Aug 072009

No, I didn’t go hunting with Mr. Shakespeare. This is about going out and taking pictures with my Bard camera bag by F-stop.

It’s one thing to use a bag to carry stuff around with, but it’s something entirely different to go out in the field and use it as a tool. I’ve had a few opportunities to take my camera and lenses out with the Bard and go shooting, and here are my impressions so far.

First off, size. It’s bigger than you think. I’m glad I bought the Bard instead of the Maverick. I’m sure the Maverick is a great bag, but I would be hating life at the end of a day of walking around town carrying my gear in something that huge.

The Bard itself is pretty large, and since it has firm sides, it doesn’t really “squish” down a whole lot. So when I’m carrying it around, it’s a bit bulky and can get in the way. It takes a little getting used to.

The bag has a waist strap… which I didn’t use much. I just couldn’t get comfortable with it. I might be missing out, or maybe there’s a better aftermarket waist strap. Or maybe I’m just not optimally-sized to use it. I’m going to try it again when I go out taking pictures again. Maybe I’ll like it better over time. Maybe not.

The shoulder strap is okay. It’s a $99 bag, so I didn’t expect it to be perfect. The shoulder strap is a little on the thin side, and a little on the narrow side. I like my shoulder straps thick and squishy, especially if I carry my bag all day. I’ll probably look aftermarket.

Minor gripes aside, my Canon fits perfectly with the 17-55mm f2.8 attached, pointing down. All I had to do was yank it out and shoot. I left one lens bay open, and I could stuff a rain jacket in it. (Which was perfect, because it rained a lot in the mountains.) My monstrously-huge (and heavy) 80-200 f2.8L sat in the other bay.

As a travel bag, I managed to cram an incredible amount of junk in it. Since I was going by car, I could get away with it. I’m not sure I’d recommend that for airline travel, though. It won’t fit under the seat in front of you in economy, but it will fit in the overhead compartment. So if you’re going to take it on an airplane, that’s going to be your only option.

All-in-all, it’s a very nice bag if you’re looking for an affordable alternative to the Crumpler bags. It’s a great messenger-style bag that doesn’t yell “Look at me!” or “Steal me!” quite so much, but I still got looks when I yanked out my camera. I don’t think you can avoid that no matter what bag you use.

F-stop Bard is in the House

 Photography  Comments Off on F-stop Bard is in the House
Jul 162009

My Bard arrived from F-stop yesterday, and it is a very spiffy bag. It came with a free F-stop Sporty camera strap (a $20 value). Thanks for the strap! I already have a very comfortable camera strap made out of some kind of soft, squishy stuff that I wouldn’t part with. I’ll make sure the Sporty gets a good home.

Now, on to the bag. In short: it’s a great bag, and at $99, it’s a great deal.

The inner dividers are all attached to the inside of the bag with velcro, and are freely removable and adjustable. That kind of versatility makes the Bard really useful as a multimedia news-gathering bag.

I adjusted one of the dividers for a snug fit for my giant Canon 80-200 mm f 2.8/L (with lens hood) in one slot on one side, and shrank one of the slots on the other side to fit the stock 18-55 mm f.3.5-5.6 IS lens that came with my Rebel XSi. My 50mm f 1.8 pops in on top of the 18-55 with plenty of room.

I’ll remove the stock lens when I go shooting in the real world, and replace it with my digital audio recorder. It’s just to give you an idea of how much you can fit in the bag.

The Rebel XSi fit easily in the middle, with a 17-55 f 2.8 IS lens and hood attached, so the camera is ready to pull out of the bag and shoot.  There’s still room for a 550EX speedlite flash next to the two smaller lenses.

My 13″ laptop fits easily in the laptop slot in the back, with room to spare. I could probably fit a 15″ laptop in there instead.  But if I put a 15″ laptop in, I’m not sure if I could fit the power brick in without losing space somewhere else.

There’s still plenty of room to pack things on top of the camera gear, but then that defeats the purpose of having a bag you can quickly yank your camera out of.

The inner pocket that covers the main compartment would be even better if  it could be zippered out of the bag, making access to the camera a little faster.

As it is now, you have to open the main flap of the bag, push the little flap out of the way, and then grab your camera.

There are lots of little extra zippered compartments to put things like lens filters, cleaning equipment, spare batteries, chargers, and whatnot. (Digital cameras spawn whatnot like nobody’s business.)

The sides of the bag are good and rigid. I’m not a fan of mushy-sided bags, which is why I decided to skip going down the “Build your own camera bag” route.

I’ll be interested to see if the Bard will actually fit underneath an airline seat. The top will “squish” down about three to four inches, so as long as you don’t overpack, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t fit… unless my spatial perception is completely broken.

Nice bag. Worth the wait.

Waiting on the Bard

 Photography  Comments Off on Waiting on the Bard
Jul 112009

For the two or three of you wondering why I haven’t said anything about the F-stop Bard yet, that’s because it still hasn’t arrived. I ordered it on July 2nd, and didn’t actually get a message from F-stop saying that the order had been filled until the 7th. When I checked with UPS, the order hadn’t been shipped until the 9th. So it’s not here yet.

On the upside, F-stop apparently threw in a free camera strap worth $20. We’ll see how good it is. It would have been nice to get some sort of message from them explaining why it took them a week to ship the bag. I understand July 4 is a big holiday, but if you’re trying to sell to professionals, you need to turn over a lot faster than a week. Or you need to at least tell people why you’re not shipping right away.

Jul 022009

I’ve been hunting for a new camera bag. Specifically, I’m looking for a camera bag that doesn’t scream, “Hey, I’m a CAMERA BAG, full of expensive CAMERAS and equipment you just might want to steal!”

I also don’t want the bag to scream, “Hey, this guy has a CAMERA. He could be a JOURNALIST. You might want to walk over and HASSLE him,” to any cop or rent-a-cop in the area.

I know there are arguments both pro and con for the nondescript camera bag. Some people say it’s idiotic, because as soon as you pull out a big, expensive camera, a good thief will mark you.

True enough.

People have related having their diaper bag camera bags stolen, even full of dirty diapers. (You need to scroll halfway down to the page to find the story.) But there’s nothing you can do about that. Once you’re marked, you’re marked.

For me, it’s about what I look like when I’m not shooting, and when I’m walking from place to place. I want a bag that just says, “I’m a bag. The droids you’re looking for aren’t here. This person can move along.”

The only bags I have right now don’t serve that purpose. They say, “Hi! I’m full of cameras!” or worse, “Hi! I’m full of EXPENSIVE cameras!” I don’t even have to pull out a camera to have to worry about being marked.

And of course they also look amazingly dorky.

ThinkTank Urban Disguise

The first place I checked was my local camera store, because I’m a big believer in buying local, as well as getting my hands on the product before I buy it. I took a look at the ThinkTank Urban Disguise models they had there, but I dunno… they just felt clumsy. I know some people swear by them, but trying out the bag, it just felt a little awkward.

It also looked about as inconspicuous as a heart attack.

“Hey mister, what’s in that HUGE black bag?” “What, this tiny thing? It’s nothing, nothing!”

Yeah, I don’t buy it either.

It doesn’t look like any other kind of bag I’ve ever seen before, which would make me very, very suspicious of the person carrying it.


I love messenger bags, because you can dump a lot of stuff in them, throw them over your shoulder and go on your merry way… okay, in a giant man-purse sort of way.

But my masculinity is strong enough that I don’t care if it really is a big man purse. I’m a big enough man that I don’t care.

So I started looking at messenger bag style camera bags, and this is where it led me.

I looked at the Crumpler bags. They’re nice, but good God are they expensive. $150-$200 for a basic bag just doesn’t cut it. Also, they have the problem of being well-known as camera bags. (Everyone knows Crumpler is a camera bag maker now.) Their website didn’t really win me over, either.

I don’t like those “cute” Flash websites that are all glamor and no substance. Give me data. Facts and figures. Not a toy. It was very annoying.

The actual bags… I’m sure they’re great, but they’re very expensive and a bit on the flashy side. Maybe if I were a celebrity photographer, it would work, but I’m not.


I took a look at the Naneu bags on a recommendation of someone who liked them. They’re excellent backpack bags, but not quite what I need. I like how the camera compartment faces your back, so it can only be accessed by removing the pack from your back. That way, nobody can lift your camera if you have your pack on. But it’s just not easy to just pull out your camera that way.

I need speed and ease of access, which is why I want a messenger bag-style bag in the first place. This might be nice for when I climb Mt. Everest, though.

Lowepro Classified

I also took a look at Lowepro’s Classified series… it looks pretty much like the ThinkTank, only it’s by Lowepro.  I’m sure it’s a great bag, but I don’t carry the Empire State Building in my bag. I just want something a little more… inconspicuous. That Black Monster ain’t it.

Make Your Own Camera Bag

I found this post on just building my own camera bag with a messenger bag and some Domke inserts. Others have discussed the idea as well. Timbuk2 has a similar take on how to build your own camera bag, based on a flickr discussion.

Here’s another flickr discussion on using Tenba inserts instead of the Domke inserts.

But in the long run, I think both setups are going to be a little on the janky side, and frankly, a good Timbuk2 bag isn’t that cheap to begin with. That alone will run in the $100-$150 range. By the time you add in the inserts, you’re staring $200 in the eye again. Where are the savings?

Frustrated, I stumbled across this thread on flickr.

F-Stop Bard and Maverick

Now I must admit that I really like the look of the Bard and Maverick by F-Stop. They typically make a lot of adventure-type gear bags that you’d see people use for stuff like mountain climbing or skateboarding, or surfing on lava or something. But both the Bard and the Maverick have the kind of look I’ve been trying to find. Something that looks like a messenger bag, that has good padding, will hold my gear, and doesn’t scream “CAMERA BAG!”

The only downside might be the logos on the gear, but those can be covered with stickers. No biggie there. The pricing is good, too. The Bard runs $99 on their website, and Maverick runs $129.

This comparison of the Domke F2 and the Bard really got me interested. And Skye Nacel’s posts on the F-Stop site gave a lot of useful info on the Maverick and also his comparison shots with the Bard. He also posted some good short reviews on YouTube of both the Bard and the Maverick.

But I still didn’t have enough info to make a decision on which bag to go with, so I wound up having to contact the company.

Suggestion: use e-mail. They respond very quickly to e-mails.  I had trouble getting through over the phone.

I went ahead and ordered a Bard, because I want something as small as possible. If I need something bigger, I was assured I could exchange it for a Maverick.

I’ll post a review in a few days/weeks when the bag shows up. I’m hoping it’ll be small enough to fit under an airplane seat… that may be wishful thinking. But the price sure is right: $117, and that includes UPS ground shipping.

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