Billingham Hadley small pro: The Full review

Two years ago, I bought the Billingham Hadley Pro for a trip to the Dominican Republic (here). It was my first post in my blog about a product and I can recognize that I enjoyed the experience. Since then, thanks to Billingham, I also made two others reviews: of the Hadley One (here) and the Rucksack 35 (here). Those incredible bags are always with me, everywhere. Choose the right one that I have to take with me, depending on the situation or the assignment, is always simple. Even if the general concept is common to the entire lineup, each model has its own use, character and purpose.

Sometimes, an unexpected event can impact your life but also the way you are seeing your life. Unfortunately, on early September 2017, the island of Saint Martin / Sint Maarten, where I was living since 2000, was heavily damaged by the hurricane Irma.

Due to the dramatic situation, and especially to ensure the proper continuity of the school for my two daughters, my family left to France one week after the disaster. I was able to join them only at the end of January 2018. It was a long period where I have to deal with ending work, insurance, and a lot of bad stuff… On the other side, my wife and my daughters were building a new beginning in France where we are living now.

This new life brought a lot of changes for our family. Actually everything has changed…

On a more personal aspect, what type and style of photography that I want to do from now is one of the changes which became clear into my mind almost immediately. In first, I decided to reduce the size and weight of my equipment which was composed of a full frame DSLR, some prime lenses, a carbon tripod, a complete Lee filters set, a backpack, etc… (+8kg!).

After a quick reflexion, I sold everything, except my Billingham bags, and I bought the Fuji X-T2 with the 23mm f/2 r wr and the 56mm f/1.2 r (Actually I changed this last one for the 50mm f/2 r wr after a few weeks. But this is another story 😉 ).

I have to recognize that I never saw the original Billingham Hadley small in real. The size of my previous equipment was a kind of deal breaker in my mind to get it. However, several times, I was thinking about it after reading some reviews which was describing a fantastic small bag for street photography or simply for a day walk.

Switching to a mirrorless system like Fujifilm allowed me to get the opportunity to test the new “brother” of the Hadley small launched recently by Billingham: the Hadley small pro.

It’s the right time to precise, as a disclaimer, that I’m not paid by Billingham and that they are not interacting at all with what I write in my blog about their products. After spending myself several years searching for the best way to carry my equipment, my only intention with my reviews is to share with you, the readers of my blog, my experience with these fantastic bags.

I got really excited when I saw online the first images of the Billingham Hadley small pro. It was looking so familiar for me. In fact, it was not really looking like the original Hadley small, that I never got in my hand, but more like a small “Hadley One”.

I generally publish a preview, then a few weeks after, a full review. This time, due to the intensive use that I had already with the bag, this post will be my full review. I decided to do an “all in one” post, at the risk that it could looks a bit long for certain. But believe me the new Hadley small pro really deserve it.

In this review, I will describe the different elements of the bag and I will compare it to the others Billingham models that I owned already. Also, as usual, I will give you some stories and feedback on how I feel with this bag after more than one month of daily use.

I received the Billingham Hadley small pro, with a shoulder pad as accessory, at the end of March 2018. It was into a cardboard box delivered quickly and efficiently by UPS. Regarding the color of the bag, I opted (again) for the Sage/chocolate leather version which I love a lot. However, a lot of others great color combinations are available for all the taste. For those who do not know yet, Billingham make their bags in two different materials: canvas or Fibrenyte. Both are really good however I choose this last one for all my bags. The fibrenyte is a fabric designed and made exclusively by Billingham. It has an excellent abrasion resistance and it is totally weatherproof thanks to the StormBlock butyl rubber structure. After intensive use during the last two years under sometimes some really harsh condition, I can say that nothing can really altered or impact the bag and the equipment inside. Sand, sun, heavy rain, dust and, earlier this year in France, snow. All my bags in Fibrenyte are all looking great with a pleasant little patina, gained with the use of time, on the brass and the leather parts.

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The Hadley small pro is a beautiful bag with the usual perfect finish, stitching and leather quality that Billingham provide to all his products. You can see the buckles locked with the brass quick release system. This system provide at the same time a high level of security against eventual thieft and a quick way to open and close the main flap.

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The optional shoulder pad SP40 is a great add-on to increase the comfort for a day walk.

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The Hadley small was seriously customized to deserve the suffix “Pro” after his name. The top handle is one of them. Inherited from the Hadley pro, it gains the design of the top handle of the Hadley One. With a band of leather stitched underneath, it’s looking great with a comfort improved. A fiberglass plate is under the fabric and ensures a perfect weight distribution and also provides some rigidity when holding the bag by the handle.

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Another improvement is coming from the Hadley one: the shoulder strap. This one is still adjustable, but is fully removable thanks to a beautiful piece of leather held by a screwed stud in brass. This design is simple and efficient in use. The piece of leather, perfectly finished, ensures a secured and solid attachment to the bag. Remove the strap, and now you got a briefcase.

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One of the great distinctive element of the Billingham bags are the front pockets which provide a secure and easy access to what it’s inside. A press stud allows enlarging it if necessary. I find these pockets to be one of the key features of the Hadley series. To be able to grab almost anything in the bag, silently, with discretion and without the necessity to stop during a walk, it’s a real comfort in use for ourselves and to save annoying those walking with us.

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You can see here how it looks with some stuff inside.

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When the press stud is closed, you get a useful pen holder.

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The improvements previously described could be sufficient already to make the Hadley small pro a fantastic products. But Billingham think always about more details, about what could be done to get even better. Based on this philosophy, a zipper and a luggage trolley strap retainer were added to the back of the bag.

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The YKK rainproof zipper will protect against the elements anything that you can put inside the pocket in the back.

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The inside of the rear pocket is ample and provide an easy access.

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The size of the rear pocket is tall and wide enough to receive an iPad mini. But generally I will put my passport and my flight ticket or any other documents in this rear pocket. I much prefer use the space into the bag, behind the insert, to carry an iPad mini or any others thicker documents.

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The luggage trolley strap retainer is really practical during a travel to hold the bag securely on a suitcase.

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Here you can see the press stud which holds firmly the insert to the bag itself.

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The insert can be easily removed leaving a total free space inside the bag where you can put anything you want.

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The full size insert has the same design than the one of the Hadley Pro. It use the same type of Velcro dividers and a press stud to help fix it firmly to the bag. A flap is protecting the equipment from eventual shocks which could come from the top.

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The insert is delivered with two long dividers and two small ones which allow you to organize and stack equipment vertically. For example, on the right end side of the image, under the lens, we can find extra batteries and SD cards.

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Under the flap on the left side you can find some cables and accessories.

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Here is what I’m able to carry on a daily basis with no pain for my shoulder and with an easy and quick access to everything:

  • Fujifilm X-T2 with xf 23mm and 50mm f/2 r wr
  • 3 extra batteries, 2 extra SD cards, SD card reader
  • Lenspen, tissue
  • Notebook, pen, USB key
  • Wallet and passport
  • Leartherman
  • Phone charger and accessories
  • Power bank

Not on the photo, I can easily add car papers, a Western Digital external hard drive, some documents and an iPad mini.

I find this is a lot for a small bag.

By experience, I know that it’s really difficult to evaluate how big has to be the bag that we need to use under certain circumstances. Let see if I can help you a bit with that…

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From the left you can see the Billingham Hadley One, the Hadley Pro and the Hadley small pro. Except for the size, it is really hard to find which model is what. This is one of the major strength of the Billingham bags. You can change the size depending on what you have to carry but you do not change your way of working, your habit or your style.

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These are the same bags but view from the back. Here you can see a slightly change in the design of the elements but with no impact on the usage (except maybe for the absence of the luggage trolley strap retainer on the Hadley Pro).

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As you can see, the inserts looks the same. Except for the size, they have the same design and flexibility.

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This is the view from the side.

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I know this is apple and orange (something like that 😀 ) But I find interesting to compare also the Rucksack 35 with the Hadley small pro. I’m able to carry in the rucksack everything which goes into the Hadley small pro but with the ability to add more if necessary. For a long walk, the rucksack is really comfortable as we expect from a backpack. However if you need a quick access like for a lens change in street photography, the Hadley small pro is a winner.

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From the left you can see the insert of the Rucksack 35 and the one of the Hadley small pro. It’s about the same length but with a different shape and heights.

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Here you can see them from the side.

After this presentation of the physical elements of the Billingham Hadley small pro, let me give you some stories with this bag and my experience of daily use of it.

My family and I were separated during almost five months. This was a really difficult experience. No need to say that since we are again together in France, it was no way for me to go out in the wild alone. So unlike my previous reviews, you will not see any hiking in the mountain, landscape photography or beach adventure stories.

However the Billingham Hadley small pro was with me every time from a family walk, to appointments, and even to the supermarket 😉 .

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We did a nice walk by the river during a cloudy day. Seriously, I will not be afraid at all in case that the rain comes. I have so much experience with the Billingham bags under heavy rain that I could get out with my camera gear under any type of weather with a total confidence.

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We had a great time at the ice rink. It was the first time for my two daughters on ice skating. So imagine a proud father all over around the track, following my girls, changing my lenses, passing through the crowd, the entire afternoon with the Billingham Hadley small pro on my shoulder. It was so easy, comfortable, secure and practical. It was a great experience that I knew already from my others Hadley’s bag that I own but even better due to the small size of the bag.

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During a short trip to visit family in the south west of France, we enjoyed a day in the nature. We had a more than two hours walk around a lake. Here also the Billingham Hadley small pro was comfortable, providing always an easy and quick access when needed.

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The “Val d’Agenai” near the “canal du midi” is a beautiful place, really peaceful and quiet. We enjoyed the atmosphere. I was noticing that I have a bag on my shoulder only when I needed something from inside. This feeling, within this atmosphere, was a real freedom.

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This was during an afternoon at “Kidi Mundi” with my two explorers 😉 . Another quality of this Billingham Hadley small pro, due to his size and style, is that it is totally stealth. Nobody seems to even noticing it. Into a crowded environment it is really reassuring.

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We can find a pure jewel near the place where we are living now: the asiatic garden of Maulévrier. It’s a japanese garden style, where we can find some others influences like Khmer statues. We spent the entire day walking, discovering plants and trees, smelling the flowers. It was a relaxing experience which will be certainly totally different if I had to carry heavier equipment in a bigger bag. I was glad to switch to mirrorless and have the chance to carry it into the Billingham hadley small pro.

To conclude, you can understand from what I wrote that this new Billingham Hadley small pro has convinced me. But it was not totally won yet. Effectively I love my others Hadley’s and the rucksack is a great bag with a different style. But, the low profile and the smaller size of the Hadley small pro is a real plus which could not be ignore when size and weight are important. Billingham was good enough to provide us with the best design and elements that we can find on their bigger bags but on the smaller one.

I really hope that I was able to provide you enough information and share with you my experience in the proper way to give you the will to go to a store and try by yourself this beautifully made and well thought Billingham hadley small pro.

You can find this bag on the Billingham website (here)

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