f-stop Guru Camera Bag [REVIEW]

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The f-stop Guru fits within a line of camera bags centered around a modular system. While this review will center around the bag itself, I will also be including information on the Internal Camera Unit (ICU) taken from a previous review of one of the Guru’s big brothers, the Satori EXP.

My test for the Guru involved two trips; one to Los Angeles for business and another to Jordan for nine days of touring and photography. This bag is sized to fit well under a standard airplane seat and can accept either the small or medium ICU. It is marketed toward those carrying a moderate amount of gear plus accessories with room for water and other gear for a day hike. (EDIT: By the time this post as written, add in another trip to Portland, Oregon.)

Specifications (from f-stop’s website)

  • Volume: 28 Liter / 1,709 Cubic Inches
  • Dimensions:  9″ Depth x 14″ Wide x 20″ Tall  (22.9cm Depth x 35.6cm Wide x 50.8cm Tall)
  • Torso length: 18.5” – ideal fit for 5’3″ to 6’3
  • Inside camera compartment: up to Medium Pro ICU
  • Weight: 1.17kg – 2.60 lbs (No ICU)

Fabric Info:

  • Nylon 330 Denier Double Ripstop PU 1500mm DWR, Nylon 210, Abrasion Resistant Nylon Webbing, HD XL foam, Heavy Duty YKK Reverse Zippers, Hypalon, Dura-flex Buckles

Product Features:

  • Dedicated Hydration port works with option Hydration systems.
  • Non padded Laptop sleeve / Hydration Compartment fits up to 13″ Laptop
  • Jersey laminate back-panel
  • Removable and adjustable sternum strap to accommodate smaller bodies
  • Large front pocket with built in organizer
  • Rear access fits up to Medium Pro ICU
  • Accepts our GateKeeper system
  • Front panel pocket for shell or other items
  • Large organizer pocket
  • The hipbelt now has MOLLE webbing on each side (older version as shown in photos and workbook above has a zipper pocket on one side)

Layout

First, you might note my product shots are not pristine images right out of the box. If you are looking for those shots, you will need to click over to f-stop’s website. The bag you see here has been on the road and placed down in dirt, rocks, garbage, a creek and cement of a dozen different kinds. While this test is short-lived, the bag handles the elements well thanks to 330 Denier fabric and YKK zippers.

To start, the bag has ample shoulder straps and hip belts. This is one of the first things I look for in a bag that will carry 15lbs or more as I don’t like all the weight to be on my shoulders during a day hike or while shooting in general. The waist belt also has MOLLE attachment points on the outside to secure accessory pouches and the like. The shoulder straps also have D-rings for more gear attachments and a routing sleeve for a hydration tube.

Also on this side of the bag is the main access for the ICU. I like this type of design as it keeps the bag relatively clean while accessing needed gear. By relatively, I mean when the bag is removed to access a camera, the bag is placed on its back so the area getting dirty will not be the area that is later placed on your shoulders. This type of design is not as quickly accessible as a sling bag, but it help to keep the photographer clean(er) and to provide some security for expensive equipment.

With two sizes of ICU, the bag camera compartment can be customized to fit your gear hauling needs. I found the small ICU to be the best fit but it doesn’t work with a camera and 70-200mm sized lens, for instance. With the medium ICU, the corners are not as easily accessible and often required two hands to remove a lens without dragging my knuckles across the zipper track (it took doing this two times before I learned my lesson). The medium ICU also has more depth and could hold a Canon 7D with battery grip and CSLR M-Plate on the bottom. But just barely. Much more height than this and the camera top would be pushing into my back when worn.

Around both sides are pouches for a water bottle. They have mesh on their sides but a solid bottom to allow trekking poles or tripod legs to not poke through. Also on both sides are attachment points for f-stops Gatekeeper straps, a simple strap system to lash on larger gear.

On the front of the bag is the heart of its organization for all things except your camera. I value the ability to have my gear not end up in a heap in the bottom of an endless pouch and the Guru accomplishes this through thought out pocket placement. Up top in the middle compartment is a wide zippered pocket which holds filters and gray cards well. Above that is a detachable loop which finds use for car keys or tripod wrenches.

There are also spots for business cards, batteries, two card holders (something I believe should be on every camera bag) and an additional zippered pocket. What impressed me was the additional space at the bottom of this pouch for loose items. The bottom wraps under slightly, allowing space for soft items or snacks, but out of the way of accessing important items higher up.

The last pouch is a simple zipper down the back for odds and ends. A poncho, book or random items fit well in this pocket and it has a hole at the bottom to allow wet items to desaturate (not tested as I was not in Seattle long enough). There are also two Gatekeeper loops on the back.

Inside the main compartment, mostly filled with the ICU, there is still space for a water bladder or paperwork in a elastic pouch (the bag also has velcro closed hole on the top to route the hydration tube forward). This space can also hold a 13″ laptop. On top of the ICU is space for a good sized lunch, additional flash, microphone or other accessories. Lastly, the bottom has a zippered pocket for storing a rain cover (optional) as well as its own Gatekeeper loops.

In Real Life

So what is this pack like on the road or on a trail? Heavenly. I have been backpacking with and without cameras for over 20 years and this pack ranks in the top three for comfort for its size. This bag accompanied by a small sized clothes bag is beautiful for trips where not all of my photo gear is needed.

As you can see, it can handle two cameras even with a long lens. This packing is tight and that 10-22mm lens in the photos takes some wiggling to get out with the medium ICU, so it’s not perfect. But it does fit under a seat in a 737 or larger, even with a laptop, book and not pad inside and that scores points with me (not having to fight for overhead space is nice).

The zippers, often a point most bags cheap out on, are smooth and quick, especially the larger zipper for the main camera access. The only down side is that zipper, being so large, can get in your way if not stored in the correct position. Otherwise it presses into your back.

The hip belt is easy to adjust and for a 6’1″ tall person, the pack is right sized in the shoulder straps. I did not test the water bladder option and I used a third party rain cover (the optional rain cover has attachment points on the bag to hold it secure). One small item that I didn’t realize would be helpful is the oversized grab loop on the top.

I appreciate the full sized hard-back frame of the bag. So many bags that try to be small but carry a load lack a rigid frame and the Guru accomplishes this with a hard plastic backing shaped to the front camera access opening. This keeps the load off my shoulders and on my hips the way a pack should.

Conclusion

It has honestly been a problem for me to test other packs on trips as I know this pack covers what I need in a small to medium frame and it makes gear easily accessible. Hands down, this is the bag I would suggest to those who can afford its price point for a day hike or short trip. It carries the essentials in a well organized manner with comfort and style.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
f-stop Guru Camera Bag
Author Rating
3

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Costa Rica, Panama, Alaska, Seattle and Los Angeles. He is also the creator of 31 Days to Better Photography & 31 Days of Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

  • Zack

    Here’s the thing about F-Stop, and I say this as a customer that owns 2 of their bags (an original Guru and a 2nd gen Tilopa BC). If you need a bag in a reasonable amount of time, or on a deadline, only order from them if it’s in stock. It takes months to get a bag that isn’t in stock. I’ve had one backordered for 5 months now with no solid ETA yet, and the other two I got weren’t quite as bad on the timeline, but it still took a couple of months to receive after ordering. While their customer service folks are ok, the fact that they have such poor inventory control and the way they consider it a good business practice isn’t conducive to people needing something in time for a trip or event.

  • Billy

    Could you post a profile picture of you and the backpack? I would like to see how it sits against your back and how far it sticks out.
    Thanks

  • Brad

    Thanks for taking the time to write this review. Do you know if the waist belts can be removed? Thanks

Some Older Comments

  • Brad August 19, 2013 08:10 am

    Thanks for taking the time to write this review. Do you know if the waist belts can be removed? Thanks

  • Billy July 28, 2012 04:50 am

    Could you post a profile picture of you and the backpack? I would like to see how it sits against your back and how far it sticks out.
    Thanks

  • Zack July 27, 2012 12:47 am

    Here's the thing about F-Stop, and I say this as a customer that owns 2 of their bags (an original Guru and a 2nd gen Tilopa BC). If you need a bag in a reasonable amount of time, or on a deadline, only order from them if it's in stock. It takes months to get a bag that isn't in stock. I've had one backordered for 5 months now with no solid ETA yet, and the other two I got weren't quite as bad on the timeline, but it still took a couple of months to receive after ordering. While their customer service folks are ok, the fact that they have such poor inventory control and the way they consider it a good business practice isn't conducive to people needing something in time for a trip or event.

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