Welcome to the follow up to my first impressions of the Billingham Hadley One, published in April 2017. With nearly a year of daily use under my belt, this update goes into more practical detail on using the bag, what works and importantly, what doesn’t.
Before getting into that, I should really finally announce the winner of the “Troll EM” competition kicked off in part one. The premise was simple: troll me about the bag and the best effort (decided by Dan K and I) wins the bag. Watching the entries in the comments section of part one was a blast, with Billingham jumping in to help out to well-meaning trolls – well played folks. Thanks to everyone who joined in but there was only one bag and thus, one Winner.
So, a massive congratulations to Twitter’s Simeon Smith, bearded photographer, consumer of herbal tonics and keeper of a vintage Leica – he’s only one small neck tattoo away from being given the keys to the city of Portland, Oregon. Not only is Simeon an excellent troll but I can confirm he’s also a stand-up guy. I forgot to remove a pen from the bag before sending it off and Simeon was kind enough to not only send it back but to also throw in some promotional materials and plug his photography – ace.
I asked Simeon to send me a few words and pictures about the bag once he’d had a chance to use it for a while. Here’s what he sent:
Okay, so I’m a philosophy geek. I go to a Philosophy club. A beer and philosophy club but a philosophy club nonetheless. We meet about once a month, collectively stroke our beards, or rub our chins (for the less hairy, aka female, members) and discuss the Meaning of Life.
So when I think about quality, I don’t just think about good-stuff-made-well. I think about the deeper questions of what it means to be “good”. Mostly because I’m a pretentious arse, but also because there’s beer at these meet-ups, too.
Let me set Pirsig and Aristotle aside because frankly who gives a shit, and say this about quality:
You know it when you see it.
Is the Billingham Hadley One a good bag for a photographer? Well, that’ll depend on what you want, how much kit you take places with you, whether or not it meets your needs, and (as with any Billingham) whether it comes within your budget.
Is the Billingham Hadley One a quality bag for a photographer? Oh my goodness, yes. All of the yes. It’s solid and seems like it could withstand a major Act Of God. It’s detailing is flawless. The design is practical and beautiful. A lot of attention, skill and experience has gone into the creation of what is a beautiful, quality item.
For my use, as an every-day-carry kind of bag, it’s a bit overkill. I usually only have a small rangefinder, a spare roll of film and occasionally a change of lens when I’m out shooting. Where this bag really comes into it’s own is on full shoots where you might have a couple of cameras and other gear, or if you need to pack other gear alongside your cameras. I recently took a change of clothes, my laptop and my Canon FD gear away and the Hadley One was perfect.
I’m looking forward to a short break in Rome with my Leica IIIa’s (and also my wife), and will be packing for the few days into this bag.
~ Simeon Smith
If you’re on Twitter, please make sure you give Simeon a follow. He’s slightly funnier than the above may lead you to believe; and has excellent taste in profile pictures.
Back to the review and I’ll warn you now that there are no new images here. What you’ll find instead, is a wall of text with updates on the most important aspects I outlined in part one. Here’s what’s covered:
Table of contents
- 1 The camera in daily use
- 2 Use cases
- 3 Conclusions
Let’s jump in.
The camera in daily use
I have a relatively short daily commute and typically carry two cameras, a small notebook, pens and other detritus. Most days I head somewhere between leaving the office and returning home and I’ll occasionally carry a laptop or 10″ tablet with me depending on where I need to go and what I need to do.
The Hadley One handles all of this with room to spare. I typically use two half-width inserts for holding gear, as opposed to a single full-width insert. Using both half-width inserts means you lose a bit of internal capacity but they make it easier to leave gear at home or in the office as needed – just unclip and remove the entire thing.
On the weekends the bag is purely for camera gear and I’m honestly impressed by how much I can stuff into it. This capacity is a double-edged sword, as it is very easy to load too much in an attempt to cater for all eventualities. It’s certainly not a conscious effort on my part and my advice to existing/potential owners is to be mindful of your true needs and not to go mad with what-ifs. I’ve learned to pare down my enthusiasm for potential opportunity and take just what I need but that’s a bigger story.
Speaking of capacity, I recently took the Hadley One on a 5-day trip, with quite a bit of hiking on the itinerary. I used the bag to carry my Hasselblad, a Leica M6 with two lenses, light meter, filters, battery pack (for the phone), a miscellany of cables, connectors and of course, FILM.
The bag handled itself admirably and if you happen to use those JCH film cases, you’ll be glad to hear that 2×120 and 1x35mm cases can be slipped comfortably between two half-width inserts without cramping your gear.
Most hikes were between two and three hours and with the exception of one day where I wished I’d brought a rucksack, carrying the bag on my shoulder or slung across my body was fine. For the sake of carrying a sensibly-sized inventory of gear, this would probably be my upper limit in terms of weight.
The quick release buckle system
I mentioned in part one that the main flap’s quick release clasp mechanism still needed a bit of breaking in after a couple of weeks of testing. I’m happy to confirm that they were perfect after about 6 weeks of use. The clasps are now soft enough for a quick one-handed release but still retain more than enough grip to ensure they don’t come unstuck in normal use.
Is the shoulder pad really necessary?
For me, yes. With the strap, shoulder pad and two half-width inserts, the bag weighs in at around 1.5kg or 3.3lbs. It’s pretty light considering its size and materials but the pad adds some extra grip, as well as additional comfort when the bag is loaded with a camera, laptop and other bits and pieces.
This is more of a personal wish than a gripe but I’d love to see the One employ a system similar to that of the fStop series: a removable base pad and the option to directly attach dividers to the inside of the bag. Even without the inserts, the bag provides ample protection (to my mind) for every day use and I feel adding the above would give it that little bit more flexibility AND allow me to eek out some additional storage capacity.
On that note, I’d also really like to see an option for dedicated pouches! I know Billingham are working on it but I’m an impatient sort. It is possible to use Billingham AVEA 5 pouch with a bit of jigging about but I’d love to see some dedicated options.
Full- and half-width inserts
My biggest (only?) gripe, if you can call it that, is the height of the inserts. Yes, they fit perfectly into the bag but sometimes I’m left feeling that they would be more useful if they were only 2/3 as tall as the bag is deep. I understand that this might be a rather limited use case but it’s a feeling nonetheless.
In part one, I outlined four use cases for the bag, covering 35mm to large format cameras. They were an attempt to map my typical gear configurations and discuss how the bag handled them. Since then I’ve had quite a bit of time to find the bag’s sweet spot, so let’s revisit how they’ve worked out for me over the past year.
One: the Hadley One as a 35mm shooter’s camera bag
I wrote previously about the Hadley One likely being overkill if you only plan on carrying a single 35mm camera in it. I stand by this but will say that if your plan is to use the bag for work/school and you want to carry a laptop or tablet, documents, etc., it will feel less cavernous, and you’ll likely not need to buy an extra half-width insert or the full-width version.
As a commuter bag, it’s big enough to pack your gear, documents and lunch. Even when minimally loaded with keys and non-camera work stuff, it doesn’t feel strange on the shoulder.
It’s also worth remembering that the camera works fantastically as a small weekender, or daytrip bag that has nothing to do with cameras.
Two: the Hadley One as a medium format shooter’s camera bag
The Hadley One starts coming into its own when you’re carrying medium format gear, especially if you want to lug around multiple lenses, a meter, film cases. With a single camera (let’s say Mamiya TLR, Hasselblad, etc.), there’s still room for a tablet/laptop and documents without making it a chore to carry.
Three: the Hadley One as a mixed format shooter’s camera bag
This might be an edge case for most of you but it’s my every day carry. To me, this is the Hadley One’s sweet spot. Even with a Hasselblad and Nikon SLR (weighing in at around 3kg / 6.5lbs for just the bodies/lenses), the bag feels comfortable on the shoulder, even on longer trips.
Over the past year I’ve used the Hadley One as my carry-on luggage four times, carrying one of each 35mm and medium format cameras. It’ll swallow the cameras, lenses, accessories, film and all the stuff I fly with, with absolutely no problem. It’ll take what you need until you get to your hotel, drop off some stuff and head out again.
Oh, speaking of travel that luggage strap comes in VERY handy.
Four: the Hadley One as a large format shooter’s camera bag
For the past year, I’ve been using the Hadley One to carry my large format gear instead of my 5.11 Tactical “All Hazards Prime” rucksack and with good reason: most of my large format photography is done in urban environments and involves navigating lots of mass-transit/subway/buses/trains. A rucksack very easily gets in the way on busy days.
Taking the bag out with the camera (a Speed Graphic Pacemaker) and a couple of small lenses is genuinely effortless. Even taking into account the film holders, a tripod and other accessories, it’s a combination that works really well without overloading the bag – or my back.
I’ll typically load the bag with:
- The camera (with one lens mounted)
- A spare lens
- Six film holders
- A large light meter
- A small pouch with notepad, pencil, ruler, etc.
All this with the camera slung across my body and a tripod in the hand/over a shoulder. Even for shoots where I might be walking for two hours or more, using the bag remains comfortable.
After nearly a year of constant use, my initial thoughts about the bag have not changed much. I still have no problem recommending the bag to others looking for something a medium-to-large camera bag. As a long time Billingham user I also stand by the bag’s quality inrespect of what’s come before – the thought that’s gone into the design, the materials and workmanship are second to none and it really is something that you’ll buy for life.
If you’re looking for a simple “should you buy this bag” statement from me, you won’t get one. Instead, I’ll make these three points:
- If you’re looking for a bag to carry a single camera and nothing else, don’t bother unless that camera happens to be a 6×17 beast from Fuji and the like.
- If you’re looking for a bag to carry a couple of cameras and accessories and need it to be comfortable and easily accessible on long stints, you could do far worse than trying out the Hadley One.
- If you’re looking for something that you can use as a daily bag that travels with you to work during the week and doubles-up as a weekend photography bag, this is one of the best choices I have come across.
The choice is up to you but I’m here to answer any questions in the comments below, or on social media – just drop me a line.
Oh, and before I sign off I should also say that since part one was released, this bag is now on general sale. You can grab it online or in-store at a bunch of places as well as via Billingham’s website.
Thanks for reading and as always, keep shooting, folks!
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