Whilst in Cambodia earlier this year, the last ounce of tolerance I had for my faithful old backpack, the one I’d used for nigh on seven years, vaporised in the tropical heat. It struggled to fit the few items of clothing required for overnight trips (I wound up putting clothing in the camera compartment just so it would fit), the straps were either working themselves loose or pulling at my arms, and the bag often felt heavier than the contents would have you believe…
Sitting in the camera shop in Phnom Penh, I noticed the Godspeed bag sitting on the shelf. I was (predictably) drawn in by the canvas and rawhide exterior, and the dimensions, which looked to be a good fit for my build and my carrying requirements. After looking over it properly, I found the build surpassed that of my old backpack, and it had enough compartments to be truly usable. Obviously, I bought it, and since late January this year, it’s been my sole backpack.
To my mind, the most important features in a camera bag are the protection it affords your equipment, how practical it is and how comfortable it is to wear. Naturally, I want the best level of protection and comfort I can get, without the bag being too large for airline carry-on or manoeuvring in tight spaces.
I’ve found the Godspeed SY-758 performs well against those criteria. It’s about the size of a typical day pack, and doesn’t fall below the hips on my 5’8″ frame. There are aluminium reinforcement ribs running the length of the back, with a mesh screen in front. The mesh has always given me good ventilation, while the aluminium helps load carrying by distributing loads across a greater area of the back, as well as preventing the load from shifting and affecting weight distribution. Waist and shoulder straps are broad and thickly padded, with a stout plastic clip-lock buckle at the waist, and thick plastic ladder lock buckles at each end of the shoulder straps. Also on the shoulder straps are canvas loops for the attachment of small cases or accessories (but I don’t use any of those). The chest strap is about an inch wide, with a plastic clip-lock buckle. I haven’t had any issues with them loosening during use, nor with back or shoulder pain when walking with a full load for more than an hour at a time. Underneath the pack are rawhide feet, to keep the canvas base elevated (and protected) from abrasion. The canvas itself has proven to be quite waterproof, and I suspect will be quite durable. A zippered compartment just above these feet houses a waterproof nylon cover, which I have found to be excellent for alleviating the fear of leaks in especially heavy downpours.
Approximately half the volume of the bag is dedicated to a thickly padded camera compartment. The padding covers the floor and ceiling of the compartment, as well as the side walls. A zipper spanning from the lower rear corners to the top of the compartment allows access by flipping the compartment out. The ceiling (floor of the main compartment) and dividers are only held in place with velcro, so it can be configured to accommodate longer items (e.g. super-telephoto lenses) or as a large backpack without the camera dividers. With the ceiling of the compartment removed, it is directly accessible from the main compartment. There are two large, adjustable bottle holders, which unzip on either side of the bag. Besides the main compartment, there are also two smaller sub-compartments on the front of the bag. I tend to keep binoculars, and smaller items like guide books or snacks, inside these. They have mesh pockets on the insides of the flaps, too, which I often use for SCA adapters and remote releases. In front of the camera compartment is a pocket designed for a flash, filters and memory cards. Folded against the front face of the pocket is a tripod holder. Behind the main compartment is a padded laptop pocket, which appears capable of swallowing a 17″ (but definitely a 15″) laptop. Access is through a full-height side zipper, which I find gives better access than the narrower aperture from a top zipper.
This bag eats gear, as you can tell from the length of the caption for the photo above. My only minor gripe with the compartment layout is that the camera has to sit vertically, and would probably fit better without the lens. That is probably a carry-over from my older backpack, though; with time, I’m adjusting to the vertical orientation, and it would seem to allow more to be carried in a given volume, especially if extra dividers or pads are employed to facilitate the stacking of lenses. As it stands, the bag can comfortably close with the camera body sitting above the side walls, and undoubtedly thanks to that thick padding, there hasn’t been any damage.
In the field, I find the flip-out compartment is very fast to work with. With less to unzip, you can get it open faster, and with everything presented neatly, it’s very quick to swap lenses or pack things away. Being smaller than a full-height compartment, it’s much easier to shade from the elements if I’m using a non-sealed lens or body. Furthermore, being quicker to operate and access, there is less exposure of non-sealed equipment to the elements, which prolongs its usable life. The greatest advantage, though, is that I can access the main compartment and the camera compartment at the same time. If I’m working in a hurry against changeable light or temperamental subjects, there’s no risk of my stowing something (e.g. binoculars), then sending it flying because I forgot to (or didn’t fully) zip the compartment up before going for the camera. It also provides a clean and accessible camera rest during lunch breaks, allowing me to eat without inducing food-borne illness, while also being prepared for any shots that develop mid-sandwich.
You can see the buckle securing the tripod holder to the front of the pack in the above photo. I don’t use this tripod holder that often, as I find it compromises accessibility to the camera and front compartments, as well as manoeuvrability over very rugged terrain. This is a flaw shared by all bags that have front-mounted holders. If I do have to carry a tripod, I often carry it in a dedicated shoulder bag, or in my hands (usually with the camera mounted). With practice, I could probably find a way of making it work, but I don’t see the point when it’s no real burden to carry separately.
In the SY-758, Godspeed have a well-designed and executed camera bag. It is comfortable, practical, and affords a very good level of protection to equipment. The major design change I would suggest is a side-mounted tripod holder. That may incur the loss of a bottle holder, but I don’t see anything preventing the fitment of two bottle holders to one side of the pack, and a tripod holder to the other. If the folded fabric support for the leg were attached above the camera compartment, it would still be possible to flip the compartment open with the tripod attached to the bag, too. The major issue with a side mount would be potential conflict with the arms while walking with, putting on, or taking off the pack. However, if developed properly, these would be satisfactorily ameliorated. As minor changes, I’d like to see a more flexible divider layout and marginally larger camera compartment.
For my use, I can’t see anything better coming along anytime soon. Especially not for the two-digit price of this pack.