Those of you who are alumni of Scenic Traverse know there are a few things I obsess over as a photographer - image quality, Leica products, and camera bags. Yeah, camera bags.
Let me tell you a story.... When I was a kid, my mom shopped at the American women's clothing store called Chicos. She loved Chicos, and I hated it. A trip to Chicos meant spending an hour watching my mom try on clothes that I thought were all very similar. If the store at least had a chair I was okay...or better yet, if it was near another store I was interested in (like Best Buy). Anyway, one season they released a pair of capri pants in a color called 'fudge', and my mom wanted a pair. But none of the stores in her area had one in her size. It became a quest, she became obsessed with fudge capris. If you walked up to her today and said 'fudge capri' she'd get a big smile and laugh about the whole thing - the obsessing over a pair of pants. We scoured eBay, looked online, and called stores around the country. I don't remember how or when, but eventually we found the fudge capris, and it was a great relief that the family could put this quest in the rear view mirror.
My obsession with camera bags bears many similarities to my mom's search for fudge capris, except she knew what she wanted! I just know that I have yet to find the perfect bag, and while I keep coming close, there's always that *one thing* that keeps me from declaring my quest complete.
I'm not complaining - part of me secretly loves the quest. And I sometimes wonder if my mom didn't call ahead to the Chicos and tell them to hide the pants in the back.... The quest was an excuse to keep looking (while shopping for other goodies along the way)!
I don't think there is a perfect camera bag - because each situation calls for something different. There are times I want a backpack that can haul tons of junk, and times when I want a little sling bag to carry a spare lens on a stroll through London. The perfect bag for each situation is different, so let's get the idea that there is ONE bag out of the way. Women photographers have many needs!
In this situation, my quest was focused on the small messenger bag. I had purchased a few from ONA's lineup - and while I liked them all, they weren't perfect. The most glaring issue with the ONA bags I've owned is the lack of top closure and organization. If I dump the bag upside down, little accessories like my Apple Pencil, business cards, memory cards, batteries, etc all dump everywhere. It makes me crazy. And I don't want a bag to force organization a particular way, but it'd be nice to have some means to break up the big black hole pockets on the ONA bag into something more useable. So the quest continues.....
I really dislike buying something I've never seen before. Really dislike it. A camera bag is such a personal and subjective item.... How can I decide to buy one without touching it? I need to caress the leather, move the zippers, and study the stitching. As my mom would say when trying on clothes at Chicos: "it needs to speak to me." For years, this reluctance has caused me to overlook a bag that many internet bloggers are crazy about - the Wotancraft Ryker.
Eventually a quest for fudge capris (er, camera bags) leads one to consider other options. Does Macy's sell an acceptable substitute pair of fudge brown capris? I've hit that point. I've touched every bag I can touch, and now I need to assume more risk and buy bags blind on the Internet and hope to love them when I unwrap the packages. Because if I don't take that risk, I won't find my fudge capris.
Splurging for Wotancraft
One night, I was laying in bed after having a little too much wine, and my credit card got the better of my hesitation. I ordered the Wotancraft Ryker bag, figuring I'd never seen one in person at a merchant, so might as well take the risk. Ironically, a week later, while I waited for the bag to ship, I was in the Leica Store Paris and saw the bags for sale. Oh well......
When I got the notice that my bag was in country and available for pickup, I was very excited. I had to drive across town to pay the customs duties on the bag (which, for the UK, was barely more than the gas money required to claim my package), but figured I'd take the new toy for a spin around Cambridge that afternoon.
As I unwrapped the bag, I got a sensation I don't normally associate with camera bags - a sensation more commonly felt after the purchase of a new camera or lens. It was the feeling of anticipation. See, the Wotancraft Ryker was unlike anything else I'd ever seen or owned, and that uniqueness was refreshing and thrilling.
The Wotancraft bag is the perfect size. It's small enough that I don't feel like a newspaper delivery boy with tons of space, but was big enough to serve as my carry-on bag for a long international flight over the Atlantic. I don't know how to describe the ideal size any better than that - it's incredibly versatile and covers a nice range of day shooter to week-long excursion bag.
Oh that Leather.....
The exterior is made of the softest leather known to man. Seriously, I want some shoes made from this stuff. The leather on the ONA bags feels like plastic by comparison. I don't know how you get leather that soft - presumably lots of moisturizer is applied to the cow during it's lifetime - but whatever it takes, there should be more leather like this. I want a wardrobe made of this leather. I am actually disappointed that, in 2016, we haven't invented a way for you to "touch through the Internet" - it'd be great for the porn industry, and you'd believe me about this leather. Just saying..... Millions of dollars to be made for the inventor of that technology!
Back to the bag..... The front flap has a genius closure. Magnets will keep it closed if you want to have fast access to the bag, or for additional security, you can thread the top flap through a thin leather band on the front. I've found myself using both - largely depending on how comfortable I am with the petty crime rate in the area de jour. Inside the top flap is a secondary zip closure for the main compartment. Hooray! Even if you don't super close the top flap, you can maintain the safety and security of your gear by zipping that sucker closed. The zipper is nice and big, and I haven't had any issues with jamming.
Storage and Organization
Inside the bag are a series of pockets: Main, secondary, and the little guy. We'll start biggest to smallest.......
The main pocket is where your camera goes (duh). It's lined with some velvety fabric that is incredibly soft. I would like to recommend that Wotancraft consider making bedsheets from the material. Seriously - what did they have to do to get the softest leather and the softest fabric in the world? Maybe I don't want to know.....
The bag comes with a series of Velcro dividers that let you engineer the shit out of the inside compartment. In the back (closest to your body), there is a secondary pocket with a envelope closure. That pocket is precisely the size of my 9.7" iPad Pro with Apple Keyboard attached. It would also be a great place to stash a passport or other important documents because it's so deep in the bag, that any pickpocket who has gained access to that pocket should consider doing shows in Las Vegas. I have been able to carry several multi-camera configurations in this main pocket - normally a combination of my Leica Q and Leica Monochrom. In my most "complex" load out, I carried the Monochrom, a 50mm Summilux, Noctilux, EVF-2, Bose noise cancelling headphones, iPad, sunglasses, and a packet of tissue in the pocket, and I still had space for some additional junk.
The secondary pocket is my accessory pocket. It also has a zipper closure, so whatever you dump in there is safe during violent shaking. This is where I've put memory cards, batteries, wallet, Apple Pencil, business cards, filters, etc. Wotancraft didn't include any little pockets in there, which is fine, though I do wish they'd given one or two attachment points for key chains or other clip on accessories. But the pocket holds a lot, so I can't be that demanding.
Finally is the little guy pocket. It's closet to the front of the bag (away from your body) and is the only pocket without a closure. That said, it's not a big or deep pocket, so chances are you aren't putting much up there. I've found it handy to stash a pen, notebook and small papers.
There is one more pocket on the Wotancraft Ryker bag - on the back (inside) is a small zipper pocket. This pocket is precisely the right size to hold my Apple iPhone 6 Plus, and I like that it has a zipper to prevent thieves from getting fancy ideas.
All said, that's a lot of storage pockets in a pretty compact size. But it's the right amount of pockets. Some of my camera bags have too many pockets - I start to loose my crap in pocket mania. This is the right number - it lets me get and stay organized, without being so overwhelmed that I fumble endlessly for my goodies.
Not only did Wotancraft use the finest (softest) materials for construction, but the hardware selection compliments the overall look. For instance, the padding in the shoulder strap is supple and comfortable for a day of strolling (ONA gives you a flat pad to distribute the weight, but it is hardly padded). The metal hardware for the zippers and attaching the shoulder strap is sharp looking and of high quality. It doesn't feel cheap or like something that came from the local hardware store.
When you take delivery of a bag from Wotancraft, they send you an email asking if you like it, and informing you of the return policy. My reply to this email was an enthusiastic "You can't have my bag back!" - I've fallen completely head-over-heals with this bag. My only concern is the performance in damp weather, which I've not fully explored.
If you are still in search of your fudge capris - or ideal messenger bag, I'd encourage you to take a "risk" on the Wotancraft lineup. You may not be able to smell and caress in person before buying (unless you live in Paris), but I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Every quest comes to an end eventually. We found fudge capris. And I think I've found the messenger bag to satisfy my needs for a long time. Now I can return to other quests!