Let’s say it from the start; I am the world’s pickiest camera bag buyer.
I’m also someone who puts a lot of importance on the support staff of the photographic experience – bags, tripods, filters, film cases. And the right equipment is the kind that becomes invisible when you’re shooting. If my mind is in composition mode, the last thing I want to deal with is a faulty or poorly designed bag.
From my fervent (some may say obsessive) research, I’ve come to believe there are two schools of camera bags. The first is the utilitarian bag. Almost universally black and synthetic, these are the bags that can carry the greatest combination of gear in the largest quantities possible. The other group is the artisanal bags. They typically carry less gear, but have a more classic aesthetic and are often made with more organic materials. In short, the first group does more, and the second looks better.
My eternal quest has been to find a happy medium between these two groups; a good-looking bag that is flexible in meeting my often irregular gear needs.
The DSLR Travel Backpack from K&F Concept is one of the latest bags to try bridging the gap between bag types. It’s designed to be a modern digital gear bag made with modern materials (mostly polyester, with interior PE board and foam lining), but in a classic style. And it does so at a price-point that’s exceptionally low – approximately $80 US.
Its general design is the same mix of clever and cumbersome similar to other bags of this type, with a few smart tricks added. Its main compartment opens from the back and has room for a few configurations of gear, including a DSLR and a couple lenses, a mirrorless system and lenses, or a film SLR body and multiple lenses. Dividers can be removed and rearranged as needed and there is a separate opening on the side for on-the-go use by which the shooter can pull out the camera and lens, but nothing else. There’s an additional storage area above the main comportment and a smaller storage area inside the bag’s top flap.
The side without the opening to the main compartment has nylon tripod straps, while the straps on the front are a type of faux leather with bronze buckles and magnets to make closing easier.
The disparity between the look and feel of the bag is noticeable. When it arrived from K&F, I wasn’t aware of the price of the bag, and when I initially saw the blue fabric, leather accents and bronze buckles, I expected it to be expensive. It looked expensive. When I pulled it from the packaging, however, I realized that what I had first perceived as cotton, leather, and metal, did not feel as luxurious as I expected. Like a plantation house built in 2010, the bag looked good from a distance but felt just a bit underwhelming when examined up close. Then again, for $80, it’s hard to complain.
Stylish enough without being a knockout, I determined that if the bag was to really impress, it would have to be in its ability to perform in the field. Fortunately, I had an upcoming 1,000-mile drive to Florida with many stops along the way that would help me put it through its paces.
My configuration on this trip was more extensive than what the usual shooter packs, and the trip would see me carrying gear I’d never used before. This included a FED 5b rangefinder, a Konica Autoreflex TC with 40mm f/1.8 lens, a Nikon OneTouch Zoom 90s point-and-shoot and a Polaroid Spectra instant camera. Not packed this trip would be the Kiev 60, which would never fit in the bag anyway.
In addition to the four cameras, I also packed a film case holding ten 35mm rolls, five loose rolls of 120 film, and two Polaroid packs. I also added a Sekonic light meter. All of this fit comfortably in the compartment above the cameras.
I left the rain cover where it came packaged (in the flap storage), and in the front pocket (an extra space for batteries and SD cards) I packed a pocket knife, a large travel wallet and National Parks passport, which would guarantee me full and free passage through a number of parks on my route.
During the trip I used the bag in two different ways; for getting different cameras out of my trunk while driving around, and then on my back while walking through Savannah and a nature preserve outside of Jacksonville.
As a backpack, this bag performed really well. The padding in both the bag’s back and on the straps made it extremely comfortable on long walks in hot weather. I also like that the bag didn’t have any lumbar straps — a feature I never use since I rarely photograph while trail running. Walking with the pack fo even extended periods was an enjoyable enough experience. It’s another story when it comes to getting gear out.
If you’re picking from multiple cameras, you’ll have to take off the bag and unzip the compartment on the back of the bag. I often found when doing this that one of the cameras had fallen out of its space and was bouncing around. That’s an especially frustrating thing when you foolishly packed an already physically suspect Soviet rangefinder. The fault of questionable camera selection was on me, but the fault of the camera consistently falling out of its compartment was solely the bag’s.
Admittedly I was using the bag in a less conventional way than would most shooters, and when I’d previously used it with the more traditional setup of four lenses and a Minolta X-570, everything felt tight and secure. Accessing the camera isn’t an issue if you’re able to use the side access area. But as much as the rear-zipper feature might make the bag more secure while walking around the shadier sectors of Hong Kong, it makes it downright annoying in rural Georgia.
K&F says the bag is waterproof. I was a bit suspicious of a “waterproof” bag that comes with a rain cover, but after “forgetting” about the bag for twenty minutes in a light rain, there was no noticeable leakage. K&F also says that the bag is wear, tear and scratch resistant. Resistant, though, not impervious. I put it through a bit of a tear and scratch stress test and can say that if you’re encountering conditions to the point that this bag begins to tear and scratch, you probably have worse things to worry about than your camera bag’s survival. It’s a pretty tough bag.
If I had to pick a perfect buyer for this bag it might be the enthusiast mirrorless shooter. If you like to shoot on the weekends with a small body camera and maybe two or four lenses, and you aren’t too punishing on your gear, then this bag will meet all your needs while offering a unique look beyond the basic consumer bags offered at this price point by its competitors. But if you shoot anything larger than a film SLR system, small DSLR system, or mirrorless camera system, or if you want a bag with significant dexterity, then you may want to look elsewhere.
I am a sort of camera lunatic. Someone who wants to take a three dollar point-and-shoot out at the same time as a Polaroid Spectra and a Konica SLR, and a ridiculously sized medium format machine, just in case. Camera bag makers don’t make bags for that sort of rig, because that market need rarely ever occurs. Which is why K&F’s bag, though it’s a great bag for the right shooter, isn’t the end of my search for the perfect bag. I imagine that search will continue for years to come.
Think this bag will work for you?
[This review was written based on products supplied by the manufacturer. Casual Photophile has not been paid to review this product nor was this review influenced in any way by the manufacturer. Casual Photophile may receive compensation when readers purchase products from our affiliate partners.]