Review: The Timbuk2 Espionage Camera Backpack

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The tale of this backpack review is one of love and regret; I love how this backpack works and I regret that I did not take it on my last trip. In short, it’s a good pack, generally does what it is designed for and does it well. As I know a lot of you are photographers (or at least enjoy carrying around thermos-shaped objects from place to place), I thought I’d talk a bit about what this bag can do.

Here’s what I love:

Love
The Timbuk2 Espionage Camera Backpack has 5 basic compartments: a hard-sided camera compartment at the bottom, a large zipper compartment built into the camera compartment opening flap, a medium size rucksack-like area above of the camera section, a full size laptop sleeve, and a phone compartment. It also has external straps to hold a small tripod along one side and a water bottle along the other side.

The large padded camera section — which can be customized with anti-scratch, tricot walls — can hold a decent amount of camera gear. A DSLR camera body with either a standard or telephoto lens attached, flashes, additional lenses, plugs, brackets, cables — pretty much most of what you would need on a regular day of shooting. The hard sides protect the camera equipment pretty well. As good as or better than any other non-enclosed hard case bags I have used.

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The zipper compartment built into the opening flap of the camera area is wide and deep enough to house an iPad. The rucksack area above the camera section is big enough to hold a small coat, and maybe a few loose odds and ends. The laptop sleeve along the back will hold up to a 17 inch laptop. I was able to fit a phone and small pair of headphones in the phone compartment. The profile is about as small as you could get while still letting you carry this amount of equipment.

Despite any protection the bag provides I would be remiss without mentioning the key, critical feature the pack sports; the bottle opener. What photographer is ever without a beverage in their hand at some point during a busy day? Indeed, this critical feature alleviates the need to carry or even pack, a bottle opener. I’m, of course, joking here about it’s importance, but trust me, it is still appreciated. It comes standard on many Timbuk2 packs.

bottle

The black, ballistic nylon outer shell seemed sturdy enough and padding along the back plus a waist strap looked helpful.

Last but not least, the name of the pack — the Espionage — is a hint as to the possible aid this pack could provide to thwart would-be camera thieves (e.g. it doesn’t look like a normal camera bag and instead looks like a regular backpack, therefore no one will think to rip you off).

I am not so sure I completely buy this approach as I assume that all would-be backpack thieves are as eager to steal a regular backpack that could contain thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment as they are to steal a camera bag that could hold thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment. But who knows, maybe it will work.

Regrets
And now to the regrets. Why oh why did I not take this pack with me to SXSW last week? I needed to shoot a bunch of pictures. I needed to write a bunch of stories. It would have been perfect for the trip. But I didn’t take the Espionage with me to give it a proper test because of fear, my friends. I was afraid. Afraid of what exactly?

Well, when I first put the pack on, I’ll be honest that it felt a little uncomfortable to me. Maybe it was the stiffness of the hard-shell protection of the camera area? Maybe it was because it doesn’t exactly form-fit to your back when you put it on? I was afraid that while toting the bag around all day at SXSW and standing in line to watch and cover speakers, I would eventually fatigue (first world problem for sure).

I also thought it might be a bit too small. Surely I couldn’t fit everything I would need for a full day of blogging and photography, and batteries and cables and silly conference schwag?

In retrospect, the backpack could not have been any more uncomfortable than the the gigantic, pack I ended up taking that was overstuffed with things I probably didn’t need. (I barely collected any schwag anyway). Plus, I couldn’t open any beer bottles. Damn it!

Super-Secret Discovery
This wasn’t advertised in the manual, but it appears that the top of the camera area will unzip and fold flat, which means that if you take out the tricot dividers, you can combine the areas of the hard-sided camera section with the rucksack top to make one larger area. When both compartments are combined, the maximum total length of the larger area appears to be a little more than 20 inches — big enough to hold books or notebooks or larger items on those days when you don’t carry your camera with you. This changed everything for me when thinking about how I could actually use this backpack on a daily basis.

super secret flap

The Bottom Line
In the end, I think this is a much better backpack than I initially thought. I am glad I took a little extra time to use it and think about it. In fact, the only things I can really find wrong with it are it’s previously mentioned non form-fitting nature (a consequence of its protection) and that a few of the zippers are hard to unzip. But because of the multiple ways it can be used and its slim profile, maybe the Timbuk2 Espionage Camera Backpack really is the ultimate backpack?

Price: $199

Available at Timbuk2.com

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