Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Camera Bag Review - Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L vs Case Logic SLRC-206

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So I’ve been using the Case Logic SLRC-206 ever since the beginning of my photography life back in 2012. It was a very much recommended bag back in the days with a good quality build. Also the price was very decent for such a camera bag. I’ve got a set of Think Tank Pro Speed Belt system with the respective accessory bags. And I quickly found out that system wasn’t ideal for travel. So my go to bag is still the case logic. The bag was with me, went through some long trip to west side of US (part of route 66) and some trips to China. But during a recent trip to climb the Mt. Huashan in China, I found the bag is quite short on a few features for the active sports type. The one biggest problem with the case logic is the lacking of an integrated water compartment. So I did some research and found this Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L bag. Hopefully it can address most of the problems I had with the case logic bag. The bag comes with two colors of choice, a glacier blue and bright orange. For some reason, the orange one is sold at $100 only, and the blue one is sold at $150. I went with the blue one since I don’t like the flashy orange color. This puts the bag at 2x the price of the case logic. There are quite a few sellers selling this bag from China with price under $100 though (for both blue and orange), not sure about the authenticity…
So far I’ve only taken the bag for one photo shoot on the Lunar Eclipse the past month. The bag seems OK for fulfilling my needs, I decided to keep it. So here is a review including a comparison with the case logic SLRC-206.
Initial impression about this bag is that the build quality including the paddings, the zipper smoothness is not as good as the cheaper case logic.
The main features of the Lowepro is the integrated water compartment on the left side while a dedicated tripod suspension system on the right side. And the unique back opening when you can flip the bag (with the waist strap on) and retrieving your gears from the main compartment without putting the bag on the ground. In practice, I like the back opening a lot. It made switching lens a breeze while all gears are available to you right in front of you without ever putting the bag down. This is the biggest reason why I decided to keep the bag.
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As for the water compartment, I tried to put in a 2L water bag, it was a super tight fit. So the manufacturer recommended 1.5L is about the right size. 1.5L should be about right for most situations.
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I haven’t tried the tripod mount yet, as my current tripod is too long when folded and too heavy. I DO plan to replace the tripod with a much more compact and low weight carbon fiber build in the near future. Some people also point out the weight imbalance if only one side is mounted (eg. just the water compartment or just the tripod side, or when you fully consumed all water). I think that’s a valid concern, I just don’t have the opportunity to put it to test.
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The Lowepro is smaller than the case logic. There are three sizes for this particular line, and this model 20L is already the largest…
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Wish they could make it slightly larger, especially on the width and depth.
Here is what the inside looks like when all my gears are packed:
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Note if I had the 24-70 attached and left the 70-200 on the side, it would look something like from Lowepro’s web:
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This would be a problem for the tripod side. The tripod seems best positioned is it’s sit straight against the side of the bag. The contoured shape from the overstuffed picture makes the tripod seem impossible to fit in.
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But mine looks nowhere near that full. After all, I don’t pack a lot of stuff into my bag. Also it’s possible to configure the bag into just two columns:
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The depth of the main compartment feels just one inch too short. I can only fit in a Canon 430 II flash in. I have to remove the Sto-fen modifier. While the case logic will happily fit it.
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I also like the bright orange dividers from case logic. It’s easier to see in the dark. The case logic has overall thicker sides as well, which adds some protection to the gear. The padding in Lowepro seems just not as so great when compared to case logic…
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One of the feature of the Lowepro is that you can take the main compartment out entirely, it includes a cover you can put on to the compartment. I don’t find this feature to be that practical.
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The bottom part of the bag includes a rain cover and it’s fairly easy to deploy to cover the entire bag.
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The rain cover is a tight fit though, if you have a tripod, then it won’t fit… I’ll try to see if I can stick in my own rain cover in there as there seems to be ample space. The soft bottom is really appreciated if you are using that flip feature a lot since that’s the spot will go against your “private part”.
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I do miss the hard EVA waterproof base from the case logic though. I guess the lowepro was meant to be on your back most of the time, especially on the beach.
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The padding on the strap is thicker from the case logic. But it tends to slip from my shoulder from time to time. Not a problem from Lowepro though. It stays on my shoulder just fine. So I’m quite happy with that.
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The case logic does not have any additional straps to help the bag to stay on. While the Lowepro provide not only the waist strap, but also the chest strap. The length of the straps are fully adjustable to fit most body shapes. So the Lowepro is a clear winner here. The ventilation design is about the same between the two. With the waist straps for the Lowepro, it does feel somewhat bulkier, although it’s actually a smaller bag than the case logic.
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The only downside about these waist straps is the lack of better pockets. There is only a meshed open top pocket on each side. I wish at least one side has a fully closed, well padded pocket with zipper for better protection. This way I can safely store some batteries and SD cards for quick access. I might just DIY a pocket at some point.
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Moving on to the front compartment. There is a slot for small laptop/tablet. I can fit in my 11.6 in laptop in there. (so it should fit an XPS 13 with infinite display) But again, the padding is really lacking here…
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There is another slot across, but the pocket is way to deep, it makes retrieving things really hard. I’m not gonna use that slot at all. I do like the two part design from the case logic in this case. The front of the backpack has two cross slots. One side is smaller while the other side is larger. I’m currently putting some filters in the bigger slot. However, with the waist strap on, it’s impossible to reach any of the compartments other than the main one. So it’s a bit of a nuance. But I can’t find a better place to store my filters…
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Overall, I think the case logic is a better bag with very good quality. But the lacking of water compartment and a built-in raincover, plus the slippery strap are the three aspects I dislike the most.            
The Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L has some quirks. It’s designed mainly for active sports type and people who doesn’t have a lot of gears. The back opening compartment is a very good idea and seems working out very well for me. But still it’s far from perfect. The ideal bag would be a bag that’s designed based on the case logic as it’s a good quality bag: flipping the main compartment of the case logic, adding waist flaps to have the flip functionality while having that spacious room for much more gears. The right side compartment needs to be way larger to be able to hold a 1.5L water bag. Improve the left side tripod system. Removing the small front bag, exchange for a flap that can cover the EVA base while flip the bag to provide a soft smooth area. Here is a very rough draft of what I have in mind when putting the best of the two bags together:
scatch perfect bag

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