When I got back into (nature) photography a couple of years ago, I realised that the correct camera bag was going to play a pretty important role in whether or not I was going to be able to carry my gear around comfortably. Previously I had owned various camera bags, and all had been pretty useful for the task they were bought for. But when I purchased the Nikon 200-400mm f/4G VR, I accepted that having a shoulder bag was no longer feasible, primarily because the lens wouldn't fit inside. So I acquired the Lowepro Photo Trekker AWII on the recommendation of fellow photographers, and was very happy with the bag. The Photo Trekker is a large size camera rucksack, and offers enough capacity and customisation to be able to be loaded with a couple of bodies, the 200-400, 70-200, and a few other additional lenses as required. The integrated harness meant that it could be adjusted to fit the photographer's back to give a comfortable fit, and the SlipLock connectors on the side meant I could expand the bag by adding Lowepro lens cases for my smaller lenses.
However, when I purchased the Nikon 600mm f/4G VR I had a problem. The lens is delivered in an aluminum case, which, whilst giving good protection to the lens, is not practical to carry for long distances, and does not offer any additional space for the camera body, let alone any additional lenses. And with the word 'Nikon' emblazoned on the front, draws attention to what you have inside. So I evaluated my options......
First thing I did was try to get the 600mm inside the Photo Trekker. Admittedly it did work, as you can see from the accompanying photograph, however this required the removal of most of the internal dividers. In addition to the 600mm I could also carry the pro body, a couple of teleconverters, a wide angle zoom, and a small size beanbag. But the biggest disadvantage was that I was unable to carry the lens with the body mounted, and this meant I would lose time in the field getting it set up, and introduce the possibility of dust into the camera sensor chamber. So with Christmas around the corner, I asked Father Christmas what my options were. She looked at the Lowepro website and told me there were two ways of solving the problem.
So a couple of weeks ago I went along with Father Christmas to Kamera Express in Capelle an der Ijssel with the intention of buying the Lens Trekker 600 AWII. This is a revised bag that Lowepro recently announced at Photokina 2008, and has been specifically designed for use by photographers who wish to carry the 600mm with a body attached. I looked at it, and was impressed with the usual Lowepro quality of manufacture, but quickly realised it didn't really solve the problem. Sure it enabled me to comfortably carry the 600mm with the body attached, but there was limited room for anything else. It didn't really win me anything in addition to the Photo Trekker that I was already using.
The second option that Santa had suggested was the Lowepro Super Trekker AWII. This is basically a larger version of the Photo Trekker that I already had, but in this case size does matter, and I would have more than enough space for all I wished to carry, so I chose for this bag instead.
The first difference between the two bags is that the internal dimensions of the Super Trekker (14.6Wx6.5Dx25.6H inches/37Wx16.5Dx65H cm) are much bigger than the Photo Trekker (12Wx5.9Dx19.1H inches/30.4Wx15Dx48.5H cm).
Visually they are both similar externally, although the Super Trekker does have additional pouches that connect to each side of the bag, using the Slip Lock system. One is padded so can be used to carry a lens, whereas the other is not, so is more useful for chargers or a water bottle.
One of the nice features with the Lowepro range of bags is that they provide you with enough internal dividers to fulfill even the most imaginative of configurations. Some are stiffer than others and can be used as the base dividers, and others are softer and can be bent as needed.
The first thing I did was remove all of the dividers to make sure that I would be able to fit the 600mm in as desired, which was not a problem. There was more than enough space, and I could even fit a teleconverter if needed. It was still not possible to have the lens hoods attached in the shooting position, but I accepted long ago that that would end up being a very large bag if it were possible......
Theoretically there would also be enough space to add a second super telephoto, such as the 200-400mm f/4G VR or the 200mm f/2G VR, but that would lend to a very heavy pack. But for reference I took a shot with the 600mm next to the 200-400, to show the possibilities, and there are certainly enough dividers to make it possible.
After playing around with the dividers for a while, I finally came up with a configuration that allowed me to pack all the gear I needed for an 'average' trip, (D3, 600mm, 70-200mm, teleconverters, 24-70mm, 17-35mm, D300 etc) with enough additional space for other lenses if they were needed. This configuration also has enough space for a bean bag to sit on top of the 600mm, and my Gitzo sits outside on the Trekker Tripod Mount. To see exactly what lens is located where, click through to the image with annotations at flickr.
Overall, I am happy with the Super Trekker - it is comfortable to carry, has enough configuration options to change as my lens collection grows or shrinks, or when I want to carry less gear, and is built with the normal Lowepro quality. So far I have taken it out a couple of times, and have comfortably carried it for a couple of kilometers without feeling the weight.
Some additional features worthy of a mention:
- Adjustable waist band allows the weight to be split across the shoulders and the waist, giving a more comfortable carrying position
- Internal metal frame
- DayPack, which can be clipped to the outside of the Super Trekker, allowing for further carrying options, as well as the possibility to detach and carry as a separate bag for smaller trips
- Trekker Tripod Mount for carrying a tripod. Included compression straps allow for stability of the tripod when mounted vertically. I am able to mount my 5 series Gitzo together with Manfrotto video head without any problems
- Water resistant 600D Endura nylon and YKK zippers
- All Weather Cover hidden in the base which can be pulled out to provide even better protection against the elements when needed (although since the bag is made of Endura nylon, the bag is well enough constructed to do without this in most weathers)
- Zip cover to cover back harness, to make for easier transporting
In conclusion, this bag is all I need it to be. Although it is not as easy to take on a plane as something like a ThinkTank Airport International, it is definitely suited to the occasions when I need to get the majority of my gear on my back, and hike with it to my final destination, and is pretty much the only solution available when I need to take the 600mm.....