Like most photographers I know that suffer some form of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), I am forever searching for a ‘better’ bag to carry my camera gear. It is an endless pursuit as our gear changes regularly or the needs of the day require different gear to be with me. Or, at times, it is tough to find a bag that you actually like. I have talked in past blogs about my DSLR days and carrying such heavy and bulky gear. I cannot believe now the size of the camera bags I used to carry. The bags themselves can weigh several kilograms even empty. And they are big and bulky and awkward. Crazy.
With smaller and lighter gear I am able to pursue a more subtle style of camera bag. And that is especially important for Street Photography too. No good having a discrete camera whilst carrying a bright yellow bulky bag that just screams photographer. And that is a big problem with camera bags. Some of them are just so obviously camera bags. And when travelling I would rather not advertise that I am likely to be carrying thousands of dollars of equipment. I don’t understand why camera bag manufacturers feel the need to brand their gear so significantly. Even with many of them releasing ‘street series’ bags, they still look like camera bags.
I wanted a stylish street photography bag that was compact, weather resistant and comfortable. So over the years I have acquired several decent and even great camera bags. But never have I owned one that I ever truly felt comfortable with. Backpacks are very convenient for carrying gear, especially when travelling, but access to your gear is all behind you. And that also makes for a security issue if in a crowded area or even on a crowded train. So I often found I would be removing my backpack and carrying it awkwardly in front of me when in such a situation. Plus, wearing a backpack makes me very hot especially if I am out walking for any period of time. I know. I know. I am a little precious.
Then I came across ONA bags in a Melbourne camera store. I had always overlooked these as they seemed to be a premium brand out of my reach of affordability. They are of exceptional quality and are made from premium leather and waxed canvas. They also make a range of nylon bags. They have a handful of great designs that range from small to very large messenger bags and even backpacks. Each design, for the most part, comes in a range of all leather finishes as well as a range of different colour waxed canvas. Leather accents and brass buckles and fixings highlight the look and usability of these bags. For Leica users they even have a special range with very subtle Leica markings. No more than a red dot where the non-Leica version has brass.
With these bags you do pay premium dollars, but you definitely get what you pay for. And when I think about the cost, I also think about the fact that the added cost of several lesser bags I have tried that I have either given up on or they have deteriorated very quickly, would be comparable. So in hindsight it would have probably been more economical to have gotten it right the first time and gone straight to a premium brand. But like any pursuit it is no fun finding the hidden treasure on the first go. Or so I tell myself. So I took the plunge and to be honest, whilst on sale, the cost was actually not outrageous.
I chose one of the smallest of the ONA messenger style bags. The Bowery. This is a perfect size for me and for my random street photography journeys. I also now tend to use it as my every day bag. I got my bag in Field Tan in the waxed canvas finish. But you can get this bag in four different all leather finishes (significantly more expensive), five or six different colours in the waxed canvas, a Leica leather version and even a nylon one. Whilst it seems like a small bag, it can hold a lot. Here is what I carry for a street shoot; Fujifilm X-T2 with a XF23mmF2 lens attached. A second lens such as an XF50mmF2 or my new XF14mmF2.8. I also carry my Fujifilm X70 – always. It never leaves this bag now. I carry a couple of spare batteries for both cameras and my power bank for topping up my iPhone on the go. Add a stack of my business cards, a small notebook, pencil, wallet, phone and cleaning cloth. People are surprised by just how much this bag holds.
The Bowery has a fully padded main compartment that could potentially carry a smaller DSL with a zoom attached. It also has a moveable padded insert and you can order more from the ONA Bags website if you wish. The main flap pulls down over the front and also has a neat folding section at each side to ensure no rain gets inside. You can see from the images that there are several pockets on the outside of the bag. At the front of the bag are two pockets that are covered by the main flap when closed. They are not deep and at first seemed tight but after a couple of months using this bag they have softened enough. These hold spare batteries and my wallet. A wide back pocket would probably hold an iPad – I carry my Kindle and a notebook. The two pockets on the sides are small but one holds my keys and the other holds a bunch of business cards.
The carry strap is broad and is adjustable to quite a long length. I love this about this bag as I am a bigger guy and having a long strap prevents me feeling like my bag is trying to cut me in half. Also, the strap is completely removable. This way, as intended, The Bowery can be used as a camera bag insert in another bigger bag. And because of its compact size you could insert it into a backpack or even carry-on luggage if you were travelling. The clips and the D-rings are solid brass and are very sturdy and well made. The front flap is latched down with a brass clasp that is attached to a leather strap with a buckle that can be moved to allow for a looser or tighter fit. I carry this bag on a daily basis and on my street shoots with a lot of confidence in the security and safety of my gear.
I won’t bore you with all the technical specifications, didn’t want to write that kind of review. You can find all of those on the ONA Bags website. Anyway, tech specs and dimensions mean very little as we all carry different size and shaped gear and to be honest the best way is to take your gear to the camera store and load a bag up and see if it works for you. I am really happy with this bag and the quality of materials used will see it last a very long time. If you are looking at making an investment in protecting your camera gear when out and about, I recommend checking out this range. And given that there are different styles of bags and each has a number of variations in material and colour, you may just find the perfect bag for you. Happy shooting.