Sunday, July 24, 2011

2x Lowepro Review: Toploader Zoom 45 AW & 55 AW + Unraveling The SlipLock™ Mystery

Left: Lowepro Toploader Zoom 55AW, Right: 45AW, Middle: Canon 60D + 15-85

Welcome to a new rare photography accessory review as I'd like to call them. There are just these photography accessories that you don't find enough reviews for, take today's subject for example, check this link and this one for a couple of google searches about these bags, can you see any reviews about them?

That's why I will be reviewing these bags in this post, along with Lowepro's SlipLock system which was a complete mystery for me until I bought the bags and finally understood how it worked. Hit the break for the full treatment.

P.S. This will be a user review (as usual on this blog) rather than a purely technical/features review, if you didn't notice, this is a thing that we are proud of over here.

UPDATE: I have replced my Lowepro 55AW with the Vanguard Up-Rise 15Z, you can find the review here.


BACKGROUND

Before I delve into the review; I would like to talk a little about my requirements in a bag, since not all people will necessarily have the same requirements as I do. I bought my first bag with my first DSLR (the 550D), I wanted something safe and strong to carry the 550D with the kit lens plus the 55-250 lens, I ended up with a boxy camcorder bag, this bag was neither practical nor small enough to carry around, but it fit the purpose as a storage for my camera and lens.

As I acquired more lenses I wanted somewhere (i.e. a bag) to store my camera and lenses and another bag to take with me when I am going out shooting, I wanted a bag with the following features:
  • Can easily access the camera quickly.
  • Not expensive.
  • Large enough to carry my camera and an extra lens or two, yet not huge.
  • Can be worn as a sling across my chest.
  • Looks professional.
I found all of these features in the Lowepro Toploader Zoom 55 AW, being a toploader it meant that the camera can be easily accessed by opening the top zipper directly, an added bonus was the all-weather-protection in the form of a built-in weatherproof cover that covers the whole bag except for the rear part touching your body, I used it in rain and it protected my equipment 100%.

After a while I upgraded most of my lens collection, acquired some more and I needed a larger bag, so I started looking for something able to carry almost all of my equipment, and I chose the Lowepro Pro Runner 200 AW which I reviewed here.



This is my lens collection so you could get an idea about the relative size of the different lenses, from left to right: 55-250mm, 85mm f/1.8, 60mm f/2.8 Macro, 35mm f/2 and the fat 15-85 mounted to the 60D

They always say that the best camera is the one that you always have with you, so I wanted to buy a bag small enough for my camera plus one lens only, this way I could carry it always with me, I ended up getting the smaller sister of my Toploader 55 AW, the Toploader 45 AW.

From left to right: Pro Runner 200 AW, Toploader Zoom 55 AW, Toploader Zoom 45 AW

THE REVIEW

I usually carry minimal equipment when I'm out shooting and I hate carrying a large bulk with me. I never used the camera strap that ships with it, I hate it because it is not practical and I feel like a mobile advertising agency, I use a nice hand strap instead, but if I need the camera ready all the time I use my brilliant BlackRapid RS-5 strap which I will review later. There are three scenarios for the camera/lens combinations I use:
  • All of my equipment: this happens only 5% of the time, that's when I go all out and carry almost all of my lenses, several speedlights, tripod, lightstands, light modifiers, etc... In this situation I use my Pro Runner 200 AW to carry the camera + lenses + one or two speedlites.
Pro Runner 200 AW carrying my 60D and all of my lenses, sometimes I remove one or two lenses and would be able to fit an extra speedlite
  • Camera + one lens only: this happens 60% of the time, I pick only one lens (usually a prime unless I know I will need the flexibility of a zoom) and spend a marvelous time only worrying about shooting, it is a refreshment to force yourself to use just one focal length and adapt your shooting style to it. In this situation the Toploader 45 AW is very good, it is small enough yet can carry my 60D with any of my lenses up to the fat 15-85, only the 55-250 does not fit because of it's length. It has an internal pocket for carrying small items like memory cards, and an external pocket that can carry a spare battery, your keys and extra small stuff.

    Here's the 45 AW beside the 60D and the 15-85

    60D + 15-85 inside the 45 AW, you can see the belt loop at the back, you can hang this bag to your belt, but I believe you have to be quite large to get away with this

    Same as above but a different view, you can see the quick release plate attached to my camera

    60D + 35mm f/2, one of my favorite combos, as you can see the bag quite large for this combo

    Here's the small memory card pocket I told you about

    • Camera + one/two lenses and a flash: this happens 35% of the time, I use the Toploader 55 AW usually when I need a speedlite with me, this bag is very versatile, it can carry my 60D plus two lenses, one mounted to the camera and another below the divider inside the main compartment (will show you in the pictures below) and my 580EX II in the outer pocket. Another combo is to use the camera with one lens and fit the 430EX speedlite below the camera in the main compartment, then I fit my Slik table tripod in the outer pocket. If I need more lenses with me I will use the external lens cases and attach them to the outside of the bag, I will show you how this works by the end of this post. You can also carry your camera with a large zoom like the 70-200 f/2.8 in this bag.


      There's a movable separator which can go up or down to accommodate taller/shorter lenses

      Here's the 55-250 lens in the lower part, when I do that I move the separator up so that when I put the camera it's weight is on the divider and not the lens below it

      Here's the 60D + 15-85 and the 55-250 at the bottom

      580EX II in the outer pocket, which can also fit my not-so-small tabletop tripod

      Like the 45 AW you can attach this bag to your belt

      Unlike the 45 AW this bag supports Lowepro's SlipLock accessories

    SlipLock™ System

    This is the system Lowepro advertises for attaching extra accessories to their bags, these accessories vary between lens cases and various pouches with different purposes. I have four of these accessories, three lens cases and a sturdy memory card/small battery pouch. My Pro Runner 200 AW backpack and the Toploader Zoom 55 AW supports two SlipLock accessories on each bag. I will let the pictures show you how it works.


    Lowepro Toploader Zoom 55 AW, two lens cases and a memory card pouch

    Here's the memory card pouch from inside

    And this is where it fits to the bag

    Here's how it looks attached to the bag
    Empty lens case, I believe this was the Lowepro 1S lens case

    60mm f/2.8 Macro inside

    Lens case backside

    This lens case has a double velcro system for more security since this will be carrying a lens

    And here's the lens case attached to the bag, you can attach another one to the other side


    CONCLUSION

    I currently have four camera bags, you saw three in this post and read about my first one (the boxy camcorder bag), I use my first bag to carry my speedlites, wireless triggers, spare batteries, rocket blower etc...

    Do I need more bags? I was always tempted by slingshots, and an opportunity arose before me to buy this Delsey Rondo 72, the bag was extremely roomy and carried everything I had with space to spare, but I was not fond of it's large-ish footprint, besides it was the most uncomfortable bag I ever wore, so I returned it and I am very happy with my current bag collection.

    This post has taken a long time to write because I got interrupted several times during the process, so I hope it helps you decide on your next camera bag, if you have any comments please don't hesitate to let me know about them.

    All of the photos in this article were taken with a Nikon D3100 and the 18-55 kit lens, lighting was a 580EX in a reflective umbrella to camera left and another 580EX bounced to the ceiling for fill light, flashes were triggered using the eBay wireless trigger. On a separate note, I was really impressed with the noise performance @ ISO 3200 of this little camera, maybe I will review it in a later time.


    RELATED POSTS

    Camera Bag Review: Lowepro Pro Runner 200 AW