I spent hours researching bags for my new mirrorless camera, a Fuji X-A1 with the kit lens and the Fuji 35mm f/1.4. I was tired of carrying my trusty 5D + 24-105mm + 50mm + ..., so I sold everything and went light. My old camera bag was also in need of a change.

I thought I would share the results of my quest for a light travelling camera bag.

Some threads (in particular this one and this one) helped me find candidates.

What I was looking for

I travel with the following:

  • mirrorless camera + extra lens (Fuji X-A1 + kit lens + 35mm f/1.4)
  • lonely planet guidebook
  • small bottle of water
  • small accessories (mini tripod, 9 stop ND filter, extra battery, pen & paper, etc...)

When not using my camera, I like to store the battery charger in the camera bag.

I was looking for an ultra light bag to carry all this. Ideally, the water bottle goes outside, so does the guidebook to be quickly available (e.g. for checking the map)

What I found

The Tamrac Jazz Messenger 2 is really the only camera I could get my hands on that fit the bill.

I keep the lens hood on my lenses and it all fits very nicely, with room to spare for a small third lens or for the battery charger. 

I visited Cusco and did the Inca Trail with it and it met all my expectations. I also happen to like the look.

The jazz messenger's dual closure works really well. I used only the quick velcro while walking around all day and snapping pictures. When storing the bag or hiking in hazardous terrain I would secure the flap with the clip too.

I really appreciated small details like the back handle and the small orange handles on the side pockets.

My loaded Tamrac Jazz messenger 2, with the Inca sacred valley as background.

I find it difficult to fault the bag with anything. It's well made, although I might have doubts about the longevity of the elastic material used on the side pockets. To make the bag perfect, I would probably lighten the color of the interior a bit and consider changing the velcro closure with a magnetic one like Think Thank uses in their mirrorless mover line.

Bags I eliminated:

Heavy bags

Many bags I looked at were nice but too heavy (e.g. Retrospective 5, Domke f-5xb or F-831, Lowepro Event Messenger 100, Hadley Pro)

I ditched my trusty Canon 5D to get a light system, so I wasn't about to sacrifice too much weight for the bag. The Jazz Messenger 2 with my camera stuff weighs 1.17 kg. The Hadley Pro would bring that to 1.9 kg (62% heavier). When adding the water bottle and a typical guide book, I'm still under 2kg; using the Hadley Pro instead would add 36% weight.

Sling bags

I'm used to standard strap bags and didn't like the feel of the sling bags I tried. I couldn't see how to have quick access to my stuff.

Bags with belt loops

Kata makes wonderful bags. They look good, they're light, there's plenty of form factors to choose from (DC-433, 435, ...). What a pity they chose to have belt loops on the back for most of them! Where do I put my lonely planet guide? I want a back pocket!

Same with Mirroless Mover 20. Too bad, I really liked the idea of the magnetic closure.

A few bags don't have anything in the bag (e.g. Crumpler's Light Delight 2500, available only in Europe anyways) I find this an even worse idea; it's a complete waste of the biggest available surface.

Remaining candidates

Tamrac Jazz 45

Very similar to the Jazz Messenger 2, with a different closure system (zipper). I prefer the velcro + clip, but would be a viable option for Europeans. Yeah, it's not available in America, only in Europe. Even more surprising that Tamrac is based in California...

Kata Nimble-3 DL

Very good contender, has everything I was looking for, although heavier than the jazz messenger 2 and probably a bit too deep for nothing. Appears to be only available in Europe only though.

Tamrac Rally 2

Similar to the jazz messenger 2, but quite a bit heavier and IMHO not nearly as nice looking.

Crumpler 3 Million Dollar Home

Might have worked, but it is heavier and seems to me to be the wrong format (higher than wider).

Lowepro Event Messenger 100

Side pockets completely useless to me. Not sure what the idea was here. The image shows a lens cap. Why not put them in the front pocket? As for me, I leave those home anyways. If at least one of the side pockets had been with an extensible mesh (like Kata does). A water bottle would have probably fit inside though.  Heavier than the jazz messenger 2.

A message to all camera bag makers

I couldn't find any camera maker site with online information that didn't suck!

Imprecise specs.

Think Thank lists weights precise to a single decimal and they're not the only ones. For example their mirrorless mover 10 has the same official weight as the mirrorless mover 20 (which is about twice the size!). The listed weight is 0.3 kg, so we can assume it's anywhere between 250g and 350g (a 40% difference). Or is it, since they also list the weight as 0.7 lbs? It is sometimes precise but simply wrong: Tamrac says 320g for the Jazz Messenger 2, but I measure 275g, so did the people in this video.

Lacking information & pictures

I want to see pictures of all sides of the bags. I need the sides to know if a water bottle will fit or not, and the back side is mandatory to see if there is a pocket or not.

Local differences

There's typically no way to know in which country a bag is available. Sometimes a bag will show in the US site's catalog (Kata Nimble-3) but won't be available. Sometimes a bag won't show in the US catalog (Tamrac Jazz messenger 2) but will be available, albeit only through Walmart and only in the US, not in Canada. Note that Walmart won't ship that item, you have to pick it up in stores. As I Canadian, I had to jump through hoops to get a hold of one! 

Personally, I really wish there was no country / continent restrictions. Last I checked, humans had the same number of fingers across the world, and cameras lenses bent the light the same way. Crumpler is definitely the worst offender here, with the same name & logo applying for two entirely different product lines, one for Europe and a different one for the Americas (I forget which ones Asia and Australia get).

Conclusion

Although camera makers don't make it very easy to shop online for a light travelling camera bag, I was able to figure out that the Tamrac Jazz Messenger 2 was the only bag on the market that really fit my needs. At $40, it happened to be the cheapest of all the options I looked at.

I'm super happy with it, I'm just puzzled as to what are the other camera bag makers doing not offering a good alternative for a market which I'd presume is of a decent size.