Lowepro is a bag manufacturer that always deserves some recognition. They are possibly one of the larger and more well known manufacturers of carrying gear. And their history of designing bags for back-woods backpacking means that even their smaller and more economical bags have the durability and rugged styling as their most high-end bags. In short, Lowero is a brand that we keep our eye on. Last spring, we had an opportunity to get a close-up look at one of their smaller day bags, the Passport Sling. We loved the bag and many have since purchased the bag for their own use. We have never heard a bag thing mentioned about the Passport Sling nor about the brand as a whole. So when the Lowepro CompuDay series came to our attention, we were exited to see another day-bag option brought to market. We were able to get our hands on the CompuDay Photo 250 Backpack, which is part of the new Lowepro CompuDay series. The premise of the series is a lightweight design that carries a small laptop, your camera and whatever else you need to go about your day.
A day bag, in my opinion, is a bag that you would carry about most of the time. In addition to your camera, it would be designed to carry a bunch of things you might need on a daily basis – be it notebooks or files for your job, your keys, an mp3 player and so on. I bring this up as an important distinction. I consider the CompuDay Photo 250 to be such a day bag. It won’t carry all your gear, but that’s not the point. The point is that the bag is designed to help you go about your day…and oh, it also carries your camera. It is designed to fulfill the philosophy of having your camera with you at all times. The CompuDay Photo 250 serves that role very well.
At first glance, the CompuDay Photo 250 doesn’t look very different from the typical 2-chamber backpack. This is one of the details that I find appealing about the bag. Again, it’s a day bag, and so you’ll have it with you every day. You don’t want something that’s going to look like it contains a lot of expensive gear. But don’t let looks deceive. This is quite a durable bag, and it will carry quite a bit of your gear.
Typically when we see a camera bag, the main chamber is where the camera would go. The major difference between this and any other backpack is that the camera gets stowed in a dedicated side-pocket. The pocket, which will be on your left side while the bag is on your back, is large enough to carry a small or mid-sized camera with a zoom lens attached. Otherwise, the pocket is not compartmentalized in any way. It is designed to hold the camera and nothing else. The pocket cannot be accessed from inside the bag. If you don’t need to carry your camera on one particular day, or if you need a little more room in the main chamber, the camera pocket can be rolled up against the sidewall and fastened in place with a cinch strap inside the bag. This gets the pocket out of the way when not in use. I found this to be a nice feature on one such rare occasion – I had a big site meeting and needed to carry some extra paperwork. I didn’t need my camera, so I was able to leave it at the office and fit everything in the bag. Stowing the pocket was much more convenient than switching to a different bag (which, quite frankly, wasn’t really an option at the office).
The main chamber is designed to carry your daily needs: Notebooks, lunch and a small laptop. The chamber runs the whole depth of the bag. Inside, there are two sleeves. One sleeve is padded for the laptop, the other is large enough to carry a full-size notepad or portfolio. There are also too smaller velcro-closed pockets that can hold mid-sized items like an Mp3 player, a point-and-shoot camera, eyeglasses and so on. The balance of the chamber is wide open for whatever else you might wish to carry.
The front chamber is designed more for organization of smaller items. This is where you would keep your pens, your phone, a few extra memory cards, and so on. At the bottom of the chamber is a mesh zippered pocket where you can stash a bunch of smaller items. And sewn into the wall of the chamber are a bunch of smaller pockets that can be used for any number of items. There is also a larger half-sleeve where I suspect one could carry a small umbrella. Finally, there’s a nice little strap clip where you can securely fasten your keys, making them easy to locate when necessary.
As if that isn’t enough for organizational purposes, Lowepro also included an additional flat pocket on the face of the bag, perfect for train schedules and other flat items. Lowepro also includes a small gray and orange pouch which is a great place to stash some extra cables or maybe even a filter or two. If you don’t overload the pouch, it slides nicely into the half-sleeve inside the front chamber.
The shoulder straps are unassuming and simple in their design. They are moderately padded and features padding at the point where each webbing fastens to the lower corners of the bag. This eliminates potential pinch-points on your sides during a long day of carrying. I am a firm believer that you should always have an alternative way to carry any backpack. Many backpacks have a simple webbed loop which is not very comfortable for carrying more than a few seconds. The handle on the CompuDay 250 is well padded, wide and comfortable to use. It’s integration into the shoulder straps means that it’s using the same reinforced stress-points as if it were being carried on your back. For travelers, there is also a trolley sleeve built into the back pad. It will slide over the handles of your roll-about luggage or small hand cart for easy travel through the airport.
There are a few shortcomings. A chest strap would have been nice for a bag designed to carry heavy items like a laptop and a camera. I also prefer to have some sort of bottom protection from the elements if you were to set the bag down. Wet or muddy surfaces aren’t ideal for the durability of any bag…a few rubber feet or a reinforced impermeable bottom would have gone a long way. It’s just as well, though, as the bottom isn’t completely flat anyhow. Try as you might, this bag will not stand on its own if it were filled and placed on its bottom. You will end up resting it on its straps, which is not ideal.
The first thing I did when I got the bag was to transfer everything from my regular bag into the Lowepro CompuDay 250. A lot more fit than I had expected, but I quickly learned the error of my ways. The problem is that the shoulder straps are not designed to be comfortable under heavy loads. Sure, I could fit all of my lenses, all of my filters and accessories – including my traveling flash kit – but that is a lot of weight. Without any sort of chest stabilizer strap and with the moderate padding of both the back plate and the shoulder straps, the bag quickly became uncomfortable for such loads. A change of my behavior was the solution. I simply removed all but the things I needed on a daily basis, my camera with mounted zoom and a few small accessories. This left quite a lot of physical room in the bag, but it was far more comfortable for regular use. If you treat it as a day bag as opposed to a camera-only bag, it will treat you well. But I am somewhat discouraged by the lack of comfort – especially in the shoulder straps – when you put too much in the bag. I don’t have a laptop small enough to try it out, but I wonder what sort of burden the laptop might add.
The side pocket is very easy to access without completely removing the bag from your back. Simply remove the right strap and rotate the bag around to the front of your body to grab your camera and get the shot. There is a small padded removable wall at the bottom opening of the pocket that does well to prevent your camera from accidentally falling out of the bag. It’s not a snug fit like one might expect of a typical partition wall, but I quickly grew to appreciate it’s form and function. It’s just enough to protect your camera without impeding a quick-draw of the camera. Since the pocket does freely float inside the main chamber, it can get crowded if you overpack the bag. On one occasion, I had my rain jacket and my sons stashed inside the main chamber in addition to my other gear, and it became a bit of a hindrance placing the camera back in the bag. This is a trade-off between flexibility and convenience.
What Fits In The Bag
Rather than include a list of everything that physically fits in the bag, I want to include a list of the things that were in the bag when I found it most comfortable. As I mentioned, you can likely fit more into this bag than you might find comfortable due to sheer weight on the shoulder straps. Don’t be discouraged, though. What I regularly carried in this bag was enough for daily use, as you will see:
- Nikon D80 (mid-sized D-SLR)
- 18-185mm Nikkor Zoom, mounted (with plenty of room for a longer lens)
- A Lensbaby Composer
- A 4-filter pouch (with filters, of course)
- Some accessories including remote triggers, tether cables and usb cables.
- My Amazon Kindle
- A Few Magazines
- A Notepad
- Rain jacket
- My iPod
Overall, I found the Lowepro CompuDay Photo 250 Backpack to be a viable option for a daily use bag. I was able to carry everything I needed for my primary job and it allowed me to also carry my camera with me at all times. As a self-admitted gear head, I was a little frustrated that I couldn’t comfortably carry more of my gear. That is perhaps a bit of an unhealthy behavior on my part, but I do consider it a concern for those who really like their accessories. To the great majority of you, this is probably not a concern as your camera and one lens is likely all you desire to carry in addition to your daily items.
The two best features of this bag – and the two reasons why it is a contender for the day bag category – are the side access camera pocket and the incognito aesthetic. I have always liked the concept of a side-access. But the idea of a dedicated collapsible pocket – completely separated and protected from your other stuff – is a strong selling point. The bag is versatile and adaptable to any situation. As for the aesthetic, I appreciate when the design of such a bag avoids any tell-tale signs that a camera might be on board. It makes you less of a target.
If you are looking for a bag to carry normal everyday items and you also would like to carry a camera, this is your bag. Hobbyists with day jobs will especially like the unassuming and adaptable design. But the more serious photographer that desires to carry more gear should consider something else if only for comfort alone.
Things We Liked
- Side Access Camera Pocket – completely separate from the rest of the bag, collapses when you don’t need it.
- An unimposing design – it looks like any other backpack, not like a bag that carries expensive gear.
- Organizational Pocket for smaller and thin items.
- Laptop sleeve – good for small laptops or notebooks, sketchpads, magazines, etc.
- Carrying handle – built into the strap, makes for comfort hand-carrying.
Things We Didn’t Like
- Not ideal for carrying heavy loads
- Won’t stand on its own when fully loaded
- Access to the camera pocket can be crowded by the contents in the main chamber
- No Rain Cover