Kata Digital Rucksack 466-DL Camera Backpack Review
Three years ago, we reviewed and fell in love with Kata’s DR-466i backpack. It was a basic backpack with some basic, but essential features. It had the right amount of padding, organization, features and a price that made it ideal for daily use. It just worked. But I suppose that even the best products need a refresh occasionally. So Kata started with their already impressive bag, made some changes and created the new and improved Kata Digital Rucksack (DR) 466 DL. We were introduced to the Kata DR-466 DL at PDN Photo Plus Expo back in October 2012. At first glance, it doesn't really look that much like it's predecessor. It has a similar size and shape, but the whole face looked different; enough had changed that I wouldn't have suspected any of the same DNA. But then when I was told it was a refresh of a bag we already loved, we had to get our hands on it. We weren't disappointed.
Overall Design (And What Changed)
As I mentioned earlier, the DR-466 DL is a refresh of the DR-466i. So the overall form factor, shape and size are going to be pretty similar. The DR-466 DL is a basic camera backpack that is separated into two major compartments. The bottom compartment is where you’ll keep your camera and most of your lenses and accessories. Those familiar with the DR-466i will note that very little has changed in this compartment…not that there was a reason to do so. Two zippers hole the lower compartment in place and when opened, the compartment swings open almost like a hinged drawer – though there is a webbing on either side that prevents the compartment from opening too far. Inside is your typical 6-compartment divider system which consists of an insert, two larger dividers that go front-to-back and three smaller dividers that can connect between the larger ones – all of which are held in place with hook/loop type fasteners. Where the dividers attach to the outside wall of the insert, there are somewhat sizable pads where the dividers are intended to attach. They are large enough to give you some flexibility, but positioning will still be somewhat limiting. Fortunately, the size of each cell is just about right for most lenses, flashes and accessories – though the larger flashes may need to take up two cells. The divider system is very similar to that of its predecessor. The only real difference is that the large dividers are now entirely made of the soft fabric that can be used as a fastening point for the center divider. Therefore, the center divider has the ultimate flexibility in mounting positions. It was for this reason that it became the ideal place to stow my camera. I pushed the center divider so that it would hug my camera’s mounted lens nicely. The leftover space became a great place for my camera strap to hang out (my camera strap is admittedly a bit more bulky than your typical). That left the other four cells for my lenses and other accessories, like my Nikon SB-600 flash, my 50mm lens, my Lensbaby lens and things like my flash diffuser and some spare batteries. Unfortunately, I also needed one of those cells for the included rain shell, which folds up fairly small, but has no dedicated pocket. I like that the rain shell is completely detachable so that I can let it dry before packing it up. But I do wish it had a dedicated pocket so I didn’t have to take up any of my other pockets on the bag.
The upper compartment of the DR-466 DL changed significantly over its predecessor. There are a few similarities, of course. It is about the same dimensions as the previous iteration, and the bottom of the top compartment does still zip open to give you access to the lower compartment. This is a nice feature I always liked about this series because it allows you to occasionally use the bag as just a packpack. The camera insert in the lower compartment can be completely removed. With the divider between the compartments opened up, this bag can really hold a great deal of stuff – even if it isn’t camera related. But the similarities between the previous iteration and the DR-466 DL end there. Gone is the organization elements on the back wall. In lieu of the individual pen holder and the larger and smaller pockets is one continuous mesh, zippered pocket. I’ll be honest, when I saw this bag at PDN Photo Plus Expo last year, I thought I would miss that level of organization. But then I realized that I wasn’t really necessary. I can still fit everything I need in that mesh pocket and because I can see directly into it, it’s not disorganized. I’m not going to say it’s an improvement, just different. Also of note is that the laptop pocket has now been moved interior to the bag, accessible through the top chamber. So the zipper that used to be just along the top edge of the bag is no longer needed. I really like the new interior laptop pocket design. It feels more secure, for starters. But I also feel the bag hangs better of my back and the elimination of another exterior zipper is quite nice from an aesthetic perspective: The bag now looks even more inconspicuous than the earlier generation. I’m sure there is a technical advantage as well as the zipper was probably put under a lot of stress before. The laptop pocket is pretty well padded both across the exterior walls and the interior walls where a large flap separates the pocket from the bag’s two main chambers. Despite being accessed from the top chamber, it’s quite easy to gain access to your laptop (or iPad or whatever books you might have in there) and I feel quite certain that whatever else is jostling around in my bag won’t harm my laptop.
Now for the real major change in the bag’s design: The exterior pockets. With the 466i, the upper face of the bag had only two pockets with vertical zippers. They held a lot, but it was easy to lose things and it felt like more of a form-before-function type of design. The old bag had two cinch straps along the sides to help tighten up the pack, but I never used them and I don’t know anyone that did. Removing those two straps gave room for a much more functional design. In lieu, the new DR-466 DL has four pockets with zippers at the top of each. The top two pockets are quite large, extending all the way behind the lower pockets to the zipper for the bottom chamber. I can comfortably fit notepads, my (large) phone, snacks or what-have you in there. I suppose that rain fly could be kept in here as well, but I have other uses for these pockets. The two lower pockets are about half the size, but still of a good size to fit a number of other accessories. The new front pocket design also helps me better organize my accessories and makes it very easy to forget about the organization I had on the older bag. Of course the new design is also far more aesthetically pleasing, much simpler in looks and frankly continues the illusion that this isn’t a camera bag.
There are a few other revisions over the previous design that I’d like to point out. You all know by now that I have a bit of a pet peeve about secondary carrying methods. Kata has always seemed to get this right featuring durable and comfortable handles on the tops or sides of their bags, something I’ve grown to appreciate (or perhaps I’ve become spoiled). The top handle fo the DR-466 DL was altered slightly. It’s not as big or as bulky or as well padded at its predecessor, but it’s still quite comfortable, very durable and very strong. I’ll consider this handle to be at least an equal to the old version. The side pockets on the bag are now durable nylon that is a significant improvement over the previous design which featured only mesh. The mesh was okay for a bottled drink or the like, but when used as a tripod holder, it was not ideal. It would get snagged and I did rip a hole in my old bag’s pocket. I’m not concerned with the new design because that piece of fabric is solid and durable. It’s not as flexible as the mesh, but it doesn’t need to be. And when it’s not in use, it almost disappears into the lines of the bag. So the new pocket design is a significant improvement. Finally, the shoulder straps changed slightly. The chest-strap is no longer vertically adjustable, but I don’t consider that a loss because the vertical adjustment wasn’t necessary for such a small bag in my opinion (If you were carrying 70 pounds, it might be a different story). But the straps are otherwise quite similar. They are well padded, durable and comfortable. One improvement is that they softened the curve of the straps. With the 466i, I felt like the straps were carving out a groove in my neck. Not so with the new design: The softer curve and better padding just seems much more comfortable now. They also got rid of the waist strap, which I thought was a pointless feature in the previous iteration anyhow (and I stated as much in my review). Again, this bag is too small to have such a waist strap, and so it didn’t belong. So I say good riddance to the waist strap. Kata is known for durability. And so it comes as no surprise to see the quality construction of this bag. The seams are all very tight: Most of the seems are internal to the bag and they are tight and piped with additional fabric. This is even true of the zippers. The seems that are external are very tight with no play in the bindings. These are all marks of good quality construction. So I expect this bag to last for a very long time.
What Fits In The Bag
Don't let the size of the bag deceive you. Surprisingly, you'll be able to fit a good deal of gear in this bag. To give you an idea of what can fit, I've compiled this list of gear that I was carrying in the bag:
- Nikon D80 (mid-size digital camera)
- Nikon SB-600 Flash (a mid-sized flash)
- Luma Loop Camera Strap (sadly discontinued)
- Samsung Series 5 Laptop (13.3″ Ultrabook)
- ASUS Nexus 7 Tablet (7″ tablet)
- Misc. Accessories:
- Sto-fen diffuser for my flash
- Spare batteries: 8 AA, 4 AAA
- Remote Flash Trigger Set
- Reverse Mounting Ring
- Rain Cover (which came with the bag)
- 4″x5″ Journal
- Various Cleaning Supplies
- Business Cards
- Clik Filter Wallet (with 4 filters)
Now I suppose I could carry a few more things. My side pockets could carry water bottles and my pockets aren't entirely full. For that matter, there's still a lot of air space in the upper chamber. But I like having a little extra space available for those situations where I might want to carry a snack or some other information. To be honest, most of the time I don't carry my laptop, but that laptop chamber serves well to carry a few magazines, a full-size notebook and so on. But as you can see, the bag is quite suitable to carry everything you need on a daily basis. One note about the mounted lens: The 18-135mm zoom is about 3 1/2″ (86.5mm) long, which is about the upper limit of what might comfortably fit in the bag. I have a bayonet-style hood that extends the length of the lens by a little more than an inch. With the hood, the lens fits, but the fit is a little too snug for my comfort. Fortunately, most of your walk-about lenses are going to be less than that, so most of you won't have anything to worry about.
I believe Kata really did a great job of refreshing this line. I really appreciate that the most important features that we loved from the old design were retained or improved ever so slightly. But I admire their ability to admit where certain elements of the bag needed to be redesigned from scratch. The whole front panel of the bag is just one of those areas where the improvement was necessary. Not only did they make the front panel far more functional with it's four pockets, but it made the overall look of the bag much more pleasing. This is a bag that is going to be suitable for just about anyone. For the casual and amateur photographers, this carries more than enough gear to get you through the day plus you'll have room for the things you need to carry daily. Pros will still have some interest in this bag as a walk-about bag when you aren't on assignment. And for those of you living in urban environments, the bag will look to common folk like any normal schoolbag, so that's a bit of a security bonus. With it's overall design, the improvements that Kata implemented, its durability and of course the organization of the space, this is going to rank as one of our favorite bags. It's difficult for us to find something we don't like about this bag. So we must incorporate this into our short list of SP Recommended Products. As of this writing, you can get the DR-466 DL for about $100 USD. It is available at our favorite store, Amazon.com.
Things We Liked
- Significantly improved design.
- Great organization.
- Internal Laptop/Tablet pocket
- Well padded without extra bulk.
- Durable: Strong materials and very well constructed.
- Yellow interior (a Kata trademark): Easy to find things.
- Comfortable to carry and wear.
- Rain Cover: Small, simple, very effective.
Things We Didn't Like
- (Nothing to report)