things, you’ll need to sling the bag off of your body to do it comfortably. Can it be done otherwise? Yes, sure. But it’s not as great as having side pockets. As a traveler, I live for side pockets and I couldn’t really justify taking the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack on a trip with me. Instead, I’d reach for Tenba’s DNA backpack, which is pretty perfect when it comes to functionality despite its butterface looks.

When you’re not on a gig but instead just want to carry around a camera or three, then the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack can still do a great job. Your photo gear can stay stored in the bottom (though you’ll need to stack it, but that’s a standard at this point) and you’ll be able to put all your other essentials in the top compartment. What is very nice about the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack is the fact that it stays pretty slim and retains its shape unlike the Oliday bags. Granted, Oliday is made in America and far more affordable.

In the end, the Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack is just a bag. Are there better bags? Yes. Are there more unique bags? Sort of. This is perhaps the most unique bag that I’ve tested for city dwellers.

Conclusions

The Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack isn’t at all a terrible bag. In fact, it’s a pretty darned good bag. But sometime about it makes it almost useless to me as a city dwelling photographer. Could it work for some of you readers? I’m sure that it can. But you can also be better served by a number of other camera bags out there.

The Tenba Cooper DSLR Backpack receives three out of five stars. While it’s a good bag, it’s not one that I’d recommend over others.