Gear Organization – What’s Inside Your Camera Bag?

EtCeteraHeader

Why will we pay a small fortune for a camera bag, but nothing for the organizers we put inside it?

Heads turn when I pull out a serious camera bag. But once I open it, the magic ends. I have random cases and pouches from companies ten years dead, and even an old electric shaver kit inside. So one of my 2013 New Year’s Resolutions was to improve the quality of my gear organizers this year. Given the state of the calendar, I needed to move quickly.

What’s Out There for Organizers?

After looking at the choices out there, I began to realize why I was still using such a motley crew of random containers: everybody wanted to sell me a camera bag, but no one wanted to supply organizers to go inside it. Perhaps because they were convinced that no one would pay for organizers when they have a random set of small, low cost cases already. However, I stuck with my resolution, and moved forward.

What Did I Choose?

I simplified the process by acquiring the entire Gura Gear <www.guragear.com> line of organizers: their Et Cetera Cases bundle, and their Et Cetera Pouches bundle. It seemed simpler to try all three sizes of each, and find out if I might need more of a particular size, then to attempt to guess what sizes and quantities would be needed in advance.

The Gura Gear Et Cetera Pouch Set

The Gura Gear Et Cetera Pouch Set

How Are They Constructed?

Gura Gear’s cases and pouches are well designed, bringing the durable materials and quality details that we expect from their camera bags down to the smaller scale of organizers. Fronts are transparent, to simplify finding what you need without opening more cases than necessary. Zippers are high quality, and zipper pulls are color-coded. Interior dividers are adjustable, and larger cases have interior edge bands as well. All the cases have a small strap loop, which can be used to secure them. The pouches are similarly made, with shallow edges instead of the deeper sides of the cases. Both cases and pouches have tape loops at each end of the zippers, which function as pulls, and could be also be used for securing the pouches (which do not have straps) if the need arose.

What’s the Value of This Design?

This type of organizer is not intended to become a freestanding camera bag; it’s designed to live inside a camera bag or gear case, so the fewer extra features on the outside, the better. Slick, smooth, and uninterrupted is the goal for an internal case; long straps, pocket flaps, and other interferences are not desirable.

photo 2

Medium Et Cetera Case, showing zipper tabs, zipper pull, loop handle, and card holder

What Sizes for What Gear?

Both the cases and the pouches come in Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Baby Bear sizes. The simplest solution is to gather all your gear, and test how it fits in the various cases, and what breakdowns naturally occur. Batteries and chargers in one case make sense for some users; others will take batteries on-site where there is no electricity, and not want to backpack the chargers into such sites. Breaking down chargers and cords together makes a different type of logic, but then all the parts for a given set of lights can’t be broken out from other lights or from camera battery chargers. In many instances more, smaller, cases offer more flexible packing options than fewer, larger ones, and reduce the number of times gear needs to be rebundled before packing. I suspect that in the long run the greatest advantage of dedicated gear containers for me will not be time savings on site-time, but savings on prep time, and greater assurance that I have what I need.

Large Et Cetera Case, as my Capture Calibration Case

Large Et Cetera Case, as my Capture Calibration Case

How Did It Work Out?

The cases and pouches proved ideal for a wide range of gear. The largest case is ideal for the multiple SpyderLensCal units I use for video focus pulling, the multiple SpyderCube units I use for lighting set up, and the multiple SpyderCheckrs I use to for White Balance with the gray cards, and color calibration with the color cards. The pouches proved equally ideal for cables, converters, dongles, and small gear. If I have a complaint, it would be that none of the containers, except the largest case, is more than 7 ¾” long (20cm), and I seem to have a lot of items just a bit longer than that.

Small Et Cetera Case, filled with chargers and related cables

Small Et Cetera Case, filled with chargers and related cables

What Other Storage Solutions Might I Need?

The possibilities for gear storage and transport are infinite. But the one item clearly not covered by this type of case and pouch system is media storage wallets. For video shooters using drives, these cases could be ideal, but for still photographers using cards, a wallet makes the most sense. Gura Gear offers a series of such wallets, as do a number of other companies. Keep the juggling act of card changing in mind when you shop for a wallet design. Avoiding wallets with awkward roll-up functions or zippers makes the process of pulling out a wallet and swapping cards as simple as possible. Having separate sections for different types of cards, or for full and empty cards, is another key feature.  

At What Cost?

Dedicated organizers are not inexpensive; especially not well designed ones. Purchasing a full array of dedicated cases and pouches runs more than a low priced camera case. However, the more I work with the Gura Gear Et Cetera organizers, the more I appreciate the value of having the right case for every use, and the same system for all cases. It saves a few seconds identifying the right container, and a few more with the smooth-working zippers and pulls. And it makes it easy to purchase more cases exactly fitted to need and size, as more gear is purchased, or to move into video work. Compared to the cost of their contents, the cases are a steal. For my review of Gura Gear’s Bataflae Camera Packs, please click here.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2013. Website: CDTobie.com Return to Blog’s Main Page

Advertisements

A Review of Gura Gear’s new Bataflae Camera Packs

Gura Gear’s Growing Reputation
Gura Gear has rapidly developed a name and a following amongst serious photographers. So when a new flagship Gura Gear camera pack design was released at PhotoPlus Expo I took this opportunity to test the new Bataflae pack against my own needs. I will be focusing on the smaller of the two models: the Bataflae 26L pack, for use with DSLR equipment, while my associate David Saffir will follow up with a look at the larger Bataflae 32L for use with medium format gear.

An Intimate Relationship
The relationship of a travel photographer and a camera case is serious, long-term, and quite intimate. No bag is for everyone, and it takes time to determine if a bag is right for you. Speed dating is not likely to produce a successful result. The goal of this article is to familiarize you with the features and functions of the Bataflae packs, in relation to a particular type of photo gear, as a first step in determining if this might be The One.

What Gura Gear Packs Are Not
Gura Gear cases are dedicated camera bags. They are not computer cases, briefcases, wheelie suitcases, fashion accessories, or multi-purpose bags. They offer flexible configuration, but with a laser-like focus on the storage and access needs of photographers on the move. Gura Gear bags do not use canvas, leather, rigid substrates, wheels, feet, or extendable handles. They do not come in designer colors; unless your designer works in a low-chro palette of black, gray, tan and color-coded zipper pulls. They are not collapsable to flat-pack into other luggage.

Material Assets
Durable, light, flexible, and strong appear to be the criteria Gura Gear uses when choosing their materials. Rip-stop Nylon, with extra heavy “rip” fibers, and PU backing. Clips and cords that are designed for lots of use, and a certain amount of abuse. Padding that won’t lose its loft after being compressed, and which won’t hold water like a sponge if it gets wet. Zippers; actually, the zippers tell such a great story about Gura Gear that I have to halt the pace of this paragraph to describe them. YKK’s most durable and water-resistant zippers, installed inside out, so that the waterproof layer is on the exterior, with color coded pulls to make opening the intended compartment as easy as possible. Zipper hoods for interior zippers. (See Zipper hood detail in photo above.) That’s the kind of detail to be found throughout Gura Gear products.

Color Coded Zipper Pulls and Patented Full-Open Clip; You Can Even Padlock the Main Compartment

Size, Shape, and Configuration
Both sizes of Bataflae are carry-on legal worldwide. They are flexible, soft and padded on all surfaces; easy to squeeze or cram into available spaces. The flip side of this is that the Bataflae is not a rigid case. Until you load your bag, it will seem a bit unstable in its end or side, as the padding will present a rounded surface. Once your gear is aboard, this situation will tend to resolve itself; but the main orientation of these bags is clearly flat of their back, for access to their contents. My 26L weighs in at about four pounds (less than two kilos) empty. Fully loaded with DSLR bodies, lenses, and other gear it comes closer to 40 pounds (18k). This is a serious load, which explains the serious straps described below.

Bataflae 26L Pack in Regional Jet Overhead Bin

Butterfly with a Twist
The top of the Bataflae packs use a butterfly access system. This can best be described as a center hinge, the length of the bag, for fast, secure access to either side of the main compartment though unzipping and hinging open one of the two halves of the cover. This is a tried-and-true solution for camera components, though very different than most multi-purpose bags. But there is a twist to the Bataflae cover (one that Gura Gear claims to have patented): it can be unclipped at the top end, and the length of the hinge is attached with velcro, so the entire cover can be flipped out of the way, offering full access to all contents of the main compartment. This is an interesting and effective way to address the “secure-access/full-access dilemma of dedicated camera bags.

Bataflae 26L Pack with One Half of Butterfly Top Open

Flat Storage on a Hinged Top
Exterior zippered, subdivided pockets on both halves of the butterfly top are big enough to hold key accessories. Two critical items that I need to find a home for in any bag are Datacolor’s SpyderLensCal for lens AF calibration, and their SpyderCheckr for camera color calibration. The exterior pockets on the front of the Bataflae bags seem designed specifically to carry these accessories.  Interior pockets on the case top offer secure storage but easy access to smaller items, such as cards and batteries. Due to the butterfly hinge design of the main face, and the dedication of the back face to backpack straps, there is no location in these bags designed for flat items wider than 7 inches (18 cm). If you have necessary flat items wider than this, that could may be a deal-breaker for adopting this style of pack. However, I find that most accessories larger than this (reflectors, etc) actually belong in an accessory case, not in the camera bag.

One Top Pocket Open, with SpyderCheckr and LensCal Inside

The Mother Lode; or is that Load?
The main compartment of the Bataflae cases is accessed either by hinging the top open to access one or both halves, and then by unclipping the end if full access seems appropriate. Each half has a full series of velcro-connected dividers, offering flexible custom layouts for whatever gear you are using at the time. Each pigeonhole in this grid will be the depth of the main compartment. This means lenses longer than 7 inches (18cm) will need to be accommodated flat, rather then on end in the bag (true with any bag) and short lenses or other small components significantly less than this depth will float in their compartments unless additional padding or other items are added. Putting important items on top of less used items, with padding between is one common choice. Using small gear pouches is also a frequent solution. Gura Gear has added a line of such accessory containers to their line, so you might consider purchasing these along with your Bataflae pack.  In the image below two Canon DSLR bodies and seven assorted lenses up to 70 x 200mm have been packed; and one entire side is still empty for other gear.

Patented Full Access Opening

Is that a Cube in Your Pocket?
Yes, I am happy to see secure exterior access for the two items I may need at any time: the Datacolor SpyderCube, and the Hoodman DSLR Loupe. I use the SpyderCube on an XShot extensible handle, for capturing scene illuminant and exposure data. The Hoodman DSLR loupe is used for reviewing images on the camera LCD, even in bright sun, and without reading glasses. The side pockets of the Bataflae bags offer excellent access, without fear of loss, for both these items, and space for the random items any given day provides as well.

Side Pocket Securely Storing Hoodman Loupe and Mounted SpyderCube

Serious Attachments
The most important piece of gear strapped to the exterior of a camera bag is a tripod. Gura Gear has designed these bags to secure a tripod in any of three locations: at the center of the bag’s top face, or on either side of the pack, as preferred. Centering the tripod improves load balance, and avoiding snagging things when wearing the bag as a backpack. The butterfly access design allows access to the contents of the main compartment without removing a center-mounted tripod, making this location much more practical than with most other bag designs. The larger Bataflae bag offers a longer base for securing larger tripods. The smaller version is perfect for attaching more portable tripods. The attachments and cinches at both sides and ends of the pack are well thought out for secure tripod attachment. Main compartment access is still possible, even with a tripod in place. Tripod access is smooth and easy, even in the heat of the moment, as you scramble to catch a shot. I hesitate to mention this, but it is perfectly possible to carry three tripods on a Bataflae case, and still access the interior.

Small Tripod Securely Mounted on Side of Pack

The Flip Side
The back face of the Bataflae packs is dedicated to backpacking features. A vertical center zipper exposes a well designed set of padded shoulder straps and a removable waist strap, all carefully designed and well tested as one would expect from Gura Gear. The longer bag offers a better length for tall people, and a more stable pack on the back. But those of us seeking to minimize the size of our camera case should still be satisfied with the fit and feel of the straps on the smaller version. Generous padding at the back of the bags assures that items in the main compartment will not make themselves felt when the bag is on your back. Serious thought was put into the design of the straps, and the array of clips that secure the bag from all angles. How far you are willing to hike with a Bataflae pack on your back should be limited by your personal stamina, and the weight of the bag contents, not by the bag design.

It’s Difficult to Overemphasize the Quality and Design of the Pack Strap System

Rain Rain, Go Away
Of course a bag this well thought-out has a built-in rain fly. And of course it is located where you can reach it, and deploy it, while wearing the pack. It has sealed seams, like a good tent fly, and it can be deployed for carrying, or for storage. It is large enough to cover items mounted on the exterior of the pack. This reduces gear damage, and increases peace of mind. Don’t leave home without it. Since it has its own dedicated fly pocket, the odds are you won’t leave home without it.

Rain Fly, In Place Over Loaded Pack

Just One More Thing…
Here is a shot of the Bataflae Pack inside its included dust cover. If you don’t travel as often as you would like, this accessory will be the one that gets the most use.

No Detail Forgotten: The Included Dust Cover in Use

Which Bataflae Pack is Right for You?
If you have any doubt which length of Bataflae pack might be right for you, please read the second article in this series: David Saffir‘s review of the Bataflae 32L. While his emphasis will be on fitting the necessary gear for medium format photography into, and on, a Bataflae pack, it should add perspective on the two lengths of the packs in general.

The Bottom Line and the Better Half
Street pricing at on-line resellers of Gura Gear products is running $400US for the Bataflae 26 L that I am testing, and $450US for the longer 32L model. Gura Gear bags are not cheap, nor are they inexpensive. But think of it this way: if you can skip just one step in your incremental growth towards your ultimate tripod or your ultimate gear bag, that savings alone will justify the cost of the top end model you are going to end up with eventually. Or from another angle: if it saves you from losing just one lens out of a less secure bag, or damaging just one piece of equipment during travel; or keeps you from missing one key shot, while digging through a bag for a hard to find item, then it will have paid for itself already. Finally: if the zippers and stress points on a Bataflae pack last twice as long as those on a standard-grade pack, then the cost per year for the Gura Gear will be no higher. Feel free to memorize these arguments for use with your spouse.

Service and Support
Gura Gear products are designed in the United States, and fabricated in Vietnam; where custom-sewn products are a longstanding tradition. Gura Gear products are distributed though a number of well-known resellers in the US and abroad; a quick search on-line should clarify the options in your area.  Gura Gear’s contact information (as well as product info and videos) is available on their website: www.guragear.com/

Is the Gura Gear Bataflae Pack Right for Me?
So far, so good. Check back next year, and see if we are still traveling together.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: CDTobie.com Return to Blog’s Main Page