It was love from first sight – the new National Geographic and Manfrotto Mediterranean Photo Bag Collection took my breath away when I saw it. The deep blue canvases of the bags are inspired by the sea and travel. They reminded me of the azure Mediterranean and Ionian seas and lovingly painted, cerulean churches’ domes in Greece. The white and blue stripes are unmistakably nautical while the pale yellow leather trim, breaks the blues and enriches the style of the bag. Somehow the yellow trim colour, or to be more precise, the palest ochre, reminded me of the fortified walls of Malta glowing in the setting sun – I couldn’t justify a trip there for the purpose of this review, so the good old English south coast had to suffice.
I have chosen a medium size bag offering a space for a full frame DSLR camera with one lens attached and space for an extra one. The size of the bag is 29.5 x 24 x 17 cm; it weighs just 0.8 kg. A variety of pockets offer plenty of space for accessories like spare batteries, filters, memory cards. The main reason for choosing this bag is that I carry my camera with me wherever I go and I want to have easy access. The second reason for my enthusiastic approach to this bag is that it makes me smile. The bag is cool. It is swanky. It is stylish. For men reading this review – don’t worry, it is not girly, it is a proper unisex working bag of elegant dark blue shade. It is also well made and gives good protection for my Canon 6D and all rounder 24-105mm lens. Another important feature is that the bag doesn’t scream “I am a professional photographer and inside there is hugely expensive gear”; this way I don’t attract the wrong crowd, especially when photographing in city setting.
Inside the bag, there is a protective, padded camera insert; when left open, whipping out my camera is a piece of cake. I find the insert useful and reassuring. The outside canvas material is water repellent, but it made me a bit nervous in the rain. It is definitely not a bag for monsoon rain, not only because it is made of canvas, but also because the top flap doesn’t have a zip. A simple magnetic clasp does not seal the bag as I would wish it. Another item on my wish list would be a strap cushion, as when carrying the heavier setup (Canon 70-200mm lens), the strap gets a bit into my shoulder.
To summarise, it is a stylish and compact camera bag. The materials used are of high quality. It is most suitable for a day shoot with the essential DSLR set or even better, with mirrorless equipment. It looks casual and doesn’t attract too much attention to an expensive gear inside. The design is ideal for photographers in city settings as well as travel photographers seeking the balance of style and functionality.
I have planned meticulously the trip to the Isle of Harris in Outer Hebrides; the one obstacle that I wasn’t prepared for was a very, very strict luggage allowance on the flight from Glasgow to Stornoway on a small EMB195 plane.
To travel to these fabulous islands famed for the vivid colours of the sea and unspoiled beaches without the full set of lenses would be a disaster. To fit all what I needed in any rucksack around 40 cm long was a mission impossible. After a long research I have decided that Manfrotto Gear Backpack L may be a solution.
Its external dimensions of 42x30x19 mean that with a push it will fit into the restrictive airline guide and weighing just 0.7 kg it will not eat into the weight allowance too much. The rucksack was spacious enough for my most important Canon a Sigma lenses and there was still room for two Canon DSLR bodies – all together just under 6 kg limit.
The outer material is water repellent and a well fitting rain protector is provided. Its internal interchangeable dividers are reinforced, keeping my lenses well padded and safe. Inside and out, all materials are of high quality. The rucksack was designed with the ease of use in mind and this simplicity allowed balancing ergonomics with comfort. Despite its minimalistic look, the backpack is incredibly spacious and has got comfortable back padding and well designed shoulder straps that did not slip off my shoulders.
Back padding is not fully water proof, as I found out when it was placed on very wet sand. Backpack is also missing a waist strap, which I originally thought might be an issue, but even heavily loaded, it was perfectly balanced and felt very comfortable. Even with all my lenses and a spare body it is working well and holds its own against similar sized backpacks that I have tried. The dual zippers allowing full and quick access to the equipment was much appreciated in the windy conditions on Harris Island when my fingers were frozen.
The front flap can be used comfortably not only for storing smaller items but also as a surface for changing the lenses. There are plenty of smaller pockets in the front compartment of the rucksack, so all the filters, cards and other essentials can be safely packed there. An outside pocket and a strap on the side of the rucksack allow an easy attachment of a compact size tripod. During my trip to the Outer Hebrides I have explored the unspoilt sandy beaches and turquoise seas of Harris Island and admired the rugged mountainous Isle of Lewis. The rucksack proved to be reliable and comfortable. Its minimal weight was an important factor allowing me to travel with ease in the spectacular scenery of both islands and discovering rich history of the place.
To summarise, the Gear Backpack L is a conventional and compact rucksack suitable for day or longer trips with a significant load. With more relaxed airline allowances I would possibly feel happier with a larger rucksack allowing me to pack some clothing and a bottle of water, but in this particular case, the smaller size was essential. The mission impossible was accomplished successfully.
It is not going to be an exaggeration if I say that the choice of the rucksack for the photographer is as important as the choice of the camera or lens. After all, it is hard to be creative if your back is hurting or taking the camera from the bag is difficult! Over the years I have gathered a collection of small and big camera bags and rucksack and I still haven’t found the ideal one for myself.
The chance of the comprehensive testing of the new Manfrotto Professsional 20 in harsh conditions of the volcanic Tenerife was very exciting, and I hoped it would finish my search for the ultimate rucksack. My wish list of the rucksack features is rather long; the most important is its weight, capacity, how it fits on my shoulders and if the material is truly resistant to wear and tear. MP20, the smallest rucksack of the Professional Selection, weighing just 1.69 kg has enough space for my light travel kit, two DSLRs, 3 lenses and a small laptop. If I wanted to take more lenses or accessories, a bigger rucksack, MP30 or 50 would be a better choice.
MP20 however is ideal for flying, as its size, 43.5 cm x 31 cm x 20.5 cm means that it is compact enough to take it as a cabin luggage, without creating any problems with some airlines stingy carry on weight allowance. Although elegance is not at the top of my list, but I was pleased, that the new Manfrotto design was very stylish. Next day on Tenerife, I was testing mercilessly one of the very important features, Manfrotto’s Exo-tough Construction. One could not wish for the more hostile environment for testing – the area of the Teide Mountain and National Park is incredibly varied and picturesque, it is also rough, very rough indeed. The black and brown asphalt-like jungle created by the magma from the volcanic eruptions is uneven, hard and damages any material easily. The exo-though multi layered construction of the outer material was as tough as I could wish for and despite many contacts with the ground, it is still in a perfect condition, just a bit dusty. I wasn’t able to test the rain protecting cover included in the bag but it fits snuggly over the rucksack and a small tripod. The water repellant outer material of the rucksack however, kept my cameras safe from the moisture of the many low laying clouds. The side pocket and a hidden one at the base of the rucksack work very well as tripod legs cups while the quick release belts secure the head of the tripod to the upper part of the rucksack – very handy way of securing a smaller to medium size tripod. My favourite feature of the rucksack is the main zip – thanks to its “bendy” construction and a couple of massive metal fasteners, unzipping the bag was very easy (even when my fingers were frozen when I was on top of Teide, some 3,718-metre high). Overall, the rucksack is definitely very hard wearing and rip resistant, ideal for outdoor photography. Over the intensive two weeks testing, not only it safely stored all my lenses and cameras thanks to the fantastic protection system but proved to be comfortable to carry, thanks to a good back padding. All detail specifications are available at Monfrotto’s site, http://www.manfrotto.co.uk/professional?cat_title=Professional
This composition showing Teide in the National Park worked well for me, as the straight roads leads the eye directly into the mountain. I have used here 70-200 zoom lens to flatten the perspective.
Rocks of all shapes and colours, fantastic low laying clouds and superb sunsets meant that my new rucksack was often dropped onto the lava covered ground while I was taking pictures. A very handy set of four feet allows to rest the rucksack upright on the ground.
All the different textures of the rugged terrain of Tenerife are perfect for the captivating photos, but not so kind to the photographic equipment. I try to avoid changing lenses in such environment, as the dust from the crumbling rocks may settle on the camera’s sensor.
I appreciated a lot the clever design of the front flap – when fully opened, I used it as a mat to sit on, to put safely the camera down or change the lenses. The outside material was not only resistant to all scratches but also diffused all sharp shocks, like dropping my tripod accidently on top of it!
Low laying clouds in Teide National Park come and go at speed and bring plenty of moisture. The water droplets are big – I could see them quite clearly when looking against the light. In backlit condition I usually set the compensation for +1, as otherwise the bright light may fool the meter.
Inside the rucksack, my equipment was protected by shock absorbing dividers that were easy to configure to my needs. There are quite a few handy pockets in the front flap; ideally I would wish for a couple of smaller zip compartment for separating my used memory cards from unused ones.
I have captured this sunset at Playa de las Americas from the ferry. The narrow strip of the sea gave me the perfect base for my picture. To eliminate the movement of the ferry, I needed to use a faster speed of 400.