When was the last time you received a compliment for how beautiful your camera bag is? Do you dread carrying your gear to activities and events due to the fact that your bag completely clashes with your fashion sensibilities? Are you a man?
If you answered “yes” to that last question, camera bag company ONA wants to change your answer for the first two.
While most major camera bag manufacturers are focused on the utility of their wares, ONA is a company that’s just as focused on the beauty of theirs. One of the company’s latest products is the Leather Brixton, a sleek messenger bag for your camera and laptop that seems like it would be more at home in a high-end clothing store than in a camera shop.
We were recently provided with a free review unit of the bag to put through the paces, and will be sharing some of our thoughts with you here.
The bag itself is made by hand out of Italian-tanned leather. It features a gentle wax finish that’s designed to age gracefully — the company says it “develops a rich patina” as you use it, making it more beautiful with age.
While it won’t allow you to carry a large amount of gear from place to place, it’ll be perfect for the small kit you carry around for everyday photography. The bag is designed for one camera, two to three lenses, and a 13-inch laptop.
The inside layout is completely customizable, with four removable dividers that you create compartments with. Three of them are small dividers that span from front to back, and one is a large divider that can split your entire bag in half from side to side (or offer extra padding on the front or back of the bag).
On the back of the bag is a compartment for your laptop, and there are four extra compartments around the bag for extra accessories — two on the front and one on each side.
The Leather Brixton isn’t massive in its main compartment, but it’s enough. Our Canon 5D DSLR and 35mm prime lens fits nicely, but only when the large divider/padding is removed. If you use a smaller mirrorless camera, you’ll find that the bag’s size is perfect. For larger cameras, it’s not perfect, but perfectly acceptable. If you use a DSLR that has an attached battery grip (or a pro-style DSLR), you’ll probably want to find a larger bag.
As we mentioned earlier, the inserts can be completely removed if you want to make the bag no different from many messenger bags out there, with a single main compartment that’s soft and padded. The velcro removes easily and cleanly, leaving no evidence that the bag is even designed for cameras. Adjusting the compartments for different gear combinations is also a snap.
The bag protects your gear very well. The outside of the bag is thick, the main compartment features weather flaps on the top sides to prevent rain from entering the opening, and the cover clips closed very tightly with its two antique brass clasps.
As you can probably guess, the main selling point of this bag is its style. This is one of the most — if not the most — beautiful bag we’ve ever laid eyes on. There’s just something different about leather versus synthetic materials, about brown versus black, about soft and tacky versus cold and plasticky.
“Gorgeous” and “eye-catching” aren’t words that we’d typically think of when considering most camera bags, but they are more than appropriate for this one.
Bags like this one might even help slow the encroachment of smartphones on the camera market. It’s a bag that begs to be worn, which can’t be said for most. If you’ve been defaulting to your smartphone or point-and-shoot when headed out of the house simply because your camera bag cramps your style, a bag like this one can help your bigger and badder cameras see more love.
The build quality of the bag is also fantastic. The leather is thick all around, and serious stitching keeps all the pieces bonded tightly together. This is a bag that’s built like a tank.
The overall design and layout of the Leather Brixton is so good that we don’t really have any major complaints there. There are, however, some nit-picky things that we think you should know.
One is that the two parts of the brass tuck-clasp clatter against one another if you’re strolling about with the cover unsecured. It’s convenient to leave the cover open to make your gear as easy to get to as possible, but you’ll have to live with the fact that your steps will be accompanied by a “clack clack” sound.
Luckily each of the clasps comes with a frame-and-prong mechanism (like a belt buckle) that lets you adjust the length of the strap or to remove the straps from the upper part of the clasps entirely.
“Voila!” we thought. “We’ll just leave the clasp secured and walk around with the strap unbuckled and flapping around silently!”
Not the best idea. The reason is that the clasps aren’t very secure when the straps aren’t buckled in and pressing down on them. The two upper halves of the clasps actually came undone by themselves and fell out. We only noticed this due to the second one falling with a loud clatter on the sidewalk. When we saw this, we glanced at the bag and noticed that the first one was also missing. Luckily, it had fallen out in the office.
Thus, live with the clatter lest you feel like ordering a replacement clasp. Either that, or always keep the cover fastened to the bag at the expense of having your camera always at the ready.
Another thing to note is that the bag has a semi-strong odor when it first pops out of the box. It’s very leathery, but can be mistaken for other things as well. “Do you smell baby urine?” is one thing we heard. Luckily, this smell disappears quite quickly once you start wearing the bag around.
Although the bag is marketed as being suitable for 13-inch laptops, it’s a bit of a stretch — literally. When trying to stuff a 13-inch Macbook Pro into the bag, we wished that there existed some kind of shoehorn for stuffing laptops into bags. The laptop did get a bit easier to insert after the bag stretched out and loosened up a bit, but it’ll probably be nicer if you have a smaller screen or thinner device.
Finally — and this is the con that will keep many of you from seriously considering this bag — this pretty bag costs a pretty penny. It’s obviously not a pain we felt since we were provided with a review unit, but the Leather Brixton will set you back $419.
That’s a very steep price to pay for a messenger camera bag, but ONA understands that. The company is trying to serve a very particular photography niche: photographers with disposable income who are just as concerned about their fashion image as they are about their photographic images. They make premium camera bags by hand, so you’ll need to pay a premium to join the party.
The ONA Leather Brixton is a feast for the eye and one that photographers can be very proud to own, use, and wear. It’s a brilliantly designed product that has very few flaws.
If you’re a fashion-conscious photography-enthusiast who is willing to shell out the price of a high-end compact camera for a bag to carry your gear around in, the Leather Brixton is one that we highly recommend.