Lowepro ProTactic 350 AW Camera Backpack
Tougher than a normal backpack, the ProTactic bags are designed for photojournalists, documentary photographers and news photographers who require superior protection, quick access to their equipment and versatility.
Photojournalists and urban photographers aren’t the only ones who will appreciate the features provided by the ProTactic 350 AW.
This bag provides a higher level of security than the average camera backpack and is made from more robust materials so it would make a good choice for travellers with a DSLR kit.
Most bushwalkers will also find this bag comfortable to wear while hiking and secure enough to use while scrambling over rocks or even climbing and abseiling.
The All Weather AW Cover will come in handy if rain threatens and prevent dust from reaching the bag’s contents.
Announced in September, the Lowepro ProTactic series of camera backpacks has been designed for photographers who require quick access to their cameras and lenses plus versatile configuration capability. These bags come in two sizes: the ProTactic 450AW ($299) and the ProTactic 350AW ($249). We received the ProTactic 350AW for this review.
The two bags in the Lowepro ProTactic series, the smaller ProTactic 350AW at the front. (Source: Lowepro.)
Who’s it for?
Tougher than a normal backpack, the ProTactic bags are designed for photojournalists, documentary photographers and news photographers who require superior protection, quick access to their equipment and versatility. According to the manufacturer, a typical load for the ProTactic 350AW we reviewed would be one or two DSLR cameras (one with a compact zoom lens attached), up to six lenses (or five lenses and a flashgun), a 13-inch laptop and miscellaneous accessories.
The ProTactic 350AW bag opened to show how much equipment it can accommodate. (Source: Lowepro.)
The larger Pro Tactic 450 AW can accommodate one or two DSLR cameras, one with up to 70-200mm f/2.8 lens attached, plus up to eight lenses and/or flashguns, one 15-inch laptop and miscellaneous accessories. It weighs 600 grams more than the ProTactic 350AW and is roughly 5 cm larger in all dimensions.
Both bags are priced fairly high for hobbyist photographers but their build quality provides some justification for the pricing. Likely buyers will be DSLR owners who want high levels of protection for their gear and don’t mind paying more for tough, relatively heavy bags.
Design and Construction
Designed to be worn as a backpack, ProTactic bags are made from a combination of 210D and 1680D nylon, as well as nylon webbing and 900D polyester. The MaxFit System of padded, adjustable interior dividers enables users to configure the interior of the bag to suit their own requirements.
There are four access points that open access to the bag’s contents, including a body-side opening that is secured with a two-way zip, which opens up the full interior compartment. The moulded top panel also closes with a zipper that allows it to be opened wide enough to access equipment at the top of the bag. Inside this panel is a media pocket that provides secure storage for memory cards.
The top panel of the ProTactic 350AW opened to show the media pocket. (Source: Lowepro.)
Inside the body-side opening is a dedicated laptop compartment with full organisation panel on its inner surface containing three zippered sleeves. This compartment features Lowepro’s CradleFit laptop pocket, which suspends and protects the device within the pack.
In addition, zippered compartments are positioned on the left and right sides of the bag. They are supposed to enable users to reach gear without removing the pack but it requires some contortionist skills to do this easily.
The exteriors of ProTactic bags are configured to accept additional storage accessories, including a water bottle pouch, accessory case, tripod cup and two cinch straps, all of which are included with each bag. All are compatible with Lowepro’s SlipLock attachment strap system.
Accessories bundled with the ProTactic 350AW include a water bottle pouch, accessory case, tripod cup and two cinch straps. (Source: Lowepro.)
Tucked into a sleeve in the base of the bag is a built-in All Weather AW Cover that can be pulled up to cover the entire bag, once you’ve threaded the shoulder and waist straps through the slots provided. It provides a high level of protection against rain, making this bag ideal for bushwalkers. This sleeve has a Velcro closure and opens towards the inner side of the pack to prevent dust from getting in.
The All Weather AW Cover pulls over the entire bag to protect it. (Source: Lowepro.)
To make them comfortable to wear, each bag comes with Lowepro’s ActivZone System, which provides padded support at the wearer’s shoulder blades, lumbar region and waist. The inner sides of the shoulder straps and these pads are covered by a breathable mesh that minimises sweating.
The shoulder straps are about 60 mm wide (slightly wider at their top anchor points) and permanently attached to the pack. They are reasonably well padded and firm enough to resist twisting when the pack it put on and taken off. Also lined with mesh ““ and anchored to each side of the pack in line with the lumbar pad ““ is the waist band, which is in two sections, each about 100 mm wide near the anchor points. Zippered pockets on this band provide additional storage space for spare batteries, memory cards, sunscreen or a small glasses case.
The waist band is linked by a narrow (25 mm wide) belt, which has a side-release buckle closure and is long enough to be adjustable to fit most body sizes. Shorter 20 mm wide chest straps are attached to the shoulder straps via sliding clamps. They also end in a side-release buckle. The waist belt can be removed or its ends can be tucked in to reduce the profile of the bag for packing or while travelling.
For our user tests, we loaded the ProTactic 350 AW with the closest equivalent we had to the recommended set of equipment. We managed to pack in a Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera with 24-105mm lens attached and an EOS 7D with EF-S 10-222mm lens attached.
The remaining spaces accommodated an EF-S 17-85mm lens, an EF 70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 DO lens and a pair of stabilised binoculars (we ran out of lenses and used these to fill the space). Our 11-inch laptop slipped into the special sleeve with room to spare for a mouse and cables. The result is shown below.
There were plenty of dividers left over after this exercise. But that’s not a serious issue since it’s better to have too many than too few. Memory cards and small USB cables were easy to fit into the pockets in the lid or special media pocket inside the top cover, which is ideal for holding SD cards.
Battery chargers were just too bulky to fit into either the flat pockets or the zippered pouches on the upper side panels of the bag and had to be packed into the add-on pouch and attached to the outside of the bag via the SlipLock system. A Sirui T-025X tripod fitted neatly into the tripod cup and was kept in place with one of the cinch straps.
We considered performing the same exercise with compact system camera (CSC) equipment, which is growing in popularity among professionals and serious enthusiasts. However, even three camera bodies and seven lenses didn’t fill the main compartment. Besides, most CSC users would be looking for a lighter, more compact bag than the ProTactic 350 AW to hold their gear.
Like most camera backpacks, the ProTactic 350 AW is better suited to male bodies than female ones. The broad shoulder straps spread the load well and if you can position them to sit comfortably and adjust their length to support the pack and its contents, it is quite easy to wear.
Accessing equipment through the side entry point with the pack slipped off one shoulder. (Source: Lowepro.)
To reach the contents of the bag, the chest strap and waist band must be undone and you must slip off at least one shoulder strap, as shown in the illustration above. This is standard practice for backpacks and less convenient than Lowepro’s Sling bags (which are also worn on the back and better suited to female bodies).
The handle on the top of the pad has a perforated rubber grip that is comfortable to hold and makes the pack easy to carry when it is loaded. But it can get in the way of the top opening and make access to the contents via this entry point less easy than the other entries.
The ProTactic 350 AW in use in a typical urban environment. (Source: Lowepro.)
Photojournalists and urban photographers aren’t the only ones who will appreciate the features provided by the ProTactic 350 AW. This bag provides a higher level of security than the average camera backpack and is made from more robust materials so it would make a good choice for travellers with a DSLR kit.
Most bushwalkers will also find this bag comfortable to wear while hiking and secure enough to use while scrambling over rocks or even climbing and abseiling. The All Weather AW Cover will come in handy if rain threatens and prevent dust from reaching the bag’s contents.
Construction: 1680D ballistic nylon and 900D polyester with nylon webbing and zipper closures plus quick-release buckles
External dimensions (wxlxh): 308 x 230 x 430 mm
Internal main compartment dimensions (wxlxh): 270 x 160 x 385 mm
Weight: 2.0 kg
Colour options: Black
Accommodates: 1-2 DSLRs with grip, one with up to 24-70mm f/2.8 lens attached; 6 lenses/speedlights; 13-inch laptop; accessories
Features: Access points at top, sides and back; backpack straps, top grab handle, ActivZone harness, built-in All Weather cover, includes water bottle pouch, accessory case, tripod cup, and 2 cinch straps
RRP: AU$249; US$199.95
- Construction: 8.8
- Design: 8.5
- Versatility: 8.8