Podcast 245: Kata Bag 3N1-33 Sling Backpack Review

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Side Pocket

31 May Podcast 245: Kata Bag 3N1-33 Sling Backpack Review

Kata-BagsKata-Bags sent me a 3N1-33 Sling Backpack to try a few weeks ago, and after using it a number of times now, I’m very pleased with it, and have been looking forward to sharing some details with you today.

(By the way, if you’d prefer to listen, there’s an audio player at the bottom of the post.)

Like many photographers, I have a bit of a bag fetish. There will never be one single bag for every need, unless your needs are pretty limited of course. For many years I have been a Lowepro proponent, and I still own and use about six Lowepro bags, if you include two Toploader bags that I use when I only want to carry a camera body with one lens attached. The problem is that I rarely go anywhere with a camera and just one lens, so I generally attach a lens case to one side of the Toploader, and then I attach a pouch with my air blower and spare batteries to the other side. I also often put a third or fourth lens into the pouch that come with the lenses, and put that into my rucksack. I have to carry a rucksack as well of course, because I need something to keep my wallet and other things in. The next step up of course is to use one of my much larger bags, but I had not yet bought something intermediate, for a day out when I want a good range of gear, but don’t want to carry one of my larger bags.

You might remember from Episode 234 that I bumped into the kind people at Kata-Bags at the CP+ show in Yokohama, in March. When they showed me the 3N1-33 bag among some of their other new bags, I knew that I had just seen exactly the bag that I needed for my days out, when I don’t necessarily need to take the kitchen sink with me. This was because I could not only take four or five lenses, including the 70-200mm F2.8, which is a pretty hefty lens, but it has a compartment at the top for my personal effects so I no longer need to carry a separate bag for that. I also thought that the design was perfect for a bag of this size.

DPS - Digital Photo Series Logo

The 3N1-33 is part of Kata-Bag’s Digital Photo Series range of bags. You can wear it as a standard backpack, as well as a sling, or as a backpack, but with the straps crossed. It’s incredibly versatile. So, when the kind folks at Kata-Bags agreed to sponsor us for a month, and to send me a bag for review, I chose the 3N1-33 and have really enjoyed trying it out.

Below we have just a straight view of the 3N1-33 bag. It’s a nice compact bag, at 46cm or 18” high, 23.5cm or 9.3” deep, and 32cm or 12.6” wide.

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Front

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Front

You can also buy a 3N1 Tripod Holder System (below), which, as you might expect, adds a way to attach a small tripod to the front of the bag. I attached my pretty large Gitzo tripod to this, despite it being over the specified 2KG, and it was OK, but it did make the bag difficult to swing around as a sling. If I really wanted to take a tripod on day trips, with this bag, I’d probably pick up something a little smaller, and I’m sure it would be fine on the front of this bag.

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 with Tripod Holder

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 with Tripod Holder

If we turn the bag around, we can see that all of the straps tuck nicely into the protective foam back. This means you can stow away all the straps when traveling, say when you are getting onto an aircraft, and the band across the middle enables you to use the bag with the optional Kata Insertrolley, or you can drop the bag over the handle of a suitcase or other roller bag that you might be using for a business trip for example.

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Back

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Back

Let’s look at a few of the strap configurations as well, before we take a look inside the bag. First, here’s my favorite configuration, as a sling. You can take either shoulder strap, and attach it to the buckle on the large ring on the opposite side of the back, and then literally just sling it over your head and to have the strap run across your chest in a sling position.

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Sling Configuration

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Sling Configuration

The great thing about this configuration is that when you pull the back around the front of your torso, you can open the side pocket and get at your camera instantly, without opening the front panel of the bag.

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Side Pocket

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Side Pocket

Another thing that sold me on this bag is that once you have grabbed your camera from the bag in the quick-draw position via the side pocket, you can rest your elbows on the bag giving you a much more steady hand-held shooting position. I haven’t tested it yet, but I’m sure you can get a couple of stops of additional stabilization while shooting like this. It really does help to steady the camera when shooting hand-held.

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Quick Draw Shooting Position

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Quick Draw Shooting Position

You can also attach the shoulder strap to the waist belt, but I felt that this put a little extra stress on the bottom of the waist belt as the shoulder strap pulled it upwards. When you want to use the bag as a backpack, you simply pull out the other shoulder strap, and attach the straps to the buckle on the same side as both of the straps. There’s also a comfortable waist belt to help distribute the weight of the bag if you are going to be walking or carrying the bag for a while.

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Backpack Configuration

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Backpack Configuration

I didn’t shoot this configuration, but you can also attach the shoulder straps to the buckle on the opposite side, like when using the sling configuration, but you use both shoulder straps, forming a cross shape over your chest with the straps. Using the waist belt as well this is actually a very comfortable way to carry the bag, and prevents the straps from slipping off your shoulders as normal backpacks can do. If you undo the waist belt, or if you are just using the cross configuration, all you have to do to revert to the sling configuration is undo one of the shoulder straps. You can then swing the bag around to the front again, and access your camera via the side pocket.

Something else to note is that there is just a small piece of Velcro holding the flap on the front of the top lens compartment in place, which I have started to use for my 70-200mm F2.8 lens. As you can see here, it’s also very easy to get this long lens out of the bag from the side pocket as well.

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Side Pocket Lens Access

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Side Pocket Lens Access

If you want to of course, from the cross configuration, you could undo the other shoulder strap, and swing the bag around the other way, then access some of your lenses from the other side pocket.

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 with Laptop

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 with Laptop

For a bag of this size, I was really pleased to find, that I can fit my 16” wide screen Acer laptop in the laptop compartment in the back. The spec says that the 3N1-33 will fit up to a 15.4″ laptop, so you probably can’t count on fitting anything larger, but I was happy to get mine in the back. It does make the bag much heavier though, and the sling configuration with just one strap became a little uncomfortable, so I switched to the backpack configuration while I was out with the laptop in the bag along with my camera and five lenses.

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Left Top Pocket

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Left Top Pocket

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Right Top Pocket

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Right Top Pocket

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Rain Cover

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Rain Cover

Finally, before we start to look inside the bag, note that there are two nice sized side pockets at the top of each side, that are great for fitting a memory card case and filters etc. The bag actually comes with a small memory card case as well with a patch of Velcro on the back, so you can stick it to any internal part of the bag. Actually, I should mention that the bag also comes with a nice bright yellow rain-cover, so if you should get caught in the rain, you won’t have to worry about your gear getting wet.

As I said, one of the things that sold me on this bag is the fact that it has a compartment for your personal effects. When I don’t want to carry one of my larger bags, I pretty much always end up taking a separate bag for my bits and bobs, and usually end up dropping a lens or two in that. In fact, when I first met Bellina, the lady from Kata-Bags that I interviewed for Episode 234, she asked if I needed any help. When I said that I was just looking, she said that I looked as though I needed some help. This is because I had my Toploader bag with a couple of lens pouches attached, and then my usual backpack that I use to keep my knick-knacks in, and I guess I looked a little bit uncomfortable.

Well, as we can see, there’s a really nice compartment at the top of the 3N1-33 bag, with pockets for a cell phone, pens and other things like a small air blower etc. and you can also drop a GorillaPod in there and small umbrella etc. Of course, you could put a flash in here, and if I really wanted to, I can actually get the 300mm F2.8 lens in this top compartment, but it makes the total bag weight so heavy that it’s difficult to use as a sling. If I really needed to carry that much, gear I’d reach for a larger bag.

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Top Compartment

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Top Compartment

The separator between the main camera compartment and the top compartment is actually removable, so if you really needed to, you could take the separators out and use the bag for something other than a camera bag.

Let’s finally now take a look at the main compartment. To get into this, you have to undo two small plastic buckles on the front bottom left and right of the bag, and then the zip is the same one that you use to open the side pockets – you just keep going. You can see here how the camera fits in from the side, and if you remove the separator at the end, and putt the camera in the bag with the 70-200mm F2.8 lens fitted.

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Front Flap

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Front Flap

Speaking of which, there is a little butterfly shaped piece of Velcro that holds the front flap to the separator below, but if you pull on that, you can also get into the higher compartment that I am using to keep the 70-200mm F2.8 lens in.

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Front Flap Wider

Kata-Bag 3N1-33 Front Flap Wider

The bag comes with plenty of separators. I’m only using around half of what it comes with here, so if you want to create lots of small compartments, you can. Also, notice that the interior is bright yellow. This might not be to everybody’s taste, but it sure makes it easy to see your gear inside, which I imagine will be especially useful when shooting on a dull day or on a pre-dawn or post sunset shoot.

Also, the bag is deep enough that if you have a number of short lenses, like a 50mm, you can actually stack them together, as I have done here, with the 50mm on top, and the Lensbaby Composer beneath. You can also fit a 1.4X and a 2.0X Extender in one compartment too.

Kata-Bag_3N1-33 Two Short Lenses

Kata-Bag_3N1-33 Two Short Lenses

I heard that Kata-Bags are introducing three new ranges of bags in 2010. The Ultra-Light Pro Bag Collection, which are pro-grade yet made from incredibly light materials. There’s the Pro-Light Bag Collection, which although light, offers the pro a little more space and configurability, and then there’s the D-light Bag Collection. The D-Light collection offers the hobbyist and enthusiast photographer the perfect lightweight and protective camera bag, again, designed for camera gear as well as everyday personal effects.

Kata Bag ChooserKata have a great Bag Chooser search system on their Web site, to help you drill down to the bag that is right for you, based on the gear that you want to carry, and it even allows you to list bags based on your specific laptop make and model.

I found the Kata 3N1-33 bag to be well designed, and very easy to use. Everything just seems to be there, right where you expect it to be, right when you need it. For a company that hasn’t been around that long in the grand scheme of things, I am very impressed with their products and strategy to produce lightweight yet protective photo and video bags. I’ll certainly be considering buying Kata Bags again in the future, and look forward to seeing how Kata continue to innovate in this now very competitive market space.

I’d like to thank Kata-Bags for providing me with this fine bag to take through its paces. I hope that you enjoyed reading or listening to how I’m finding the 3N1-33 bag, and I hope that it will be useful the next time you are in the market for a new camera bag.

During the month of June, while Kata are sponsoring the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast, I’m doing a Twitter giveaway, in which you could be the lucky winner and take away your own 3N1-33 Sling Backpack Photo Bag. All you have to do is make sure you are following me on Twitter, and tweet a message that I have posted on the blog. Full details are here: http://bit.ly/mbpga2


Podcast show-notes:

Kata-Bags online: http://kata-bags.com/

3N1-33 Page: http://kata-bags.com/product.asp?p_Id=19773

Music: Studies In Ether, by Andrew Aversa – Recording Licensed from the UniqueTracks Production Music Library Inc.


Audio

[podcast]http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3?http://traffic.libsyn.com/mbppodcast/mbpp_ep245.mp3[/podcast]

Download the Enhanced Podcast M4A files directly.


17 Comments
  • Paul B
    Posted at 20:21h, 30 September Reply

    Thanks for this review, it’s nice to see an overview that’s not from the manufacturers. I’ve seen this on offer as low as £106, making it a tempting option.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 21:12h, 30 September Reply

      Thanks Paul!

      I still use this bag around town, so my thoughts haven’t really changed. I agree, it’s a great bag. At that price, definitely!

      Cheers,
      Martin.

  • Ashley Tedford
    Posted at 18:57h, 30 August Reply

    I think this is among the most important information for me. And i am glad reading your article. But want to remark on few general things, The site style is ideal, the articles is really nice : D. Good job, cheers

  • Tiva Cassidy
    Posted at 10:52h, 17 April Reply

    I am not sure I can’t open your feeds to my reader. I can open it using the FF though.

  • Martin Bailey
    Posted at 18:47h, 04 March Reply

    I’m glad the review was useful Nicholas!

    Victor, I can fit my 17″ MacBook Pro in the laptop compartment, and it is 15.5×10.6″. I think you’ll be fine.

    Marc, I’d say it depends on the size of your laptop and what other gear you want to put in the bag. I am happy with this model, and I often now put the 17″ MacBook Pro in it, and it’s very comfortable either with or without the laptop inside.

    Cheers,
    Martin.

  • Marc
    Posted at 18:10h, 04 March Reply

    Hi there,

    Thanks for the great review!
    I wonder if the bag carries comfortable if there is no laptop in the laptop compartment?
    I would incidently use the bag with a laptop. Or would it be wiser to go for the 3N1-30 then?

    thanks.

  • victor imperiale
    Posted at 13:51h, 03 March Reply

    Hi man,

    I´m looking for a bag like this one, the problem is that i have a dell precision m6500 (15.4 x 11.0 x 1.75 inch)
    Could my laptop fit in the laptop compartment?

    Thanks,
    V.

  • Nicholas Chin
    Posted at 20:57h, 20 December Reply

    Hello!

    Just wan’t to drop by and let you know that your post have been extremely useful! :)

    I’m currently using my bumblebee 210 version for almost half a year now and find it limiting when having my 70-200 2.8 in the bag (they advertised the bag to be able to hold the lens in the lower compartment unattached but i find it the other way). I’ve had the lens sitting on the top compartment instead (Yeah as you can guess, its banging around the bag, not that it will get damage though).

    Despite that I still find it to be a great great bag (had accompany me to a lot of cross country trip and worn all day long). Nevertheless I thought its about time to give my 70-200 a proper slot, looked through a few bags of other brand with no luck. I’m glad that I’ve gone back to kata website (Should have done that all along) and look at their other offering.

    I’ll dash off tomorrow to get this bag once and for all, thank you again for the review :)

  • Martin Bailey
    Posted at 10:44h, 14 October Reply

    Hi Sabrina,

    The bag feels great when you have your gear inside, even if you only use the shoulder straps. If you totally fill it, say with 5 lenses and a camera body and lots of stuff in the top compartment, then you have to use the waist belt as well, to distribute the weight better.

    I can use the bag all day and not feel uncomfortable, but once I really fill it up, and the shoulder straps started to feel a little too narrow for comfort. I just didn’t fill it so much after that. :-)

    The clip on straps have been no problem at all either, even when I did carry quite a heavy load.

    Having used this bag often over the last few months, I’m still very happy with it.

    Cheers,
    Martin.

  • sabrina
    Posted at 13:33h, 12 October Reply

    hi Martin,
    thanks for the detailed review.
    how is this bag holding weight? i tried this bag in a shop, it felt great, but the bag was empty so i dont know if when the bag is full of lens/camera/laptop/tripod will it still feel comfortable to do small hike in the bush?
    i am female not as strong as the guys. i just hope the bag can distribute the weight evenly and i dont feel too painful/tired to carry it on my back. and are the straps strong enough, they are clip on, i am just afraid it may break easily.

    thanks.
    regards,
    Sabrina

  • Martin Bailey
    Posted at 09:34h, 24 August Reply

    Cheers Tom! :-)

  • Tom
    Posted at 04:15h, 24 August Reply

    I Have the Kata 3n1-10 and I love it!

    This bag you reviewed is pretty awesome as well!

    Cheers!

  • Martin Bailey
    Posted at 20:58h, 05 July Reply

    Hi Stefan,

    I have an update from Kata on your issue. Apparently they cannot find any mail from you on their servers, but they take this kind of issue very seriously, and have emailed you on the mail address you used to post your comment here. They resent the mail yesterday, having not received a reply to their first mail.

    Please check your email, and get back to Kata about your issue. They are eager to help you.

    Cheers,
    Martin.

  • Martin Bailey
    Posted at 14:47h, 05 July Reply

    Hi Greg,

    Thanks for the comment and kind words about the Podcasts and my work.

    I agree with your statement. I have worked with the bag with the camera compartments totally full, and I found the straps to be adequate for a while in the sling position, but it does start to get a little heavy after a while when carrying the bag with just one strap. I tend to switch to the cross or rucksack configuration when it starts to feel heavy.

    Cheers,
    Martin.

  • Greg Brave
    Posted at 20:27h, 04 July Reply

    Hi Martin,
    I enjoy listening to your podcasts very much, thank you for them! And you also have great photographs here, on your site.

    I own Kata 3n1 20 (which is pretty similar to this one) bag for over a year now, and not long ago did my own review on it. There are few points that you didn’t mention, which I think are wroth mentioning. For example – wearing this backpack as a sling and having large amount of equipment inside (lets say the equipment that you showed in your photos) is impractical because the straps of the bag are pretty thin and narrow and very soon your back will be in much pain.

    If you are interested, you can take a look at my review here:

    http://www.photopathway.com/photography/greg-photo-experience/kata-bag-3n1-20-review/

  • Martin Bailey
    Posted at 22:51h, 01 July Reply

    Hi Stefan,

    Sorry I missed your comment until now. Thanks for pointing it out.

    I’m sorry to hear that you are having problems too. I’m not at liberty to share my contact details, but I will point them to your post here, and ask them to get in touch with you.

    Thanks,
    Martin.

  • stefan
    Posted at 00:09h, 17 June Reply

    Hi Martin,

    thank you for this interesting article and your take on this bag.
    I own the bag and after using the zipper of the laptop compartment 3 to 5 times in total i’m running into problems with it. In the upper right corner of it, the elements/teeth of the zipper (don’t know the correct english expression) seem to be deformed – so that i’m afraid to use the zipper any further to not damage anything. I send the KATA-customer service several emails during the last two weeks asking about warranty-handling in my case (got the backpack as a present from a friend living part-time in the US) – but until now i did not get any answer at all.
    Do you have a contact person at KATA that i can adress my issue to??

    Greetings from rainy Germany
    Stefan

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