The Kata Pro-Light Bug-205 PL is a bag designed for more serious photographers who have a lot of equipment. It’s a fairly new product that was announced by Kata this past October. Last year, we reviewed the Kata DR-466 and it quickly became one of our favorites. As for the company, Kata also became one of our favorite manufacturers because of their overall quality and attention to detail in their designs. So when we heard of their new product, we wanted to get a look at it first hand. Kata was kind enough to provide a sample of the Bug-205 PL for a full review.
Before we jump into the review, I’d like to point out that the Bug-205 PL has a big brother, the Ultra-Light Bug-255 UL. We were able to take a closer look at both bags side-by-side at PDN Photo Plus this past October. Compared to the Bug-205, the bag we are formally reviewing here, there aren’t too many differences. Other than the obvious pale-gray color of the bag, the only considerable difference is that the bag is significantly lighter. They accomplish this by providing a lighter padding in the bag’s walls, but not at the loss of structural integrity of the bag. I was informed by Kata that this lighter weight design was at the request of their existing customers and fans who wanted a lighter weight solution. Not that the Bug-205 PL is heavy for its size, but the Bug-255 UL is significantly lighter. The pale gray bags, indicative of the Ultra Light line, will be available in a number of Kata’s configurations. The Bug-255 UL is designed more for the professional. But for all intents and purposes, this review of the Bug-205 PL could also apply to the Bug-255 UL.
The Overall Design
As I mentioned, the bag is designed for the serious photographer who has a need to carry a large amount of equipment. It’s a large backpack design with a single main compartment that is divided by a u-shaped divider. The divider creates a well protected camera chamber in the middle and a u-shaped chamber that can be subdivided further around the outside edge. Its large zip-open flap extends edge-to-edge to provide full access to the main compartment. Since the main flap is a dual-zipper, and due to the arrangement of the interior pockets, you will find that you can also access just one side of the bag without disturbing the contents of the other areas of the bag. I’m not sure if this was design intent, but it’s a plus all the same. But if you just need to access your camera, there is a smaller zip-open flap inside the main flap is a smaller zip-open portal flap to give you access to the camera chamber.
The entire inside of the bag is made of a flannel-like material which is velcro-ready. This allows a lot of flexibility when choosing your divider positions and placement of your accessories. The bag also comes with two drawstring mesh bags that have velcro on their bottoms which can be used to organize your smaller items. These can be affixed anywhere inside the bag as well. As is the case with nearly all Kata bags, the interior is a bright yellow – a trademark that makes it easier to find small items that might get lost.
The camera chamber is designed to fit a camera with mounted lens, body sits at the bottom with the lens pointed upward. It has high padded walls and a velcro strap provided to help hold the camera in place until you need to grab it. It can easy fit a pro-sized body with a 300mm lens mounted (maybe more). As my largest lens isn’t that long, I slipped in an extra divider so that I could keep my favorite lens and some filters on quick access. Also provided with the bag is a lens pillow which has velcro that affixes to the back of the bag. You can place this just under the point where the lens mounts to your camera to increase stability while moving about. In my case – since my camera is only a mid-sized model, I chose to put the pillow directly under the body of the camera. This held the camera in a slightly tilted position (angled with the lens towards my back) both for easier removal when I need it and to hold the camera in what felt was a more stable position for my setup. This is of course a matter of preference, but also a nod to the brains behind the bag as the pillow – as simple as it is – is a nice accessory.
In addition to the main chamber, there is also a zippered laptop compartment and a laptop sleeve. The latter is sleeve-like pocket that is built into the back-plate between the shoulder straps’ fastening point and the padding for your back. Therein lies the design flaw. The straps (which I will discuss shortly) are made of a rubber-coated molded foam. While they are not rigid, they certainly don’t have much give to them. The problem for the laptop is that it makes it very difficult to get the laptop in and out of the bag. Some may see this as a bonus as a deterrent to would-be thieves. But I see it as a major cause for frustration. Granted, my laptop is not of the small variety – it is a 17″ (16:9 aspect ratio) beast with a full-sized keyboard (and a number pad), so I don’t expect it to fit into much. It does fit into the Bug-205 PL quite well, but getting it out between the straps is difficult. I would be less inclined to pick on this feature if the shoulder straps had quick-release clips at the bottom, but no such feature exists. So you’ll need to wrestle with the laptop getting it in and out of this pocket. Note that this pocket is otherwise open to the elements, so I wouldn’t recommend sticking a bare laptop in this pocket (which is probably why Kata sells an accessory laptop sleeve for this bag, see editor’s note #1 below).
Between this laptop pocket and the main compartment is a zippered pocket that also manages to accommodate my beast of a laptop. It has some extra padding top and bottom and a harder padding between the compartments that offers a nice level of protection and comfort. This is where I preferred to keep my laptop when carrying it. But this is where my notebooks and magazines were most often kept when my laptop was not in tow. This is a very difficult pocket to get into, however. The pocket is closed by a zipper and two clips. But there is a protective flap over top of the zipper for elements protection that gets in the way. The zipper and the flap are U-shaped to follow the contour of the bag, but the flap is stitched on so tightly – and the wall between the pack pad and the main compartment is so rigid – that it makes it difficult to unzip the pocket. This is an issue that would have been avoided with some elastic in this flap, or perhaps just stitching it with a looser fit (the clips are there to hold it in place, after all).
There are a host of different pockets all throughout the bag – both on the outside and on the inside – that serves well for carrying a lot of smaller items. Each side of the backpack has two zippered pockets, larger below and a narrower one up top, where one can carry small pocket journals, pens, business cards or the like. On the face of the bag built into the smaller flap is a narrow pocket that houses the spine guard, a spring encased in foam that adds extra protection for your gear. As this pocket is not of a size or dimension that is otherwise useful, I suspect that the pocket exists for only two reasons: 1) to permit the removal of the Spine Guard (though I don’t know why you’d want to) and 2) to provide a place to fasten the stabilizer strap for the tripod sling (more on that shortly). Inside, there are three oblong pockets – two on the outer edges of the main flap, and one filling the smaller flap. These are great places to stash cleaning kits, mini-tripods or other mid-sized accessories.
As far as accessory storage is concerned, I had little trouble finding places to stash everything I needed with plenty of space to spare. The Bug-205 PL does not have organizational elements such as pen sleeves or media pockets. But the side pockets served quite well for both without things jostling around (and digital media should be protected with an accessory case anyhow). For mid-sized items, I found that I could place the two smallest dividers close to the bottom of the bag to create small chambers for these items. On one side, I kept my rain cover. The other side is where I kept my camera strap (which isn’t always connected to my camera).
Kata, as always, pays a lot of close attention to details. We’ve already discussed the characteristic yellow lining, and we love bright linings. But there are also a number of interesting details that I’d like to point out as well. Like the carrying strap at the top of the bag. As our regular readers already know, I have an unnatural biased towards bags with good carrying straps. It’s inevitable that you will, on many occasions, need to carry the bag by something other than its shoulder straps. And so I admire the large padded carrying straps that Kata so often puts into their backpacks. The Bug’s strap is comfortable and easy to grasp – even with gloves – and meets my finicky needs. I also really liked the zipper pulls on the main compartment flaps. They are essentially a large loop of webbing with a rubberized bend. I found them easy to use, even with gloved hands. The secondary pulls featured a rubber bead at the end, which were also easy to use with gloves. Finally, there is a lateral strap that goes across the back plate where the handles of a hand trolley or a roll-about suitcase can be inserted for easy transport while carrying this in addition to other bags around the airport, hotel or otherwise. It’s features like these that make Kata such a favorite brand of Shutter Photo.
The Bug-205 PL features Kata’s new style of shoulder strap, the fully adjustable Gecko Harness system. The tops of the straps actually fasten to the bag at a point a quarter of the way down the back of the bag. At the very top of the bag are adjustable straps that fastens the midpoint of each strap to the top edge of the bag. This allows you to adjust the shape of the strap to fit your shoulder, but also allows you to adjust the angle of the bag relative to your back. It’s a pain to adjust, but after you get it set, it makes a huge difference in terms of comfort. There is also a chest strap that helps to stabilize the shoulder straps for extra comfort. While the chest strap is fully adjustable (it can be placed at a number of points on the shoulder straps and it’s laterally adjustable), I wish it has some elasticity to it for stretching comfort as I breath or bounce down the trail.
A fully-adjustable waist belt is included with the backpack as well. It is held in place with removable clips, which is a bonus as many of you will choose not to use the waist belt. The belt will certainly serve it’s purpose to help stabilize the bag on tougher terrain. But it lacks the padding that would be necessary for longer treks (see editor’s note #1 below). For daily use, I chose to remove the strap and tuck it into one of the many carrying pockets.
Also included is a three-part Aeriform camera strap. The neck portion of the strap is a lightweight, well-ventilated strap that was quite comfortable on the neck. But for more rigorous use, I prefer something a little more substantial (Kata also makes some camera straps). The other two portions of the strap are standard camera webbings on one end (to fit your camera body’s loops) and a quick clip at the other. The quick clips will link into the d-rings at either end of the neck strap for normal use, but they can also fasten into the webbing loops on either shoulder strap of the backpack itself. When fastened to the backpack, this takes the strain off your neck. I’m not sure if the clips are supposed to close completely when fastened to the shoulder straps. There is a plastic band around the webbing where the strap is supposed to fasten, but this band was a bit too large for the clips. I found that it was difficult to get on and off the webbing if they were rigged to close completely. And maybe it’s my own paranoia, but I didn’t feel comfortable using the straps because they didn’t close completely on the webbing.
If you are a tripod user, you’ll be happy to know that the tripod sling (included) is designed to carry a full-sized tripod. The sling consists of two parts: a hanging pocket for the bottom of the tripod and a stabilizer strap for the top. The tripod can be carried in two places: On the side of the bag or on the back of the bag. If you prefer to have it hang off the back of the bag, you would fasten the pocket to the accessory loops at the bottom of the smaller camera chamber flap. The stabilizer strap would then be fastened into a loop inside the narrow pocket that houses the spine guard. A portion of the pocket will need to remain unzipped for this configuration. Unfortunately, this configuration places the tripod in a place that makes it difficult to get to your camera.
Alternatively, you can fasten the tripod pocket and stabilizer strap to the left side of the backpack. The accessory loops sit just between the two pockets on that side of the bag, and the stabilizer strap can be fastened to a built-in loop just above your shoulder. For smaller (narrower) tripods, you can even use the bottom accessory pocket instead of the tripod pocket. This location is, in my opinion, the ideal location for the tripod. It may make the bag slightly off-balance, but it puts the tripod higher on the bag and does not hinder your ability to get the camera in a hurry. As a whole, the tripod pocket is a nice accessory regardless of where it’s placed.
All over the bag are a number of different fastening points for a number of add-on accessories. This includes larger fastening points at the bottom of the bag where one could presumably mount a tripod in a balanced perhaps more desirable position for some. But the included fastening points just goes to show how this bag can be expanded and combined with other products to fit ones needs.
What Fits In The Bag
This bag is huge and so we expected to be able to fit a lot. But because of the backpack’s unique shape and the way it is subdivided inside, we were able to accommodate more than we anticipated. Here’s a full list of what we were able to carry in this thing – with some space to spare. Refer to the picture at right for context (my apologies for the quality of the photo which was taken with my pocket camera, which is apparently not the best in low-light).
- Nikon D80
- 18-135mm Zoom Lens w/ lens hood (mounted)
- 50mm prime lens
- 135mm prime lens
- Lensbaby Composer (not shown)
- S-B600 Flash
- Full Sized Tripod
- Full Sized Laptop (17.4″ screen at 16:9 ratio, full-sized keyboard)
- Large Flashbender
- Small Flashbender
- Filter Wallet (four lens filters)
- Various cleaning supplies
- Various cables
- a few books and magazines
- Other supplies (business cards, pens, etc)
As I already mentioned, the bag is designed to accommodate a full-sized camera body but can also support consumer-sized SLRs.
There’s no doubt that this is a big bag (and I hope I’m not dwelling on that fact too much). The truth is, a great number of you have absolutely no purpose for a bag this size. But for those of you who want to carry everything with you, this could be your ticket. But I’m not going to lie: There are a few details that was cause for some concern. The zippered laptop pocket is perhaps our largest concern – what use is a pocket that is difficult to get into? And I can’t get over the idea that this bag doesn’t stand on its own, nor does it have any sort of bottom protection if I did want to set it down somewhere. My only option is to lay it on its straps.
But for all its flaws, there are certainly quite a few advantages to the Bug-205 PL. We cannot overlook the fact that it is the first bag tested here at Shutter Photo that can accommodate my laptop. The organizational options are also quite dynamic. We especially loved the drawstring pockets that could easily be pulled out and carried with you while the bag gets left behind. And of course there are the subtle details like the trademark yellow interior and the beefy tow strap, both things we’ve grown to love about Kata’s bags.
So with everything in mind, I’m not going to say that we’d recommend this bag for everyone, because that just wouldn’t be fair. For those of you with smaller kits or if you’re looking for a daily (or primary) bag, this just isn’t the bag for you. But the photographer that needs the space and wants to have a good level of organization and quick access to his gear, the Kata Bug-205 PL is going to serve you quite well.
Things We Liked
- Able to carry camera with some pretty large lenses mounted.
- Velcro-backed drawstring pockets for internal organization.
- Yellow interior makes it easy to find small (lost) items.
- Fit’s a true 17″ laptop (tested: 17.4″ widescreen)
- Well designed carrying tow strap.
- Zipper pulls design is unique and easy to use (even with gloves)
Things We Didn’t Like
- Shoulder straps aren’t the most comfortable (see editor’s note #2 below).
- Rear tripod position (with tripod pocket accessory, included) seems like an afterthought.
- Difficult to remove/insert laptop from the open chamber – the shoulder straps get in the way.
- Zippered notebook chamber is often difficult to open.
- No bottom protection for when you need to set it down.
- Kata also makes an accessory kit known as the Bug-KIT which includes two large side pockets, a protective laptop sleeve and a fully adjustable padded waist belt (for serious hiking treks).
- I was informed by the manufacturer that the shoulder straps are designed to soften and conform to the owner’s body over time. It is allegedly much like breaking in a new pair of boots. This is possibly a case of the trial period being too short to fully appreciate this design.
(click to enlarge)