My Lowepro Fastpack 100 has one purpose: to be used as a daypack for city walks. I bought it after looking for a bag that would carry both my camera equipment and the human essentials – food, water, entertainment – without being excessively bulky. I knew I’d be on my feet for three to four hour stretches, so I wanted a bag that wouldn’t ravage my back and shoulders, and would be comfortable and low-profile enough that I could forget about it while I had my camera out, shooting. These are my impressions after using the Fastpack 100 as my sole camera bag for a few months.
I typically choose, and stick to, a single camera and lens combination; while I may I carry a second lens, quick changes aren’t a concern. I don’t use long lenses, and I don’t pull my camera out for a photo or two, stow it away, and then repeat the process. Once I bring my camera out, it stays out for a good long while.
The Fastpack 100 has two main storage compartments – a boxy, padded camera compartment at its base, and a sloping personal effects one above it.
You can access the camera compartment via a quick-access flap on the Fastpack’s right side.
Although the quick-access flap can open a full 180°, it’s prevented from doing so by a security cover that’s usually buckled down; this prevents your stuff from falling out when you use the quick-access flap on the run and makes it tougher to steal your gear. I don’t know about the ‘stealing gear’ bit, but I’ve always left the cover buckled to keep my camera and lenses from spilling out. The security cover also hides a shallow zippered pocket.
Two memory card pockets are sewn on the inside of the quick-access flap.
There is another, very thin pocket at the front of the bag that’s only useful for papers, a lens cloth, or other flat items.
Inside, along the back of the personal effects compartment are two pen loops, a cell phone pocket and an elastic mesh pouch. The rest is empty space.
Finally, the left strap has an accessory pouch, the right a Sliplock loop.
What my Fastpack 100 carries:
- D70 with 18-70 kit and hood
- Sigma 10-20 with hood reversed
Pocket under security flap
- Body cap, lens caps of mounted lens
Personal effects compartment
- Glad sandwich box
- Moleskine-sized notebook
- Pen, lenspen, lens cloth
- Advil etc.
- Cell phone
- Plastic water bottle
Inside the compartments:
The camera compartment fits a consumer Nikon DSLR (i.e. everything from a D40 to a D80) and a small standard or wide angle zoom with ease; it’ll also hold an additional small to midsized lens. The top compartment’s around the same size, but lacks the bottom’s dividers. I’ve carried an OM-1 and 50/1.8 in it, a rocket blower, mini tripod and card reader, or sometimes even a flash. This is not the pack for long lens users though: the bottom compartment can’t hold any pro long lenses and the top isn’t much better. Although my Sigma 180 Macro is just short enough to squeeze into the top, it’s a tight fit.
That’s not to say that you’ve no options. You could buy the Lens Case 2, hook it on the right strap’s Sliplock loop and stash your lens there, but I wouldn’t advise it: you’ll find it hard to keep your arms at your side while photographing (to mitigate camera shake), and it would detract from the Fastpack 100’s principal advantages: size and innocuity.
Look and feel
I’ve been very satisfied with the Fastpack 100 – so much so that I’ve stopped using my Domke F-803. It’s not perfect, but it’s a likeable, livable compromise.
The Fastpack 100 isn’t bulky. Its narrow width and depth make it look like a normal daypack, and it’s never like you’re carrying a box on your back. Those diminutive proportions are great when you’re moving through a crowd, standing on a crowded streetcar, or dodging holiday shoppers – gone are the days of having to watch out when shifting or turning to avoid hitting someone.
The straps are spaced to avoid chafing your neck, and are wide enough that, when the pack is loaded, they don’t bite into your shoulders; this makes it easy to wear for long stretches without shoulder or back pain. Although the Fastpack 100 is bottom heavy with your camera stowed, it rides high enough and has enough padding that it never digs into your back.
And what of the quality? Seems high. Standard black Lowepro fabric – able to shrug off the odd pointy object or scuff. Long zipper pulls are easy to use with gloved hands, and the zippers themselves slide smoothly and have never caught. The main camera compartment feels solid, with negligible flex around the quick-access flap – you never worry that your camera will fall out if the pack were turned upside down.
Padding has never been a make-or-break issue for me, but for those who’re worried, the bottom compartment is well protected. The three sides and quick-access flap are built with (what appears to be) the same thick material used in my Computrekker AW – material that has absorbed the occasional knock. That’s not the case with the top compartment though – it’s fairly unprotected, with padding only along the base and back.
Usage – Camera compartment
It’s easy to forget the Fastpack 100 while photographing. It’s light enough that it doesn’t tire your shoulders and lead to camera shake, and unlike some shoulder bags and backpacks I’ve used, the straps actually stay in place – no need for constant shrugging to reposition them. Crouching, twisting and generally moving aren’t an issue either – the pack rides high enough that it doesn’t bump into the ground, and it doesn’t swing from side to side and beg continual adjustment. And no, the Fastpack 100 isn’t tippy. Even with the camera out and the bag on the ground, the loaded top half won’t pull it over.
The quick-access opening is a little tight, so getting the camera in and out isn’t as smooth as I’d like.
Now, the closeness isn’t onerous – you don’t have to squeeze the camera in – but if you’re using gloves to hold the handgrip that opening feels cramped. Once inside though, my D70 has plenty of room – at least along its top and back.
It’s a different story along the lens axis of the camera. With the mounted on the 18-70, the D70’s eyecup (the DK-20) sticks just above the zippered entrance. The flap has some give, so I’ve never had a problem zipping it open or shut, but you can see the indent the eyecup has made over time.
Another annoyance? Storing the camera strap. I use a Domke 1.5in Gripper and always have to take my time in putting it away. My current M.O is to put the camera into the compartment and then fold the strap into the space at the side – which ends up being pretty time-consuming. Letting the strap in first and sticking the lens on top seemed like a decent possibility, but then the eyecup stuck even farther above the quick-access opening. It’s annoying, but at the end of the day it’s something I’ve decided to live with, and factor into how I use the bag. I’m just glad I have a flexible strap like the Gripper – the Upstrap with its solid rubber pad would have been harder to deal with, though I suppose I could have stored it above the flash contacts.
Getting the camera out of the bag isn’t an issue – though I’m sure it looks humorously involved to passers-by. First, you pull your right arm out if its strap and rotate the Faspack 100 around your left shoulder until it’s perpendicular to your torso, quick-access flap facing up. Then, unzip the flap and remove the camera. With the camera out the bag isn’t weighed down – so it stays it put until you don your neckstrap. Once that’s done you can zip up the quick-access flap and shoulder the bag again. You can see a short video of this by clicking the Play Product Video link on the Lowepro Fastpack 100 product page.
The strap slows down storing the camera, but not unbearably. As before, you get the Fastpack 100 perpendicular to your torso, but this time, you have your left hand support the bottom of the bag. Place the camera in the compartment, fiddle with the strap if necessary, and zip it closed.
Now, getting the camera in and out may be OK, but changing lenses is another story entirely – it’s extremely frustrating. The Fastpack 100 comes with two padded dividers, though with my Sigma 10-20 I’ve only space for one. The remaining divider has a short orange pull, and I suppose the idea is, to open the quick-access flap, use the pull to reveal your lens, and then swap it for the one on your camera. Nice in theory, but unworkable.
It’s the Velcro along the compartment walls that gets in your way: it’s very grippy, so you’ll be yanking pretty hard at that pull to release it – and that’s much harder with heavy winter gloves on, since the pull is so short it’s tough to grip. Frankly, if I want to replace a lens I set the bag down before doing so – it’s easier on my mind.
On the positive side, it’s great to have two memory card holders on the inside of the quick-access flap. Though it’s (again!) cumbersome to open with gloves, it’s doable, and I’ve made many, many card swaps without cursing in frustration. I would have preferred if the card pockets were on the outside, but I guess Lowepro opted for protection over accessibility.
Usage – Personal effects compartment
Roomy isn’t how you’d describe the top compartment.
And no, it’s not just because of all the stuff I have in there – it’s also the compartment’s sloping profile. Now, I like the slope – it makes the Fastpack 100 look like a regular daypack – but it limits capacity; items have to be arranged by height: tallest in the back, shortest in the front. That said, this is another design element I’ve opted to live with, since it’s the first time I‘ve seen a small camera bag that’s designed to carry more than cameras and lenses – and what’s more, do so while maintaining a clean profile.
The Fastpack 100 is advertised as water resistant, not waterproof. I’ve haven’t used the pack in heavy rain – it lacks the AW series’ plastic rain cover, and I wouldn’t want to be outside – but I have used it in driving snow (carrying it around, pulling the camera in and out, doing card swaps), and haven’t noticed any leaks.
Both the top and bottom zippers of the camera compartment have overlapping folds of material to provide some protection against water leaking in – though I’d have preferred it if the overlap were more pronounced. The personal effects compartment is less protected. Although a nylon flap covers the zipper on the outside, preventing water from dripping through, there are no folds of material inside to stop any water that does make it in.
I can’t speak for its performance in all conditions, but the Fastpack 100 has withstood the few snow storms and flurries I’ve used it in – neither my camera nor the stuff in the top compartment got wet.
Areas for improvement
I’ll start with the CF card pouches; the covers are pretty short and offer little purchase, making them tough to open with winter gloves. The same can be said of the divider pull. Gloves add a lot of bulk to your hands and reduce your dexterity, so larger openings, pulls and flaps are always appreciated; it’d be nice if Lowepro remembered us cold-weather shooters when designing their bags.
Dimensions are almost perfect – with a few exceptions. The small pocket under the security flap is too narrow and shallow for most items. I’d also prefer it if the bag were two centimeters taller and wider, because: it’d be easier to stand long objects straight up in the top compartment; I’d be able to fit a decent-sized trade paperback in there without the zippers ravaging its edges; and my D70’s eyecup would no longer press against the quick-access flap. It’d be great if this could also translate into a larger quick-access opening.
And lose the elastic closure on the mesh bottle pocket – it’s overly tight and crunches the cheap plastic bottles I’ve stuck inside. I’ve tried using a thin steel thermos instead, but the flat mesh prevents the tall thermos from sitting well, and I’ve visions of it sliding out unannounced. A taller, floppy mesh pocket with a drawstring closure would be perfect.
Finally, lens changes on-the-go are almost impossible, so I’d like to see the design reworked to address this.
The Fastpack 100 targets those using a minimal kit – something like the D80 or D70, with a mounted consumer-level standard zoom or prime, and a small second lens – with (almost unheard of for camera bags) room for non-camera stuff. It’s compact, unpretentious, easy on your back and shoulders, and (despite a few flaws) good to work with.
Well-built, snow resistant, and easy to work out of – you can see why it’s become my preferred camera bag. It’s not perfect – what bag is? – but it has come closer than any other one to ticking all my requirements, and you’d have to pry it from my fingers as a result.
Fastpacks are available in the GTA at Vistek. If you can stomach their salespeople’s snobbishness, stop by the Toronto location to try all the models (100 through 350) out.
Review and all photos copyright © Allen A. George, 2008