Three years ago, I reviewed the original camera bag offering from the team at Hawkesmill and it has remained my favorite bag in the years since. Recently, Hawkesmill reached out to me about reviewing their updated and improved model. Read on to hear how the best bag has been made even better.
I will include the same up-front caveat here that I did in my original review: this is an expensive bag. Not like "I'll skip Starbucks this week so I can afford a new camera bag" expensive, more like "I'm going to save up for a bit and buy this nice-ass bag because it's a lifetime investment and it goes well with my Rolls Royce" expensive. Expensive isn't bad, and Hawkesmill is one of those companies that backs up the cost of their products with top-shelf quality and customer service, but it is something to know before you read this review and potentially fall in love with this bag.
I've been carrying the first bag Hawkesmill sent me (the completely amazing looking Jermyn Street version with green canvas and tweed) almost every single day since I first received it back in 2016. It's been on planes, trains, Bird scooters, in the rain, you name it, and it still looks brand new so I can absolutely speak to the longevity of the bag and the quality of its build. This time around, they sent me the classy-AF Monmouth Street colorway, complete with rich blue canvas, deep brown leather straps and accents, and gray Harris tweed from Scotland. Every Hawkesmill bag and strap are handmade in the UK with the finest materials. I will admit that I miss the absolute fashion statement that is the Jermyn Street model, but the Monmouth is undeniably classy and eye-catching in it's own right, and the updates that Hawkesmill included in this new revision make the v2 model of the bag my new daily carry.
The most immediate difference you notice when you compare the two bags is the absence of the nickel twist lock on the front of the bag. I liked the lock myself, but the subtraction of it allows for increased storage on the two pouches under the top flap, so I understand its exclusion. Before you even open the bag, however, you have to appreciate the solid leather top handle that is riveted to a steel bar that runs the length of the top of the bag. This ensures that, anytime you lift the bag with the handle, the wait is being born by that bar, and not any stitching or other means of fastening that can loosen over time. I often load my bag up to capacity so this is one of my favorite features of the bag.
Flip open the top flap and you're greeted with a fairly standard interior. A nice, well-padded rectangular storage space that can be modified with several different Velcro dividers. I typically carry my 15" MacBook Pro, as well as my planner and other various items in the main compartment. When I'm carrying camera gear, I can easily fit my D750 and several lenses and/or a speedlite in the same space.
One of the most welcome changes that Hawkesmill have made on the new version of this bag, is the increase in size of the two front facing pouches, as well as adding individual covers with snaps to each pocket. This was my only real complaint about the original bag, so I very much appreciate this change. The original version of the bag had two open pockets with minimal give, so fitting extra gear was always a bit of a tight fit. Now, the pockets have additional fabric tucked into the sides that allow you to expand your storage and carry more of your gear. I easily fit my laptop charger, various cables, card readers, memory card pouches, batteries, etc. into these pockets without ever feeling like I'm running out of space.
The bottom of the bag still has four individual nickel "feet" that I loved on the original bag. I don't think twice about setting my bag down on concrete or whatever because I know those little feet are helping protect the bottom of the bag. These are also replaceable in case you do ever happen to wear them down and want a fresh set.
On the back of the bag, the old snap-down flap has been replaced with a zipper, within this compartment is a removable passport pouch. You can keep this in the bag and use it (I do) or you could leave it in a drawer at home and utilize the extra pocket for additional storage. Or keep it in the bag, never use it, but know it's there so you can feel really cool about having such a badass looking passport pouch just in case you ever need to travel internationally on short notice.
Probably the biggest change of all to the bag could be one of the most clever little features I've ever seen on a messenger bag. I'm sure they're not the first to think of it, but it's implemented so well and has been so helpful to me as an owner that I am going to choose to credit them with the innovation. It's really quite simple, they reduced the width of the shoulder strap, and added three rings to the back of the bag to allow you to convert it to a backpack-style setup when needed. They also include a second shoulder pad that you can snap right on when you need to make the switch. Now, this is by no means a replacement for an actual backpack, but the absolute usefulness of this little feature is undeniable. I often have to travel to LA for work, and my preferred mode of transportation when I'm in town is one of those myriad of electric scooters that are scattered all over the city. With my old bag, that meant slinging it over my should and riding along; not a terrible experience, but certainly not comfortable and I often experienced shifting of the bag while riding around. With the addition of the backpack strap option, I take 60 seconds to swap the strap around and I'm off to the races. It's a small touch, but an unbelievably useful one that I have come to really appreciate.
I will finish this review with the same statement I made regarding their initial bag three years ago, and the idea of getting what you pay for:
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.
As I said at the beginning of this article, I am now three years in on the first bag I received from Hawkesmill and it has shown no signs of quitting. I fully expect to still be using these beautiful bags for years and years to come.
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
monthsyears 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 like the passport pouch, it's cool and feels very fancy, but it feels a little pointless outside of that specific use case. I don't know what I would replace it with, but it does seem a bit superfluous.
I continue to recommend Hawkesmill as a source for the absolute finest handmade bags and leather camera straps that will last you a lifetime. Now happens to be a great time to make that investment, as they are currently (meaning this sale will end at some point, don't blame me) offering 20% off your order using the code. SPRING20.