Cecilia Mercator Review
Occasionally when we are reviewing bags, we get something exceptional. Something utterly beautiful that stands out.
I love stylish camera bags, but as a self-professed bag addict, leather bags are my kryptonite. The Cecilia Mercator is one of those bags – stylish and leather.
Cecilia launched its line of camera bags in 2018. According to the company, their heritage in leather runs back 160 years through their ties to the Cromwell Leather Company.
The Mercator 16L arrived on my doorstep about four weeks before lockdowns occurred, so I got a little time to get to know it with some work travel before it got temporarily shelved.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming the Cecilia name makes it a ladies camera backpack. This bag is as unisex as bags get, and we should know – we’ve reviewed a lot of them.
The Cecilia Mercator 16L is the Aston Martin of camera bags. It would look just as good on Margot Robbie or Chris Hemsworth…
Let’s take a closer look.
Cecilia Mercator 16L Specs
- Executive looks in a camera bag
- A practical everyday leather bag
- No luggage pass-through
- No water bottle holder
- Features: Adjustable Interior Dividers, Laptop Compartment, Tripod Holder
- Carrying/Transport Options: Backpack Straps, Top Handle
- Camera Support Strap: None
- Laptop Compartment Screen Size: 15″
- Exterior Dimensions: 19 x 11.75 x 6″ / 48.26 x 29.84 x 15.24 cm
- Exterior Material: Leather
- Type of Closure: Zipper
- Water Resistance: Rain Cover
- Interior Dimensions: 17.5 x 11.25 x 4.5″ / 44.45 x 28.57 x 11.43 cm
- Weight: 3.2 lb / 1.45 kg
Build & Appearance
I’ve been looking for a stylish leather camera backpack for a long time without success.
Most of the current models on the market just look like someone took a canvas or nylon bag and changed the material to leather as an afterthought. But leather is the kind of material that requires a specific design approach.
With the Cecilia Mercator, they’ve kept clean lines, which works very well with the aesthetics of the bag. Unlike many leather designs which use a more retro theme, Cecilia went for something modern and trendy.
There are a couple of things I like about this bag. For one, there is no way you’d pick this as a camera bag, and that’s always a big win for me.
The second thing I like about the Cecilia Mercator is that it has a beautiful executive look and feel. Photography bags are great, but many of them look like they just fell off a student or hiker.
If you’re the kind of person that wants to fit in shooting a formal wedding, or a part-time photographer who wants something they can carry into the boardroom, this is your bag.
The leather quality and construction is outstanding as you’d expect, given Cecilia’s long-standing ties to the leather industry. It’s clear they aren’t first-timers.
The leather has a beautiful soft feel, and the leather quality itself is high. Stitching is mostly absent, but not non-existent. It’s hidden by design.
Other little touches are evident throughout the bag such as little logos embossed into the leather.
I went through the bag to identify any stitching errors or manufacturing defects but there were none.
On the exterior, you’ll find two main access points. The first of these is the main zip which provides access to the entire contents of the bag.
The second provides access to a small top compartment which also allows you to remove items from the main compartment – for example, if you want to get out your laptop or headphones at the airport.
I’d give you a lecture about how great it is that Cecilia gave the Mercator a rear access point, so you don’t have to put the back padding down in a puddle. The reality, however, is that most people aren’t going to put their $500 leather backpack down in a puddle.
At the bottom of the bag, you’ll find a small compartment with a rain cover. Given the price of the bag and quality of the material, it’s a welcome addition, if not just for peace of mind.
While most manufacturers treat their leather for waterproofing, the buyers of this bag are going to want to really protect the leather. I wish all leather bag manufacturers would do this.
For me, the cover is useful as I often ride my motorcycle into the office to avoid congestion. If it rains during the day, riding in wet weather results in a spray of water and mud down your back.
In the bottom compartment of the bag, you’ll also find a place to hook the tripod. In the front compartment near the top, you’ll find straps to retain the tripod.
Finally, there is a small side pocket for wallets or keys. I think the Cecilia Mercator provides a practical balance of functionality without compromising the exterior styling of the bag.
Missing from the exterior are a bottle holder, waist straps, or sternum straps. I know some won’t like this but I understand why Cecilia missed them.
I don’t think it was an oversight. I think it is about maintaining the lines of the bag. Even the bottle holder versions that fold in discretely leave some remnant behind.
Waist straps and sternum simply would not have suited the styling.
My only real nitpick with the Mercator is the lack of luggage pass-through. I’ve seen enough bags to know it’s possible to make this discrete and I think Cecilia could have done so in this case without impacting the bag’s lines.
While the exterior of the bag is feature-free to maintain the lines, the interior is as functional as any everyday camera bag on the market.
You’ll find a laptop compartment suitable for a 15″ Laptop. It’s large and well padded. I carry both a Macbook Pro 13 and iPad Pro 12 in this compartment and whilst it’s snug, it fits easily.
There are also several pockets suitable for accessory cables. Cecilia made the 16L Mercator a practical everyday laptop bag.
On to the important stuff: the camera gear. You’ll find plenty of room to break your back overloading with too many lenses.
The dividers are good quality which I would expect from a bag in this price range.
Cecilia provide enough dividers to cater for large and small lens sizes so I can’t imagine this being a problem. The interior offers varying degrees of configuration to improve the accessibility of the camera compartment.
There is a well-designed separation piece that creates two separate compartments. This allows for a location to store your computing accessories, with a zipped opening into the interior of the bag if required.
Remove the divider, and you now have access to your camera through the top. It’s a similar setup to the Think Tank Retrospective Backpack.
Within the top section, there is a small zipped pocket. Inside the bag, you’ll find more zipped compartments that range in size.
I typically carry a laptop cable bag for all the little things I have to take. That includes the usual items: laptop charger, iPad / phone charger, external SSD, mouse. It saves me having a whole lot of loose items lying around in my bag.
This bag can fit a mirrorless full-frame along with 7 or 8 small lenses. We’re talking Fujicron or Sony f/2.8 prime small here, not the bigger f/1.4 glass.
Move to some larger lenses, and your storage options diminish substantially, but not to the degree that I expected for a bag of this kind. The storage capacity of the Cecilia Mercator is still good.
You could still fit some sizeable lenses like a trifecta of f/2.8 zooms, but you’re not going fit the 70-200mm f/2.8 on camera unless you put it diagonally across the bag.
In this bag, I could fit:
- My 13″ Macbook Pro
- A 12″ iPad Pro
- Gripped Sony a7R iii with Sigma Art 35mm f/1.2
- Sigma Art 135mm f/1.8
- Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8
- Sony 55mm f/1.8
- Sony 35mm f/2.8
- Fujifilm X100V
The top storage compartment of the bag is large enough to fit a 70-200 f/2.8 or 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 although it’s probably not the type of carry I would recommend.
When you look at the volume of the Mercator, it’s substantial for a bag that really falls into the executive bag crossover into camera bag.
Ease of Use/Comfort
The Cecilia Mercator scores well on the usability front for a bag of this type. It won’t match dedicated camera bags, but for a bag focussed on aesthetics, it’s impressive.
Given the likely use case as a laptop bag first, the laptop and accessory pockets have been given priority. This makes it practical for the kind of everyday abuse it’s likely to receive.
You get to work, take out your laptop and your day job starts. Occasionally at lunch, you head out for a photo session to get a break from the monotony. When you’re travelling, you might also head out in the evening.
For the users who aren’t using this as a daily laptop bag for work, you remove the top separator and gain access to the camera without anything impeding you from the top.
Overall, it’s as good as I could expect from a bag of this kind.
Value for Money
The Cecilia Mercator is a US$500 leather bag. Value for money isn’t the priority for prospective buyers so it should come as no surprise; these bags don’t score well on the value for money front.
It’s a little like scoring a Porsche or Ferrari on value for money. The reality is that most of the target buyers won’t care. They want a beautiful upmarket leather bag, and they will pay for it.
What you can do is compare it to similar bags in the price range. In that range, you find ONA, Billingham and Compagnon, and the Cecilia compares favourably from both a quality of construction, style and materials perspective.
If you find this bag too expensive, you have to ask yourself if this bag is too expensive, or spending $500 on any bag is too expensive. If the answer is the latter, you’re most likely not in not the target market.
Cecilia Mercator 16L Review | Conclusion
When I got the Cecilia Mercator, I was hoping I wouldn’t be disappointed – and I wasn’t. This bag continues to impress me every day.
There are a lot of Instagram backpacks that look good in photos but fail in the delivery. Cecilia have bridged the gap of looks and functionality in a high-quality bag that has very few compromises.
The big challenge with leather backpacks has always been finding a match of style and material. I don’t think a lot of the bag makers have done that well to date.
Like any bag, it’s not perfect. The lack of luggage pass-through would be the big change for me, but it’s a minor issue when you look at the delivery of the bag.
As a corporate executive and part-time photographer who travels for business, the Mercator is exactly what I look for in an everyday bag.
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.