Review of Lowepro ProTactic 450AW - 9 months in
Welcome to my first blog! Thanks for stopping by and getting this far at least ;).
I know some people are not a fan of waffling, and as my friends will tell you, I'm a bit of an expert in that area, so I'll get straight to it.
why I am writing about this product?
Simply put there are many reviews that focus on the bags as new, but not many for long term uses, like they do in many car magazines.
Hopefully combined with the initial bag reviews of which there are many good ones (I’ve provided a link to the ones I like at the end of this review for those who are interested), I wanted to add, what it’s like in longer term use. Because let’s face it, you can’t easily take a bag back after 6 months or more of use. Hopefully my experience with the bag will prove insightful and either help you make a purchase (on this or something else) or help you formalise what you need to make an informed decision on something that costs a lot of money and should last you a long time.
Why did I buy this bag?
In short, I bought this bag because I needed something to carry a 15" laptop and extensive camera kit comfortably.
Now for the long version:
I also wanted a bag with the following attributes:
Fast access from multiple openings
big zippers that can be operated with gloves on
a bag that could take multiple DSLRs bodies & accessories for shooting weddings & portraits
something that could be opened without putting it on the floor
easily configurable internally
bonus feature - can attach multiple things to the outside of the bag.
For those who don't want to read my blow by blow account below, I'll first start by saying after 9+ months of regular use, the Lowepro ProTactic 450 AW is a great bag! Secondly it's not for everyone, so please make a shortlist of your requirements first before buying, thirdly what works for me might not work for you so please bear this in mind when you read this or any review to be honest.
So you can get to what’s important to you out of the review, I’ve split it into multiple sections:
What I use it for
How I use it
The not so good
My definition of a review of Lowepro ProTactic 450 AW - 9 months in, is I own and have used this bag on regular basis (weekly, sometimes daily use).
I always look for quality and professional grade products to protect my camera gear, and based on the price this bag is clearly aimed at professional, and keen amateur photographers. I searched for this bag because I wanted one bag to protect and transport my camera equipment for multiple uses like, weddings, walking, portraiture, architecture, landscape and travelling.
What I use it for
I have a few camera bags, but this is the one I use the most. I use this bag for weddings, walking, architecture, and landscape photography. I also wanted it as a walk around day bag, when I wanted to take my camera with me. As I've mentioned before one of my primary requirements, was a bag that could carry a laptop and full-sized D-SLR and tripod.
How I use it
So how does the bag perform during use? In a word, great, once you’ve configured it for your use at each access point. I have a couple configurations depending on the use, but as shown in the Figure 2, I always like to strap my tripod to one side, so I can easily swing the bag round to the front, off one shoulder to access my camera from one of the side pockets. I know what you’re thinking – doesn’t that unbalance the bag on long walks? Yes, it might, but this configuration works with my kit. My Canon 5D MkIII with 24-70mm f2.8L II lens sits on the opposite side of the bag, so whilst on my back it feels well balanced. When I require my camera I pull it out of the side-pocket, using my attached hand strap for quick use.
However as good as this bag is at strapping virtually anything to the outside, the downside is the lack of external pockets. Yes it has two super small ones at the top of the bag on each side, but they could do with being larger and deeper. It’s not a major issue for me as it’s large enough to hold my Hahnel Giga T Pro II trigger and wireless remote control. In the other pocket, I have a small lens cloth tethered to the internal hook, and a pair of (1 SD & 1 CF) memory cards.
With my camera in the side pocket, what do I keep in the top loader section? Short answer – it depends. If I’m on a wedding shoot, I use the large area to house a backup Canon 5D MKIII, as shown in Figure 2 and the zipped pocket to house small items, that I might need quick access to. For example my backup rechargeable batteries, spare camera battery, head torch, pen, small pad, and even more memory cards, as you can’t have too many right? There is a small elasticated pocket designed for memory cards, but I find this to be a bit of pain to use with anything other than SD cards as once again it is quite small.
Additionally I have never used the top loader for my camera, for fast access I use shorter lenses when it's in the bag without putting it down. Figure 2 shows how I configure my bag for most weddings. Once again I sling it off one shoulder round to the front and access it via the side (equally off any shoulder, so it doesn't matter if you're a righty of lefty) as that works best for me. It also depends on my photography application. During a wedding, I use it purely as a transporter of my equipment, as I like to have my camera ready to shoot continuously, attached to my Black rapid sports strap, with a backup 5D MarkIII in the bag.
Okay what about using it for walking/hiking? My previous (and backup bag) a Lowepro Flipside 400 AW, handled this stage with aplomb, a few years ago whilst walking in Tuscany, Italy, so I had a good benchmark of what to expect. Well I wasn’t disappointed as this is where the ProTactic 450W came into it’s own. It provided easy access without having to put the bag down on unstable or muddy ground, using the swinging off one shoulder technique, as mentioned earlier. The straps on ProTactic are much thinner than those on the Flipside, so I was more than a little wary to say the least. However I needn’t worry, the straps are extremely well made and Lowepro packs a lot of technology into them. As a bonus, putting the backpack on is also made easier by the increased flexibility of the straps, so when fully loaded, this definitely helps IMHO. However to improve it further I’d like to see adjustable top shoulder straps (or load lifter straps, as they are properly called). I should also mention at this point that the bag has a removable velcro waist belt, that provides great support when heavy loaded, but it can easily be removed if you want to use it as a regular day bag. This is another feature that really sets this bag apart for me, as it's only one of a limited number of camera bags that can be completely reconfigured to carry anything, whilst retaining fast access points. I use mine regularly for walking to carry extra clothes and waterproof trousers, as I show in Figure 3 unpacked, and Figure 4 packed respectively.
I should also mention at this point that the bag has a removable velcro waist belt, that provides greater support when heavily loaded, but it can easily be removed if you want to use it as a regular day bag. For this trip I had a lightweight fleece, sandwiches, drink, and a few snacks to keep me going, as shown in Figure 5 below.
So with a few friends we walked up the second largest hill at the Cheviots, Hedgehill, and covered approximately 15 miles. With the substantial amount of rain days beforehand, the ground was particular muddy and boggy, so it was heavy walking in places, with a lot of lateral foot movement. I’m telling you this, so you can build a picture of how difficult underfoot it was. Thankfully I can report that I felt no aches of pains, where the bag was concerned anyway. Also this is where the bag comes into it’s own, as you definitely don’t want to put it down in most places on a walk like this. Obviously for a day’s walking you have to carry some refreshments, so with the many configurable internal compartments, this bag easily stored my sandwiches and snacks, with water bottle strapped to the front as shown in the picture. I stored the sandwiches in the Top loader section, which has a hard top exterior, so it was perfect at protecting my soft lunch. When I use the bag to purely carry my laptop and other IT accessories (mouse, portable drive, etc.,) the bag doesn’t really provide on the go access to my macbook, once again, that’s ok as I barely use it without putting my bag down first anyway. As always this will always be a trade off, for security v convenience, and I choose security in this instance. Also the laptop pocket isn’t suitable for anything other than a slim laptop, like my MacBook Pro 15". The internal pockets as shown in Figure 4, are also quite miserly, so double check yours will fit your accessories and laptop, if you have an oversized battery like I do on one of my other laptops.
As mentioned if you needed fast access to the top you're not going to get it, because you have to put the bag down first. The molle loops on the front of the bag are superbly stitched and ideal for anything you’d like to bolt onto the outside of the bag. However some of the molle loops at the side of the bags could be larger. Also I hope Lowepro produce more SF (street & field) type accessories to use with this design.
I do look after my equipment, and the bag still looks great, and the stitching is still fully intact and definitely designed for heavy use. The zippers all still work well, and due to the large loops you can easily use them with large padded gloves in cold, wet and windy conditions.
The not so good
Ok, nothing is perfect so let me tell you about what I didn’t like whilst using it on a regular basis. If you’re jumped to this section, let me just restate, the Lowepro ProTactic 450 AW is an excellent bag, and I more than highly recommend it. Ok on to the issues:
1. When used for weddings, you might struggle to easily get the camera out of one of the side pockets. From the top loader section a Nikon DS4S/Canon 1DX sized DSLR fits perfectly, but it also depends on the length of lens used. I have used it multiple times with a Canon 5D MkIII with battery grip and 70-200mm f2.8L II attached and it's just ok.
2. The pockets on the outside of the bag are way too small, it’s only usable for small items as detailed above. I’ve made the configuration work for me, but it’s not ideal. Funnily enough I think Lowepro have noticed this and addressed it slightly by putting a front pocket on the newer (but smaller) ProTactic BP 250 AW bag.
3. UPDATE 14/02/19: Lowepro listens! I can’t claim it was because of my comment though. Protatic Quick Straps are now available on the official website click here to purchase.
Lack of molle accessories from Lowepro is a bit disappointing. I have searched in vain to obtain more clinch straps, as they are a brilliant way to attach multiple things to the outside of the bag. Unfortunately Lowepro don’t sell this item separately, so I have to use the only ones provided for my tripod. Lowepro if you’re reading, please make this item available to buy. One of the greatest assesses of the bag is let down by the lack of the supporting accessories.
4. The water bottle holder isn't great - I lost my water bottle on another walk, after this one, not the greatest loss in the world as it wasn't expensive, but that's not the point! Luckily it was towards the end of our walk, so I had no great need for it. I lost it swinging the bag off one shoulder to gain access to my camera, so next time I'll attach my new bottle to one of the molle loops using a carabiner.
This a bag for all seasons (it has rain cover built in, but I’ve not required it's use yet, as the bag itself is showerproof) and it should definitely be on your “to be considered list”.
If you’d like to read more about the bag, these are the website where I found useful reviews:
Bag on official Lowepro website (link update for new version of the bag - 450 AW II):
Best initial review of the bag IMHO:
Best YouTube video:
This review is for the smaller ProTactic 350 AW, but most of it still applies:
Compact review for those who aren't interested in the details: