I am going to be completely up front with you: this is an expensive camera bag. It is, in fact, the most expensive camera bag I have ever owned, and I have owned many. Instead of buying this bag, you could easily purchase a very solid prime lens. But you know the old saying "you get what you pay for"? Well sometimes that turns out to be 100 percent true.
I'm going to go ahead and give you the price now so you can skip actually reading my review and get right to ripping me apart in the comments section. This bag will cost you right around $825 shipped to the United States (but scroll to the end of my review to get a code for 20% off!). Yes, that is a lot of money, but yes, if you can afford it then it is worth it. I have been using the Jermyn Street version of Hawkesmill's bag as my daily bag, not just my camera bag, for over a month now and it is quite simply the best bag I have ever owned.
What is one of the most repeated statements by photographers about what they want in a bag? They want something that works but doesn't look like a "camera bag." For myself specifically, I often find myself saying "I want a bag I can use every day, even if I'm not carrying my camera." ONA makes some bags that come close, but the all-leather look just doesn't match my personal style. The leather messenger bag is everywhere these days, and there are plenty of great companies that make great leather bags, but how many companies combine leather, canvas, and tweed into a fantastically useful and fantastic looking bag? Hawkesmill does, that's who.
Hawkesmill is a fairly new company based out of London. Their founder, Taylor Young, wanted to create a camera bag that was made with the same intention and quality as handmade clothing and shoes. "There was just one part of my wardrobe that I didn’t like the look of: my camera bag," Young writes. "Every time I wore it and passed a mirror I couldn’t help thinking I looked like a fisherman. After all, the finest camera bag I could find was simply a fishing bag that was turned into a camera bag. However, the design has stayed pretty much the same. After a while, I just couldn’t wear it anymore."
Everything about this bag oozes luxury and sophistication, but in a good way. When you open up the shipping box you're greeted with a sort of Russian nesting doll experience as your brand new camera bag is actually inside of a large cotton drawstring bag imprinted with Hawkesmill's logo; no plastic wrappers for this bag, no sir! Checking out this bag for the first time, I felt like I should be at some exclusive shop in a fancy city enjoying a private bag-fitting session with some guy who clearly knows more about bags than I could ever learn in a lifetime. And, in fact, that seems to be the aesthetic that Hawkesmill is going for as they name each style of their bag after a famous luxury street in London. They describe the model they sent me, the Jermyn Street, like this:
Jermyn Street is one of the most luxurious shopping destinations in London. It is home to some of the oldest brands in England. We have done our best to honour that name with this bag. Classic Harris Tweed, with supple Italian bubble leather straps and trim. This is our grandest bag, for a reason.
Impressive right? There are similar descriptions for their Marlborough, Sloane Street, and Bond Street bags. Hawekesmill uses some of the highest quality components I have ever seen in the construction of their bags. Triple layer waterproof Scottish canvas, Harris Tweed (also made in Scotland), custom branded nickel fittings, and Italian bubble leather. This bag has traveled more of the world than I have by a long shot. The branding on the bag itself is well represented while being perfectly subtle. The Hawkesmill name is stamped on one of the side leather panels and engraved in each of the four nickel bolts that protect the bottom of the bag.
The bag itself is pretty standard as far as storage; two small pockets on the front beneath the flap, a removable insert with adjustable Velcro inserts, a removable Velcro wall in the insert to allow for a laptop or tablet up to 15 inches. There is also a snap-closed pouch on the back of the bag that has another removable leather/canvas/tweed pouch secured inside. I don't know what its specific purpose is, but I love it. I would actually imagine that if I was traveling internationally that I would keep my passport and some spare cash in here, as the pouch actually snaps directly into the bag itself with three separate snaps, making it incredibly difficult to remove by a would-be thief. I have also used the back pouch to store various papers and pieces of mail during my time with the Jermyn Street.
Attention to detail is the calling card of this bag. The aforementioned pouch doesn't just slip into place, it snaps in. The removable main insert works the same way. Nothing shifts around unnecessarily, the main flap has interior folds to protect from intruding rain. The shoulder strap is easily removable if you want, but one of my favorite features can't even be seen. The top handle is securely riveted to a steel bar that runs through the top of the flap. Every other bag I have owned simply had a handle stitched on to the top, and I have had multiple handles come loose or that stitching start to fray. This steel bar takes all of the load-bearing weight off of stitches and eliminates that issue entirely. It results in an extremely solid feeling bag with a perfect distribution of weight when carried by hand.
Another small but appreciated feature are the four nickel bolts on the bottom corners of the bag. It's a comfort to know that they're there whenever I need to set my bag down on the floor, street, or sidewalk, and not worry about needlessly scuffing the leather.
I have used this bag daily for almost two months now, more often than not without my camera, simply using it as a messenger bag. I've stopped counting the number of compliments I've received on it, and I definitely feel more comfortable bringing it to the high-level corporate events I shoot than my other messenger-style bags from other companies.
It was a bit of an adjustment going from my faithful old Think Tank Retrospective 30 to the Jermyn Street as it quite simply did not offer near as much storage space as the Retrospective. What I quickly discovered, however, was that the majority of the crap I always carried around in my Think Tank, I didn't actually need; I just put it in the bag because I had the space for it. I can easily fit my laptop, D750 with grip, and several lenses and/or a speedlight with no problem and still have that nice streamlined look. I have taken the bag on several airplane flights as my carry-on and it has had plenty of space for all of my in-flight necessities.
Hawkesmill will also be releasing a smaller version of their bags in the next couple of months specifically designed for mirrorless cameras, and yes, I will probably get one of those too.
Sneak preview of the upcoming smaller bag from Hawkesmill
Some Closing Thoughts About Expensive Bags
It really is true, you get what you pay for. Many people do not want or need an expensive bag, just like many photographers don't want or need the top-tier 50mm f/1.2, they're perfectly happy with their $100 nifty-fifty f/1.8. Not everyone has the same wants or needs, and that is totally OK. There are certain things that, when I buy them, I want them to last me a long, long time. Shoes, jackets, bags, things like that. I firmly believe that (if it is financially feasible for you) there is never anything wrong with investing good money in a quality product that will last you for years and years to come. So I don't have a problem with an $800 bag that I am going to use every day for the next 20 years, that's a solid investment for me. But you, dear reader, should follow your bliss.
What I Liked:
- Aesthetics. This is a beautiful bag. Every inch of it shows intention in design and functionality. It feels like an actual fashion piece and not just a camera bag.
- The fact that I still smell that rich, rich leather, even after months of use.
- Build quality. The highest quality bag I have ever used, hands down.
- The steel bar that eliminates a stitched-on handle.
- Not just a camera bag, this is my daily driver, even when I'm not shooting.
- Plenty of snaps to keep everything in place.
- Lifetime warranty against defects!
What Could Be Improved:
- I'm honestly not sure. I'll go ahead and say that the two front pouches are rather tight, and that the addition of a side pouch would be a great space for some spare batteries, but all of that would come at the expense of size, so I don't know if I would want that tradeoff. Hawkesmill intentionally kept the pockets slim and eliminated the side pockets for this reason, so it's really not a problem for me.
Hawkesmill is offering 20% off through June 19, 2016 for Father's Day, so if you feel compelled to buy a fantastic bag, use the code dad20 at checkout to save that 20% on anything on their site.