My wife and I have been shooting weddings for 13 years, the last several of which we’ve had the pleasure of carrying our gear around in a matching pair of Think Tank Airport Commuters.
We love everything about these backpacks and if they ever wear out (which is unlikely, due to their rugged build quality), we’ll immediately purchase two more.
I’ve also had the same North Face backpack since I was a junior in college that I use to this day for short, non-photography-related trips and day-to-day activities.
The former backpack is perfect for our business. The latter is great for my personal life. But there isn’t much overlap.
Sure, I can stuff a camera into my North Face backpack, but it’s somewhat uncomfortable and I have to make sure to pack it in carefully with a bunch of soft stuff for protection…
Similarly, I can fit some small personal items into my Airport Commuter, but it’s designed to be a camera bag.
I’ve always thought it would be nice to have some sort of hybrid of these two backpacks that I love so much.
Enter the f-stop Lotus camera backpack…
Table of Contents
f-stop Lotus Specs
- Durable, weather-resistant material
- Weight dispersion
- Bulky/long waist straps
- Stubborn zippers
- 32-liter internal capacity
- Full length expanding side and front zipper pockets, and top lid
- Weather-resistant materials
- Internal aluminum frame
- Adjustable support system
Build & Appearance
High marks for ruggedness and durability for this bag. A weather-resistant nylon exterior keeps out moisture while an internal aluminum frame provides support and gives structure to the pack.
The Internal Camera Unit (ICU) – which I just realized is a somewhat unfortunate acronym – is made of thick, high-density foam to protect your gear from impacts inside of a water-resistant shell, adding a double layer of moisture protection.
The rear access panel, which closes shut over the ICU, is made of high-density foam as well, so your camera and lenses will stay nice and safe.
The main compartment zippers are recessed underneath a nylon flap, which will go even further to keep water out.
My only gripe is that the zippers don’t slide as easily as I would expect from a bag in this price range.
The zippers on my Airport Commuter glide like a hot knife through butter, whereas the zippers on the f-stop Lotus require a bit more elbow grease.
I’ve found myself having to use two hands to unzip the compartments, which isn’t ideal when on a shoot.
First and foremost, I want to mention that the backpack itself and the Internal Camera Unit (ICU) are two different pieces that are sold separately. F-Stops sells its ICUs in varying shapes and sizes, so you have a lot of options when it comes to modularity.
I, myself, have the Shallow ICU–Medium, which I’ve found makes for a good storage ratio of camera equipment to personal items. Depending on your gear setup, the type of shoot you’re doing, or the length of the trip you’re taking, one of the other ICUs might be a better fit for you.
You can also purchase multiple ICUs and swap them in and out depending on your specific purposes, but that would become really expensive really fast.
To provide a more specific frame of reference, I fit the following items into my Shallow ICU–Medium:
- 1 Nikon D750
- 1 24-70mm
- 1 70-200mm
- 1 Speedlight
- 2 radio transmitters
- An assortment of small modifiers
- Battery charger + backup battery
- Memory card case
For me, this isn’t enough gear to shoot a wedding. If I wanted to use this pack for weddings, I would need to purchase one of the larger ICUs to accommodate my full arsenal. Keeping in mind, of course, that this would minimize/eliminate room for other personal items.
But the Shallow ICU–Medium could work perfectly for an engagement shoot or for a personal trip in which I’d want to bring essential gear, but would also need to pack clothing, food and other personal items.
I should note here that if you have one of the smaller ICUs and the rest of the pack isn’t filled with other items, the ICU will shift around within the main compartment of the pack, which could be a potential annoyance. The solution, of course, is to simply fill the pack full of snacks.
Ease of Use/Comfort
The f-stop Lotus feels great to wear and is very easy on the neck, shoulders and back. I packed this bag with just over 24 lb (10.89 kg) of items and hiked up to 12,300 ft (3,750 m) near the Continental Divide here in Colorado and it was a breeze.
The waist and chest straps are designed to disperse the weight of the pack to different parts of the body so that the main shoulder straps aren’t straining your neck and back muscles all day.
Also, the back of the pack contours my spine perfectly so that the bottom of the bag rests firmly against the top of my pelvis, providing further support. Results will vary based on height, but for me, it’s a perfect fit.
What isn’t a perfect fit, however, are the shoulder, chest and waist straps. I’m a skinny dude, so I have to cinch them all the way down as tight as they go.
This leaves an excess of strappage hanging all over the damn place and there’s no practical and efficient way to tuck them in.
There are elastic loops meant to secure the ends of the straps, but they’re rendered useless when the straps are tightened all the way down.
What I ended up doing is simply cutting off the excess and tying knots in the shorn ends to prevent them from coming undone. That said, this should only present an issue if you’re a beanstalk like me.
One more small complaint about the shoulder straps: they’re not easy to tighten while wearing the pack. I can tighten or loosen the shoulder straps on my Airport Commuter easily with one hand, but with the Lotus, it’s difficult to adjust the straps when it’s on your back.
I’ve found myself having to take the pack off and set it on the ground or on my lap to adjust the straps effectively.
On the bright side, the chest straps slide up and down, which allows you to adjust them for maximum comfort based on your height. I found this to be a nice touch from a custom fit standpoint.
As far as getting things out of the bag goes, there are two access points for the main compartment: one on top of the bag and one on the back, through which you access your camera gear inside the Internal Camera Unit (ICU). Both work well and combine for an extra dimension of accessibility.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention that this pack doesn’t stand up on its own. The bottom of the bag is somewhat softer and more rounded than the Think Tank Airport Commuter and, when full of items, it tips over if you try to stand it up.
This will be varying degrees of annoying depending on the individual photographer, but I personally like a bag that stands on end so that I don’t have to lay it all the way down in the dirt, grass, bathroom floor, etc.
Other Features and Accessories
In addition to the main compartment, the f-stop Lotus has several other pockets and sleeves meant for organizing a variety of other miscellaneous items.
There’s a divided pouch on the very top of the bag that I’ve been using for snacks. This pouch also has a key hook, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Beneath that, on the underside of the main compartment flap, is another netted pouch where I keep my “pharmacy” (e.g. multi-vitamins, ibuprofen, throat lozenges, earplugs, etc.).
There’s also a large zippered pouch on the outside front of the pack that’s perfect for notebooks, a longer, thinner pouch on either side of the pack for water bottles, and a smaller pouch on the very bottom that I just now realized exists as I was counting compartments.
Finally, the backside of the rear access panel can store smaller items like pens, earbuds, passports, and so forth.
Also on the outside of the bag are straps for clipping in tripods, hiking poles, or something similar. I cut them off immediately because I can’t stand having things hanging off of my bags, but I know a lot of people who would find them handy.
A notable omission from the lineup of features on the f-stop Lotus is a lock. One of my favorite things about the Think Tank Airport Commuter is the combination lock that’s stitched into a small side pocket area.
Of course, it’s not foolproof (anyone with wire cutters could make quick work of it), but it does deter quick snatch-and-grabs in coffee shops, airports, or any other public place you’re liable to take your eyes off of the bag for more than a few seconds.
F-Stop also offers a variety of other add-ons, such as rain covers, accessory pouches and laptop sleeves.
I’m personally not a huge of the “nickel and dime” approach, which in this case adds up to a helluva lot of nickels and dimes, but it does allow for a high degree of modularity for those who will be using this pack for many different purposes.
This bag fits in perfectly in Colorado. It seems like it was made with the hiker’s aesthetic in mind. Heck, it even has a little snowcapped mountain peak as a part of the logo.
It comes in three different colors. I went with black because the other two are a bit too garish for my taste. Although the brighter colors would be more in line with the fashion sensibilities of outdoorsy Coloradans.
The only thing I don’t like about the look of this pack is the bulky waist straps. While they provide a wonderful level of support and comfort, it just doesn’t feel good to wear the pack without the waist straps clipped around your waste.
This means that no matter where you go – a city street, the subway, a coffee shop, etc. – you’re going to look like you’re ready to hike Everest with those straps securely fastened around your waist and chest.
Value for Money
This is where it gets tricky for me. I like this pack. I really do. But when you take into account the added cost of the ICU (or multiple ICUs, if you plan on using the bag for different types of shoots) and other accessories, it certainly isn’t the most economical camera backpack on the market.
That said, what it lacks in monetary savings, it makes up for in versatility and modularity.
Is the added modularity worth the added cost?
Value is a relative term and each one of us has to make that determination for ourselves.
f-stop Lotus Review | Conclusion
So who is this pack for? In my opinion, it’s best suited to outdoor photography enthusiasts who frequently go hiking, camping, backpacking, skiing, etc.
It would also be good for photographers who take short trips with minimal gear and don’t want to check a suitcase.
You can carry your camera, lenses and accessories, plus clothing, toiletries, books and any other personal items you would need for a short trip.
Is the f-stop Lotus good for wedding photographers? In my opinion, no. Not unless you want to purchase one of the larger ICUs that takes up the entirety of the main compartment, in which case you’re better off going with the Think Tank Airport Commuter.
Long story short, each backpack is a specialty item–great for one purpose, not so great for another.
I’m going to continue to use my Airport Commuter for photoshoots and my North Face backpack for non-photography trips, but I’ll always have the f-stop Lotus for those hybrid situations in which business and pleasure commingle in equal measures.