F-stop Camera Bag Review
In my opinion professional camera bags needed a revolutionary overhaul from the standard designs, and F-stop bags are delivering a new level of comfort and functionality.
I recently upgraded my bag from one of the largest camera bag brands, to a F-stop bag. Issues with quality and longevity had seen me spending good money on a new bag every 12 to 18 months, with the heavy medium format cameras and tripods that I use forcing me to invest in the toughest and largest models available.
The bag I am now using is the F-stop Shinn model, which at a massive 80 litres is the largest model in the F-stop range. My main reason for going this big was to accommodate my extended hiking trips, allowing me to take just one bag with all my camping gear, food, water and camera gear.
The bag is specifically designed as a hiking bag, with an aluminium sub frame to hold its shape. Most camera bags are not designed ergonomically for walking and given I do have a bad back I find they make it a lot worse. This bag even at its enormous size is the most comfortable bag I have owned.
Access to your gear is through the back of the bag between the shoulder straps and it is this design point which has me sold - as I can access my gear at any time without the need to pull everything apart.
After having used a system like this I will never go back to a bag with zips on the front, as every bag I have owned with a zip in this location has failed me. I believe one reason for this is that they are load points when fully loaded and hanging on your back, putting stress on the zip and stitching.
Having the zips located on the back of the bag also has the advantage of being better protected from the weather when you’re wearing it, as they are against your back. Given the zips are also set in away from the corner, they are not load bearing and this becomes evident when the bag is full as the sub frame holds the sides in maintaining shape and structure and allowing the zip to do what it is meant to do – just open and close, rather than pulling the bag together.
Rain covers can be purchased for the bag. To date I do not have one but have tested it in many different wet conditions. The best example is from a boat trip in the Whitsundays when breaking waves managed to completely drown the bag. One big wave hit the bag hard and full and given I had the Phase One IQ3 system inside, you could say I was very stressed. At the first opportunity I opened up the bag – and was amazed to find it almost completely dry inside. A small amount of water had penetrated the zip but in all honesty - with the force that the water hit the zip there should have been a lot more. It was not a planned test and not one I was happy experiencing, but there is not a bag I have owned before that would have survived that drowning!
F-stop bags work on an ICU (Internal Camera Unit) system so you can select the ICU needed for the job, pack it and then simply slide it into the bag. This is an advantage as with the current systems on other bags I find the walls eventually become soft and the more you adjust the inserts the worse the structural integrity of the bag becomes. If these do become soft (and I haven’t had it for long enough yet to determine longevity) I can buy a new one and not have to replace the whole bag. They also mean I can have different setups, so if I am on a canoeing trip I can have a small ICU with limited gear, allowing extra space for camping gear. I have tried putting camping gear and camera gear in my previous camera bags and adjusting the inserts to suit, but it has always failed, creating disorganisation inside my bag.
My initial concern with this bag was the system for carrying the tripod - as I run medium format equipment light weight tripods are not an option. With other brands the tripod hangs off the back of the bag meaning the weight is hanging further away from your body and therefore not ideal for ergonomic load carrying. As this is such a large model – hanging the tripod in this manner would have just compounded this problem. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the F-stop Shinn system where the tripod actually goes on the top of the bag. I have found this excellent as my heavy tripod is now sitting over my shoulders, rather than hanging out the back. Also when I place my bag down it doesn’t roll around on the tripod, and given the access is in between the shoulder straps the area that goes against my back is kept clean and I can even access everything without needing to remove the tripod.
Another advantage of the bag is its ability to stand up vertically on its neoprene type base which is resistant to cutting and slicing on the rough ground in which I commonly place my bag.
One downside I have found with this bag is that there is only one carry handle under the shoulder straps. They allow you to pick the bag up without using the shoulder straps. A handle under each shoulder strap instead of just one is an improvement that is needed, as when the bag is full the one handle is just not that serviceable.
Overall this bag is the best camera bag I have used both for comfort and serviceability. It is evident that a lot of research has gone into producing a bag with such practicality.