Lowepro Rover AW II - the "Tartis" Bag (Still Under Construction)

A good camera bag is an important investment; you can make do with a substandard one, but eventually it will become a constant source of frustration and reduce your enjoyment. I had an old faithful Lowepro mini trekker for a few years but I always found myself wanting to fit in my lunch or a drink bottle or a jacket and because of the way the bag was designed (you always change the orientation of the bag when you take it off) I always felt bad putting them directly beside my camera equipment. So I started doing some research.

I had a whole list of requirements I wanted from my new "tartis" bag:

  1. It had to be able to fit all the camera equipment I would need for a day's outing,
  2. It needed enough space in a separate compartment for lunch, drink, book and a jacket at a push.
  3. It needed to be able to carry a tripod easily (better than the original mini trekker).
  4. An all weather version would be nice.
  5. I wanted it to be able to fit a laptop when I travel.
  6. I didn't want it to be too huge or look like a sack (but I also didn't want it to scream 'camera bag').

Looking back on it now this was a fairly impossible list of requirements!

Originally I was looking at the Lowepro Orion II because it was nice and cheap, but the measurements indicated the top compartment was really small, there was no tripod carrying capability.

I checked out some local stores (with a very minimal range) and decided the Lowepro compu-daypack was not a contender. Some of the newly released bags from Tamrak looked good on paper (on the internet) but they weren't available in New Zealand yet. So after a lot of web browsing I basically narrowed it down to three Lowepro bags: the newly released Lowepro Computrekker AW (for which there had been some rave reviews), the Lowepro Rover AW Plus and the Lowepro Rover AW II. I visited Photo and Video in Christchurch one weekend and made my decision. The Lowepro Computrekker AW is pretty expensive (NZ$270) and I soon realised why it could fit so much, it is a beast! Really fat (due to the massive 17" laptop compartment) and generally big all over. The Lowepro Rover AW Plus is a more attractive shape (not having the extra laptop compartment) but it is so big that it really starts to look sack-like and would be quite impractical for most of my needs. Then came the Lowepro Rover AW II, it really is a gem of a bag, it has an amazingly slim profile for what can fit inside and looks rather unlike a camera bag. So needless to say, I ended up buying it for NZ$180. At the time I wasn't so convinced of how good it would be, especially paying more than twice as much as I did for my old Lowepro mini-trekker. But now writing in retrospect, it was a great investment!

Although I didn't realise it at the time, it actually fulfills every one of my requirements!

The bag consists of two main compartments plus one internal pocket, two small external pockets, a fold down tripod holder, two drink bottle holders and a fold out "all weather" cover.

The top section opens like a normal backpack with a zip. The bottom section also opens with a zip, but you have to open the bag like a Packman to access it. The bottom section is also secured by a clip for extra peace of mind. Having said that, the bag is well designed, and even if you have lots of camera gear in the bottom section and the zip and clip undone, when you lift the bag up it hardly hangs open at all!

The bag is really customizable, the divider between the two compartments can be removed, as can the foam camera padding in the lower section (in case you want to turn the bag into a normal back pack). If you had a big lens like a canon 300 f/2.8 you could take out the divider and carry it around with a body attached no problem.
The top section is easy to fill, so you have to watch what you put in it.

Originally I had a compaq n600c laptop, which was too big to fit in the top section but I found that if you undo one side of the dividing flap between the top and bottom, the laptop would fit down into the bottom section pretty well, it just meant you couldn't access the bottom section easily as the pack wouldn't bend properly. But now with my little Compaq evo n410c (see my review of my suped up laptop) the laptop fits no problem.

The inner pocket is used for spare batteries, CF cards, cables etc. I tend to use the small external pockets for my cell phone and a little tube of sun block.

The all weather cover is simple but effective. It is made from rip-stop nylon and folds out from a little pouch at the base of the bag to cover the bag completely. I have used it in medium rain and found it to keep the bag completely dry. I find it most useful however in situations when there is a lot of wind and either sand or spindrift that tends to get into everything.

Possibly one of the best things about the bag is the way it fits, maybe I'm just lucky, but with my body size (1.86m, 6'1") i find that the bottom half of the bag fits into my back perfectly, and with the padded waist strap done up I can walk with it comfortably for hours.

I guess the big question for most people is how much can you fit in the bag? I have two general setups for the bag:

Setup 1: standard bird photography outing

In the bottom camera section I generally have:

  • Canon 20d with Tamron 17-50mm 2.8 attached (actually that's the place I waste space, it would also work with the much larger canon 24-70 F/2.8)
  • Canon 400mm L f/5.6 (it sticks up a bit and makes a lump in the divider, but works ok)
  • Canon 420ex speedlite,
  • Small 6 Volt lead acid battery and cable for the speedlite (just a bit bigger than the flash unit)
  • Canon 1.4x TC.

In the top pocket I generally have:

  • Lunch, jacket, spare batteries etc.

In addition I have a drink bottle or maybe a small thermos on the outside, and a tripod in the tripod holder.

Setup 2: when travelling

In the bottom camera section:

  • Canon 20d with Tamron 17-50mm 2.8 attached (as above it would also work with the much larger canon 28-70 F/2.8)
  • Canon 70-200 f/2.8 with hood reversed and tripod collar attached.
  • Canon 420ex speedlite,
  • Canon 350d body,
  • Canon 1.4x TC.

In the top section I have:

  • Canon 400mm f/5.6 L, Compaq Evo N410c laptop in a neoprene sleeve + cables.
  • A book and passport tickets, some food if it will fit.
  • Sometimes a little drink bottle etc on the outside. Tripod is usually separate.

Setup 3: Current birding setup

In one side of bottom section sticking through half the divider into the top section:

  • Sigma APO 500mm f/4.5 EX HSM with Canon 400d body attached

In bottom section under the divider:

  • Small 6V lead acid battery and cable for speedlite
  • Canon 550ex Speedlite
  • Betterbeamer
  • Sigma APO 1.4x DG Teleconverter
  • Manfrotto Tripod with 'U' shaped gimbal head in the bag's tripod holder.

Is there anything I don't like about the bag? Yes, I find the bungy cords on the outside are a bit silly and some of the sewing isn't that great (material edges are visible in places and looks a bit untidy) but basically it's just want I want at the moment!

Very highly recommended!