Shimoda Backpack Review

Prenote

A mate and fellow photographer, Greg Cromie, offered help me get some photos as obviously it was hard for me to get photos of myself wearing the bag. A big thank you to Greg for taking the photos of me, you can follow him on WordPress. He has some great articles and regularly posts to this site.

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Photo by Greg Cromie

In doing this review, I haven’t posted some of the more detailed product shots of the inserts or interior of the bag. You can get decent quality version in perfect light from Shimoda’s website, so if you want to check out every nook and cranny of the bag, I suggest you do it there.

Introduction

Most of the reviews for this bag are going to be a little different to mine. I’m not the sort of photographer that spends hours on the top of mountains or glaciers, I’m not a landscaper like the list of photographers you see on Shimoda’s ambassador list, in part because I don’t like getting up at 4am to catch a sunrise.

I spend my time walking around cities, buildings, carrying more gear than I need to for shoots I’m not qualified to do.  Wheeled bags don’t work because it’s not always suitable for shooting on the move with lighting gear, so I wanted a bag that was comfortable for extended period. It’s this reason I picked an abandoned mill for my photoshoot, I’ve shot there twice in the last couple of months. I’ve had the bag now for nearly 6 months, so it’s been a good opportunity to really get to grips with it.

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Photo by Greg Cromie

I’m a big fan of Kickstarter, I have had some good outcomes over the years. I found this particular Kickstarter thanks to Ian Tan, one of the members of the Fuji X Aus Group. There was a post about backpacks and the name Shimoda came up along with an explanation on the founder, Ian Millar’s, history. From what I understand, Ian is ex-F-Stop so he comes with a wealth of experience. As someone who was actively looking at F-stop, it caught my attention and after looking at the Kickstarter, I decided to give it a go because the pricing was competitive.

Ordering and shipping

The kickstarter combo I purchased came in at $399 (with a savings of $380 off the standard retail), not cheap but good value for money when you consider that I would have picked up the f-stop bag with only one or two inserts for the same price.

Compare it to the Peak Design currently on Kickstarter and you get an idea of what I mean. I got two bags, with inserts for the cost of one Peak Design, and compared to the Peak Design, I honestly think this is a far better bag.

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The package I got was called the Explorer master kit and included:

  • 1 Explore 40L Backpack –
  • 1 Carry On Roller –
  • 2 Small core Units –
  • 1 Medium core Unit –
  • 1 Medium Accessory Case-
  • 1 waterproof cover

This review will be focussed on the backpack and core units, I’ll try to cover the other stuff later.

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As this wasn’t purchased via the conventional website purchase, this is obviously not reflective of the order process for Shimoda, but I thought I would add it for anyone who is interested in Kickstarter for future. I ordered on the 24th November as a Kickstarter pledge, with delivery promised for Feb 2018. In my experience, Kickstarter events are rarely, if ever, delivered on time. I’ve been involved in 5  Kickstarter events, none have been delivered on time to date and most have been delayed by at least 3 months. I was expecting this to be delayed so it came as a pleasant surprise when I found out the manufacturing of the bags had already commenced before the campaign had finished. The bag arrived in 12th February as promised, the first on time delivery in my history with Kickstarter. Congratulations Ian Miller.

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Photo by Greg Cromie

Construction and Quality

I mentioned earlier about premium pricing for premium goods, and I wasn’t kidding. The construction of the bag is amazing. Not good, impeccable. It’s actually incredibly difficult to find anything to complain about on the bag. The quality of the material used is first class. I made a point of looking at the bay from every angle, every point of view and its very difficult to find anything to complain about. Aesthetically, there are small things that may differ from person to person, but that’s more of a look and feel thing.
Each of the inserts has a ripstop cover and strap so it can be carry separately. The covers are just light ripstop like material, but the purpose of these inserts are not to be dedicated carry bags, they are bags to keep them dustproof in storage, the majority of the time, you will be leave them off when they are in the backpack.

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Shimoda indicated the dividers would be thin but the quality and density of the dividers has allowed Shimoda to make them thinner and their comments seem valid. They are solid and I would have no concern about my gear arriving damage free. It’s also worth noting that these aren’t the sort of bags I would typically “check in”. They would probably survive, but I’d only check in a hard case having seen how airline luggage handlers throw the bags around.

Functionality and use

The first question anyone reading this may ask is why I purchased this bag, this particular size, along with the accessories. I knew it would be big, and I hoped it would be. It’s not a bag you take out unless you need to take a lot of gear, like a body, multiple lenses and maybe some lighting gear.

Despite my perception of the size at the time of ordering, it’s actually not as bad as I expected and I could actually see myself carrying this more often than I originally expected. I think the 60L would be way too big for everyday type of carry, but the 40L falls into the crossover category of being able to carry a bit of gear for a day trip in the city, without being over the top. If I was going to carry two bodies with a couple of lenses and some lighting gear, this would be my go to bag, particularly if the weather is a little suspect.

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I currently have a Lowepro backpack that will carry a most of my gear, but adding lighting like my Godox AD200’s and some softboxes isn’t possible, hence this bag purchase. That’s where this bag really comes into its own. I can easily fit in the gear shown below:

  • X-T2
  • X-H1
  • 16mm f/1.4
  • 23mm f/1.4
  • 56mm f/1.2
  • 60mm f/2.4
  • 90mm f/2
  • 16-55 f/2.8
  • 2 × AD200
  • Light stands x 2
  • Softboxes
  • Waterbottle
  • Jumper

I like the design with rear access. Although the photos show it standing upright, you would typically lay this bag down on the ground with the opening facing up which keeps the back section dry in wet weather.

Comfort

One of the key selling points of the Shimoda was comfort, it’s one of the key reasons why I didn’t end up with the F-stop Red Bull, Where there were complaints about the comfort for extended periods.

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The Shimoda 40L is great from a comfort perspective, the most comfortable bags I have used to date. As a test, I decided to load up as much gear as possible and then take a walk around the city for a couple of hours to see how uncomfortable it would become. It’s probably an unrealistic way for me to travel as I wouldn’t normally load up that much gear but it was a good test to test the limits. With that much gear, I had a fair idea that it was always going to be uncomfortable, the question was simply how uncomfortable and how long. Realistically, it only reached a point where I started feeling the weight after about 3 hours, my previous Lowepro probably would have lasted about an hour max.

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The core units

The easiest way to describe the core units is by comparing it to something like the Tenba BYOB although I’m not 100% sure what size it would compare to, maybe the BYOB 9 with the medium being twice the size. It’s essentially a small set divider insert you can put in your bag. Shimoda have created a cover for it that allows it to be carried around as a bag on it’s own which is a great touch.

The nice thing with the core units is that you can adjust the way you pack, you can carry multiple if you need lots of gear and smaller ones if you want to add more lighting gear.

If I was going to nitpick about one thing with this, it’s the colour. I’m not sure if this the colour of a bag you would want to carry around with you as a separate bag. Whilst I understand why they created it in colour (so they don’t get left behind or lost), the colour as a carry around bag isn’t ideal for me. I think this is one thing that could have been done in black, or potentially as a reversible item with the colour being on one side, and the black being the colour for carrying it as a bag.

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What I don’t like

As mentioned in the small core unit, not a fan of the colour of the cover if you are carrying it as a separate bag as it’s too light in colour. I prefer these bags to blend in a little more and a darker colour would have been more suitable for me personally. I noticed they do have a darker colour in one of their videos but I don’t know whether this is just a option or a prototype.

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Conclusion

The Shimoda bag is one of those bags that it’s hard to hate. So often in photography you find bags that are 90% there and just don’t make the grade for some obscure reason. With Shimoda, they have upped the grade, it’s a 99% bag and the issues are so minor it’s hard to complain about because they relate to extras that convention bags don’t offer anyway.

If you are looking to buy one of these, go ahead, buy it because you’ll love it. It’s expensive but it’s expensive for a reason and you’ll find it hard pressed to locate any review of this bag that says otherwise.

If you already picked up one on kickstarter, you probably know what I already knock. You picked up a bargain.

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