This week’s TTL comes in the form of a review. This is the first time I’ve personally done any kind of photo equipment review and I’m honored to have the chance. The guys over at Inside Line Equipment hit up The Union looking to get a camera bag tested and reviewed and I was more than willing to check it out. The simple fact that I have shot with the same camera bag (a Lowepro Super Trekker) since around 2006 means that not only have I been using a great bag for years but it also means that I know exactly what I like and don’t like in a camera bag. I know exactly what it is that I am looking for and I know what it is that I demand as a photographer who needs gear that I can rely on. It’s simple; either I’m going to like it, or I’m not. And these guys were willing to put their bag on the line so I was willing to put it to the test. Read on to find out how the MK III photo backpack performs in the real world.
Before the bag got into my hands I have to be honest, I didn’t really know anything about Inside Line Equipment. I didn’t even know that they existed actually, but after seeing the products they were making I knew that they put a lot into what they do and I could tell that they have photographers in mind which is what it’s all about. They are a company based out of the San Francisco Bay area and actually come with a lifetime warranty on materials and craftsmanship. Now, if you ask me, any company that backs their product with a solid warranty is doing things the right way. They actually offer a wide variety of bags from small to large and the one that I tested was actually the biggest one that you can get.
Knowing that these bags are hand made makes them that much better. If you really look at the construction of the bag you can see that no detail was left out no matter how unimportant it may have seem. It’s as though everything that you could want, or would want out of an expensive bag like that is there. You can tell that a lot of time, research and effort went into making the MKIII. From the weatherproof zipper where the padded laptop sleeve is, to the weatherproof camera compartment, to the adjustable waste and sternum straps, to the overall construction not a single detail was left out. The main part of the bag is constructed of 1000D Cordura and also has a Ballistic Nylon bottom for durability. There is a main camera compartment with dividers to keep your gear safe while maintaining the standard feel of a normal “camera” bag although this one looks much more like a messenger style bag compared to a camera bag. There is room for a tripod, a couple of camera bodies depending on their size, a few lenses, multiple flashes, cables, cords, pocket wizards, chargers and more. You can also fully customize the inside with the padded dividers and truly make it your own. The bag also has a weatherproof roll top main compartment for personal items and whatever else you want to throw in there. The point is; this bag is ready to go.
When it comes down to packing this bag the damn thing feels like a clown car, and just when you thought it was full, another pocket shows up, or the compartments just seem to be bigger than you realized. That’s what happened to me at least. It was a situation that had me concerned in the beginning when considering the bags overall size but it definitely has more space than you would think once you start to fill it up. If you pack with a plan, you can really push the limits of the MKIII and fit most all of your gear in there depending on how you shoot. For me, this bag is perfect as a weekender, or smaller trip bag because you can pack your essential gear in the main compartment and also pack your clothes, and other travel items in the top part of the bag. Plus, you can rest easy knowing that the entire bag is weather proof. I’ve been stuck in the rain before and trust me, when you have your gear with you, nothing is more comforting than knowing your precious cargo will stay dry and protected until you can get out of the rain. Is the bag big enough for everything that I normally carry on a shoot? Personally, it’s not for me. But, I also carry more gear than the average person and am the type of shooter to be a little over-prepared so it all depends on your shooting style. I just recently took a quick trip to NYC for a commercial shoot and the MKIII was the only bag that I took not only for my camera gear but also for my clothes, laptop, and anything else I could throw in there. It was amazing being able to travel with a single bag, avoiding any hassles of checked bag fees and time spent waiting to pick up your luggage. It’s also nice having the laptop sleeve, saving you the hassle of needing any other bags. There are also straps on the entire front of the bag, which allow you to use the Natick Labs MOLLE system. The system is designed to customize your bag with different size pouches and pockets to your liking. That’s also just another feature that makes the MKIII stand out from the crowd.
As a professional photographer there is nothing more important to me than having a bag that is comfortable. This can really make or break a bag and the MKIII held its own for sure. The beauty is in the details including the padded shoulder straps, padded laptop sleeve on the back of the bag, as well as the adjustable sternum and waste straps. All of those factors come into play when traveling with this bag. As I mentioned I tend to push the limits of the amount of gear that I can fit in my camera bags and of course the more you put in there, the heavier it will be. Even with a full run of gear, the bag didn’t show any signs of stress which is vital when it comes to cruising around a new city on your bike with a big bag on your back. You have to be able to hop up and down curbs, weave in and out of traffic and be able to keep up with the rest of the crew and the MKIII allows you to do just that. Even just the simple act of buckling the sternum and waste straps makes it feel like the bag is becoming an extension of you. The padded back also helps a ton in that situation.
As far as function is concerned, you can tell that the bag was designed and constructed with photographers in mind. Not only that, but you can tell that it was designed for people on the go. It was made to be abused, and it was definitely made to take a beating. Every strap seems solid, every buckle clicks with that nice snap ensuring that it will stay locked and the zippers pull smooth. The bag actually has a certain feel to it and once you start to get used to how everything works you almost learn to work with the bag and understand why it was built the way it was. It almost has a certain rhythm to it, and it’s just the type of bag that feels good to use. When it’s packed full, the weight seems to be distributed nicely, and once you have the sternum and waste straps buckled tight, it almost becomes part of you.
To be honest, there isn’t much that I would change about this bag at all. If I was part of the design team, this is some of the input that I would give to the crew. First of all, the shoulder straps are a little thin in my opinion. Once I filled the bag up, and had to spend a lot of time with it on my back, I realized that even with the sternum strap and waste strap buckled I felt some pressure where the tops of my shoulders are. I know that feeling all-too well from carrying around a camera bag on my back for years and years now and know for a fact that it would be nice to feel that extra padding in the shoulders. I also noticed that the sternum strap/buckle itself was a little small. Now, although it’s just a simple sternum strap, it’s one of those things that make all of the difference when you have the bag packed with a ton of heavy gear. I just had it in the back of my head a bit that the buckle might snap and leave me strapless. A bit of a wider strap, and a little bigger buckle would make me feel much more confident, especially when riding around, jumping up and down curbs with the bag on my back.
Other than that, the padding on the back of the bag could be a little thicker as well. When you have it fully packed with camera gear and throw your laptop in the sleeve, it creates a bit of a pressure point right at the bottom of your back and you can kind of feel the laptop on your back. Not only does this make things a bit uncomfortable, it also makes you worry about your laptop and the screen potentially having too much pressure on it. I feel like this could be solved with a little extra padding. Like I said, I fill up my camera bags to the max, and it would be nice to know that everything is going to stay protected while you do work. The other thing that I would change is the price. It’s on the expensive side and definitely has the hand-made price to go with the hand-made construction. Retailing at $380 might scare off some potential buyers without giving them a chance to really appreciate what went into making the bag and how much attention to detail there is. It’s just a sticker shock thing, and once any real photographer gets feel for how the bag functions, they will understand why it’s that expensive. I mean, if a bag is going to last, it’s an investment. The camera bag I have been using since 2006 is still going strong and with the way the MKIII is constructed, I can see owning this one for years to come.
Overall, I have nothing but good things to say about this bag. From a design standpoint, these guys killed it bringing in input from legit photographers, cyclists, and adventure-minded people. From the clean look, to the seemingly endless amount of space, the MKIII is one you should definitely consider checking out if you’re in the market for a new bag. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the simple fact that it doesn’t look like a camera bag. This makes it even more appealing to me because it doesn’t draw the same attention as many other bags that scream “steal me, I’m carrying thousands of dollars worth of camera gear.” That’s huge, especially when traveling international or simply shooting in a shitty part of town. Anyone that shoots BMX knows that you can end up in some shady parts of some big cities so it’s nice to know the average person will look at your camera bag more as a cyclist/hiking bag as opposed to a camera bag. I also need to mention that all of their bags come with a lifetime warranty on materials and craftsmanship. Which means if anything goes wrong (within reason of course) they have you covered. Also, supporting a small company means dealing with people that care, and are passionate about what they do. If you are in the market for a new camera bag, I would say you are selling yourself short if you don’t fully consider a product from the crew over at Inside Line Equipment. Do yourself a favor and at least do some research. After owning one, you will see why this company has the potential to become a major player in the photo game in the future. Support the people that are passionate, and in the end, everyone will benefit.
Check out the actual specs from Inside Line Equipment and be sure to check out their website www.ilequipment.com for more info, and to get a look at the other products they offer.
“Designed in collaboration with John Watson of Prollyisnotprobably.com and refined with Tom Briggs who shoots for clients like Nike, Red Bull and Specialized. The MKIII model carries all the gear you need for a mobile shoot. It features a 12″x12″ photo compartment–Reinforced with ABS plastic panels to keep your gear safe. The dividers can be arranged in a wide variety of ways to accommodate multiple DSLR bodies (with grip attached), lenses, flashes, batteries, chargers…or remove a row of dividers to fit smaller DV cameras. Due to the larger allotment of space for the photo gear, the upper compartment is smaller and compartmentalized for the traveling photographer. Pockets for cables, phone, iPad or laptop, and the main compartment will fit a change of clothes and jacket. To add flexibility of carrying capacity, and customization of the bag, Natick Labs MOLLE system is used on the exterior. It can now be modified by the photographer for special requirements. Pouches and pockets can be added anywhere on the bag, thus making it ultimately customizable.”
* Weatherproof Camera compartment (12″x12″x8″) padded, with 7 moveable Velcro dividers
* Weatherproof roll top main compartment fits personal items (12″x8″x10″)
* Padded zippered sleeve down the back fits 17″ Mac Book Pro
* Easy access front compartment fits iPad or 13″ Mac Book cables, chargers, and smaller items such as pens
* Holds a pro size SLR body with attached grip, multiple lenses, flashes, batteries, and chargers
* Large side pockets with compression straps for tripods or light stands
* Sleeve on side for delicate camera slider rails
* Durable 1000D Cordura body with Ballistic Nylon bottom for durability
* Padded back and shoulder straps
* Adjustable waist and sternum straps
* Dimensions 12″x20″x8″ (30 Liters)
* Handmade in California
Contact them at info@ILEquipment.com for more details.
That’s it for this week. It was an honor to be chosen to test this bag and really give my input as a professional so I want to say thanks to the ILE crew and The Union for making this happen. It’s definitely been a pleasure to work with so far and I can see the MKIII becoming part of my gear list for years to come. Be sure to check back next Wednesday for the ninety first edition of Through the Lens and as always feel free to leave any questions in the comments section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will hit you back as soon as I can. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jeremypavia.