X200 — Luggage roll-back for the seriously serious
How many camera bags do you own? One, two, three, even? Although you may have your eyes firmly fixed on more bodies, lenses and gizmos, another bag may actually be just what you're looking for. The secret to photography is preparedness. If you're going for a day-long hike through the wilderness, you need to be ready with a highly select amount of kit in a very ergonomic bag. If you're putting your precious bodies and lenses through the cargo hold of a plane, you probably need something fairly indestructible. If you're shooting street photography in the 'hood, then chances are you need something that looks fairly beaten up and not worth stealing. If you're covering the ambassador's reception, then you need something smart.
For when you need to move the maximum amount of kit around without calling attention to yourself, destroying half the things around you, or looking like you are working for the military, the Lowepro X 200 Pro Roller may well be the ultimate bag.
Essentially, this is a luggage-style roll-bag that, unless you give the game away by attaching a tripod to the outside, does not call any attention to itself as something photographic. It's equally happy on the 08:00 to London Paddington, or in the back of your car, and has a convenient (but very sturdy) built in locking system which means you can fix it to a suitable anchor point in your car, or simply lock all the the zippers shut to keep away prying hands while you have a bit of a snooze. It's smart enough (sans tripod) to fit in basically anywhere, and the copious inside space is big enough for a 17" PowerBook, two pro bodies with vertical grip, and a collection of serious sized lenses. Additional features include a neat system for knowing which memory cards are full and which are empty, somewhere to put your train tickets, wallets, and so on, a slightly odd flash or camera tripod style attachment, and an extra foot so that you can stand it at an angle. The X 200 actually breaks down into two parts — the rollbag itself, which you can fill with t-shirts, sandwiches, fish etc, and a rucksack. Normally the rucksack is inside the roll bag, but you can detach it and carry it around as a (slightly unergonomic) photographer's rucksack, or somehow fix it to the pulling bars while on your travels, giving you the whole of the big roller bag to fill with luggage.
If you're a pro-photographer who needs to travel with gear, has reasonable access to transport and doesn't intend to go over rough terrain, this is an ideal combination, especially if you need to look smart and professional when you get to where you're going. However, the wheels and pulling bars do take up some space and add to the weight (though not when just using the rucksack), and you definitely don't want to be dragging this over cobbles, grass or dirt tracks.
The X200 in detail
On the inside, this bag appears to be much like any other — the usual collection of velcro-detachable compartments which you can move around to suit your need. What is unusual is the size. You can have a 24-70 f2.8 standing upright in the middle, put two pro-bodies with big zoom lenses on facing each other, and still have room for a 70-200 or other such monster running down the side compartment.
|Room for a 70-200
The padding bits come in two thicknesses — you can see one lying on the top in the photo. You can use these any way you like, of course, but it does mean that you can pad under a lens when attached to the camera to avoid vertical movement. Overall the dividers are much sturdier than in many other bags I've used — so sturdy, in fact, that you could happily leave the top unzipped while you quickly ran along to get to wherever your next picture was going to be.
On the inside lid, you've got a good selection of pockets of varying kinds.
|The big flap
|The inside lid
The big flap folds down to reveal a space for pens (or perhaps a lenspen, if you believe in them), your rail ticket, or perhaps some business cards, and some other small paper work. If you fold it back up again, you have pockets for wallets, passports, other documents, as well as various photographic bits and pieces such as flash extension cables that you don't want to get mixed up with everything else.
Of special note are the three card holders.
The little picture which looks a bit like a flash-card isn't just for illustration. There is a flap, and if you pull it across, you get a slightly different picture, coloured in. If you're organised and like this kind of thing, you can use that to remind yourself which cards are full and which are empty. Or not. It's your choice.
X200 and more compartments
On the other side of the lid are a couple more compartments. You wouldn't believe it to look at it (or, indeed, to read the specs), but this will happily take a MacBook Pro 17". LowePro only actually rates the X200 up to a 15" laptop but the MacBooks are sleeker than most, and it all works very nicely.
When the laptop is zipped up inside, you would never guess that there was anything there but perhaps a couple of magazines.
If the idea of putting two Pro bodies, a laptop containing your life's work, and your eight best lenses all into the same bag scares you a little, not withstanding the industrial strength padding, then help is at hand. Lowepro has built in a locking system which allows you to zip lock all of the compartments shut, or even lock them to a convenient anchor point for extra security.
|Lowepro locking system
Think that's enough features to be going on with? We're not even half done yet. Lowepro have included a tripod support facility, basically a kind of carrier which attaches to the front or side, and a strap that holds the tripod in place higher up. This works pretty well at the side,
but no matter what we did, we couldn't figure out how to attach it at the front. Not really a problem, but the instructions could have been clearer — which is really the only fault I can find with this bag.
You also get an interesting support foot built into the back, viz:
|Built in support foot
Clearly this was a feature that someone wanted, though I couldn't quite get my mind round it. On the 'kitchen sink' principle of including everything you might possibly want, Lowepro have also put a tripod style holder hidden in the top of the extensible carrying holder, and also supply a turning nut, so that you can leave your camera on it as a makeshift tripod (no, seriously, they really mean it) or put a remote flash on. I have to say I tried this once and decided it probably wasn't for me — certainly not with a D3, but flash-holding duties might come in handy if you were pushed.
X200 converts into a backpack and suitcase
As with smaller models, the X200 also converts into a back-pack and luggage suitcase. To do this, you just unzip, pull out, and, hey-presto.
You're now free to carry around the rucksack part on your back, which might work depending on what you were doing, though I would personally prefer something like a Kata rucksack which is designed to be nice to carry, and put your socks, t-shirts, and so on into the main luggage compartment. There's probably a good way of rolling them both together, which would save carrying the rucksack, and would mean that, once you got to your hotel or otherwise journey's end, you could unpack the luggage and zip the rucksack back in to make a dedicated photographic roll-bag again.
|You can unzip the inner lining
You can actually unzip the inner lining of the roll-bag as well. Although this might seem to be designed for the purposes of smuggling nefarious objects (I really wouldn't recommend this, as it won't fool the sniffer dogs), it's most probably to give you or someone else access to replacing the innards if you need to. Lowepro make great play of the fact that the wheels are full replaceable, though, to my eye, they look plenty sturdy enough for years on the road.
|The ideal bag for pro traveling?
This is a heavy bag, and will be much, much heavier once you laden it with pro-bodies, a tripod, lots of lenses, and whatever else you have. Used as a roll bag pretty much all of the effort of getting this much kit around disappears, though stowing it in an aircraft locker or on a train luggage rack may cause you some worries. As an aside, do check that the flights you want to take accept this bag, which is bigger than most European flights will allow for carry-on, though not remotely big enough to make you think about changing your car. The very discrete, stylish design, and the way in which even quite enormous kit just seems to disappear into it makes this an excellent option for when you don't want to draw attention to yourself, but you do want to have all the options when you want to get to your destination. The inclusion of built in security is, in my view, a masterstroke. Though you can try padlocking the zippers on any bag, you'll find that the zippers themselves are all too easy to break into. Lowepro have designed the zips and the lock as a system. It won't keep out a determined thief for ever, but it will make an opportunist think twice before going on to pilfer someone else's bag.
Is this the only bag you'll ever need? No. You almost certainly need several bags for the several kinds of situations you photograph in. Is this a near-ideal bag for pro travelling? I would say, yes, it probably is.
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