This week the UPS truck delivered a Lowepro Fastpack 350. My initial reaction is love at first sight. I chose the Fastpack 350 over the slightly smaller 250 on the off chance that I might someday get a larger laptop. The Fastpack 350 can hold a laptop up to 17″ though it would probably be a good idea to test your laptop to make sure it fits. My little MacBook fits with room to spare for a small paperback book. Based on the specification at the Lowepro web site there is really not a very big difference in the size between the Fastpack 250 and 350.
The basic idea behind the Fastpack series of camera backpacks is that they use the same side opening panel of the Slingshot bags made by Lowepro. You slip off the right shoulder strap and then rotate the bag on the left strap around your side to the front to access the camera from the side panel, which is now pointing up after rotating the bag around your body. In practice, I found this to be a little tricky at first with the bag fully loaded with a MacBook, SB900 flash, Nikon D300, Nikon 24-70 zoom, Tokina 12-24 zoom, Nikon 70-210 zoom and a Nikon 20mm lens. I think I had a set of 77mm filters in there somewhere too and also a raincoat in the upper compartment. Yes, that’s a lot of weight and swinging it all around on one shoulder it a bit of a trick and I wouldn’t want to accidentally drop the bag when it is fully loaded with gear. Contrast this with the Slingshot bag, which hangs from your opposite shoulder making it impossible to drop accidentally. That’s not to say that you couldn’t accidentally dump the contents if you are a klutz but at least you are unlikely to drop the bag. The big difference is that you can’t carry a laptop in a Slingshot bag and carrying a laptop is something I need to do from time to time.
Like all things, I think any camera bag system takes some getting us to and the way you use any bag is likely to change over time. There is no perfect bag for all tasks. The next test will be how the Fastpack 350 behaves on an airplane. It looks a bit large to fit under the seat of an airplane and that is where I usually like to keep my camera bag just in case I need to get in it during the flight. There is no way to remove or store the harness system on this bag and though the shoulder straps and waist belt do lay fairly flat I could see all that webbing getting caught on something. I wouldn’t mind a lightweight nylon or mesh bag to keep it clean, contained and camouflaged on the airplane.
The contoured shoulder straps and padded waist belt on this bag are first rate as you would expect from Lowepro. There is also a sternum strap including a cleverly designed rail system that make it adjustable for a perfect fit, The bag is very secure and should work well even if you are riding a bicycle or other two wheeled vehicle. There is also a loop on the shoulder strap for attaching a phone or sunglasses case.
There are lots of handy pockets including an exterior mesh water bottle pocket on the right hand side. I would be a little concerned about putting a heavy water bottle in that pocket when using the pack in the sling position and I wouldn’t put anything expensive in it or that I couldn’t afford to loose. Outside pockets are handy, sometimes they are so handy that other people try to help themselves to your expensive gear. On the Fastpack bags there is a clever security flap that covers the outside pocket on the lower section of the bag and keeps the camera compartment from opening all the way when using the bag in the sling position.
The Fastpack bags are basically divided into top and bottom sections with the camera gear in the lower half and personal gear stored in the upper half. A lightweight rain jacket fits easily in the upper compartment and there are several internal pockets for a smartphone, car keys, pens or cleaning brushes and a detachable zippered bag for your laptop and camera cables. These interior pockets also add an extra measure of security if you forget to close the exterior zipper all the way or someone gets curious about what’s inside your bag. There are other pockets that most people will find very handy but one thing that seems to be lacking is the All-Weather or AW feature found on many of Lowepro’s other bags. I would have preferred a rain cover in place of a few of those extra pockets, though in practice I have rarely used the rain cover on my other bags. I’m thinking of buying or making a lightweight rain cover for this bag that could be stored in the exterior mesh pocket and could also be used to set the bag on when the ground was wet or dusty.
This bag has a lot of neat features and it will take me a while to explore and appreciate all of them. Lowepro knows a lot about building camera bags and the experience shows in all the little details that go into their products. There are a few other bags out there with some extra bells and whistles but I think the Fastpack series of bags offer the best feature set for the money. If this is not the right bag for your specific needs then Lowepro probably offers another one that comes pretty close. All of the Lowepro products I have used have been of the same consistent high quality.
For product specifications visit – http://www.lowepro.com/