Thursday, 3 December 2015

Equipment Review: Tamrac System 2 Camera Bag

What is it with photographers and camera bags? Seriously.

The stereotypical reference to ‘over-indulging’ needlessly on frivolous things used to be about women and their shoes. I’d like to suggest that we are doing women an injustice (no surprises there). We should, instead, use the term ‘photographers and their camera bags’ for over-indulgences. We simply have too many.

So, when I purchased my Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII and started putting a kit together, I then needed a camera bag to put it all in. Of course, as I’ve just stated, I already own quite a few of them. But that’s the thing about camera bags and camera gear – you have to match them perfectly for the best ‘fit’. Just like a meal with a fine wine (ok, maybe that’s going too far – but you get the idea). Then there’s the question of what ‘type’ of camera bag are you after? Backpack or shoulder bag? Messenger style or Sling-type? Decisions, decisions.

To make matters even worse, the market has become flooded with new players in the camera bag game. It used to be reasonably simple, since you had a choice between Lowepro and Tamrac – take your pick. But now there are literally dozens of company’s making exceptionally good bags for photographers.

Peak Design Messenger Bag. Overpriced hype or camera bag nirvana?
Want an indication as to how popular camera bags are to photographers? Recently, the company Peak Design, who have made some excellent camera straps (see my previous post on the Cuff Wrist Strap), decided to enter the camera bag market. Being a reasonably small company, they opted for the crowd-funding model to kick-start the project, hoping to make about $100,000 so they could start production on a messenger style bag. Want to know how much they actually ended up with? 4.8 million! That’s right folks – 4.8 million from photographers keen to get their hands on a new camera bag! Now granted, they did have Trey Ratcliffe on-board as a spokesperson for the project (what a stroke of marketing genius), but still – 4.8 million! Shesh…..

Crumpler 6 Million Dollar Home. Stupid name, great bag.
Anyway – back to reality, and the purpose of this post. My review of the bag I actually got for my Olympus E-M5 MkII. I prefer a Messenger style bag if I’m traveling light or just going out for the day, and my bag of choice for my DSLR gear has been the Crumpler ‘6 Million Dollar Home’. Yeah, I know – stupid name, but great bag. Crumpler are actually an Australian company (almost local J) and were one of the first companies that really took the big two on in the camera bag market.

But while it’s been a great bag for my Canon 50D with two or three extra lenses and a flashgun, it’s a little too roomy for my micro four thirds kit. So I wanted something similar – but slightly smaller.

I also already own a Lowepro Nova 120 Shoulder bag, which unfortunately goes the other way, and is a little too small. The E-M5 MkII was just a little too tight to fit comfortably into the bag sideways and still give me space for extra lenses – so that was a no-go.

Tamrac System 2 Shoulder Bag
While in Christchurch recently (the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand) I decided to have a look for a camera bag, and ended up buying the Tamrac System 2 – an ideal bag for my growing micro four thirds Olympus kit. While it’s not strictly speaking a Messenger style bag, it is a shoulder style bag, and that’s really what I was looking for.

Of all the camera bag manufacturers out there, I’ll admit to liking Tamrac the most. They just have incredibly well made, no-nonsense camera bags that make sense. They tend to be well thought out, with reliable zips and straps, and unique features like their card viewing system and clear plastic sections that protect your gear extremely well, while still giving great visibility.

The bag itself only came with a couple of dividers, but this is enough to separate the camera with kit lens from the other lenses I own.

My Mirrorless configuration. 1 Body, flash and 4 lenses + extras
As it stands at the moment, the Tamrac System 2 fits the OM-D E-M5 MkII body with 12-50mm kit lens – with space for adding the extra grip in the future. Then the 40-150mm and 45mm fit lying down in the two sections, with the 17mm and E-M5’s flash placed on top of them (with cloths that I always carrying providing the necessary protection in between). A blower brush (minus the brush bit) and lens/body caps go in the top clear section of the bag; while filters, spare battery, extra SD cards and wrist strap live in the front section.

This doesn’t leave much more room for ‘extra’ bits and pieces (wallet, keys, cellphone, water bottle etc), but if I want to carry ‘everything’ then I have the Crumpler, or even my Kata backpack for long day trips with extra gear.

For every-day use, and small trips in the car (which is 90% of my photography), the Tamrac System 2 is perfect for my needs. If my lens collection grows much more (which I’m sure it will), I may have to leave one or two lenses at home and prioritise what I will take with me (which is never a bad thing anyway), although the bag does have the option of attaching extra cases to the side – which I have already begun to do. This makes it even more versatile. A small bag when I need it – a modular system if more is required. This gives me the best of all worlds, and makes the Tamrac System 2 bag a winner in my books.

An easy 4 out of 5 stars.

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