That handsome looking bag pictured above the is the Lowepro Classified Sling 180 AW. It is, as the name implies, a sling style bag (ie, you wear it like a backpack but then swing it around so the bag is on your belly to work with the gear, then sling it back out of the way.) The Classified series is Lowepro's answer to ThinkTank's Urban Disguise series, and is meant to fill a market for photographers who need high quality, roomy bags that don't look like the stereotypical camera bag or have clearly visible logos (logos being, apparently, what makes crooks think "Man, I should steal that.") To that end, the Classified Sling 180 AW maintains a narrow, nondescript profile, with the logo subtly pressed into some classy leather accents. The AW means "All Weather," and like many of Lowepro's bags this sucker has an integrated seam-sealed rain cover you can pull out to keep your precious gear dry even if caught unawares.
I've been trying one of these out for a couple weeks so I could get you some thoughts on it. I've used only shoulder bags since I got into this field, so I wanted to give this new and increasingly popular form factor a go. I went with the 180 over its larger brother, the 220, because I like to keep my bag down as tight as possible because I tend to bike around with these, and the smaller the bag the better. I also started with it with a more compact system (Olympus E-3), and am ending with a much chunkier kit (Nikon D700). So, what do I think? Well, let's get to that.
Outside the press shots, this is the bag itself. Nothing to complain about here. It's compact (and should be airplane carry-on compatible, though with ever changing regulations and providers, check first), and the material and construction are good. It's not as flamboyant as my old Crumpler, but that's the "Classified" for you. The exterior is high quality nylon, with the softer, brushed stuff inside. No surprises there. The main strap is padded for daily wear, and the two parts of the strap are sewn directly into the bag, no worrying about D-rings here. There're lots of zippers across the bag, and each one has two zipper pulls for the same stretch, and they all have large, leather pull tabs on them for easy grabbing.
And some shots of the sides.
The main strap has a buckle in the middle so you can take it off quickly (really useful for slinging the bag off into a passenger seat) which is fitted with a heavy-duty plastic snap buckle. I've been carrying some pretty hefty gear around in this without any issue, so I feel pretty safe with it, but the usual concerns about plastic snap buckles and fatigue and sensitivity to cold apply here. Though, this sucker's huge, and I find it unlikely it'll have issues. Just in case, for extended transport I recommend using the smaller stabilizing strap which I'll show later.
One last thing to point out on the outside is the "back" of the bag. That is, the part that's be resting against your own back. In this case, it's nicely padded with a soft, breathable mesh with a neat, stylish arrow stamped into it (indicating, roughly, the direction of rotation for the bag. Nice.
OK. Let's get to poking around inside this thing. On one of the sides of the bag, which rotates around to become the top when you sling it around, you'll find the main zippered compartment.
Now, because this panel is technically on the side when on your back, Lowepro's considerately added a small buckle near the bottom of it that acts as a safety measure in case anything happens to the zippers. A nice touch, I think. Just a quick pinch to release that and you can unzip the main section and lift the lid up (which lifts out away from you when in the front, belly position. Another nicety.)
Not too bad. That's my D700 sitting there with a 24-70mm f2.8 attached. With the hood reversed. If you've handled that gear, you know it isn't small. If you haven't, know that it's huge gear. The D700 is about as big as a single grip body gets, and the hood on the 24-70mm measures 5.25" in diameter. Off to the side, looking downright diminutive, is the 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 VR, also with its hood reversed. There's a nice space off to the right for me to get my hand in and around the grip to pull the camera out, and other than the viewfinder prism being a bit tall, it's really painless getting the camera out. Up above, you can see the card holders inside the lid, with Lowepro's new-ish card state indicator flaps. If you haven't used these, there are two flaps, one with an empty card, and one with a filled one. You just flip the appropriate one onto the top and then can tell quickly which cards are spent and which are still fresh.
Behind the card holders is a thin, zippered compartment that just begs for cables, but will fit body and rear caps and the like. Mind though, the bulkier the item you put in there, the harder it'll be to swap cards out and the more likely it'll be for your prism to catch on the lid. You've been warned.
Off to the left of the main compartment is a little tab that's easy to over-look that lets you have quick access into the etcetera storage compartment at the tip of the bag. There's also a thin slip-pocket built into that divider wall that's easier to access from here than from the compartment's own zippered entry. Also, the top compartment is walled off by a moveable padded divider, so you can tweak just how much space you want up there.
The other way into this compartment is from the outside, behind another double-pulled zipper. In general, the space will hold a surprising amount of odds-and-ends, and has two pen slots and flapped compartment probably intended for a cellphone, though with my flat slate-style phone I prefer the easier access of that slip pocket on the other side. The inside of this lid has a stretchy pocket with a small velcro tab seal, and a small lanyard with a plastic clip.
Now, back to the main compartment real quick. It's got a selection of movable dividers, as you'd expect, so you can customize it a fair deal for your gear. Some nice details, though, are the curved, soft-nylon padded bumpers on the dividers designed to support the camera's weight, the segmented sub-dividers which let them wrap around curved equipment without coming undone, and the easy to find bright orange pull tabs on the liftable sections. In addition to the D700, 24-70, and 70-300mm I have room in my bag for another medium sized lens, the caps, a filter, the charger block, and my Skyport trigger. I tried, and the bag just barely won't fit an SB-900 in alongside the D700, but I'm shoving a large body into the smaller bag, such a compromise is acceptable. The larger 220 size would probably handle the additional flash easily.
If you do run out of space, you're not completely out of options. On the main strap there's a reinforced loop to add any of Lowepros sliplock modular bags, of which there are many and which'll give you a quick way to carry one extra sizey piece of gear. The only downside to this solution is the lock sits pretty high on the shoulder, so the added pouch sits a bit weirdly. If you happen to walk around with a pet crow, you'll probably be right at home, but otherwise get used to an unexpected black object brushing against your face if you turn around.
OK, while we're on the outside of the bag, a few more features. There's a small stabilizing strap that tucks away inside the bag when you aren't using it, and which goes across your ribs and snaps in with another plastic buckle when you are.
There's also a small pad on the bottom of the main strap, which serves as a convenient handle to grab when slinging the bag, and becomes your shoulder pad while the bag is in its slung position. It's not as effective as the sewn-in padding of the main strap, but then again, you aren't supposed to be in the slung position for long. It's still another of those nice touches.
On the side opposite the main compartment is a nylon strap with buckle which is designed to hold your tripod with the help of a heavy nylon pouch (which also tucks away when not in use.) You stick on foot in the pouch, then secure the center column with the strap. Needless to say, be discriminating in your tripod choice, as bigger and heavier will really mess with your balance and start killing your shoulder.
There's also that AW bit, the seam-sealed rain cover, which tucks away in the bottom and is tethered to the bag so you don't lose it. Pulling it on is quick and you can see it adequately covers all the zippers. It also has a pretty subtly printed Lowepro logo. Lowepro and ThinkTank are the only guys regularly including these, so, it's still something of a nice luxury above and beyond the usual. And an appreciated one.
Now, last feature is the laptop pouch. This is the fun bit. The specs says it only supports smaller netbooks, but, if you have one of the newer 13" uniobdy Macbook or Macbook Pros, they'll just fit. And, since the snug dimensions are height and width, not depth, you have enough space left on top for some documents. Or a Kindle in a Domke wrap.
And that's about it. It's a nice bag, and I've come to like it more and more in the time I've been using it. It's become my primary bag, actually. It has a few cons, most notably that it's not exactly easy on the shoulder (although if you skip the laptop it's a lot more comfy, I think the fact that the laptop's on the outside give it extra leverage and makes it feel heavier than it is.) I think that's true of all slings, though, and if long-wear comfort is a concern look towards a backpack. For shorter durations, the sling works fine, and you can't beat the convenience.
Other notes: The top cavity gets a bit cluttered. Gear can be a bit sung to fit. That said, it fits more gear than I expected it to. It's really pretty trim, and it has lots of well planned features and handles. There's always a handle at hand just where I want it to be. I like that. I've biked with it both on my back and on the rack, and nothing's sustained any damage. It's solid.
And, with that, I leave you with a shot of what I can easily carry in this bag. With a little work and some snugness, you might be able to fit more. And remember, this is the small one.