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Accessory Reviews

Date: 18/12/2015 | By: Heather

Good looks and versatility in the same bag – Tenba Cooper 13 Slim Review

tenba cooper slim 13 review

Good looks and versatility in the same bag – Tenba Cooper 13 Slim Review

The most recent camera bag we had the opportunity to test was the Tenba Cooper 13 Slim, the second smallest of four messenger bags in the brand new Cooper range. At first, we were undecided between the Cooper 13 Slim and its little brother, the Cooper 8, but since the latter only fits 2-3 lenses and has no room for a laptop, we felt the larger version made more sense.

Design and Build Quality

If I had to use one word to describe the Tenba Cooper 13 Slim, it would be handsome. The Tenba website states “it strikes a balance between good looks and serious features” and I would say this is a very accurate description. Its classic, understated appearance makes it perfectly appropriate for the city, but it would feel as much at home on a walk in the wilderness thanks to its water-resistant canvas, fashioned from soft and easy-to-clean peach wax cotton.

The only part of the bag that claims complete weather resistance is the leather base panel. Since the weather here in Wales has been consistently miserable for the past few weeks, there has been more than one occasion that I’ve had to put the bag down on a wet surface or carry it around in the rain, and it’s always come out unscathed. In fact, I would say the bag looks as good as it did when it first arrived on our doorstep.

tenba cooper review
The leather base panel

To give your gear extra protection on wet days, you can also choose to close the bag’s main opening with a zipper.

tenba cooper 13 review
Keep your gear safe from the rain by closing the zipper

As with every Tenba bag, you also receive a rain cover that protects it from torrential downpours. I only had to use it once during the entire testing period and it is a perfect fit. Interestingly, you have a choice between a light side to reflect the sun and keep your gear cool, and a dark side to maintain a discreet profile.

tenba cooper review
E-M1, 1/100, f/ 14/5, ISO 200

Having enough pockets is the least of your worries with the Cooper Slim 13. There are a total of seven:

  • a flat zippered pocket on the front flap
  • a second flat zippered pocket on the front of the bag with three flat compartments for accessories
  • a third flap zippered pocket for a 13” laptop

These first two pockets are ideal for carrying around large and relatively flat items. I’m particularly glad that Tenba decided to include one on the front flap as it is quick and easy to reach if I want to temporarily store something like a receipt or train ticket. I tend to keep valuables such as my wallet and keys in the second flat pocket because of the two layers of production: the secure zipped closure and the flap that covers it.

The third pocket is the perfect size for my 13” Macbook Air but anything thicker might be a bit of a squeeze, especially if the bag is packed to the brim with camera gear. This particular pocket blends in so well with the rest of the bag that sometimes you forget it’s even there!

  • two open pockets on the front with smaller compartments on the inside to separate accessories
tenba cooper review
Two open pockets on the front of the bag

It is inside these pockets that I store all my accessories, from cleaning cloths to memory cards to air pumps. They provide plenty of room but since they don’t have a closure of any sort, they aren’t ideal for valuables.

  • two expandable zippered pockets on either side of the bag that can be used for lenses, water bottles or accessories
tenba cooper review
Two zippered side pockets that expand to accommodate a water bottle or lens

Of all the pockets, I find these two the most ingenious. Both feature a zipper down one side which, when closed, flattens the pockets against the bag. In this state, they are a good size for smartphones or the provided rain cover. When unzipped, however, you can easily fit an average-sized water bottle or even a standard zoom lens such as the M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 inside.

Another useful addition is the pair of quiet velcro closures on the front of the bag.

Originally developed for military use, this new kind of velcro hardly makes a sound when disengaged. All you have to do is pull down on the front flap before pulling it away from the bag. It isn’t 100% silent but it sure beats the ripping sound ordinary velcro makes. Do keep in mind that if you rip the velcro away from the bag without pulling down first, it is just as noisy as ordinary velcro.

tenba cooper review
Quiet velcro closure

As has become the standard on Tenba bags, the Cooper Slim 13 has a quick-access top zipper that makes it possible to retrieve your gear without opening the main flap. The implementation is very good thanks to the smooth zipper. Personally speaking, I prefer to lift up the main flap so that I can clearly see all my gear but were I in the city or an area where I didn’t want prying eyes peering inside my bag, I would happily use the quick-access opening as an alternative.

Something else that should be noted about the Cooper Slim 13 is that it doubles up as a general-purpose bag. This is because you can remove the padded insert to make room for notebooks, laptop chargers, and so on. Whether you’d use the same bag for business and shooting is up to you but it is nice to know the option is there.

tenba cooper review
Remove the padded insert and it becomes an all-purpose bag

Finally, we have a couple of other features that can make life easier for the travelling photographer. On the back, there is a handy pass-through that you can use to slide the bag onto the handle of your trolley, and to carry around the bag, there is an adjustable shoulder strap with a comfortable non-slip shoulder pad. Unlike many other shoulder pads, this one is removable, so you have the option to replace it if you already have a shoulder pad that you like.

tenba cooper slim 13 review
The removable non-slip shoulder pad
tenba cooper review
The pass-through lets you slide your bag onto your trolley handle

Now that I’ve covered all the positives, there are a few negative points I’d like to touch upon.

First, the bag has the tendency to topple forward when it is top-heavy, even when it’s placed on flat surfaces. Since the padded insert has two levels, I often end up using just the top level when I only have one camera and a couple of lenses and this can create some unbalance. The problem is exacerbated when I place the strap in front of the bag, as it pulls the bag forward.

Thankfully, this doesn’t happen all the time. It all depends on how you position your gear within the bag and how much gear you’re carrying. (Generally speaking, the more gear you carry, the more likely it will stand up straight.) That said, I admit this was a slight disappoint because I have used bags such as the Think Tank Lily Deanne that never fall over regardless of how they’re packed.

Another feature I feel doesn’t really benefit the user is the handle. It is too long and bulky, and its length cannot be adjusted. I often find it gets in the way of the quick-access zipper which defeats the purpose of having the zipper in the first place. However, it can be removed.

tenba cooper 13 review
The handle of the Cooper Slim 13 is too long and gets in the way of the quick-access zipper

How much gear can I carry? – A practical example

The Tenba Cooper 13 Slim is a deceptively spacious bag with numerous spaces and pockets for all kinds of gear and accessories.

As I mentioned before, the bag has a removable padded insert that can house a mirrorless body and 3-5 lenses depending on the system you use. It provides good protection and be rearranged to suit the amount of gear you’re carrying and the size of each lens/camera body. It also features two flat external compartments that are ideal for small accessories that won’t fit anywhere else. I’ve generally found it easier to remove the insert during the packing process because you can see and arrange the dividers more efficiently.

Since Mathieu and I own more Micro Four Thirds gear than anything else, this is what we used to fill the Tenba Cooper 13 Slim. Below you can find a full list of the gear we managed to fit without overloading the bag.

The Tenba Cooper 13 Slim (outside view)
The Tenba Cooper 13 Slim (outside view, fully packed)
The Tenba Cooper 13 Slim (inside view)
The Tenba Cooper 13 Slim (inside view, fully packed)
The gear
The gear

Main compartment (padded insert)

External open pockets

External zippered pocket (flap)

  • LEE Seven5 Filters (Little Stopper)
  • iPhone

External zippered pocket (front of bag)

  • Memory card holder
  • Wallet

External side pockets

External zippered back pocket

  • 13″ MacBook Air


The Tenba Cooper 13 Slim is yet another example of how far camera bags have come in just a few years. Combining a handsome appearance with many modern characteristics such as robust water-resistant materials, quiet velcro closures and a quick-access zipper, it is the kind of bag you’d feel comfortable using in any environment, from formal business trips to casual walks through the woods. What’s more, you can even transform it into an all-purpose bag simply by removing the padded insert.

Perhaps the only real objection I have, besides the fact that the bag doesn’t always stand upright, is that it lacks that “wow” factor I’ve come to expect from the products I review. Don’t get me wrong: I like this bag and wouldn’t have any trouble using it for work or casual shooting, but having used so many other similar messengers from various brands, I find myself struggling to pinpoint a standout feature that would make me recommend it over others on the market. Even the silent velcro, something I haven’t come across on another bag thus far, is easily matched by the magnetic closures of the Think Tank Lily Deanne or the MagLatch™ closure mechanism of the Peak Design Everyday Messenger.

What I can say, though, is that the Tenba Cooper 13 Slim is absolutely on par with the best camera bags I’ve tried in terms of both usability and good looks, which despite its lack of originality, is probably a compliment enough in itself.

thumb-up What I like about the Tenba Cooper 13 Slim:

  • Very handsome design that is appropriate for both formal and informal occasions
  • A good size for mirrorless gear
  • Made of weather-resistant canvas and weatherproof leather that is easy to clean
  • Loads of useful pockets, many of which close with a zipper
  • Near-silent velcro allows for discretion in quiet places
  • Quick-access zipper makes it possible to quickly and discreetly access your gear without opening the main flap
  • Very comfortable shoulder strap that is also removable
  • Has a pocket for a 13″ Macbook Air (a thicker laptop might be harder to fit)
  • You can use it as an all-purpose bag when you aren’t shooting by removing the padded insert

thumb-down What I don’t like about the Tenba Cooper 13 Slim:

  • When placed on the ground, it doesn’t always stand upright
  • The long and bulky handle feels like an awkwardly placed afterthought
  • On the expensive side

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About the author: Heather Broster

Heather Broster was born in Canada, has lived in Japan and Italy but currently calls Wales home. She is a full-time gear tester at MirrorLessons. You can follow her on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Mathieu

    We should receive a sample of the new bag but I am not sure when exactly (probably in a few weeks).
    The cooper slim 13 itself is not heavy and is designed for cameras first. However you can arrange the inserts to fit different things (for example a bottle of water on the external pocket on the side and some sandwiches in a small plastic box inside).

  • kb

    hi there, just wondering, with peakdesign announcing a smaller version of their bag if you’re doing a review of that as well? and especially in comparison to the Cooper slim? It would seem like their targeting the exact same market, i.e. us mirrorless users :) I also wanted to know what you think of the weight of the Cooper? I am currently using a Millican non-camera messenger with a Billingham insert, which works for combining going to work and bringing a camera and is extremely lightweight, but not always pracktical for camera only situations…

  • Heather Broster

    Thanks, Roberto. We can certainly try to get a sample to review!

    (And we’ll make sure to take a self portrait next time. 😉 )

  • Heather Broster

    Let us know how you get on!

  • jazz1

    Thanks! I’m going to take the plunge and buy this for my trips to Boston and Vancouver.

  • Bill Booz

    No, worries, Heather. Thanks, though, for your response. Not in market for new bag right now (have no money to spend on one!), but do want to consider something to replace my Lowepro Passport Sling, which I’ve been using for a while. I tend to prefer bags like the sling rather than shoulder/messenger bags, but the Tenba Cooper line has piqued my interest.

  • Heather Broster

    Sorry for the delay in my reply, Bill. I’m afraid I missed your comment! I would say that the Tenba, given the size, is much more appropriate for mirrorless gear. The Everyday Messenger is an excellent bag but I’d be more inclined to use it to transport gear from point A to B than as an everyday bag, despite the name! Personally, my favourite bag is the Lily Deanne by ThinkTank but I’d give a close second place to the Tenba Switch 10. :)

  • Heather Broster

    Yes, I do believe it would be the right size for these products. The specs are as follows according to the Tenba website: Mirrorless camera with 3-5 lenses or a DSLR with 2-3 lenses (up to 70-200mm 2.8), plus flash and accessories.

  • Mathieu

    I don’t have that kind of gear with me right now but I measured the internal height of the bag and it is 22cm. The 70-200 should be around 18cm long so you will be fine and there is enough space left to put the a6000 and 16-70mm.

  • jazz1

    Is there anyway this bag would hold a Sony 70-200mm f/4 vertically (no body)? And an A6000 with Zeiss 16-70mm lens?

  • Bill Booz

    Thanks, Heather! Excellent, informative review. Our son got the Peak Design Everyday Messenger and I thought I wanted it, but after seeing and handling his, I decided it wasn’t for me. This one appears amazingly similar, yet better. Do you find much difference between the two? And, though the Tenba didn’t “Wow” you, do you think it is better?

    Not on G+ so much anymore (get much more interaction on Facebook it seems), so miss interaction with you and the gang in your Community!

  • Roberto Dokonal

    Nice review Heather! I just missed a picture of you or Mathieu wearing the bag for a human size comparison.

    Changing to a non good looking subject, will you review the new Lowepro backpack for mirrorless cameras (the Lowepro ProTactic BP 250 AW)?

  • Heather Broster

    Thanks for the feedback, Hans!

  • Hans Ernst

    Thanks Heather, again a review that gave me great reading pleasure it’s a “handsome” bag, apart from the usability the looks serve me right on.

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