My Thoughts on the ONA Bowery

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About a month ago, I decided I was going to get a camera bag. I always have my eye out for qualtiy photo gear, but a month ago was when I consciously decided to start looking for a good camera bag that I could use to trek around my diminuitive camera; the Pentax Q, and all of it’s accessories. For awhile before then I’d been keeping the ‘Q’ and it’s kit in the front pocket of my backpack, but as I aquired more camera gear that became a harder task to accomplish, and made getting to the camera and it’s kit increasingly more diffucult. I needed a dedicated bag.

I didn’t really know where to start. I knew I didn’t want one of the stereotypical black camera bags that everyone gets. Those can be functional but I wanted something small and minimal that would look nice and be comfortable to carry around. Somehow, I became aware of a company called ONA who made really high quality camera bags, backpacks, and straps. Upon looking over their website, I found the Bowery, their smallest and cheapest camera bag, but exactly what I was looking for. It took me a few weeks of debating whether the price would be justified for me, but eventually I decided it would be a worthwhile purchase and pulled the trigger.

It’s been about 2 weeks since the bag arrived now, and to put it bluntly; this bag is everything I wanted from a camera bag, bar none. The bag is about the size of a large loaf of bread and is made from waxed canvas, leather, and some metal styled to look like old brass. I’m not sure what the metal actually is, but it seems sturdy enough, albeit probably not being actual brass. The waxed canvas feels really durable and the stitching feels solid and well done. Initially it was actually a little stiff, but with the two weeks of daily use I’ve put into it, it’s softened up considerably. The leather accents look really good on the “Smoke Grey” color that I got, and the dark, brownish red color looks nice. The color contrast is appreciated by me, and it all in all comes across as a minimal but beautiful and quality bag.

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The brass front clasp seems really sturdy and well designed. It’s easy to unfasten it just by pressing down on it’s one button and equally easy to slip the button back into the clasp, locking it again. It’s a brilliant way to fasten a bag in my opinion, and ONA uses them in a lot of it’s products for good reason. When you release the clasp, you can then flip the top flap up and off of the rest of the bag. However, ONA has put in some side flaps that when you close the bag up, keep moisture and other elements from easily getting to the inside. The whole “flap” style of bag is one that I really like, hence why I’ve been using an Osprey Flapjack as my main backpack carry for about 5 months now, and it works here on the Bowery just as well. The flap also enables you to stick a monopod through it and carry that around in a pinch too, which worked surprisingly well.

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The buckles on the side of the bag are made from the “antiqued brass” that’s sprinkled around the bag, and the strap easily clips onto the side rings and doesn’t come off. Speaking of the strap, it’s really nice and comfortable. There’s no pad or anything where the strap would meet your shoulder, but a bag this small shouldnt need one anyways. Oddly enough, the entire strap feels like a really quality seatbelt, which sounds weird but actually really works well. It’s a little smooth, a little grippy, and just works as a strap without a problem. There is a buckle where you can adjust the length to wherever you want the bag to hang to on you, and it’s easy to adjust and stays put once you’ve adjusted it.

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Now for the actual parts of the bag that you put things into. The bag has it’s main compartment, and then 5 other seperate pockets for stowing smaller accessories and gear in. I’ll start with the main compartment, which is really padded, probably an inch of padding from every side except the top flap, which needs to be thin in order to properly flip open and shut. I haven’t dropped the bag yet but I wouldn’t be afraid for my gear even if it was dropped from a sizeable height. The Bowery comes with one divider for the compartment, which provides for an array of different layouts for your camera and gear right out of the box. You can order more from ONA’s website for $10, which seems pretty cheap, but I honestly doubt I need it, even though I initially thought I would. I have the main compartment set up so that two of my lenses and the battery charger go on the left third of the compartment, while the center and right thirds are used to hold a mini tripod, a hotshoe mount, and the Pentax Q itself. Because of the Q’s diminuitive size, I pad it even more with a beanie that I put on top of the other items in that side of the compartment, and it keeps the Q from moving around and provides a little more protection. The main compartment holds all the gear I need it to without fail, I’ve even had to carrry my girlfriend’s sweater in there in addition to all the other stuff, and while I had to loosen the clasp a bit it still all fit, albeit being pretty tight.

The other pockets are two on the exterior left and right sides, one one the back of the bag on the exterior, and two under the main flap on the front. The two on the exterior sides are pretty small and tight, so they’re not much use for a lot of things. If you really didn’t have room in the rest of the bag’s pockets you could use it for extra batteries or SD cards, but they don’t seem like very useful pockets. The large exterior pocket seems like it could be useful, but not exactly for me on a daily basis. It’s large enough to fit an iPad Mini or a similar Android tablet pretty easily, but I think I’d find myself sticking a Moleskine or a map in there more often. I wouldn’t keep any of my camera gear in that pocket, as it’s pretty exposed, but it seems like it could be useful for any travel documents or a granola bar or something. The really useful pockets are the two that are on the front under the main flap. Because they’re covered, I trust them to keep my gear dry a whole lot more than any of the exterior pockets. In them, I keep an extra battery, two extra SD cards, a lens and body cap, and a lens hood. It’s not a ton of gear, but I think these two pockets are perfect for keeping all the little odds and ends that go along with cameras.

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While I don’t use the exterior pockets all that much, it’s still nice to have them there and I’m sure someday I’ll need them for something and be glad to have them. As for the interior pockets, they hold everything I need and all in all just work exactly like they should. The only suggestion I might make for a different layout would be to move the large pocket from the outside to the inside, inbetween the main compartment and the back of the bag. I’d feel a lot better about keeping a tablet or a notebook there if it weren’t so exposed to the elements. On the topic of the elements, I wouldn’t want to have the Bowery in a torrential downpour, but for a little drizzle I wouldn’t be worried about the bag or it’s contents. It should protect them just fine.

Really, the Bowery is fantastic bag all around. It’s well-built and feels like it will last for years to come, fits all my gear really well, and does it all while looking supremely good and being comfortable to wear. If that doesn’t fit the bill for a camera bag I don’t know what does. The only deciding factor really is price. It’s not the cheapest thing at $140 for the canvas & leather options and $240 for either of their full leather options both of which look absolutely over-the-top beautiful. If I wasnt a high school student on a budget I totally would’ve gone for the antique cognac. Whether you’re willing to pay that much for a camera bag comes down to if the looks and quality of build really matter that much to you, and if you want your bag to last for a long time. I have really high standards in my gear, and so after a few weeks of internal debate I went for the Bowery and couldn’t be happier. I’d recommend it to anyone, even if you might have to think about for a little while if the cost is worth it to you or not.

Until next time,

~M