Every photographer (hobbyist or professional) likes the idea of becoming a National Geographic photojournalist. But since we cannot all join in, some of us go for the next best thing… National Geographic bags or gear. But is this wise? Considering the price?
A bit of background
What I like most in photographic bags is versatility. I currently have a Lowepro mini backpack, a Lowepro waist-bag, a midi Crumpler shoulder-bag, a National Geographic medium shoulder satchel and a big Kata backpack. That is five bags in total. And I have sold another Lowepro backpack which I replaced with the Kata.
The truth is however, that I do not use all of them. The backpacks are currently collecting dust, storing my equipment when I do not use it. I have no idea where the waist-bag is. I sometimes use the midi Crumpler shoulder-bag when I want to carry just the dSLR. But the one I use everyday for the past 10 years is my NG2475 earth explorer shoulder-bag.
To be fair, the fact that I use the NG2475 every day has mostly to do with its size and versatility. My main job is computer programming, so I need to carry my laptop with me at all times, along with notes. And the medium sized shoulder-bag is perfect for this job. And if I need to carry my D700 or X100S along with a lens and a flash, this is not a big deal. There is room for everything.
The bag itself
The actual design is really well known and iconic. Actually it is one of the things I do not like about it. It sometimes screams “I HAVE PHOTOGRAPHIC EQUIPMENT IN ME”. The Crumpler and the newer NG grey series can be much subtler in that area, since they do not give direct hints about what might be in them.
The canvas material is nice and durable, but also makes the bag super comfortable. Of course, after 10 years of everyday use, there are some torn spots. Mostly at the strap’s joints and at the bottom where the most stress is applied. But remember that I am carrying around about 6-7 kilos (13-14 pounds). Plus, some wear and tear looks really nice on those bags 🙂
One thing that is a bit obscure about the canvas fabric is how to clean it. I usually dry clean it, but some times I thought I should just throw it in the washing machine and be done with it. But either way, some dirt on it looks nice too 🙂
About carrying photographic equipment
OK enough generic info. Lets get to the photographic stuff.
Attention!! The paragraph below might trigger your OCDs. You might even shout OH MY GOD about my approach.
The bag came with numerous pillows and separating thingies to protect your gear and keep it nicely and tightly stored. I have no idea where these separators are today. I removed them the day I got the bag, and have not used them since. I do not bounce around banging the bag to stuff anyway. And I never had a problem with my equipment. Lenses and flashes have their own protective pouches, and I usually have books and notes to help keeping stuff separated.
The four pockets are brilliant too. Nicely sized and with enough protection to store important smaller stuff that you need separated. My smaller cameras fit there perfectly.
One thing that you might miss is small pockets for things like memory cards. The Kata is brilliant in that area, with its nice orange interior and the well thought pockets.
National Geographic bags seem more flexible towards everyday use in that matter. They are not optimized for efficiency. You can still store small stuff in the front pockets, but you will have to look around for them, or keep them in their own protective pouches so that you can easily spot them.
One thing I do not like about it, is that this earlier model did not come with a waterproof cover. So I have to carry a plastic bag with me in case the weather changes. The newer versions come with nice covers though.
Is it for everyone?
Well this is usually answered by “It depends”.
If you like the aesthetics, then go for it. You will not regret it. National Geographic bags are built to last and are not afraid to get dirty.
If you are starting now and like to carry around your entire photographic arsenal, sorted alphabetically and within arm’s reach, then you probably want to have a look at Kata backpacks. You will not regret getting one of those.
If you want something modern and completely stealthy, have a look at Crumpler messenger shoulder-bags.
Are National Geographic bags worth it?
Again, it depends.
Considering the prices of the newer models that go for more than 120 euros and their newer aesthetics, I would say no.
If you can live with an older model that would cost about 60-70 euros, then of course they are worth it.
Would I buy something else? I have been thinking of getting one of the newer gray W series, but never found a good reason why besides the need to buy something new.
Update 23 March 2016
I just received my brand new W2161 and I love how it looks. It is really a step back in quality though. It follows the general aesthetics of National Geographic bags in general, but it appears that they really cut corners when you start getting into details. I will make a new post about it soon.