Several weeks ago I published an article about the Signature Series 13 by Think Tank. If you have read that article, you already know that I found that bag to be one of the most incredible finds in terms of high-end camera bag design. I had practically nothing negative to say about the bag, with one exception: I use a 15″ MacBook Pro, and the Signature Series is not available in a 15″ version.
Thus began my quest for a bag of comparable quality, but that would also have the capacity to handle that 15″ laptop. I reached out to the wonderful folks at Ona Bags. They were incredibly helpful, and they sent out a complimentary review copy of the Union Street, which is their 15″ messenger bag. Having reviewed a lot of photography equipment, I find myself more conflicted in this review than I would like to admit. I loved the interactions I had with the folks at Ona. I love the fact that they are a little company, working hard to make their dent in the camera bag market. I love the fact that they donate $10 from every bag purchase to a fund to support Storytellers. I feel that they are a very solid/good company, and I know that the folks I interacted with were absolutely wonderful.
The best that I can offer the reader is a completely honest explanation of why I have so much conflict. If I had never used the Signature Series 13, and if I had never felt the incredibly soft leather and luxurious wool fabric of that bag, then I think I would be in love with this Ona bag. Equally, I also think that if Ona had sent me the leather version of the Union Street, the sheer beauty of an Italian leather bag may very well have also helped push me over the edge to become a fan.
Although I intended this not to be a comparative review, the reality is that I am comparing it very much to both the Peak Design Everyday Messenger 15, and the Think Tank Signature Series 13. I feel that in a great many ways, the Ona bag and the Peak Design are fairly similar. There are clear aesthetic differences, but the size and general capability of the two bags are relatively similar.
Vital Statistics (From Ona)
- Handcrafted with premium waxed canvas
- Leather detail and base
- Antique brass hardware
- Removable laptop area divider
- Room for a camera and up to three lenses
- Adjustable padded shoulder strap
- Exterior dimensions: 16.5″L X 11″H X 5″D
- Interior dimensions: 15″L X 10″H X 5″D
- Weight: 3.7 lbs
The main compartment of this bag is very large and roomy. The fact that the bag is wide enough for a 15″ laptop means that it is also wide enough for a multitude of lenses and a camera body. You could very easily fit 3-4 lenses with a camera body, or 2-3 lenses with a flash and other accessories. A design feature that I absolutely love is the fact that the divider that creates the pocket for the laptop is actually held in by two velcro strips. If you wish, you can easily remove the divider for the laptop, as well as all of the separators for the lenses, etc. Both the back inside wall of the bag, and the divider section will serve as the velcro holder for the divider system, so the user has great flexibility in how they chose to set up the inside of the bag.
One feature of the Think Tank Signature 13 that I absotutely adore is that there is a zipper cover to completely secure the items inside the main compartment . The Union Street functions exactly as the Peak Design Messenger 15, in that the gear is not actually held inside the bag by anything beyond just gravity. While it's generally safe, it is more secure in the Think Tank bag with a zipped cover to that main compartment ensuring that the camera or lenses can not fall out inadvertently.
One of the nicest elements of this front accessory section is the inclusion of four memory card holders that are built right in to the bag. You can just see one of those four in the right side of this image. There are a couple of pen/pencil holders, a couple of other larger holders, and then plenty of room for quite a few accessories in the front portion of the bag. Here again as I have compared this very heavily with the Think Tank, I would say that this bag falls a bit short in terms of function, by comparison.
In the front of the Think Tank bag, there is both a zipped pouch, and then an un-zippered pouch that is secured by a leather strap with a snap. The amount of extra equipment that will fit in the front of that bag at least matches, if not exceeds the Ona, and because there are two compartments, it's easier to keep things organized.
The shoulder strap is mounted directly to the bag, via a brass connector. I strongly prefer the Think Tank strap which is mounted via a swiveling latch hook, which not only allows the strap to avoid “winding up” or getting unwieldy, but it also allows you to simply unhook the strap, and take it off the bag, if you wish. The leather shoulder pad which is certainly elegant enough, doesn't have nearly the amount of padding that I had become accustomed to with the Signature 13.
If you decide to carry this bag via the handle, rather than the shoulder strap, you are in for a bit of an adventure. The handle is mounted on the far back edge of the bag, so 100% of the weight of your gear is to the fore of the handle. This makes the whole bag feel like it's going to just roll forward out of your hand, at any moment. Contrasted with both the Peak Design Messenger and the Think Tank Signature 13, they have the handle located approximately in the center of the bag, so the load hangs down straight below the handle, which is vastly more stable and secure feeling.
No Rain Cover
One of the fantastic extra touches with all three of my Think Tank bags, is the fact that they each have come with a custom designed rain cover. Honestly I virtually never use that cover for my backpack. I use it all the time with the Signature 13, mostly because the materials of the bag are so exquisite, I just don't want to get them wet, and wear them out prematurely.
No Luggage Pass-Through
One additional design element that has been excluded from this bag is a luggage pass-through loop on the back. With a $300 bag, I would generally expect there to be a pass-through mechanism to attach it to a rolling piece of luggage. This is true with my Peak Design, and my Think Tank messenger bags. I'm disappointed by the fact that this element is missing from the Ona Bag.
The bag is not as deep as it should probably be to comfortably hold a full sized DSLR and the 15″ laptop. It's just about the same depth as the Think Tank (5″ vs. 5.1″ deep,) but for whatever reason, it doesn't feel nearly as roomy. The camera and lenses alone are absolutely no problem at all. When you add the laptop into that back compartment, things get cramped. It becomes challenging to get the lid closed.
The Ona Union Street retails for $299.00. The Signature 13 retails for $279.75. As far as I am concerned, a $20 difference in price is not even going to be a factor when deciding to buy a piece of equipment. Both bags are on the expensive side. They are not nearly as expensive as the full leather Union Street, but at nearly $300, they are on the upper end of the price range for a messenger bag. Considering that I prefer so many design elements of the Signature 13, AND it's the less expensive of the two, my choice would clearly be for the Signature 13.
Dealing with a 15″ Laptop
As I shared at the beginning of this article, I fully expected to absolutely adore the Union Street. For all the reasons I have listed above, I am not in love with the bag. All that being said, I do like it, very much. If I had never handled the Think Tank bag, I would be completely thrilled with the Ona bag. The one thing that the Ona does wonderfully that the Think Tank simply can not do, is to accommodate my 15″ laptop. And thus, my quest for the “perfect” messenger bag will continue. I still want to find a wonderful messenger style bag that includes the ability to carry a lot of camera gear, plus my MacBook Pro, and also have me feeling like the design details really do fit my needs.
A Bag I Really Tried To Love
I wanted to love this bag. When I reached out and sought a copy of the bag to review, I fully anticipated a rave, gushing, praising review, much like the one that I was motivated to write for the Think Tank bag. As someone who hopes that photographers will trust to give really valuable insights about products in the photography industry, I just can not recommend this bag without some significant reservations. Do I feel that it is poorly made, or putting your gear at risk? No, not at all. It's nicely made, and of very decent quality. Do I feel like the disigners hit a homerun, and do I feel that if readers buy this bag, they will be thrilled with it? No. Especially if the buyer has a few other bags, or has been exposed to other bags, I think it is fairly likely that the purchaser of this bag will be underwhelmed and quite possibly unhappy with this bag in the long-run.
I have already communicated with the folks over at Think Tank that I want a 15″ version of that Signature Series. Those design details, paired with the extra width involved with a 15″ bag would be an absolutely spectacular bag. I think it would be my “perfect.” bag. I will keep lobbying them for that product, and if it ever comes to market, I would be at the very front of the line to get one . Until then, I'm actually continuing on a quest. I'll reach out to other manufacturers, to other sources, and see if I can find the elusive “perfect” solution. Until then, the 13″ Signature Series is my main bag, with my laptop residing in a separate briefcase.