A couple of years ago, whilst browsing Etsy for handmade photography products, I clearly remember coming across the Porteen Gear store and stopping dead in my tracks. The handsome leather camera bags displayed in the virtual storefront were much more colourful and stylish than other bags I’d seen from the larger manufacturers, and I was compelled to find out more.
It turned out that the Etsy store was only the tip of the iceberg; by visiting the official Porteen Gear website, I discovered that you could actually build your own custom bag using Porteen Gear’s Bag Builder with choices between different leathers, fabrics, wax canvases, and colours.
After exchanging a few emails with artisan and president Robyn Porteen, she kindly agreed to send us a sample of the Compact Camera Bag to review on MirrorLessons. It became my primary bag for my smaller mirrorless camera gear, as well as my everyday carry around bag when I wasn’t shooting, and I still use it to this day.
Today, we’ll be reviewing a prototype of the newest mirrorless product in the Porteen Gear catalog called the Rambler. Robyn was inspired to create the Rambler when she made the migration from Canon to the Fujifilm X-T1. She wanted a bag that she could use to carry around her new mirrorless gear, especially on her astrophotography outings which she plans to chronicle on her upcoming blog, Skies and Coffee.
Design and Ease of Use
Like all the other bags in the collection, the Rambler is handmade in Grand Rapids, MI. There will be 5-8 standard Rambler bags in the series with a tweed colour (currently four but it will expand to six), top leather (black or brown), wax canvas (black or brown), strap (black or brown) and a unique one-of-a-kind distressed leather. Customisation by the customer will be limited to the colour of the interior fabric.
It has a classic design that suits both male and female photographers. I’m glad to see that Robyn went with a unisex design in this case because many of her bags primarily target female photographers.
Measuring 38 x 22 x 19 cm, it is a good size for mirrorless gear if you plan on carrying 3-4 lenses and some accessories, and even if you don’t decide to carry a lot of gear, you can always use the extra space to carry your wallet, phone, or water bottle for example. I’d generally use it for day-long photography outings or studio work because there is lots of room to fit all the essentials.
Unlike some other bags I’ve tested, the Rambler keeps its shape regardless of whether or not it is packed with gear and does not roll forward when packed to the brim.
The front flap is divided into three sections: a strip of coloured tweed sandwiched between two high-quality leather layers of differing textures. The lower layer is one of the focal points of the Rambler series; it is made of a unique one-of-a-kind piece of distressed leather. This means that no two bags are exactly the same.
At the centre of the main flap is a small flat pocket bearing the Porteen Gear logo. Although I like the easy access this pocket gives you to essential accessories like lens cloths or lens caps, I do find that they have the tendency to slip out when you lift the flap. I’m sure this is something that can be remedied with a tighter closure. (Note: Robyn has since stated that the final version of the pocket will have a small magnet to keep it closed.)
The rest of the bag comprises a mix of wax canvas for the outer shell, soft material for the interior, and the same tweed used for the front flap. The body of the bag is light yet thickly padded, protecting your gear from bumps. All the materials are well-made, durable, and expertly stitched together. The wax does attract some dust but a quick wipe with a damp cloth is enough to make it disappear.
Around the bag are a number of useful pockets. There is one large flat pocket on the rear for documents, another on the front that closes with a brass zipper, a third internal pocket for a tablet, and three additional flat pockets on the front for other accessories such as pens, lens cloths, memory card holders and more.
On my prototype, the internal pocket has a velcro closure but since you cannot close the pocket with a 10” tablet inside, Robyn plans to replace this with a flat velcro strap on the final version to give it more height.
The only pockets I miss, and hope will be included on the final version, are two on either side of the bag’s exterior. It is here that I often keep accessories that I want to access quickly when I use other bags such as the ThinkTank Lily Deanne.
To protect your gear, there are two dust flaps that you fold inward when you close the bag. As the name suggests, these flaps keep dust and water out of the bag’s interior. Overall, they work very well, though I admit I occasionally forget to fold them inside!
The strap is attached to the bag via a brass buckle. It is wide, robust and easy to adjust, and comes with a comfy leather pad that sits nicely on the shoulder without moving around too much.
Moving to the inside of the bag, you’ll notice that Robyn has sewn the two padded dividers to either side of the interior instead of defaulting to the standard velcro dividers that come with most bags. Since they are mobile, you can flatten them against the side of the bag to make more room for larger gear if you wish.
However, because the compartments are quite roomy, I do feel that an extra loose divider or two could be beneficial, especially for those who carry around small primes. Alternatively, a couple of small leather lens bags could be a nice touch.
Finally, we come to the buckle that closes the front flap. I have something of a love-hate relationship with this buckle because although it keeps your gear safe and secure, it isn’t easy to open or close with one hand. The bottom half also makes some noise if you leave the bag unbuckled because it slaps against the base of the bag as you walk.
Included with the bag is a nice little pouch you can use to hold business cards and other objects of the same size.
How much gear can I carry? A practical example
The Rambler is on the large end of the spectrum, meaning that you should be able to fit lots of mirrorless gear with some room to spare for accessories and personal belongings.
Since we own more Micro Four Thirds gear than anything else, this is what I’ll be using for our practical example:
- Olympus OM-D E-M1 (professional body) with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO attached
- M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8
- M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8
- Panasonic Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8
- 10” iPad tablet
- memory cards (inside provided pouch)
- business cards (inside provided pouch)
- cleaning cloth
Front Pockets 3x
What I love about the Rambler, and Porteen Gear bags in general, is that they are a perfect blend of two creative visions – that of Robyn Porteen herself, who designs the basic template for the bags and hand-crafts them in her studio, and that of the photographer, who is given the freedom to modify the bag’s appearance.
The Rambler may not permit the level of customisation the other bags in the Porteen Gear catalog do, but it remains an excellent product and I have no doubt that it will be one of her best-sellers!
To find out more about the Porteen Gear catalog, be sure to check out the official website.