The E-System Pro Backpack from Olympus was introduced way back when my E-1 was new and is the only backpack I have owned that is fully given over to camera gear. Normally, I tend to go for packs that offer dual functionality, i.e. some space for flasks, food and a coat. But this time I wanted something that allowed me to take a large part of my camera gear with me so that I could really immerse myself in the craft without worrying about what I had left at home. I had been using a Lowepro equivalent that was loaned to me, which is what planted the seed in my head about getting one of my own.
I think a dedicated photo pack is one of the most popular styles today; indeed a quick look through manufacturer’s brochures or websites appears to bear this out. Because of this I was immediately overwhelmed by choice. I could have easily gone for a Lowepro similar to what I had loaned, but it was an opportunity for change. And it was while on one of my most frequented forums that I came across the Olympus E-System pack which, after some consideration, I purchased.
It would be fair to say that Olympus did not manufacture the bag, perhaps being made to their specifications by someone like Lowepro or Tamrac. The build quality is top notch, manufactured from a very durable black waterproof nylonesque material with weather protected seams and zips. The exterior is quite plain apart from the ‘Olympus E-System’ logo embroidered on the back. I do not like advertising such as this simply because it draws attention to what I am carrying and may attract would-be thieves. It is a shame Olympus didn’t think this through and put their branding in a less obvious place such as on one of the straps or on the underside. The only features gracing the outside are tripod straps and an elasticated pocket for storage of a drinks bottle.
Access to the interior is gained in two ways; the first is via a zip that runs around the packs rear perimeter, allowing access to all equipment. The second is by means of a nifty little semi-circular zipped section at the bottom, useful for providing quick access to a body and lens, or for use when the weather is bad and you do not want to expose all equipment.
Unzipping the back fully reveals a large, well-padded interior with many partitions that can be arranged to suit the load being carried. It is the colour that immediately struck me as odd. Gone were the usual blacks and greys, to be replaced with a garish orange. I soon realised how useful this was as there are no hiding places for small items – everything can be easy located on such a bright background. The fabric used was also different; I am used to nylon inserts, but these were of a much softer felt like material.
After arranging the inserts, the pack can accommodate my E-1, two lenses, Two OM bodies, several diminutive OM primes and a flashgun. Two elasticated straps help secure the load from moving around.
A feature I really like is the inclusion of a partition that is attached to the back but fits over the main compartment. This effectively seals the gear off and provides three additional pockets for small items to be stored in (one of the pockets is actually on the rear of the main flap). I keep filters, wallet, batteries and cards with room to spare.
And it was nice to see the inclusion of a pocket that could accommodate a 15” laptop. This pocket too is well padded and protected by a weatherproof zip. Laptop aside, I find it a convenient place to store my iPad in.
Carrying all this gear around comes at a price; the weight is far from what I usually like to tote around. Thankfully, the straps are adjustable, reasonable well padded, but not the best I have used. One strap includes a useful small pocket that looks to be designed for a mobile phone, as it is located in just the right place for ease of access. The belt strap is of limited use as it is not very wide, unpadded and sits around my waste instead of hips. It does nothing to help shift the weight from my shoulders. A bag designed to carry so much equipment is, by nature, going to be heavy therefore much more thought should have been put into designing a comfortable harness. The pack is touted as being of a weather protected design, but is lacking in an external rain sheet. Perhaps Olympus are confident of its waterproof traits (after all, most of the Pro E-System components are weather sealed), but a rain sheet would have put my mind at ease.
I quickly found that carrying a bag full of gear around was not my style and some of the kit, particularly lenses, saw no use at all. I reduced the contents to those items I would use which provided some relief to my shoulders, but it was not long before the pack fell out of favour and was used for storage only.
To sum up the build quality and design are excellent, but it is hobbled by an inferior harness (back and waist straps). Oh and the Olympus logo, whilst nice, should not be so prominent.