Camera bags suck. I've owned and handled a bunch of them and it seems like it's always close, but just not exactly what I want. The bags I've owned have been compromises, always lacking in some feature that is just enough to really annoy me over time. Recently, I purged myself of every dedicated camera bag I have with the exception of my Thinktank Streetwalker. It is still the best bag I have for toting around my DSLR kit with a 70-200 lens. The majority of the time though, I'm toting a much smaller kit and I've gone anti-camera bag for that.
Some time back I wrote about my shoulder bag solution at the time, my first tactical camera bag. For the Olympus m4/3 kit I used to own, it was a good solution - at least for a while. Over time it became a little too bulky and cumbersome for me. I like to travel light and even that moderately size bag was just a bit too much for what I needed. This was especially true when I got out of m4/3 cameras and went to carrying just my Fujifilm X100. The original tactical camera bag was replaced with a Domke F-803. It was an adequate bag for carrying around my X100 and iPad as a daily bag and I used it for a little over a year.
Equipment and needs change over time and I recently decided to get a Fujifilm X-E1 and a couple lens for a more versatile compact camera kit. The F-803 bag was no longer adequate and it was time to look at camera bags again. Ugh! Before setting out in my quest, I made a list of what I considered absolutely essential for my next bag to carry:
Fujifilm X-E1 with lens mounted
At least one extra lens
Lens cleaning cloth
Remote shutter release
Notepad and pen
I'm lucky enough to live in a city that has a large camera shop, Precision Camera. They have a huge selection of bags on display and I spent a good part of an afternoon combing through them. In spite of the plethora of choices, I just wasn't seeing what I wanted. Right size, but no way to carry a water bottle. Nice layout, but too big. Not enough pockets. I didn't want to compromise this time around but it was looking like I might be leaving the store in defeat.
I was just about to call it quits when I found something on the shelves that got the gears in my head churning. It was a small insert for turning any old bag into a camera bag. I had used something similar in the previous tactical camera bag incarnation. This was the first time I had seen one in a compact size like the small Crumpler Haven that I held in my hands. The size looked to be just right for a shoulder bag that I had all but forgotten about back in my closet at home. I took a chance and brought the Crumpler insert home.
Years ago I purchased a Maxpedition Jumbo Versipack. It was an impulse buy that I picked up during a sale. I loved the bag's layout and used it for various things over the years. It has served as a small range bag and a day bag for short motorcycle trips. I had wanted to use it as a camera bag and I looked for a suitable insert over the years without any luck. As it turns out, the small Crumpler Haven is a perfect fit!
The Haven nestles into the Versipack snuggly. A couple of Velcro attached dividers are provided with the Haven and I was able to configure it to comfortably stow my X-E1 with an attached lens and a spare lens. The compartment is large enough that I can optionally carry a SLR film camera like my Nikon F2 and spare lenses. The Haven is well padded without being bulky and like other Crumpler products I've seen, very well made.
Maxpedition makes great stuff. Their bags are very durable, water resistant, and have plenty of well organized places to put things. Perhaps most exciting to me is that they have a real water bottle compartment that will hold a 32oz or greater container. When you live in a place that is triple digits all summer, this is a huge deal. A front pocket holds all my small essentials and a hot shot shoe flash if I want. A side pocket opposite the water bottle side is large enough to hold a small lens or a light meter. A rear hidden "concealed carry" compartment is just big enough to slip an iPad into. On the top is a long, narrow compartment that is perfect for sunglasses.
The Jumbo Versipack holds a lot of stuff. However, it is designed to carry close to your body so it doesn't feel big when you wear it. The shoulder strap attaches to flaps that sort of wrap around your waist and help the bag conform to your body. The strap is wide and distributes weight quite well with a generously sized pad.
Is the Jumbo Versipack the perfect camera bag? Time will tell for me. If it's not, it's certainly the closest I've come to so far. Camera bag manufacturers would do well to take note of Maxpedition's rugged and utilitarian designs.