This review is based on my use of the Manfrotto Pro Light Reloader Air-55 roller bag in my role as a Unit Photographer on my current project, ‘The Commons’ for Sony TV and Stan.
Shooting locations for this show have given me the opportunity to test the bag out in a variety of situations, from city streets and hotel lobbies to rainy unsealed country roads, farm paddocks and dry sandy river beds.
I have no affiliation with Manfrotto, conversely, I won’t review products that I don’t think will hold up to the demands of my job.
$25k of gear in this bag is a pretty good incentive to be reasonably confident the bag has what it takes…
Let’s have a closer look at this popular rolling camera bag to see if it hits the mark.
Manfrotto Pro Light Reloader Air-55 | Specs
- Compact size
- Exterior design and interior layout
- Build quality
- Water resistant exterior
- Smooth opening and closing of the dual height travel handle.
- The footing pouch for your tripod or monopod.
- Vertical balance, the centre of gravity sits towards the rear even with a Laptop stored in the front pouch.
- A very small aesthetic point, I’d like to see a little more tread on those wheels.
Weight: 3.74 kg (131.9)
External Dimensions: 13.98 x 9.06 x 21.65″ (35.5 x 23 x 55cm)
Internal Dimensions: 12.60 x 7.09 x 18.50″ (32 x 18 x 47cm)
Laptop Compartment Dimensions: 12.60 x 0.98 x 16.93″ (32 x 2.5 x 43cm)
Material: RipStop, Synthetic Fabric
In addition to the laptop pocket, there is another compartment at the front of the bag designed for a tablet. My 13″ iPad pro with cover fits comfortably within this space.
Build & Appearance
The Reloader Air-55 is nice and compact with its combination of a black body and red trim giving it a stylish appearance.
Its design resembles a luggage bag more than a camera case which is a plus. No point advertising the fact that you’re wheeling around thousands of dollars in camera gear.
The bag’s exterior is covered in Pro-Light Rip-Stop fabric with additional protection on the underside corners for when the bag is laid flat.
The heavy-duty zips run smoothly as you’d expect. A smart piece of design is the flattened bottom corners which remove any issues with the zips grabbing as they can when the corners are round.
The toggles to the three additional exterior compartments are strongly made and easily accessible due to the rigid plastic end pieces.
The Reloader Air-55‘s exterior has two padded handles, top and side as well as an open sleeve hand-grip on the underside to assist in lifting the bag when laying it flat.
There are three exterior compartments:
Compartment 1: The biggest compartment will comfortably fit a 15″ laptop and 9″ tablet in separate sleeves. According to Manfrotto, the compartment is designed to hold a 17″ laptop – but in my view, a computer this large would force you to move any tablet to the secondary compartment.
If you do go with a 15″ laptop there is enough space to also store the bag’s wet weather cover.
Compartment 2: The second of the compartments is perfect for a larger tablet and will store my 13″ iPad pro. With a 15″ laptop in the main compartment and 13″ iPad in the second, things get a bit tight.
There is an additional pocket within this larger compartment designed to carry small accessories; this is of limited use if laptops and tablets are on board.
Compartment 3: The third compartment on the Reloader Air-55 is located at the side of the bag and measures 15cm x 16cm. It’s designed for personal accessories, keys, notebook, pens, etc. For me it will store a 2TB Lacie Rugged HD.
As an additional security measure there is a nylon strap within the third compartment that tethers all three exterior compartment zip toggles to the TSA lock.
On the opposite side of the bag to the third compartment are straps to hold a tripod or monopod with a neoprene footer.
On the Reloader Air-55’s rear there is a 7cm x 10cm see-through sleeve that is possibly designed to accommodate a name/address label, but as there is no zip it’s hard to keep it secure.
The bag’s removable wheels give 2cm of clearance and run smoothly and quietly, with the 14cm of hard plastic protection shielding the bottom of the bag against scrapes when lifting the bag over curbs or up stairs.
The bag balances nicely on its rear feet even on soft carpet and when a little front heavy with my 15″ laptop and 13″ tablet placed in the two front pouches.
The first thing that struck me when opening the Air-55 was the generous padding of the bag’s five main dividers. I also like the two dividers that allow the stacking of lenses – very handy for compact primes.
With the additional 14 standard dividers, it would seem to me that Manfrotto have supplied enough padding options to cover the vast majority of packing scenarios.
Within the lid are four accessory pouches; the top two share the same zip.
My Fuji XF lenses include XF50-140mm f/2.8 and XF16-55mm f/2.8 zooms. Along with these are five XF primes: 16mm, 23mm, 35mm, 56mm and 90mm. (16 & 23mm stacked 56 & 35mm stacked.)
All fit comfortably within the Reloader Air-55 with two accessory pouches (one comes with the bag) and a Black Rapid Double Breathe twin camera harness (under the XF50-140mm).
With all my gear packed I had one of the main and three standard dividers spare.
The four accessory pouches within the lid are useful for smaller flat items and have enough ‘give’ to allow your hands to reach well within them. Remember that whatever you place within these pouches will sit on top of your equipment, so choose carefully.
One thing that needs to be questioned is Manfrotto’s and other manufacturers’ insistence that these bags are airline carry-on suitable.
In my research I have found the majority of airlines, with the exception of British Airways (who allow 23kg), but including all Australian domestic carriers, allow between 7-12kg carry-on luggage. At almost 4kg empty you won’t be carrying much gear to reach that limit.
Yet on their website Manfrotto state that the bag is “designed for professional traveling photographers and videographers. Manufactured and designed specifically for travelers, it fits international airline carry-on sizes”.
Add to this the TSA-approved locks and you may think the bag is built to go as checked luggage – why else would you need TSA locks? They are selling something that can’t be delivered (unless you fly British Airlines).
So, be warned, check before you fly.
Ease of Use/Comfort
The Manfrotto Pro Light Reloader Air-55 roller bag ticks a lot of boxes in regards to ease of use. The telescopic handle has two height positions. Its central spring-loaded lock releases the handle which glides smoothly to either open or close.
I like the removable straps that hold the lid vertical. Originally I wasn’t sure, but once I started working with the bag on set I found having the lid upright allows both easier access to the four accessory pouches and also saves space without getting in the way when you pack or unpack gear.
The wheels are quiet and roll smoothly over a variety of terrain. They are removable for ease of cleaning.
I also like the squared-off corners which prevent the main zips from sticking as they can and do on bags with rounded corners.
Value for Money
When you consider it’s overall design, the quality of it’s exterior build and interior camera protection, at around US$380, I believe the bag is well priced.
Manfrotto is known for making high-quality, durable products catering to the demands of professional photographers, and that’s no different with its Air-55.
I’m confident that this bag will take years of abuse, and continue to do a good job protecting my camera gear wherever I travel.
Manfrotto Reloader Air-55 Review | Final Words
I like the Manfrotto Pro Light Reloader Air-55 and will continue to use it on set. As I normally work alone its size and weight make it a great option for me.
The bag’s storage is a bit like Dr Who’s Tardis – compact on the outside with more capacity than expected within.
Looking at the bag’s design I can see Manfrotto have thought outside the box: the top cover hinging at the bag’s base instead of the side, the removable interior straps that keep the lid vertical and accessory pouches accessible, the squared off zipper corners… there’s clearly a lot of thought that has gone into making the Air-55.
A film set can be described as organised chaos. There are times when my gear has to move in short notice to keep it out of shot. The fact that the bag is on wheels and compact is a time saver. It’s much more likely that another crew member will feel comfortable to move the bag for me if I am not in the immediate vicinity.
All of the above make the Manfrotto Pro Light Reloader Air-55 a very welcome find and a bag that I expect will give me years of service.