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My Lowepro Camera Bag Review - The Perfect Solution For Keen Amateur Photographers Who Travel
I've been using my Lowepro camera bag (a Fastpack 250) for around 12 months now. That's plenty of time to have got to know it inside out. I'm happy to say that it was the perfect choice for me, as an enthusiastic amateur photographer who travels with my gear.
So, it's time to share my thoughts on it, and explain why I chose it in the first place. I'll try to place my Lowepro camera bag in the context of others in the Lowepro range, to help you sniff out what the best option for you might be.
The Lowepro Fastpack 250 backpack. More pictures in the review below.
What I Wanted From My Camera Bag
First up, these were my personal specifications before choosing the Fastpack 250. Don't worry if these don't exactly match yours, I'll point you to several alternative options in due course. But I think these reflect the needs of a lot of keen amateurs. So, I needed...
- A backpack. My shoulder had suffered enough with a single strap shoulder bag in the past. Comfort trumped easy access.
- Room for a pro DSLR body with lens, plus a couple of other lenses including a telephoto.
- Easily re-jigged velcro compartments to accommodate different lenses.
- A laptop (/notebook computer) section. I wanted this to be an everything bag, an anwer to by hand-luggage woes when travelling.
- More than a token of an accessories compartment. I didn't want a lame flap on the side with space for 2 or 3 memory cards. I wanted room for all my accessories, jumper, lunch and something to read!
- At least one supplementary weight bearing strap (i.e. around the waist, to take pressure off my buggered shoulders).
- Preferably a place to attach my tripod (this turned out to be the only specification on the list the Fastpack 250 had no answer to. But it's not rocket science to improvise with chords).
- Despite all the above, I didn't want something the size of a wardrobe. I was looking, I suppose, for a Lowepro Tardis (Doctor Who fans only). I wanted this to be my single piece of travelling hand luggage, without risking getting into one of those unwinnable arguments about bag size with a 22 year old check-in girl. You know the ones: 1.5 inches of foundation caked on the face, unblinking eyes, an IQ of 73 but an intricate knowledge of all airport protocol.
Why Did I Go Straight To Lowepro?
I was partly keen on Lowepro because the only other camera backpack I'd owned to that point was a Lowepro, and it was awesome (Lowepro Flipside 200). They're a very famous brand, they seem to be popular with a lot of pro's, they have a great website for researching and their range is massive. So I just assumed that I'd find what I was looking for by sticking with Lowepro, which turned out to be right.
They really do have a huge array of bags available, so it's essential to have some idea of what you're looking for before diving in, otherwise it will just be confusing. From the Fastpacks, to the Photo Sports, the Pro Trekkers, Flipsides and Slingshots, there's something in their for all needs!
My previous bag, the Lowepro Flipside 200, was a great piece of kit. It had lots of room for gear and was comfy to carry around, but wasn't so great for accessories, extras (e.g. computer) and travelling.
My First Options: The Flipside Range
After an initial search, I immediately honed in on the Flipsides and Fastpacks. My previous bag had been a Flipside 200, and I was slightly hoping an 'upgrade' on this would give me what I wanted. The Flipside range is fantastic - fairly slim and convenient with pretty cavernous space inside. Tardis-like indeed.
The current range includes the Flipside 200, 300, 400AW and 500AW. The higher the number, the beefier the bag. This is a very quick summary of what each one offers:
Flipside 200: Adjustable velcro straps with room for 1 DSLR Body and lens and up to 3 extra lenses, unzips at the back. Space for loads of accessories, but not much else (i.e. lunch). Tripod straps.
Flipside 300: Adjustable velcro straps with room for 1 DSLR Body and lens and up to 3 extra lenses, unzips at the back. More room than the 200. Space for loads of accessories, but not much else (i.e. lunch). Tripod straps.
Flipside 400 AW: Adjustable velcro straps with room for 1 DSLR Body and lens and up to 6 extra lenses, unzips at the back. Space for loads of accessories and a few other bits and pieces in a large pouch at the front. Tripod straps.
Flipside 500 AW: Adjustable velcro straps with room for 1 DSLR Body with lens attached, plus up to 2 spare DSLR bodies and up to 4 spare lenses. Unzips at the back. Space for loads of accessories and a few other bits and pieces in a large pouch at the front. Tripod straps.
Great bags all of them. Any one of them could offer me almost everything I need on a typical shoot (apart from space for a jumper, coffee flask, sandwich and, crucially, Haribo).
But the one glaring ommission from all the above specifications is a laptop/notebook computer section. I would never get past the check-in girl with a Flipside 400 AW and a rucksack with a laptop in it (because 2 bags are a no-no, whilst people with those mini hold-alls on wheels get waved right through! How...?). If travelling with a camera and laptop is not a big issue for you, the Flipsides could well be the best solution. The Flipside 200 served me extremely well for several years.
My Second Options: The Fastpack range
The first Fastpacks I came across were the 150 AW, 250 AW and 350 AW. These were impressive things, and at the far edge of my budget for a camera bag (not vast, by the way). They all boasted impressive specifications that brilliantly met my requirements. Here's a quick summary of the specs on these 3:
Fastpack 150 AW: Adjustable velcro compartments with room for 1 DSLR body and attached lens, plus a spare large lens. Large accessories compartment (with space for lunch, book, coffee and Haribo). Thin, well padded section for a 13" laptop/notebook computer. Tripod mount. All-weather cover.
Fastpack 250 AW: Same as above, but roomier and with space for a 15" notebook computer.
Fastpack 350 AW: Same as above, but roomier and with space for a 17" notebook computer.
So with these 3 options I was getting very warm. The only problems were that they were on the large and heavy side. The all-weather cover (which is in-built) was a cool advantage because I do a lot of landscape/outdoor photography.
The Lowepro Fastpack 250 AW (above) is an awesome bag and ran a close second in my search. The extra bulk, weight and price compared to the 250 just wasn't quite worth it in the end for me.
So I kept hunting, in the hope of finding something a tad lighter/smaller, with the same key specs. This lead me to...
Fastpack 250: Velco compartments with space for 1 DSLR, lens attached, plus 2 other lenses. Cool side-access system for equipment section. Big accessories compartment (with space for my much need food goodies). Chunky waist strap. 15" notebook computer section.
Fastpack 350: Velco compartments with space for 1 DSLR, lens attached, plus up to 3 other lenses. Cool side-access system for equipment section. Big accessories compartment (with space for my much needed food goodies). Chunky waist strap. 17" notebook computer section.
The Winner Is...The Fastpack 250
Fastpack 250 Dimensions:
My laptop/notebook computer is 15", so I was pretty quickly sold on the Fastpack 250. It was 0.5lbs lighter than the 250 AW, good value and offered everything that I wanted. Everything but one detail - the tripod mount. The Fastpack AW series did offer this, but it's quite a small point when you consider how easy it is to tie one on with a trusty bit of rope.
So, my Lowepro camera bag of the last year has been the Fastpack 250. I have to say that it's been a real gem - a true tardis! I've taken it as hand-luggage on flights 2 times, and never raised the slightest hint of disapproval from the check-in staff!
Considering all that it contains, including a notebook computer (in a padded case), the width of just over 30cm is very manageable. It does slip into those little hand luggage cages they use to check bag size at airports.
It easily houses: my DSLR with 1 lens attached, 2 spare lenses (including a telephoto), loads of accessories (including batteries, remote release, charging point, USB, memory cards etc, my Macbook Pro, a book, a sandwich, a bottle of water, Haribo and a thin jumper!
In this picture the zipped accessories section is holding: 2 batteries, 3 memory cards, a battery charger, a Cokin ND filter set, spare money, spare contact lenses, sunglasses, a thermos flask, a bag of sweets, 2 sandwiches, a folded jumper, 2 pens and a small notepad. There was room to spare!
In the main equipment section of the bag I typically carry a DSLR body with lens attached, 2 spare lenses and 1 or 2 bits and pieces. As in this picture, there's often a compartment spare.
That's got to be a heavy load, you're probably thinking. Well, yes, the computer and book does ramp up the weight quite a bit. But, it's incredibly comfy to carry. Seriously, my right shoulder is shot with a recurring sports injury (I'm in my 20's but the doctor said the MRI looked like a scaffolder's shoulder after a career of tough labour!), and it almost never gets sore with this bag. The waist strap is very chunky at the back, with a big buckle in the centre, and takes lots of the weight.
The waist strap helps distribute the weight, making long shoots pain free!
The most unique feature of all the the Fastpack bags is the side access to equipment (Flipsides and other camera backpacks tend to un-zip around the back). It allows me to slip the right shoulder strap off and lunge round to grab hold of a new lens or put my camera away. There's very little risk of anything falling out when you're wearing the bag.
This picture gives an idea of how the flap swings open to allow quick side access to lenses 'mid-shoot'.
But, a word of warning: be really careful when you first get the bag not to leave the side access compartment unzipped when you finish shooting. Having used a Flipside for ages, I once picked up my bag in a hurry, with the back facing up but the side tilted towards me. My camera duly slipped out, bounced off my body and crashed on to the floor with a hideous noise. Luckily, the magnesium alloy body took the blow and was unscathed along with the more delicate lens. Phew!
I really like this side access system, as it makes speed when shooting (not typically a strength with backpacks), very good. If speed is right at the top of your priority list, but you don't want a simple shoulder bag that opens from the top, check out Lowepro's Slingshot range. I've never used one myself, but they do look excellent and I've read many positive reviews.
I'll finally just note that the 15" notebook computer section of the Fastpack 250 could probably accommodate a 17" computer too. It's very roomy, and I always seem to have a book in there at the same time, without having to cram it in. In fact, a well padded laptop case and a book are probably advisable to prevent the computer from having too much space to jostle around in.
These last 2 pictures show a couple of handy external pouches for small-ish items you'd like to be able to access quickly:
There is a decent sized zipped pouch at the top of the bag, for quick access to certain items.
There is also quite a handy little zipped pouch, with interior netting, at the bottom of the front.
So that's how I reached my decision on which Lowepro camera bag to buy. I expect the Fastpack 250 will be with me for many years to come, as it's well made and provides everything I need. It's been the perfect step up from my Flipside 200, offering more space, greater comfort, easier access and a notebook/laptop computer section.
I think some professionals might consider it a bit small, preferring something like the Fastpack 350 AW. But for serious amateurs who travel with their photography gear, it's an ideal solution. I couldn't be happier with my choice!
UPDATE: I came across this very thorough and clear review of the Lowepro Fastpack 250, which you might like to watch to gain a clearer sense of the bag's size and compartments...
Do you own this Lowepro camera bag, or another camera backpack of some kind? I'm always really interested to hear what your opinions are on your gear. That's what the comments below are for...