Camera Backpacks: ONA vs Langly
Stylish Camera bag: Fashion or Function?
In October 2015, we got our hands on a selection of camera backpacks. A few weeks later we were heading out to a shoot in South East Asia, allowing us the perfect opportunity to test the new bags. After some disappointment with one of the backpacks, the two bags that made the final cut for Thailand were the stylish and beautifully hand crafted ONA's The Camps Bay and the tough military-grade Langly's Alpha Pro. Here, I compare the two - taking into consideration space, quality, design and value - and give a verdict on which worked best for Reload Sessions.
Our shoots are usually in the centre of London, we travel we between Zone 1 and Zone 2, the two densest areas in the town. In the past we had been using a very good bag, similar to the Lowepro Flipside 400AW which served us well for about a year, including a few hikes in the French Alps - protecting everything inside with zero water damage despite walking through one or two alpine snow storms. It did a great job but it wasn't the kind of bag that was suitable to wear before heading to a meeting or even a studio shoot. It wasn't the 'coolest' looking bag out there - but still we have love for Lowepro and at under £100 it's a good option as a first backpack if you're in the market for one.
ONA's The Camps Bay & Langly's Alpha Pro
Active on the hunt for a new backpack to house our cameras, laptops and a few on-camera microphones too we came up with Langly's Alpha Pro and their now defunct Decoy. Despite being similar sizes we bought both of them - we're a two-man team and it doesn't make much sense to kit one of us with a Langly and leave the other with a bag that doesn't look as good, because let's be honest, Langly's bags look great. Over the late summer months of 2015 we planned a few trips to put the bag through its paces, with a few London-based shoots to act as a warm up. Unfortunately, the bags didn't get to the warm up before we realised the two Langly bags just weren't cutting it.
Sadly our order took about two months to receive in full, but let's look past that as the guys at Langly sent us a paracord strap as a way to apologise for the split delivery, which was a nice touch. Though the hefty customs bill we received a month later wasn't the best way to kick off an already unsettling relationship. To pay £100 extra on top of the £150 + £165 respectively for each backpack plus £50 shipping to the UK for the two bags didn't get us off to the best start (maybe we shouldn't have been naive to think Langly would cover the customs charge) . Before we had even used the bags we were two months in and £465 ($685) down. Let it be known that designer backpacks aren't for those on a budget. If you're looking for a budget backpack for your camera equipment, go back to the first few paragraphs of this review, there's no point carrying on here.
With this all in mind, we had grown frustrated with all the back and forth with the Langly distributor, it was time to bring in another bag.
This time we opted for ONA's The Camps Bay, a handsomely crafted bag with waxed canvas and detailed with dark truffle leather. The Camps Bay was more expensive than either the Decoy or the Alpha Pro, but we were confident it would be worth the £300 price tag. As it happens, the buying/delivery procedure was as straight forward as we hoped, packed neatly inside an elegant lightweight ONA branded sack along with a thank you card - it's the little touches that contribute to making a difference I guess. With three bags in our possession we picked one bag each to take to Thailand to film a few films with YouTube influencer Ebony Day (with thanks to the guys from RealGap). The two bags taken were ONA bag's The Camps Bay and Langly's Alpha Pro - unfortunately the Decoy didn't have a laptop slot, this helped it qualify for automatic exclusion from the trip and took its place on a shelf somewhere in our office where it's remained ever since.
So how did they hold up? Let's get stuck in to comparing the two.
Above: (Left) ONA's The Camps Bay in smoke grey. (Right) Langly's Alpha Pro in black.
Space - Room For A Camera & Lenses?
The Alpha Pro is a big bag, no doubt about it. There are two main compartments to the bag with the bottom one featuring custom parts allowing you to create your own mini compartments. The bottom segment can fit two lenses and 1-2 camera bodies, we carried one 16-35mm, one 35mm and one Canon 5D MKIII. Langly say it can take four lenses/bodies but we reckon that's at a push. In terms of comfortability, it'll likely be three items. The top compartment is where the bag outperforms The Camp's Bay. With a free compartment in the top, which has a zip-pocket perfect for SD cards or other small items, there's plenty of space to throw in a few microphones or personal items, books, food etc. In our case we used the top half to hold a dismantled Glidecam HD-2000. Good use of space Langly! There are a few side pockets too which are good for holding spare batteries, but they won't fit any large parts of your kit. One notable difference between the two bags is the tripod harness at the bottom, which allows you to latch a small tripod onto your bag.
Loadout: Laptop, Amazon Kindle, notebook, x1 Canon 5D MkIII, x1 16-35mm lens, x1 35mm lens, x1 Tascam DR40, x1 battery charger, x1 spare battery, x2 RØDE SMVX, small pouch with personal travel items - wallet, keys, passport etc.
The Camps Bay
I had the pleasure of taking The Camps Bay along with me for the two week trip. The main body consists of a compartment with removable velcro dividers, similar to the Alpha Pro but more thought out. ONA provides a few velcro straps too to secure equipment in the bag so that it doesn't move/fall out, a smart move considering the entrance to the compartment is a large zipped vertically facing flap. The Camps Bay did well in terms of storage, however with the second compartment though it was customisable with its velcro sides it wasn't as big as the Alpha Pro's. But make no mistake you can fit a few microphones or a water bottle and some snacks. The Camps Bay has two side pockets, they're too small to fit anything of any real value, but you could store a chocolate bar or maybe a 500ml bottle of water - or if you want to reserve them solely for tech, a set of earphones or a card case would fit in there. The Camps Bay also has a zipped pocket on the front of the bag, perfect for spare batteries and a charger.
In terms of taking The Camps Bay on a plane as the solo hand carry, it didn't hold many of my personal belongings, but a magazine, laptop, water and snacks was all I needed which was fine in this case but maybe not if I needed to take a full change of clothes for a weekend trip, something the Langly could handle albeit at the cost of having a smaller compartment for the cameras. The Camps Bay does have the option to create more space for your personal belongings, but as with the Langly it comes with a compromise elsewhere in the bag.
Loadout: Laptop with charger, magazine, x2 Canon 5D MIII, x1 50mm lens, x1 85mm lens, x6 GoPro Hero Black, x1 external hard-drive, x1 bag of GoPro accessories, x1 10 port USB charger, x1 card case, x1 cable bag, x1 battery charger, x2 spare batteries, personal travel items - wallet, passport etc.
Quality - Handcrafted With Premium Materials
The Alpha Pro is durable, it's tough and rugged. It looks like the kind of bag you could find in an old box in twenty years time and it would still perform well. The straps do their job and never felt like they'd give way, the material is fully waterproof - though that doesn't make much sense when the design of the bag isn't (see more below). The bag handled the weight without any problem. The zips seem a bit clunky but once again do their job. In terms of durability, the Alpha Pro holds up well.
The Camps Bay
The quality of The Camps Bay back pack is clear from the get-go. The waxed canvas material is not only fully waterproof but it retains its shape. This is great for a camera bag. It's thin enough to not feel too 'tarpy', something that the Alpha Pro had an issue with but it's sturdy enough, and made out of high quality material so that it doesn't get bent out of shape. I fell back-first onto a muddy clay puddle. Other than my ego, nothing was damaged which really proves that The Camps Bay isn't just for the city. It was great to see that the clay washed right out with a good bit of scrubbing.
Similarly to the Alpha Pro, the back panel has a breathable air mesh to keep you cool and sweat-free year round, a tell tale sign that both backpacks aren't just cheap wannabes. The buckles are solid as are the padded straps. I'm confident with lifting the weight of the bag with any part of the back, not just the straps. Something I can't say about the Alpha Pro, but once again, this is more of a design flaw.
Above: (Left) Close up of the breathable back on ONA's The Camps Bay. (Right) Front pocket design of Langly's Alpha Pro.
Design - Camera, Laptop or Travel Backpack?
This is where the Alpha Pro lets itself down. Yes, it looks great, it's made out of military-grade twill and it's waterproof, but what good are all of those things if the functionality of the bag is lacking. The front flap covering the main compartment doesn't completely cover the section, which is okay, but not when the zip of said compartment doesn't fasten all the way. What you're left with is an almost waterproof bag - made from waterproof material. Let's touch on the laptop slot, it's there as you'd expect, any self-respecting camera backpack should have this *cough Decoy cough*, but in order to access your cameras/lenses you have to remove the laptop from the bag first to be able to open the lens pouch. Not practical in the least, especially in the middle of the rain season in Thailand. It makes no sense to have to take out the laptop before you can get full access to everything else in the bag. A big thumbs-down for this. It almost counteracts all of the positive aspects about the Alpha Pro. Another frustrating feature are the poppers on the outside pockets. These pockets are sealed with zips which are then covered by poppers. The poppers come undone very easily and unlike The Camps Bay's buckles they can't take any weight - don't try lifting or moving the bag with them. It's great that the Alpha Pro has the external pockets, we've hidden snack and tech alike in these but the poppers make it feel like Langly have added tassels onto the bag to give it the authenticity and credibility of an older, more inconvenient and less practical backpack.
The Camps Bay
The Camps Bay is a stylish bag but still very simple. It's pragmatic in what it does. It wants you to look good, feel inconspicuous and protect all of your equipment at the same time. It does this, and it does it very well. The bag fits in with city life but doesn't look aloof when taken out of an urban landscape, in fact it does more than holding its own. The bag's compartments are almost entirely customisable leaving the wearer with the freedom to do pretty much what they want, with two access points to the main hull you can access your equipment quite easily. You won't find many zip pockets on The Camps Bay, which would've been nice to guarantee a storage space for cards or keys, but the solo flap pockets can hold a few of these items, though this isn't big enough of a problem to warrant heavy negative criticism.
Value - The Right Investment?
The Alpha Pro looks like a good bag. The kind that when worn people aren't sure whether it's a camera backpack or a normal backpack and in many sense this is exactly what the Alpha Pro is - both. The idea of two compartments is a good one and allowing space for personal items is a plus, of course this is at the expense of having less room for technical equipment. If going away for a weekend on a long drive or a short flight but you're hoping to bring more than just one body and one lens maybe this is the bag for you.
Price: £175 ($250)
Price for UK customers: £175 + customs bill at £44 + shipping at £23 = £242
The Camps Bay
If like us you are looking for a backpack to bring along to a shoot, or maybe for a wedding or to a studio where you don't really need many personal belongings stored in the bag then you should consider The Camps Bay. If storing as much of your equipment as you can while doing it safely is one of your priorities then this is the backpack for you. You know what you're getting with this backpack you'll look great with it on when going to meet clients but most importantly, it'll carry and protect your technical equipment of which it can house a lot.
Price: £300 ($430)
Price for UK customers: £300 + shipping at £85 = £385
If you are looking for a recommendation here and money isn't an issue then it would have to be The Camps Bay. The bag looks and feels great, it's made out of durable material - both of which the Alpha Pro offers, but the clincher for ONA is the design. The Alpha Pro seems seriously flawed and the whole 'is it waterproof or not?' issue is too much of a headache for a £175 bag, not to mention the complications with the laptop slot and the cool-but-useless poppers. The Alpha Pro looks like it's marketed for hikers and lovers of the outdoors, but it also feels like it's a few steps away from being as good as it could potentially be or what Langly want you to think it is. The Camps Bay on the other hand appears to be marketed towards young professionals, mostly urban living though with a touch of weekend-wilderness, but it performed amazingly in the rainforest, on a beach and on my back while wading through the banks of tropical rivers. London life will be a breeze.
It would be a bit harder to pick a bag for a weekend shoot as the Alpha Pro's top compartment is a handy feature, but we shouldn't forget The Camps Bay has a free space at the top of the bag too even though it's not as big as its competitor's, but it's there and it is customisable. So we have it as a choice if needed. My favourite of the two is The Camps Bay, it's a simple bag that does what I want. It stores my personal items; phone, wallet, chargers, laptop as well as my lenses and my cameras - I can arrange and secure them as I please and can access them whenever I want. The Camps Bay is the kind of bag that you can quickly pack and be on your way. It looks more professional than the Alpha Pro, but not any less accommodating. I'm aware it has a heftier price tag, but I love the modesty of the backpack, I prefer the way it looks over the Alpha Pro, (remember that whole thing I said about it trying a bit too hard to be something cool from an earlier era) and I definitely prefer the space management over the Alpha Pro. But back to the price tag - when you consider that you'll have £10,000 worth of equipment on your back, the £140 difference in price for a more well-rounded and complete backpack shouldn't seem as off-putting as it once may have been.
In short, there are no inconveniences about this bag, the functionality of the backpack hasn't been overshadowed by its looks and it will do the job you want it to. Don't expect frills and lots of compartments, it's not that technical, but for a backpack that works for both the city and the outdoors it' should serve you well for a long time.
(Note: Since writing this review Langly has changed some of the features on their Alpha Pro as well as discontinued their Decoy model.)
BUY: ONA The Camps Bay (Tan) BUY: Langly Alpha Pro