REVIEW: Crumpler "Sinking Barge" Laptop+DSLR+General backpack

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by Abstract, Jul 20, 2006.

  1. Abstract macrumors Penryn

    Abstract

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    #1
    Background:

    Approximately 6 weeks ago, I went out with some friends on a days worth of hiking. Since I wanted to bring a spare jumper, my water bottle, some food, and a map, I needed to bring my backpack. That's fine, because that's what I always do. I also wanted to bring my DSLR, which usually goes into a small Lowepro case that has the shape of a cube. It has great padding, and is generally quite useful. However, bring both of those bags was a pain.

    I'm also going on a trip where I'm looking to bring my laptop with me, and the laptop compartment in my regular school backpack is crap. Time for a sleeve. Anyway, I want to bring my water bottle, book, sunscreen, my laptop, and my DSLR with lens attached, plus an extra lens, battery charger, etc.

    I needed a 3 compartment backpack: one compartment for general stuff, one for my 13.3" MacBook, and another for my camera and 1 or 2 lenses. I looked at the Lowepro CompuRover and Tamrac Adventure 9 online, and while they looked great, there were some negatives. Firstly, the Tamrac Adventure 9 is too big. The Adventure 6 or 7 would have been good, but they have no laptop compartment. The CompuRover looked like it would do the job, except that both the Lowepro and Tamrac had general compartments that were shaped like cubes. What if you had to bring a magazine or papers? You can't fold or roll all your magazines and papers. :confused? This is the general problem with most of these 3-compartment designs --- the general purpose compartment is useless for papers.

    The other downside to all camera backpacks is that you need to take off your backpack to get to the camera, which isn't convenient when you want to shoot. Do it enough times, and it may become flat-out annoying and you may not use your backpack as much as you'd like.


    The "SINKING BARGE":

    PHOTO: From the front
    From the back

    Here's where Crumpler's Sinking Barge comes in. There must be quite a few photographers at Crumpler who also have to do paperwork once in a while, because the geniuses at Crumpler have designed a backpack that:

    1) Lets you get to your camera gear without taking off your backpack.

    2) Lets you store papers or a magazine in the general purpose compartment.


    By taking off one strap from your shoulder, you can swing the bag around and get to the camera compartment. The camera pocket isn't aligned vertically, so you don't need to unzip the bag along the centre and detach the top and bottom halves of the bag (example) to reach your camera. With this orientation, you'd need to put the bag down to reach for your camera. The camera pocket is also not aligned horizontally (example), so it won't just fall out of the bag if you open up the camera compartment zipper.

    The Sinking Barge has a camera pocket that opens slightly diagonally, and completely unzipping the cover still would not allow for the camera to fall out. Great design. Here's a PHOTO of me taking out my camera from it's compartment while the bag is still on my back. This isn't really possible with other designs.




    SIZE OF THE BARGE:

    After looking at it now, it does appear to have a big bottom. Yes, it's very wide when compared to a regular backpack. They appear comparable if you look at both bags from the front (PHOTO: Front-on comparison), but not from the sides ((PHOTO: Side-on comparison). No photo can really show you how much fatter this bag truly is. It's just.....very deep. The cause of this is the camera compartment. Since the walls are made from solid padding, it won't compress when the bag is empty.

    Inside the bag, the volume of space available is surprisingly small. This is also a cause of the padding used inside, which is thick and decreased the usable volume inside the backpack. This could be thought of as a reassuring thing, I guess. :eek:

    Curiously enough, the camera compartment is actually removable! The padding in the camera section is all made from one piece, which you can remove. With some careful unvelcro-ing of the top section of the camera compartment, and more unvelcro-ing of the general purpose compartment, you can actually turn the backpack into a regular backpack with no camera compartment! It's crazy, but it works, although not very well. I would never use this backpack as a general purpose backpack because the shape of the internal volume is strange and irregular. Keep the camera padding inside the camera compartment.


    Camera Protection:

    The Sinking barge offers great protection for all your expensive gear. For one, the camera compartment has very thick padding surrounding your camera and lenses. The "back" padded section is 1.8 cm thick, or almost 0.7", while the other 3 outer walls are around 1 cm thick, or 0.4" thick. The section dividers within the camera compartment are slightly thinner --- possibly 0.8 cm.

    Within the same compartment is a zipped mesh pocket that is handy for keeping things like memory cards, extra battery, or heck, even an entire charger. It's a big pocket. ;) PHOTO HERE.

    The one problem with the padding in the camera compartment is the top . No padding covers the camera section, only a mesh material that zips up to keep the camera in place. While it does a good job of keeping everything down, it offers the LCD of my DSLR very little protection against the stuff I keep in the other mesh pocket when the compartment is zipped closed. See THIS photo again! Here's another with the mesh unzipped.....(PHOTO 2). What if the extra battery I keep in there scratches the LCD of my camera? :rolleyes:

    The paranoid should consider putting something in between the camera and the mesh pocket, say a thin board paper.
     
  2. Abstract thread starter macrumors Penryn

    Abstract

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    #2
    (Continued...)

    General Purpose and Laptop Compartments:

    The general purpose compartment doesn't offer any protection from the top or sides, but why should it? Its like any regular backpack in that regard. :) Within the general compartment are two pockets: one for a laptop, and the other for papers and magazines. This is perfect for people who want to bring their gear and work with them, or people (like me) who go to conferences, but also want to take photos at the vendor booths, when with friends, of the city as you walk through it, etc. Ever take a train to go to an event, and brought your DSLR with you? Ever think about doing some reading or paperwork while you're on the train? Maybe use your laptop?

    The general purpose certainly isn't large, but you can't expect it to be as large as the compartment you get in a regular backpack. It does the trick, and that's the point. It fits my water bottle, and a hooded jumper (size: large). I wish it could fit something else, but with the watter bottle and jumper in there, there isn't any room to put anything else inside unless it was a (small) chocolate bar.

    PHOTO: My 1 litre Nalgene Bottle in the general compartment
    PHOTO: My 1 litre Nalgene bottle and Hooded Jumper/Sweatshirt inside


    The laptop pocket is deep enough to fit a MacBook perfectly, and barely wide enough to fit a MacBook (the width being the short side of the top lid, for example). However, if you don't have a Mac laptop (hisssssss) and your laptop is a tad bit thicker, you'll have no trouble, because the pocket was made to accomodate slightly thicker laptops (say 1.5" laptops).

    If you have a 15" MBP, you won't be able to fit your laptop because while the pocket is likely deep enough, it's not wide enough. It just fits the MacBook. If you have a 15" or 17" MBP, look into Crumpler's Customary Barge, because it's larger.

    The paper pocket is directly in front of the laptop compartment. In this PHOTO, it's located directly above the 2 black velcro strips. It's a deep pocket, but with a Macbook inside, you could only carry 2 regular magazines in there. Lets put it this way........it's possible to put 2 DVD cases inside the paper/magazine pocket, but you'd be applying pressure on the laptop in the other compartment.


    Laptop Protection:

    The laptop pocket is protected by very thin padding on the wall facing the inside (ie: facing the general purpose compartment), and the 2 walls facing the sides. The thin wall facing the inside compartment is adequate, since it doesn't have to be protected from anything. However, the thin padding facing the sides of the backpack doesn't offer protection from side impacts of any sort. The flap that covers the laptop and magazine section is also made from a thin padding, so offers only a bit of protection from the top. It's possibly a big deal, but I personally don't feel that way. I was still slightly disappointed with this, since I just expected better, after having inspected the rest of the bag and being so happy.


    The great part is this: The padding that faces the back of the backpack is the thickest I've ever felt in any backpack or bag whatsoever. It's incredibly thick and dense, and nothing short of a car will damage your laptop from the back. If you took a golf club and swung it at back of your Sinking Barge as hard as you could, I'd bet that you wouldn't even put a scratch on your laptop. We're talking about 1.5" of protection over 90% of the back, and at least 1" of protection around the remaining 10% of the back section. :eek:


    What it looks like when being worn:

    Front
    Front with chest and waist straps
    From the side



    OVERALL:

    I'd give this bag a letter grade of "A" ......"A" for "awesome." Great protection at a high price. At least I got what I paid for. :D The most amazing thing about this backpack when first touching it are the 2 shoulder straps. They're so incredibly thick and comfortable, likely the most comfortable backpack I have ever worn. Even the waist and chest straps are made from a thick and smooth material that makes my other backpack feel like cheap poo.

    The only negative was the mesh that covers the camera compartment, which leaves the back of the camera (ie: the LCD) slightly unprotected. I don't see many things going wrong, but I'll be careful anyway. :eek:

    I've never looked into buying a Crumpler, and essentially looked at any other option before I checked them out. Why? Because of their designs. Actually, the design is awesome, but the aesthetics of Crumpler bags always appeared cheap to me. It didn't look good. However, this bag (in this black colour) has a nice, simple design that doesn't look like an eyesore. I can't say the same thing about the Oatmeal colour option, which looks great from the outside, but has a bright orange internal colour. Oh well, the overall aesthetic design is still good. It doesn't stand out too much either, except all those little Crumpler man on the front, and on each zipper grab. ;)
     
  3. joebells macrumors 6502

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    Oct 24, 2005
    #3
    Thanks for the review My girlfriend is a photographer and so she needs a better bag. I really appreciate the review especially all the pictures.
     
  4. giganten macrumors 6502a

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    Jan 23, 2006
    #4
    Good review Abstract.:D

    How many lenses can you put in the backpack?
     
  5. clasicks macrumors member

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  6. ChrisBrightwell macrumors 68020

    ChrisBrightwell

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    #6
    Hey thanks for this -- I'll look at your photos tonight when I get home (Flickr is blocked @ work), but I've been considering this bag recently for the exact same purposes you have listed. :)

    I have a Targus "Sport Deluxe" Backpack that I love ... esp since a 1L Nalgene fits in each of the front mesh pockets, my iPod and P&S camera fit in one side pocket, and my DS fits in the other side pocket (with a few games). I can cram cables and chargers into the front pocket, a notebook, a few magazines, or a textbook into the main compartment, and my PowerBook into the laptop slot.

    I didn't have any qualms with this bag until I got my Digital Rebel XT. Now I'm at a loss for how to carry this bag and that camera at the same time. Needless to say, I think Crumpler has the best solution. I just wish it wasn't so expensive. :(
     
  7. Abstract thread starter macrumors Penryn

    Abstract

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    #7
    ^^Yes, I pretty much had to carry the same stuff as you, which only became a problem after I got my Nikon D50. My little Lowepro does the trick if I'm not going far from home, but for day trips or general travelling, this backpack will be fantastic.

    There's also a big pocket in front of the camera compartment, and that can be used to fit a charger and some cables. The bad thing is that there are no side mesh pockets for a water bottle, so you'd have to store it inside. The Tamrac Adventure 9 definitely has a side mesh for water bottle. :eek:
    If you wanted to store a Nalgene bottle and your Nintendo DS, a few magazines, and a laptop the size of a 13.3" MB, you could. Anything more than a few magazines, or if you have a 15" MBP, I'd consider getting the Customary Barge from Crumpler.

    And about the price of the Crumpler? First place I checked was eBay, but I did find one legit big chain camera retailer that sold the bag much cheaper than Crumpler was selling it. This bag was the same price as the Lowepro CompuRover and Tamrac Adventure 9 bags, and since I thought it was better (stores magazines and papers), I went with this one.



    Including one attached to the camera? Possibly 3, but you'd have better luck with 2 lenses and a flash, I think.
     
  8. BAspecialCake macrumors member

    BAspecialCake

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  9. YS2003 macrumors 68020

    YS2003

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    #9
    I am looking for a high quality, user-friendly bag for digital camera gear. The OP's review on this Crumpler Sinking Barge covers from good angles and I am considering this bag as one of my choices when I purchase a bag in the next few days.

    Can someone recommend any other combo bag (which can carry both digital camera gear and a notebook computer)? There are many choices and most of those bags are not displayed in the store as they are sold online. I would like to carry the following:

    One SLR digital camera (30D), one small P&S digital camera, 4 lens, extra battery, power charger, travel-size cleaning kit, possibly some filters, the portable tripod, 12" or 15" notebook/AC adaptor/extra battery. I would like to keep the bag size within the airline carry-on baggage size limit (just in case).
     
  10. Abstract thread starter macrumors Penryn

    Abstract

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    #10
    Well I did mention these other candidates in my review as well.

    Tamrac Adventure 9
    Lowepro CompuRover

    The Lowepro is good, and the Tamrac Adventure 9 is likely perfect. Too bad the smaller sizes like the Adventure 7 can't hold a laptop.

    The only thing is that these are the 3-compartment laptops. I bought the Crumpler because I could reach into my bag without taking it off each time.

    However, there are the 2 compartment bags that are great. For example, look at these:

    CompuTrekker
    Tamrac 5256
     
  11. YS2003 macrumors 68020

    YS2003

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    #11
    Tamrac Adventure 9 and Lowepro CompuRover AW (or CompuTrekker Plus AW Camera Backpack) look very sturdy and well-made. The downside on the sturdiness is the weight (I think those bags weigh around 6 lbs). On the contrary, your Crumpler Sinking Barge is less than 5 lbs while still being sturdy enough to protect the photo/notebook gear.

    I like the ergonomics of the bag which you can access the gear while still wearing the bag. I think Tamrac and Lowepro bags are not designed in that way so that you have to put them down on the ground to have access to your gear (if the ground you are walking is not clean, puddle infested, and etc, that may be a problem).

    How do you carry the tripod with Crumpler Sinking Barge? I don't see any external strap to hold the tripod on it.
     
  12. Abstract thread starter macrumors Penryn

    Abstract

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    #12
    ^^There isn't a place to put a tripod. On the other hand, the CompuRover and Adventure 9 do have one.

    And yes, the Adventure 9 is just too big. I wish they Adventure 7 could hold laptop. The Aventure 9 can hold a 17" laptop, but I only have a Macbook, so.....

    If you look at the 2-compartment Crumpler camera backpacks, they may offer a place to put a tripod, but then you lose the advantage of having that 3rd compartment for general stuff, and need to take the bag off just to get your camera for a quick shot.
     
  13. YS2003 macrumors 68020

    YS2003

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    #13
    This thread has been helpful as I go through the purchasing decision on my digital camera/lens/notebook compuer bag. Even though I would like to go with Crumpler bags (I like non-camera/computer bag look design, as I don't want to attract unwanted attention in public), I guess I have to go with Tamrac Adventure 9 bag. I prefer staying away from the bags which scream "this bag contains the SLR camera and lens"; but, I am interested in getting the full function camera/notebook combo bag with various pouches and compartments inside to hold various items in place, including the tripod holder on the outside, while protecting the content from impact and rain water.

    That bag looks very toned-down in terms of the design for a camera bag (which I like very much), while providing the full functionality inside.
     

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