The first thing I noticed upon initially picking up the Manfrotto Pro Light 3N1-35PL Backpack was just how light it was. It truly lived up to the Pro Light name. When comparing the 3N1-35PL to my other bags, I could really feel the difference in weight. This was definitely the lightest bag I had ever used. Being light is a definite positive that is fully appreciated considering I regularly carry about 20 to 30 pounds worth of camera gear and accessories.
Beyond being light, another great virtue of the 3N1 series is its versatility. The bag can be setup into four different configurations: left-shoulder sling, right-shoulder sling, backpack and double sling. I’ll go over the different configurations a little bit later but first I need to discuss the design and construction of the bag.
From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, the 3N1-35PL has a very cool look and feel. The red accents used throughout the design also give the bag a distinctive look, helping to set it apart from other bags. Its high-quality construction and parts should withstand years of abuse. Every zipper, handle, side buckle and strap feels well-constructed and well implemented. The bag’s design is also well thought out. For example, the main exterior side buckles feature a plastic covering protecting them from damage and accidental release. Furthermore, the zipper pullers located at the top of the bag are designed to easily and comfortably accommodate a finger for quick opening. Finally, the bag includes a travel strap which allows it to be attached to the handle of carry-on luggage, great for frequent travelers.
Inside the 3N1-35PL is the same combination of high-quality material and construction. The bag is comprised of three compartments; laptop, main and accessory; and four side pockets. The four side pockets include two on the side of the accessory compartment and two on the front of the main compartment. Overall, the bag is very large and allowed me to carry a camera, four lenses, a flash, an iPad, a GoPro and many other accessories.
On a side note, I recommend against placing a laptop in the laptop compartment unless it is very solidly constructed. I once placed my MacBook Air in one of my other backpacks and after a full day of walking around I discovered that the constant pressure of the screen against the keyboard left a permanent mark. Again, I’m not saying not to use it, I’m just saying to beware that the MacBook Air does not act well under pressure.
The accessory compartment features a number of pockets for a variety of items such as memory cards, pens, a cell phone, keys, etc. I used the side pockets primarily for small items that I didn’t want to get mixed up or lost in the accessory compartment such as batteries, cables, headphones, etc.
Another nice feature of the bag is the ability to remove the section dividing the accessory and main compartments, making for one large space. I didn’t use this configuration, nor do I know when I would, but it’s another testament to just how flexible the bag is in its design. The main compartment also featured Manfrotto’s Camera Protection System dividers. These were definitely a cut above the standard foam dividers found in most other camera bags.
Included with the 3N1-35PL are a separate rain/UV cover and a tripod holder. Both accessories are well made. The tripod holder is a necessity because there are no built in external straps on the bag. The rain/UV cover fit well and was easy to take out of and return to its mesh pouch. My only gripe with the cover is that it is separate from the bag. My other backpack includes the rain cover as part of the construction of the bag which allows for quick and easy access without having to open the camera bag. While the rain/UV bag does feature a clip, I haven’t yet found an ideal spot on the outside of the bag where I could put it that didn’t interfere with any other part of the bag. This is by no means a deal breaker for me, but something to be aware of as the rain bag will probably have to take up valuable space in the accessory section.
As I mentioned earlier, the 3N1-35PL has four different strap configurations: right-shoulder sling, left-shoulder sling, backpack and double sling. Each configuration has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, and each one has its own use-case scenario.
Right/Left Shoulder Sling
As a righty, my preference is the right-shoulder sling which is why my other cross-body shoulder bag is designed this way. Unfortunately, this becomes a problem after a couple hours when my shoulder becomes sore and irritated from wearing. I didn’t have this issue with the 3N1-35PL because I could switch shoulders. Keep in mind, though, that changing the strap means completely reconfiguring the main compartment to take advantage of the cross-body straps main feature, quick camera access.
Both the left- or right-shoulder sling configurations reward preparedness. When I initially set up the 3N1-35PL I did so somewhat quickly and haphazardly. This resulted in a bit of discomfort and clumsiness when retrieving the camera from its quick-access housing. After my first shoot, I reconfigured the bag, lightened it a little, and was able to make full use of the quick-access capability. After a little practice, I was able to whip the bag to my front without using my hands, unzip the quick access opening and pull out the camera, all in a matter of seconds. Putting the camera back was a bit more time consuming, especially with a lens hood on a 70-200mm. A camera pre-mounted with a smaller lens would move much easier in and out of the bag.
The standard backpack mode was great for everyday walking around when I didn’t need quick-retrieve capability. The optional waist strap provided a bit of extra support and stability. I also ran with the bag and it gripped my body well, especially with the assistance of the waist strap. The 3N1-35PL was just as comfortable, if not more so, than my regular backpack.
The backpack straps were slightly different than my other backpack in that I had to tighten them upward instead of downward. Upward tightening required a bit more force because I wasn’t able to use gravity to help tighten the straps like I would in a downward configuration. The reason for the upward tightening is the fact that the 3N1-35PL’s straps include holders which provide a means to easily hide the excess strap. There is a tradeoff in this design, but the strap holders are worth the extra effort.
Overall, the backpack method is a great, all-around wear style that is easy to take on and off and is good for hauling gear or when the quick-retrieve functionality is not required.
The double-sling method involves connecting the straps to their opposite anchor, therefore causing them to cross the body. This wear style was completely new to me. I’d never used a camera bag with such functionality so I definitely wanted to try it out. From a practicality and usability standpoint, I feel the double sling is probably the least functional. This style takes the longest to get on and off, and makes quick access to lenses almost impossible. Each time I took the bag off it was a chore involving a bit of acrobatics. I also had to consciously be aware of which strap was on top in order to ensure I unhooked the right one. Some of this clumsiness might be alleviated with time and practice.
What I liked about the double sling, and really the main reason for using it, is the stability it offered. No other setup gave me the confidence to know that my bag was firmly and securely attached to my body. The bag was a part of me and wasn’t going anywhere. During one of my shoots I did full sprints and the bag hugged me tightly. I had full confidence it wasn’t going anywhere.
The double sling setup is for the photographer who is either moving very quickly with their gear or doesn’t need to change their lens often. I also recommend wearing a collared shirt with this configuration as the straps have a tendency to rub against the neck when they are fully tightened.
I really enjoyed using the 3N1-35PL and plan to make it my go-to bag for the majority of my assignments. It effectively eliminates the need to use either my stand alone backpack or my single-configuration sling bag. It has the space I need to carry the gear I use on a regular basis without much compromise. The Manfrotto Pro Light 3N1-35PL is a great proposition for those photographers looking for a nicely balanced bag that is a great value, versatile, spacious, comfortable, well constructed and designed. I wholeheartedly recommend it.