|The Lowepro Classified Sling 220 AW|
Lowepro has had a lot of success with their line of Sling and SlingShot photo gear bags. The SlingShot models are built around the teardrop silhouette of traditional outdoor wilderness photo backpacks. The Sling models however have a sleek rectangular shape and come in two sizes. The larger Classified Sling 220 AW is the subject of this review.
While the SlingShots look more like bags for a hike in the woods the Classified Sling 220 AW carries a little more swagger and style. Resembling a more rectangular shape, this bag takes on a sophisticated urban flair, and is offered in black in a very simple and elegant design with hardly a strap dangling from it to spoil its classy looks. Only the over-the-shoulder strap and two discrete grab handles on the top and side are visible. Since this bag offers such clean lines it is the right choice for the events photographer, street shooter, or the photographer who is logging a lot of commercial airline miles. In fact, according to the hangtag this bag is designed to meet “airline-compatible size according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations (as of Oct. 08)”.
Continuing on with the style elements of the Classified Sling 220 I would like to point out a few other appointments that make this bag really nice. The front of the bag is accented with two black leather panels opposing each other with one having the Lowepro logo embossed on the surface. All the exterior zippers have leather pull tabs. The exterior is covered in a high quality water resistant ballistic nylon fabric. The body of the bag is rigid helping to keep the clean lines always looking sharp with well defined corners – like a just-made bed in a fine hotel. The back panel is well padded and has a molded arrow showing the user which way to strap on the bag. This is a good idea in my opinion since I have always been a little “sling bag challenged”. Sometimes I’m not so sure which way to mount the bag on my shoulder; this arrow gives me a subtle heads-up.
On the outside, there are three hidden components to this bag. At the bottom is a fully adjustable waist belt (Lowepro calls it a stabilizing strap) tucked away in two pockets on either side. The ability to store the belt away is a great feature for those who are considering carrying this bag on a commercial airliner. With the belt tucked away you don’t have to worry about getting it caught on something, or heaven forbid, slapping one of your fellow travelers with the belt strap as you hoist up the Classified Sling into the overhead compartment. Secondly, there is a stored tripod mount on the side opposite to the interior access area. Just pull on the opening in the pocket secured by Velcro and pull out the mount. When you aren’t using a tripod simply store it away and it is totally out of sight. While adding this feature is a nice touch, realistically it is limited to a light tripod that can be collapsed to no more than 22 to 24 inches including the tripod head. Anything larger and it will seriously disrupt the balance of the bag. Finally, the All Weather AW Cover is also stored in a similar way. This pocket is located at the bottom-rear of the bag. The all weather cover is attached to the bag with a strip of fabric so you never have to worry that you will lose it.
Inside, the Classified Sling 220 AW is roomy and can handle a good sized 35mm camera kit. Lowepro has taken full advantage of the interior space using a few clever spacers, compartments, and pockets. Once again the styling inside is clean and straightforward, in keeping with the simple lines of the exterior. Lowepro has included enough dividers and pockets to keep everything in a secure and accessible location. The main compartment is accessed from the top side. As you swing the bag forward in front of your chest the opening is directly in front of you making it easy to peer inside and get your camera and lenses out without having to take the bag off your shoulder. The zippered cover flap features a large zippered pocket for accessories and three mini-pockets for memory card storage. What struck me immediately about the design of the Classified Sling is the inclusion of visual cues to help the photographer maintain order in a fast shooting situation or in low-light conditions. There is, of course, the aforementioned molded arrow on the back for mounting the bag but in addition the inside has pull tabs and zipper pulls colored a bright orange. The memory card pockets have memory card icons printed on fabric flaps that allow you to choose between a solid orange colored silhouette or a frame image of a memory card. These icons can be used to either indicate which pockets are empty or to remind you which cards are full and which are empty and ready for use.
A small side compartment is also accessible in the forward position. Inside there is a pocket for a cell phone, pens, a notepad, and a few small items and possibly a filter pouch. Along the flap you will find another small zippered mesh pocket. This compartment can also be accessed from the main compartment through a divider.
Other compartments include one on the front of the bag large enough for a map, a GPS, or other travel needs. Finally, there is a compartment that will fit a 15” laptop easily. If you don’t travel with a computer you could use this space for a small collapsible light reflector.
Lowepro’s website lists the Classified Sling 220 AW’s capacity as 1-2 pro DSLR cameras with a 70-200mm zoom attached, 1-2 flashes, personal gear, accessories, and a laptop. Employing military packing strategies one could fit much more than this but you will find that you quickly reach a point of diminishing returns. This bag is not designed for heavy loads and trying to carry an overstuffed Classified Sling is not recommended. I personally would not want to carry more than one camera body if I plan to pack a few lenses and a speedlight. For street photography you could carry one DSLR, a mid-sized zoom, your favorite wide-angle lens and a 70-200mm. For events you still have plenty of room for your favorite portrait lens (mine is my Nikkor 85mm f/1.4) and a flash diffuser. Under this latter configuration you have just about reached the carry limit of this bag. Any more weight and the sling system starts to show its limitations.
OUT IN THE FIELD
I had a chance to take out the Classified Sling 220 AW recently on a flight to Houston, Texas and then on to the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station to shoot some stills and video footage for a promotional video project. This was the perfect opportunity to do some real world testing under the stress and pressure of a corporate shoot and air travel. I was stoked. On this trip I brought along a Nikon D7000 with an 18-105mm zoom, a 10-24mm zoom, a filter pouch containing a few ND Grad filters, a polarizer, and a step up ring. I was also bringing a carbon fiber tripod but I decided to pack that in my luggage and not carry it on the plane with me, so the tripod mount on the bag was not tested on this trip. It was also not necessary to bring along a laptop on this trip so the laptop pocket was not used.
I’ve traveled many air miles across America and overseas with many photopacks and to be frank it is never a pleasant experience. Aside from the issues of getting through flight security it is always difficult to get a photo backpack through the tight aisles of today’s airliners and then getting the bag up into the overhead compartment with all those dangling shoulder harnesses and straps. You also have to contend with the crowds at the terminal and trying to juggle your camera gear and your baggage. Can you tell I hate to fly? Fortunately, traveling with the Classified is a breeze. If you keep things sensible and not overstuff this bag getting through the crowded gates and down the plane aisle to your seat is relatively easy and you should have no problem stowing the bag in the overhead compartment.
Out on the campus of the university the Classified Sling design made it easy for me to set up to shoot some video B-roll footage with minimal effort. I never had to set the bag down as the main compartment was easily accessed and served as a convenient wind bracing station to mount the lens to the camera and get the lens caps off and stored in a secure place. When shooting all I had to do was zip up the closure and swing the bag back and away. The sling system works well as long as you remain upright or are on the move. If you need to bend over, say to set a tripod low to the ground for instance, the bag has a tendency to shift and slide forward. This will definitely be the case if the bag is loaded close to capacity. In this situation I recommend that you use the waist belt/stabilizing strap to keep the bag in place.
Testing this bag initially at home by filling it with different camera kits for a variety of hypothetical shooting situations I was pleased with the overall design of the Classified Sling 220 AW. In each of these exercises (street photography, events, photojournalism, discreet shooting, and as a day pack for short hikes in the field) I found that the bag can be a joy to use. The one thing that I do recommend is to avoid overloading it if you intend to lug it around for any length of time. Excessive weight is the enemy of this bag as it is obviously not designed like a heavy duty pack. Carrying a light to mid-weight kit is where this bag excels. I really like the fast action of the sling design and the easy access of the well thought out compartments. Inside the Lowepro adjustable padded dividers with their multilevel compartments really make this bag versatile. If you are the type of photographer who has the discipline to bring only the gear you need and can leave some of your equipment behind without breaking into a cold sweat then this bag is a great addition to your collection. It may not make you a better photographer but you will be moving smooth through the crowds and looking darn good while doing it. Highly recommended with the understanding of the weight limitations of this bag.
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