Kata 3n1-33 Camera Bag Review

November 18, 2010

As promised, the review for the Kata 3n1-33 Camera Bag which I have taken on assignment in the field and on my Honeymoon overseas in New Zealand, where I subjected the bag to all weather conditions. So this review is not a look at its features and construction, you can read a number other reviews and watch videos online for that. It is more of a report of how it fared in the field under actual use.

Me with the 3n1-33 on a hike in the New Zealand wilderness.

  • Price Paid: $140 used on eBay (near new with tags and packing material)
  • Period of ownership: 3months
  • Uses so far: Location glamour shoot, location product photography, travel photography
  • Airport friendly: Yes, Carry On compliant and has easy access to the Laptop compartment
  • Weather subjection: Snow, rain, heat and dust

Capacity:I will first describe what I usually carry with this bag to give you an indication of the realistic carrying capacity of this bag. I carry a Canon 50D with a battery grip and Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 lens attached, Canon 70-200mm f4L IS with tripod collar attached, Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 with lens hood attached, 50mm f1.8mm Prime lens, Canon 580EX II flash and a set of 52mm close up filters. That is just in the lower compartment!

In the upper compartment, I would normally carry a memory card wallet, set of Gels for the flash, a wireless flash trigger and reciever, pen, Giottos Rocket Blower, business cards, Cokin Filter holder and ND Grad Filter, ND screw on filter and a Polarizer filter. When I was in transit to and from New Zealand, I still had room for a windscreen suction cup mount with a ball head attached (for my time lapse rig), and when I was hiking I could still fit a jacket in its place in the top compartment in place of it. One thing for sure, this bag has an amazing capacity and great flexibility when it comes to packing in all of your gear. On location I use the top compartment for an additional flash and flash triggers and various small flash accessories.

The laptop compartment easily fit a 14″ Toshiba laptop, but I would think a 15″ laptop would the biggest I’d go. The power connector will have to be carried in another bag or in the top compartment if you are prepared to loose some space. I also used this space to carry a set of gloves and a beanie when I wasn’t carrying the laptop.

Gear Access & Configuration: All this capacity is great, but can you get to it quickly when you are out in the field shooting? I used to own a Lowepro Computrekker Plus AW to carry all my gear on bigger photo shoots, but for travel this bag was useless. It was way to heavy when fully loaded with two or three camera bodies and a full suite of lenses and it was difficult to configure to suit your gear and it was also a pain to dismount the bag from your back and lay it on the ground to access it. The Kata answers this problem with being a sling bag/backpack hybrid. The idea is to use the side access flap (left or right hand side configurable) to grip your camera with the mounted lens. What was great I could easily change lenses without putting the bag down and quickly change the inserts to suit the newly mounted lens, all while it was still hanging from my shoulder. I also found I never used it in the ‘X’ strap configuration, as this was awkward to dismount and reattach to your body. I just had the straps arranged in the conventional backpack mode, but I found the bag still easy enough to swing around to the side of my body (to access the main gear flap) when I used just the right hand strap over my right shoulder.

The videos on the internet will show you the sling bag strap mode, but I found when I configured it this way the bag felt unbalanced on my back and if you try to swing it around the front like in the Kata demo video, it takes your jacket with it and it is all just too hard and uncomfortable. That would only be a problem if you were wearing a big snow jacket like I was for most of the time in the New Zealand Alps.

As far as access too the other parts of the bag while mounted on your shoulder you will have to dismount it to access the top compartment. I did like the fact though it opens away from the back giving you easy access and great visibility to its contents whilst the bag is upright. On that note, the interior of the bag is a bright yellow, by far the best colour compared to the fluoro orange and green I have had in bags in the past, so finding gear wasn’t a problem. Even the little side pockets were lined yellow, each of them having a handy little net to keep the contents from falling out. You can only access one side pocket while it is mounted on your shoulder though. I used this pocket for a bottle on lens cleaner, a cloth and my most used screw on filter. The other was used to carry a spare battery and a cable release which I used rarely.

Accessing my gear on the side of a snow covered Glacier

Comfort: On our trip to New Zealand, there were numerous times I would have to carry the bag (sans laptop and time lapse rig) almost the entire day. This is the ultimate test for the comfort of a bag over long periods of time and I’d have to say this is the best one I have used. I carried a Naneu Pro Millitary Ops Tango bag for 5 weeks around the United States, which is a Sling/Shoulder bag hybrid and found that one a pain in the neck (literally) to carry for long periods, even after a couple of hours. It also carries much less gear than the Kata, even though they have similar overall dimensions. The Kata bag I would wear almost all day and I’d only start to feel uncomfortable in the shoulders after about 5 hours.

Another godsend is the suitcase handle loop on the back of the bag which you can hitch over your suitcase while you wheel your case around. The top of the bag is fitted with a handle which is built very tough and this makes it easy to heave into cars and into overhead lockers on the plane.

Build Materials: The build quality of this bag is outstanding, it has tough zippers with zip tags, a stiff shell and good buckles. I bought mine with the tripod mount and I used that numerous times, it was fiddly to setup, but once it was on it was easy to mount and dismount the tripod (I sometimes even forgot I was carrying it as it didn’t sway or rattle around like it does on other bags). The straps have good quality pads, that are coloured on one side to identify which way is inside. Another neat feature is the small pads that are located on the lower parts of the straps which I suppose is for when you have it mounted on your back, you can place your palms on them to relieve a little pressure from your back and to stop the strap cutting into your sides. If you find you don’t use both straps you can tuck them away so they don’t get in the way.

The Velcro parts are of good quality and they show very little fray and it still sticks well. Inside the side pockets and the pocket in the top compartment are lined with mesh to easily identify the contents of the pocket and to stop things falling out.

The exterior material is robust and easy to clean and can withstand all types of weather. I subjected the bag to snow fall, actually placing in the snow, heavy rain and water spray from a boat ride. The water even beads off and eventually dries rather than soaking the material. At all times the interior was free from any moisture. The bag does come with a rain proof cover, which I took with me, but I never used. I can only imagine if you were caught in monsoonal rain you would actually bother to put on this cover. I actually hung it (in the provided bag with clip) on one of the zip tags while hiking and it fell off somewhere on a mountain in the Siberian Valley.

The interior as I mentioned before is yellow and made from nylon. I prefer the smooth nylon interior compared to the soft cotton of other bags, it just feels nicer and doesn’t mark as easily.

Conclusion: There is always that holly grail with finding a great camera bag as most photographers will spend the same as what a pro camera body is worth trying to find one, believe me, I have. So that makes this bag almost the ultimate in terms of gear capacity, access and comfort. So if you are after a bag that has a great capacity for a modest DSLR outfit with 3 lenses and a flash or two, a laptop and handful of ‘just in case’ accessories, this is the perfect bag. It is not the most expensive in its class, it looks great without being over the top, flexible configuration modes and well built. This one has my thumbs up.

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