I was more than happy to learn about the new Lowepro Pro Messenger 200 AW camera bag in a Canadian landscape magazine last week. My biases when I review products lean toward a combination of functionality, aesthetics, and construction. These three aspects of soft goods make items like camera bags into functional, beautiful, and long-lasting pieces of equipment that are as fun to take out on the town as any other bag. I have not reviewed the bags in its class here, the Think Tank Retrospective 30 and the Tenba Messenger Bag Large.
Lowepro (and most other dedicated camera bag manufacturers) have been producing a similar style of black bag that looks stylistically like what we were supposed to believe was a camera bag. Their blocky styles and rather uncomfortable fit make these new, comfortable and discreet-looking messenger bags that much more appealing. In a world where photographers feel like they need more equipment to feel more adequate, these bags refreshingly remind us that less can be more. How many times have I been roaming around a developing country wishing that I didn't have fifteen black straps hanging off my camera backpack. In addition, Lowepro has done a great job in removing its symbol from the front of the bag and made a shadow symbol on the side closest to the photographer. There is a logo on the waterproof cover, but this is also discreet and of course, not seen unless the cover is on. Overall, this is a low profile bag that will not attract the attention of your $6000 kit inside.
The functionality of the Lowepro Pro Messenger 200 AW is specific for certain types of photographers or for certain types of travel. This bag is made for a body and lens (it fit my Canon 5D Mark II with long lens arranged sideways or a shorter lens vertically), and the photographer has easy access by simply opening the top flap. There is space for additional two lenses or a flash or extra bodies. There seems to be adequate room for the photojournalist who normally carries 1 - 2 bodies and minimal lenses. It is also perfect for the day use on a long trip. Say that you transfer all of your expensive equipment to Rome in a Pelican case or a larger Lowepro bag. You are probably not going to want to haul all of that out to see the Vatican, are you? Of course not. The functional and low profile Pro Messenger bags are perfect. Toss in a body and lens and maybe a small Fujifilm X100 for backup and look like a normal tourist, even though you are porting some big guns.
Construction of a camera bag should be of the highest importance, no matter what the style. I fully buy into the concept of similar companies' philosophies such as Patagonia where the long-term durability of the product is of as much importance as the style, or more so. I was very impressed by the ruggedness of the bag. Even though it is not waterproof, it appears to be more than water-resistant and has the attached waterproof fly, which is pretty awesome. It fits snugly over the entire bag and snaps together on the two sides, creating coverage over the bag. With the fly on, I wouldn't think twice about walking around in the pouring monsoon rain of southeast Asia or a snowfall in New York.
The Lowepro Pro Messenger 200 AW has some very nice features that make it very attractive for a variety of photographers. The front pocket is a separate entity and not simply an extension of the bag itself. This gives the contents that the photographer puts in the front their own space and doesn't "pull" the entire bag forward. There is plenty of room in this pocket for a few flashes, two extra bodies, notebooks, and even an iPad. The back zippered area closest to the photographer also has barely enough room for an iPad but not for a laptop. This bag also has a silent opening/closing system where an extra flap can be placed over the velcro on the main flap and a magnet takes over the closure system. When the velcro is revealed, the flap is bigger and does provide a stronger closure.
If Lowepro makes an additional model in this lineup, I would suggest a 240 AW with a sleeve large enough to fit a MacBook Pro or another laptop. Therefore, a bag several inches taller but not necessarily deeper or wider would be a welcome addition to a great line of messenger bags.
BOTTOM LINE: The Lowepro Pro Messenger 200 AW camera bag is the perfect camera bag for the traveler, the photojournalist, and the enthusiast who wants a discreet, highly functional, quiet, well-constructed camera bag for a few camera bodies and a few lenses. Even in wet weather, the tough canvas is durable and the removable, attachable waterproof cover is very functional. It is priced to the comparable Think Tank model at $187.50 (which has been out for about a year) and more than a comparable Tenba model at $109.95. I'm hard to please, but I love this bag. It is a refreshing piece in the Lowepro lineup. The combination of its aesthetics and functionality make this a great buy.
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