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Friday, December 1, 2006

The Story Behind The Bag

Camera bag designs are based on very real photographers' needs. Here are some of their stories.

Down Under-Style

Crumpler, the gadget bag maker from the land of Vegemite sandwiches and kangaroos, is establishing themselves in the U.S. and rapidly gaining popularity among Americans—young Americans, in particular. Their product lineup includes such interesting models as Thirsty Al, The Sinking Barge and The 7 Million Dollar Home. From a distance, they appear colorful, zany and impetuous. Closer examination, however, shows that the bags are clever, sturdy and creative.

"Crumpler, in general, champions function over form," says Lindsay Cousley, president of Crumpler USA. "We simplify the bags the best we can, but keep them functional as well—not a lot of clutter.

"The designs themselves are created—all of them—by Stu Crumpler and a small design team in Australia," he adds. "Stu is an artist and industrial designer. We'll mull over the customer feedback, then Stu will go away for a week and be creative and come back with new colors and designs.

Explains Cousley, "In the early days of Crumpler, bag design was more a case of 'function follows form.' A bag was conceived and designed, and then people had to figure out what to do with it. There was a time when Stu would design a bag just because he loved to design bags. But right now, our line is pretty dialed in."

Bag Saves Photographer

"Photographers can be passionate about their camera bags," according to Suzanne Caballero at Lowepro, "and that's what our designers are thinking about when they bring a new bag out of the design department."

Talking about Lowepro's long list of innovations, Caballero is quick to describe the collaborative relationship Lowepro has with photographers: "Much of Lowepro's inspiration is sparked by feedback from the top professional photographers in the business. No one is as demanding as a pro who relies on his or her gear to make a living. As the technology, hardware and workflow have changed, it has impacted how photographers carry their gear. Our designers spend time researching state-of-the-art materials and testing carrying solutions with those photographers to ensure that the product we develop exceeds their expectations."

We asked Caballero what was the wildest, most unusual suggestion Lowepro had ever received, and she told us a customer wanted "to be able to dive underwater with his camera bag." Then she told us a story about one photographer who inadvertently did just that and nearly lost her life.

Recalls Caballero, "Brooke McDonald was photographing baby seals in the Magdalen Islands of Labrador, Canada, when she broke through an ice floe. Her DryZone 200 backpack saved her life. In preparing for the trip, McDonald had originally intended to buy a rolling bag, but the salesperson wisely told her it was a bad idea to roll a bag onto an ice floe. Instead, he sold her a Lowepro DryZone 200, a first of its kind, which had just come out.

"Luckily for her, it floats even when fully loaded with up to 65 pounds of gear. When McDonald fell through the ice, because of the buoyancy of the bag, she popped back up instead of sinking beneath the ice and was able to be rescued. Once safe and dry, she assessed the contents of the DryZone and found everything was in perfect working order. Nothing was damaged. Of course, we don't recommend using a camera bag as a life jacket, but we want everything we make to be able to withstand the rigors and unpredictable hazards of professional use."

Extreme Bags

The carry gear that bears the KATA label belongs to the brotherhood of bags that are deployed in active combat zones. A peek at the military section of the KATA website reveals an array of protective body armor, combat technical vests, military packs and riggings, as well as photo and video bags.

The founders and owners of KATA, Nitzan Kimchi and Dror Tishler, became experts at designing and building tactically functional, lightweight protective gear during their service in an elite combat unit of Israel's military. As one might expect, the bags are strong but extremely light in weight, thanks in part to strategic use of TST, Thermoshield Technology. "The Thermoshield Technology brings a protective rigid structure to a soft case without adding significant weight," according to Kimchi.

But you don't have to wait until you're facing extreme conditions to appreciate the benefits of using KATA bags. They provide high functionality in all situations, such as the trademark yellow interior that makes it easier to find small parts under any lighting condition.


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