If you’re an outdoor or adventure photographer, one of the situations likely tangle with regularly is balancing the line between comfort and size when it comes to your backpacks. You usually need a bag to both safely transport your expensive gear as well as your climbing supplies. However, our spines have limits and the bag also needs to be supportive and lightweight. Lowepro’s recent iteration of their popular camera bags is the Photo Sport Pro 30L AW, aimed to give you a light bag option for your adventurous ways.
The Photo Sport Pro 30L looks pretty similar to many popular Lowepro bags. It boasts two compartments for access to equipment: one top loading and one side loading. The top compartment has been specifically tailored to carry general supplies, from coats to a tent to gloves and snacks. This top compartment takes up about 2/3 of the total space the bag offers. The lower compartment is accessible via a side pouch and is built to be dedicated to camera equipment, and the side facing design makes it very easy to swing the bag over and grab your camera without removing the whole backpack. It’s a fast and easy-access design that Lowepro has built in to many of their bags, and for good reason.
The Pro Sport 30L AW comes with Lowepro’s weather sealing exterior cover (not shown in my photos, but it's basically just a big bag cover) which will protect the 30L from heavy rain, but most certainly not submersion under water. I also wouldn’t crawl under a waterfall with it. But if you’re expecting drizzle to a pretty heavy rainstorm, the all-weather pouch will keep your bag and gear dry. It’s also a great option to keep out wayward dust and sand.
When empty, the bag feels very light. Extremely light even. One of my main beefs in general with bags that are supposedly designed to be worn over lengths of time is when the bag, completely empty, has noticeable heft. Though the Sport Pro 30L has a rigid back (which is kind of a must), it doesn’t suffer from this common problem and is instead very light and quite comfortable. The straps have a mesh style that keeps them strong yet extremely light and breathable. This is a major plus if you're hiking or biking, or like me who easily gets sweaty and gross.
Waist straps are generally included to help relieve weight of your shoulders, but Lowepro designed the straps on this bag to serve an entirely different purpose. While they don't do a good job of helping relieve weight, they do an excellent job of keeping the bag snug to your body which was the main goal of their design. The bag isn't supposed to be weighed down with a lot of equipment, but kept as light as possible to make day trips easier.
I really like the zipper loops on the 30L. They’re very easy to grab on to and use, even at weird angles. Not once did I notice a snag. Zippers may not be at the top of your priority list when looking for a quality bag, but I have to say you will notice how nice these ones are.
As much as this bag gets right, there are some issues with the bag I’m less fond of. Though I know this is designed to be a day backpack first and a camera bag second, I was still disappointed at how small the camera pouch is. As I mentioned earlier, 2/3 of the bag is dedicated to the top pouch, which has almost no pockets at all on the interior (there is one small pocket). It appears to be strictly designed to stuff clothes and food into. That means that if you aren’t hiking and just want to use the bag for the day of shooting, a majority of the interior is not designed for that purpose.
The over-slung top-clip style of the top pouch is a standard in the climbing/adventure bag world and works great for those of you used to the style. For strict photographers just entering the world of hiking and adventure, it can feel a bit clunky and slow.
Quite oddly, diverging from Lowepro’s general modus operandi, there is a void of pockets and nifty storage spaces in this bag. Even the dedicated camera pouch is rather bare, with only a single divider in the long and rectangular space. I searched all over the bag and only found three or four pockets outside of the main compartment (I say "or" since I found something that would work as a pocket, but I don't get the feeling it's really a pocket).
The inside of the main compartment is cavernous and huge, but doesn't offer any special division and, as mentioned, lacks pockets. It's a big bag, but it doesn't feel big. This is both good and bad. Though it doesn't weigh very much and can seemingly fit quite a bit inside, the lack of segmentation can make it much easier to badly pack the pouch. Even though you have a lot of space, it's hard to use it efficiently. The bag basically encourages you to throw whatever you can in there willy-nilly and hope for the best. Though that's my general first inclination when packing (folding is not really a specialty), I usually want a bag that encourages me to be organized, not one that feeds my already less than neat tendencies.
Some of you might be wondering what the benefit is to the ability to remove the whole inner camera pouch. It took me a bit to understand, and I had to think of the bag as not a camera bag, but a hiking bag. You can remove the camera pouch to use the bag simply as a bag, no camera at all. Normally I see bags that sacrifice the free space for more camera space and that's the mentality I'm used to. However, I totally see the value in letting a bag just be a bag, and Lowepro did too when they designed the product.
Continuing on with the removable pouch, as briefly mentioned before, the main situation I found most troubling was the lack of usable space. I can fit at most my camera with a lens attached on one side and slightly smaller lens on the other side of the divider. The biggest lens I could see working in this situation is the Canon 70-200mm f/4 because it’s a lot slimmer than the f/2.8. Though you certainly could fit the f/2.8 lens in the compartment, it will seriously impede on the total area of the pouch making it very difficult to find a lens that would fit in the remaining space, save for maybe a few very small primes.
That said, the bag was specifically designed to only accommodate a single pro-level body and one lens. It was never originally intended to be a go-to camera bag for everything. If you plan to go out on your bike or climb the side of a mountain yet you also want to bring a camera along, this bag fits your needs. This isn't a camera bag with room for hiking stuff, this is a hiking bag with room for a camera. That's a differentiation that needs to be clear, because it does shift the way you will think about this bag.
If you are a hiker first and a photographer second, then this bag might actually be a great fit for you. But for those of us who tend to over-pack when it comes to camera gear (just in case you need that third speedlight, you know?), then it’s hard to justify the $200 price tag for the Pro Sport 30L. Because of the design of the bag, there is only a small contingent of photographers who would actually crave a bag like this. There are other dedicated climbing/backpacking camera bags on the market that actually segue easily into other uses either through modular add-ons or an adaptive design. The 30L doesn’t really offer either of these, and the result is a bag that, while great for a few specific instances, lacks the necessary design to appeal to a wider audience of photographers or videographers
What I liked:
Bag is very lightweight and straps breathe well
Zippers are easy to use and never snag
Quick-access design of camera pouch
What could use improvement:
Small, barely adjustable camera pouch
Surprising lack of pockets
Massive, cavernous interior actually feels small due to lack of segmentation
Let's get one thing straight: this isn't a camera bag. It's a hiking bag that has room for a camera. There isn't anything wrong with this, but it does make the audience more specific than just photographers in general. There are some pros who might be able to use the bag to their advantage, but for those of us who need to carry more than just one lens and a pro body, we look for more camera space. However, if you're an outdoors enthusiast who has been looking for the best way to carry all the stuff needed for a day in the mountains but also a safe way to transport a nice camera, the Pro Sport 30L AW might fit the bill. It's easy-access design for that single camera as well as an amazingly lightweight design make it a great companion for that mountain climb. This is a great bag for a hiker who also owns a camera, but I would recommend a different option with a more modular interior and space for any photographer who wants to also be a hiker, of which Lowepro and others have many.
The Lowepro Photo Sport Pro 30L AW is available for $200 from numerous retailers and Lowepro.com.