Eventually, pocket-sized cameras will compare in low-light performance to today’s large and expensive DSLRs. Although pro photographers will have moved on by then to even more powerful large cameras, the vast majority of people will see no need to carry big, heavy lenses and camera bodies around. The iPhone’s ascendance demonstrates that “eventually” is at least foreseeable, even though it’s not happening in the near term.
Serious photographers won’t be giving up their DSLRs any time soon, and in fact will be toting plenty of camera hardware — many times, along with a laptop — to any event or destination important enough to photograph properly. Over the years, I’ve learned that the “ideal bag” for my personal needs is one that can hold my camera, several lenses, and whichever MacBook I’m using. Having hunted for the ultimate carrying solution for both computer and photo gear, the best solutions I’ve found are made by Incase.
The bag I’ve used actively for the last three years is Incase’s DSLR Sling Pack ($90, above left), and incredibly, it looks virtually identical today to when I first started using it. The DSLR Sling Pack is perfect for 11″ MacBook Airs and 12″ MacBooks, plus a big camera body with three lenses. But since my 13″ MacBook Pro barely fits inside its zippered compartment, I’ve been struggling with whether to replace the bag. That’s why I’m checking out two larger models today: the DSLR Pro Sling Pack ($170, middle), and traditional DSLR Pro Pack ($150, right). They’re large enough for up to 15″ MacBook Pros and have more room for DSLR gear, as well. Which is right for you?…
DSLR Sling Pack
In an ideal world, I would be able to recommend the DSLR Sling Pack universally to everyone. It’s been my trusted companion for years, joining me on every flight and almost every road trip since 2012. I absolutely love the “sling” design — a single, adjustable strap that’s worn across the chest — and the fact that the zippers, pulls, fabric and straps look and feel basically brand new three years later. Only the soft fabric webbing used on the Sling Pack’s back shows any sign of wear, and even then, its black color hides the fuzziness it has developed in small spots.
Putting the resilience of its exterior aside, my favorite part of the Sling Pack is the “just about perfect” quantity of gear it carries. Three detachable Velcro-based dividers separate the main internal compartment into four main areas that can carry one big, high-quality zoom lens, a pro-grade camera body, and two or three additional lenses depending on their and the body’s relative sizes. For my personal needs, if this compartment had enough room for one more lens, it would be ideal, but it’s very close as-is. Users with fewer lenses can use the extra space for wall chargers or other accessories.
The short end of the bag has four semi-protective pockets capable of holding small items. I keep a spare portable hard drive in one and an extra lens cap in another, alternating between carrying a lens and my MacBook’s power adapter in the center of the pockets.
Incase’s dividers are all soft-lined and padded, matching the rest of the main compartment. I’ve always felt comfortable that the padding was more than sufficient to protect all of my gear, and in years of use, nothing’s ever been scratched or dinged during normal use. The only internal wear has been a loosening of the Velcro, which I’d describe as not particularly surprising given all the use the bag has seen.
There are three sets of highly practical pockets. One set of two water-resistant pockets is inside the zippered flap, each pocket with enough space to hold memory cards, USB cables, small card readers, or flash drives. Another zippered compartment is against the wall that touches your back. It has just enough room to comfortably hold an 11″ MacBook Air or 12″ Retina MacBook, potentially at the same time as an iPad. But if you try to stuff a 13″ MacBook Pro inside, you’ll find that it’s just a hint too big to zip up the compartment without potentially scuffing the Mac. If this wasn’t an issue — if Incase sold a version of this bag that was just big enough for the widely-used 13″ Pro, without making any other modifications — it would be very easy to call it the king of all camera/laptop bags.
The last compartment is on the outside. Unpadded but lined with Incase’s topographic-themed nylon, it has three small pockets inside, one more weather-lined than the others, plus a large area that I’ve found useful for holding receipts, tickets, and other non-essential items. Incase also includes a couple of adjustable straps that could be used to secure a tripod, water bottle, or super-large lens to the bag, albeit without much protection. The straps are snug and durable, but I haven’t wanted to use them for much over time.
If your camera gear consists of a handful of lenses and a body, with the need to carry only an iPad or small MacBook/MacBook Air-class machine around, the DSLR Sling Pack is a superb “take it everywhere” bag. But if you’re carrying more or larger gear, you’ll need to step up, and that’s where the DSLR Pro bags come in.
DSLR Pro Sling Pack
Their names are similar, their designs are similar, and their core purposes are similar. But the DSLR Pro Sling Pack is the DSLR Sling Pack on steroids: a bigger and far more capable bag that makes no compromises in either the camera or laptop departments. You still get the great Sling-style strap, this time with an even more adjustable nylon strap extender, which strikes me as being unnecessary but works well.
With the basic DSLR Sling Pack, getting to your computer required first opening the bag’s main compartment and then opening a zippered pocket inside. The Pro Sling Pack has a single zipper on the outside with an ample, soft-lined, padded compartment large enough for even a 15″ MacBook Pro — obviously no issue for smaller laptops or laptop-and-iPad combinations. Although it’s big enough to make the 13″ Pro or smaller laptops disappear inside, this is the pocket design I wish the basic Sling Pack included.
Another of DSLR Pro Sling Pack’s zippered external pockets duplicates the one on the regular Sling Pack, while Incase adds two more: one that’s padded and empty for an accessory such as a MacBook power adapter, plus another that holds an included rain shield. If it starts to rain, you pull out the thin, compact bag and slip it over the Pro Sling Pack; elastic holds it in place, helping to keep your gear dry.
All of these little features collectively make the Pro Sling Pack a better bag, though it’s obvious why Incase was willing to compromise on each of them to save space in the smaller version. Despite the occasional sprinkle outside, the non-Pro version of Sling Pack has done a pretty good job of keeping all of my equipment safe and dry, but then, I haven’t just left the bag sitting out and exposed. Pro Sling Pack can handle more, in all regards.
To that point, the single biggest difference in the designs is Pro’s camera gear storage compartment. Unzipper one of the bag’s long sides and you’ll find four soft-lined, Velcro-managed spaces that are extremely similar to the total storage space found in the DSLR Sling Pack — enough room for a body and three lenses, give or take. You can reconfigure the space, as shown below, with enough room to keep a large body with a long zoom lens at the ready inside.
But if you open a second zippered panel on the bag’s other long side, you’ll find the other half of the camera compartment, divided into four more lens-sized spaces. You can pull the dividers out or rearrange them to accommodate especially big lenses, as shown below. Additionally, each of the zippered panels has two thin pockets inside; the larger compartment’s are zippered, while the bottom’s are Velcro-sealed.
With the Sling Pack, I’ve always had to choose which 3/5 or 4/5 of my gear to carry with me at a given time. That’s not an issue with the Pro Sling Pack. My only excuse not to put everything I have in here is the weight that I’d need to carry around. Incase hides a two-piece snap-together waist strap behind the bag’s padded mesh back, which can be pulled out to help you manage a big gear load if needed.
The DSLR Pro Sling Pack is, in essence, the ideal camera and laptop bag for the hard-core professional photographer — the person who considers both big lenses and a big laptop must-haves while out in the field. It’s hard to imagine this bag lacking for enough space for any type of gear people are carrying today, but Incase does have one more option if your camera equipment requires ultimate customizability.
DSLR Pro Pack
Although it’s fair to say that the DSLR Pro Pack sits somewhere in-between the other two bags, it’s actually a different design in several major ways. Apart from the use of a superbly resilient ballistic nylon in place of softer fabric, the Pro Pack shares around 75% of its DNA with the Pro Sling Pack. Differences begin with its use of a traditional backpack-like design: two padded shoulder straps with an optional chest connector are on the back, while one long side has a water bottle compartment, and the other a set of nylon straps for a tripod. Apart from its large size, it looks like lots of other backpacks, providing no clue that you’re carrying camera gear.
In fact, half of the bag could be a traditional laptop backpack on its own. The front has a giant-sized zippered compartment with an oversized laptop sleeve, an iPad pocket, and a catchall space with enough small sections for managing writing tools and other little accessories you might carry around.
A small, separately zippered compartment at the top of the front has the right size and space for either a MacBook power adapter or an iPhone, depending on which you’d feel comfortable leaving in a prominent, minimally secured location. Both of the Sling designs keep your gear in less easily accessible side-mounted compartments.
The DSLR Pro Pack’s camera compartment gives pro photographers an almost comical opportunity to show off all of their gear at once. Hidden behind the shoulder straps is a full-length zippered panel that opens to reveal 12 variously-sized areas, each defined by Velcro-adjustable padded dividers. The padded panel contains two gigantic weatherproof zippered compartments, and one Velcro-sealed pouch. It goes without saying that you can find a way to put pretty much anything in here, though the manner in which you load it all will determine what is easily accessible and what requires full removal of the bag.
There’s one secondary access point for the camera collection, located at the top of the bag. Unzip the narrow top wall of the bag, and if you’ve used the Velcro to customize it properly, you can just grab your camera body with an attached lens right out of the compartment. Ideally, the bag would have some optional means to secure its most top- and outward-facing zippered panels against theft, but apart from that, the DSLR Pro Pack is as secure-feeling as they get. It’s the laptop/camera bag for hard-core photographers whose first priority is on the camera side.
Which Bag To Choose?
From my personal perspective, the choice between these three laptop-and-camera bag options is fairly simple: if you have a small laptop and plan to carry around a camera body and several lenses, the DSLR Sling Pack is the obvious pick — comparatively compact, wonderfully resilient, and entirely practical. If I could fit my 13″ MacBook Pro perfectly inside the DSLR Sling Pack, I wouldn’t even consider replacing it. It’s my favorite Incase product, ever.
But if your laptop or camera gear collection is larger, your choice is between the dual-strap DSLR Pro Pack or the single-strap DSLR Pro Sling Pack. My personal preference from single-strap solutions would guide me towards the DSLR Pro Sling Pack, which is a little more expensive but has several real benefits, including a lack of top-accessible (and therefore less easily pilfered) compartments, the “as necessary” rain sleeve, and the dual-compartment division of the major storage space. But the DSLR Pro Pack’s backpack-like design, ballistic nylon, and mega camera compartment will be a good match for other users. Go with the one that best suits you, and in any case, expect an excellent storage solution that you’ll enjoy using for years to come.
|Manufacturer: Incase||Prices (Sling / Pro / Pro Sling): $90 / $150 / $170||Compatibility: MacBook/MacBook Air/MacBook Pro 15″|
Note: 9to5Mac and Incase are currently running an exclusive giveaway for a new series of eco-friendly Reform collection bags, including a new Action Camera Pack with room for a MacBook Pro and a small camera such as a GoPro or compact DSLR, but no lenses. Check it out here!