31 May 2010 Podcast 245: Kata Bag 3N1-33 Sling Backpack Review
Kata-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 put the camera in the bag with the 70-200mm F2.8 lens fitted.
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.
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.
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 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
Kata-Bags online: http://kata-bags.com/
Music: Studies In Ether, by Andrew Aversa – Recording Licensed from the UniqueTracks Production Music Library Inc.
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