Are you a traveling gear junky with a penchant for multiple lens lengths and a fear of failing camera bodies? The Lens Smuggler by Cinebags covers most of these bases, in a bag that you can smuggle onto most airplanes, provided your back - and budget - can handle it.
A few years ago I was hired to photograph my first destination wedding, in sunny Destin, FL. As a total gear geek, I knew that I would want to have multiple lenses and an extra camera body with me, to ease my anxiety, if for nothing else. I normally stashed these things in separate bags, but there was no way I was going to pack any of this gear in my checked baggage. Cheap flashes and little light stands are one thing, but this beautiful glass and two Canon camera bodies were not going to be left to the chance of mishandling and getting lost in transport. I started shopping for something that I could carry on as my “personal item,” leaving room in my regular wheeled carry-on for light stands and flashes. I came across the Cinebags Lens Smuggler and decided to give it a try. It has been full of lenses and cameras ever since. It has a great many good qualities, and only one major downfall. This thing is heavy.
The reason Cinebags calls this the “Lens Smuggler” is the design, which is supposed to make it passable as a laptop bag. Most airlines will allow one carry-on and a personal item, and this is the perfect personal item. There is enough room in the front pockets for little things such as a wallet, cell phone, and other small incidentals. If you are a woman like me who also carries a handbag on a daily basis, you can always pack that in your other luggage so that you don't need it for your personal item. This bag will hold everything you need while on the plane.
According to B&H’s product description, the bag was designed very specifically with air travel in mind. Their disclaimer: “FAA and airline carry-on specifications are subject to change without notice, please check with your airline before designating this case as a carry-on item. Most airlines require carry-on items to have an external linear measurement that is equal to or less than 45.0 inches (114.3 cm). The external dimensions of this case add up to 40.5 inches (102.9 cm)." Mine has fit perfectly beneath the seat in front of me on every airline I’ve flown, but I would definitely check current guidelines before embarking on a journey with it.
A True Heavyweight That is Built to Last
The bag weighs in at close to five pounds when empty, so as you can imagine, it is quite heavy when filled with all of your gear, and this can be a downfall when trudging through airports all day. To this end, a shoulder/cross-body carry strap with substantial padding is included, and it has big, hefty clips for attaching to the bag. There is also a padded sleeve on the back of the bag, which allows you to slip it over your wheeled carry-on’s telescoping handle, making transporting much easier.
On first glance, you can see that this bag means business. It isn’t pretty, trendy, or fashionable. It is a true workhorse, with tons of storage. The front flap has a zippered pocket that is perfect for flat things such as lens filters and notepads. Lift this flap, which is secured to the bag’s top with a strong hook and loop closure, and you will reveal a storage area with pen pockets, a cell phone pouch, a transparent zippered pocket, and another zippered, full width, flat storage area. Behind all this, but still a part of the front flap of the entire bag, is another zippered pouch perfect for slipping in an iPad or a couple of magazines.
Plentiful Lens Storage
Open the main body of the bag, and you'll reveal more transparent storage across the inside lid, including a couple of smaller pockets for memory cards.
Here you’ll also find the main workhorse of this bag. This area, with adjustable dividers, is where you will store your big equipment. These dividers are the thickest and most padded that I've ever seen in a camera bag, and the hook and loop strips on them are large and very strong. As you can see, I am able to carry two camera bodies and seven lenses in this compartment, including a 70-200mm lying horizontally.
The back of the bag has a padded laptop pouch, as well as the sleeve for attaching it to your carry-on. My 15” Macbook Pro slips into the back laptop compartment perfectly. All the zippers are easy to operate, and they feel like they will last forever. The carry handles can be connected together with a sewn on, padded hook and loop connector, which makes it easier on your hands when carrying this beast without the shoulder strap.
Priced a little over $200, this bag is not the most budget-friendly, but you'll be hard pressed to find another bag with this many features and this much room for a lot less. It is definitely worth the money.
What I Liked
- Ample storage with a compartment for just about everything
- Tough build quality with substantial zippers
- Sleeve for attaching to wheeled luggage
What I Didn't Like
- Bulky size and heavy carry weight
- Hefty price
The Cinebags Lens Smuggler is the ultimate gear bag for the traveling photog who needs lots of gear at the ready, but it does come with a hefty price and and a hefty size.
As someone with too many bags (haven't found the right on yet)....this just looks like a rebadge/renamed bag (insert any brand name here). In fact I think it looks similar to a Tamrac I have...how much does it weight with the gear you have in it?
You must have known that I was looking at yet one more bag earlier today.
Two bodies plus seven lenses, ouch, that must be truly heavy. But looks like a nice and sturdy bag for the intended purpose. However, here in Europe a lot of airlines would most likely not accept it as a personal item any longer. After people had increasingly taken advantage of a decade of leniency and brought more and more ridiculously outsized carry-on baggage with them the pendulum currently swings back and rules are enforced again.
Especially on smaller commuter planes I’m increasingly having troubles to even take my not really bulky Mindshift backpack as my main carry-on with me into the cabin and I’m frequently requested to give it to the baggage handlers at the aircraft for stowage in the cargo hold. Could avoid that so far as I’m usually approaching the cabin crew directly at the aircraft and kindly ask them for a safe spot in the cabin after explaining the not so cheap contents of the backpack. But appearing at the aircraft with both the backpack and this bulky bag I would most likely be out of luck most of the time on a full plane and the backpack would have to go to the baggage handlers and into the cargo compartment. Uncomfortable thought...
How big is your backpack? I have a LowPro Protactic 450AW. Not a small backpack also, but I don't have any problems with any airline (AA, Delta, KLM, Air Lingues, WoW, Martinair, BA)
It's a Mindshift Rotation Professional with the additional top pouch. I'd say a bit higher but slimmer than your Protactic 450. Looks like a mid-size hiking backpack. The hassles rather frequently start when one of these aircraft types is used:
- Bombardier CRJ Series
- Bombardier Dash 8-400
- ATR 42 or 72
- Embraer 135 Series
- Bae 146
- Various older small turboprop types
As soon as the aircraft is the size of a Boeing 737, Airbus 320 or Bombardier C-Series or any widebody no issues at all.
In this era when camera equipment theft is such a problem, carrying this thing with "Cinebags" screaming from all surfaces seems like hanging a "steal me now" sign on thousands of dollars worth of gear as you wander about your travels.
Some airlines have started weighing carry-on bags, so check the policies before heading to the airport
I can't imagine how heavy this bag would be all loaded down like what the author has shown in her article. I recently loaded up my Thule Aspect DSLR backpack for a trip to Costa Rica. D700, FE2, W100 underwater, 4 lenses, batteries, film, filters 15 inch laptop, and speedlight, and headphones. My tripod and gorillapod were in my checked bag. The Thule bag swallowed all of it and probably weighed 35lbs. It's basically a 30L hiking backpack but it only weighs 3.2lbs empty. I did not carry all this gear around with me everywhere once I arrived. And I would not want to carry this Cinebag fully loaded using only a cross-body shoulder strap.
I need to pull out the scales and see how much it does weigh, it is definitely heavy! This is why the sleeve for carrying atop a rolling suitcase is so valuable. It's a backsaver for sure.