I returned home from my too short January trip to California with the thought that I needed a new camera bag. OK, OK, maybe needed is too strong; I wanted a bag that was better designed for traveling, for wandering with my camera and carrying enough gear for the day. My old bag was acceptable for close to home, becoming a bit over the edge when I wanted to carry multiple lenses, filters, my tripod or monopod, clothing layers, water, food. Time for something new...
I started looking at product descriptions, photos, and reviews.
The first bag I settled on turned out not to work for me because of the placement of the shoulder straps and because of the length of the bag. The shoulder strap placement made the bag uncomfortable to wear even before I put any weight in it, and the length was short enough that all of the weight was on my shoulders. That's not good, so I made a turnaround shipment back to the manufacturer. (Nope, I'm not going to include the name here; it was a beautifully made bag, just didn't fit me.)
Back to looking...
My eyes stopped next at the f-stop Loka. It looked like it had ample space for my camera gear and the extras I wanted to carry, and the web site stated that it meets international carry-on standards. I found a couple of reviews and videos showing it in use, all very interesting. If you're considering a Loka, you might find this helpful:
My only concern was that it might be too big for me to comfortably carry. That was partially answered by Sarah Fischler's review, but I wanted (attempt) to make sure before I ordered another pack that didn't fit.Video from Varina Patel: Q&A: What's in your camera bag?
I called f-stop to ask some questions. My first concern as noted above was the size of the bag. I told the individual I was chatting with how tall I am, and his response was that he thought the length would be fine. He asked if I knew Varina Patel; I know her from Google+, not in person. Apparently she is an inch or two shorter than I am, and the bag is a good fit for her. Concern gone!
My second was not so much a concern as a question. There are two depths to the Internal Camera Units (ICU), shallow, and pro. With the shallow ICU there is more room in the bag for other items than there is with the Pro ICU. Somehow I had missed the internal dimension of the ICUs on the web site. Hmm... my eyes must have just jumped over the number; when I look now it jumps right off of the page. With the L-plate attached to my camera for tripod or monopod mounting, my 7D is too tall for the shallow ICU; I definitely need the Pro ICU. That meant that my decision was almost made. I thought for a moment about getting the medium Pro ICU. Nope, that doesn't solve the problem - I want to be able to fit my camera + all of my current lenses + filters + whatever else in the ICU. The medium was pretty close to matching the camera gear space in my current bag, so nope! That won't do. The large Pro ICU felt right.
It was early February when I came to my decision. Timing is everything... I found that the Loka was on backorder. I placed an order anyway since the web site indicated that when the bags arrived orders would be filled in the order in which they were received. I received an email about two weeks before the bag shipped. It said that the shipment was waiting to clear customs, and it gave me a chance to cancel my order if I had changed my mind. I didn't cancel, but I did call f-stop to make sure that the credit card number I used wasn't one that expired in a month. All set, just a little more waiting...
My new Loka arrived on my doorstep last week; I loaded it up and used it on both days last weekend. I didn't need everything I was carrying given that I was wandering pretty close to home and that I knew I would only be using a single lens - but I needed to feel the loaded bag.
There is plenty of space in the bag, space that is well laid out and usable. The ICU slips in from the top but it is accessed from the back of the pack (as shown in the second photo below). There is enough room behind the ICU (yes, even the pro-depth ICU) to slide some flat items behind it. The space behind easily works for a laptop or netbook. There is an additional space on the back of the bag to slide in some light clothing layers (or snacks!). There is a pocket on the top of the bag, and there is room inside the main bag above the ICU. There are side pockets where a water bottle would easily fit, and places to stash (hang!) a tripod or monopod.
Best of all, the bag is comfortable, with and without carrying weight. The hip belt nicely transfers the weight off of my shoulders, easily allowing for all day loaded wanders.
As it turns out, there's a bit of magic with the access to the camera compartment from the back of the bag. I tried Varina's recommended method of accessing my camera gear (as seen in her video High & Dry: Rear Access Camera Bags). The steps? Loosen the hip belt a bit, slide out of the shoulder straps, and spin the bag to the front. The pack then sits with the bottom against your body, laying flat with the rear access compartment easily zipped open to grab a camera, use as a sort of a table to change a lens, zip, and flip back to the normal backpack position. Now that really is magic!