More and more of us are carrying a laptop as part of our photography kit. Downloading memory cards, checking results, and even emailing or posting photos for friends or clients are all uses that a photographer might have for a laptop in the field. However, as with any new piece of photography equipment you add, the question becomes “How do I easily carry this?” A few years back, it seemed like only the biggest “pro style” backpacks have space for a laptop. While great for some, these backpacks were frequently too large for many people and tended to cost a pretty penny as well. Thankfully, we’re now seeing some more compact, and more budget minded, options for those who want to carry a laptop in their camera bag.
Here’s what Lowepro has to say about the Fastpack 250:
“Go all day with the lightweight, comfortable Fastpack 250 backpack. It protects your digital SLR and 15.4” widescreen notebook compactly while providing generous storage for your other gear. Side-entry compartments let you quickly grab equipment and accessories, even while you’re on the move. Customize the easy-to-access main compartment with adjustable dividers. A comfortable mesh waistbelt helps distribute weight evenly."
The 250 is what I would call a “camera and lunch” backpack. It is designed for one body, a few other compact lenses, and a flash/batteries/cards/etc. You aren’t likely to fit big f/2.8 zooms or a backup body in there easily and I can’t imagine carrying something like a fast 70-200. But a APS-C sized DSLR with a couple smaller lenses and a flash is going to be a nice little kit. In addition, the upper portion of the backpack is set up as open space for a some snacks or a light jacket.
Hands on test:
Some of your happiness with the Fastpack 250 is going to depend on what exactly you are trying to carry in it. As I said before, pro style bodies and big fast zooms will frustrate you if you are trying to take a full kit. But a more compact kit of, for example, a Canon Rebel and a few variable aperture zooms will fit much better. That isn’t really a knock on the Fastpack 250 itself, it’s just one of the facts of life when you are choosing a bag. You’ve got to find one that fits the gear you are trying to carry. As is typical with Lowepro bags, there are a a number of small pen/phone/memory card pockets. While most are useful, the “designed for phones from 2002” size pocket on the shoulder strap fails in my book. With so many people using smartphones these days, it makes no sense for Lowepro to have a phone pocket that can’t fit an iphone sized phone. But please, lest anyone put too much stock into that being an issue of any importance, I fully admit that it’s just a pet peeve of mine. The laptop pocket easily fits my 15in mac laptop and should fit most 17in versions as well. However, a netbook or macbook air would bounce around, as would an iPad or other tablet. This is worth considering because the target market for a bag of this size may not be the “big and powerful photo editing” laptop market. As such, I could see a lot of people wanting to carry a smaller device in that pocket.
The Fastpack 250’s “sling” design is a slightly different version of Lowepro’s popular Slingshot series of bags. The idea is that the padded area of these bags are accessed from the side (rather than the back) so that you do not have to totally remove the bag in order to get to your camera. With the Slingshot’s single strap, you just swing the bag around your body. With the Fastpack 250, you drop the right shoulder strap and swing the bag around your left shoulder. How well does it work? I’d say “okay”. It isn’t as smooth of a system as the single strap Slingshot, but it is usable. You can get to your camera (and even your laptop) without taking the bag completely off. It’s a clever design and many people will find it handy for shooting on the move.
Overall, the Fastpack 250 might not be the biggest or the fanciest bag out there, but it gets the job done. A day in the city, a nature walk, a trip to the zoo, etc. The Fastpack 250 won’t let you down. That versatility combined with its solid design and a fair price ads up to a solid bag.