FYI: Peak Design did NOT supply this bag to me gratis, I bought it from Amazon with my own hard earned money. Peak Design have not financially contributed to this website or to me. or paid or even asked me nicely to write this review. Peak Design did NOT supply the Capture Clip gratis either, I bought that from Jessops, again with my very hard earned money. Therefore, the opinions contained in this review are unbiased and not commercially influenced. This is my opinion on something I spent good money on. Which might make a refreshing change…
Like many people, in fact like most photographers, I have searched for the perfect bag and concluded there is no such thing. This is because there are too many factors to take into consideration; amount of gear, where you are shooting, your physical stature and prowess (or how you carry how much gear), and how readily you like to access the gear in the various situations. Additionally, we are individuals in our tastes, and what works for me may not work for you, or may work differently, or better.
With that in mind, and also because almost all the reviews I read were a. by men, and b. from guys who got their bag free or from the Crowdfunded thing, I was cautious about spending what is a significant amount of money on a bag. And, the Peak Design messenger is most definitely NOT cheap.
The first problem that I had was actually which one to order. The Peak Design Messenger comes in two models now, the 15 and the 13. The 15 takes a 15inch laptop and the 13 takes a 13 inch laptop. Given I carry a Macbook Air 11″ this wasn’t going to cause me any issues or make the decision for me. The 15 will obviously be bigger, but that means you can put more in it, which is good when you’re not talking equipment, and bad when you are. A fully loaded camera bag is a very heavy camera bag. Of course, it would mean I could take more non-photographic things in the bag. It also has one extra divider, which appealed. But I am only 5′ 3″ tall and a UK size 12. So I am not a big heafty six foot bloke, which is who Manfrotto, and most others, actually seem to design their equipment for. Wait until you see my review of their rucksacks…
I therefor decided to read many reviews, and came on this video on YouTube
I also contacted the supplier Jack the Hat Photographic, who were the actual supplier even though the order was ‘fulfilled’ by Amazon (whatever that actually means). I was interested by the response; the seller personally used the 15 version himself, and said he was 6ft 4″ and felt sometimes it was a bit too big.
That was the clincher. I was going to order the 13 and hope it was big enough. I think they do themselves a mis-service by emphasising that this is for mirrorless kits in a lot of promotional materials and reviews. I was then concerned I wouldn’t get my kit in, so would I? Jack the Hat said yes, no problem.
It arrived the next day, in a bag, in a box, and prompted one friend to comment that it looked like I was going to have a BBQ. The bag does look like that and of course it actually says ‘charcoal’ on it because I ordered the charcoal colour option.
I opened the mail bag quite easily (I have watched some YouTube clips where this isn’t the case and all I can say is read the directions…) and my initial reaction was delight. It was lighter than I expected, a really good size, and oozed quality. I also like the colour. My wardrobe is largely black, or involves jeans. This goes well.
I was a little unsure about the back of the bag though. It is not made of the same waterproofing treated material as the rest of the bag, which probably makes it nicer to carry against you, but therefore may not be as water resistant? In Scotland, water resistance really matters! I thought it was funny the bag tag as a photo of a woman on it, are they really suggesting his and hers? 15 for the lads and 13 for the lasses? Honestly? Mind you, it is nice to see a woman on ANY marketing material involving photography beyond a selfie stick!
I was very happy to find a double pouch at the rear for the laptop, and that my Macbook Air 11″ fits in the laptop space easily, with the added bonus that it actually fits in the slightly smaller “tablet” section too. This means I can put it in there when I want to carry A4 magazines or paperwork in the laptop section. One thing I hate is having my magazine next to my Macbook as I have cleaned off enough print from it to last a lifetime. For some reason it seems to attract print, the Macbook that is.
The zips are rubberised and water repellent, and these look like they will do the trick until they wear in a fair bit. We will see in time how effective they are.
The trademarked aluminium ladder and magnetic clasp seems to have a love/hate relationship with people. I have to say that I love it. It works beautifully and looks good. It also feels nice and well made, BUT, I am concerned with the internal magnetic strip and how it presses against the fabric at the bottom. I can see this wearing through and only time will tell on that.
Opening the bag presents you with the full ladder.
As you can see, empty or with minimum contents the bag is very neat. This is a bonus as many camera bags stick out to the side quite a lot. The swivel on the strap works well and I think will actually get better with use as it will become a bit less stiff. The side pockets get a lot of negative comments. but I like them. They are perfect for business cards and keys (using the clip provided) but they also work really well as a repository for the lens cap or filter whilst shooting. I think this is what they were designed for, the lens cap or something else you might otherwise shove in a jeans pocket whilst shooting. No more pocket fluff on my lens cap – yippee!
Peak Design include one of their tag things, and I have two spare from my wrist strap I don’t use. I purchased that for use with a mirrorless camera but my Nikon is too big and heavy, so it’s now defunct. In fact, I might put it onto the shoulder strap as a belt and braces approach to using my camera with the Capture clip.
As you can see, the side pockets also feature a strap for fitting a Peak Design Capture Pro clip system. I bought one of these a couple of weeks ago and it is one of the best things I can ever spent £60 on. (There will be a review on the Capture Pro coming soon).
To confirm which size you did buy, the label is inside on the long pocket. In the long pocket is the band for the tripod which I will show you in use at the end of the review. As you can see, the material is very high quality and the stitching is generally very good. I understand from the web there were some quality assurance issues with the 15 but they seem to have got it right on my one.
This bag oozes quality and although it doesn’t seem well padded, the protection system actually gives me more confidence than bouncy spongy pads does. It is also much easier to use, although the folding dividers are rather hard to fold at first, but you get the hang of it.
They also use very minimal velcro, which I have to say is a huge great improvement on most bags. No more tugging at the things and scratching your hands trying to place them. These are brilliant. But, I did find that if you fold them right down into half the top section is longer than the bottom bit and renders the velcro at the bottom useless as it won’t reach the bag bottom any longer. I think that might get improved in later designs. I love the stacking fold idea though, no more sideways velcro flaps to annoy.
Initially I placed my camera to the left side, or the front as I wear it, but this meant I couldn’t get the camera out of the zip top, only out by opening the flap. It took me a week to realise this could easily be remedied by putting it in the centre and if you have a smaller kit, or a mirrorless camera, I doubt it would be a problem. To give you an idea of fit in this photo, that is a Nikon D7100 with a Nikon 18-300 f3.5-5.6 fitted and with its lens hood in place (not reversed). That is my largest and heaviest combination, and the one I use most often. The 18-300 f3.5-5.6 is a beast, but around the same size as a Nikon 24-70 f2.8, so I would say if you have a D800 and the holy trinity, you will be ok. You won’t fit the body and 70-200 f2.8 in in this position, but you would get it in sideways. You could stack in on the two smaller lenses fitted sideways under the folded dividers, I think. I don’t have this combo to try, but I used to when I was shooting weddings.
Anyway, it is now moved to the middle for shoots, but back to the side when I carry it “just in case” with other non-photo stuff. Even in the middle, I can still get my Marmot Precip rolled up to one side and my lunch on the other! This is not a small bag. But messenger bags look silly if they’re too small as they really become shoulder bags. This is a Messenger bag and should be viewed in that context. It’s a damned stylish one too.
The phone pocket is great and takes an iPhone 6s no problem. I think you would even get a iPhone 6Plus in there or something of similar size. It is just the right size and stiffness to give confidence and security that your phone is protected and easy to get to. I really do get the feeling this bag was designed by Apple fans though, it has that sort of kudos but also that is what fits perfectly, in the phone bit and the tablet bit, and the laptop bit. There are many reviews which complain the laptop compartment doesn’t fit a PC laptop of 15/13 inches as specified and I think Peak Design have tweaked the specification measurements to reflect his. But think about it, PC laptops can vary a huge amount even though they spec up as 15inch or whatever. This is because they come from different makers. Apple make apple and nobody else does. The spec stays put, a 15inch Macbook Pro was the design point I’m guessing for the 15 model, and the 13inch Macbook Pro was the design point for the 13 model. If you have an Air, you’ll have more room, as I do. If you have a PC…well, then you probably need to find one in a shop and try it.
I do like that you can get to your phone, and your camera, using the zip in the lid which I really only appreciated fully today when it was starting to rain. Not having to fight with a flap is always a good way of speeding things up. But you do need to watch the position of the larger items of equipment to make full use of this, as I said previously.
The Peak Design strap is great. The thin, but dense, padding works better than anything else I have tried, a few rucksack designers would do well to look at this stuff. The three points for positioning the strap length are confusing at first but I have found I like it in the shortest messenger position, so I just leave it on the short one for everything, and adjust the sliding adjustment when I need to change the length. I think this is really the idea and it works even on my short 5ft 3″ frame! This is very unusual. Most bags don’t work and I have to cut and burn straps to make them short enough not to beat the crap out of my back, or legs, at the first breath of wind (Manfrotto I am talking to you here).
Messenger bags do not do much for your boobs though! No matter what I do, the strap does strange things to my boobs. It’s ok in a jacket, which smooths everything out, but in a t-shirt I look deformed. It is comfortable, but not flattering. A cross your heart bra gone wrong, if you like. I did get some stares…but I am quite used to getting stared at as I have tattoos, and lots of them. I also had pink hair at the time which wouldn’t have helped.
I highly recommend watching Peak Design’s own hints and tips video from their chief designer before tackling the strap. Believe me, you will miss the trick if you don’t!
The front pocket is colour coded for used and un-used batteries and media. To be honest I think this is a reasonable, but largely pointless, idea. If you think about it, it means you only ever use half the pockets at a time. I also carry my cards in a case and just flip them over if they’re full and I only tend to carry one spare battery as the D7100 gives me 700 shots per charge anyway and thats 1400 in a day. When I shot weddings that would have been enough, and I am way more economical when I am not shooting people.
The stretch pockets are nice though and as you can see, I have filters, pens, batteries and all the little odds and sods in there.
The final ingenious idea is the tripod carry: Of course, this immediately alerts people to the fact you’re carrying photographic equipment, but it works a treat. The bag doesn’t look photography related otherwise and that made it a joy to carry. I felt safer walking around with my kit that I ever have with my Lowepro/Manfrotto/Billingham bags. It doesn’t shout EXPENSIVE CAMERA GEAR MUG ME!! Which, from my personal and female perspective, is reassuring.
I do feel vulnerable, although I try to look like I can handle myself (hell I have shaved hair and tattoos for gods sake). Walk with confidence and you get less attention, this is true, but don’t tempt people with invites like Billingham or labelled bags by Canon and Nikon etc either. It is really just common sense not to advertise you’re worth mugging.
I find that over the last ten years carrying a Billingham just screams steal me. This is because everyone now knows what it is. Perhaps in another ten years Peak Design will suffer the same fate. See my Billingham Hadley review for more comments on this.
Back to the tripod carry – you slot one leg through the lid’s special tripod leg slot and then tie them together at the bottom of leg end with the supplied rubber band. You can have the remaining legs inside or outside of the bag as you choose and have room for. I did find that using the BeFree in its shortest folded configuration where you turn the head inside the legs, and not having it sticking all the way through, I could actually get the whole thing hidden inside but still have the my camera back protected from being hit by the tripod.
This is really functional, and the band lives in the long pocket inside the lid (which is also just the right size for putting your sunnies in it). These guys obviously come from sunnies wearing parts of the US. You really can see how much thought went into each section and design element. There is no design for the sake of it, it is all functional, but it also looks good and this is hard to achieve. Nice one Peak Design!
I actually had to extend the legs of my Manfrotto BeFree tripod as they weren’t long enough to stick through the bags slot and produce the image as shown. This also shows the 13 is not a small bag by any means. I have yet to fill it and I have yet to get it past the second from bottom ladder rung on the clasp. I don’t actually think I would want to carry it completely filled with camera equipment, it would be too heavy. If I was going to really carry that much gear I would use a rucksack and more evening distribute the weight, that said, the messenger sits nicely into your back and the additional waist straps give you the option. I might try it, possibly. Although like many professionals and amateurs alike, reducing the amount I have to carry has been an ambition.
I have been seduced by Fuji’s system, but I returned to Nikon because I like the control layout, the choice of lenses either by them or by others, and because it works for me right now.
At the moment my messenger has comfortably held my Nikon D7100 body with a Nikon 18-300 f3.5-5.6 lens fitted, plus my Tokina 12-24, my jacket, phone, lunch, notebook, purse, and Macbook Air 11″ at the same time. And I have to say that for walking around town this is way better than my backpack because of the accessibility and speed of getting to those items, whilst securing wearing the bag. Off road, or cross country, I would still (probably) use a backpack. But for urban or tourist type travel, and city shoots, this won’t be beaten. If I go backpacking, or hiking for many days and nights, then I pair down my kit and would use a top loader bag or even just the Capture Pro and rain cover. I don’t carry any more gear than I need on this sort of trip as I also have to carry tent, sleeping bag, food and water, for days at a time and it would simply be too much.
There is the potential for my camera rucksack to go as yet. The jury is still out.
So, in conclusion; I love this bag, even though it does strange things to my boobs if I am not wearing a jacket. I love using this bag for my camera and my non-camera gear to such an extent I am selling my other bags (except my big rucksack) on eBay. I am even selling all my girly handbags! Yes, I love it so much that I am selling all my shoulder and handbags!
Now, if that doesn’t tell you what this girl thinks of the Peak Design Messenger 13 then nothing will!
UPDATE 23 October 2016
My initial impressions, and my review, were conducted using my Nikon equipment. I then changed my direction and went for the mirrorless Fuji system, which is actually closer to what the Messenger series were designed for.
But, that’s what I don’t understand – nothing fitted anymore. I now had more lenses but not enough dividers (and you still can’t obtain extras), things also rattled around in the smallest and tightest settings. I tried, I reconfigured, I tried again. Nope, not working. The other thing that was really bothering me by this point was my boobs. Well, not actually my boobs, but the fact that no Messenger bag works if you have boobs – because you can’t use the strap across the chest, or use the stabilisation straps supplied with this bag.
So, there you have it. Sold, on eBay, for £140. Another loss, another disappointment. Perhaps one day they will have female reviewers in magazines and more female shop assistants. At the moment, only Jessops, have regularly employed women in their shops and it is high time that was changed. Same with mountain equipment shops, camping shops, cycle shops, sports in general actually. Especially as buyers – if we want fashion we will go to a fashion shop, thank you, we want stuff that works, like the mens, but that fits.