Those of you that follow Dean’s exploits have probably read his review and generally positive feedback about the Orca mixer bag system and harness. He uses it all the time so I guess he really likes it! So, when the good people at Orca offered to send me a couple of their camera bags to try out, I was more than willing to give them a look over. I was eager to see what they bring to the table in this ever expanding market.
First, some full disclosure. I have a bit of a gear bag problem. I seem to be hoarding them like some crazy cat lady. I’m always on the lookout for the perfect bag (or bags!) and have a storage room full of them to prove it. Because of this semi-addiction I can be pretty critical and picky when it comes to camera bags or backpacks. Travelling all over the world to remote and challenging locations, I really push bags to the limit and work them hard. Sometimes what seems like the perfect bag in the camera shop ends up being frustrating when you actually use it day-to-day.
Also, Orca provided the bags to me at no cost. However, this won’t influence my honest feedback and opinions. For the record, Orca has been great. There weren’t any conditions or caveats attached to receiving the bags. All they asked was for me to try them out and share my thoughts. So, here it goes!
What I received was the Orca OR-6 Shoulder Video Bag ($248 USD at B&H) and the Orca OR-22 Video Backpack ($293 USD at B&H). Both are designed to accommodate the Canon C100 so that’s what I’m basing this review on – how they handle a basic C100 package.
I assembled a C100 MKII with a Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens attached, 70-200mm f/2.8, a 35mm f/1.4, a Sennheiser ME64 short shotgun mic with an XRL cable, 1 Shure VP83 Lenshopper DSLR mic, 3 BP-975 batteries, 1 battery charger, 1 pair of Sennheiser HD25 headphones, and a set of 9 SD cards. I thought I would see how each bag handles this amount of gear and then you can decide for yourself how much room is left over for what you typically carry.
At first look, these bags definitely standout. They have a distinctive look, design and colour scheme that sets them apart. I like the attention to detail such as the neoprene front panels. They’re generally more streamlined and refined looking than the military, tactical style of many other types of bags. Not a lot of bulging pockets or pouches on the outside – which you may, or may not, prefer. The bags themselves are extremely light so they’re not adding much weight to your total before you put any gear into them.
With rigid re-enforcements and semi-rigid sides, both bags provide good protection with the Shoulder Video Bag offering the most rigidity all around – almost a “hard case” level of security. Overall, the amount of general padding and soft surfaces to protect your precious equipment is excellent in both bags.
The other thing Orca is doing is including little bonus features like an integrated battery powered light inside the shoulder bag, and a USB cable and connector built into the shoulder strap of the backpack to easily charge your phone or other small device without taking it off. That’s kind of cool. Not sure if it’s something I really need but what the heck! More on this as I look at each bag individually.
The only slight negative I see is that the outer pockets tend to be tightly fitted to the bag and there’s not a lot of room for anything that’s slightly bulky such as the chunky BP-975 batteries. This is true for both bags but especially the backpack. It may or may not be a deal breaker as there’s still plenty of room for things such as SD cards, cables, travel documents, etc.
The interior of both bags is a bright blue which makes finding things very easy. However, the bags I received didn’t come with a plethora of dividers so you’re somewhat limited to how you can customize the bag’s interior. I’m not sure if it’s possible to order extra dividers if you decide to purchase one of these bags, but I would recommend it if you can.
OR-22 VIDEO PACKPACK:
Overall, the backpack is a great size. It’s perfect for travel and fits the size requirement for an airline carry-on bag. It has a comfortable top carry handle for easy “grab-and-carry” and features a similar harness system as Orca’s audio mixer bags. Wearing the back-pack is very comfortable and it’s quickly and easily adjustable for a good fit.
To be honest, I haven’t worn it all day yet, just tried walking around for 30 minutes or so with a full load, but so far so good. There is also a built-in rain cover in a zippered opening on the bottom of the bag, so if you do get caught in the rain you’re covered!
The down-side of the exterior is that all the shoulder straps don’t really tuck away easily for air travel (kind of a pain when sending a bag through x-ray etc) and there doesn’t appear to be a way to slide it onto a rolling trolly. So, for air travel you’re going to have to carry it.
The front of the backpack opens as one large door to reveal the entire inside of the pack. I like this. I can quickly and easily get at everything. All the basic package elements fit in easily. The C100 MKII fits fine with the 24-105mm lens attached but I did have to remove the handle and shotgun mic. I didn’t have to remove the handgrip however which is awesome. I hate having to take the grip on-and-off more than I have to. The built-in tie-down strap is great and really holds the camera firmly in place, it’s not going to slide around at all. Because the backpack is more shallow than the shoulder bag, the 70-200mm lens has to rest on its side so that takes up a fair amount of room.
There is a slot at the back for a laptop, but similar to the outer pockets, it seems like it’s a little tight. A MacBook Air would probably slide in but a beefier MacBook Pro might be squishy. However, this could be due to the fact that the bag is brand new and the materials need to be used and stretched a bit to function properly.
As you can see, my basic package pretty much fills up the obvious spaces and any additional pieces of gear will have to fit here and there as best you can. It is a big space and I’m sure you can fit a fair amount of smaller stuff in the voids. However, if you’re packing several lenses, that could be an issue. But, I think backpacks are primarily for carrying a smaller, basic package anyway. It’s meant to be something you carry on your back! If you’re going to load it up to the gunnels with batteries and lenses you’ll probably kill yourself!
OR-6 SHOULDER VIDEO BAG:
The shoulder video bag is meant for general production and is a great size to carry your primary camera gear. Because it’s so deep, the C100 MKII with the hand grip and top handle attached, drops in perfectly. Because the ME64 is a shorter shotgun mic, it fits as well while still attached. If you use a longer shotgun mic you’ll likely have to take it off. Like the backpack, the built-in tie-down keeps the camera safe and secure. The bag itself is very stiff on the top and sides and offers excellent protection for your camera. I wouldn’t actually try it, but it feels like you could sit on this bag and it would be fine.
This could be a great bag to work out of. The camera is ready to grab and go. You can easily drop it right back in for quick transport in a vehicle or crew move to another location. One cool feature is a built-in battery powered light. Just throw in a couple of AA batteries in a provided “On-Off” control switch that has its own built-in pouch and you’ll never be hunting for a flashlight in some dark location looking for where the heck that extra battery is. This could actually be quite useful.
Like the backpack, this basic camera package does fill up much of the bag, but there is quite a bit of room on top to stack up lighter stuff. Once again, a few more dividers for additional lenses would have been helpful.
The clever top handle design is very comfortable and secure even with the bag fully loaded as is the included shoulder strap.
Similar to the backpack, the side pockets tend to be a little tight, but the end pockets are much more generous for larger items.
Being a camera bag addict, I’m always interested in seeing something new. Orca is really making an effort to set itself apart from the pack with some distinctive designs and clever ideas. Overall, I really like the bags and I look forward to trying them during real production over the next few weeks. They’re light, extremely well made, and offer excellent protection and security for your camera gear.
Are they a home run? Well, I would say no, but I would be hard pressed to think of a camera bag that is. They all have their little quirks. I would say that if the exterior pockets offered a bit more space, these bags would be rounding third and waved into home!
Learn more about Orca bags at: www.orcabags.com