Should I buy a Nikon D7100?

D7100_heroIf you’re in the Nikon world you’ve heard about the recent announcement of the new Nikon D7100 (unless you were under a rock somewhere).  Predictably enough, the Nikon sections of the various photography forums are ablaze with questions of whether a given photographer should upgrade.

If you’ve found your way here, you might be wondering the same thing.  Regular readers of Enthusiast Photographer are probably predicting my answer already:  for the vast majority of people, it is “It depends, but probably not.”

Heresy.  Crazy talk.  Doesn’t a new camera make your images better?

Usually not.

Here’s the thing – why do you want to upgrade?  What isn’t your current camera doing for you?  In what way or ways are you exceeding the capabilities of the camera? Do you know the camera inside and out?

If you can’t answer those questions in some detail, you probably don’t need to upgrade (but you want to ;))

The desire is always there for the latest thing, and certainly the D7100 is a compelling camera.  If you’re carrying a D90 or D7000 (especially the latter), my recommendation is probably to sit tight.  Yes, the autofocus system is more capable and sophisticated as you go up from the D90 to the D7000 to the D7100.  Yes, you get more megapixels at each step.  The D7000 has a pretty big jump in ability to pull details out of shadows (dynamic range) vs. the D90, and we can assume the D7100 offers even further improvement.  There is a small bump in low light (ISO) performance – likely to be less than a stop between the D90 and the D7100, which isn’t much.

As I’ve said many times here, you can generally get better and more enduring benefits from investing in high-quality lenses than buying a new body.  The lenses will usually work on your next body.  If they don’t they tend to keep their value extremely well, especially compared to a body (which is more like a car – the older it gets, the less it is worth).

Maybe you can answer the questions above, know your camera inside and out and you have a clear idea of what problems the D7100 solves for you – you’ve wrung every bit of performance out of whatever camera you own.  Maybe you’ve got a complete kit of great glass and you’re ready to take the next step with the body.  If one or more of those is true, the D7100 will be a great camera to have.

If you’re on an older body, a D70 or a D80, I think the case for replacing your body is stronger.  There are a LOT of improvements in features, usability and performance in a D7100 over those cameras.  It might be wise to save a few bucks and grab a D7000 as it begins its ride into the sunset, too…

There are a lot of sensor-bullies on the internet who will say your aren’t getting good images quality unless you have the latest sensor, which is ridiculous.  Every other camera that went before didn’t suddenly become less capable – Nikon just took another step forward.  There are lots of ways to improve your images, and the top three are, in order most to least:

  1. Improve the photographer
  2. Shoot with better lenses
  3. Shoot with the best camera you can

OK – that is a little arbitrary, but it is pretty darn true! 😀

At the end of the day, it is hard to get away from the desire to buy a new body.  My general advice is to resist and focus on the other two things.  The next body will always be there…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the D7100, upgrading or any other topic – feel free to comment!

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Nikon announces D7100

If you haven’t heard yet, this is yet another new camera from Nikon, and it is aimed squarely at Enthusiast Photographers.

Details here: http://www.nikonusa.com/en/Nikon-Products/Product/Digital-SLR-Cameras/1513/D7100.html

I’m on an airport bus in LA, so more thoughts later :).

DxO Marks Published for the Nikon D600

The team at DxO (who measure sensor performance for cameras across the industry) have published the scores for the Nikon D600, and the results look pretty darn good!  (they use the term “enthusiast photographer(s)” many times during their writeup, which I thought was kind of fun, too…  :))  Before we get to the benchmarks, you might want to see my post “Should I get a new camera?”.

The overall DxO score of the D600 was 94, just one point behind the $2999 D800 and two behind the $3299 D800e.  Pretty amazing.  Even more incredible is comparing the $2100 D600 to the former-flagship Nikon D3X that lists for $7,999.  The D3x scores only an 88 and is bested in every category.  Of course, the D3x was no low-ISO king, so what about the other flagship, the king-of-the-night D3s?  82 vs. 94.  The D600 doesn’t measure up to the D3s in terms of ISO performance, but crushes the D3s in dynamic range and color to claim the crown.  Even the much-loved, former entry-FX Nikon D700  scores an 80.  Wow.  If you’re a Canon shooter, the news is even worse.  While they don’t have a new 6D to test, the current 5DMkIII priced at $3464 scores only 81 and we have little reason to think that Canon would embarrass the fairly-new 5DMkIII with a 6D.

One Important Note: These numbers aren’t the only measure of a camera by any stretch.  In fact, I’d take the position they are very often used to place too much emphasis on the sensor when you really have to look at the entire system and make decisions based on handling, autofocus performance, lens compatibility, weather-sealing and other factors  Iif you’re a regular reader, you know I hate the technology bullies who say you must have the latest sensor.  I chose the D300s with pro handling and AF over the newer D7000 with the better sensor but prosumer AF and handling – I couldn’t be happier.  For the record, the D600 has the same handling and (essentially) AF as the D7000.  That is a good thing for a whole lot of people, just not my personal preference.  I happily shot my similar-handling D70/D90 for years, though, so I’m not saying the D600 doesn’t handle very well – it handles great.  It just doesn’t handle like the pro-handling D300s/D700/D800 – it is a tow-MAY-tow, tow-MAH-tow kind of thing.

The Bottom Line:  These numbers absolutely say that the D600 represents an amazing value.  Nikon is hitting the ball pretty hard these days.  The price of FX isn’t for everyone, but this camera sure lowers the cost of entry.  If you’re a Nikon-shooting Enthusiast Photographer, this gives you a terrific price point for an easy-shooting camera with great durability and stunning performance.

You can check out the full DxO write-up by clicking here.

…and the Saga of the D600 Continues…

If you’ve found your way here via a search engine, the Nikon D600 has now announced.  Check out my take on it here.

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The internet (at least the Nikon area of it) is abuzz again today with updated rumors of the FX camera said to be a D600.  The biggest piece of news is that the autofocus motor is now rumored to be included, contrary to previous reports. This makes the camera much more attractive to people like me who have older FX lenses like the original Tamron 28-75 and the Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 ED that are manual-focus lenses on a body without a built-in motor like the consumer Nikon D3200 or D5100.

From a glass perspective, this camera still poses an issue.  I have three DX lenses in my kit – the Nikon 35mm f/1.8, the Nikon 18-200 VRII and the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8.  All of these lenses are terrific, and I don’t think I’d sell them to chase the FX-equivalents: the “nifty fifty” 50 f/1.8 and the 28-300.  Honestly, I’m not sure what I’d do for wide on FX – wide is pricey on FX!

I’m still hoping for a true DX-based D300s successor.  As I said before, the camera described at Nikonrumors sounds a lot more like a D8000 than a D400/D600.  Since I have upcoming trips to Asia and Europe looming in the next six weeks, I’ll probably be watching from the sidelines…

Nikon D600: a step closer?

NikonRumors has posted some additional details on what they say are specs for a full-frame (FX), 24 megapixel D600, set to be announced before September. Since I mentioned it as a possible tradeoff I was willing to live with, it is pretty funny to me that the updated information purports the new camera to have a 39-point autofocus system (presumably similar to what is in the D7000), which I mentioned in my D400/D600 post.

If that is true, this really sounds like something other than a camera that would be called a D600. With dual SD card slots, no AF motor, U1/U2 preset modes and the 39-point AF system, this sounds a lot like a four-digit model (D8000?) for consumer/prosumer than a pro model (D400/D600).

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the prices are rumored to be as low as $1500, but I’m thinking that is Euros (around $1900), lower than the current D700 price of $2199, but high enough and with a feature set that won’t drag too much away from the D800 (though the D800 could use a little easing of demand given the massive-if-likely-inflated orders out there…). That price would give them room for a D400, too…

Whatever they call it, I think the D600 will be a big hit. If there is no D400, I can only hope it pushes used prices down on the D300s and D700, because it won’t be a camera for me – I’m too invested in lenses that require a screw-drive to change now…

What do you think? Is a D600 the right camera for you?

What really replaces the D300s?

If you’re a Nikon guy (or gal – I’m a Nikon guy), you’ve done a lot of wondering lately.  How is Nikon recovering from the disasters in Japan and Thailand? When will the D800 and D4 come out?  What is going to happen with the D700?  When will Nikon meet the demand on these products.

We’ve got some level of answers on several of these questions, but not all of them, and we have others.  For example, what replaces the D300s and when does that happen?  And in some cases the answers we got generated new questions.  Specifically, I’m referring to Nikon declaring that the D800 wasn’t a replacement for the D700, but a “whole new class of product.”  That may just be marketing hyperbole.  It might also you insight to where Nikon is going.

Rumors have been out there about a D400 for a while, and when the D3200 came out, lots of folks declared this 24MP sensor with the pro-build around it was the underpinnings of the replacement for the D300s.  Logical enough.  I posted my D400 wishes here earlier, and it remains one of my most popular posts (at least in terms of hit-count).

But what if Nikon really wants to shake things up?  What if they define a product that replaces both the D300s and the D700?  What if they created an entry full-frame camera at 24MP that had a 12MP DX mode complete with the same viewfinder shroud I understand  is featured in the D700/D3 (that makes what you see in the viewfinder the DX image you’ll get instead of relying on lighted borders or guessing)?  What if they put that product out at $1699 or even as low as $1500 and called it a D600?

Rumors about a Nikon D600 have been popping up on websites that range from lightly trustworthy (Nikonrumors) to very trustworthy (CNET) over the last two weeks, and appear to be gaining momentum.  In general, I like the sound of it.  It means like Nikon is looking forward, not back – Looking to pressure the competition, not protect generations-old product categories.

There is one detail that disturbs me about all this talk: The rumors also say the body wouldn’t have a built-in motor, similar to the entry DX bodies like the D3200/D5100.  That would leave my beloved Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 and Nikon 80-20 f/2.8 out in the cold, and I can’t have that.  My guess is the ability to meter with manual-focus glass and possibly fine-tune lenses would also be left out of this crippled entry offering.  All three of those things make it a non-starter for me.

Part of the bargain of a D700 (or the replacement I described) for me would be that my two best lenses would still work and work well.  These are both terrific lenses that are (relatively) affordable by the Enthusiast Photographer.  If the D600 won’t focus these lenses, it isn’t the camera for me. 😦

It isn’t that I’m against creating limitations to create separation across product lines.  Heck, I’d put the D7000 autofocus system (39 points vs. the 51 of the D300s, D700 and the newer/bigger Pro bodies) and lose a few other features to keep the screw-drive in a D600 along with the other tools that let me use some of the best and most affordable lenses out there.

Ultimately, Nikon is going to do what they think they have to do drive sales and get ahead in the market.  Much like BMW, one of my other favorite brands, it may cost them to future loyalty and sales of the old-school folks who care more about photos and less about video, who want to have strong core features and are less worried about frills.

As right as the D600 probably is for Nikon’s balance sheet, it leaves me out of the equation unless a D400 also appears.  I don’t see how that can happen based on the price point of the D700 and the rumored price point of the D600.  Even if the D7000 drops to $999, I can’t see a D600 at even $1599 with a D400 somewhere in the middle.

So I’m rooting for the D600 rumors to be wrong, or even just nothing more than rumors.  And I’m still wondering when we’ll know…

Filling the Void: Nikon D400 Wishes

Now that we’re safely past the D800 and D4 announcements, all eyes turn to Nikon for the third piece of the trifecta, the successor to the D300s: the D400 (at least that what I assume they’ll call it).

Honestly, I thought the announcement of the D7000 in the Fall of 2010 really made the D300s look a bit long in the tooth. The D300s was only a year old, a light update to the D300 announced two years before that, but it was outclassed by the D7000 is several areas – ISO performance, dynamic range, resolution and more. Only the fully pro build, a deeper buffer and Nikon’s best auto-focus system gave the D300s an edge. I actually value the auto-focus performance more than the megapixels and even the ISO performance: Low light capability and dynamic range don’t matter much of the shot is fuzzy.

But D7000 had pretty darn good auto-focus and a big step forward in metering, which put the D300s under fire almost immediately. A lot of pros and BIF shooters didn’t care – the D300s was a pro tool, had a deep buffer and served the purpose well.  Some hopped on the D7K and liked it a lot.

But we’re now 18 months beyond the D7000 announcement, and the D300s doesn’t look like a camera worth anything close to its $1699 on-line price (B&H, etc.). Nikon’s recent sorta-announcement of the D700 at $2199 also puts pressure at the relative price point. And the D7000 sits at $1299. Nowhere for the D300s to go…

Thom Hogan said somewhere that you’re either a DX shooter or an FX shooter. Generally I agree with that, but I really sorta want a blend. I love the image quality of the D700, and I love the reach of DX. So what am I looking for in the D400?

  • Resolution: Honestly, I don’t really care. In today’s spec-war environment, megapixels are going to be more than the 12MP of the D300s. I’ll take anything from the D7000 resolution of 16MP all the way up to the rumored 24MP that is out there. Beyond that, the burden on my PC and storage is more than I want.
  • ISO Performance and Dynamic Range: I’d really love to have the ISO/low light performance of the D700 with the Dynamic Range of the D7000. Honestly, I don’t know how these things trade off against each other, but we’re talking wishes here, right?
  • Auto-focus and Metering: Since I’m going hybrid, I want the D700 auto-focus with the new metering ushered in with the D7000. We’re talking about a pro-class body, so this needs to be the good stuff!
  • Other stuff: This is the D300s replacement, so the build, buffer capacity should be consistent with that product. I love the concept of the U1/U2 buttons from the D7000, which let you store a whole set of camera settings. Video should be as good as the D7000. USB 3.0 would usher it into the 21st century. I’d like to see the same seven frames-per-second performance of the D300s as well. I’d prefer dual SD card slots, but Nikon seems to prefer one Compact Flash and one SD card in this category, so I could live with that.
  • Oh – and price: Keep it at $1799 list.

As I said in my Open Letter to Nikon post about the perfect Enthusiast Photographer Full Frame camera (which is nicely answered with the existing D700 reduced to $2199), I’d love to see a market research site that would let you design your perfect camera, trading price and weight for features. It would be a really cool way to gather some information, plus get some other ideas for features.

Readers: Do you want a D400 or whatever the heck a D7100 is? What features aren’t on cameras that you’d like to see?

D700 – Dead or Alive??

Nikon’s answer to my question “Where’s My full-frame” camera is apparently the D700. Or is it?

Last week there was a lot of hoopla on the internet with rumors of the D700 list price dropping to $2199 (from $2699). As usual, chippiness on the internet ensued, with many insisting Nikon wouldn’t do that, didn’t have any D700’s to sell at that price or some other D700/D800 declaration. It amazes me how many people on the internet make statements that seem to say they have direct knowledge of volumes and industry data (e.g. “the D700 killed the volumes of the D3” or “there aren’t enough D700’s to sell to make $2199 a real market price”).

Well, I disagree with the fist-pumpers that say the D700 is gone sooner than later, for a couple key reasons. First, I think it is a smart thing to do, but secondly, they might not have a choice. Let me explain.

As I’ve mentioned before, my day-job has been in the technology industry for over twenty years, and I closely followed it for years before that. I’ve worked in product management for many years, which has given me a fair bit of insight and knowledge about how development, testing, manufacturing, marketing, etc. work when it comes to PC’s and peripherals. I can’t say my experience and understanding is directly analogous to cameras, but I’d bet things aren’t too much different.

When I say Nikon didn’t have much of a choice to keep the D700 in production, I mean exactly that. More than likely, Nikon had very long lead-time commitments and minimum volumes on a variety of expensive components on the D700. In other words, they probably owned the parts even if their production at Sendai was severely limited by the tsunami and the effects on the area. On top of that, the costs of tooling and manufacturing equipment is amortized over the expected volumes of the product. Net: They need to keep the program whole to make their money, and they probably owned a lot of the critical parts. The alternative to continued production was likely a huge financial write-down, which probably wasn’t attractive given the impacts of the Tsunami in Japan as well as the Thailand floods, which disrupted other parts of Nikon’s business.

The assembly lines for these kinds of things don’t require as much space as you might think, and are actually somewhat portable – in other words, they could pretty easily make room for the D800 production lines in the buildings where they are making the D700. Their main concern is enough power and reliable power (the power production in the area was said to be erratic, which manufacturing lines don’t tolerate well).

If Nikon can the lights on and the machines running, there isn’t any reason at all they can’t run full-scale D700 and D800 production concurrently. They’ve had enough time to prepare and get the planning done, workers in place, etc and lots of incentives to do it. Barring some kind of component shortage, I could easily see them keeping the D700 around a while, just like the D90. Why not? It gets rid of the parts they likely are committed to, pays for the tooling and manufacturing lines and essentially fulfills the financial promise the D700 team made to the company.

Then there are the reasons I think it is a smart thing for Nikon to keep the D700 in the family. It fills a price cell they don’t currently address and makes Canon a little uncomfortable as they try to compete with the D700 @ $2199 and the D800 at $2999 with the 5dMKIII @ $3499. In the days since, Canon has reduced the 5dMkII to $2199 as well. Maybe Nikon and Canon will even get an idea of whether an “entry” FX platform is truly viable without having to invest in entirely new products, not to mention creating something that is distanced enough feature-wise from the D800 that it isn’t going to drag on that product (in my opinion).

Personally, I’d love a D3s sensor in a D700 body (detailed in my Open Letter to Nikon…). I’d start selling blood and light up eBay with everything I could find lying around to get one. In the meantime, I think you’ll see D700’s available in moderate volumes. Only time will tell, and even then it will validated only by perception/word of mouth – all these chippy guys who make all these bold statements about shipping numbers never seem to produce any source for their information. I wish Nikon did release more data – it would be fascinating. In the meantime, it will also be interesting to see how long Canon keeps the 5dMkII around – I doubt they intended to do that, so who knows how well they’ve been able to source the components necessary to continue production.

If you’re judging from stock at B&H, you can get the Canon 5dMKII right now, while the Nikon D700 says “Backordered”…

What do you think?  Is the D700 going to be around for a while like the D90 has been since the D7000 has announced, or is the $2199 thing just a short-term blip?

An open letter to Nikon: Where’s MY full-frame?

The Nikon D800, from the Nikon home page

Dear Nikon:

Congratulations for introducing two two terrific products, the Nikon D4 and D800/800e! Both products are new benchmarks of DSLR performance, and worthy members of Nikon’s pro lineup.  Given the terrible tragedies in Japan and Thailand, I commend and congratulate you for what must have been a Herculean effort by your employees to persevere and deliver.

Now, I must ask you – where the heck is the full frame camera for the Enthusiast Photographer?

In truth, I personally can’t afford a brand-new full frame camera.  I’ve got three spawn and enough demands on my income that a $3,000 camera just isn’t going to happen.  Since plenty of Enthusiast Photographers bought and loved the D700, and I greatly covet one, I figure it is worth exploring what I’d really like to see in a full-frame camera targeted at me, because today I’d take a D700 over a D800 if someone offered me a free choice between them.  What I really want is something in the middle.  The D800 seems kind of like the D700 when it came out: a baby version of the flagship, except in this case the downsized camera was the D3x.  I definitely don’t want one of those.

So what would my full-frame camera look like?  Here’s my list (which admittedly ignores the realities and technicalities of the sensor platform):

  • Full frame sensor with 16MP-18MP.  I don’t need or want to deal with the file size that 36.3MP creates (even for JPEG).  Storage is cheap, but as a guy who takes a lot of photos on family occasions, business and personal travel and my general creative photography, the downstream burden on the rest of my technology overall is too much.  I don’t want to watch my PC wheeze an more than it already does while I try to load and edit the files.  I like very much that my backup system (an old ReadyNAS Duo with two 1TB drives in it) hasn’t maxed out yet despite a fair bit of photography since I purchased it. My 16GB cards hold plenty of photos, I don’t want to buy bigger cards any time soon…
  • D3s ISO performance.  I don’t crave more megapixels, but I really do crave ISO.  I think a lot of folks are “available light” shooters like me, using a little fill flash here and there, but the lower light I can shoot in the better.  So call it ISO 100-12,800.  You can remove the LO and HI extenders.
  • Dual SD card slots.  Don’t make me collect two completely different kinds of cards.  As a pro, that would be completely infuriating – who needs the complexity of managing different kinds of storage with different performance levels?  Maybe one (probably Compact Flash) is the primary and the SD is secondary/safety (or one for RAW and the other for JPEG) on the D300s/D800 for the pros, but I want one technology.  As a non-pro, I prefer the cost and availability of SD, but I’d take Compact Flash.  Just make ’em the same, broadly available technology.  Sheesh.
  • D700-class autofocus.  All that great ISO performance is wasted without great AF.  This isn’t a D7000, so give me the really good stuff.
  • D7000 build.  Let’s face it – lots of buyers of the D700 weren’t professionals, so the weight and size of the D700 is wasted on most of us.  I do want a rugged metal chassis with good weather-sealing, but for the most part my equipment stays cozy, warm and safe.  I’m out and about, but not in a war zone, a jungle or the Himalayas.  Give me survivability but not a tank.
  • Lighted buttons.  Please don’t tell me this is such a high-dollar design that it is affordable only on the flagship.  We’ve got the ISO to shoot in low light, give me buttons to help.
  • Same viewfinder as the D800 with virtual horizon, etc.
  • Same metering, shutter and flash of the D800.  If you must separate the products somehow, an evolution of the D700 would work.
  • U1/U2 buttons like the D7000.  In a rare moment of agreement with Ken Rockwell (who can’t seem to figure out if he thinks megapixels are useful or not), how the heck was this left out of the D800???
  • USB 3.0.  Or even better, whatever is cheaper between in-camera USB 3.0 and throwing a USB 3.0 card reader for SD/CF in the box.
  • 6-8 Frames per second is fine.  You don’t have to improve the FPS with the grip, especially to keep it to a reasonable price.  $616 list (which still translates to $449 at B&H) is a shameful price when the grip for the D7000 is $219 and the grip for the D700 is $234 (at B&H, the list prices are $297 and $334, respectively).
  • Same video and audio as the D300s.  It will give folks a reason to buy the D800, and I use my Flipcam or smartphone for most of my video.  If you really want to create some product separation, take video off (along with a couple hundred bucks…).

I’m sure there are things I’ve missed.  I’d love to see simpler menus, a touch-screen and a few other things, but that is the main baseline.  As far as price, it would have to be more than the still-hypothetical D400 (which I’m guessing will be $1999) while not cratering your D800, though I think the build and other features I’ve described here are enough to keep the hard-core pros up there.  Let’s call it $2399 – about what the D700 was selling for new just before the terrible events in Tōhoku/Sendai or $2199 for a no-video version.

Here’s another thought for my friends at Nikon:  Create a “Build Your Perfect SLR” web-app in DX and FX editions, and even “what kind of shooter are you” categories.  Build in enough logic that users have to keep it real as a user in terms of manufacturability, sales price and family structure.  In other words, you have a “budget” to spend in the app for the design and features trade off against each other.  Put an “other” box in there somewhere for suggestions.  It would be a lot of fun, and my guess is you’ll learn a lot about what people really want.  And for Enthusiast Photographers like me and a lot of others, it isn’t a D4 or a D800 for full frame…

Readers:  Comments on your dream full frame or DX?  What features are you wishing for?

Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger Review – Part 1 (Snoop)

I’ve been waiting…patiently this time…for my custom-made bag to arrive.  After trying the Ona Union Street Bag and finding it terrific but with a single, fatal flaw (that wouldn’t bother most people, but I’m a little whack about certain things), I went in search of another messenger-style bag that would fulfill my needs.

This review is going to be long enough that I’m breaking it up into 2 parts, so let’s get an overall summary out of the way for the short-attention-span crowd who are already dying to be done:  I got the large Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger with the medium Snoop insert.  The bag is very roomy with lots of pockets, and holds literally everything I own from a photography and mobile technology standpoint.  The Snoop insert is well-padded and fairly flexible.  The bag carries well and looks terrific, especially if you get a custom-built bag like I did.  The quality appears to be fantastic.  I have a few minor quibbles – It isn’t perfect, but it is highly recommended.

Now that those folks are playing on their xBox again, let’s get to some details on the Snoop, and I’ll do a bag writeup in the next day or so.  You might want to read the Ona review, but here’s my recent list of what I’m looking for in a bag:

  • Versatile – lots of easily accessible pockets and places to put stuff.  Travel well.
  • Spacious – hold my body and 4-5 lenses.   One lens would be replaced by a flash (when I own one and decide to carry it…).  It needs to hold my laptop and various cables, notebook, pens, etc. so I can have a single bag when I travel.
  • Protective – don’t let me break my stuff.  Please.
  • Comfortable – my equipment felt more comfortable to carry in the Ona bag vs. my current LowePro 202 AW, and actually felt lighter.  Also, don’t have fiddly designs – be simple and easy.
  • Attractive – as I mentioned in my other article, I travel in the corporate world, and I want something that has some style and design.  The very serious and pro photographers roll their eyes at this, but I’ll steal my own quote: I don’t want a bag that looks like it belongs on “That 70′s Show or “Star Trek” – I want something that looks good.  Attractive design and high function aren’t mutually exclusive. They just seem to be in the world of camera bags…

After scouting around, I came upon Timbuk2.  They are famous for their messenger bags.  As it turns out, a buddy of mine has their “Commute” bag for his laptop and is a big fan.  They have just recently announced a “camera bag.”  I put that in quotes because they didn’t announce a bag so much as they announced a variant of their current messenger bag with straps for a tripod (on the bottom) and an insert for camera equipment that slips into the bag.  They call it the “Snoop” and there are two sizes: small and medium. These correspond to the same sizes of their bag or +1 size (small Snoop in medium bag, medium Snoop in large bag) if you are customizing want some extra room.  I’d recommend the +1 strategy.  You’ll see what I mean later.  Since I was looking for a laptop case and a camera case, I went with the Laptop Messenger and added the Snoop insert instead of the standard, dedicated Snoop Camera Messenger.

While I was considering my order, I e-mailed and called Timbuk2 more than once.  The people were friendly and helpful.  Their website is excellent, and the customization process is almost too fun.  If I have a criticism, it is that the build-your-own experience has taken over their website a bit, but whatever – it is a very nice website with a lot of cool products as well as a fair number of videos about the products.

I decided to go with a custom bag and stick with the waxed canvas theme I liked so much with the Ona bag.  I chose black with an olive center panel, black trim and logo and a light blue interior.  Yes, you can choose a different color for all of those things.  There are a lot of colors and fabrics, so you can end up with something uniquely yours.  There are, of course, pre-made bags in a variety of colors.  I configured away and had a merry time, also adding Compression Straps so I could cinch the bottom when I wasn’t using it as a camera bag.  They also provide a handy place to tuck my tripod in a pinch, too. Ultimately, I stuck with a conservative look, but you have lots of options to add color and texture to the bag.  The Snoop itself does not customize.

I’m not sure how their process works, but build/ship took a little longer than I expected.  I think expedited shipping might get expedited build as well.  I ordered on Dec. 5th, it shipped on Dec. 9th and the bag itself arrived on Dec. 19th (original arrival estimate from UPS was 12/16).  Poor performance on the part of UPS, holidays notwithstanding.  Especially if you live much farther east than the Rockies, upgrade the shipping.  The Snoop arrived several days earlier, so I’l make that the focus of Part 1 of this review:

Cool bag - it is a map of San Francisco, and it encourages you to cut it out and keep it.

All four lenses, my D90, my FlipCam and various other stuff in the bag. Not sweating space at all...

There is a carry/pull handle on the top of the Snoop that allows you to pull it out of the Laptop Messenger or light portability.  It is for moving it from storage to the bag and back, not for transportation.

The Snoop is gray nylon canvas on the outside.  They call the color Gunmetal, and it looks great – if I ever build a laptop-only case and go custom again, it is high on my list.  The interior is blue soft terry lining with minimal padding on the outside and nicely padded dividers.  Since the insert is inside a bigger bag and has multiple layers of protection, I’m not worried about the side padding.  Interior room is excellent.

I got the Medium Snoop, and it carries my D90, four lenses (a large one, two med/lg. and a little prime), my filter case, Black Rapid strap, FlipCam and other various stuff with room to spare.  In an insert this size, a few extra dividers would be a good thing, but you can get extras from them separately.  The top of the Snoop zips shut to make it a self-contained unit, which works great for me.  When I’m not using this as a camera bag, I can store the Snoop an make the bag my daily laptop case.

Other than additional dividers, my only criticism of the Snoop is that it has no pockets or accessory storage at all.  They could make use of the top flap for a couple memory card slots and a small pocket for a cable release, etc.  Some slide-in pockets on the side wouldn’t be a terrible idea, either.  Yes, there are plenty of pockets on the bag itself, but if the idea is to make this a modular piece of a carry-system, I’d like to see the Snoop be a little more self-contained for my photography equipment.  A minor point, though I’d love to see them update the design.

Outside of that, I can’t find much to fault with the Snoop, especially as part of the overall system in the bag.  I’ll be carrying the bag in three modes: Laptop, Camera and Laptop+Camera (travel only).  I’ll cover it more in Part II, but I think the fact that the Snoop is removable will make this bag much more flexible than anything else I’m aware of, which is fairly cool.  It isn’t without drawbacks – I’ll cover more in Part II, but I’m very happy, which is a good thing:  Custom bags can’t be returned…

I’ll get the second half of the review up as soon as I can, holiday duties and preparation call, and I’m going to try to get out and take some photos, too!