Fstoppers Reviews the ORCA Carry-On Wheeled Suitcase

Fstoppers Reviews the ORCA Carry-On Wheeled Suitcase

ORCA is the maker of a wide range of photo and video accessories: primarily bags and other protective gear. They sent me their new rolling camera bag to try out, and I was eager to give it a go. As you'll see below, I've been using a $50 suitcase from Target as a camera bag for the last four years, so I was excited to see how an actual camera bag would hold up.

As I said above, I have been using a pretty basic rolling suitcase as a camera bag for going on four years now. I picked it up from Target it 2012 for something like $60 after tax and then bought a drop-in case with dividers online that magically transformed it into a rolling camera bag and me into the unwilling recipient of thousands of "you going on vacation?" jokes. EDIT: Credit where credit is due, I forgot that I went this direction after reading an article on Fstoppers back in 2012!

As silly as the idea might seem, this combo has been pretty fantastic for me. First off, it looks like a suitcase and not a camera bag, because it actually is a suitcase and not a camera bag. I don't know if this distinction actually deters thieves at all, but I like to tell myself that vagabonds and miscreants are far less interested in my boxers than they would be in my cameras and lenses. It also has the four individual wheels, which is one of my preferred ways of rolling it around. Does this mean that it occasionally tips forward when I have it overloaded? Sure, but who doesn't tip forward from time to time, am I right? Because it is a suitcase and made to pack lots of things in, it can fit a whole bunch of stuff. The pockets are huge on this thing, and it's got that handy expanding zipper I can unzip when I really need to stuff it full. One of my favorite things about it is just how well it doubles as a suitcase when I need to travel. I mean, it does the suitcase thing really well, probably its single best feature. All kidding aside, being able to just lift the camera case out whenever I need to use it as a suitcase is surprisingly handy.

Be all that as it may, I have always wanted an actual camera bag. The Think Tank Airport Security V2.0 seems to be the king of this particular castle, but I don't have one of those and don't want to spend the money on one, so this new bag from ORCA seemed like it could be right up my alley.

Camera bags are pretty straightforward most of the time. They're typically either going for utility or aesthetics. The ORCA Carry-On Wheeled Suitcase is all function with a small amount of flair, blue flair to be precise. I like the idea, but the implementation ends up coming off as feeling somewhat cheap instead of sleek and modern, which is what I think they were going for. One example is the blue crossbars that run across the front of the bag. I assume they're there to take some of the lifting weight off the stitches of the handles when you pick the bag up with the two top handles, but they're held in place by these blue plastic circlets that look like cable ties. They aren't cable ties, but that's the association that your mind makes when you see them.

Some other examples would be the protective piping that runs along the corners. It's there to protect and reinforce the edges of the bag, but again it just ends up looking and feeling cheap instead of in line with the premium price of this bag ($356 on B&H at the time of this post). 

The first word I would use to describe the ORCA is "tight" — not "tight" the way you thought it was cool to use it in junior high when describing something you thought was neat — literally tight. The front zippered pouch on this bag is so slim I can barely get my hand inside, let alone the random gear crap I like to lug around.

In case you can't tell, that picture is me pulling that opening to it's limit, it doesn't stretch any more than that. I appreciate a nice compact bag, but I think ORCA went too far in their pursuit of compact and sacrificed too much in the way of storage and convenience. Check out how much room I have in my suitcase-special as a comparison.

I can stuff that sucker full of gear, but when it's empty, it doesn't protrude or make the bag look bulky, an important feature. The smaller zippered pouch on top is much more accommodating and even features an interior zipper so you can access the pocket's contents when you have the main flap of the bag open.

The biggest offenders of being too tight are the handles on the bag. The two handles on the face of the bag are actually awesome and a feature that I think all rolling bags should have, but the top, side, and bottom handles on the bag are barely big enough to fit my hand through. A handle needs some give to be fully functional, and these lack that (very important) feature.

The tightness of the bag does have its plusses: it feels very solid and compact, which is nice, but you just end up losing too much in the way of usefulness to get that compact feel, and it's not a tradeoff worth making. The tight fit of the design even shows up with the identity badge pouch that most of us typically use to stuff business cards into. I was able to fit about five cards in there and have to fight with it to get them out.

The ORCA has a standard telescoping handle for when you're rolling the bag. It's also blue, which adds a little bit of fun flair. It's hidden behind a zippered flap, and there is some interior rain-proofing fabric to protect the inside of the bag if you're rolling around in inclement weather. It's not too big of a deal, but there was more wiggle in the handle than I was expecting when fully extended, comparable to my $50 suitcase.

Another small but appreciated feature are the main zipper pulls. They're a lanyard material with plastic half rings around the loops that are much easier to interact with than a standard zipper pull.

One of my favorite exterior features of the bag are the wheels. Not only are they another splash of blue, but they're just plain nice wheels. They're wide, sturdy, roll well, and made of a firm rubber or poly-something material that handles gravel and small road rubbish with ease.

There are also some nice sturdy round bumpers on the back and bottom of the bag to protect it when it's standing or laying down — simple things, but something I've seen other bags get wrong.

The bag has a zippered main compartment that opens with a seam on the bottom, pretty standard for rolling camera bags, but not for suitcases. Inside the top cover is a surprisingly large laptop pouch. Surprising, because up until now, everything about this bag has been rather tight and limiting, but this laptop pouch is huge. I easily fit my Xbox One S in the pouch, and probably could have fit the cinder block that is the original Xbox One in there without any problem. This is a bit perplexing, as it seems like some of that space could have been utilized for the exterior zippered pouch, instead of making a truly massive laptop space. I prefer my laptop to be snug in a bag, and it felt like it had too much room to slide in this bag. That being said, there is also a very sturdy elastic band that goes across the pouch, so anything thicker than a laptop does have that added bit of security.

So now we arrive at the interior of the bag, which rocks the familiar shade of blue and also features some components that really make the ORCA shine, as well as some unfortunate problem areas. The adjustable velcro walls, which are the bane of my bag-existence, but something I have come to accept as a necessary evil that I will never be free of, are some of the highest quality and most heavy duty inserts that I have ever used in a bag. I don't worry about these bending or coming loose. They hold and hold well, an important feature in a bag that will spend most of its time standing upright and putting the strain of all your gear on those little panels. The interior also has a couple more of those extra-sturdy velcro straps to help ensure your gear stays put.

ORCA also includes a couple of nice bonus items with the bag: a small zippered lens pouch and a larger lens wrap. The pouch is perfect for a small-to-midsize prime, and the larger wrap would be great for your 70-200,, or larger glass. The small pouch has a loop so you can toss it on your belt if you need to tote that extra lens around without an additional bag.

The smaller pouch also has interior pockets for memory cards, so it really is a handy little accessory that comes included with the bag.

I really feel rather torn about this bag. There are some things about it that I really like, but the things that I don't like are pretty big detractors. The tightness of the large front pouch and top/side/bottom handles make those features borderline unusable, and the small exterior features like the blue bars and ties and the corner piping give it a cheaper feel than a $300+ bag should have. I've only been using it for a couple of weeks, but there have definitely been times that I missed my old suitcase, so only time will tell.

What I Liked

  • The bag feels very solid. Components feel well made.
  • The interior panels are fantastic, and I feel very comfortable knowing that my gear is secure.
  • The two front-facing handles are extremely functional and useful.
  • Blue accenting works well in some places.
  • Solid wheels, very important in a rolling bag.
  • Several heavy-duty velcro straps throughout the bag provided added security.

What Could Be Improved

  • This bag needs to loosen up, which would improve it a lot and make it a no-brainer recommendation.
  • The bars on the front seem like a cool feature, but would better served by being encased in fabric. That fabric could still be blue, and it would look a lot cleaner than the current implementation.
  • Corner piping could also use a facelift to look more premium and match the bag's price tag.
  • Laptop pouch is too large; slimming it up would help me feel much more secure about traveling with my laptop.
  • Telescoping handle could feel tighter; it could just be my copy of the bag, but it feels too shaky.

Overall, the ORCA is a really solid bag, but its several sticking points make it hard for me to recommend for the price. Let me know in the comments if you have any specific questions, or get your own ORCA from B&H for $356.

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Robin Férand's picture

Andrew thanks for the article. I'm actually looking for a carry-on wheeled suitcase. The think thank gears that I really like but quite expansive. This case that you reviewed seems nice but also some cons for the price. So As you started your article, I found the idea of getting a random wheeled suitcase and then customize it with dividers. I think I would go for that as first. However I can't quite find some dividers online.. Might be a long time ago but where did you get yours? Thanks!

Andrew Strother's picture

So back before Calumet shut down their US sales site I got it from them, they still sell it on their European site though https://www.calphoto.co.uk/product/Calumet-Inserts-for-Rolling-Camera-Ca...

Some quick googling also led me to this, which might fit your needs: https://www.amazon.com/waterproof-shockproof-partition-protection-IN02X/...

Jeff Wasserman's picture

search: "camera partition padded" on eBay. Lots of variety.

Robin Férand's picture

Yea I did, I didn't know the word so I was stuck. I'm thinking getting some padded from Pelican I saw on B&H because the ones on eBay are mostly taking months for shipping and I need it for a trip mid september. Thanks a lot for yours answers though. The idea of a random suitcase and then partition padded never came to mind and I find that very smart! :)

Subhankar Barai's picture

You can also opt for this
They have different sizes, biggest one at $100

Robin Férand's picture

Wow! that seems great! Even though they don't have all the models in stock but I like it. I was going to choose the padded made my Pelican but I may as well take this configuration. Thank you !

Christopher Snyder's picture

"Laptop pouch is too large"

This is a bit subjective as it does depend on the size of your laptop. Sure if you have a Macbook Air it's too big, but if you have something more along the lines of a 17" gaming laptop it might just work out for you. Could also allow for space to toss in an external hard drive or Wacom

Andrew Strother's picture

When I say it's too large, I genuinely mean you could fit an Xbox one in there with ease. Good point about being able to put extra things in there though. It just seems like a weird place to have all that extra space when the front pocket is all but unusable.