By Joan Sherwood
I prefer camera bags designed for a moderate amount gear that you can carry and maneuver around with without knocking lamps off the furniture every time you turn around. The Lowepro Pro Messenger 180 AW and the Chrome Niko fit that bill, and provide a lot of features that are important when you want to travel or explore a city while carrying lean, and when you have a shoot that doesn't require a suitcase full of gear. My big requirements are comfort, security and light weight.
At first glance, I thought the Chrome Niko was going to be one of those bags that only guys and chicly flat-chested women could wear comfortably, and that it would never even look right on me, but I was wrong. I found out that by lengthening the seat-belt style sling strap, it hangs rather nicely. Much better than other sling bag styles I’ve tried. It sits comfortably, low on my back, with the padded section of the strap hanging across my shoulder where it should, and the metal buckle components falling just below my clavicle. It weighs 2.3 pounds, compared to the Lowepro’s 3.4 pounds, and it feels like half of that is in the buckle. For security, the Niko has buckles that cross over the main zipper to foil theft while you’re wearing it in crowded spaces, and a waterproof main zipper to keep out rain, though it also makes it a little more difficult to unzip.
The Niko has the smaller capacity of the two. By my own measurement, the main compartment is 11x8x5. You could carry a DSLR with lens, an extra lens and a speedlight flash comfortably with no problem. The top compartment could hold an extra flash, water bottle, or modern necessities like a phone or backup drive. The top compartment is the only easy-access exterior pocket. There is a flat, water-protected pocket on the main interior for memory cards. The Velcro placement on the side straps makes them suitable for only the slimmest of tripods, better for holding a light rain jacket really.
The Niko construction is a bit stiff and the shell padding is formidable. It comes with the standard, Velcro-attach padded dividers that most camera bags have.
The shiny chrome quick-release buckle is what makes the bag eye-catching and ups the cool factor. Chrome says the buckle doubles as a bottle opener, but I didn’t try that for myself. The bag works sling-bag style—keep the strap on your shoulder and sling the bag around to your front to access the contents. The heavy clips over the zippers, if you have them secured in place, may make getting a bigger DSLR and lens out of the bag a slower process than you would like. With smaller cameras, like MIL models, it’s a breeze.
The Lowepro Pro Messenger 180 AW is a bigger, heavier bag than the Chrome Niko, but I like it better for comfort and access. The exterior material looks and feels like soft canvas, but it’s a modern performance fabric made of spun polyester. The movable shoulder pad on the strap is easy on the shoulder, and it has a gripping coating on the underside that I appreciate for times when I don’t want to put the strap over my head.
This bag has a lot of features that I love. For security, you have the Lowepro AW all-weather cover tucked in a discreet Velcroed pocket on the bottom front and attached with a ribbon tether so you won’t lose it, and it won’t blow away. For security, you have two modes of fastening the top flap with Lowepro’s FlexFlap Design. Extended, it attaches with four Velcro points, two of them large, so no one will be able to flip that up without making a lot of noise when it’s secured. When you don’t want it to make noise, you can tuck up the flap extension, and it closes with magnets sewn into the flap and bag.
I like the grab handle on top, but if you don’t, you can take it off. The back exterior pocket doubles as a trolley sleeve if you open its bottom zipper, and you can’t get handier than that. The front pocket only zips halfway down, so it won’t flop open and spill contents.
The interior pocket has generous space. A comfortable 10x10.5x5-inch capacity by my own measure (Lowepro’s stated specs are larger). There’s a half-pocket on the interior back, and the interior side pockets—particularly suitable for holding flashes—have Velcro closures and smaller pockets inside each for smaller items you don’t want to get buried in the bottom. The front exterior (under flap) pocket has additional pockets and a key holder. The exterior side pockets are expandable, though they’re held closed with an unobtrusive elastic piece, and they will hold a standard-size water bottle. It does bother me when a water bottle pocket isn’t big enough to actually hold one.
There’s no tripod strap or holder, but the extended flap is so long that you could place one across the top of the bag and secure it under the flap if need be. You could easily stuff a lot of camera gear in this bag, and Lowepro even suggests the front pocket for holding an extra DSLR body, but that’s pushing it.
I love the durable yet soft feel of the exterior material, and non-rigid side padding that lets it lie flatter against my body if it’s not chock full of equipment. The Pro Messenger also comes in 160 and 200 sizes.
Lowepro Pro Messenger 180 AW: $209.99; Street price as low as $170.
Chrome Niko: $95.