Today Im reviewing the Crumpler Flaked Extravaganza, part of a new pro range from the Melbourne based bag company. This is my first bag review, so feedback is welcome. I make 90% of my income directly from photography, so consider this a practical 'real world' review... and a bit of a DISCLAIMER: I work for the company too, part time, so just letting you know. But if I find something I hate, I'll tell you straight up. No bullshit here.
Until recently I used a Lowepro Vertex 200AW for jobs where I needed pretty much everything, which I still own. It is a great bag. However, carrying 15kg or more of camera gear on your back (when you're not walking up a mountain or traversing a glacier) is not a very good idea 5+ days a week. Especially around airports, in and out of cars and so on. Also, I don't traverse glaciers 5+ days a week.
So I started looking for rollers, and there were a few options. Think Tank Photo and Lowepro both make good rollers of different sizes, and space for a 15" mac or similar. Almost as soon as I started looking, Crumpler brought out the new Extravaganza range of pro photo bags. I took it as a sign.
Initially, I was doubtful. It looked lovely on the outside - really, this bag has an 'attractive-yet-no-frills' look that Crumpler does quite well. But inside - THIN padding, UNEVEN bottoms. The specific way the padding must be configured. It all felt a bit gimmicky.
But I threw caution to the wind, and thought to just give it a shot.
Lets start with how much I can fit in the thing:
Two Pro size bodies. Pictured is 2x D700's with MD-10's
70-200/2.8 (under the speedlight on the right)
3xSB900 Speedlights (the other two on the left, one on top of the other)
Cables, Macbook Charger (in the top, not all pictured but it fits)
And let's look at the front compartment:
Pretty much all the things that you would put in a place like this. 15" Macbook Pro, memory cards, cables, a Kensington lock, notepads, filters, pens etc. For the size of bag I find this really impressive.
The key here I think is the thickness of the bag. Whilst it shares a front profile with a 17" laptop briefcase or something like that, top-down the bag is very deep. The 70-200 is lying down, and I can lie a speedlight on top of it (in its own bag so as not to scratch the lens body), or a few tshirts, spare socks... whatever.
The front has a pair of straps for a tripod (i've removed these), but I think a compact lightstand is a far better fit and more practical for my work. I've been using it with a Manfrotto 5001b stand and it's great. Tripods suitable for the larger cameras/lenses in this bag do not go well in these straps - they fit fine, but they extend out far beyond the edges of the bag and make it unwieldy. Great idea, but perhaps an afterthought for the pro user who needs a larger tripod.
Ok, so, it fits all of the things. So what, big deal. Is it safe?
Yes. The padding that I initially thought way too thin to do the job well has turned out to be very protective of the gear. It IS thin, but what do you get when you trim the fat inside a bag? MORE SPACE. Makes sense. The material is actually quite sturdy and pretty much stops the gear moving at all, if you have it configured well for your setup. It's a really neat design that has quite a lot of cushioning and enough give that gear doesn't bash against it.
I have used the bag for about 6 months now and I am confident nothing has been damaged. I've flown with it twice in that time, I 'got away with it' for carry on (the weight is the issue, not the size), used it on countless shoots around town and really beat the crap out of it. Still looks great. You may notice that I've added some suspicious lowepro looking grey padding to the bag in a couple of parts... this is not because the supplied padding is bad, I just wanted to minimise movement as much as possible. Supplying more small and medium dividers would help, and for the tinkering pro I say this is where the bag needs improvement.
Now, what about this uneven base business? Well, you all know how a suitcase works with the retractable handle and all that. By containing that inside the bag, Crumpler have arguably made this more durable and less susceptible to being smashed if the bag falls over on a hard surface. What it does mean is the camera compartment has an uneven bottom and this seems initially to be a problem for placing stuff. As you can see in the photos, I found a way. I don't think its a major problem and it may even help out in some instances - there is no 'one' shape for any cameral or lens. As I said before, it works well to minimize the outer profile.
A couple of extra things to finish off: the shoulder strap is handy for quick carrying up stairs and the like, but with such a heavy load it's only for a short distance. For everything else, the wheels (the whole point of this bag!) are smooth and never jam, except for one time when I was on one of those stupid small pebble driveways... easy fix though.
Overall, this bag does fantastic job of keeping a fair bit of gear safe whilst on a job. I use it nearly every day for weddings, portrait shoots, whatever. It gets thrown in and out of cars, dragged along footpaths, jumping curbs... if you like Crumpler stuff and you need a roller, just buy this bag.
*Morgan Roberts is a Brisbane Based Wedding Photographer and a member of the AIPP & ALC and of course from the humble beginnings of West End Camera Club.