Things to note before reading this review:
-I didn't read the inlet too thoroughly so for absolutely correct info visit http://www.lowepro.com/
-I own this backpack for 2 months only as of july 2010 and this is my personal opinion about it's use
-using paint for image editing might be lame, but I don't have anything better atm.
-any questions, just ask!
after I got my DSLR I was looking for a way to transport both my laptop any my camera together. I've had a backpack (I will mention this word too much here so I'll just use BP instead) for my laptop before, since I am a big fan of BPs, but there was very little room for anything else than accesories. So I decided to sell my old laptop BP Targus for 20 quid and I bought Lowepro Fastpack 350 from amazon for £52. I wanted a blue/black combination but it was £4 more expensive than black/black for some reason so I opted for black/black, as it's a bit more discreet too (btw Jessops wanted £89 for this backpack in their catalogue! :O). So let's take a look at its features:
-it is based on a 3 separate compartments system (laptop chamber, camera compartment and misc. compartment)
-it has some degree of weatherproofing (waterproof fabric and semi-sealed zippers)
-a separate zipper pouch good for small items, attachable to compartment wall thanks to velcros
-camera compartment customizable via panels with velcros
-just the right amount of smaller chambers and mesh pockets (not too many) and they are discreetly hidden as well so completely zipped up BP looks sleek and compact and not "pockety"
1. Brief overview
Okay, this BP was designed to let you be able to carry your 17" laptop, DSLR and accessories and a little extra stuff. Let's take a look on this BP compared to some items of daily use (CD's, format A4 notebook and 2l bottle of water). Not the smallest of BPs but roomy. It really looks sleek and tidy when packed. The other photo shows amount of padding on the back and shoulder and waist straps which is excellent, also a 0,5l bottle inside a net on right side. There are smaller straps (1) on each shoulder straps for securing a jacket, or perhaps a mat. The wide strip of fabric on right shoulder strap (2) is designed to hold a smaller Lowepro module.
There is a laptop chamber (1) which you can access by unzipping one side of BP. Note that the zipper doesn't come all the way down and when I tried to put my 17" Dell Inspiron inside for the first time I got scared cause the chamber was too small for it. The catch of this design is to put one side of your laptop inside fisrt. Then you have to push it down a little so it sits down on the bottom of the compartment and then put in the rest. It took me 2-3 putting ins and taking outs until zipper and padding submitted a bit. Anyway, you can carry up to 17" laptop in it, A4 documents without folding them, and if you leave the chamber empty you have double padding on your back - WIN-WIN!! Nothing more to add here, so I won't review this section in detail any more.
The DSLR compartment (2) has 6 sections by default, but you can alter their layout by changing, or taking away velcro panels, allowing you to carry a long telephoto lens, etc. There are two small velcro pockets on camera compartment access lid for storing memory cards. I store my viewfinder cover in it. The padding is sufficient and you can be confident about your expensive toys' protection, as long as it's dali bumps and toss-arounds. I wouldn't count on it if it was ran over by a lorry. This compartment has a 2 stage, cleverly designed access lid. You can either access your camera quickly by turning the BP on your left shoulder strap, or you can access whole compartment by releasing a main covering flap. Doing so will allow you to access another small compartment but more on that later.
Finally, there's a miscellaneous compartment (3). I love this one, because it has a flat bottom, which is great for space management, it also serves me as a platform for changing lenses! Inside, there is a small Lowepro pouch, which can be attached and secured inside this compartment by velcros. There's 2 pen slots, 2 pouches with flap covers with velcro, a net pocket and a thin strap with a plastic carabine on it's end. I didn't find a use for it so far, perhaps it might serve as a key chain or wallet securing utility. On the outer surface there is small unpadded zipper chamber.
3. Camera compartment in detail
As I mentioned, this compartment is customizable by panels, so I'm sure you'll find a layout to suit your needs. Camera bodies, lenses, flashes, junk... it will swallow it all, just don't complain about the weight later. Padding is good, all that needs to be protected will stay protected. First photo shows what my compartment's layout looks like. Pretty much as it was when it arrived. Second photo shows memory card mini-pockets on the inside of camera compartment lid. Under the flap preventing you from opening the camera compartment to stage 2, you can find a smaller zipper pocket with 2 net pockets (shown in third photo). I have found out that these are just right to house CD's in paper covers. A5 format thin paperback notebook will also fit in, covering net pockets, hardening the lid and adding even more protection! TIP: There are four zippers securing this compartment; two for camera comp. and two for chamber with nets. If you place all these zippers in positions shown by green pointers and cover them with main flap, no thief can access your stuff until he unclicks the flap. As a bonus for doing so, you'll be rewarded by better protection against dripping water as well!
4. Miscellaneous compartment in detail
I try to keep compartments separated for the purpose they are designed, but this is the place where all my junk comes together. I keep my laptop cleaning kit and my mouse here, laptop charger, pens and raincoat here. Also my snacks and smaller parts of clothing. But also a quick access items for camera e.g spare battery and microfiber cloth. This place is really spacious and can swallow alot. But let's get to the technical side of it now.
In the first photo you can see the separate zipper pouch (1) I was talking about earlier. TIP: If you want to prevent the pouch sticking to the cover by velcros, cover them with a piece of fabric they catch on to. I sometimes put this pouch in one section of camera compartment I don't use and I hate when it sticks to the panels. You can also reverse the pouch so the velcros are inside .
From left to right, there is a pocket with covering flap (2), two pen holders (3), another pocket with flap but slightly smaller (4), net pocket (5) and a thin strap with plastic carabine (6). Second image shows small chamber for documents, wallet, keys, or whatever you like to put in there.
5. So how does my BP looks loaded?
Awfully overstuffed most of the time
. Since all there is to review has been reviewed I'll just stick pictures with comments here.
This is what I see when I use quick access (stage 1) to camera section. That's right, only camera here, no worries of lenses falling out. Also convenient memory card mini-pockets.
What happens when I proceed to stage 2? I get full access to my junk. (1) - this place is mostly empty, or sometimes I put separate orange pouch with caps n lids and small camera items inside. This will probably be a comfy place for my flash in the future. (2) - Nikkor 18-105mm f3.5-5.6 VR lens in its pouch. I intend to sell this lens soon. (3) - Filter cases for 67 and 52mm, should I put them away from my lens for some reason. (4) - battery charger and camera USB cable. (5) - Nikon D90 body with Nikkor 24mm f2.8D attached. (6) - I store my Nikkor 50mm f1.8D here, but I lended it to my cousin for a couple weeks.
This is my miscellaneous comp. Stuff I keep here: (1) - laptop mouse. (2) - black pen and black marker in one pen slot. (3) - two AA batteries on top of eachother in one pen slot. (4) - spare battery for camera and a lens cleaning cloth. (5) - laptop screen cleaning kit (cleaning solution, a brush and wiping cloth). (6) - my raincoat. This is the next best thing after sliced bread. It will house your whole body and head and backpack from no matter how heavy rain while keeping your hands free. I also use it to sit on wet benches/grass/whatever shortly after rain and it serves me well as a warm butt cushion when folded in its pouch. Priceless item!
And finally, This is all the items that are inside the BP when I'm absolutely fully loaded. Behold! (1) - Raincoat. (2) - a bottle of water. (3) - Camera battery charger and usb cable. (4) - Nikkor 18-105mm lens. (5) - Nikon D90 body with either 50mm or 24mm lens. (6) - 67 and 52mm filter cases. (7) - spare battery and lens cleaning cloth. (8) - a pen and a marker. (9) - 17" laptop. (10) laptop mouse. (11) - some software CDs. (12) - laptop cleaning kit. There is also half a dozen small silica gel pockets, a Lowepro pouch form inside the BP with junk and small items like eyepiece cover, and my 50mm lens is also missing in this shot.
In conclusion, this is a backpack for me. It houses my, rather less popular and harder to find a backpack for, 17" laptop, my DSLR kit and some extra stuff aswell. When I go shooting I usually take only camera with lens, but when I go on a trip somewhere the extra room and convenience of having one BP instead of 2-3 small bags hanging around me. Plus, free hands for ice cream! And when I travel to college and am taking my laptop, I still carry only one backpack. It is designed very cleverly and I don't regret a single pound I paid for it.
Thanks for reading, feedback as well as questions about this product are welcome.