As the proud owner of a Lowepro Transit Backpack 350AW and a ThinkTank Retrospective 20 messenger bag, you may well be wondering why I felt the need to add yet another bag to the collection. Well, the only answer I have for you is that my relentless search for the mythical “perfect camera bag” continues.
I purchased the Tenba Shootout backpack after doing a fair bit of research online and visiting the various camera stores in my neighbourhood. In general, I am very pleased with my purchase. After living with it for a few months, I have a number of thoughts and impressions that will inform and influence my future camera bag purchases and I thought these might also be of interest to Photography Life readers.
The Shootout 24L backpack is the middle offering in a series of three, with the smaller 18L model and the larger 32L filling out the roster. The 32L has a few extra features such as an internal aluminium frame, which I didn’t feel I needed, and the 18L wasn’t quite large enough for all the gear I currently use so the 24L was the bag I chose. All of the detailed specifications are available on the Tenba website.
One of the first things I noticed about the Shootout was how different the material was to many of the other bags currently on the market. It is made from a somewhat shiny ripstop nylon that is quite distinctive from the canvas, leather and other materials I have seen. My first impression was that it did not seem as robust or sturdy as some of the other materials but my concern is limited to its ability to withstand abrasion rather than any fear of it tearing. So far, I have not seen any obvious signs of abrasion wear and as you will see later, there are some thoughtful touches that should help prevent this from occurring, at least on the more obvious places.
While how a bag looks is obviously a matter of personal preference, I find the bag to be quite understated and a nice mixture of two styles, namely “urban professional bag” and “back country companion”. The white piping on the shoulder straps and down the centre of the back are both reflective providing a bit of safety at night without turning you into a traffic sign every time a car drives by.
You will also notice that the handle is attached to the body side of the bag, rather than at the top. I wasn’t sure how well balanced this would be but it works just fine and has the added benefits of being both low profile and structurally sound.
Looking at the right hand side of the bag (from the wearer’s perspective), you will notice a single pocket that extends down the entire side of the bag. Just below the bag is my favourite mini-pod which as I described in an earlier submission, I use as a chest pod when I feel the need for additional stability. As awesome as this little tripod is, collapsing down into a compact size is not one of its most compelling features but happily, it fits quite easily into the long pocket on the side of this backpack! Even better, I don’t have to open the entire front of the backpack to get at it – it is readily accessible. This side pocket is 14 inches (36cm) deep so you might even be able to get a small monopod in there.
Just below the pocket opening is an cinch strap that is used to collapse the size of the bag down and move the load closer to the body. To be honest, with all the dividers and gear in the bag, I don’t think this cinching mechanism adds much functionality to the bag and as I will explain later, it has some negative implications as well.
Below the cinch strap is an expandable water bottle pocket which, as you can see holds a water bottle very securely. One word of caution though. When the deep pocket is full (as mine is with the minipod), getting a water bottle into the water bottle holder is almost impossible!
On the left hand side of the bag is a smaller pocket that is 7 inches deep 18cm and easily fits a cell phone.
Just below that is the companion cinch strap to the one on the right hand side and then the camera access door along with yet another expandable water bottle pocket. Given the pressure the water bottle puts on the inside of the bag, I will not be using this pocket for a water bottle any time soon. It would be okay for some lighter, less rigid item like a package of gum, sandwich, granola bar or whatever.
The side access camera door is shown above and the door itself has a small zippered enclosure that comes complete with a small lens cloth. I thought this was a nice touch, not only to have the pocket so easily accessible once you have drawn your camera out, but to also include a lens cloth. Very thoughtful! Well done, Tenba.
One of the biggest questions I had was how easily it would be to get the camera out through the door and I am happy to say that my D7100 slides in and out without any problem at all. I doubt very much a full frame camera with grip would be so lucky so if you are shooting with one of the larger bodies or use a battery grip, be sure to check this out before you consider buying this bag.
Now getting back to the possibility of abrasion wear on the nylon material used to construct the bag, the picture below shows the bottom of the bag and you can see it is made from a much more robust heavy grade of plastic.
If the material appears scuffed in the picture, it really isn’t – what you are seeing is dirt (yes, I have actually used the bag!) and to me this is one of the truly thoughtful features of this bag. I love the fact that it has a base made out of waterproof and mud proof material that is easily cleaned, (even though I have not done so). Neither my ThinkTank or Lowepro bags have a base made of such easily cleaned material.
You will also notice that the base of the bag has two zippers. The top most one holds the carry foot to carry a tripod while the bottom one holds the bag’s rain cover. I love the fact that these are both zippered compartments. On the Lowepro Transit 350, the tripod foot is just stuffed up inside the bag and the rain cover compartment is secured with a Velcro tab. The ThinkTank messenger bag doesn’t have a tripod connection but the rain cover is stuffed into one of the pockets in the bag taking up space that could be used for gear. While these are different approaches and you may prefer one over the other based on your particular need, I really appreciate how Tenba has incorporated these into the design of the bag.
The Tenba rain cover also has two sides and can be used with either the black or silver side out. I am not sure when I would use the silver side out but it is an option for those that are looking to wear a bit more “bling” in the rain.
The Shootout will also take a laptop in a compartment close to the body. The picture shows a 13” MacBook Pro inserted with room left over for the power supply. According to Tenba the compartment will take up to a 15 inch laptop but I don’t have one to validate this claim, although based on how easily the 13 inch MacBook fits in, I have no reason to doubt that a 15” would fit just fine.
Coming around to the back of the backpack, you will see three additional pockets in addition to the main compartment.
The largest of the three is as deep as the entire bag and I have stuffed a windbreaker in there to demonstrate how much it can carry. I think this is a great feature for any camera backpack and while I have not tried it, I am pretty sure a hat would fit in the compartment at the same time as the windbreaker. There are three other unsecured pockets in this compartment for a pen and two business card holders.
The other two smaller pockets are identical with netting in the doors and at the bottom to keep little things from falling out and a slide in pocket on the inside of the compartment. In the picture you can see a tethered SD wallet, included with the bag. Again, I think this is a nice touch for Tenba to include these little accessories and I also appreciate the fact that it is tethered although it can be removed if you have a card wallet of your own. The companion pocket is identical but has neither a tether nor card wallet.
Carrying a Tripod
The pack will also carry a tripod and as mentioned earlier the carry foot unzips from the bottom of the bag. I really like that it is large enough to hold two of the three tripod legs.
The rest of the carrying system I am a little less thrilled with. Here is why. First of all, the strap that secures the top of the tripod to the bag is a separate piece of kit that you have to carry somewhere. After seeing the elegant solutions used for both the carry foot and rain cover, I was disappointed that the tripod strap had no “home of its own”. Of course it can be stuffed somewhere but it seems like a miss to me in what is otherwise a well thought out bag.
The second thing I dislike about the way the tripod is carried is that the straps used to secure it to the bag clip into the buckles of the cinch straps I mentioned earlier. Now I understand that while this allows you to cinch the weight of the tripod as close to the body as possible, it also leaves the now unclipped cinch straps just dangling. This is not a huge issue but it is still not as well thought through as some of the other features.
The top of the tripod is slid into a rubberised loop that is attached to the strap. The loop itself is sewn onto the strap and is closed with a huge piece of Velcro. At one point I thought it was possible to have the strap on the bag side of the tripod and release the tripod by undoing the Velcro on the loop. Dumb idea. The Velcro is so strong that you end up fighting with the whole thing. It is much easier to just undo one of the clips and slide the tripod out. I am assuming the rubberized loop was designed that way to allow it to fit over different tripod heads while providing a bit of protection from scuffing etc.
I have a few other nits to pick with this arrangement. If you look at the now unused cinch strap, you will see that there is an elastic loop on the strap to hold the loose end of the strap. In fact literally all of the straps on the bag have this feature. It tidies things up nicely and keeps the strap ends from flopping and flying around. Now look at the tripod strap and – hey – something is missing. There is no such elastic loop on this strap. Is it a huge deal? No. Does it seem like the whole tripod carry system was a bit of an afterthought? It does to me.
If you need more evidence, take a look at the picture above. I have highlighted the loose cinch strap but I have also highlighted the now very limited access to the back pockets. I honestly think that the pockets would have been better designed had they opened out (zippers on the outside) rather than in so that access would be unimpaired by the tripod carry system.
Two More Things
Two more things before I show you the guts of the beast. The first is the sternum strap.
You will note that like many backpacks, the sternum strap can be moved up and down on the shoulder harness so that it fits the wearer properly. This is a nice feature to have but it is not that unique. Now if you look a bit more closely at the sternum strap you will note that it has some “play in it” on the wearer’s right hand side. This is a piece of elastic that provides some “give” to the sternum strap when you are wearing it. Wow – does this ever make a difference in comfort! This is an awesome feature that I didn’t even notice until I was wearing the bag and I guarantee you that I will be looking for this in any future bag purchase. It turns the backpack from a “straight jacket” in to a comfortable cardigan. Well, okay maybe not that comfortable but it does make a huge difference in my comfort in wearing the backpack.
The second thing is more of a negative and that is the main compartment zipper pulls. All of the pulls except for the sets on the main and front compartment are lanyard types with a plastic tab. The main ones are made from metal cord with metal tabs.
While these tabs add a bit of pizzazz to the look of the bag, no one is going to accuse them of being comfortable. They are not sharp but they are a bit on the gnarly side. I think the idea is that they can be used with gloves on, which I am sure they can. However, I don’t think you should have to be wearing gloves to use them and yet that is the feeling I am left with.
Lets Load It Up
Now for the most important thing – how well does it handle the gear? My answer is – it works perfectly for me.
What you are looking at is a Nikon 70-200 F/2.8 lens with hood reversed mounted on my D50 because I am using my D7100 to take the picture. You can see from the picture that it not only fits well, but it can be easily withdrawn out of the side door on the bag.
Snuggled right next to the camera is a Nikon 24-70 F/2.8 with hood mounted in the shooting position and here is what I really, really like about this bag. I can take the camera partially out of the side door leaving the lens inside, remove the 70-200, flip the little Velcro divider and quickly mount the 24-70. When I am done shooting, I can then return the camera with the 24-70 mounted back into the bag with the now unmounted 70-200 still in its spot. To fit properly however, the camera does have to be upside down with the grip side closest to the 70-200 but this is not an issue with the padding in the bag. No more juggling lenses!
The other stuff I have in the bag includes a Nikon 85 F/1.8G, a Nikon 50 F/1.8G and sitting in the spot usually reserved for my Nikon 35 DX F/1.8G is an 18-200 VR1 lens that is usually on the D50. My TC -17E II is under the 50mm. I normally only carry the D7100 with either the 70-200 or 24-700 mounted. Closest to the top is a set of Kenko extension tubes and three 77mm filters. The spare battery and charger also share the compartment with the filters but when the picture was taken, they were off getting charged or something.
I was also curious whether I could store the 70-200 and TC-17E II teleconverter mounted on the body in the bag and while the picture above shows that it is possible, I am not all that comfortable carrying it that way. You can see how the bag is bulging out at the sides with this set up crammed in there. Not ideal.
This picture also shows the two additional pockets inside the main compartment. I really like that they are clear reinforced plastic so I can easily see what I have stuffed in there. In my case, it is a couple of camera rain hoods and a remote release.
This picture also shows a bit of extra padding on top of the 24-70, something that is probably not needed but provides a bit more rigidity to the whole bag much like the black strap that is Velcroed in near the top.
In summary, having carried this bag fully loaded (including tripod) on a number of smaller hikes of about one and a half to two hours duration, I am very pleased with both the functionality and the comfort provided by this bag. It is full of very thoughtful touches, seems well made and with the exceptions noted, the design is well thought through.
Where to Buy
You can buy the Tenba Shootout Backpack 24L from B&H Photo Video for $239.95.
Tenba Shootout Backpack 24L
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