Bag & Case Reviews

Along with the recent purchase of my SL2-S, I decided to split my L system off from the rest of my gear as the lenses and body had been acquired with specific purposes in mind. To me it made sense to have the robust, heavy and waterproof kit in one bag and my lighter, smaller CL/TL system in another, even though they share the same lens mount.

ona monterey backpack 1When it comes to camera bags, I am a bit of an addict – as a quick trawl through the archives of PhotoArk will testify to. It takes very little persuasion for me to go bag hunting and this seemed like another ideal opportunity.

My first experience with ONA came in the shape of a very nice Christmas present a couple of years ago. This was in the form of an antique cognac leather Bond Street shoulder bag – ideal for days when I only wished to use my CL and a single lens. I was immediately taken by the attention to detail and high quality materials used. Very reminiscent of my days using Billingham bags in what seems like another lifetime ago.

So when it came to looking for a new bag, I went straight to ONA’s site, recalling their excellent range of backpacks from previous visits. The model that really grabbed my attention was the Monterey, manufactured from high quality leather and canvas. The smoke waxed canvas version was my choice.

The Monterey arrived very well packaged in a strong outer cardboard box and an inner baggie. The baggie is a very nice touch and adds to the unboxing experience, but I cannot help thinking that it, in a world consuming so many raw materials, was a little unnecessary. But oh, on unpacking, what a treat this thing looked (and smelled). All materials are of an extremely high quality, the zips, buckles and stitching look like they are up to a lifetime of use. The main compartment is nicely padded with particular attention paid to the base. The top section is protected by the sturdy leather flap that secures by means of a quick release buckle.

But even though the shoulder straps are well made and adjustable, they didn’t feel as comfortable as some of my other packs. I decided to park my reservations about this until I had taken it out into the field. 

Another thing I noticed was that the two side pockets are not elasticated and sit very tightly to the body of the pack. This left me scratching my head as to their usefulness. Again I let this go for the moment.

ona monterey backpack 2The Monterey is, by my standards, a small pack. Even though I checked its dimensions prior to ordering, it appeared smaller when it arrived. Thinking I had completely gaffed my choice of bag, I tempered my initial fear with the list of ‘What Fits’ on ONA’s website. All I needed it for was one body, 3 lenses and a few small accessories. The blurb suggested it could accommodate twice this along with a 13 inch laptop. Anyone who has handled a SL2-S and SL 50mm Summilux will appreciate that they are chunky items. Along with my 35 and 75mm Summicrons, I realised that it was going to be a bit of a challenge fitting them all in.

For those who wish to use the Monterey with a smaller system i.e. micro four-thirds or the Fuji APS-C system, I have no doubt it would make a beautiful companion. But for my behemoth, the first thing I had to do was remove nearly all of those lovely little padded dividers until I was left with just two compartments. In one of these went the body with one Summicron attached. In the other went the second Summicron. There was no way my 50mm Summilux was going in there as well! With a bit more re-arranging and an adjustment of the top tray traditionally used by me for personal and small items, I found that it could swallow up my third lens, even with the lens hood attached ready for use. Phone, spare batteries and filters could go in those two tight fitting pockets, but I hate keeping high value items in unsecured pockets. Another rejig of the main compartment gave me a small bit of extra space that I could poke my few accessories into, so all was good in the end.

My first trip out with the Monterey was just a local afternoon walk, a distance of about seven miles. I made sure to include all of my L system kit (excluding charger) to see how it performed fully loaded. This made the bag fairly heavy for its size, which soon began to tell on my shoulders – probably by mile three. It felt as if it was overloaded and reminded me a bit of the discomfort when toting an 85 litre pack loaded for a couple of days camping. OK, so the pain was nothing like this but it confirmed my philosophy that any backpack should only be loaded to 70% of it’s capacity to be comfortable. But the denseness of this kit crammed into a space smaller that I would have liked could not be ignored.

Where things got much easier was when I had taken the camera out and hung it around my neck. At this point, the Monterey felt as comfortable and any of my other day packs. Access to changing lenses was excellent and the pack’s flat profiled base meant that it stood up well, allowing me to use the top pocket as a ‘changing station’ when swapping lenses. So many of my other packs fail here as they lean precariously one way or another, requiring they be rested against something while lens changing. 

ona monterey backpack 3The mesh back panel does a grand job of wicking away sweat and allowing adequate air circulation. This was really appreciated when all kit was stowed away and I was walking uphill. 

I have not yet taken the pack out on wet days, and I am reluctant to do so without treating the leather with some kind of protection. ONA make no mention on the specification sheet of how waterproof the leather is, so without any kind of assurance I am edging on the side of caution.

If I were to suggest areas for improvement, I would focus on the straps, making them a little wider which should make them more comfortable. The use of the pockets remain elusive. Maybe make them a little bit bigger and add zips to ensure small items do not fall out, or elasticated to allow a drinks bottle to be carried.

There is no denying that this is a top quality, stunningly good looking pack. Several weeks on, it still exudes a wonderful smell that can only come from premium materials. Apart from the strangely  perplexing side pockets, it is perfect for a smaller camera system. If I was being completely honest with myself though, I do not think I made the best choice pairing it with Leica’s L system. There is certainly no room to add additional kit and it could be more comfortable when fully loaded. But I do love having a high quality pack on my back, so the camera will be around my neck whenever possible.

Looking to the future, and if I do expand my L system, I have my eye on ONA’s Camps Bay pack. This is probably what I should have brought instead of the Monterey. It is another really stylish piece of kit and typical of ONA’s portfolio. One day maybe…