Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review of the Lowepro Versapack 200 AW - The Best DSLR Backpack

Ever since my surgery, I made a conscious effort to simplify the gear that I bring on a daily basis. When I go out, I just have my Canon 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 24-105 f/4L lens. I also have a Canon 430EX II speedlite in the bag. That's it. Also, despite my simplified set up, I found that the best bag for me is a backpack since the weight would be distributed on each shoulder instead of just one. So, once more, I set out to look for a backpack. (Yes, the quest for the perfect camera bag is an unending process...)

The Lowepro Fastpack 250 that I reviewed a while back is a very good bag especially because it can house a 15-inch MacBook Pro and because you can easily access the camera through the side entrance. However, I find that the Fastpack is too big for daily use. Also,  since I really do not carry my laptop everyday, that feature is lost on me on most days.
So what's best for a one-camera-one-speedlite guy like me?

The Lowepro Versapack 200 AW.

This bag is unusual in the sense that there are two ways to access your camera gear. You can set it up such that the camera is placed face down. This is how the bag is configured out-of-the-box. In this configuration, I was able to put my Canon 5D Mark II with the Canon EF 24-105 f/4L lens attached, a Canon 430EX-II Speedlite and the extra Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6 lens.

Left to right: Canon EF 70-300 lens; Canon 5D Mark II with
Canon EF 24-105 lens mounted; Canon 430EX II speedlite.
However, in this set up, you will be forced to put the bag down to get your camera. I don't like this and this actually turned me off before when I thought that this is the only way in and out for my gear. Also, the length of the lens you can use is limited by the depth of the camera compartment. For my gear, using a Canon EF 70-300 f/4-5.6 lens on a Canon 7D just won't fit.

So, for the second configuration, you can set it up such that you can access the camera from either side - yes, through the left or through the right. This is the best set up for me for I always want to have easy access to my camera gear: you'll never know when you'll come across the decisive moment...

Accessing the camera through the side entrance. The padding
that you see here is actually not attached to the Velcro strip - the
padding isn't wide enough.

With this set up, I was able to fit a Canon 7D with a Canon EF 70-300 f/4-5.6 lens. Alternatively, and this is my default set up, I was also able to put a Canon 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 24-105 f/4L lens with the lens hood on the "ready" position. (Note that the opening on either side is just big enough to let my Canon 5D or 7D in and out. I think you will have an easier access if you have a smaller DSLR like a Canon T3i. Gripped DSLR? Forget about it...)

The bad news with this set up? You will be forced to remove the paddings that Lowepro provided because these do not work if you want to access your gear from the side. So a lot of space is wasted. I know I wouldn't want to add more gear, that would go against my want to simplify, but I was hoping I can use dividers so I can put extra batteries, cleaning cloths, some filters and other small stuff. I wish that Lowepro provided some extra pads for the side-access configuration.

Other extras include the all-weather cover, ability to attach a tripod and, most importantly, a personal space! This is a dream come true for me and I thank the designers in Lowepro for providing this space. I can put books here, or a wind breaker, or, a couple of t-shirts and undies if needed: the Versapack can serve as an overnight bag!

Personal space!

Personal space is big enough for a wind breaker or your
overnight stuff.

There are straps at the bottom of the bag where, according to Lowepro's website, you can strap on a tripod or jacket. I generally do not bring a tripod anymore but it is nice that I can use this for my jacket. This change of season generally brings bipolar weather: warm now, cold later.

Another thing, you can actually remove the center divider, remove the paddings for your camera gear and convert the bag into an ordinary backpack. It is that versatile! Access your camera from left, right, or the front plus the ability to convert it to part-camera-bag-part-personaly-space to a whole backpack - now you know that this versatility is where the Versapack name was derived from. Oh, you can actually remove the paddings and roll up the bag so you can stow it in your luggage when you travel. You can then take it out and unfurl it when you reach your destination and have yourself an everyday bag there.

Finally, there is a slot in front of the bag where you can put a relatively thin book. I saw some videos on the web where an iPad with case was placed there. Derrick Story even put a Macbook Air there. See his video here.

As for my example, I was able to put David Duchemin's lovely book Within the Frame on the said front pocket.

Front documents pocket.
How did the Versapack perform? Well, the first time I was able to use it was during the Communiversity here in Princeton, NJ. The wife (@pinayobserver)and I were walking around the festivities for more than three hours and the bag performed admirably. I was able to access my camera easily and I was able to stow it when I don't need it. Despite the particularly cool day, temperature was in the mid-70's, I thought that, with all the walking the wife and I did, my back would get warmer and sweaty because of the bag. However, this did not happen. The bag itself is light so my bum shoulder was able to handle the load without much discomfort.

The bag, generally speaking, is a joy to use.

Is there anything I want to change?

Well, as I've always said, you can never go wrong with a heftier, more padded strap but since I got a simplified set up, it didn't bother me that much. And as I've said above, I wish there were extra paddings for the side-access configuration. Also, I wish that the all-weather cover is not stitched up so that you can easily wash it in case it gets dirty. I wish there are small pockets outside the bag where you can stow lens caps, or filters. And lastly I wish the CF card pockets are not buried so deep into the bag that if you wanna use those, you have no choice but to open up the whole bottom compartment.

You will have to open the camera compartment the whole way
if you want to access the CF card pockets.
But the Lowepro Versapack 200 AW, for me, is a very good everyday bag. Now that I have used it extensively, I can say that I like it very much and it is now my most favorite bag. Being lightweight and having the ability to easily access my camera plus the presence of a personal space are major pluses in my book.

Have I mentioned that this is now my favorite bag?

This bag is Highly Recommended!

All photos made with a Canon Powershot G12. My review of the G12 can be found here. Want the best bag for your G12? Check out my review of the BlackRapid SnapR here.


  1. G'day! I know this is an old review, but I've seen others use the Lowe accessory system (SlipLock) to add the external pockets you desire: DMC-Z for external carriage of memory cards, and the S&F Filter Pouch 100 for bigger things like filters and lens caps. These add bulk of course! A common complaint has been the absence of mesh pockets on the outside of the bag for stuff like a lens cap or a drink bottle.

    Thanks for taking the time to review this bag.

  2. Hi Alex. Thanks for visiting my blog and I'm very happy you enjoyed this post. Yes, I use the sliplock for my memory cards - it's also useful since I can just transfer my cards from one bag to another (as opposed to putting them in the provided card slot). Yes, this is an old bag (and review) but, so far, this is still my most favorite bag.

    Cheers! :)



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