A Camera Bag System for Any Photographer: Fstoppers Reviews the Lowepro Expanded Protactic Utility System

A Camera Bag System for Any Photographer: Fstoppers Reviews the Lowepro Expanded Protactic Utility System

Many camera bags are created for limited applications. Not all bags can be as useful for every shooting situation. However, this expansive camera bag system just might have covered most, if not all. 

Most camera bags come in forms that are suitable for specific genres of photography. It’s quite rare for camera bags to come in complete systems that suit almost any kind of use for any kind of shooting condition. The Lowepro Protactic line generally isn’t all too new. For years now, the Protactic backpacks have been the favorite of many photographers of almost every genre because of how the backpacks are able to adapt to their carrying needs. Lowepro recently updated this camera bag line with second-generation versions of their BP 350 AW and BP 450 AW backpacks and expanded the line into a fully evolved utility system. In this review, we take a look at the individual components of the Lowepro Protactic Utility System and see how they can be used in combination for different shooting needs. 

The Front-runners: The Protactic BP 350 and 450 AW II

The Lowepro Protactic line was definitely popularized by the two main backpacks that feature functional attachment systems across almost the entire front and side surfaces of the backpack. This allows for the use of a multitude of compatible accessories both specifically designed for the Protactic line and as well as other third-party accessories. Each backpack includes removable accessory straps, a slip-lock pouch, and a tripod cup that secures one of the three tripod legs. But even without all that, the backpacks were made with very durable and protective material and customizable internal padding and dividers.

Protactic BP 450 AW II capacity

Each backpack has four points of access. Two on each side for on-the-go access, a top-loading formed protective shell door, and the rear panel that flips to expose the entirety of the main compartment. The internal architecture allows for almost any padding arrangement that the user might want to do. 

BP 350 AW II capacity

Both size variants can fit a body with an attached 70-200mm telephoto both vertically and horizontally. The bigger variant, however, can accommodate for even longer telephoto lenses, or a 70-200mm with the hood extended outwards. The BP 350 AW II can fit a full frame camera body with 3 or 4 lenses depending on size, while the BP 450 AW II can fit an additional body and/or lens and has extra width allowance for even an attached vertical shooting/battery grip. 

Rear panel, padding, and accessory attachments

The back panel features an intricately designed padding that efficiently distributes the payload for better comfort. The thick shoulder pads allow for comfortable carrying along with a chest strap that reduces motion when walking around. The shoulder straps also feature attachment loops for additional accessories that the photographer might want to have in front for easy access. The Protactic backpacks also come with a waist belt that is said to improve weight distribution. In this new generation of Protactic backpacks, the waist belts are now removable and can be used as stand-alone utility belts compatible with all of the Protactic utility accessories. Personally, I particularly like the fact that the belt can also be removed for less-rugged uses wherein the added support might not be needed. 

Simple Everyday-Carry Bags

Protactic BP 300 AW II and MG160 AW II

Two significant additions to the Protactic line-up are less-rugged bags that seem to have been made for ordinary everyday use. The Protactic BP 300 AW II is a less bulky and more modular version of the Protactic backpacks. While still significantly lined with thick padding and surrounding attachment loops, this smaller backpack allows for easy switching from a gear-protective setup to a more casual all-purpose backpack. The internal padding architecture can be taken out as a whole to be re-arranged or left behind for uses that don’t require extensive protection. The bag also features a protective laptop compartment that keeps the computer elevated from the bottom surface for added protection from accidental drops.

BP 300 AW II. With removed Quick-shelf compartments

Another everyday-carry option is the all-new MG160 AW which is a full-sized messenger-type cross-body bag. An evolution of the previously smaller shoulder bags from the older generation of Protactic bags. This messenger bag features the standard attachment loops on both sides, the quick-shelf internal compartment padding, and a 13-inch laptop pocket. Externally, it also has additional straps to better secure the bag from shake in fast-paced commute, an easily adjustable buckle for quick strap adjustments, and a switching strap attachment from the sides of the bag to the rear for added carrying comfort. 

MG 160 AW II side attachments and customizable strap configurations

The Utility System

Though the backpacks and messenger bag make up the majority of this gear-carrying ecosystem, what really weave them together are the utility bags and accessories for more purposeful use. The system comprises additional top-loader shoulder bags, an intuitive lens changer attachment, utility bags, and accessory pouches. 

Protactic Utility belt, bags, lens changers, and top-loaders

Included in the expanded system are two top-loader bags that can act either as an individual shoulder bag, a front-facing chest bag, or as an attachment to a belt system. The top-loaders come in two sizes. The TLZ 70 AW II fits a full-frame body with an attached standard zoom lens. The length can be extended further through a double-layer spiral zipper that lengthens the compartment enough to accommodate a body with a 70-200mm lens as it unfolds. The TLZ 75 AW II easily accommodates telephoto lenses and elongates further to accommodate longer lenses, or an extended lens hood. 

TLZ 70 expanded length

The system also features two uniquely designed lens cases that provide a safe way to change lenses. The Protactic Lens Exchange comes in two sizes that hold one lens each when closed but opens up with a collapsible compartment to make room for another lens for the photographer to secure as they change lenses. 

Collapsing lens changing module

Protactic utility bags for additional accessories are also part of the system. They come in two sizes that can accommodate extra batteries, filters, memory cards, or audio gear. In addition to these, are Protactic smartphone pouches that can go on any of the attachment loops, and an expanding water bottle pouch that can hold containers of about 1 to 1.5 liters in volume. 

Utility bags

The top-loaders, lens changes, utility bags, and other accessories can all be mounted onto the attachment loops on any of the Protactic bags, as well as the stand-alone Protactic Utility Belt.


Application

Generally, the main Protactic backpacks act as all-around bags that can be used in almost any shooting scenario. From rugged landscape locations and long hikes, to relaxed quick shoots in the city. For additional carrying capabilities, they go very well with the utility pouches or even the lens changers for when there isn’t enough room in the backpack. The all-weather cover at the bottom of the bags provide additional protection for extreme environments that the already protective exterior fabric of the bags can’t take. 

BP 450 AW II with attached Befree Advanced tripod

The everyday-carry bags, BP 300 AW II and MG160 AW II provide convenient all-purpose bags for both serious shooting days, and casual strolls around the city. The side attachment loops also provide additional possibilities for extra load incase the relatively smaller bag can’t carry everything. 

Utility belt combination for an easy-access mobile setup

The Protactic utility belt in combination with the top-loaders, lens changers, and utility bags can be perfectly configured by the photographer to match their workflow. This would be quite helpful for photographers with very fast-paced shoots who cannot carry their entire bag with them the whole time. Events and wedding photographers who have to have as much gear as they need on them without carrying backpacks around the venue would definitely find this helpful. Sports photographers who might need to change lenses or cameras very quickly to adapt to the developing scene can definitely be aided by a good belt configuration as well. 

Compelete Protactic Line-up

Overall, Lowerpro’s protactic utility system has definitely evolved into one that can cater to the needs of every photographer. The system provides superb modularity without compromising protection and comfort. The low-key matte black design also contributes to the universality of the system as well. 

What I Liked:

  • Expansive collection of carrying choices
  • Customizable carrying configurations to fit the user’s workflow 
  • Available choices in size

What Can Be Improved:

  • Lacks a more protective tripod carrying attachment
  • No dedicated filter pouch in the system
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19 Comments

Michael Dougherty's picture

Bag makers are getting closer to solving a real problem. Many international carriers like Air New Zealand enforce a maximum weight limit of 15 pounds (much of the time). My backpack runs about 19 pounds. Wouldn't it be nice if you could pop out your largest and heaviest body/lens in an integrated compartment that has its own strap and closure so you could carry it on the jet as a personal item. Now, your backpack is under the weight limit.

FYI, carrying too much weight on you belt is really hard on your hips. Should probably add a suspender of some type.

Jon Kellett's picture

Air NZ allow a laptop bag or purse as a personal item, are they really that strict about what's in the personal bag?

Also, I don't know about all locations, but if you fly out of Auckland Air NZ often only weigh the bag if it looks heavy...

Tony Clark's picture

I bought the 450 when it was released, it's the largest bag that will fit in US domestic overhead bins. I've been very happy with it.

Never Mind's picture

Why do bag manufacturers believe that the only gear a photographer needs in all conditions is cameras, lenses and a tripod?

I wonder if anyone dares put wet and muddy clothes and sandwiches in the same compartment as the lenses; if crampons, poles and rackets go in the same pocket as the tripod; and if one needs to necessarily stop to have a sip of water. Or maybe photographers are immune to hunger and thirst! ;-)

Somehow also it seems nobody ever has heard about suspension systems?

M M's picture

Agreed. It’s hard to find a bag that can hold a lot of camera equipment together with hiking equipment especially if the equipment is somewhat dirty.

Never Mind's picture

I often carry my Deuter 30l bag. It's got a separate lower compartment which I have fitted with cushioning for a couple lenses, the camera and all sorts of batteries. But it's pretty tight, so if I want to carry larger lenses I need to fit it in an extra water resistant pouch.

Edit: I had written Vaude , but I meant to write Deuter brand. Corrected now. My bad.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Check out the Lowepro Powder. I believe it comes with an enclosed cube for your gear so you can put everything else that might be soiled separately within the bag.

Jonathan Peel's picture

Why did you need to say that?
Up until now I have been very content with my LowPro Fastpack...
But now I am not...
Now my bag is no longer good enough for me...

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

I'm getting the vibe that you deserve the upgrade. Cheers, Jonathan! :)

Rick Rizza's picture

I used the Manfrotto street camera bag which holds only 1 cam and a lens, and half of it are space where I put my lunch and drinks and another lens and power bank, laptop, tissue, rain coat, emergency kits, and spare FFP2 mask.
sadly that particular bag is awful in carrying tripod.

Tamas Nemeth's picture

I don't mind putting sandwiches in my BP450, though they are not muddy. Usually I eat protein bars on the single day trips, and they are even less of a problem. For longer trip, where I need to carry some more stuff (cloths and camping gear) I prefer to use my large Gregory backpack for that stuff and have the camera gear either in that or as an extra frontpack.

Jon Kellett's picture

You can attach fairly large bags to the Protactic attachment points, though it would get unweildly fairly quickly...

Loren Pechtel's picture

Yeah, why can't they do something cooperative with one of the real backpack makers??

The Protactic is the best I have found of dedicated camera bags, but it's not even in the ballpark with the Osprey Stratos that I normally hike with. Camera packs are more like the sort of stuff one carries in school than modern hiking gear.

Give me something like their larger packs except include a section at the top built like a camera bag. (Both because packs carry better when the weight is high, but also so a leak from your hydration bladder doesn't get to the camera.)

Chris Rogers's picture

Yeeeaaah this is true. Every camera bag i have ever owned besides my PD back pack was designed only for camera gear. I have their "hiking pack" the Trekker 450 AW and as awesome a bag as it is, it's not much of hiking bag. you would have to do some finangling to get it to work for hiking in terms of storing gear. It wears very well though.

Jon Kellett's picture

I love my Protactic 350 AW II and 450 AW II, though I made a mistake in going for the 350 first...

I especially love how it's fairly easy to get add-on bags from the army surplus shop, perfect for food and additional clothing.

Not a fan of the price though... Or the empty weight... Means risking the tripod/monopod and flash in the checked luggage.

Rex Hadro's picture

Anything but frigging black!

Gene Rollins's picture

I have the 450 AW II in black and love it. Would have liked choices though. OD Green would probably be my choice. ACU Camo second.

Jon Kellett's picture

IMO, black looks generic and (hopefully) less likely to get stolen. Obvs not a concern that everybody has, but important when you're carrying a lot of expensive gear in a poor area.

El Dooderino's picture

I've used Lowe products for many, many years. I had a LoweAlpine backpack that I got many years and many miles out of, and I was pretty rough on it. I'm confident in their quality.

I have a 450 AW II, and I'm sure it will serve me well for a long time!