UPDATE 03: Part two is here
Part two of this review – “one year on” – is here. Check it out.
A few weeks ago, the lovely folks over at Billingham got in touch to ask if I wanted to review one of their new bags, the Hadley One, the newest – and most advanced, in my opinion – member of the Hadley family, which was first introduced nearly 30 years ago in 1988.
The bag, plus a few extras arrived last week and if you follow @EMULSIVEfilm on Twitter, you may have seen the multi-tweet unboxing. Just I n case you missed it, I’ve wrapped it all up in this Twitter Moment.
In this, part one of an extended review taking place over a 12 month period, I’ll be providing you with my first impressions after using the bag for about a week, as well as a few of the kit configurations I’ve been using to put it through its paces.
You can look forward to part two of this review about a month from now, once we’ve managed to spend some quality alone time together.
Here’s what I cover in this review:
Table of contents
- 1 My Billingham experience
- 2 The Hadley One: in the box
- 3 The Hadley One: first impressions
- 4 The Hadley One: use cases
- 5 Initial conclusions
Before I jump into the review, please allow me to take a small step back and fill in some backstory…
My Billingham experience
I’ve been using a black Billingham fStop 1.4 for a little over two years now. It’s the larger of the two in the series, the smaller version being the fStop 2.8 (get it?!)
Prior to making the leap, I’d used Timbuk2 messenger bags almost exclusively for about a decade. They’re generally well made, have lots of compartments, are designed with the user in mind and provide excellent rain protection. I was in the market for something a little smaller but felt it was time to make the switch to something a little more traditional in outward appearance, while retaining the benefits of my current system.
I spent a couple of months researching my options and had whittled them down to a shortlist of three vendors. In the end, I decided to go with Billingham for the following reasons:
- Best-in-class reliability and legendary service.
- Plenty of bag/accessory options.
- Classic looks with fully waterproof finishes.
- Patriotic loyalty to a British brand (really, I’m not kidding).
Billingham bags aren’t what one would describe as cheap but they are priced reasonably similarly to other boutique and small-scale vendors. If you’re not aware of the company, they are family owned and operated, will celebrate their 45th birthday in 2018 and their bags are handmade in England.
The brand is synonymous with quality. The finish and construction, as well as the thought that goes into their design has been well documented. It’s not an exaggeration to say that (as many do), when you buy a Billingham, you’re buying the Rolls Royce of camera bags.
My fStop 1.4 has been a literal daily companion to me ever since. It’s small enough to remain unobtrusive, it doesn’t feel ridiculous when only carrying a single 35mm SLR camera, and it’s large enough to serve my mixed format needs (I typically carry one medium format and one 35mm camera every day).
Such has been my obsession with this bag that I’ve even stretched it to carry my Speed Graphic, a couple of small lenses, a film back (or holders) and my spot meter, as well as other accessories. It’s a snug fit but I’m ok with that, it’s not something I imagine the designers envisaged. I wonder if we’ll ever see an fStop 0.95…
As this isn’t a review of my fStop, I will close by saying this: I’m shooting more and more large format these days and I’ve been eyeing up a larger (Billingham) bag to give me a bit more wiggle room. Specifically, I’ve been looking for a bag that will carry my complete AEROgraphic (camera, lens, meter, film back, accessories), and in that respect, Billingham’s idea for a review was rather timely.
Oh, this is also my first bag review, so please be gentle.
The Hadley One: in the box
As standard, Hadley One comes with:
- Hadley One
- One half-width insert
- Removable ‘H1’ shoulder sling
- Drawstring dust cover for storage
Optional extras pictured above and included within this review are:
- A second half-width insert
- A prototype full-width insert
- An SP50 shoulder pad
At the time of writing, the Hadley One is not available for sale in the US and only being sold via Billingham partner websites (details are at the bottom of this page). (You can’t even purchase it from their website yet!)
Unlike most other current Hadley series bags, the One can be used without a strap and trust me, it looks great as a “work” bag in that particular configuration.
The Hadley One: first impressions
In terms of size, the One sits between the Hadley Pro and Hadley Large (details a bit further below).
Upon quick visual inspection, this new bag has a handful of very obvious improvements over the rest of the current series and I would imagine many of these refinements making it into other Billingham bags over the coming months and years.
Highlights compared specifically to the early 2017 Hadley Pro are:
- An extra 2.75 litres of space.
- Externally 2cm wider and 2cm deeper.
- Internally 1cm wider, 4cm deeper and 2cm taller (without a padded insert).
- The bag is also about 2cm deeper at the bottom than the top (interesting choice).
- Better engineered top handle, including leather reinforcement on its underside.
- Totally new shoulder strap mount – the webbed strap is no longer stitched to the main body. Instead, it clips to dedicated mounts using a robust leather clasp.
- A new full-length, thick leather strip covers the rear pocket zip (replacing the old cloth strip). The zip is now fitted with an easier-to-grab zip-pull.
- New, half-width (full-height) padded inserts.
- Stitched-in pen pockets in each of the two front “dump pockets”.
- A padded 13″ laptop compartment, sewn into the bag.
- Luggage strap for sliding the bag onto the handle of your suitcase/flight bag.
Some images showing the updated features:
I’ll be the first to admit that moving to one of the Hadley series has been a constant nagging thought over the past year or so. My only concern with these bags has been speed of access.
The statement “film slows you down” is oft used and oft misunderstood by both the person saying it, as well as the person hearing it.
On a personal level, yes…film slows down my thought process. It allows me to pause for thought and pay attention to my composition when it’s called for. However, most of the time, I’ll see something, decide to shoot it and fire off a frame or two within a few seconds. For this reason, having quick access to my bag’s camera compartment is crucial.
Users of the current Hadley series will be familiar with the main flap’s quick release clasp mechanism. The QR straps soften a bit over time but still requires the occasional “tug down” of the main flap to help release each catch (see below).
My fStop is different: simply pull the long leather straps which secure the main flap closed and flip it up to gain quick access to the main compartment and goodies therein.
With the difference in the way the two bags are locked closed, it quickly became apparent to me that using the Hadley One would potentially be a little slower than using my fStop but not necessarily in a bad way.
It’s worth saying that over the past week the QR straps on the One have gone from looking like German Shepherd ears (standing up) to something a little more floppy and supple. I’ll report back on how these soften part two.
The Hadley One: use cases
Over the past week, I have packed 35mm cameras, a mixture of medium format TLRs and SLRs, and even large format gear in an attempt to “beat the bag”. I can honestly say that I’ve gotten close but for the moment I remain defeated.
Based on my time with the One so far, here are my thoughts on a few use cases – relevant to me – for the bag. I’ll be exploring each of these over the course of the next month and you can expect to read about how I get on in part two.
If there’s a specific use case you would like to see tested, I’ll be happy to add it to the mix (time and gear permitting). Drop me a line in the comments.
One: as a 35mm shooter’s camera bag
If you regularly only carry a single 35mm camera (no matter how big it is), the Hadley One will probably be overkill as a dedicated camera bag for it. Add a laptop, keys, paperwork, etc., to this and you have a reasonably large work/photographer’s bag that won’t look out of place in an office.
The half-width inner that comes with the bag is tall enough to stack two cameras (or a camera with multiple lenses and accessories), and still leave you with around 4 litres of space in the main compartment – not including the two front dump pockets and laptop slot.
You can secure the half-width insert to the left or right of the main compartment, or even the middle if you want to leave spaces for a bottle of something and a small umbrella on either side.
Regardless of how you configure the insert, the bag will easily engulf the items detailed in part one of the photographer’s daypack.
Two: as a medium format shooter’s camera bag
Swap the 35mm camera for a medium format TLR or SLR and the bag starts coming into its own. it WANTS you to fill it with stuff and actually feels nicer on the shoulder as a result. The wide shoulder strap is comfortable (for webbing, at least) but I would highly recommend getting a shoulder pad if your primary goal is to carry medium format gear.
Note that the full-width insert in the picture above has its main flap folded back into the front of the main compartment. I prefer this configuration when out and about, as it makes the bag faster to use. I also configure the half-width inserts similarly but still appreciate the main flaps when moving from place to place, for the extra peace of mind they provide.
The front dump pockets will swallow up your film cases, light meter, extension tubes, snacks, even a small 35mm, with ease.
Three: as a mixed format shooter’s camera bag
This is where things get interesting. I’ve been using two half-width inserts, as opposed to partitioning the full-width prototype when carrying more than one camera. It feels stronger to me and when out and about, and I can simply pull one of the inserts from the bag and leave it on the side for easy access.
With both half-width inserts filled with cameras (one with my Hasselblad and the other with a 35mm camera and lenses), I use the dump pockets to store film cases, my light meter, cable release, macro extension rings, etc. In the image above, I also managed to fit in a Hasselblad compendium shade and used the laptop pocket to store my 100x100mm filters.
That said, there’s still space.
Four: as a large format shooter’s camera bag
To really fill this camera to the brim you need to think a little bigger than medium format. For me (as mentioned above), this means large format gear, specifically my AEROgraphic. That is, a Graflex Pacemaker Speed Graphic, 6×12 film back, my Kodak Aero Ektar lens, a spot meter, cable release, loupe….and Leica M6 with cases for 120 and 135 film.
Add to that a tripod (carried separately) and you have a Hadley One that is pretty as much as full as it can get. Even though the camera, lens and film back weigh in at ~5kg, the bag is comfortable when slung across the body or carried on a shoulder.
I was out cycling with this combination last weekend (at the time of writing).
You’ll notice that I’m using the full-width insert split about 30/70 in his configuration. I prefer the two half-width inserts as described in use case 3 but obviously, that wasn’t going to work with the Graflex on board
Compared to my fStop 1.4, the Hadley One is large to the point of cavernous but without external dimensions that are too imposing. My first thought upon unpacking the bag was that the main pocket was too small to warrant an upgrade from the fStop 1.4. I was wrong. Even with the main flaps of the inserts folded back into the bag, there’s ample space.
The laptop slot is incredibly well thought out and I’ve no qualms about carrying a naked laptop or tablet in it. When out shooting, I use the slot to store filters, notepads and other relatively flat gear. Billingham say that the laptop sleeve is capable of taking a 13″ laptop and my 13″ MacBook Air slips right in almost unnoticed.
Even after only a week of using the One, I’ve no problem recommending this bag to anyone. None whatsoever.
If you are an existing Billingham customer and want something bigger than the Hadley Pro but are not quite ready to make a jump to their really big bags, this might well fit the bill.
If you are not a Billingham customer and want a mid-large sized bag that’ll take pretty much everything you can throw at it, I’d strongly advise you to try it out for yourself and compare. You won’t be disappointed.
I’ll be posting part two of this article in about 4 weeks, once I’ve had a chance to live with the One for a while. Given how much of a pleasure it’s been to use so far, you might even see a mini update a little sooner than that.
Thanks for reading and as always, keep shooting, folks!
UPDATE 02: The competition is well and truly over
Stay tuned for an update at the beginning of April 2018!
UPDATE 01: Competition time
You may have noticed in the comments below that there are a few trolls lurking around. Don’t be alarmed, it’s to be expected. You see, Billingham, Twitter’s Dan K (@ZDP189) and I are giving you the chance to win the very bag being reviewed here by yours truly.
The premise is simple: troll me. The competition runs until Sunday June 4th, at which point, we’ll be deciding which one of you submitted the best troll comment below and awarding you the bag. It’s that simple. All we ask is that you keep it clean and keep it clever.
Over to you.
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