I’ve spent the past week in what could rightly be described as a forced march through the least forgiving terrain on the globe; a torturously hot environment so harsh and expansive that man has yet to conquer it. Disney World. With children. Oh, the humanity…
My family’s journey to and throughout Florida was a genuine expedition involving planes, trains, and automobiles; theme parks, beaches, and boat rides. Not to mention five days’ worth of traveling solely by foot (enjoy that pun). I walked in excess of ten miles per day, and carried cameras, baby bottles, and enough The Little Mermaid themed novelty bubble wands to turn the nearby Gulf of Mexico into a 660-quadrillion-gallon bubblebath.
Sharing the load with my aching muscles was a new camera and travel bag by Vinta Supply Co., a New York-based company with a succinct and targeted product line (currently comprised of one bag in three colors, plus a few accessories). The S-series backpack promised to carry my stuff and do so with style. By the end of the 3,000 mile round trip, it had. And though I own more camera bags than I do pairs of socks, I can’t really envision myself using any other bag now that I own an S-series Travel Bag. That’s because this bag brings the best combination of qualities I really value – strength, capacity, lightness, and at least some degree of style.
That last point is one worth noting first. I’ve long been of the opinion that no self-respecting man over the age of twelve should be seen wearing a backpack. I’ve automatically avoided them for years. Even when careening through the winding Kancamagus Highway on a Triumph motorcycle, I shunned the more practical backpack in favor of a messenger bag (and rather stupidly accepted the inherently dangerous imbalance that such a bag brings in order to look less like a dork on his way to 5th Grade Social Studies).
But the Vinta S is a far cry from your old JanSport. With a traditional and rigid shape that recalls the lines of military packs, a compact form, and well-placed flourishes of quality materials, this backpack actually looks good. This is subjective, of course, so take a look at any of its three colors and see if you like it. For me, the style works.
Less subjective is a bag’s performance. And though one of the writers here at CP joked about the difficulty of writing bag reviews, (“Can you put stuff in it? Yes? Done.”) not all bags are created equal, and there’s plenty we can say about them. This bag especially is worthy of commentary for the way it effectively eliminates many of the annoyances present in other bags I’ve used.
The Vinta S-series is made of a poly fabric; not leather or waxed canvas, which are heavy materials that I personally detest in a camera bag. The result of this smart material selection is that the Vinta bag is lightweight. At just 2.2 lbs, it weighs about the same as my Sony a7II with attached Leica Summicron-R. Compare this to the Ona leather backpack at 4.4 lbs (and nearly double the price), and you’ll see why I prefer Vinta’s pack. This difference of just 2.2 lbs shouldn’t be dismissed; when we’re carrying a bag for six, sometimes eight hours straight, the elimination of every possible ounce takes on supreme importance. In my recent travels, I’d packed 16 lbs of cameras and gear. Carry that for half a day and you’ll understand why having the lightest bag possible is so crucial.
This lighter material also happens to be weather-proof, which is a necessity in a good camera bag. It won’t withstand total submergence of course, but it’ll fend off rain, splashes, and spitting camels well enough to keep your DSLR from becoming a short-circuited paperweight.
The bag also tops competing messenger bags in that it’s large enough for nearly any photographer’s needs, with approximate dimensions of 16″ x 12″ x 6″. For reference, I packed a MacBook Pro, Nikon Nikonos with lens, Contax G2 with lens, Sony a7, Leica Summicron R, Contax T, ten rolls of film, and various accessories, batteries, and chargers at the bag’s most overloaded moments. If you’re carrying more than this, you may be better off reading a review of the latest Land Rovers.
Padding is really excellent, and should do well to protect your gear. The bottom pad is especially heavy and dense, as is the larger, segmented padding on the back of the bag. The internal compartment can be partitioned into totally separate segments or left as one or two large compartments, depending on how you choose to arrange the adjustable dividers. All interior surfaces (aside from the velcro adjustment points) are made of foam panels wrapped in a scratch-proof material similar to many bags on the market.
There’s a secondary field pack that slots into the top of the bag, accessible through the top flap as well as the larger back flap through which all other compartments are accessed. There’s a side pocket on each side, a pocket under the top flap, a large space for a laptop (up to 15″), and two front pouches (one with numerous accessory holders – more on these later). Long story short; there are plenty of pouches.
Clasps and latches and zippers feel strong and durable, and stitching feels robust and well-designed. With the bag far too overloaded, it dangled for hours from the handle of a baggage cart. The handle took the strain with ease, and when removed after an overnight hanging, snapped back to its original curve with nary a sign of the stress it had endured.
There’s also an interesting accessory strap system that fits to the bottom of the bag. These can be used to hold a tripod, sleeping bag, or rolled blanket. They work well and look great, matching the leather and metal accents found elsewhere on the bag, though at an additional cost, some shoppers will surely pass.
The shoulder straps are nicely contoured to provide the best fit possible in a one-size-fits-all-bodies application. They’re naturally adjustable to length, padded, and made wide in order to disperse as much weight as possible. There’s a handle on the top, magnetic clips on the front, and breathable padded material on the back to allow airflow between the pack and a hot, sweaty back. Thankfully, this last feature works great; the bag breathes and does well to keep things as cool as possible, even in 95-degree heat.
All this said, the Vinta S is not a perfect bag. While its wide straps do well to distribute weight evenly when carrying a load, as mentioned, when packed to absolute maximum capacity we start to see where things could be improved. For one, a strap connecting the shoulder straps, as seen on many hiking bags, would do well to ease the strain on shoulders when overloaded with weight. This dangling strap would surely hurt the concise aesthetic when not in use, but I’m sure something could’ve been devised to satisfy concerns of both form and function.
The front and side pockets aren’t large enough to be entirely useful, being suitable for narrow accessories and smaller objects only. In the case of the side pockets, these don’t allow storage of anything much larger than a pack of playing cards, and some pens, notepads, and perhaps a couple packs of Polaroid film are all we’ll be cramming into the front pouch. This design choice does justice to the aesthetics of the bag, for sure, but we see functionality and comfort suffer for it. Were these pouches to benefit from accordion style folding sides they’d be uglier, but more conducive to stowing. As it is, expect to carry only your smallest accessories outside of the bag’s main compartment.
And finally, some people will balk at the price. At $249, is sticker shock justified? Having spent time with plenty of bags that frustrated me with clumsy functionality, and still more that simply looked terrible, I don’t think so. The Vinta bag is priced lower than less practical bags and priced higher than aesthetically repulsive bags from other companies. There are even camera bags that both look and function worse, but still demand a higher price!
The Vinta S-series combines form and function in a way that, to me, is really valuable. It’s the bag I keep packing with gear, even though I’ve got seven other options hanging (or piled) in the hall closet. It’s quickly become the only bag I need, and I can’t think of any reason why this would change.
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[This review was written based on gear supplied by the manufacturer.]