Hawkesmill St. James’s Street Review
Review of the stylish Hawkesmill St. James's Street camera bag. Is this premium leather, hand-made bag worth the price tag?
There’s an old joke that musicians are the kind of people that put $5,000 of gear into a $500 car to travel 100 miles for a $50 gig.
Having been both a musician and a photographer, I’d say that both professions can be guilty of this. I’ve gotten into the mindset that a lens under £1,000 is ‘cheap’ and I’ll drop £2,000 on a camera body without thinking too hard.
But when it comes to carrying my equipment, sense goes out the window. I’ll often use a £20 camera bag to carry £4,000 of lenses. It’s ludicrous.
The reason you should invest in a good camera bag is the same reason why you shouldn’t clean a Ferrari with dish soap.
So enter the St. James’s Street Camera Bag, a luxury, hand-crafted take on the traditional field bag from Hawkesmill.
Can this bag justify its lofty price tag?
Hawkesmill St. James’s Street Specs
- No-compromise build quality
- Timeless looks
- Easy access to main compartment
- Deceptively capacious
- That delicious leathery smell
- Lifetime warranty against defects
- Reassuringly expensive still means expensive
- Size – 14.5” x 9.4” x 5” (37cm x 24cm x 12.7cm)
- Weight – 3.5lbs (1.6kg)
- Main body colour – chocolate brown.
- Main body material– triple layer waterproof canvas. Made in Scotland.
- Flap material – full-grain bubble, vegetable-tanned leather.
- Fittings – nickel. Custom, branded feet and trigger hooks.
- Bubble leather straps and trim.
- Pockets – 2 large, expandable front pockets, 1 large rear pocket with flap to keep water off of zip.
- 3 large internal dividers, 2 small lens dividers, 1 laptop divider.
- Removable insert.
- Bag is waterproof and dustproof.
- Warranty – lifetime warranty against defects.
Build & Appearance
Let’s start with the most important consideration for the modern photographer when bag-shopping – looks.
Ok, I’m joking but let’s all be honest, none of us wants to look naff when transporting our gear around.
In short, this bag is stunning. If James Bond was heading off to Skyfall for a weekend, this is what he’d pack his Leica sniper camera and exploding lenses into.
If you’re the kind of photographer that loves chunky DSLRs with battery grips and wears a t-shirt saying ‘#Canon4Life,’ this maybe isn’t the bag for you. It doesn’t scream ‘camera bag’ as some other brands do. It’s discreet and classy.
For me, this is important. I’d rather that would-be thieves didn’t know that I was carrying thousands of pounds of gear but still look reasonably respectable.
If you tend to shoot weddings or any formal events, this bag will fit right in with any dress code. Think Louis Vuitton rather than Lowepro.
The brown leather flap and detailing match beautifully with the chocolate brown canvas body.
The leather will only become more beautiful as it darkens with age, giving the bag even more character.
In a world where companies tend to farm out manufacturing to the cheapest bidder to maximise profits, Hawkesmill is refreshing.
The St. James’s Street Camera Bag is hand-made in England and the company have done their best to source the finest quality materials to make it. Every part of the bag exudes quality.
The triple-layered waterproof canvas is made by Halley Stevenson from Scotland, who count Barbour among their impressive client list. The bag is stitched together with polyester rather than cotton for durability.
All the fittings are nickel-plated, which make them incredibly sturdy and less prone to corrosion.
The grab handle is attached to a riveted metal bar rather than stitched, making it unlikely to break, even under heavier loads.
Apart from the polyester stitching, the bag is plastic-free, and the materials are from sustainable sources.
The bag comes with a lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defects. This is not fast fashion or disposable; this is a bag for life.
When on a shoot, I want to be able to access cards and batteries quickly and effortlessly. Buckles like those on this bag look lovely but can be somewhat awkward to use.
Hawkesmill, to their credit, recognise this and have incorporated a quick release system so you can enjoy the aesthetics of buckles without the impracticalities.
There are two expandable pockets at the front of the bag suitable for passports, batteries and bags of sweets that you steal from the confectionery carts while shooting weddings.
At the back of the bag, there’s a soft, zipped compartment. It has room for documents, phones or even charging cables. A waterproof flap covers the zip to give it some protection from the elements.
The bag comes with a canvas shoulder strap with a removable shoulder pad that helps dissipate the weight of your gear.
Inside the Hawkesmill St. James’s Street, there’s a configurable padded insert. It’s lightly coloured, nicely contrasting with my black lenses/cameras and making it easier to see what you’re grabbing.
I could comfortably fit two Sony A7III’s with prime lenses attached, or one camera with two prime lenses. A flap on top of the insert acts as an added layer of protection should you forget to buckle it up properly.
Smaller prime lenses can be stacked safely on top of each other using the smaller lens dividers.
There’s a divider for a laptop, large tablet or both alongside your camera gear. The bag will carry a 13inch MacBook pro comfortably, but larger laptops will struggle to fit.
The most pleasant surprise is that the insert can be removed, turning it into a stylish overnight bag or an aeroplane carry-on for those times when you don’t need a camera. It also makes it easier to clean.
On an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to Spain, I was allowed to carry the Hawkesmill St. James’s Street as a secondary piece of hand luggage, sitting it below the seat in front during the flight.
This is in contrast to my usual travel bag which has to be stowed away, ensuring that I’m on constant alert anytime someone even breathes near the overhead lockers.
Here’s what I managed to fit in the Hawkesmill bag:
- Sony A7III body
- Nikon 45mm tilt/shift with metabones adapter
- Sony 35mm f/1.8
- Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8
- Apple Macbook
- Apple iPad Pro
- Kindle Voyage
- 2 spare batteries
- 2 external harddrives
- Passport and Wallet
If needed, I’m sure I could carry everything I needed for a destination wedding in this bag – including two cameras with lenses attached.
On my journey home, the security guard in Spain waited patiently as I removed piece after piece of equipment from the seemingly bottomless bag like a sunburnt Mary Poppins.
Ease of Use/Comfort
There’s a distinct amount of pleasure to be had in the daily use of this bag. It marries great looks with perfect practicality.
Then, there are the more nuanced pleasures such as the smell of leather when you get close to it.
At 1.6kg unladen, it’s heavier than most camera bags I’ve owned. But while I’m in constant pursuit of the lightest gear, the relative heft of this bag feels befitting of the quality.
The strap does an excellent job of dissipating the weight. You’re not going to forget the bag is on your shoulder, but neither are you going to need physio after a full day of carrying it.
Value for Money
There’s no getting around the price of this bag. At around US$650 (or £500), the St. James’s Street Camera Bag is among the most expensive camera bags I’ve ever used.
I imagine some photographers will dismiss it out of hand based on price alone, but that would be a terrible mistake.
Despite its price, I can’t help but feel that this bag is good value. Unlike the average digital camera that will cost much more, you’ll potentially get decades of use out of the St. James’s Street Camera Bag.
The craft that has gone into making it is astonishing and the quality is unmatched – and this is clear from the moment you pick it up. This bag has the potential to outlast every piece of camera equipment you own.
When you consider the quality of materials, the craft that has gone into it, and its potential longevity, the price starts to make a lot of sense.
There’s an old saying that an expensive thing is an inexpensive thing in the long run. I’m pretty sure that this will be the case with this bag.
Hawkesmill St. James’s Street Review | Conclusion
As a camera bag, it’s nearly impossible to find fault with the Hawkesmill St. James’s Street camera bag. It’s a statement piece of design. Like an old metal lens, it has a feeling of quality that is so rare in modern gear.
Its great looks are matched with practicality and enough features to satisfy consumer and professional photographers alike.
The only sticking point for some will be the price. However, if you own some high-end camera gear, you owe it to yourself to invest in proper protection for it.
Hawkesmill bags are an exercise in no-compromise build and design. No corners have been cut; no materials skimped on. And there’s a lot to admire in that approach.
For many photographers, this could be the only bag they ever have to buy.