Kata DR-466i Camera Backpack Review

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(Photo courtesy of Kata)

Editor’s Note:  Since this review, Kata has refreshed the DR series bags.  The bag that has replaced the DR-466i is the DR 466-DL, which we reviewed more recently.  As the DR-466i is being phased out,  I would encourage you to read our review of the DR 466-DL.  

Kata, founded in 1992, is a sister company to some of the most well-known photography product manfacturers in the world including Bogen, Manfrotto, Gitzo and more.  Like it’s sister companies, Kata is known for making innovative products with a quality of work unprecedented in their field.  Owners of their bags are constantly raving about their products, and Kata’s reputation is unmatched.  So when the new DR-466i, the DR-465i and the DR-467i rucksacks came to our attention, we had to check them out and share our findings with you.  Kata was kind enough to provide a DR-466i for our evaluation.  So for the last two weeks, I’ve been using this bag as my primary means of camera transport.

The DR-466i is the mid-sized model; the DR-465i being the the smaller sibling and the DR-467i is the larger of the three.  These three models are all improved versions of their predecessors, the DR-465, DR-466 and DR-467 (note the lack of the ‘i’).  There are two significant difference between the predecessors and the ‘i’ series:  A strap for a small field tripod and a removable divider in the bottom pocket.  I will discuss each of these features in greater detail below.  Otherwise, all versions and sizes have a camera (main) compartment for camera gear and an upper compartment for accessories and other items.  Except for the DR-465 and the DR-465i, each bag also contains a laptop compartment between the back plate and the two compartments to house and protect a small laptop.  Here are some basic dimensions for each bag (upper compartment not included):

BagExternal Dimensions(W x D x H)Camera (Main) Compartment(W x D x H)Laptop Compartment(W x D x H)
DR-465 / DR-465i13.4″ x 6.3″ x 16.9″13″ x 5.9″ x 7.9″(no laptop compartment)
DR-466 / DR-466i13.4″ x 9.3″ x 16.9″13″ x 5.9″ x 7.5″9.4″ x 1.8″ x 14.2″
DR-467 / DR-467i13.4″ x 8.3″ x 17.7″13″ x 5.9″ x 7.5″12.2″ x 1.8″ x 15.4″

Packing the Bag

Considering the outside dimensions of this bag, one would not expect to be able to fit as much as I could.  The photo at left shows everything I was able to fit into the bag (sorry for the image quality – this shot wasn’t taken with my camera, nor do I claim to be a studio photographer).  The camera compartment contains padded dividers that can be repositioned to accommodate your equipment.  On the improved models (the ‘i’ models), the padded insert can be removed from the bag.  While in the bag, the insert is held in place by Velcro.  The partition between the upper and lower sections of the bag can be zipped open so that the bag can be used as a standard backpack – a nice feature for some, but one that I expect I would never use.  In the camera compartment, I was able to fit my D-SLR (A Nikon D80) with a mounted (or unmounted) 185mm zoom lens and two additional lenses (50mm prime and a 185mm prime).  The 185mm zoom lens is probably close to the upper size limit for a mounted lens in this bag.  This bag isn’t designed for cameras with a larger lenses mounted.   There is, of course, plenty of room left for a flash, or even a few more lenses.  Since I don’t own a flash or more lenses, I used the extra space to store the rain-cover (included with all models).  Note that there are plenty of other places I could keep the rain cover.  Though I did not carry it with me, I was also able to fit in my Nikon N2000 35mm film camera with its own 50mm lens, mounted.

On the face of the  bag are three flat pockets, one off to either side and one larger one accessed through the zipper in the center.  This is where I placed my filters -  two 52mm filters and a 67mm filters – and my reverse mounting ring.  In the top compartment, within the internal pockets, I packed my eyeglasses, cleaning kit, extra memory cards, remote shutter cables,  USB and Video cords for my camera.  My moleskine notebook and Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Photography Field Guide” (a book I’m reviewing for later publication) also fit into the compartment.  There is still plenty of space left over in the upper compartment and if it weren’t for Kata’s foresight, things would be jiggling around – but they included two cinching straps, one on either side of the bag, to tighten things up.  Nothing jiggling about anymore.

None of my laptops were able to fit into the laptop compartment.  Admittedly, both of my laptops are quite large – both are full-sized 17″ laptops with cinematic screens.  Each laptop looks like it would fit into the DR-467i without any problems, but it is just barely too large for the DR-466i.  This is not a serious concern, however: Due to the sheer size of either laptop, they are not typical of field laptops.  Many photographers who carry laptops into the field use slightly smaller laptops, and therefore will not have problems fitting theirs into their bag.  The laptop compartment still has its merits;  I also like to carry a letter sized notebook into the field to storyboard my shots or as a sketchpad.  The laptop compartment is a great place to store the notebook and any other paperwork one might need to carry.

Details & Build Quality

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Kata pays a great deal of attention to detail when designing their bags.  From the mesh at the bottom of the center pocket opening, keeping everything inside to the webbing  straps protecting the camera compartment from opening too far, they almost thought of everything.  All of the seams are double-stitched and corded, the materials are durable and all the stress points are reinforced appropriately.  You may have noticed the interior of the bag is bright yellow.  This Kata trademark makes it much easier to find small items in the bag.  Aside from it’s immediate purpose, it certainly is more welcoming than the typical gray interiors found in other bags.

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Lets talk about moving around with the DR-466i.  While on the shoulders, the back plate – which is semi-rigid – helps to hold the bags shape.  This is a bigger deal than one might expect, as even a full bag might tend to pull or buckle while in use, causing weight to shift unfavorably.  I experienced no such issue while using the bag.  The back plate is well padded and therefore comfortable on the back, though I it might be a little sweaty in the summer months.  Also built into the back plate is a strap that fits over a luggage trolley for easy transport – which is convenient since the bag complies with airline size restrictions for carry-on luggage.

As for the shoulder straps, they have an outward sweep to them with a chest strap to hold them in place.  Unfortunately, the strap can easily pinch the neck when the chest strap is in use.  Without the chest strap, the shoulder straps tend to be uncomfortable on the shoulders.  All is not lost as it is easy to get a comfortable fit, thanks to the adjustable chest strap.  Each part of the strap is fastened to the shoulder strap by a corded rail mechanism that allows the strap to slide up and down.  Slide it too high and it pinches at the neck.  Slide it too low and the straps pinch your sides.  But somewhere in the middle is just the perfect position.  I must say that if it weren’t for the adjustable chest strap, I would never have found a comfortable fit.

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The bag also has a waist strap which is supposed to take some weight off your shoulders on long days.   The waist strap is not padded, however, so it serves little purpose but to dig into your hips.  My advice would be to remove the strap, as I feel it’s useless.  To be fair, at this price point – I wouldn’t expect to see a well padded waist strap.  Kata more than makes up for the waist strap with the tow strap (some may call this a handle grip) – one of my favorite features of this bag.  For many manufacturers, the tow strap is an afterthought, a piece of mesh stitched to the surface of the bag with no thought to stress or comfort.  But I use the tow strap more often than one would expect – lifting the bag out of the car, moving about in a crowded train terminal or even just holding the bag while trying to get something out of a pocket.  I never noticed how much I use the tow strap on this or any bag until the DR-466i’s wide, well padded and semi-rigid design showed me what I was missing.  And unlike the solution offered by other manufacturers, Kata’s tow strap is stitched into the bag’s design, clearly not an after thought and substantially more sturdy and dependable than other solutions.

One area that I felt could use improvement was the interfacing of the camera compartment insert with the bag.  When placed in the bag, it is held in place with velcro at three points just under the lip of the compartment’s zipper.  Especially when accessing your gear while on your shoulder, I had a tendency to catch the edge of the insert with my camera and/or lenses.  This is a minor inconvenience, but one that could be improved if the insert were held in place with a zipper, or better velcro placement.

As I mentioned, one of the differences between the ‘i’ series and its predecessors was the addition of the tripod strap.  On the side of all of the bags is a small little pocket that unzips to reveal a mesh pocket for a water bottle.  On the ‘i’ series, this pocket doubles as a pocket to hold a small field tripod, and an additional strap near the top of the bag serves to hold the tripod in place.  My tripod is perhaps a little large for the bag, but I can fit one of the three legs in the pocket and it straps in well.  This is perhaps not as it was designed, but it works – though I don’t expect I would take a hiking trip with the tripod fastened in this way.  For those of us with slightly larger tripods, I would like to see a more serious solution or even an additional strap.  But again, at this price point, one cannot expect such features.

Final Thoughts

The Kata DR-466i is a solid bag that would be suitable for anyone with a fair amount of equipment.  It can comfortably hold a good deal of gear without growing bulky.  I was skeptical of the rucksack design – I wasn’t sure that the lenses and camera would be easy enough to access from the bottom compartment – but this bag surely changed my mind.  The bottom panel of the upper compartment is strong and rigid enough that even with extra weight up there, the camera compartment opens and closes effortlessly.  This would be a good backpack for street photographers and landscape photographers on short treks or even as an all-around bag for general use.  I would not recommend this bag or its siblings for those of you who need to have larger lenses mounted as the bag is just not designed for that.  I also wouldn’t recommend this bag for a long hiking trip due to its inadequate waist strap.  But if you’re in the market for a good mid-sized bag with a sturdy design, plenty of organizational benefits and quality construction, this may be the bag for you.

Unfortunately, as of this writing – the DR-466i or it’s ‘i’ siblings still have not shown up in many stores.  The predecessor, the DR-466, is available at our favorite store, B&H Photo & Video for about $70 (USD).

Update (Feb. 3, 2010): The DR-466i – the exact design I reviewed here – is now available at Amazon.com ($80 USD)

Things We Like

  • Vertical adjustment of the chest-strap.
  • Bright colored interior lining.
  • Ridged and well padded back plate.
  • Removable insert for camera compartment, allowing the bag to be used as a standard backpack.
  • Comfortable tow handle.
  • Sturdy construction (reinforcement, corded seams, etc)

Things We Didn’t Like

  • The curved shoulder straps tend to dig into your neck.
  • The belt strap is not padded and therefore serves little purpose.
  • The camera compartment insert, held in place with velcro, tends to catch the edge of your equipment when moving items in and out of the bag.
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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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