I have been using the F-Stop Loka camera bag for the last month or so. I was turned on to the F-Stop bags by one of our moderators who recommended that I look at them when I was researching which new bag to fit my Sigma 120-300 F2.8 OS lens in (more on that in another review). The F-Stop bag is rather unique because it is not a dedicated camera bag. Instead, it is a back pack that allows for a series of internal camera units to be housed inside it. In short, you can take as much (or as little) camera gear as you need for your hike and maximize your space for whatever non-photography related materials that you may need for your hike.
Here are some specs from the F-Stop website:
* Volume: 37 Liter / 2,260 Cubic Inches
* Weight: 1565 Grams - 3.45lbs (No ICU)
* Dimensions: 12.6” x 23" x 8.5" (60cm x 32cm x 22cm)
* Internal Compartment Dimensions: 12” x 22” x 8”
* Torso Length: 18.5” - for 5'6" to 6'2" (167cm to 188cm)
* Aluminum internal Frame for support carrying heavy loads.
* Fabric Info: Nylon 330D Double Rip-stop PU 1500mm DWR, Abrasion Resistant Nylon Webbing, High Density foam, Heavy Gauge Zippers, YKK Waterproof Zippers, Waterproof Urethane coasted mesh
* Price - $279 (bag only). Internal Camera Units (ICUs) run at maximum about $75 (for a Extra Large ICU)
Top of Bag
At first glance, this bag could easily be confused with many other hiking bags on the market. The construction is first rate. It is very durable, with a supportive internal frame and proper straps to help hug the back. Please note the 'ideal heights' for this bag are 5'6 to 6'2.
I have now carried about 30 pounds of gear with this bag on several small day hikes - typically short day hikes of a couple of miles. We also did a slightly longer day hike in the back woods of Maine that was about 3.6 miles. Admittedly a 3.6 mile hike is not super long, but it is enough. :P
Underneath this is a small compartment that will easily hold an ipad (or equivalent) tablet.
Bag Standing Up from Under Side
From this angle, one thing you may notice about this camera bag is that it allows for the inclusion of a water bladder. In this case, I purchased an Osprey 3 liter bag as well as the optional hydration sleeve. It is there to help make sure that water does not find its way into the bag and camera compartment.
Open Bag with Large Internal Camera Unit Aside 1
The Large Internal Camera Unit is the largest one that I could purchase at the time of this review. They sell Small, Medium, Large (Shown) and Extra Large. F-Stop does not advertise the Extra Large ICU for this bag. However, I spoke with customer service and I was assured that it does indeed fit in the Loka bag. If you decide to go that route, you won't have a ton of space on the top of the bag in order to put in other gear essentials.
Open Bag with Large Internal Camera Unit Aside 2
I included this view because I think it better shows what the ICU bag actually looks like when closed. The ICU is a well padded internal bag that actually slides into the larger bag. Loading the ICU into the Loka bag was one of the few places where I had some (minor) frustration with the bag.
Due to the aluminum frame, the ICU wants to slide in underneath it. This makes getting to the ICU's zipper, which is located on the periphery, a bit difficult to reach from the inside of the Loka bag. If I were to design the bag from scratch, I might consider an ICU with two zippers - one on the outside as it currently exists and a second zipper that hugs the contour of the opening of the Lokoa bag itself. This way you don't have to pinch your hands trying to get the ICU open. The truth of the matter is that I don't bother zipping the inside the bag anymore. I just use the outside zipper. I don't believe that anything will fall out of the bag. The external zipper is quite secure. Having said that, do so at your own discretion. :P
Open Bag with 3 Liter Water Bladder Shown and Optional Bladder Holder
The inclusion of an optional water bladder was a big thrill for me. I have been wanting one for ages. I have been placing ice cubes inside my Osprey bladder and drinking nice cold water for the afternoon when out shooting.
I was initially concerned that the water bladder was located inside the bag (hugging the ICU). The last thing you want is a leak inside the bag. However, between a quality water bladder and the optional hydration sleeve, I don't think it is too much of a problem - particularly as the internal camera unit (ICU) is also its own distinct bag.
Having hiked with my gear in a regular Gregory Bag (the Baltoro 75), which is not even close to being designed for photographers, I can say that I have never had this as an issue.
View of Bag with Gear 1
As you can see, the bag is plenty large. I currently have my camera body and several lenses in the bag. I am currently fitting:
1 5dii body
1 120-300 F2.8 OS Lens
1 70-200 F2.8L Lens
1 28-70 F2.8 L lens
1 16-35 F2.8 L lens
1 580EX II Flash
On top of the compartment, I am also keeping all of my Singh Ray filters and filter holder. If I were taking this on an extended hike, I would probably opt for the smallest ICU and bring as few toys with me as possible. When hiking, it is all about ounces!
View of Gear Inside Bag (close-up)
Just another shot of my gear. I have ordered the Extra Large ICU so that I can also pack a second camera body, and perhaps have a converter on the 120-300 OS lens. I like to be able to pack the bag for conditions so that I don't have to fiddle with changing lenses when I need the camera in a hurry. As it currently stands, the 120-300 is wedged inside the bag, attached to the 5dii. The lens hood is attached, but turned backwards for storage. I did not show photos of the 120-300 because at the time I took these shots, I was still waiting for the lens to come in.
One of the great options of having different ICU options available means that you really can pack efficiently exactly what you need.
Top of Bag (1st Flap)
The top flap is a relatively small compartment. Currently, I am only keeping my CF cards, a flash light and a few odds and ends in it. This includes the dividers I removed from the bag when I first started installing my gear into it.
Top of Bag (2nd Flap)
This second flap is a larger one that goes all the way to the ICU and water bladder. As you can see, with the large ICU installed, there is not a ton of room for incidentals. With the extra large ICU coming, I expect to lose an additional 3 inches or so. The rest of the dimensions are the same.
Bag with Tripod Mounted
This is the last shot of the bag that I am sharing with the tripod attached. While I usually hike with the tripod slung around my back separately for more even weight distribution, I did take several hikes with the tripod attached. You can also attach the tripod from the sides (notice the bands on the side of the bag). I always connect the tripod to the camera bag when going through the airport so that it will count as one carry on item.
There are a couple of items that I missed when doing the photos that I feel like I should mention. The first is that there are small compartments on where the bag's waist cinches are located. You can put small odds and ends, such as CF cards in these. There is also a laptop sleeve on the inside of the bag that should hold a 15 inch laptop. That compartment is a bit flimsy, so I would recommend using a neoprene (or equivalent) protector for your laptop should you choose to carry one with you.
Outside of the couple of quibbles that I mentioned above about certain ergonomic issues, I just think this is the greatest bag I have seen yet. It is well designed, and I find holding the heavy weights that I have been doing to be as good as possibly expected. Most of the bags on the F-Stop website are currently sold out - but they will be coming out with new ones later this year. If you are looking for a bag, I recommend checking them out.
Please note that this article is copyright James Morrissey and the Nature, Wildlife and Pet Photography Forum. Neither the images nor text may be used without explicit written permission.