About two years ago, after a long and exhaustive search, I finally found the perfect camera bag for my rangefinder kit from a company called Grafea out of the UK. Well last week Grafea was kind enough to send me a sample of their newest camera bag to review: the Grafea PHOTO. It’s very similar to their previous bags with one very important addition, a padded and removable insert. The bag pictured in this review is their “Caramel” color but I’ve been told it will be available in dark brown and black very soon.
My original Grafea bag has been on my shoulder almost every day since I bought it, so I had pretty high hopes and equally high expectations from this new bag. It’s slightly taller but with slightly less room back to front, roughly the same internal volume. I was excited about the added height as there are a few items in my kit that where a bit too tall for my previous bag; my netbook for one, it would fit but protruded a bit above the top. It has the same side pockets and zippered back pockets as the original camera bags. The stitching and construction is great, and it’s made from the the same type of high quality leather as my old bag. I was a bit disappointed when I first picked up the bag as the leather felt stiffer than my old one, but on reflection that’s not surprising; it’s the difference between a brand new baseball glove and one that you’ve been using for years that’s become an extension of your hand. Like any quality leather product it’s going to take some breaking in, I’d just forgotten the mileage I’ve put on my original bag. One thing this has made me realize though, is that while all my other camera bags are looking worse for wear after even occasional use, my Grafea bag looks better and better as time goes on, acquiring the character you expect from well used leather.
OK, on to the internals. The removable insert is made from the usual camera bag type plastic canvas material with a zippered top flap to keep out the elements. It was nice to see they went with brown tones for the color of the inserts to match the bag as many inserts of this type come in god awful colors. I know it doesn’t impact the functionality, but I wanted this bag for looks as much as utility. I was also kind of worried about the insert as I find most camera bags go overboard with padding which takes up room I’d rather have for gear. The Grafea insert is nice and thin. Sufficient to protect my gear without taking up too much room inside. It’s set up in the regular DSLR bag configuration; two side areas for either a lens or a flash and a central area for a body and lens. A lot of bags in this configuration can be a tight squeeze for anything larger than an entry level body like the Canon Rebel series, but I had plenty of room for my 50D without grip and two medium size lenses on either side. I don’t plan on using it for my digital kit, but it’s nice to know I can. I even tried it with the grip attached, and while it pushed the main compartment into the front pocket area a bit, it fit as well, bonus!
Now for the really good part, loading up my rangefinder kit. I was always suprised at how much I could squeeze into my old Grafea bag, but the height could be a little restrictive at times. Plus the lack of padding made it inadvisable to load it up too much, not that that stopped me. As you can see this new configuration did not disappoint. I was able to load a ton of gear into the bag without it feeling overloaded or unsafe, I could have easily put more in but the weight on my shoulder was the restricting factor, not the size of the bag. In the picture you can see I was able to fit a total of five cameras: my Leica M2, Voigtlander R3A, Voigtlander Vitessa, Olympus XA and Vivitar UWS. I rarely carry all of them at once, but it’s nice to know I can for an extended trip. The M2 and R3A are in the two side areas, the Vitessa in the front pocket and the XA and UWS in the middle compartment along with four more lenses. There was still room in the front pocket with the Vitessa and I didn’t put anything in the side pockets, but each of them will hold four boxed rolls of film. As an added surprise,
even with all the gear loaded I was comfertably able to slide my netbook in between the padded insert and the front of the bag. Needless to say this is a heavy kit and more than I carry every day but again, it’s nice to know I can and the bag did not feel like it was overloaded with everything above crammed in there.
As you can tell, I really really like these bags after two years of constant use, my old bag is still going strong, looking and feeling better than ever and I can’t wait to get some mileage on the new bag. I have only two small points in the negative column. For one, I found the strap on the new bag a little on the short side. My old bag hangs comfortably at my hip while the new one hangs at around elbow height, a difference in about 15cm in strap length. To be fair I’m 6’2″ and stocky, so anyone shorter should have no problem with strap length. I mentioned this to Grafea and was told they’re looking in to providing different strap lengths in the future. The other problem I had was with the swiveling clasps that connect the strap. They’re well made solid aluminum but after two years I wore the swivel out on my old bag and had to replace it with a caribiner. Again, to be fair to Grafea I consistently overloaded the bag and used it almost every day for two years. I’ve worn out camera bags in far less time, I’m not gentle on my bags, and under normal use it probably wouldn’t have been a problem.
You’ll probably want to water seal the bag, as you would any other leather product. I use a product called Bienenwachs which is actually made to water proof saddles and other horse tackle. It’s made from bees wax and I love the stuff. It moisturizes the leather while sealing it but I will warn you that it changes the color of the leather over time. My old bag has gone from the caramel color it started as to a much darker redder tone over time. If you like the color of the bag when you get it you might want to look into a different product but I absolutely love the look it’s gave my old bag, a very antique weather worn leather appearance.
The new Grafea PHOTO bag with insert is available now on their site, they ship to most parts of the world and they’re fast and cheap. I couldn’t believe how cheap actually. It was cheaper and faster than I would have expected from a company within Canada and this was shipped from the UK. Final verdict: a must have if you’re looking for a classy, sophisticated camera bag to set you apart from the Lowepro crowd.