It might sound strange to some people but finding the perfect camera bag is not an easy task. A bag that can be used at any time, in the street, at the restaurant, when going by a friend, when travelling or simply when going to work. I tried several models and brand, size and material. After a while, it was always an issue. Too heavy, too bulky, too wide, too long, not looking good enough, awkward access, not secure or protective enough, not high enough, etc… So, I always continued my research through the forums, websites, photos online, reviews, user experience, etc… The key elements for my choice were the size, the weight, the access and security, the material, the weatherproofing and the look. After having exhausted all the catalogues and offers of the entire main camera bag brands, a few months ago I finally choose Billingham. Why? Well it was part luck, at least at the beginning. But in fact it’s the sum of so much positive critics and aspects which made me take my final decision. For sure Billingham has a solid reputation of well-made camera bags. I saw several reviews online which didn’t leave any doubt about it. However, and in first, I decided to go with them because I got a great contact with their customer service. They always answered accurately and pro-actively my questions and demands. They helped me to nail my best choice according to my need, use and style. I contacted several other customer services of the best camera bag brands. Some were good, some were just not reacting or at least not in a timely manner, and some were like they were discovering their products with me (incredible but true!). Billingham proved to be the best in term of efficiency, follow up and customer experience. After several exchange of messages, photos provided, questions answered, the Hadley Pro came out to be the winner of this brainstorming. A two weeks trip to the Dominican Republic was planned and none of my actual bags really convinced me that they could be the perfect companion light, discrete and easy to use that I was waiting for and needed. They all were in the category of too small, too long, too heavy, etc… So I finally ordered the Billingham Hadley Pro on Saturday March 5th. It was shipped on Monday March 7th and I received it on Wednesday March 9th. From England to the Caribbean it’s pretty impressive. This is another great point. The Billingham Hadley Pro arrived in a brown cardboard box.
Inside, I found the bag really well protected in a transparent plastic bag. Also there was a nice branded cloth storage bag and an accessory booklet. The shoulder pad SP40 was under a transparent plastic bag with an explanation sheet and another accessory booklet. I was surprised to also find a beautiful catalogue. This was a nice touch and attention to the customer.
My first impressions of the Billingham Hadley Pro when I opened the box was that the bag was a bit smaller than expected (but let’s discuss this point more in details later). Looking closer for details, I found the color combination, Sage/chocolate leather, really beautiful. Some photos online was showing the Sage color like a “light green”. In fact it is a nice “dark green” color. The stitching is perfect, the leather beautiful and classy. In between the canvas and the Fibrenyte I decided to choose the later one. It’s really supple and not shiny as some other review online reported it. The shoulder strap is wide and looks really solid. All the metal parts are in brass. The zipper in the back is covered by a rain flap, is easy to operate and it feels strong. There is a semi-rigid carrying handle on the top lid. A fiberglass plate is under the tissue and ensure a perfect weight distribution and also provide some rigidity. The design is straight forward. One big internal space, one padded insert with 4 dividers (2 long, 2 short), one zipped back pocket, 2 adjustable front pockets. All of this is providing a quick, silent and easy access. Didn’t know yet if a shoulder pad would be useful but I thought that if it was, then it will cost me more to order it after. I then decided to order the SP40 (Chocolate color) at the same time. It’s made of the same classy leather as the bag and has a perfect finish. It feels thick enough to be comfortable. It is not supple straight out of the box but quickly it follows perfectly the form of the shoulder. Two nice brass clips allow fixing it securely and easily to the shoulder strap. When the shoulder pad is in place it’s easy to position the bag at the best place.
The padded insert is removable and is held in place with a single press stud. This could be useful if one day I want to use the Hadley Pro as a simple messenger bag by removing the padded inner section. I can also use the insert inside another bag if needed. The material is really soft and holds perfectly the Velcro dividers. Also nothing is blocking the way when you want to take out or put back the camera, a lens or anything else from the bag. This point was one of my issues that I had with my previous bag and I’m really satisfied to have it solved. The main flap is made to come over the main compartment and the pockets like a canopy to offer a perfect protection against the elements, but not only as we will see later. Billingham didn’t only create a weatherproof material, named Stormblocker, but they also imagined the best design to reach their goal: protect the equipment always keeping in mind an easy and quick access. A clever quick release system with adjustable brass buckles finish the look in front of the bag and lock it securely. This system allow to easily and silently operate the opening and the closure of the bag. Last but not least, the weight. The bag is really light. This is another issue that I wanted to solve from my previous bag and here also it’s a success.
For my first days with the Billingham Hadley Pro I decided to insert all the elements of my checklist that I made for my coming trip. The Canon 6D (without grip), the Canon ef 35f/2IS and 135f/2L lenses (with lens hood and caps), 3 extra batteries with battery charger, extra SD cards with USB adapter, soft clean cloth, lenspen, notepad and pen, passports, wallet, other small things. Everything fit neatly and organized. The front pockets are bigger than expected even without expanding them. They are pretty deep but it’s still easy to access the bottom to pick up even small things.
The full length back zipped pocket is perfect for documents.
The insert comes with 4 dividers but not installed yet to allow the person to organize according to his taste and need. However I decided to keep the organization that I was able to see in several reviews and photos on line. Divide the main insert in 3 areas putting the 2 long inserts in vertical at the 1/3rd of each end. Then use the little dividers to stack elements.
The dividers are easy to install and the Velcro is strong when in place but easy to remove if needed. The small dividers have a nice “double Velcro” design allowing them to stay securely in place even when we have to open and close them regularly. In the middle compartment I place the 6D with a lens facing down. This bag is generally shown with small camera, mirrorless, and I was really happy to see that the 6D did not create any significant bulge or deformation upfront.
Also it’s the perfect depth to allow the 135f/2L mounted on the camera to remain under the flap closed of the insert. This flap is another nice touch to protect the equipment from shock which can eventually come on the top of the bag. It also finishes the protection from the elements like rain, dust or sand to come inside the insert. In terms of space available it’s important to note that the lens hood of the 135f/2L is pretty wide. With it in place, the size of the area on the opposite side gets smaller and this does not allow having another big lens in it. Without the lens hood eventually another prime or small zoom could fit…
Hiking with the Billingham Hadley Pro is possible. Like every Sunday, I did an almost two hour hike in the back country and I took the bag fully loaded with me for a tryout. It weighted 4.5 kg in total. I had the bag in cross body style and walked the whole time with it like this. The size and weight distribution was perfect. It was really comfortable and I had no pain at all thanks to the shoulder pad SP40. Without it certainly the experience would not have been the same. I noticed that when in cross body style, the shoulder strap can eventually “stress” the top corner of the main flap and this could certainly cause a mark on the material with the time. This is not a big deal but certainly it’s good to know for people who want to keep the bag brand new looking. It started to rain and the material just wipes the water out easily. This really confirms the reputation of the weatherproof material that the Billingham is made out of and makes me fully confident if one day I’m stuck under harsh condition.
My first week of use was at work. The size and weight was perfect for a daily work set. The Billingham Hadley Pro was really comfortable to carry my camera gear along with some office stuff, iPad mini and A4 folders. Even the zipped back pocket could accept A4 size, I immediately much preferred have any folder or big notepad inside the bag behind the insert. It’s a perfect place with easy access but also to keep the bag supple and close to the body.
Even the iPad mini could be placed in the zipped back pocket or inside behind the insert, I finally preferred having it in one of the front pockets where it fit perfectly allowing also to have the flap of the pocket closed with the press stud. Note that my iPad mini is in a solid protective case and that is no risk at all to have it damaged upfront of the bag.
The handle on top of the bag is really practical to take out the bag from the car or move it from a place to another in the office. However when the quick release system in front is not locked this handle becomes almost useless. For now this is the only drawback in the design that I can notice.
Finally the great day has arrived: on the way for the trip. Everything went smooth at the airport. As planned, the 4 passports and boarding passes fit perfectly in the zipped back pocket providing a safe and easy access. When the 2 quick release system upfront are closed the bag is really safe as there’s no space for any hand to access the inside, back or front pocket. In the airplane a bigger bag would not be practical to move in the narrow passages. Here on the shoulder or held by the top handle it was perfect. During the take off and the landing I kept it under my legs. During the flight it was easy to have it on the small table in the front instead of moving it back and forth when I needed to get something.
At the airport in Santo Domingo, we had to pass by the foreign and custom offices, get our luggage, get out of the airport and then take a taxi to the center of the city. Everything was easy and safe and the bag was never a hindrance or difficult to handle.
A bus ride to Higuey was a great time. It is almost 150 km between Santo Domingo city and Higuey where we can find the bigger cathedral of the Dominican Republic. The size and design of the bag provided an easy access to the camera keeping it discrete and safe in the bus.
Walking the street the bag was comfortable and stealth. Nobody was paying attention to it. I was able to take out and put back the camera easily and safely. Inside the cathedral I even changed the lens several times without any issue.
My big surprise came from the fact that even with leather and classy finish the bag never calls the attention. This is a real important point for travel and street photography.
A great time at the classical concert. We were invited to a classical concert in the cathedral of Santo Domingo situated in the colonial zone of the capital. It was a fabulous event with an orchestra and a choir. The acoustic was amazing and the atmosphere was really emotional. The cathedral was full of people inside and outside.
We reached the place by taxi where the bag was comfortably installed on my legs. In the cathedral I walked with the camera in my hand and the bag on my shoulder with the top flap closed but not locked. It was really easy to walk through the crowd and at no moment I felt that it could be unsafe to have the bag unlocked. When the flap is down, due to the design which covers perfectly the insert and the front pocket, it’s really difficult to have any unwanted hand reach inside. Actually this same design which protects the interior of the bag against the elements protects also against an eventual theft.
A motorbike ride. It was a simple hour trip from one location to another but on motorbike. Moving fast in between cars, trucks and buses was a really good test. The bag was in cross body style and it was really stable and comfortable.
To summarize my experience and feeling. My first feeling about the size was based on my experience with others bag. For someone with a smaller camera system and who doesn’t need to carry A4 files I assume that the Hadley small could be a better choice. For someone with a DSLR and the f/2.8 collection lenses, I definitely recommend the Hadley large. For someone like me who carries different stuff in between photo gear, personal and office stuff, the Hadley pro is a winner. Also due to the material and the design, the bag really sticks to the body. Not too long, not too wide, not too deep. A great feeling even when the bag is full.
The front pockets are adjustable with a simple press stud, deep enough to take an iPad mini or a notepad, but remain accessible to pick up anything in it easily. Also it’s good to note that you can access the front pocket by only removing one quick release system from the top flap.
The weight of the bag empty is also a great point. With just 1 kg it remains really acceptable compared to the 1.4 to 1.8 kg that most of the competitors propose for their models of the same size.
This low weight provides a real comfort when you carry the bag for long periods. However I chose to use the shoulder pad SP40 based on the type of load and equipment that I use to carry and it was the right choice. No pain or tiredness at all. Also when the pad is in place on the shoulder it’s easy to position the bag perfectly as the shoulder strap slip easily in the fasteners of the pad.
The Fibrenyte proved to be a great material which offers a great protection against the eventual shock but also the elements.
The great weatherproofing is also due to the design of the main flap which covers perfectly the interior of the bag and the front pockets. This great design provides also a full security and safety which warns against losing things or an eventual theft.
The insert is really well made. Really protective against shock without being too thick, it has also a top flap which protects the above without being obstructive. The lining is soft, allowing to take out and put back the equipment easily. The dividers could be positioned easily and strongly with the Velcro. Cherry on the cake, the insert could be easily removed to use the bag without it or to be used in another bag. It remains solidly in place with a single press stud.
The style is something really personal. I find it really nice as I was able to wear a short pant with a T-shirt or a jean with a shirt and a jacket and it was looking really good each time.
The leather is classy but not flashy and the pretty straight forward look and design made this bag to be really understated and stealthy in the street, the airport and the crowd.
Anything not as good? Well maybe the top handle. It is really practical to move in a small area, take out the bag from a car or from the luggage compartment in an airplane. However, when the bag is not close with the quick release system, this handle become unpractical and almost useless. I was accustomed to have the handle fixed at the base of the shoulder strap on my previous bag and it works better even with the bag fully open. But this is not a deal breaker, just something to keep in mind when necessary.
In final the Billingham Hadley Pro is a real fantastic product with a great design made in an effective and beautiful material. More than that, it completely cured my feeling that I had until now that something was not good or missing. At no moment since receiving it, maybe just about the top handle, I said to myself that I would like to have this or that done in a different way. To be honest, I’m really impressed to finally find this bag which really answered all my needs, providing a great protection and versatility, with style and good looking. Yes Billingham, you got more than a new customer, but an ambassador for what is more than a brand but a spirit and philosophy for a photographer on the move.
You can find it on the site of Billingham (here)