LowePro’s photo backpack line contains a newer entry; a lighter backpack meant for a more active photographer. The idea is to keep things nimble, while still allowing room for the other necessities of an active lifestyle on the trail (rain clothes, 10 essentials, lunch, etc…). There are two packs in the Photo Sport AW line, a 200 model and 100 sling model. As you might guess, the 200 is larger and in this case utilizes two shoulder straps whereas the 100 has a single shoulder sling and is meant for a smaller torso.
LowePro provided me two packs for review and I sent the 100 model to my photographer and writer colleague Eileen Ringwald, an avid rock climber and outdoor enthusiast, to give the bag a thorough run through. This post will contain information specific to both packs as well as the items they have in common.
The 100 and 200 Photo Sport models have a similar set of features. A full listing can be found on LowePro’s website and the ones we found most useful to an avid photographer include:
- Ample compression straps around the pack really help keep the bag close and feeling “as one” with the wearer. Most other camera bags hold the pack close but aren’t shaped to hug the user like this pack will. It is comfortable to run with, which is important for this line of bags.
- Ample back padding to conform the pack to your spine and negate side slip.
- Internal compression configuration on camera pouch to stabilize camera while on the go.
- Gear loops and straps to help hold additional outdoor equipment (or a small tripod).
- Waist belt with pockets for quick access to small items. It function less to hold the pack weight than it does to hold the pack close.
- Pocket for hydration bladder AND water bottle pocket (200 model, although Eileen notes below a way to use a bladder with the 100). This feature makes the bag ideal no matter how you decide to carry your water. I have had many bags in the past go one direction or the other, ruling them out in my book depending on which I prefer.
- Gear loops for ski poles or even ice climbing tools/axes.
- The bags are designed to hold a camera with lens attached and have another slot available for a flasher or lens in the camera compartment.
Photo Sport 200 AW by Peter West Carey
I tested the Photo Sport 200 on various short backpacking trips as well as beach walks and trips to the city. I stand 6’1”/1.8m and have an average torso for this height. The pack fit well although the shoulder straps were a bit far to the sides unless the sternum strap was used to connect them. The waist belt is intended to hold the pack in close to the body and does not function to bear much weight, as a large pack would. This make sense for the size and weight of the pack, so expect most of the weight to sit on your shoulders.
Access to camera gear is easy once the right shoulder strap is dropped, allowing the bag to swing forward as most sling bags do on the left side. The zipper for the main camera is easy enough to unzip, but I constantly had to fight with it a bit when closing, if using just one hand. The corners are a bit tight for the zipper pull in general. I like the loops on the zipper pulls as they are easy to grab. And the rear stuff compartment was well sized for random coats and pants. The rain cover deployed quickly but I am annoyed that it remains attached to the bag. I would like to completely detach it to dry it out rather than have it stay with the bag.
In use, I found the padding on the back of the bag odd to get used to. I am not accustomed to padding on both sides of my spine. After a couple of hikes, it felt normal but I can see how this might be uncomfortable for others. I’d highly suggest trying the pack on for a while to see if it will be comfortable for you.
You can see in some of the photos, taken after a couple of months of testing, there are some scars. The pack material is meant to be light and as with many lightweight fabrics, it can damage more easily than the normal Cordura covering LowePro uses. It’s a trade off, you just can’t treat this bag as roughly as its cousins.
This bag is well targeted to its market. The bag is a joy to use actively (once I adapted to the back padding) and really holds onto my back, even when climbing an overhanging rock. The amount of gear and food to be fit inside the main compartment is impressive and the styling is attractive to today’s market. The sizing of the 200 model works with my height as well as my taller writer/adventure photographer friend Ben Fullerton, who is 6’7″/2m. He is also testing the pack for a print publication and his impression was the pack was as good, and mostly better, than the fit of an average pack for someone his height, noting it’s not easy to find a well fitting pack for a larger torso.
That’s part of the whole idea of the bag though, small and slim enough to take on active outings, not just an easy hike. I ended up testing it at my local climbing crags and for a few extra outings like rock scrambles and errands on a bike.
Getting to my local crag of Echo Cliffs involves a hike, a rock traverse around a pool of water, and some rock scrambling. I am constantly using my hands starting from the rock traverse, and at the top of a free solo climb I squeeze in between two tree trunks. With the additional strap attached to the sling, the Photo Sport Sling was excellent for all of that.
The downside was the camera space unfortunately. First off, I was not able to fit my Canon 60D with my 24-70mm 2.8L (with filter) attached inside the camera compartment. The camera was just too long. Arguably this is not the most compact of SLR kits, but it is my preferred go-to setup. I instead fit my Canon Xsi inside with the 24-70 on it, and found it snug but doable.
The nice surprise in terms of general use space was that the main compartment of the bag stretched from top to bottom. Other camera bags separate the general use area and the camera area, dividing the bag into two halves. This one instead was like having a large pocket (for the camera) bulge inside the bag, yet you could still squeeze things around and even under said pocket area. I found this area perfect for stuffing in my synthetic lightweight puffy jacket.
I was also able to fit some food, a climbing harness and chalkbag inside the main pack, along with a belay device. My rock shoes I clipped on the outside of the pack. Fleece hat and headlamp went inside the top compartment but could easily have fit either in the outer pouch or the inside zipper area (which I ended up using for my cell phone, keys and wallet). I was able to fit my Platypus water container on the outside pocket opposite the camera area, though with the bag fully stuffed, it was a tight fit.
On hot days I carried an additional Gatorade in the outer middle pouch. I had wanted to put a Nalgene in there but it was too tight with the bag fully stuffed.
So how comfortable was the sling with all this on it? For longer hikes I found it eventually felt too heavy for one shoulder and I found myself wishing I had the backpack version instead of the sling. For shorter duration hikes / lighter loads it was fine, and it was excellent for bike riding; it didn’t sway or get out of position at all. The cinch system for the camera seems to work pretty well in this regard. Female fit wise, the sling strap didn’t bother me, though I did have to slide the attachment point for the additional strap up and down before I found a suitable position. The slimness of the bag also really pleased me, I felt that if I could squeeze through a spot, so could the bag.
A nice bonus of this bag was surprising people when I took a camera out of it from the side zip area. “That’s a camera bag?” folks would ask. One person even asked if I had gotten a new climbing pack, thinking it was a lightweight summit bag.
In general I’d recommend this bag for active photographers who are focused on the sport more than photography for the day, though if you are going for a long hike and/or need to pack in a lot of non camera gear, I’d look into the 200 version of the bag.
What We Found That Needs Help
- Neither bag could hold a full sized DSLR with 70-200mm style lens attached. Both bags could hold the lens in the lens location, but for quick access with a big lens, these packs won’t cut it. A 300 model, just a bit wider (maybe 2”) would solve this problem.
- The zipper pull for the main camera compartment bound up going around corners and often needed two hands to close, which is hard with a camera in your hand.
- Card storage is left to the user. This isn’t a big deal, but LowePro has done well with its normal flash card pockets on the flaps of other bags (such as the Slingshot 302AW) that I am curious why they weren’t included on this pack. It would make sense to cut down on weight of a card holder.
- The lighter fabric can’t take the beating Cordura can, but this is to be expected. On the flip side, it is nice to have a pack that does not tip the scale past 2.9 lbs / 1.3 kg (for the 200 model).
Both packs serve a slightly different sized torso and it is a bit disappointing the 100 model does not come with two shoulder straps as Eileen noted. That being said, both packs are light, compact and form well to a body. They hold gear tight for active movement and are great at containing just the vital gear you may need on the trail. They fill a spot in the market for those who don’t want to haul every camera component they own on a shoot in town or out on the trails.
I’d suggest these packs for active photographers but first try them on to make sure the back pad is something that will work for you.
As with previous packs, I shot a first impression video that goes over more details. I kept it short and to the highlights.
Colors: Black/Light Grey and Lowepro Orange/Light Grey
Exterior: 10.6W x 6.7D x 19.3H in.
27 x 17 x 49 cm
Interior Camera Chamber: 7.7W x 3.5D x 9.1H in.
19.5 x 9.0 x 23.0 cm
Toploading Compartment: 13.9 liters
Weight: 2.9 lbs / 1.3 kg
Exterior: 9.3W x 6.3D x 18.1H in.
23.5 x 16 x 46 cm
Interior Camera Chamber: 6.3W x 3.1D x 8.3H in.
16.0 X 8.0 X 21.0 CM
Toploading Compartment: 9.0 liters
Weight: 1.7 lbs / 0.8 kg
Disclaimer: The author was provided with a complimentary bag for the purpose of this review.