Bag review: the new Billingham Hadley Small Pro part one
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that for me, the new Billingham Hadley Small Pro is pretty much the perfect daily use camera bag. Believe me, I’m as surprised as you. It’s positively tiny in comparison to what I normally use and has a nasty habit of making me think, really think about the gear I’m taking out with me.
This makes my back generally happy but my OCD-every-angle-covered-self does get a little antsy. Spoiler alert: it’s all ok in the end.
Here’s how this review breaks down:
Table of contents
Let’s get the specs out of the way.
Internally the Hadley Small Pro is exactly the same size as the Hadley Small: 260mm x 80mm x 190mm / 10¼” x 3⅛” x 7½” (WxDxH). Externally it’s a little bigger but you wouldn’t notice unless you put the Small Pro and original Small side-by-side and got out a tape measure. The Pro’s handle and removable strap clips add about 3-4cm WxDxH to the overall dimensions.
The bag provides 3.50 litres of capacity in a package weighing 0.95 kgs including the strap. Add an extra 75 grams for the optional shoulder strap pad.
The bag is available in the usual Billingham black, khaki and sage colours. Black and khaki options include canvas or Billingham’s FibreNyte but the sage option (reviewed) is only currently available in FibreNyte,
Price-wise the Small Pro comes in at £200/US$265: £25/US$40 more than the Small. For that you get a bag the following enhancements and improvements:
- A stiff top handle with a leather underside for easier carrying (like the Hadley One).
- Removable, adjustable shoulder sling (like the Hadley One).
- Luggage trolley strap retainer on the back (like the Hadley One).
- Rear document pocket with weatherproof zip (like the Hadley One but without its stiff leather strip).
The Small Pro is to all intents and urposes the lovechild of the Hadley Small and Hadley One. I’m genuinely surprised that some bright spark at Billingham didn’t name it the “Small One”.
The images below start with a size comparison of the Hadley Small Pro to the full-width insert of the Hadley One for scale. You’ll also see the optional shoulder strap pad in the first image. This add-on is well worth the £35/$48 in my opinion.
Current owners of the Hadley Small won’t see anything too different in the rest of the pictures above, so let’s take a look at some of the finer detail/upgrades on the Small Pro.
The strap’s leather clasp and on-bag mount are identical to that of the Hadley One albeit a little smaller – full-grain leather and heavy brass.
For those of you used to larger Billingham bags, below is a quick comparison against the Hadley One. FYI, the One literally eats the Small Pro.
The Small Pro is MUCH smaller than the One. Volume and weight-wise, the Small Pro gives you 3.50 litres capacity in a package weighing 0.95 kgs whereas the Hadley One give you 8.75 litres of capacity weighing in at 1.38 kgs.
In use, small is relative
I don’t mind admitting that I cooed a little when I opened the box the bag arrived in. I was not expecting something so small. My first two thoughts (in this exact order) were:
- Oh my, that’s a cute bag.
- Crap, will it fit my Hasselblad?
Hand. On. Heart.
With my less than stellar reputation for packing light, the thought of carrying a small camera bag genuinely filled me with dread. That said, ageing joints demanded I listen. Let me give you some context: the smallest “small” camera bag I previously regularly used to take out with me was a Domke F-10 – something that Domke/Tiffen call a “medium shoulder bag”. It’s tiny and I used mine to carry an Olympus Trip 35 / 35SP / 35DC, my plastic fantastic, cigarettes and gum back in the heady and care-free days of my film photographic youth.
Here’s how the Domke compares to the Hadley Small Pro. There’s not much in it but the extra few centimetres WxDxH add up, especially when you remove the insert and use the Small Pro “naked”.
For a better comparison, here’s the bag surrounded by a few “everyday” objects. I put this together as a bit of a joke for Monika over on Twitter a few days after I reviewed the production sample I’m reviewing here. I’m particularly proud of the Lego minifigs. So much so that the Stormtrooper has refused to leave the bag since.
Alright then, @DrMarsRover. Here she is compared to Lego Minifigs (normal and dinky), a Coke can, Scotch tape, cigarettes, a Weincell and some 35mm film….And a “DVD”. Whatever that is. pic.twitter.com/cRoA4UCA2e
— EMULSIVE (@EMULSIVEfilm) April 6, 2018
If I could change anything about the bag at this point, it would be to make the grabbable portion of the quick release buckles a little longer. They soften up very quickly but it would be great to have a little more real estate for my (pretty normal-sized) index finger and thumb to gain purchase.
Adding another 1cm or so to the length of the tabs would be fantastic, although I should say that the tabs don’t present much of an issue when opening the bag with two hands. Maybe put this down to me being overly picky.
Remember the use cases I covered in my review of the Hadley One? Here’s part one and part two of the review, in case you need some reminding. I used the same use cases and applied them to the Hadley Small Pro:
One: as a 35mm shooter’s camera bag
As a pure 35mm shooter’s bag, it works incredibly well, even of one of the cameras is on the slightly chubby size, as is the Nikon F100 in the images above. When shooting only 35mm film I will travel with a rangefinder or SLR and a small point and shoot. The third image above shows the F100, a Ricoh R10 and a pro pack of 120 Kodak EKTACHROME 100VS (I’d been shopping).
It’s comfortable and even though the bulk of the F100’s prism was a bit of a pain with the camera on its back, stowing it lens-down solved that.
Two: as a medium format shooter’s camera bag
Suitability of this bag for medium format gear will greatly depend on the cameras you wish to carry. I typically shoot with a Mamiya TLR or a Hasselblad. The Mamiya fits without issue but I should note that when the Hasselblad is placed “nose up”, anything larger than an 80mm lens (any generational variation) will be too tall for you to close the bag properly – no lens shades unless stowed separately.
When laid flat, the bag will easily accept the camera plus lens and shade, and larger lenses can also be carried within reason. The image above shows my Hasselblad with an Olympus XA for company although you could also use the extra space for film 😉
The bag isn’t really suitable for cameras larger than those mentioned above. If you are carrying a small Fuji rangefinder such as the GA645i, a Pentax 645 or Mamiya 645, I would expect you to be pretty safe, with spare room for film. That said, if you are a Pentax 67 or Mamiya RB67 shooter, you’ll likely need a larger option.
Three: as a mixed format shooter’s camera bag
If you’re looking to use the Small Pro to take out a smaller medium format camera and one or two smaller format cameras (my normal every day carry), you’ll need to be careful. It’s totally possible (and pretty rewarding once you have everything packed away), but you will be faced with the need to make a few choices. In the case of the real-world use shown in the images above, For the example images above, I packed my Olympus XA, Leica M6 (with compact 35mm lens) and aforementioned Hasselblad with 80mm f/2.8 Planar lens. If I wanted to take another lens for the Leica, that would (realistically) mean removing the XA and its insert.
In the example above everything is pretty snug but there’s enough room for film, a meter, keys, pens, a notepad and some gum – what more do you need? This configuration is the reason why I noted the bag, “has a nasty habit of making me think, really think about the gear I’m taking out with me” above. With larger bags, I’ll also drop in spare batteries, cables, possible a shade or two, plenty of extra film and God knows what else.
The smaller bag makes me consider necessities over those items I might end up using and the result of that is a focus on the possibilities in front of me, as opposed to the possibilities in the bag. It was initially frustrating but I begrudingly adapted and accepted within a day or two and I’m glad for that.
It goes without saying that with this kind of gear configuration, the shoulder strap pad is invaluable. The bag is pretty “dense” when unladen and with this amount of gear being packed, the strap will dig into your body on longer trips.
Four: as a large format shooter’s camera bag
If your version of large format is a Travelwide, or other small and light 4×5 camera, such as a pinhole, the Hadley Small Pro has you covered. If you’re thinking about larger cameras, then the answer’s going to be a big fat no. That is unless you’re thinking about using the bag to carry film holders and accessories, in which case the Hadley Small Pro gives you enough space for:
- 8 standard 4×5 film holders.
- Your spot meter (tested with a Sekonic L-608 in a front dump pocket).
- A loupe, hot shoe spirit level, pen and pencil (tested in the other front dump pocket).
- A natty Muji zip-lock stationary pouch with a ruler, two notepads and pencil (slipped into the laptop slot)
- There’s still room to spare for rubber bands, chalk, cable releases, electrician’s tape, etc.
As a large format accessory bag, it’s great. as a large format kit bag, you’ll literally be stretching it a bit.
Final thoughts and conclusion
As with my Hadley One review, this is one going to be coming in two parts. This first part covers my extended first impressions after having used the bag for over two months pretty much daily – I’ve needed to carry other other bags on a handful of days but the Small Pro has literally been on my shoulder for the remainder of the time.
Part two will be covering my thoughts after some rather more extensive use – 9-12 months – so expect that some time in early 2019.
In terms of these first impressions, I’m a believer that cameras, lenses and other gear you use to make photographs can take some time getting used to, especially if you’re switching to different focal lengths or formats. When it comes to bags, straps and the other objects we use to improve comfort, convenience and experience, I’m in the “it either works for you or it doesn’t” camp.
The Hadley Small Pro works for me in spades. Simple as that.
I mentioned above that the bag feels “dense” when unladen and I really am struggling to describe it in another – possibly better – way. It’s not heavy, but it does hang from the shoulder with purpose. It’s also more suited to carrying one or two smaller 35mm cameras than the Hadley One ended up being (I realise I state the obvious here). With the exception of large format gear, this little bag packs everything I could reasonably need when stealing time to shoot on the work commute, at lunch or on a photo walk/short-ish photo trip. It also sits perfectly across the body when on a bike.
The bag’s size means that you literally can’t overburden yourself with gear. To reiterate my comment above, it leaves you to focus on what’s in front of you more and what’s in the bag less.
Unlike the larger Hadleys you won’t be throwing A4 documents and/or folders into it, it’s too small. But, there is enough space to stow a ~10″ tablet, or A5 sized notepad, as well as places for you to slip in pens, pencils and other small bits and pieces you might need when using it as a commuter-photographer bag. Also, If you’re like me and actually visit your lab to pick up your negatives, they fit nicely into the rear zipped pocket (standing up and poking out the top, of course!)
I’ll close by saying this; I’ve made my feelings towards Billingham’s products very clear in the past – they are objects that we buy for a lifetime of use, and the Small Pro is no exception. There’s really no question of whether or not I would buy this bag, I already did and until someone comes out with something better, I’ll continue to consider the Hadley Small Pro as my own personal perfect every day camera bag.
Thanks for reading.
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