Finding a functional camera bag which looks stylish is not an easy task. It’s only in recent years that companies such as Holdfast have cropped up to cater for the photographer who cares a little bit more about the way he/she looks.
The challenge remains though, to balance form with function, creating a camera bag that looks great but at the same time does its job and does it well. Looking good while working for your client shouldn’t mean a sacrifice to your workflow.
It was with this in mind that I approached my review for the new Roamographer camera bag from Holdfast.
It’s hard to disagree that it’s an absolutely gorgeous bag. Handcrafted out of American bison leather and opening on hinges like a traditional doctor’s bag, it looks nothing like any camera bag I’ve ever seen.
When the Roamographer arrived in my office, the reaction from the girls in particular was incredible. “Oh my god it’s gorgeous! What?! It’s a camera bag?! No way! I wanna use it as a handbag!”, was the general consensus. This is a camera bag that will turn heads.
The Roamographer is too good-looking to be used just as a camera bag. The designer obviously thought the same thing, since the inside padding can be removed so the bag can also be used as a stylish weekend bag.
I managed to fit in two Nikon D750’s, one with a Nikon 35mm f/1.4 attached and on the other a Nikon 85mm f/1.4, both with lens hoods attached, 2 Nikon SB-700 flashes, a Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro, a Nikon 50mm f/1.8D, a Nikon 20mm f/2.8, a Colorspace UDMA2 portable backup drive, Joby Gorillapod and an ND filter, and still had room for plenty of knickknacks in the side pockets. I could also fit a 15″ laptop into the rear sleeve too.
The straps allow a tripod to be securely attached to the bottom of the Roamographer. My tripod is the Manfrotto 055XPROB with the Manfrotto 496RC2 Ball Head – a decent sized, heavyweight set up, and definitely not the best tripod for travel!
However, even with this attached, I found the Roamographer well balanced on my shoulder.
Having said this, fastening and unfastening the straps to allow the tripod to slide through the straps under the bag can’t be achieved quickly, and was a little fiddly.
However, I’m sure all the other bags on the market with a similar setup that allows a tripod to be strapped in some way to the outer suffer a similar problem. If you need to be stowing away your tripod and removing it multiple times a day (landscape photographers?), this bag probably isn’t an ideal solution for you.
The shoulder strap features a luxurious shearing lining, which provides ample padding but lacks any grippiness for my liking. One nice detail on the strap is the addition of a smaller strap on a sliding metal buckle (similar to that found on the Moneymaker), which allows you to attach a smaller camera on the outside (or a set of keys, a torch, penknife…) for ease of access. Whilst I can’t decide on an appropriate usage for this mini strap yet, I appreciate the thought that’s gone into its inclusion.
There’s also a looped piece of leather around the main strap to stop the sliding buckle of the mini strap slipping too far down -a small design detail that shows the Roamographer wasn’t put together in a hurry.
The bag opens and closes on hinged sides like a classic doctor’s bag. This means that when the bag is sitting on the ground, it can remain open enough to provide easy access to the inside. However, being a belt & buckle closure, when it comes to shutting the Roamographer, things become a little fiddly.
You have to either fasten the small tab at the top of the bag to prevent it from opening when picked up, or go whole hog and fasten up each belt to secure the bag completely.
The main straps can be folded back on themselves and tucked away neatly, which gets them out of the way for you to use just the small tab to secure the bag for faster everyday usage.
If you’re the type of photographer who likes to lug a huge bag around the entire shoot, pulling gear out and putting it back in at every opportunity, the Roamographer may not be perfect for you. Fastening and unfastening the small tab to be able to secure the bag to carry is fine for a while, but doing it over and over throughout your day could become a little tiresome.
Having said this, you just need to look at your own workflow. I can’t think of many situations where you have to be in an out of your camera bag every few minutes, so perhaps this won’t be an issue for anyone.
For weddings, my workflow generally consists of turning up to the venue with all my gear in a big bag (currently the Think Tank Retrospective 30 – review here), leaving said bag somewhere safe, then taking my two cameras out with me on a Holdfast Moneymaker (review here).
I hate having a bag on my shoulder when I need to shoot. Therefore, I don’t see the fastening on the Roamographer to be a problem, since I don’t need to open and close my camera bag numerous times. Plus I’ll only use the main strap buckle fastening at the end of the day for storage, and when I want to be seen leaving the venue with a great looking bag ;-)
The clips on the top of the Roamographer allow you to carry the bag using a Holdfast Moneymaker dual camera strap. This was by far the most comfortable way to carry the Roamographer, with the weight being distributed perfectly across both shoulders.
Even though this method of carrying looks great, I can’t actually see myself using the Roamographer and Moneymaker in this way. It all seems a little too fiddly and unnecessary to me, and when I walked, the Roamographer would bounce off the backs of my thighs, making the experience rather annoying.
Having said that, depending on your height and your Moneymaker strap setup, I’m sure this won’t be the case for everyone. Also, you have to agree that carrying the Roamographer in this way looks awesome!
The Roamographer comes with a matching luggage tag wallet. When I first saw it, it seemed comically big to me, at more than twice the size of a regular luggage tag. However, I think I missed the point – true to its name, the luggage tag wallet is supposed to be used as… surprise surprise… a wallet!
You can squeeze in your mobile phone, some credit cards, a passport and some cash in there, then attach the whole thing to the Roamographer, or more conveniently to your own belt for an original way to carry your valuables.
I’m yet to see whether I’ll actually use this, but it certainly looks and feels amazing and takes the bulges out of your pockets, leaving everything easily accessible with one hand.
Like all of Holdfast’s products, the Roamographer retains a certain vintage aesthetic, true to the Wild West era when all goods served a specific purpose and were built to last. With so many mass-produced products on the market these days, it’s refreshing to see something that evokes the past and celebrates the elegance and simplicity of hand-made goods.
Synthetics and velcro may be cost-effective to produce and practical for the user, but leather and metal are strong, classic and age beautifully. I’m looking forward to seeing how my Roamographer looks in 5 years time – I’m sure my current camera bag, the Think Tank Retrospective 30 will still be alive and kicking, but whether it’ll still be looking presentable enough for a wedding? I doubt it…
For many classic, good quality products, there is a certain trade-off in convenience and function, for both looking good and having a sense of satisfaction in using something non mass-produced. You appreciate the time that’s gone in to produce it, and simply by using the product, despite its inconveniences, it just makes you happy.
Take a Harley Davidson for example – they’re big, heavy, not particular comfortable, lack storage, etc etc. Then take your humble scooter – they have space under the saddle, they’re automatic, they’re cheap, you can weave in and out of traffic… however, people love Harleys because they’re unlike any other motorbike. You don’t buy one because you want something practical and convenient – you buy one because you want a Harley.
The Roamographer is the Harley Davidson of camera bags!
Sure, there are much ‘better’ camera bags out there. Ones with velcro silencing tabs, waterproof synthetic covers, rubberised non slip shoulder straps and every bell and whistle you could wish for, including some you’ll never use!
Most bags are more comfortable to carry and allow far easier access to the gear carried within than the Roamographer. Heck, most bags are a hell of a lot cheaper too! However, you won’t buy a Roamographer to be practical, just like you don’t buy a Harley to do your grocery shopping.
The Roamographer is a beautiful bag that will put a smile on your face every time you pick it up. It will look better and better with age, and has style and character like no other camera accessory I’ve come across.
The Roamographer is one of those rare products that gives you pleasure from using it despite its quirks, and I’m looking forward to showing it off at my next wedding!
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