I've never stressed too much about the labels on the backpacks I carry my photography gear around in and have found that cheap Chinese packs, such as those by Neweer and similar companies, are perfectly good, well designed and cheap. That being said, I had some insurance funds to spend at a camera store and it was while I was compiling the list of items I wanted to spend that insurance money on, that I looked at their range of backpacks. That lead me to the LowePro range and, in particular, their Protactic bags.
We photographers are very hard to please, particularly when it comes to camera bags, and we all have a list of features that we're looking for when we go shopping for a new one. Beyond the very basic requirement of simply keeping the camera equipment safe, everyone's list will be different with different features given different priorities. The list changes over time too because we get new gear or upgrade or change photographic styles or any one of a hundred other reasons. Here's what I was looking for in my new backpack:
After watching several hundred YouTube videos and weighing up the pros and cons of the different packs, I settled on the Protactic 450 AW II because it ticked all of those boxes. It's the most I've ever spent on a backpack, but I wanted to get something that would last me for a while and be flexible enough to adapt to whatever changes with my equipment.
Like all modern camera bags, the 450 has a soft organisation system secured by velcro to the base and sides of the bag. The first thing I did was take all of those out and arrange my stuff in the space, working out what I wanted where. Once I'd settled on the best layout, I put the inserts back in and then fine-tuned it to make sure everything was secure and that I was making the most of the available space.
By the time I'd finished I had my Fujifilm X-T4, 10-24mm, 100-400mm, 35mm, 18-55mm, 50-230mm, DJI Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic controller, Manfrotto mini tripod, Rode Video Mic Pro, K&F Square filter holders, Peak Designs slide strap and Insta 360 One R with selfie stick all stowed in the main compartment. On the inside panel are two clear pockets in which I have put my K&F filters, spare batteries and Rode Lav mic. Inside the top compartment is another pocket in which I have placed various hard items such as alum keys and pen knives because this is protected by a hard shell. There are two more side pockets and the laptop/iPad sleeve pocket inside that are currently empty. I think it's fair to say that the bag met my requirements regarding space.
In addition to the main bag LowePro also bundle various add-ons with the pack which include a tripod holder, a water bottle holder, an accessory bag and a large detachable waist strap. The add-ons can be fixed virtually anywhere on the pack using velcro loops giving a great deal of flexibility in arranging the exterior of the pack. The only one I'm using at the moment is the tripod holder which I've mounted on the side of the pack along with my awesome new lightweight K&F BA225 carbon fibre tripod. The bag also includes a rain cover which is permanently secured and tucked away in a little pouch on the base and is the AW (all weather) bit in the pack's name.
Of course being able to house my stupidly large collection of camera equipment is well and good, but how does it feel to wear on your back? I'm happy to say it feels great, thanks mainly to nice wide shoulder straps and a decent amount of ventilated soft padding in the back-bone of the pack.
The side panel access zippers work really well too. To access my camera, I simply slip the left strap off my shoulder, slide the bag around to my front, unzip and remove the camera and then slide it back. It feels pretty natural to do this and the equipment feels secure even with the single strap on thanks to those afore-mentioned wide straps.
As with all good backpacks, the shoulder straps have cross-straps so you can get the pack sitting nicely on your shoulders. These are great, but I'm a fat bastard and when I use them it accentuates my gut so much I look like Gimli son of Glóin. This is not a failing of this backpack however - the same thing happens to me with all of them.
I'm happy with my purchase. The LowePro feels hefty enough to survive the hostile environment I shoot most of my photos in and has room to spare for all of my equipment. If you're in the market for a large and sturdy camera bag with back panel and side access - I can highly recommend it.