A/MARELLI x Chapman camera bag: Review

Monday, June 24th 2019
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Adam Marelli, a New York-based friend and photographer (and Leica ambassador among other things) recently designed his perfect camera bag in collaboration with Chapman, here in the UK.

The reasons why he did so - and what he put into it - are very interesting. But I didn't think I could review it as I don't use one.

Instead, I asked Jamie Ferguson (above). A fellow photographer (and of course someone who has helped shape the look of Permanent Style in recent years), Jamie has used various bags, had frustrations with them, and expressed the wish for a better one.

So below is the review. First, Adam's thoughts behind the design; and second, Jamie's experience of using it.

Adam's development process:

"For the last two years I’ve been designing and field testing shoulder bags in order to create a camera bag designed by an actual photographer. It is a process that no company could compete with because it takes time…a lot of time, money, and patience.

My camera bag goes to the studio, to the airport, and shooting across the globe, so it needs to pull triple duty.

I had switched between carry ons, travel briefcases, and shoulder bags. It was a tiresome process which seemed solvable. What I really wanted was a shoulder bag, but I needed to make a laundry list of changes to get one right.

The base for the my design came from Chapman Bags in the UK. They are well known for their hunting and fishing bags, but as photographers, artists, and aspiring creatives, we have slightly different requirements than a fisherman…and the bag needed to reflect that.

"Several things make me crazy about the over-padded, designed-by-committee camera bags on the market.

They are too boxy. Most camera bags feel like lunch boxes slung around your hip. They are too square, overly padded, and made of increasingly cheap fabrics. And they're huge.

Proprietary hardware: While some companies want you to believe that proprietary hardware is a good thing, it is not. What it really means is that when a clasp breaks, no one can fix it. I wanted to use universal buttons and clasps so that anyone with a sewing machine can keep your bag running forever.

Poor strap design. A strap should not end at the top of the bag.  It should wrap all the way around to cradle the load from the bottom.  But again, this is an area where most companies cut corners to save money – good for them, bad for the photographer.

And Velcro. Camera bags should open silently. There’s nothing like being in a quiet space and hearing the tear of velcro. A good bag should open and close without a sound."

Adam's resulting bag was made by Chapman from a hard-wearing 24-ounce pinhead canvas.

The strap wraps around the bottom, there is a padded laptop compartment, and all the pockets have been thought through.

The front pockets hold smaller cameras vertically – everything up to Leica M bodies with Summicron lenses – while the main compartment holds Summilux lenses, SL bodies, or DSLRs.

Jamie's experience:

"When I was first asked to review Adam's camera bag I have to say I was a little sceptical.

Don’t get me wrong, the bag itself looked good and was certainly right up my street in terms of style - but it was a little on the small side for the equipment that I tend to use.

Day to day that's two cameras, a telephoto lens, and a 50mm. Plus I'm usually carrying a laptop for subsequent editing.

However, my family and I had recently moved to Ireland and I have been fooling around with a Fuji Xpro2 I picked up, and trying to get to grips with shooting more film.

We live quite close to a few beautiful beaches and I’ve been taking any opportunity to get down to them and shoot.

Using this bag now for several months has made quite a bit of difference to the way I think about carrying my gear, and getting me out shooting more.

"The bag perfectly handles the smaller cameras that I’m packing, and I find I’m less stressed about not having my big clunky DSLRs. The spacing and layout on the inside also makes packing any gear easy.

I don’t know about the rest of you but I’ve got velcro, padded dividers coming out of my ears and there’s a couple of clever strips on the inside meaning I can adjust and divide the bag to fit my needs. Bonus.

There’s also a couple of front pockets with flap-snap closure for any extras: film rolls, pens, books, memory cards. Finally, although I rarely use it for this purpose, there’s an inside sleeve to handle anything up to a 15” laptop. I find myself usually stocking this with a magazine to read, or moleskins.

I was worried that the 2x buckle fastening would make opening and closing the bag a hassle but they're surprisingly quick to release. There’s also a handy little handle on the back of the bag so you don’t have to sling the shoulder strap every time you want to move.

"From a technical stand point I’ve been falling for this bag more and more, which makes the fact that it looks great even better.

I chose the olive canvas and tan leather trim, but think the bag looks equally lovely in the all black option.

Already owning several other bits of baggage in similar materials I know that this bag is going to age beautifully. The canvas is going to get worn in and develop an awesome patina, as is the leather, not to mention the brass hardware. I’m trying to beat it up as quickly as I can to achieve this!

So despite early reservations about how much use I would get out of this bag it has slowly turned into my go-to bag for any shooting I do without the DSLRs.

It’s only going to get better with age, it’s versatile from a storage perspective, it's made in the UK from one of the oldest bag manufacturers, and it's  value for money. I couldn't recommend it more."

If anyone wants to read the full breakdown on Adam's development process, it's available on the dedicated page of his site here

In terms of getting hold of one, anyone in the UK and Europe can buy it from Chapman's website here (price £289).

And anyone in the US can contact Adam, who can either sell them from stock at the studio or help with shops that have stock. Price is $399 and Adam's email is [email protected].

The bag pictured being used by Jamie is the final design; the studio shots are of an earlier prototype with small changes (eg lining).

What to know more about how Permanent Style is funded? Read here

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Anonymous

Slightly off topic but does Jamie ever use Fuiji’s X100F ?

Charlie

This looks very similar to the Billingham Hadley Small (Pro), right down to the fastening mechanism – I would be curious to know how it differs and why it is better (Jamie – have you tried the Billingham?)

Anonymous

Ditto. My Sentiments too.

Adam Marelli

Hi Charlie,
I had a Billingham a few years back and found a bunch of problems with it, the thin twill felt terrible and aged poorly, the strap didn’t wrap around the bag full so it distributes weight poorly, when you remove the liner the bag deflates ect. I spoke to Billingham about making some improvements and they were not interested. They mumbled something about it being to expensive. So I decided to make a bag with Chapman instead. There are loads of companies who make a version of a shoulder bag, but the fabrics especially were all cheap feeling or backed with way too much leather so they were heavy. Ask Jamie how he found it shooting on weekends so you get an unbiased opinion. But I wanted to make a bag that had as much consideration to the details as I put into a suit. Thanks for giving it a look.

Andreas

Hi Adam. I have a Billingham Hadley Pro that I’ve used for years. I agree to most of your thoughts on it and it looked as your bag has taken care of the issues. And on top of it I think it looks better. Well done. All the best Andreas (flannels_and_tweed)

Adam Marelli

Hi Andreas,
Thank you for the kind words. As Simon and I had chatted about, there are blue suits and there are blue suits. The fabric choices and the details can have a big overall effect. Talking fabric selection with the photo-world is usually a very short conversation about waterproofness…then it ends there. It was nice to develop a bag that felt good in hand and would age nicely.
Best-AM

Charlie

Thanks for taking the time to reply Adam, much appreciated

Charlie

Paul Boileau

LOL. All these bags look the same. I have a Brady bag (the ariel trout from memory) which I use as a “man bag” which looks very similar to this.

Anonymous

To be intentionally blunt… so in short it doesnt work. “slowly turned into my go-to bag for any shooting I do without the DSLRs” but the majority of people who want a dedicated bag for a camera are the users of DSLRs. Similarly the majority of serious photographers use DSLRs.

When I go out with a non-DSLR camera then I too use any old bag and this or any other generic bag is fine. I do fully appreciate may of the comments on the design process about being square/boxy bags in poor materials but this appears not to be a suitable replacement according to the reviewer.

Anonymous

The article also states “the main compartment holds Summilux lenses, SL bodies, or DSLRs.” And so it does seem to have been designed to carry DSLRs but was found not to be appropriate for such.

I guess in my thinking for a normal sized camera, like a Leica M10, I wouldn’t even consider needing a “camera bag” for and therefore the problem of camera bags being boxy, not durable for heavy weights etc are all non-issues.

This seems to be a nice bag that you happen to be able to put a camera in rather than a camera bag.

Not just with this one, but with other non-padded camera bags I’ve always found it slightly odd to padd the case for a ~£2,000 laptop but leave the space for the ~£10,000 of camera bodies and lenses unpadded

Adam Marelli

Hi Anonymous,
Jamie and I come at the bags from two different angles. He normally shoots a big 200mm and DSLR set up for “work.” So his weekend kit is small.
My “work” kit is a Leica system and a small one at that, usually one or two lenses max and a single camera body.
When I designed the bag, I could have done it as a one off, but after telling a few clients about the bag in progress they expressed an interest. While we each had slightly different preferences we shared a desire for a better fabric, first and foremost and something that was designed for a smaller system, but was not necessarily a smaller bag. We all agreed that it needed to fit at least a 13″ mac book.
But while I do travel light and sometimes leave the house without a bag at all, when I am abroad shooting (about 4 months out of the year) I always have a bag.
That all said, it is not a bag for everyone. The thinking was more that there were probably a few other people like me who fit somewhere between the current offerings and who appreciate well selected fabric.
And for those photographers who shoot a larger camera, the bag can fit larger kit if it needs to, but that is up to them. I have a few people who use it with an SL.
I think you said it right that, “It is a nice bag that you happen to be able to put a camera in, rather than a camera bag.” Most of the days I am in NYC I have drafting tools and a laptop, on a plane it holds headphones, books, and gear, and abroad it is a camera bag. It probably reflects a bit of my own approach to life.
Best-Adam

Kevin Fidler

Any media site involving photographers has endless debate about the “ideal” camera bag (there isn’t one) but this one has some good points in the material for durability and the strap design being two. The tendency is toward the more compact, mirrorless camera systems though DSLR’s still have a residual popularity hence manufacturers often produce two sizes to accommodate both. I like the look of this one from Chapman – it doesn’t scream “camera bag” with its shape and colour, the materials look like they will take some wear without becoming tatty and with that strap appears designed to take the weight. Too many camera bags are well designed in terms of padding, compartments etc but awful to actually carry. I would certainly consider this for my kit.

Adam Marelli

Hi Kevin,
Is it me or do sites for photographers set everything up to be an endless argument about an ideal that doesn’t exist? I appreciate that in menswear there are different strains of things and no one expects a Neapolitan suit to be like a Saville Row suit.
But when it comes to photo related items it is this endless debate of superlatives. The “it can do everything and be everyone’s ideal” seems to be more of a content game they feed to people who have trouble scratching their own itch properly.
This bag as you point out, serves someone who carries a camera, but is intended to be understated. If it were mistaken for a satchel I’d likely see that as a success.
Hope that if you get one it serves you well for years. Would love to hear your thoughts after you get one in hand.
Best-AM

Simon Miles

Interesting comparison in the comments with Billingham, which (superficially at least) appear very similar. I own several Billinghams and have found them to be very good, albeit no bag is perfect. And, of course, a photographer can never have too many bags* so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted by this one, which looks very nice indeed. Thanks for sharing.
*Actually, all photographers have too many bags, it’s just that it doesn’t stop us buying them!

Adam Marelli

Hi Simon,
As someone who owns a few Billinghams, I’d be super curious to know what you think of the bag in hand. When I started down the Billingham path the thing that caught me was the look. When I got it in hand the twill bugged me. Then I went the route of Filson’s older Tin Cloth, which is a great fabric, but their shoulder strap ripped out of the bag with a camera and laptop in it. Filson’s tech repair said that the bag could not be stitched on the machines that do their leather and heavy twill bags and the tin cloth shoulder bag was sewn with clothing thread. Yikes. So as a man who, like you, has a closet with too many bags, hopefully we are getting closer to something that works in different colors and doesn’t require so many different designs.
Best-AM

Anonymous

Simon, if I may, why are you writing a piece about a camera bag on this site? You mention the designer of it is a friend. Could that be the reason?

What does a camera bag have to do with artisan skill and style?

Adam Marelli

Hi Anonymous,
Simon and I first started chatting when he was looking for some craftsmen to photograph in Japan (you’ve seen some of those craftsman now on his site.) My specialty, in photography at least, is shooting craftsman. I’ve been in the building world (high end residential construction) for almost 20 years. That background allowed me to work in craftsman spaces because I wasn’t a journalist, but an actual builder. The world of craftsmanship, artisan skill, and style are driving factors in everything I build or design.
And I find the menswear audience “gets” material selection and quality better than the photo world, which is rather obsessed with novelty and tech. The idea of having a full on discussion about pin head canvas would be lost on just about any photography site.
Lastly, more and more I see guys in the menswear, craft, and watch world all interested in photography. They have some natural overlaps and as someone who enjoys those other worlds, I see that the photography world doesn’t offer much in the way of good quality leather accessories or bags. The offerings are few and far between because the big players in the photo world don’t see that as their main markets.
I love to chat about how and why things are made which is how this really started with Simon and Jamie.
Best-AM

Anonymous

“What does a camera bag have to do with artisan skill and style?”

What? Surely, everything about it, and any other bag for that matter, is down to either the presence or absence of artisan skill and style. A garment or accessory needn’t be precluded from having either artisan skill or style, just because it serves a technical purpose, like this camera bag. How well or poorly it serves that purpose is almost solely down to artisan skill.

Anonymous

Congratulations to Adam for his design. All too often individuals try to improve designs but are turned away by manufacturers. It is similar, as others point out, to the Billingham but then that is based on the traditional design of the game bag. As for price it is expensive but below are two comparators: one for £369, the other for £305 (vs.£289). Notably it is also in proportion to the ordinary pricing of Chapman’s other bags.
https://www.themichaelpalin.com/shop/new-arrivals/bags-new-arrivals/michael-palin-travel-bag/
https://www.sjscycles.co.uk/luggage/brompton-game-bag-cw-cover-frame-storm-grey-tweed-19-litre/

Adam Marelli

Hi Anonymous,
Thank you for the links…yes they are in the same ballpark. Interestingly the Palin bag is the twill, 14 oz I believe which Billingham uses. I opted for a 24 oz pin head canvas because the twill feels like a pair of pants rather than a bag material. It also doesn’t have the full wrap around strap which usually fails at the points of attachment and they carry the weight differently when you load the bag up.
The SJS bag is actually made by Chapman, which I had not seen. It has the same strap issue. Happy to offer your an alternative to both at a slightly more competitive price.
Best-AM

Claes

A couple of questions/worries:

Does the inner metal zipper scratch the camera gear? Is it “shielded” from the gear in any way?
What are the inner dimensions? I normally use a Hasselblad 500c/m with a 50mm lens. 25 cm long in total. Can it be carried standing up?

Adam Marelli

Hi Claes,
I have the same hasselblad and never ran into any scratching issues. I guess at some level it would be possible, but also with a hasselblad there is not much to scratch on the outside.
The camera is going to naturally want to sit flat on its base unless you have something in the other half of the bag to counter act the weight of the hasselblad.
Here are the dimensions: W15″ X D4″ X H11.5″ / W38 cm x D10 cm x H29 cm
Best-AM

Aj

Your friend used the buckles to open his bag? It would seem he overlooked the regular way, as shown in the studiophoto’s: you open it by just unhooking the leather on the topside from the brass pin its apparently barely holding on to. 😉

Adam Marelli

Hi AJ,
To each their own…I use it more like you describe. The belt loop adjustment I change when carrying a full load. But otherwise I leave it set on the middle notches.
Best-Adam

Anonymous

So to clarify, can this bag hold a DSLR, 50 mm lens and 200 mm lens?

Anonymous

?

Adam Marelli

Dear Anonymous,
Pardon the lagged response, I missed your first comment coming in.
It could hold a DSLR and a 50mm, but not a 200mm.
There are loads of bag options on the market for larger DSLR tele-lenses.
I had smaller Leica, Fuji, Sony, and other mirrorless systems in mind when building it.
Best-Adam

Riccardo Asselta

Salve Adam come posso acquistare la tua borsa?