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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Gura Gear Bataflae 32L Review

I recently purchased the Gura Gear Bataflae 32L camera bag and sold my Kiboko bag. I ended up never really using the Kiboko because I just didn't like the fact that I couldn't completely open it in the traditional style.  I purchased the Bataflae just prior to going on a trip to Smoky Mountains National Park and got to give it a good 'real life' workout.  Given the relatively hefty price tag for the bag, I thought I might review it in a slightly different way.  Most of the reviews out there are exceedingly positive and say little about the negatives or areas of possible improvement with the bag.......I want to give 'both sides of the coin'. Let's start with the positives:

1) It is extremely well made, no question about it....high quality craftsmanship.

2) The sailcloth it is made from seems to live up to the durability that Gura Gear claims

3) It holds a ton of camera gear.  I fully loaded mine for the trip and, even if it were bigger, I don't think my back could carry much more.

4) As most reviews state, the zippers are amazing.  Why get so excited about zippers? Zippers are often a weak point in bags, especially the internal ones (I don't think I have a single Lowepro bag where the internal zippers still work properly!).

5) Great array of flaps and pockets for smaller pieces of equipment

6) It feels comfortable when worn

7) The ability to open the entire cover like a more traditional bag is a big plus, at least for me.

But you can read all the above in an array of on-line reviews.  I am going to now talk about what I think (opinion here) are the areas that could be improved upon and that I didn't find mentioned in other reviews:

1) OK, this first comment isn't really going to be a negative, but just a statement of compromise.  The bag, to me, clearly seems less protective than the Lowepro and Tamrac bags that I have had or have.  The dividers are thinner, less rigid, and less padded, as are the sides and bottom of the bag itself.  If I had to put all my equipment in a bag and drop it onto concrete this is not the bag I would choose.  Would the equipment survive......I have no data to base it on, but my sense is that it probably would.  But, despite having no hard data, I just don't feel that the protection is as great as in the other bags I have owned.

But here is the kicker.  It is far lighter than those other bags.  I can't load up and wear those bags for very long.  So if the gear is better protected but I can't bring what I want because I can't wear the bag, then what good does it do me?  In short, I feel that Gura Gear has really hit a very nice compromise between protection and weight/usability.  If you want to carry very little gear then, by all means, get a bag built like a tank......because putting a body and two lenses in it isn't going to make it weigh very much more.  But if you are like me and would like to bring the kitchen sink if you could, then I think this bag really hits the 'sweet spot' between weight and protection....so, in retrospect, perhaps I should have listed this comment as a positive.

2) I think Gura Gear made a poor decision in increasing the depth of the bag compared to the Kiboko.  Now this is a personal opinion and may simply reflect the equipment I own, but there aren't any lenses that I can stand upright in the Bataflae that I could not already stand upright in the Kiboko.  So why make it a bigger bag, making it that much more unlikely to get on board a plane or regional jet, etc.  For example, I can not stand my Canon 180 macro or 70-200 upright in the bag.  All the other lenses that I can stand upright, I could also store in the same position as the Kiboko.

3) The top flap for smaller items that opens without giving access to the inside of the bag is very, very convenient.  But why only allow it to zip on two sides, limiting accessibility to the inside. The only reason I can think of is that the pocket, while very large, is shallow and if you opened it all the way perhaps objects it contained could spill out.  However, there are pockets within the flap to contain items and that is where I store things, not loose inside to 'jangle' around.

I think that a better design would be for the zipper to go around three sides of the flap to improve opening and access.  A compromise might have been to have it go around three sides with an expandable pocket along the short third side to keep the flap contained but able to open wider.

4) A warning:  Using a bag with side flaps as opposed to the traditional opening design takes some getting used to.  With the traditional design, if the bag is open it is clearly open.  Even if you close the cover and don't zip it up you can pretty easily tell at a glance that the bag is open.  In the side flap access method, the flap doesn't really lay open if the bag is loaded.  With there being two flaps, it is easy to look at the bag from the side of the closed flap and think both sides are zipped.

True horror story:  One day during the trip I was exhausted from the early morning sunrise shooting and, since it was bright in the afternoon, took a mid-day nap.  When the alarm woke me in a daze to get things together to go back out for the evening shooting, I put the bag on thinking it was closed....it looked closed.  In actuality, I had left one side flap unzipped in order to put a new card in the camera. I made it all through my carpeted motel room and down the stairs out to the car when out crashed my brand new Canon 24-70 f2.8 L MkII lens to the pavement.  Goodbye VERY expensive lens with the front element scratched , a noise inside when you shake it, and 'jamming' when you zoom past 5omm focal length!  So it is always good advice to make sure you are all 'zipped up'!

5) Though the sailcloth is quite tough, my gray bag developed a small yellow/orange stain after it was in use for only a few days.  I am not sure where it came from but I certainly wasn't dripping any foreign substances onto it.

In summary, I do think that this is an excellent bag for people that would like to carry around a fair amount of gear.  It is an extremely nice compromise between weight and protection.  But, as my friend Bob who went on the trip with me always says, 'everything in photography is a compromise'!  And he's right.

The above caveats notwithstanding, I do recommend highly recommend the Bataflae!