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Review: Tenba Bags Trifecta (Messenger, Ultralight, Daypack)

Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to test out three Tenba camera bags in the field. 

• Messenger Camera Bag
• Shootout Ultralight Photo Backpack
• Messenger Photo Daypack

Each has its own advantages, and best uses.  

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Tenba’s Messenger Camera Bag is a typical over-the-shoulder bag with plenty of pockets and lots of organization. I found this bag fit best with my everyday working habits. I was able to pack two camera bodies, three lenses (including telephoto), and three speedlights, with plenty of room to spare for my light meter, keys, and even some other gadgets. I found one of the end pockets to be just the right size to hold my three speedlights (though not padded, this pocket allowed for easy access and stowing).

The top flap has a quick-access zipper, as well as a “silent mode” flap that you can use to cover the Velcro closure. If you ever work in environments where being quiet is a necessity, you’ll really enjoy not having to worry about the invasive sound of Velcro pulling apart when you go into this bag. The bag has a front organizer with six compartments, as well as more organization for memory cards, keys, etc in the zippered pocket on the flap.

Finally, if you need to pick up this bag and don’t want to use the shoulder strap, there is a hand-carry strap as well. I have no complaints about my time spent using the Tenba Messenger Camera Bag – my camera may well have found a new “everyday” home!

 

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The Tenba Messenger Camera Bag (above) retails for $129.95.

 

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The Shootout Ultralight Photo Backpack by Tenba is one of Tenba’s most lightweight offerings (for its size). Despite its small and compact design, the Shootout Ultralight comes with a plethora of pockets for organizing anything you need to cart along. The backpack has one main section, accessed via a front panel that opens completely so you can get to anything you need.

It even has a nice security feature built in; simply flip the removable Switchback module (padded camera section) so that it opens towards the back of the pack, and no one can access your camera while you have the bag on. If you want to get into your equipment, you simply take off the backpack and access your gear via the secure zippered hatch on the padded back panel.

Finally, you can remove the Switchback module completely so that you can use the backpack as a general daypack if you like. The Shootout Ultralight includes some weather conscious features such as weather-sealed zippers and a WeatherWrap cover (in case of rain), which pulls out of a storage pocket on the underside of the bag. While keeping the elements out is good, I found that the weather-sealed zippers were cumbersome to open (sometimes it would take me several tries to get the back either zipped or unzipped).

Don’t plan on stowing many loose items in the “empty” space above the Switchback module, though—it won’t work. Space is used very efficiently, and anything not in a pocket won’t necessarily stay put when you unzip the main panel to access your gear.

If you’re looking for something light, small, and versatile, you will love the Shootout Ultralight.

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The Shootout Ultralight Photo Backpack (above) retails for $134.95.

 

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In their Messenger line, Tenba also offers a Messenger Photo Daypack (above), which I found to be a traveler’s dream. It has a tilt-out front panel for quick access to your camera equipment, and a drawstring opening on top provides access to the laptop compartment, as well as accommodating anything you can fit in the remaining free space. The backpack also has two side cargo pockets (with media card organization), and the top flap keeps your phone and other accessories organized.

I took the Photo Daypack on a two-week trip to Europe, and let me tell you, it was nice to only cart one carry-on around. This backpack combines laptop, camera, and personal item into one piece of luggage. I was able to tote along sunblock, snacks, and even a book or two in the top compartment, and could keep my personal items safely stowed when I felt the urge to pull out my camera. I also appreciated the security aspects of this bag—the camera compartment can be secured with a combination lock, and when the top flap is clipped shut, it securely prevents access to the both the drawstring top section and the bottom camera section. As with the other backpack, you can remove the photo insert from the bottom section to turn this back into a non-camera rucksack.

My one quibble with this bag is that once you load up the top section, it begins to sag downwards, slightly obscuring access to the zipper for the bottom compartment. It didn’t really hinder my ability to pull out equipment, though I did have to support the top of the bag when re-closing that bottom compartment zipper.

Overall, I think this is the best photo backpack I’ve ever used, and really appreciate the versatility it afforded me when traveling. The harness system was more than comfortable, and I was even able to adapt some of the load adjustment straps into an impromptu jacket holder. If you are looking for an all-in-one backpack for traveling, I would say there isn’t a better choice than the Messenger Photo Daypack.

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The Tenba Messenger Photo Daypack (above) retails for $139.95. 

 

Overall, I was impressed with various features unique to each of these bags. The Messenger Bag is the ideal shoulder bag, the Shootout Ultralight is great if you need something compact and weatherproof, and the Photo Daypack is perfect if you need to take it all with you.

Betsy Finn, Cr.Photog., CPP, has a portrait studio in Dexter, Michigan (BetsysPhotography.com); she shares tips and ideas for photographers at LearnWithBetsy.com.