Fstoppers Reviews Four Camera Backpacks

Fstoppers Reviews Four Camera Backpacks

Opinions on which camera backpack a photographer should use are probably only second to which camera system they should use. With so many brands of packs out there, and not to mention multiple versions by each of the manufactures, it can be challenging to pick a backpack. To help the readers of Fstoppers, I took a look at four backpacks to see how they stack up.

First, I have to start by saying everyone’s needs in a photography backpack are different. Of course, we all want it to carry our gear; however, that gear can range from a body and a lens to multiple bodies, lenses, flashes, and numerous other pieces of equipment. For me, I use my backpack when I’m flying for photography jobs. I like to at least have my camera bodies, lenses, batteries, computer, tablet, hard drive, memory cards, and usually a flash or three with me on the airplane. I’ve found that the other items I can replace somewhat easily or even live without during the photo job. Obviously, everyone’s needs in a backpack are different, but I’ve based this review on the needs I know, my own.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a vast assortment of backpack manufacturers out there, and most of them have numerous models. So, even selecting which backpacks to review was difficult. I chose to limit my review to packs that ranged in price from approximately $50 to $125. The packs also had to be more than merely a daypack for walking around a city. They needed to be something that I would purchase myself for my work needs. To evaluate the storage capacity and also the efficiency of the storage I chose to try packing two Nikon D500s, a 10mm fisheye, 24-70 mm f/2.8, 70-200 mm f/2.8, three speed lights, four remote triggers, camera battery, AA battery charger, 12 spare AA batteries, assorted memory cards, 15 inch MacBook, iPad, and various cables and cleaning gear. A sizable load. 

I chose four packs to review and will discuss my likes and dislikes for each one later in the article. Each of the backpacks I felt were well made, and I think they will serve the user well. Overall all the packs provide ample storage space and have similar features with the difference being how they implement those features. The backpacks all have some level of padding to protect that expensive gear, but none of them, by any means, are meant to be used as checked baggage. As a carry on luggage absolutely and that padding will protect your gear from the traveler who insists there is still room in the overhead for their oversized bag.

USA Gear S17 

The first backpack that I used was the USA Gear S17, and what I immediately noticed was the camera access flap on the side of the pack. This flap gives quick access to your camera without having to open the entire camera compartment. I appreciated this feature, the more I used the backpack. Only one other pack had a similar type of functionality. The pack also had the largest compartment that was not subdivided of all the packs tested. For me, this wasn’t a plus; however, I can see how this might be a benefit to some users who might have items like LED lights that require a larger storage area. For the price, it was the least expensive of the packs I tested, and the capabilities of the pack I could see myself using this pack more for my daily usage instead of my professional travel.

What I Liked

  • Side entry flap that permits quick access
  • Rain cover and better yet one that can be removed from the pack for easier drying
  • External pocket devoted to memory cards
  • Mesh pockets makes knowing what is in the pocket easier
  • Nice size compartment for laptop
  • Luggage handle slot for slipping over the handle of rolling luggage

What I Didn’t Like

  • Felt-like lining in the camera compartment
  • Could just barely fit my D500 with 70-200mm lens assembled in the bag

Lowepro Flipside 300 AW II 

The Lowepro Flipside 300 AW II, there’s a mouthful for you, appeared to be the smallest of the packs that I reviewed and, like the other Lowepro, had the nicest finish of the backpacks. The material just felt better to the touch and looked the best. Of all of the packs, the 300 AW II felt the most like a daypack to me, even more so than the USA Gear S17. While the pack has many compartments for storage, I found the compartments made it difficult to find logical locations for some items like batteries, chargers, and remote triggers. The pockets were too tight to permit objects like my triggers to be slipped into the pocket. There is a removable pouch that can be used for these items; however, it was not big enough for my needs, but may be large enough for yours.


What I Liked

  • Includes rain cover
  • Nice construction. Appears to be well built
  • Nylon interior makes cleaning easier
  • Light gray interior 


What I Didn’t Like

  • The rain cover is not removable from the pack
  • No location for a computer
  • Not a lot of storage areas


Lowepro Flipside 400 AW II 

The Lowepro Flipside 400 AW II is the big brother to the 300 AW II, which means it has more storage space and a few additional features like a compartment for a computer. The 400 AW II also has a much more substantial waist belt, which makes the pack much more useful for carrying gear for wildlife or landscape photography. Of all the packs, the 400 AW II was the most stable and comfortable.


What I Liked

  • Includes rain cover
  • Nice construction. Appears to be well built


What I Didn’t Like

  • The rain cover is not removable from the pack
  • Not a lot of storage areas


Incase DSLR Pro Pack 

The Incase DSLR Pro Pack was the one brand that I had not seen before in a backpack, so I was very interested in reviewing it. The backpack doesn’t seem to be as large as the Lowepro 400 AW II at first glance. Yet set them side by side, the packs are about the same size with the Incase model being slightly more narrow. Of all the packs I reviewed, I found the Incase to be the easiest for me to find storage locations for not only the camera bodies and lenses but also all the other hardware I usually travel with. The pockets opened enough so that it was easy to pack and remove items like my remote triggers. One other feature I like was the quick access flap at the top of the pack that functioned like the side flap of the USA Gear S17. I like the flap at the top of the pack. The Incase’s material has the stiffest feel of the backpacks I reviewed. It doesn’t feel cheap, and I think it might wear better, but I can’t say for sure with my short review period.


What I Liked

  • Top flap for quick access to the camera
  • Large storage pockets


What I Didn’t Like

  • No rain cover
  • The feel of the material is stiff, though it might hold up longer

So which is the best backpack? Well, just like cameras, it depends on the user’s needs and preferences. For me and my needs, I was a bit surprised that it is the Incase model. When I first unpacked the Incase, it didn’t jump out to me as anything special. It just seemed like a nice backpack, yet as I started to use each of the backpacks, I found myself appreciating the Incase DSLR Pro Pack the most, and as I packed for a quick family trip, I found myself reaching for the Incase.

Log in or register to post comments

7 Comments

Frederic Hore's picture

Thank you for the review Douglas.
I have quite a few backpacks, including a big Lowe Pro AW that allows me to carry a 500mm f4 with Nikon D850 attached, however the problem with most of these "daypacks", including the ones above, is they are all mostly camera centic. Many don't have a large, external zippered pocket for food, a jacket, guide books and maps etc for walk around travel, and for too many, not even an exterior pocket to add a decent sized water bottle, nor a collapsible umbrella.
Consequently, my go to adventure daypack, is a PacSafe Venture 45 litre, anti-theft backpack. It's a basic shell pack, with excellent shoulder and waist strap support, in which I stuff my camera lenses and bodies in Lowepro padded cases inside. It allows me to carry everything I need, including a laptop or iPad if I so desire. Two side pockets allow for a water bottle, my umbrella, and even handle attachments for my smartphone.
Works like a charm!
Cheers,
Frederic Hore
Montreal.
https://www.instagram.com/frederic_hore/

Kimmo Virkki's picture

I have somewhat similar approach i.e. not using "camera bags" as I have not found any suitable yet. Instead I have "assault bag" from some military surplus store. It has pretty much everything I need. It is rugged and large, and fits well 2 bodies, travel size tripod, ultra-wide, 24-70, 70-200 + few more lenses, triggers and flashes. It has secondary large pocket for thermos bottle/water bottle and for food. 4 additional pockets for smaller stuff.

I use some neoprene pouches for lenses not attached to bodies.

For day long nature or outdoors sports shoots it is usually pretty yet full still comfortable to carry.

I personally use Incase DSLR Pro Pack and it is great event photographer backpack. Barely, but still fits 2 cameras with 24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 on, two strobes, strap, MagMod stuff. You can add your 15’ laptop if needed. everything fits nice and tight.

Bought 2 lowepro bag, after one after one has issue with zipper(they it is not cover by warrenty), had a second one same issue, never buy lowepro again, switch to peak design travel, only bag that can fit a d500+200-500 mounted and get off quickly from the side

Jeff McCollough's picture

I own the Incase one. It works great I can fit a FF body, 70-200, 100mm macro, 35mm, 24-105, a couple of speedlights plus an ad200 and a trigger for those lights, a light stand, light stand bracket, my Phottix Spartan BD on the inside and a parabolic umbrella on the outside.

Tom Maggio's picture

My wife bought me the USA Gear S-17 for Christmas. I like it. I need to go out on a shoot in the mountains near Salt Lake City and central Utah.

I think this will serve me well with with my Nikon D700. My next goal is to get the 24-70mm leans this year by saving up for it. It should work nicely in this back pack.

In the meantime, I can bring my D300 along and use the 18-70mm DX lens along with other books and my light meter.

I'm happy with this so far.

I use Mindshift rotation 180° 22L, there are bigger sizes as well. I find it's the only backpack that lets you access all gear without taking it off. It has two separate compartments, one that is like a big integrated fanny pack that can be rotated in front of you, and one that can be used for non-photography equipment. I don't think it can fit huge telephoto lenses, however it can fit 70-200, 24-70, a prime and a body.