Messenger bags and backpacks are standard urban cycling accessories these days, and many packs easily hold so much stuff we practically live out of them. However, it is a lot tougher to find that perfect pack when you’re a photographer that carries an SLR and a basic strobist kit on top of everything else. Finding a solution to carrying my kit as well as my day to day stuff has been a challenge. Although there is a big selection of photography bags and packs to select from on the market, (and many of them do a great job of carrying tons of camera gear) but good luck carrying other stuff. Few of them can handle the addition of gym gear, a bike lock, tools, your lunch and other day to day commuter essentials to the standard camera block. On the other end of the spectrum, I have the same issue with urban messenger style packs. They hold the day to day stuff really well, but even with a padded insert, the addition of your camera stuff can be a pain in the ass. So when I came across the photobag from Inside Line Equipment, you can bet I was intrigued — to the point of, “f-yeah, someone has finally done it.” When I found they were based within riding distance of our home base in the East Bay, I was stoked, and had to pedal over and check them out.
ILE is a small, two person operation based in Berkeley, California. Based out of a live/ work space, they churn out bags one at a time, with only a few hundred produced per year. When they are available, you can find them at a few select shops in the area. Looking closely at the bags, its pretty clear they’re made with care and designed to last.
Upon arriving at ILE, it reminded me quite a bit of some bike frame builders spaces, with bikes and related images on the walls. Switch the tubes and welding machines out for rolls of fabric and sewing machines and you have a bag making assembly line. Everything need to construct a roll-top pack from a roll of fabric was neatly organized and ready to be transformed into that essential urban accessory. A cutting table, big-ass saw, rolls and rolls of fabric, sewing machines, rolls of velcro and fasteners- they’re all present.
What I was most psyched about was finally being able to check out Eric’s latest release in person: his camera carrying roll-top design titled the Photo Bag Prime. Essentially a messenger-style roll-top pack, the Photo Bag Prime has a separate waterproof camera compartment that is accessible from the bottom of the bag. The padded compartment contains moveable dividers capable of toting an SLR body, 2 lenses and a flash. It’s completely separate from the top main compartment so that you can carry your lunch, laptop, gym gear, or any of the other stuff we tote with us in our day to day. The side pockets are capable of carrying a ulock or coffee mug and have compression straps for tripods or lightstands.
I own quite a few messenger style bags, packs, and camera packs, and while they all are great for carrying camera stuff or “life stuff”, none of them do both. As stated, I’ve been using padded inserts for my camera gear in a number of different packs, but the issue has been accessing the gear. Due to the weight, the camera gear goes on the bottom of the bag. Good luck getting to it quickly when you just want to pop off a snap shot on the street. (I also have to be diligent on how I load the bag, or it is mightily uncomfortable) ILE solved this problem quite simply. By adding a second compartment in the bottom of the bag, you still have the waterproofing of a roll-top bag, and your gear is now easily accessible. The main compartment above is completely separate, so you can still pack your lunch without worrying if your camera will be damaged by leaky tupperware or faulty ziplock bags. It is a simple solution, elegant in its execution, and with the compression straps, the top of the bag can still be cinched down and flattened down for a smaller profile when empty. And like your standard roll top bag, the top expands to carry as much stuff as you can jam in it. With this bag, a trip to the grocery store is completely feasible after a day shooting photos at the local skatepark, or whereever you shoot.
ILE offers their photo bags in several different sizes, so if you need to carry even more stuff, they have you covered. They start at $320.00, and are often made to order. Keep an eye out for a follow up post, as I’m dying add one to my daily grind.
Check it out: ILE Photo Bag Prime