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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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