There is a common phrase in life that also applies to photography: “Buy once, buy right”. Camera backpacks don’t tend to have the same disastrous results as cheap tripods, they tend to leave your back muscles worse off, and you also end up replacing them more regularly.
The quality material found on premium bags wears better and sometimes even looks better with age. Materials like leather and waxed canvas tend to soften in time, giving bags a rustic and authentic look.
I have a couple of ONA bags I’ve picked up over the years which include the Prince and Bowery in antique cognac. Both look as good as they did when I purchased them.
While I love having leather on a shoulder bag, when I started looking at a casual backpack, I decided going with a waxed canvas backpack would be a better option.
Let’s have a closer look at the ONA Camps Bay review.
ONA Camps Bay Specs
- Looks incredible – one of, if not the best-looking backpack on the market
- Surprising large capacity for this type of bag
- High-quality construction and materials
- Form over function won’t appeal to everyone
- Accessing camera requires opening top flap
- Premium pricing
- Handcrafted with premium waxed canvas and leather
- Room for a camera and up to seven lenses
- Adjustable height personal items area
- Laptop compartment for up to 17-inch laptop
- Slim front organizer pocket
- Padded air mesh back panel
- Thick air mesh padding on shoulder straps
- Fully padded leather base
- Exterior Dimensions: 17″L X 13″W X 6.5″D/43.2cmL X 33cm”W X 16.5cmD
- Interior Dimensions: 16.5″L X 11″W X 5″D/41.9cmL X 27.9cm”W X 12.7cmD
Build & Appearance
I’ve always preferred camera bags that don’t look like camera bags, and the ONA Camps Bay falls into this category. Irrespective of what city you live in and how safe it is, I also don’t think it’s a good idea to advertise that you have $10,000 worth of camera gear in your backpack.
With messenger bags, you have a limited selection of bags that fall into this “not a camera bag” category.
With backpacks, that number reduces tenfold. It’s remarkably hard to find many that fall into this category. The vast majority look more like cycling or hiking bags which are great if you are going cycling or hiking.
The ONA Camps Bay gets its name from Camps Bay, Cape Town. For those who don’t know the location, it’s known for the trendy, well dressed, hipster people surrounded by paper-white sandy beaches.
In short, it’s the kind of location that has a popular Instagram hashtag following. It’s an appropriate affiliation. I haven’t carried many camera bags that get people’s attention like the ONA Camps Bay does.
Photographers will comment on a camera bag because they know it’s a camera bag and they want to know what’s inside. Non-photographers don’t comment on bags unless it really gets their attention, and the ONA Camps Bay somehow does that in both work and social environments.
Waxed cotton is an extremely durable and water-resistant material, and the stitching is sufficiently well-constructed to ensure that you get years of usage.
If I had to nitpick on one area, the back air mesh is more prone to wear and tear.
The exterior of the ONA Camps Bay manages to maintain clean lines, but it does so at the expense of exterior features.
On the exterior, you will find two side pockets and a small front pocket. There are also the usual fixtures like the shoulder straps and a single leather carry handle.
At first glance, the side pockets seem small, but they stretch enough to fit a 500ml metal water bottle.
The front pocket can accommodate a wallet or mobile phone, but it’s probably a little small for a speedlight unless its a small one.
The pockets are tight when you first get the bag so expect these to stretch out a little in time.
Inside the front pocket, you will find two small pockets inside which are suitable for spare batteries or memory cards or mobile phones.
What you won’t find is any form of tripod attachment point on the Camps Bay. If you’re a landscape photographer looking to attach your tripod somewhere, this isn’t the bag for you.
While the shoulder straps are good, there is nowhere to retain the excess strap length when tightened, so they dangle a bit. Some form of retaining strap would be useful here.
Access to the interior of the ONA Camps Bay is via two options: The top zip and the front zip. Both the front and top require you to unfasten the top flap.
The top zip gives you access to a dedicated non-camera storage area for laptop cables, sunglasses or any other items you may want to carry.
The divider between the top section and the camera compartment is adjustable to expand the amount of space used for camera vs non-camera gear. It can also be removed altogether to allow top access to your camera.
Access to the camera gear is via a front or top if you remove the top separator. Access via the front pocket does require some manipulation as the camera storage area goes behind the canvass area.
ONA provides two retaining straps with the bag retains the camera in place. There are more than enough dividers provided to cater for both mirrorless and DSLR users. The dividers are high quality and well-padded.
The ONA Camps Bay is much bigger than you expect and has a surprisingly large capacity.
At first glance, you feel like you would be lucky to fit 3 or 4 lenses, but the compartment allows for a lot of gear, particularly if you remove the top compartment.
In my bag I could carry:
- 13″ Macbook Pro
- 12″ iPad Pro with keyboard
- Small bag with Laptop charger, cables, iPad charger, mouse, external drive
- Sony A7riii with grip attached and Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM
- Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM
- Sony 24-105mm f/4 G
- Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art
- Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8
- Sony Noise-canceling Headphones
- iPhone and Wallet
The laptop storage area can accommodate a laptop or iPad. I managed to fit both an iPad and Macbook Pro, but modern Macbook Pro’s are very thin.
While the capacity is substantial, I don’t feel it’s designed to load to the hilt like some bags, or at least not seven heavy f/1.4 lenses. It’s more suited to smaller lighter primes or carrying 2 or 3 pro zooms.
Given the large size of the ONA Camps Bay, its also be worth considering the ONA Monterey if you are looking for something more compact.
Ease of Use/Comfort
Waxed canvas isn’t lightweight so this isn’t the lightest camera bag on the market. For some people, this may be a deal-breaker, so that being the case, this probably isn’t the right bag for you.
The ONA Camps Bay is what I would class a mid-tier bag from a comfort perspective. The shoulder straps are good but don’t match the hiking camera bags I’ve used in the past.
For this type of bag, I honestly don’t see it as an issue. It’s not the type of bag I would load to the hilt and walk around with everything I own. Given the generous storage room, there may be those tempted to do so. I think it’s the kind of bag you want to put 3 or 4 lenses max along with one camera.
I spent eight days up in the Gold Coast walking through theme park after theme park (5 theme parks in 7 days). I was armed with a gripped Sony A7iii, Zeiss Batis 18mm Batis, Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM, Sony 55mm f/1.8, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8, Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8, and Sony 35mm f/2.8.
The intention was to drop off a portion of the gear when I arrived at the hotel and only take out what I needed for each trip.
The Camps Bay handled the set of gear so well that I ended up walking around with everything in the bag permanently except my laptop and iPad
The times I felt the weight was when I had it loaded with my iPad, Laptop, Laptop Accessories, and all camera gear, generally while going through airports.
Value for Money
ONA has positioned itself in the premium end of the bag market. Priced at just under $450, some people are likely to find this too steep for their budgets.
That being the case you’re probably not ONA’s target audience.
While many will focus on the price, what you’re getting is a premium camera backpack with high-quality materials and the type of looks that are at home on a supermodel or hipster.
In the premium end of the market, there are surprisingly few backpacks to compare the Camps Bay to.
Billingham have a couple of similar retro-styled rucksacks priced slightly lower, but they don’t have the camera capacity of the Camps Bay. They seem to be more comparable to the cheaper ONA Monterey.
ONA Camps Bay Review | Conclusion
When a bag was released in 2012 and the design hasn’t changed for seven years, you know there is something unique about it.
Some will complain that the Camps Bay is “form over function”. They’ll buy the swiss army knife of bags off Kickstarter, and there is nothing wrong with that.
People are different, and bags have personalities to match that.
The ONA Camps Bay isn’t supposed to be a swiss army knife bag. It’s about a brand chasing something timeless. It’s the reason people see the beauty in cars like the 1963 300SL Gullwing or buy a retro motorcycle over the latest Japanese sports bike.
Not everything in life has to be about function alone, as long as it’s functional enough to do the job. The ONA Camps Bay falls into that category.
It’s the kind of bag that’ll be at home at a photography shoot or on a night out at a trendy night, and it won’t look out of place, but it’s practical enough to be a good camera bag, and that makes it a winner.
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