Accessory Review: Tenba Cooper Messenger bag
Tenba Cooper 13 Slim and Cooper 15
$229/299 | www.tenba.com | Buy Now
Over the past few years, Tenba has built a reputation for its solid line of messenger style shoulder bags. I have regularly used one of their Mini Messenger bags for my mirrorless or small DSLR kits. It has been a surprisingly solid performer that has traveled thousands of miles with me. For the price, it is near or at the top of my camera bag 'bargains' list. But if I’m being honest, it has always been a bit light on features, ungraceful to use/carry and looks very much like a padded camera bag. So when Tenba asked me if I would like to check out their new Cooper line of premium messenger-style bags, I jumped at the opportunity.
Tenba released the Cooper line in late 2015 as unobtrusive photojournalist styled bags with luxury materials. Premium features include peach-cotton wax canvas, full grain leather accents, brushed tricot interior and hand riveted zipper pulls. There are four bags in the Cooper line, each designed to carry a specific camera kit.
- Cooper 8: A mirrorless camera with 2 to 3 lenses, accessories + a small tablet
- Cooper 13 Slim: A mirrorless camera with 3-5 lenses or a small DSLR with 2-3 prime lenses, accessories + a 13" or smaller laptop
- Cooper 13 DSLR: A DSLR with 2 or 3 lenses or a mirrorless camera with 4 to 5 lenses, accessories + a 13" or smaller laptop
- Cooper 15: Up to a pro-size DSLR with grip, 3 to 4 lenses, accessories + a 15" or smaller laptop.
This review focuses on the Cooper 13 Slim and the Cooper 15. They are, in my opinion, the standouts of this line. The Cooper 8 is nice, but is really suited for the smallest of mirrorless kits. The Cooper 13 DSLR is a great bag, but is just slightly bigger than the Cooper 13 Slim, with two inches of interior depth (5.5 in vs 3.5 in) being the only difference. So virtually all comments about the Cooper 13 Slim will apply to the 13 DSLR. If the 13 Slim sounds just a little tight for you, then the 13 DSLR is probably your bag.
All dimensions (W x H x D)
Cooper 13 Slim:
- Exterior: 37 x 27 x 14 cm / 14.5 x 10.5 x 5.5 in
- Interior: 34 x 24 x 9 cm / 13.5 x 9.5 x 3.5 in
- Laptop Compartment: 33 x 23 x 3 cm / 13 x 9 x 1 in
- Weight: 1.2 kg / 2.6 lbs
- Exterior: 41 x 29 x 20 cm / 16 x 11.5 x 8 in
- Interior: 38 x 28 x 17 cm / 15 x 11 x 6.5 in
- Laptop Compartment: 38 x 27 x 3 cm / 15 x 10.5 x 1 in
- Weight: 1.6 kg / 3.6 lbs
I’m not sure how peach-wax cotton canvas differs from standard waxed canvas, but the peach-wax-cotton canvas on the Cooper bags looks sleek and understated, as well as being quite soft to the touch. Some of that softness comes from the fact that the bags have water repellent applied to the backside of the fabric, rather than the front. This allows water to bead up, but keeps the front of the fabric soft and flexible.
I was wary of the leather accents, as they seem like they could be useless affectations on a camera bag that is meant to be used out in the field. Much to my surprise, they not only gave the bag a professional look well above its price tag, but felt good in the hands. My only concern about the fabric and general construction is, what will these bags look like in 5 years? Mundane as it may be, my Mini Messenger looks much the same as it did when I got it. Waxed canvas and leather can age beautifully (think about your grandfather’s Filson coat), so I’m going to be cautiously optimistic.
Overall, Tenba succeeded in making the Cooper line feel like a step up from the average bag. Comparing them to my Mini Messenger bag makes the old bag look pretty boring and shabby indeed. Perhaps more to the point, these bags don't scream 'camera inside!'.
In fact, despite the higher end design and materials, one of the best parts about the Cooper bags is how quickly they fade into the background. I’ve had many bags over the years and I have no trouble saying that these bags are at or near the top of my list as far as stylishness. It may be a minor thing when we’re talking about something that is essentially a tool. But given the choice between a well designed bag that looks good and one that doesn’t, most of us will take the looks as long as functionality is equal.
I’ll say this right now, the 'quiet' velcro on the Cooper bags is nothing short of amazing. It works just like regular velcro, but if you pull the flap down (as opposed to 'out'), the hooks release with 98% less noise. Instead of a huge RIIIIIPPPPPPPPPP, you might just hear 2-3 little loops pulling away. Not totally silent, but quiet enough for church, which is impressive. What’s more, by choosing velcro for the flap closure instead of buckles, there is no risk of a metal buckle dinging a piece of gear as the flap is opened. And because the Cooper bags have a handy top-access zipper, I didn’t find myself opening the flap as much as you might think. Particularly with the Cooper 13 Slim, I was able to quickly access bodies and lenses easily through the top-access zipper.
While the leather bottom and other luxury touches get all the attention (and understandably so) there are any number of small features that are worth mentioning. Using YKK instead of generic zippers may seem like a small thing, but anyone who has been frustrated by a cheap zipper will appreciate the quality.
Speaking of zippers, I love the fact that the zippers to expand the side pockets don’t unzip all the way. There’s no fiddling when you want to zip it back up again. There are also a ton of pockets and slots to organize all the extras you carry in a camera bag. There are even nylon backed leather MOLLE compatible attachment loops. Not all is perfect, but the complaints are pretty darn minor.
One that comes to mind involves the rain cover. As nice as it is to have the raincover included, the fact that it is not built-in and takes up space in the bag is kind of a hassle. Particularly in the smaller bags, I’d opt to carry an extra prime lens than the cover. Another minor complaint? The side pockets on the smaller bags are also pretty, well, small. I’m glad they exist, but even expanded, you aren’t going to be sticking telephoto zooms or big water bottles in there.
A final item worth mentioning can be considered both a feature and a drawback, depending on your point of view. These bags are not designed as bombproof protective cocoons for your gear, they are designed to be unobtrusive and functional. To that end, the padding inside is not as thick or heavy as in many other shoulder bags. I measure the padding and dividers in the Cooper bags to be around 1/4 inch. By way of comparison, the padding in my old Mini Messenger ranges from 3/8 to 1/2 inch. This cuts down significantly on the bulk and stiffness of the bags. In exchange, your gear is going to be less cushioned from bumps and bonks. This is a trade that I’m personally happy to make, but others may not feel the same.
Cooper 13 Slim
While all four Cooper bags are solid, the 13 Slim might be the standout of the line. It is perfectly sized for a mirrorless kit. An Olympus OM-D E-M1 with a mix of 3-5 zoom/primes lenses fits beautifully. The gear comes in and out with ease and there is a place for everything.
If you are looking for a bag to carry a decent sized mirrorless kit, the Cooper 13 Slim deserves your attention. That said, perhaps what was more surprising to me is that my standard full-frame 'prime' kit (Canon 6D, 24mm F1.8, 35mm F2, 50mm F1.8 & 85mm F1.8) also fits. And it didn't just fit; I found that I love using the bag for that kit. There’s not a lot of extra room and the 24 & 85 are a bit less accessible, but even so the 6D hasn’t left the Cooper 13 for weeks. Now, I’m not sure that this would be practical for a DSLR with zoom lenses of any length or girth. If you want a small bag for your DSLR and plan to carry anything bigger than prime lenses, I’d encourage looking at the Cooper 13 DSLR.
The 13 Slim is big enough to hold a substantial amount of gear, but is also so slim that it hardly sticks out from your body and doesn’t hinder your ability to move through a crowd. This is something that is huge for me. To be honest, I’m rarely concerned that someone knows I have a camera bag, after all, I typically have a camera in my hand. But if I’m banging into people or knocking drinks off tables in a crowded bar concert, well, that’s going to get people’s attention, and not in a good way.
Not only is the Cooper 13 Slim only 5.5 inches deep, but its lack of rigidity allows it to conform slightly to the shape of your body, allowing it to protrude even less. There is one drawback to the Cooper 13 Slim’s 'slim' nature, it doesn't tend to stand upright when set down. It will balance, but I wouldn’t leave the flap open and rely on it staying that way.
The Cooper 15 fits a full size DSLR with multiple F2.8 zoom lenses. I used a Canon 6D, 17-35mm F2.8, 24-70mm F2.8 and a 70-200/2.8 and had room for a speedlight and accessories without using any of the outside pockets. I will say that even a large mirrorless kit is absolutely swallowed in this bag. Unless you were using it as more of a briefcase that also happened to carry your mirrorless kit (not a bad idea actually), I might encourage you to look at one of smaller Cooper bags.
Overall, the Cooper 15 performed the same as the its Slim/DSLR counterparts with a few small caveats. Due to the larger size of my F2.8 zooms, it wasn’t quite as easy to get them out/in through the top-access zipper. This isn’t something exclusive to the Cooper 15, some of it just comes with pro bodies and lenses.
This brings me to another small concern worth mentioning: the Cooper 15 is a pretty darn big bag. It’s sized to carry these big zooms and bodies. I tend to encourage photographers to look at a backpack or sling if they are carrying big gear. The only time I use a shoulder bag for my pro kit is when I’m on a job where I’ll be in and out of the bag a ton – setting it down, picking it up, rushing across the reception hall and grabbing a new lens so I don’t miss the first dance, that kind of thing. Otherwise, that’s a lot of weight on my shoulder just for a street photography session through town. If you are carrying a smaller DSLR kit, you should probably look into the Cooper 13 DSLR, as the Cooper 15 is going to be overkill.
But I fully admit that some of that is my own personal preference as far as how I carry by gear. If you know that you like a shoulder bag for your big DSLR kit, the Cooper 15 is an outstanding choice as far as I’m concerned. While I was partially joking before, I do think there is a strong case to be made for using the Cooper 15 as a briefcase/schoolbag. It’s sized perfectly for that task, looks cooler than most anything else you’ll see at a powerpoint presentation and could still hold your 'everyday' camera kit.
What’s the bottom line?
The Tenba Cooper bags are well designed, good looking and extremely functional. They are not particularly cheap, but I would consider them on the affordable end of the spectrum as far as high end bags are concerned. If sheer economics are your main concern, there are other cheaper bags out there. But the Cooper bags are an impressive mix of style, functionality and features. For what it's worth, the Cooper 13 Slim/DSLR has made my list of bags that I love to use and recommend to just about anyone.
What we like:
- Attractive, yet understated, design
- Does not scream camera bag
- Minimal padding means a less stiff bag
- Silent velcro
- Top access zipper
- Quality accents and components used throughout
What we don't like:
- Premium price
- Minimal padding might not be enough protection for some users
- Non-integrated raincover
- Side pockets are tiny on smaller Cooper bags
- Pro sized gear a little tough to get out of Cooper 15 top zipper access
- Cooper 15 pretty heavy fully loaded
Tenba Cooper 13 Slim:
Tenba Cooper 15: