Is there anything such as the perfect camera bag? Read on to see how the F-Stop Tilopa BC stacks up.
The Lowepro Mini Trekker camera backpack I have been using for years has lasted me really but was not suitable for a trip I had planned to the snow. It has limited space for extra gear required on long day treks and had become uncomfortable to carry, especially when loaded with close to 15kg of camera gear. So I blindly purchased an F-Stop camera bag having read very little about it, doing no research but only hearing excellent feedback from its users. There certainly seems to be a buzz about this brand just now, no doubt fuelled by the Australian distributer, Rod Thomas and the numerous photographer endorsements (sadly I am not one….yet).
So I bought the Tilopa BC, with both a medium and large ICU at a pocket lightening $420 including delivery. The ICU, or internal camera unit is a nifty interchangeable way to store your camera equipment. The units can be swapped in and out depending on your space requirements or used separate to the bag with the attached carry handle. For the most part I will use the large ICU as I can fit and easily access to all my gear. For the trip to the snow I wanted the medium ICU as I didn’t need all my gear or the weight and also to maximise space for extra’s (clothes, gloves, water, food). As with most camera bags the ICU is compartmentalised and can be somewhat customised arranging the gear how you want using the velco dividers. There are a ton of dividers and Velcro straps to play with so you are bound to find combination to suit your needs.
Large ICU with space for 5DMkII, and the massive Canon 70-200mm F2.8
Medium vs Large ICU
Left – Tilopa BC with large ICU removed
Right – Tilopa BC with large ICU
Initial thoughts were wow this bag is BIG and complicated! After slotting in the ICU and packing it the bag sits a lot better and all the straps seem to have a use. The bag really lends itself to all-day trips, the size was perfect for my trip to the snow. With the medium ICU I still had enough space for the rest of my gear spreading it across the bags numerous pockets.
On the bags first outing I found getting access to the gear somewhat cumbersome especially with gloves on. First you need to unzip the back opening (this bag is a back loader) where the shoulder straps get in the way and then the ICU using two fiddly small zips. This was not ideal however I soon discovered folding the ICU’s top back on itself into the base of the bag allows for far easier access. This was my major grievance at first but now I’m a happy man.
The base of the bag is waterproof, great for putting it down on snow, wet grass or rocks. As it is a back loader this is only really useful when the bag is not in use. For the most part the bag will be put down on its front which thankfully is easy to clean. The Lowepro opens from the front so I would have to put the bag down on its back and straps making them and my clothes dirty.
A tripod can easily attach to either side of the bag using special pockets to rest the feet in and a couple straps to secure it place. I never at any stage felt the bag was unbalanced with the tripod set to one side, although it is made of carbon fibre so it could be different with something of weight.
Waterproof base and small pocket with a drainage hole for tripod feet
Inside the bag is space for a laptop, one or two ICU’s (a small and a medium ICU can be used at the same time) and some room for other gear depending on your ICU choice. In addition there are numerous other pockets notably a large one on the top and two on the front (really just one split in two). The bag has a number of internal mesh and closed pockets ideal for memory cards, business cards, filters and the like. They have even put in a pocket designated to carry rubbish which I used whilst in the snow.
The build quality seems very good. The exposed zips are waterproofed and even have a cover to put the two zips under when closed covering the gap where they meet. To carry the bag when fully loaded feels quite comfortable. The shoulder straps are quite thick and support from the hip and chest straps help to take the weight. They really have thought of everything (that I can think of just now) and haven’t compromised on quality, the bag and ICU’s even come packed in great F-Stop cloth bags that I’m sure I can use elsewhere.
This bag is the best I’ve used and is pretty much perfect for my needs. I’m a discerning customer, especially when paying so much for a bag. You can justify it however you want, I know I don’t want to be carrying several thousand dollars worth of gear into a hazardous environment and to be worrying about my bag, how comfortable it is, how it will hold up and the fact I didn’t have space for those extra gloves!
I’ll update this blog post as I use the bag, please let me know if you have any questions.
Kosciuszko national park – F-Stop Tilopa
Hi! I'm interested in this backpack but I have one concern: it's comfortable for long trails?
I'm used to travel and walk with a 32l regular trekking backpack, but when I put inside my reflex I don't have any space free. So, I was looking for for something bigger and also camera friendly. I want to use it for 3-10 days treks.
Thank you very much.
Thanks for the comment, I would say yes it is comfortable. There are many straps to adjust the position of the bag and the shoulder and hip straps are well padded. Will this be big enough for such a long trek? I guess that depends on how big an ICU you put in there. The only discomfort I experience is when my camera sticks into my back (through the back padding). I have a battery grip and an L bracket on my camera so the whole thing sits quite high in the bag. I'm sure I can fix that by turning the camera around in the bag or arranging the dividers better.
I use to walk very light If don't need to carry tent, gas and so… I only carry my camera body and a 17-50mm. Sometimes I tryied to carry more lens but they finally remained inside the bag all the path.
I will try to find someone who let me use the tilopa or satori for a little test. The most important for me is my back comfort and, also, F-Stop prices are similar to the high-end traditional backpacks (comfort guarantee). I don't need a backpack with large ICU.
Thank you very much. Your comment has been very useful.
Best regards from Barcelona!