Review: ONA Monterey Camera Bag (A Surprisingly Great Rucksack)

The ONA Monterey really annoyed me, and then I started to like it.

My story with the ONA Monterey is one that involves the search for a bag that I can call my companion bag. In the same way that a photographer has a companion camera, I’ve never really found the truly perfect camera bag. While the ONA Monterey comes close in many ways, it’s required that I break it in. And in the long run, it’s going to simply just end up being a victim of the abuse that I throw at my gear. Though I doubt it’s going to survive like a Tenba, WANDRD, or Billingham bag will, I sincerely hope that I’m wrong. Able to accommodate a 13-inch laptop and every mirrorless camera system that doesn’t rival the size of DSLRs, the ONA Monterey isn’t perfect. But it’s pretty close.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Beautiful
  • Fairly comfortable
  • Nice interior padding
  • Customizable interior
  • Fair price point
  • Can hold a fair amount of camera gear
  • The laptop sleeve is very hidden away. But it’s there!
  • Well built
  • Most comfortable when you’re wearing a jacket
  • Can be overpacked with gear and it will still function well
  • Once this bag is broken in, it’s amazingly comfortable.

Cons

  • The top section isn’t very large. Can hold the necessities.
  • Side Pockets are kind of useless. Not expandable. Can’t bring a large thermos with you so the bag will develop stretches and such after use.
  • Wish it had more pockets to hold things like a passport while also separating your belongings
  • A Profoto B10 will have trouble in here
  • If you’re overpacking it, be sure that the zippers don’t open. While this may be obvious, you’d be amazed at how many photographers overpack their bags.

Gear Used

We tested the ONA Monterey with Panasonic cameras and lenses, Fujifilm cameras and lenses, and Sony. In addition to that, we also stuffed a few film cameras in there, a laptop, etc.

Tech Specs

  • Handcrafted with premium waxed canvas and leather
  • Room for a camera and up to five lenses
  • Adjustable height personal items area
  • Laptop compartment fits most 12″ and 13″ laptops
  • Padded air mesh back panel
  • Air mesh padding on shoulder straps
  • Fully padded leather base

Ergonomics

The ONA Monteray has a very unique and high-quality look to it. Other bags come close, but don’t quite cut it. You’re looking at a leather on top that is designed to look worn and only gets better with time. It’s beautiful. Then there is a lot of canvas. Canvas and leather bags are by far my absolute favorite. And when you look at the front and check out that leather strap with the buckle, it’s easy to become enamored with the ONA Monteray.

On both sides, you’ll find pockets. These pockets are best used with small things. In the photo above, I’ve got a small notebook shoved in.

Here’s the other pocket. I have a thermos shoved in there. But it took some effort. These pockets are tight and need to be worn in and stretched over time.

Here’s the back of the ONA Monteray. You’ll find the backpack straps. These straps I really wish had extra chest straps and a waist strap. It would make carrying the bag even more comfortable than it already is. What I really found with the ONA Monteray is that the first time around with it, everything is going to be tougher. But it will wear in. It will feel less comfortable the first time around but that will get better.

Open up the main compartment and you’ll find the space for your camera gear. Here you can spot a Panasonic S1 with 50mm f1.4 and a 70-200mm f4. It’s cramped. And you can even notice how the thermos fits with the lens in the side. Of course, I’m overpacking this bag. But I do this with everything because there will be times when you have to as well.

Open up the top of the ONA Monteray and you’ll spot this area. You can shove a laptop in the back. It’s a tight squeeze/fit and also very subtle. But it’s possible.

The top can’t honestly hold much. I’ve shoved eye drops, a passport, lip balm, beard oil, chargers and that’s about it. I typically prefer to put these all in different areas as I don’t want liquids to possibly spill onto electronics. But this made do pretty well.

Build Quality

If there is one thing that I can’t complain about after one month with the bag, it’s the build quality of the ONA Monteray. It’s stood up to being tossed around in cars, the subway, and even on the sands of Coney Island. But in addition to that, every part of it has held up. The areas that I expect to give way soon though are the main zipper compartment and one of the side pockets. It’s difficult to get a thermos in there unless you hit it at an angle then shove it in. But once it’s there, it’s very secure.

Similarly, if the main compartment is overly packed, the zipper will probably open just a bit. So basically, I really don’t recommend packing Panasonic S series cameras and lenses in there. Sony, Fujifilm, Canon, and Leica M gear is fine. Nikon’s Z series will also fit just fine. DSLR users are out of luck. You’re also going to have a hard time with a flash.

Ease of Use

Overall, the bag is pretty simple to operate and work with. In fact, I wish that it had more. More pockets on the exterior, more expandability, and even a rolltop would be ideal. But for what this bag is, I can’t really complain. ONA doesn’t currently offer anything like what I want.

Conclusions

Likes

  • It’s stylish
  • It’s pretty durable
  • It fits most of what I need when shooting

Dislikes

  • I wish the sides were more accommodating
  • I with there were a roll top
  • Chest straps would be ideal

I like the ONA Monteray. It can’t handle my most demanding needs but if you’re a natural light photographer shooting during the day or with available light, then you’ll be fine. It’s great for a journalist. It’s also a nice bag for the person that’s always on the go. Are there better bags? Yes. But this one is good and does everything you need while also being stylish. That’s a rarity. My only concern is how this will hold up over the long run.

The ONA Monteray gets four out of five stars. Want one? They’re going for around $350.