Top positive review
42 people found this helpful
Pretty close to perfect
on August 5, 2011
I was looking for the perfect camera bag for a DSLR camera, 3 common lenses (70-200 telephoto, wide angle, and 50mm prime), flash, and a few filters. Additionally I want to carry an iPad and misc. things like lunch, guide book, water bottle, tripod, etc. Perfect to me means light weight, easy access, rain proof, flexibly configurable interior, and good padded straps so it is comfortable on a longer walk/hike.
After an exhaustive search the Kata 3N1-33 was the closest I could get to perfect. Other bags I considered were the Lowepro Fastpack 250, Tamrac Evolution 8, Tamrac 3385 Aero Speed Pack 85, Lowepro Slingshot 302 AW, and the Lowepro Flipside 200. I read extensively about them all, compared stats on weight and dimensions, and tried all of them on in stores too.
Bottom line is the camera gear above is a lot - both in terms of volume and weight. There is just no small/light pack that will carry all of it, and there's no getting around the fact that you have a big bag and a lot of weight on your back.
I quickly ruled out all the sling-only models as that much gear gets too uncomfortable with the weight on 1 shoulder. I tried it and they would only work on very short excursions. For the backpack models, the Tamrac Aero 85 is nice (good waterproof zippers, fairly light, laptop compartment), but it doesn't have a waist nor sternum strap (very important for longer walks/hikes). The build was a tad thin too - less protection - but OK for a short jaunt or day trip. In contrast the Tamrac Evolution 8 is built incredibly ruggedly - great internal padding, rugged exterior, strong weather-protected zippers, excellent straps (with waist and sternum straps), intelligently designed with carabiner clip points everywhere and many exterior pockets, and with a more stylish appearance overall. But with the Evo 8 the interior was tight, just barely fitting the gear above and requiring a struggle at times to get it in/out, and it is flat out heavy - a full pound heavier than the Kata 3N1-33. But if weight is no object for you and the interior tightness doesn't trouble you, the Evolution 8 really is an excellent bag. The Lowepro Flipside 200 is promising - very slim in profile and light, but the internal layout is not very configurable - you can't move the position of the camera and it is always facing with the top of the camera into your back. Looked/felt kind of weird but in the end it works - for only the camera gear and nothing else at all. Lastly the Lowepro Fastpack 250 really met all my functional requirements. It is light (a tad lighter than the Kata), fits all my gear comfortably, large laptop slot, nice waist strap. But it has no sternum strap, no weatherproofing/cover, and the build quality was a level below the Kata.
No bag was a clear winner, but for my purposes I'd say the top 3 are the Kata 3N1-33, Tamrac Evolution 8, and Lowepro Fastpack 250, with the Lowepro Aero 85 a runner-up. Ultimately I chose the Kata 3N1-33 because it fits all my gear comfortably (unlike the Evo 8 which was tight), build quality was very high all around (unlike Fastpack 250), and it is light (unlike the Evo 8). The cross-strap flexibility of the Kata seemed interesting too.
Now that I've owned the Kata for a month, here's the real scoop on its performance. It is a very nice bag. Build quality is indeed good, though I wish the zippers were a tad more rugged (not that I've had any issues, but it just seems like I might mess them up some day). The interior design and the way the zipper routes all the way around the side-entry and main compartment is smart. It is easy to open the bag way up and quickly load in your gear. You can't do that with the Tamrac Evolution 8 since the main compartment and the side-entry areas are separated by permanent fabric. The Kata's "Yelloop" interior is nice - it's very easy to see everything inside (including filters) unlike the black/grey interiors of all other competing bags. Also the Kata's interior is remarkably configurable due to the Velcro being everywhere; most other bags had far less Velcro inside so the configuration was more limited. A simple yet smart feature is the way the dividers nearest the side entry easily un-Velcro by gripping and pulling on a tab and folding back, giving you easy access to other lenses for a quick change. No other bag had that easy access. The laptop slot is huge and with an extra-padded bottom so you won't worry about your laptop crunching when you set the bag down. The top compartment is very roomy and holds everything you'd need. Straps are comfortable and it has a good waist strap, though I did wish it had a sternum strap. In theory the adjustable straps enable you to move to sling mode or X-mode (which obviates the need for a sternum strap), but in reality I found that I use only the traditional backpack-style configuration. The loaded bag is just too heavy for sling mode, and in the X mode you can't swing the bag around easily to get at the side entry (yes you could unbuckle one of the straps, but that's a pain). I found it's easiest to use in backpack mode - just withdraw 1 arm and sling it around on the remaining shoulder. And BTW the side-entry thing is awesome - very easy to whip out your camera quickly for immediate shooting. Oh and the rain cover is terrific - I used it on my very first day out when we were hit with a surprise rain shower. Great to know the gear was totally protected.
Here are the features I wish the Kata 3N1-33 had (but it doesn't):
- Sternum strap
- Dedicated water bottle mesh pocket
- Carabiner mount points all over the exterior
- More elegant way to strap on a tripod (the Evo 8 has that built in; with the Kata it's a purchased add-on)
- A large flat pocket on the outside for storing camera manuals and such. Tamrac Aero 85 had this, and it's nice to put rarely used items like manuals in their own pocket rather than consuming space in the upper compartment.
Last but not least I wish some camera bag company would design a bag specifically for an iPad/tablet, rather than adding a full-sized laptop slot. The laptop slot adds about a full inch to the bag's thickness and .5 - 1 pound of weight. I really want a slightly smaller bag that carries an iPad, my camera gear, and some misc. stuff in the top compartment. It would be great to get that and a smaller/lighter bag to boot.
As it stands overall I am very pleased with the Kata 3N1-33. It holds all my gear with ease, is nicely designed and configurable, high build quality, and its light. It's ... nearly perfect.