Cecilia Tharp Review
I’ve often wondered if other people are as susceptible to sticky songs or ‘earworms’ as much as I am.
One carefree greeting from my neighbour, Rhonda, in the morning can leave the Beach Boys stuck in my head for hours…
So it was when I opened up the box containing ‘The Tharp’ bag and was greeted with the company name Cecilia in large type – I was still humming Simon and Garfunkel as I packed my camera into the bag and headed out the door.
Cecilia is a relatively new player on the camera bag market but the company has a pedigree going back 160 years. They’ve made leather products for Leica, Ray-ban and Agfa to name just a few.
The Cecilia Tharp 8L camera bag enters a really crowded market – can it do enough to distinguish itself from the rest of the field?
Cecilia Tharp 8L Camera Bag Specs
- Great build quality
- Good looks
- Thoughtful interior and flap design.
- Small size.
- Bottom of the bag could be better protected/padded
- No vegan/veggie option
- No grab-handle.
- Bottom of the bag could be better protected/padded
- Exterior Size: 8.75″H x 12.25W” x 5.25″D (22.2cm x 31.1cm x 13.3cm)
- Interior Size: 7.75″H x 11.5″W x 4.25″D (19.7cm x 29.2cm x 10.8cm)
- Weight: 1.8lb (820g)
- Full-grain cowhide leather
- Custom-moulded EVA foam back panel for extra comfort and ventilation
- Padded dividers for customizable compartments
- Quick access magnetic flap opening
- Secure main compartment zipper closure
- Front accessory zippered pocket
Build & Appearance
The Tharp is available in three distinctive finishes. There’s a traditional-looking black leather option, a modern Charcoal Cotton twill one and the model I’m reviewing, the Chestnut leather option – check them all out here.
I suspect the Chestnut leather option, straddling the line between modern and classic, will be the bestseller of the range.
(The Charcoal Cotton Twill will no doubt appeal broadly, especially with its retail price being a fraction of the cost of the leather options.)
While not entirely distinctive in design (there’s only so much you can do with a messenger bag, in fairness), the Tharp is certainly handsome.
The exterior of the Tharp is discreet by design. There isn’t a plethora of bulging pockets or buckles – no big logos are screaming for your attention. The magnetic front flap is refreshingly minimalist, showing off the beauty of the leather.
My personal preference is for a more aged or textured leather look. Still, I’ve no doubt that The Cecilia Tharp will improve with age… and there’s something to be said for the stories old leather can tell.
Is it weird to admit that I found myself absentmindedly stroking the leather a few times during shoots?
Of course, it’s weird, but the gorgeous soft-touch leather has become a bit of a comfort blanket while I work!
The strap has been carefully colour-matched with the leather itself – it’s actually incredible how close the colours are. Around the back, an area of black EVA foam has been added for comfort and ventilation.
Everything is held together with precise, neat stitching that looks capable of standing up to all sorts of abuse.
The star feature of the Tharp is the front flap which extends from the back of the bag to the front, where it clips closed using magnets – a gift for wedding photographers and others who work in quiet environments.
If you’ve ever had to open a Velcro fastening while 200 people turn to glare at you in a church, you’ll shed a tiny tear of joy using this bag.
I swear the velcro on my old Crumpler could wake the ghosts of 10th-century saints…
On either side of the bag are two pockets. They’re too small to be of much practical use and, being unsecured, you won’t want to put anything of value in them beyond maybe a pen or two.
Around the back, there’s an EVA foam panel. It’s a welcome cushion as the bag hangs around your hip.
Ventilation channels have been moulded into the foam to increase airflow and stop you getting sweaty.
I was a little disappointed that there is no grab-handle, but there’s the argument that a grab-handle would perhaps get in the way on such a small bag.
The more I used the Tharp, the more I believed it to be a conscious design decision rather than an oversight.
While this camera bag is of fantastic build quality, I’d be wary of setting it down on the ground as the bottom is unprotected.
In fact, I managed to get a few scuffs on the bottom from setting it down on my second shoot.
Some feet or padding would’ve helped protect the soft leather bottom, perhaps with the expense of adding bulk to the bag.
The interior of the Tharp is where Cecilia’s attention to detail comes to the forefront.
When you lift the magnetised leather flap you are faced with two zipped compartments… and MORE magnets. MOAAARRRR MAGNETS!
Sometimes, little product details make me want to embrace the designer (or maybe, a modest elbow-bump will suffice, given the current global situation)…
In the case of this bag, it’s the second set of magnets inside.
If you leave the inside compartment unzipped, the secondary magnets lift open the inner camera compartment as you open the flap. This means quick, one-handed access to your equipment on the fly.
The compartment itself is big enough to hold a DSLR with a prime lens or small zoom attached, or a mirrorless camera and two or three primes.
The inside compartment is pretty standard, with two dividers that can be adjusted or removed.
The inside is light grey, contrasting with my black camera gear and making it easy to spot things in low light.
To keep size and weight down while maximizing capacity, I do think a little padding has been sacrificed.
This is worrisome at the bottom of the bag where a relatively thin layer of material is all that stands between your equipment and the ground.
It’s doubtful that most photographers are as clumsy as me, but I’d like to see extra padding at the bottom of the Tharp. If nothing else, it would act as an insurance policy against my own stupidity.
When using the bag to store gear, you can zip up the main compartment so your equipment doesn’t spill out accidentally (and this is an insurance policy against my stupidity).
At the front of the bag hidden behind the flap, there’s a small, zipped compartment for storing peripherals like memory cards and spare batteries.
It won’t store your laptop or tablet, but it is very useful nonetheless.
Here is an example of what I carried in the Cecilia Tharp while out on a shoot.
There was a bit of room left in the bag had I needed to pack my Kindle, a notepad, keys or a few other small items.
You could certainly carry a larger DSLR with a lens attached in place of my Sony A7III.
- Sony A7III with 55mm f/1.8 lens
- Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens
- Two Batteries
When I shoot weddings, I carry two cameras and use a small bag for lenses, extra batteries and cards.
Any remaining room is used to stuff as many protein bars and oatcakes as will fit. The Cecilia Tharp managed to hold more than my usual bag does while not feeling any heavier or bulkier.
It isn’t designed to hold laptops and tablets, so don’t expect it to. And if you overload it, don’t expect the magnets to do their job properly.
Of course, the Tharp will not fit all your pro equipment, but that was never its intention.
It’s a handy, discreet, smaller bag for pros that want to leave their bigger bag at home or hobbyists who maybe don’t have much equipment to carry.
Ease of Use/Comfort
For such a well-crafted bag, the Tharp is surprisingly light in use and, as a result, very comfortable to carry over a 12-hour day.
The key to this is a wide strap with an adjustable shoulder pad.
I’ve used bigger, heavier bags that haven’t put as much attention into weight distribution as Cecilia have with the Tharp.
Because of the size and weight of the bag, I’ve even been able to use it while cycling.
The padded back comes into its own while bumping along the rocky dirt tracks that pass for roads in Ireland.
Without dwelling too much on Schrödinger’s grab-handle, I did find myself missing it a few times but similarly being glad it wasn’t in the way while using the shoulder strap.
Value for Money
Next to the two leather options, the twill option is $100 less at around $50 and, at first, appears the best value of the three bags… but I can’t help feel that with a leather option you will get more longevity, thus negating the price over time (see latest prices here).
In leather, the Cecilia Tharp should last you for decades rather than years, justifying the initial outlay. And don’t forget, the company that built this bag have had over a century of road-testing their leather products.
Ultimately, though, how much value this bag is will depend on how much you use it.
For those looking for a small, stylish and well-made camera bag to carry essentials, it would be hard to put a price on something like this that fits the bill so perfectly.
All in all, I think the price point is just about right, and Cecilia is often generous with special offers that can take the price down further:
Cecilia Tharp Review | Conclusion
There’s a lot to love about Cecilia’s Tharp camera bag. In leather form, it looks great and feels quality. This is a bag that should last for many years.
For wedding photographers who carry two cameras on straps and want to shed some weight, it’s great for holding lenses and small accessories while looking dressy enough for formal occasions.
The bag is unisex, and my wife, Brideen, absolutely loved the size, weight and style of it – she, like many women photographers, struggle to find suitable camera bags.
Being leather, it should outlast most of your camera equipment. Ageing should only add even more character to what is already a good-looking camera bag.
Should you need something a little bigger, Cecilia has a larger messenger bag and two backpacks that use the same material and design language.
(Or, you can cater to your most OCD tendencies and buy the set along with camera straps – see the range on their website.)
The Tharp does have a couple of minor quirks, but these are more than offset by wonderful ingenuity and quality in other areas. I’d highly recommend it to any photographer as a go-to small camera 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.