Just because we are photographers for a living doesn’t mean all our equipment has to be 100% utilitarian. Sometimes a little bit of style and fashion is appreciated, and ONA looks to deliver in that department. The ONA Leather Brixton, now available in “dark truffle” color, is a sling bag that looks like a businessman’s briefcase sling, but is designed with a photographer in mind.
ONA describes their mission in bag design as “to provide camera bags and accessories that complement your life and style.” That means it should function both as a great camera bag, but also as something you would want to wear while out and about. The Brixton series are beautiful leather bags with metal clasp accents that looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie on the outside while being well-padded, modular and thoughtful towards a photographer on the inside.
The entire exterior, including the strap, is made of high quality gorgeously crafted leather. The Brixton I am reviewing is the new dark truffle color, which looks almost black in the images online, but is closer to a very dark brown. It’s a great color that doesn’t scream “leather” but still feels like that belt you love that you’ve worn in over the past few years. Out of the box, as expected the bag felt a little stiff. As you wear it, however, it quickly loosens up and contours to your personal use over time. After about three weeks of wearing it extensively, it feels like it is going to age extremely well.
There are two front pockets underneath where the top flap will clip down that are made of leather on the outside with a tightly woven rugged cloth inside the front flap of the pouch. It is here that the bag feels the most stiff and needs to wear quite a bit before it stretches and moves with whatever you decide to place in there (for me it was audio equipment like a lav mic and headphones). There are two side pockets as well that are pretty small and likely will hold only one small object per pocket, or a handful of batteries.
The belt clips wore in the fastest, as you can imagine, as they see the most use. They are adjustable, which is really great considering I can sometimes overstuff the bag (like when I need to stow away a sweatshirt). My only issue with the straps is that the belt buckle faces up, which makes the middle fastening clasp point upwards. It looks great, but can stick out and poke you when reaching down quickly.
The inside of the bag is not leather, which is a welcome sight. Instead, soft padded cloth lines the entire interior which is ideal for storing cameras, lenses and a 13-inch laptop. Didn’t expect a laptop slot did you? Well it has one, and it’s removable via Velcro if you don’t want it in there. Personally I don’t see myself taking it out. When I’m not toting a laptop in this bag, I often carry files and folders, which also fit nicely into the slot.
You can comfortably fit two to three dividers into the bag, which make for three to four slots to carry equipment. You can easily fit a body and two lenses in here; however, the design of the slots works best if the lenses are not attached to the camera body. You can move the dividers around to make that work, but it will reduce the total space in the bag.
Unless you lay it on its side, you also won’t be able to fit extremely long lenses in this bag. It’s not exceptionally deep; however, this bag is designed more for the photographer doing a walk-around or only carrying a small amount of equipment. If you’re out and about, you’ll probably be carrying something like a 24-70mm, which will easily fit in the bag quite comfortably.
In total, there are only four pockets and the modular interior, which when compared to other camera bags on the market, might seem a bit bare. There aren’t additional pockets on the inside of the flap or special slots for memory cards or lens caps. No pockets inside of pockets beside zipped flaps on this bag, and you know, that’s ok. Though I do appreciate finding new pockets that were previously undiscovered on my other bags, the minimalism on the Brixton is rather refreshing. I don’t honestly need most of the crap that I choose to fill the pockets with on my other bags, and the ONA doesn’t tempt me with more pouches than I have use for. It may be too bare for many of you, but it appeals to me when I’m just going out into the city for the afternoon.
The stitching on this bag looks exceptional, and through the course of significant wear I noticed minimal fraying along edges. Currently I have only spotted one place where the threads have pulled away slightly, but not in a way that makes me concerned for the structural integrity of the bag.
For those of you who are tall (not me), you will be happy to hear that ONA provides you with a considerable length of leather in the strap. It extends quite a bit, while also easily adjusting to what someone of my small stature can like.
A major concern some of you might be having is the weight of the bag. It’s actually less than you would expect. Yes, it is heavier that the traditional bags made out of woven plastics and cloth, but it’s not hugely noticeable. My shoulders actually made it about the same length of time as with other bags before feeling fatigued, which was about 45 minutes of walking while fully packed (this included my 13 inch MacBook Pro, camera body and two lenses).
What I think I like most about this bag is that it doesn’t look like a camera bag. It looks like a stylish briefcase, and many I have asked have been surprised to hear it is a camera bag. When I lift the flap to show the interior to folks, they are surprised to see the way it’s perfectly tailored for photo equipment. This is a huge advantage to me. Anyone looking to steal camera equipment looks for bags that look more camera-like. When wearing the ONA Brixton, there is no major branding on the bag, no logos, and no bright colors. I look just like most everyone else with a bag in San Francisco. I don’t stand out, but I still look good. I really appreciate this balance. It also means that I can use this bag for a lot more than just cameras and make it match whatever I am wearing. That leads me to my next point…
This bag is for those who like to look good and appreciate style. That is me, and I know many others who will feel the same. If what your bag looks like doesn’t matter to you, that is fine. It means ONA probably doesn’t make bags that appeal to you. However if you do like to look good from head to toe, this bag will most certainly enhance your style.
The Brixton is a sizeable investment at $420, but it’s like furniture. You buy it knowing you’re going to have it for a long time. It’s build quality is solid, and the leather will wear in and continue to look good long into the future. I’ve taken this bag across the country twice, hucked it across New York city in crazy summer humidity, walked down the coast of foggy San Francisco, and lugged it across the sunbaked weather of Scottsdale, Arizona. The Brixton still looks great, and I dare say it keeps getting better as the leather continues to wear in.
What I liked:
- Lots of beautiful, well-crafted leather
- Wears extremely well (it just keeps looking better every day)
- Does not look like a camera bag
- Not just utilitarian, but enhances style
- Subtle, almost nonexistent company branding
What could use improvement:
- Lacks pockets, which preclude it from being packed with everything one might need on a full-on pro shoot
- Cameras fit best when lens is separate from body
ONA’s dark truffle leather Brixton bag is not just a bag, but a fashion statement that enhances style while still performing as a great side-bag. Though it lacks the space and pockets of some of the pro-level bags on the market, it’s minimalism will likely be a refreshing change from an industry that seems to encourage you to bring your entire studio with you when you leave the house. Instead, only bring what you really need: a camera and a pair of lenses. To handle street and travel photography, often that's all you'll find yourself using, and you can carry those items with you in a bag that looks outstanding leaning on your hip.