Tenba Cooper 15: A real-world review

In Gear, Uncategorized by GregNoel

A well used Tenba Cooper 15 messenger bag basking in the sun

Overview

The Tenba Cooper 15 and others in the Cooper Series were released in fall 2015.  So it has been available now just over 2 years.   So why do a review of the bag now?   I was recently in the market for a new bag, and I came across the Tenba Cooper as an option but in searching for a product review I noticed that almost every review was for the Cooper 8 or the Cooper 13.  All the reviews for those bags had high praise for the bag, but I couldn’t find any solid reviews of the Cooper 15.  Obviously, all the bags in the series are made the same, with all the same features with one obvious exception, size.  All those reviews point out how the bag would fit a mirrorless camera or smaller DSLR.   I needed a bag that would hold a full frame body, with a grip and a number of lenses and accessories. But those reviews didn’t give much if any, information on whether the Cooper 15 could meet those needs.  In addition, most of the reviews were more previews of the bag, and didn’t discuss the real world use of the bag,  how comfortable it was,  ease of use and accessing the gear, etc.   But I decided to take a leap of faith and purchase the Cooper 15 for myself, and write a real-world review for anyone else looking for a messenger bag.   I have been using the Cooper 15 now for about 6 months and feel I can give a good overview of all the pros and cons of this bag to help you determine if this bag will be useful to you as a photographer.

Specs

A top-down view of the Cooper 15 filled with lenses and accessories

The Tenba Cooper is a series of luxury canvas and leather bags designed for Photographers that care about style as well as functionality.  The bag is made of peach-wax cotton canvas and includes leather accents and trim.   The bags are designed to allow easy access to your gear while providing protection from the elements, as well as protection from each component with a customizable padded interior.  Tenba is also known for their bags durability and toughness so the bag should last a lifetime.

The Tenba Cooper series comes in four sizes.  The Cooper 8, Cooper 13 Slim, Cooper 13 DSLR, and Cooper 15.

The Cooper 8 is the smallest of the 4 options,  It is designed to hold a mirrorless camera,  2-3 lenses and an Ipad mini or similarly sized tablet. The Cooper 8 weigh 1.7lbs (0.8kg) and has external dimensions of 11W X 7.5H X 5D in. (28 X 19 X 13 cm)

The Cooper 13 Slim Is also designed for a Mirrorless camera or small DSLR and 3-4 lenses plus a full-size Ipad or small 13inch laptop.  The Cooper 13 slip weighs 2.6lbs and has external dimensions of 14.5W X 10.5H X 5.5D in. (37 X 27 X 14 cm)

The Cooper 13 is one inch wider (front to back) than the Cooper 13 slim to hold some larger lenses.  It weighs 2.8lbs and has external dimensions of  14.5W X 10.5H X 6.5D in. (37 X 27 X 17 cm)

The Cooper 15 is the largest option.  Designed to hold a Full frame body and 3-4 larger lenses

Those are the primary differences in each of the versions.  Here are what they all have in common:

Special quiet hook and loop closure enables flap to be opened with nearly silent operation by pulling down before pulling away from the bag.

– A top zipper that allows access to the cameras and lenses without opening the front flap.

– A second zippered enclosure inside the bag for additional protection and security.

-Zippered side pockets that expand to hold a small lens or water bottle.

A size comparison of a Nikon D750 with a Tamron70-200 2.8 lens. The Cooper 15 can easily hold this lens and body combination.

– A Zippered pocket in the main flap that’s large enough to hold small accessories like your phone, lens cloths, keys etc.

– A removable hand strap for ease carrying the bag in one hand

-A wide, adjustable shoulder strap.  The strap includes a padded shoulder cover with silicone non-slip grid.

– A customizable, padded camera insert,  protect the camera and lenses.  This insert is also removable so that the bag can be used as a general purpose bag as well.

– A rear zippered  padded  pocket that fits a tablet or laptop depending on the size of the bag it may hold up to a 15-inch laptop

– Full-length zippered front pocket and interior pockets to hold additional accessories, a charger, business cards and memory cards.

A waterproof leather bottom to protect the bag from wet or rough ground or surfaces

An additional nylon weather sleeve that can cover the bag during heavy rain

Real World Use

My typical walk around kit. All of this fits into the Cooper 15.

As you can probably tell from the photos I used this bag, a lot.  I have been using it almost exclusively for about 6 months now, I have traveled on planes with it, shot a wedding on a sandy beach, and hiked in all types of locations and weather including rain and a snowstorm.  I have carried the bag for entire days some days and it has been tossed into the trunk of my car, my cat has slept on it, and my dog has chewed on it.  I really use my gear I wanted to give a real-world review to others who use their gear to help determine if it will survive my lifestyle and theirs.

What I liked

The Tenba Cooper 15 has impressed me in so many ways It’s hard to know where to begin.  I guess first off it fits what I need it to fit, most of the time.   My typical walk around kit includes a D750 with grip,  Tamron 15-30 f/2.8, Nikon 24-70 f/2.8, Nikon 105 f/2.8 macro and Tamron 70-200 f/2.8.  Plus I often carry a NiSi Filter holder and a selection of NiSi filters, a shutter release cable,  Speedlight and a Magmod Magsphere.    Sometimes I will even bring a travel tripod with me.  And always, always coffee.  Some people will question why I bring so much,  but I shoot such a variety of subjects that I always like to be prepared.  Some days I may even throw in one of my portrait primes too.  So a bag that can carry all of that was important to me.  I can say that the Tenba Cooper 15 does a pretty good job at carrying most of what I need.

I was also impressed with the look, feel and style of the bag.  I am not the worlds most stylish person but this bag certainly feels and looks sharp when I am carrying it.  It doesn’t scream “camera bag” like most others on the market.  It is also the only bag I have ever gotten compliments on.  When I first started carrying it, I had a number of friends comment how nice a bag it was and were surprised to learn it was my camera bag.   So if you want style and some discreetness this is a great bag.

My next favorite feature of this bag is the top zipper for quick access.  You don’t have to fumble with the flap to get access to the camera inside. The top zipper allows you to pull your camera out quickly, or reach in and grab a new lens easily.  I used this feature quite a bit while walking around.

The shoulder strap is wide and quite comfortable, even when carrying 20+ lbs of gear.  Of course, after a full day you will have some fatigue, but for most short 1-2 hours sessions it was great.  And most longer days there was always an opportunity to lay the bag down, so I rarely found my shoulder or neck tired or sore from carrying the bag.  For added comfort, the pad on the shoulder strap really helps too.

The removable insert is pretty good for when I want a bag to carry some stuff for the day when I didn’t need my camera.  It doesn’t happen often, but it’s nice to have the option.

The Cooper 15's removable insert make converting the camera bag to an everyday bag quick and easy

Pockets, Pockets, Pockets.  I love having multiple pockets to put all my little accessories in,  sd cards, business cards, spare batteries, tape, a pen, lens cloths, lens cleaner, and more all fit nicely in the multiple pockets.

The material and design of the bag will hold to your body as you walk,  It doesn’t swing around your body.  If I put the bad slightly behind me it stays there as I walk rather than slide over to my side.  This was really great during long walks.

The bag is rugged,  I have climbed over sharp rocks,  brushed up against many brick walls, trees, and doorways with this bag and there is no sign of wear on the bag.  The canvas and leather rare both pretty resistant to scuffs and scratches.  Even when my cat decided to try it out as a scratching post it left no permanent marks.

Lastly, the quiet Velcro is awesome.  When shooting events and a wedding it came in really handy when I needed to open the bag and not make too much noise.  It’s a really handy feature, especially for wedding photographers.

What can be improved

As much as I love this bag it isn’t perfect.  As with almost any product, there are certain things that could be improved.  That said, there isn’t much that I found needed improvement on this bag. And most of the issues I had with the bag were minor enough that I can survive without them.

The primary missing feature is the bag is doesn't have a tripod holder or strap to keep a tripod in place.  Straps on the bottom of the bag or under the flap would have been a great help when carrying a tripod.  I eventually had to get a smaller travel tripod and slide one leg under the inside flap to carry the tripod.  It did the job fine enough but a dedicated strap to hold a tripod would have been fantastic.

The handle for hand carrying the bag isn’t adjustable.  Maybe I have long arms and short legs but I found when I was carrying the bag in my hand using the handle the bag was barely off the ground which made it awkward to carry.  A shorter handle or an adjustable handle would have helped make that feel much better

The top zipper on the Cooper 15s flap allows easy access to the camera inside the bag.

Access to lenses on the ends of the inside pouch was sometimes a challenge through the top zipper, forcing me to open the flap.  With the camera removed and middle pocket empty the bag folds in a little, making removing an additional lens a bit more challenging.  I often had to open the flap to access the other lenses in the bag.  This is a minor inconvenience, but if the internal pouch was more rigid it would make life a little easier.

It's only available in charcoal grey.  Tenba's other messenger bag, the DNA messenger is available in a few other colors, such as blue, green and copper.  As I was buying the Cooper I wished it was available in the copper color.  But I had to settle for the charcoal grey.

Lastly, and this is more in jest, but pet hair loves the straps and Velcro.  You can probably notice in the pics that they are covered in hair.  I debated cleaning and showing a more polished look, but as this is a real world review, in the real world you can expect pet hair to find its way into everything.   The good thing is pet hair doesn’t stick to the canvas or leather on the bag.  So that’s a nice bonus.

 

Recommended?

 

Do I recommend the Cooper 15?   Yes and no.  If you are a street photographer, a wedding photographer, or if you shoot events or portraits then yes absolutely I highly recommend this bag.  It’s comfortable, it gives easy access to your gear, it’s stylish, and it doesn’t scream “there is a camera in here.” For those purposes, I can’t recommend it enough.

A look inside the pockets of the Cooper 15, as well as an example of how I carry my travel tripod with the bag

If you are a landscape photographer who hikes for hours to get to a location or if you regularly carry more than 4-5 lenses then this bag may not be for you. All the weight placed on the shoulder can wear on you over 3-4 hours.  As well the bag can be difficult to keep in place if you are climbing over obstacles, trees, rocks, etc.   I still have my much older Lowepro backpack that I use for long hikes or those situations.

But for 80% of my usage, I will be keeping and using this bag. And I expect I will do so for many years to come.

If you think the bag may be right for you,  you can purchase one on Amazon or at B&H Photo

The most important feature of the bag, it can hold a coffee travel mug in the side pockets.


About the Author

GregNoel

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Newfoundland, Canada-based photographer, Greg Noel is a photography Jack-of-all-trades; choosing to shoot multiple types of photography instead of focusing on one. Though he loves astrophotography, landscapes, and dog photography the most. "With so much awesomeness around, how can you just choose one thing to photograph?" Follow him on Instagram @gregnoel or check out his work at www.gregnoel.com