I believe that a camera bag (a good one) is one of the most important accessories that you could get. I don’t really understand when people complain about the prices for a good camera bag. Its job, after all, is to protect your equipment – your very expensive equipment. So it’s worth spending the money on a good bag. Even so, I will admit that it’s difficult to justify the costs of an expensive camera bag after you’ve bought your camera, a few lenses and so on. Fortunately, there are a lot of great camera bag options in the sub $100 (USD) range. One such bag is from deviantART, the art community: The dA Pro Camera Bag. deviantART was kind enough to get us a sample to review. For the past month, I have been using the bag as my daily bag and I will share all of my thoughts herein.
The skeptics will be quick to jump on me about the source of the bag. deviantART is an art community, not a widely known source for camera accessories. This is, in part, why we wanted to get our hands on the bag. Those same skeptics will be happy to know that while the bag may be designed by the art community, it is assembled by Brenthaven, a company with over 30 years experience making similar products. The dA Pro Camera Bag is marketed as featuring professional level features at a consumer level price. We wanted to see if the bag stacked up. In many cases, it did not disappoint.
The dA Pro Camera Bag is a sling bag – one shoulder strap – with a top-loading chamber for quick access to your camera with mounted lens. The entire face of the bag zips open to give full access to the main compartment. The main compartment is spacious enough to comfortably fit a few small lenses and a bunch of camera accessories. Its separator walls are held in by velcro and can be reconfigured in a number of ways to accommodate your gear. Additionally, it has zippered pockets on the side and face of the bag plus a zippered pocket inside the main pocket door. So there’s plenty of places to store extra media. Finally, you can mount a small tripod to the face of the bag with the two straps provided. Despite the bag’s size (9”W x 7”D x 15”H [23cm x 18cm x 38cm]), it’s well organized and is able to hold quite a bit of gear.
The shoulder strap – again, there is only one – is fixed at the top. But there are two fastening points at the bottom corners of the bag. This allows you to switch between these points to adjust how the bag lays across your back for comfort and/or preference. Personally, I found the bag quite comfortable when worn with the strap across my chest but not as comfortable when worn on one shoulder. As the bag is narrow, and since the strap fastens in the center at the top, I don’t feel that it sat comfortably over a single shoulder – it tended to roll off to the side. This posed a bit of a dilemma for me. I preferred to carry it across my chest – but in that position, it was not as easy to get the bag off my shoulder to get my camera in short order. Also on the strap is a pocket that’s designed for your cell phone. My cell phone is much too large for the pocket – and if you have a smart phone, you will have the same problem. Note that the pocket is advertised as fitting an iPhone. I don’t have one to test that claim, but I can attest that my Blackberry would not fit in the pocket. But the pocket could be used for extra media, spare batteries or even your lens cap, so it still serves a purpose.
The camera access is from the top of the bag via a flap with a double zipper that unzips on three sides. deviantART recently increased the size of this compartment to house larger cameras. My Nikon D80 (similar in size to the Nikon D90 or Canon EOS 60D) fits comfortably inside the chamber. It is not designed to fit a larger camera. I grew to like the top-access for the camera. It puts the camera in a great location, it’s easy to access and it keeps the bag well balanced. When inside the bag, the lens is protected by two L-shaped separators which are of the perfect size for most lenses. My 18-185mm zoom lens with the 67mm diameter front element fit perfectly inside this chamber. Wider lenses will be difficult to fit as the separators only fold at one specific point. An improvement on the current design would be if these separators could bend at multiple points to permit wider or narrower lenses.
One great aspect of the bag is the side media pocket. It’s a simple little pocket where I can stow my extra media cards in one of the three media slots. There’s also a pen/pencil pocket, a mesh pocket and an expanding pocket where I occasionally carried my pocket camera. In addition to this organizational oasis, there is also a larger flat pocket on the exterior of the main flap plus a mesh pocket covering the entire inside of the same flap. My journal took up residence in this interior pocket. If it’s raining, worry not: The dA Pro Camera Bag comes with a fitted silver raincover that folds and slips into a convenient pocket behind the lumbar pad. As a bonus, I discovered that the raincover doubled as an effective reflector in a pinch.
Filling the Bag
Despite the dA Pro Camera Bag’s relatively small size, it designed in an efficient manner that can house quite a bit of gear. The camera body is the most important consideration. As I already mentioned, the bag is not designed for full-size pro bodies. But the smaller entry-level bodies and low-mid sized bodies should fit without any problems. So here’s the gear I was carrying with me in the bag:
- Nikon D80 Camera Body
- Nikon Nikkor 18-135mm Zoom Lens (mounted)
- Nikon Nikkor 50mm prime lens (with carrying case, not shown)
- Lensbaby Composer (with aperture kit and carrying sack)
- Large Rogue Flashbender (Folded and stowed on top of gear inside main pocket flap)
- Nikon SB-600 Flash (with carrying case, not shown)
- My Trusty Journal (with pen)
- Pocket Camera (side pocket, not shown)
The default configuration for the interior of the bag allows one to stow the camera with mounted lens plus four additional lenses and/or accessories. The horizontal dividers extend only half-way across the bag, and so I removed one so that I could carry my flash with me. This essentially ate up one chamber – but I was still able to carry both my Lensbaby and my 50mm prime. The pockets would have been deep enough to carry an additional 100mm lens. But larger lenses would probably require the removal of one divider like what I did for my flash. But as you can see, you can certainly carry a decent amount of gear – just about everything you would need for daily use.
All that remains is the question we asked at the beginning of the article: Does the dA Pro Camera Bag stand up to the more expensive pro-quality bags? Absolutely.
The bag is made of durable materials (including padding) and can take a beating while also protecting your gear quite well (trust me, I have young kids). I’m also impressed with how much it can carry considering its relatively small size. The top-loading of the camera certainly affords better space management inside the bag while providing a very nice buffer around the mounted lens. Therefore, more room for your other gear. So as a beginner/novice bag, the dA Pro Camera Bag is something you can certainly grow into. And this price point, it’s a win-win situation.
For those of you semi-professional types with your large high-end glass, you may be somewhat disappointed with the dA Pro Camera bag, if only due to size. The biggest disadvantage from my perspective is that larger lenses will not comfortably fit into the bag, whether mounted or otherwise. It is also not designed for larger camera bodies. Finally, it does not have any place to carry a full-sized notebook (estimate worksheets, release forms, etc), nor is it ideal for carrying full-sized tripods (it can do it, but it’s awkward). But please note that I don’t consider any of these aspects as serious disadvantages or design flaws. The bag is not designed for this type of use, and is therefore not ideal for these users.
Bottom line, it’s a great bag with just the right balance of features vs. price point. If you have need for a daily use bag, or if you aren’t yet packing large glass, this is a bag that you can grow into. So the skeptics can take a rest: Great bags can come from an art community, and the dA Pro Camera Bag is our proof.
The bag is available for $74.95 (USD) exclusively through deviantART.
Things We Liked
- Top Loading Camera Compartment – we were surprised how much we liked loading the camera from the top.
- Side Pocket with individual media storage pockets and more.
- Tripod carrying system for small tripods.
- Two strap mounting positions (bottom) for personalized comfort.
- Raincover with dedicated storage pocket. Bonus: It’s reflective and effective as a reflector in a pinch.
- Bright red interior – small items will not get lost.
Things We Didn’t Like
- Not as comfortable when worn on a single shoulder.
- Not ideal for carrying large lenses (especially as mounted).
(click for larger view)