The current trend in landscape photography is for gear storage in a backpack with a rear entry flap (meaning the part of the bag that touches your back when walking has a zipper around it that opens up to the largest compartment). F-Stop Gear makes several popular bags amongst landscape photographers such as the Loka, and now their Ajna bag. However, Lowepro makes the Whistler bag and Clik makes a Contrejour bag with similar designs, prices, and specs.
After considering all three of these bags, I decided to purchase the F-stop Ajna with Medium ICU (click to see on Amazon). It was an expensive purchase ($388 including shipping), but I hope for this bag to become my daily driver and to fix some frustrations I have with my current bag.
However, I've also owned the Clik Elite Contrejour 40 backpack (non-2.0), so I can compare both of these bags well. I have not actually owned or used the LowePro Whistler camera bag, so I'm relying only on the specs and reviews of other Youtubers for that portion of the review. One of these days I should email them and ask to get a review copy.
|F-Stop Ajna||Lowepro Whistler 450||Clik Contrejour 40 2.0|
|Current Price (at time of writing)||$368||$291||$379|
|Weight||5 lbs (2.2kg) with Large Pro ICU||7.3 lbs (3.3 kg)||5.25 lbs (2.4kg)|
|External Dimensions||23.5" x 13" x 10.5"||12.2" x 11.9" x 22.5"||28" x 13" x 13.5"|
|Volume||40 liters||45 liters||40.1 liters|
|Laptop Space||13" laptop OR hydration bladder||UNPADDED 10.5" x 7.5" outer compartment||None|
|Features||Switchable camera compartment, and very lightweight.||Extremely weather proof. Less expensive.||Convenient side and back access. Aluminum frame distributes weight well.|
|Cons||Fewer overall features||Way too heavy. The smaller Whistler 350 is not much lighter either. No water bladder compartment.||No laptop compartment.|
Why I'm Switching from My Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Bag
I have been shooting with the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Backpack for the last two years. There are a lot of things to love about that bag, but also a few things that are somewhat annoying. No camera backpack is perfect.
The main reason why I bought the F-Stop Ajna is because I also bought a Sony a7rii which has significantly larger full frame lenses than the Fuji gear that I've been using for the last few years. The full frame gear simply won't fit well in the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Horizon that I currently have, so I needed to make a change.
I really like the accessibility of the bottom kangaroo pouch on the Mindshift Gear bag. It's convenient for getting to filters or your camera while wading in a stream for example. However, when you want access to your camera and you don't have it on your back, you have to flop out the bottom pouch and have it spread around on the ground to get to your gear. It's a great bag for hiking, but a poor bag for leaving on the ground so you can shoot for a while.
However, the Mindshift Gear bag has held up well to two years of abuse, it's lightweight, stylish, and very functional. After two years, the only way you'd know the bag isn't new is a very tiny tear in the side that I got from slipping on the wet rocks of a stream in Zion National Park, and lint balls on the back panel.
Why I Chose the F-Stop Gear Ajna
Improve Photoraphy writer Kevin Jordan did a great in-depth review of the F-Stop Ajna bag a few months ago. I've been looking at the F-Stop Gear Ajna for quite some time, and after Nick picked one up and liked it, I was even more convinced that it would be the perfect bag for me if I ended up switching to Sony full frame.
There are five primary reasons why I picked the Ajna.
- It has a laptop compartment, which Kevin Jordan told me fits his 14″ Lenovo laptop
- It's light weight
- It's carry-on compliant on nearly every airline
- Fits the gear I bring most (camera, trinity of lenses, tripod, laptop, one speedlight and a trigger)
- Rugged good looks
The weight of the bag is a significant factor for me. Most of my photo shoots are not out of a car where I can leave the bag in the back seat and just take what I need. More often, I'm on airplanes, backpacking through different countries, going on hikes with my family, etc. I don't want to carry any more weight than is necessary. However, don't be tricked when buying an F-Stop Gear bag, because the listed weights for the bags don't also include the ICU weight.
For me, the ICU system from F-Stop is a bit confusing and a drawback. I like the thought of being able to switch out my ICU to match what I'm packing, but I don't think that would really benefit me very often. Most of the time I'm bringing the same camera gear and would just use the normal Large Pro ICU.
Also, F-Stop has been plagued with inventory issues for YEARS. I can remember when the company was first launching that they sent me a marketing t-shirt and swag to try and get some “blogger love.” Marketing does not seem to be F-Stop's problem anymore. Their bags have become very popular and the larger problem has been keeping them in stock. Lately, however, I've found their gear in stock more and more often, which is great to see.
Unfortunately, F-Stop doesn't sell on Amazon, which is a bit of a pain. I really like ordering everything from Amazon so check out speed and return policies are predictable. Check out the F-Stop Ajna on their website.
Annoyingly, F-Stop Bags (as well as Mindshift) are not available in the UK as well as several other major countries. Get on it, F-Stop. Improve Photography has millions of readers around the globe. Oh, and you're crazy for not making Nick Page one of your Staff Pros yet.
LowePro Whistler 450
The Lowepro looks to be an extremely impressive bag with more features and a better build quality than the Ajna; however, it's extremely heavy without even putting gear in it. The bag itself weighs 7.28 pounds!
You could load up an F-Stop Ajna bag WITH a Sony a7rii and the bag would STILL weigh less than the LowePro Whistler 450. Ouch!
Another significant drawback to the Lowepro is that it has no laptop compartment. I am baffled by how many camera bag manufacturers continue to release bags without laptop compartments. Almost every photographer who comes to shoot with me on the free meetups I do around the world brings a laptop with them on the trip. I personally NEVER travel without a laptop.
However, the LowePro has significant features as well. First of all, it's not just rainproof, it's monsoon proof. You could almost SCUBA dive with it (no, not really). The outer material is made from a very thick water-resistant TUP material. It comes with a detachable rain cover, but I can't imagine it would ever be necessary to add.
One other cool feature on the LowePro is that it has dividers in the camera compartment that are also little pockets. You can stick smaller items like a Sony RX100 v (my vlogging camera) into the divider.
Clik Contrejour 40
I used to shoot a lot of different Clik bags. In fact, I went to the Click headquarters in St. George, Utah to meet with some of the Clik people once. They seem like a great company with good people. I can't remember for sure, but I believe they gave me a Contrejour 40 for review.
Overall, I liked the Contrejour. The original had a small laptop sleeve that would barely fit a 12″ laptop, which I liked having.
The part that I didn't love was the metal frame inside the bag. It made the bag too large to be a carry-on (you can often get away with it, but I don't like to risk it because I HAVE been checked before). Also, the frame sometimes rubbed on my shoulders or back.
I do like the styling of the Clik Bags. The black bag with the red accents looks really nice. I also like that they always include a sewn-in rain cover on the bottom of their bags.
Also, while the bag isn't fully carry-on compliant, the tall size does make it comfortable for taller people so the waist belt doesn't ride up too high like it does on some other bags.
Watch my Youtube review of the Contrejour 40 (original) below:
Are These Backpacks Carry-On Compliant?
Both the F-Stop Ajna and the Lowepro Whistler 450 are carry-on compliant for almost all airlines. They may be 1″ too long on any one of the dimensions, but I'm taking into account that if the flight attendant makes you put your carry-on in the dreaded metal “bag size checker” thingy, you could squish it a little.
However, the Clik Contrejour 40 is not carry-on compliant on ANY major airline anywhere in the world. It's just too tall. Also, since it has a metal internal frame, you can't squish it at all to make it fit.
Obviously, you can get on 99% of flights even if your bag is a few inches too long. I've certainly been on tons of flights where they let me on with too large of bags; however, it just takes one time of getting a dreaded green tag and your gear could get damaged. I like knowing that I can always squish my gear into the little metal bag size checker.
For reference, here are the sizes of the bags:
- F-Stop Ajna – 23.5″ x 13″ x 10.5″
- LowePro Whistler – 22.5″ x 12.2″ x 11.9″
- Clik Contrejour – 28″ x 13″ x 13.5″
|Air France||21.7" x 13.8" x 9.9"|
|Alaska Airlines||24" x 17" x 10"|
|Delta Airlines||22" x 14" x 9"|
|Icelandair||21.6" x 15.7" x 7.8"|
|JetBlue Airlines||22" x 14" x 9"|
|Southwest Airlines||24" x 16" x 9"|
|United Airlines||22" x 14" x 9"|