A GEEK’S DILEMMA
In addition to my love affair with all things Apple (sans those moments of invasive encroachment upon my electronic liberty), I am a lover of photography and photography related technologies. Like many photo-Geeks, I love to carry along my MacBook and a DSLR when leaving the house. Considering the size of most DSLRs, finding a backpack that would allow one to securely and comfortably carry both pieces of tech has never been an easy task. If you could find a backpack that could meet the above mentioned requirements, it generally was large, bulky, and non-pleasing aesthetically (let’s just say it, UGLY).
As a leader in this space, Lowepro has been producing a wide selection of protective carrying solutions for photographic and electronic devices since 1967. Prior to my evaluation of the product reviewed in this article, my experience with Lowepro was limited to word of mouth and the occasional scanning of an online review. I was excited to finally get my tech stained hands on one of these vaunted products from Lowepro. As I awaited the delivery of the Fastpack 250, I felt a sense of excitement. Would this be a great solution to the problem facing so many Geeks, or would it be another in the long line of also-rans relegated to the pile of bags and backpacks that just didn’t fit the bill?
Once the Fastpack 250 arrived, I removed it from the shipping container and found a bag that was well constructed and stout.
The front offers a huge main compartment to store just about anything you need on your trip (more on this compartment later). Additionally, there is a smaller quick-access compartment in front of the main compartment for those little things you need to access quickly. In the lower section of the front, a buckle-secured flap doubles as a cover for the zipper clad storage compartment underneath and a camera compartment opening guard (more on this later).
The business end of the Fastpack is the left side (when worn on the back) of the backpack. This is where all the magic happens, so to speak. Moving from the back to the front, The first compartment is secured by a zipper that runs the vertical length of the bag. This is designed to securely carry a widescreen notebook computer with a screen size measuring up to 15.4″ in length. I really liked the ease with which the side opening allowed me to insert and remove my notebook. IMO, this is much easier than the normal top load backpack.
Moving forward from the computer compartment, what I consider to be the greatest selling point of this backpack, is the side access camera compartment. The intelligent design of this compartment really sets the Lowepro products which utilize this feature, apart. The previously mentioned front flap provides a guard against opening the side access too far and dumping your expensive camera equipment onto the not so friendly ground below. The side access opening was designed to allow you to easily slip the backpack off the right shoulder so that the backpack may then slide under your left shoulder. With the backpack still anchored by the left shoulder strap, you may easily access your camera for that quick picture opportunity. You can then easily secure your camera back within the backpack, slide it back over both shoulders, and done.
The right side of the backpack provides a mesh pocket with a drawstring. This is handy for a water bottle or something that requires immediate access. The drawstring is a nice addition to provide the greatest flexibly possible.
The back of the Fastpack 250 is designed to properly distribute the weight associated with carrying around a notebook computer, DSLR camera, and all the associated connectors, adapters, and cables. In addition to the two appropriately padded and very comfortable shoulder straps, Lowepro has added a secondary support system to the Fastpack 250 through a padded adjustable waist-belt (more on this later).
While I am a fan of simplicity in design, I am also attracted to beautiful, sexy, and svelte industrial designs. I guess that is why I have been a fan of most of the products which have been mercilessly thrust upon me and my severely depleted bank account by that captain of Cupertino and his merry band of minstrels. As such, I would like to see Lowepro trim a few inches from the overall size of the Fastpack. Indeed, it would take some rethinking in-order to continue to allow someone like myself to carry a full-frame DSLR and a ubiquitous notebook, in a design that was as thin and sexy as physically possible. Don’t get me wrong, I love this bag. However, I could love it even more if it were a little less.
Lowepro has taken a very straight forward and simple design perspective for the Fastpack 250. There are not a lot of gadgets and gismos here. Just a well constructed backpack with three major sections (computer, camera, and storage). It is refreshing to find a product that is simplified around and focused upon doing a really great job on the basics of what a backpack in this space should be. Just what you need, nothing more, nothing less. Jump to the product page for the specs.
The Fastpack 250 arrived just in time (thanks Vanessa) for me to take it on a vacation/photowalk I had planned with my family. I knew this would give me a chance to really put the Fastpack to the test. The night before we left on the trip, I laid out most everything (sans clothing items) I would be packing in the Fastpack 250 during my photowalks.
As you can see, the Fastpack 250 can handle pretty much whatever you throw at it. While the spacious main storage compartment can indeed handle both large and small items, I found it hard to find particular items because everything must be placed into one big compartment. My work around was to combine similar items into ziplock bags and then place all the bags into the compartment. This compartment would be much more usable if it was divided into different sections through one or more dividers that could be arranged as needed similar to the camera compartment.
With the Fastpack 250 loaded with my MacBook Air, Canon 5D2, adapters, cables, water etc., I was off for a day of fun under the sun. While the weight of the pack was substantial, I was able to dramatically lessen the stress on my upper body and shoulders by buckling and adjusting the waist-belt. I could hardly believe the difference once the belt was employed. It was like night and day. Once I arrived back home from my trip, I left everything but the MacBook Air in the Fastpack and added a White MacBook and then changed that out for a 15″ MacBook Pro. While the weight change for each notebook was noticeable, the waist-belt evenly distributed the weight and allowed the added weight to be carried comfortably. Great Job Lowepro!
As I stated above, the greatest feature of this backpack, IMO, is the side access camera compartment. With the Fastpack fully loaded, I was able to remove the right shoulder strap, slide the entire pack under my left shoulder, easily remove my camera and, “get the shot.” Restoring my camera into the Fastpack was just as easy as removing my precious (sorry for the Rings reference). At no time did I worry about the security of my highly sensitive and expensive electronics. I think this is the best endorsement I could give any bag or backpack.
MAKING A GREAT PRODUCT EVEN BETTER
As noted above, there are a few areas which could be improved to make this great product even better. Adding configurable dividers to the main storage compartment would allow a better utilization of this large compartment. Because the Fastpack 250 will generally carry substantial weight, adding a pad to the top handle would allow the pack to be lifted without any discomfort to the hand. Finally, a little redesign on the next version to reduce the overall size and footprint while maintaining the basic storage capabilities would widen the appeal of this product to a larger customer base.
I am very impressed with the Lowepro Fastpack 250. It is a simple design that securely protects your computer and camera while providing easy access to your gear. Even with the minor recommended improvements, this is a strong product that should be a serious contender for anyone in the market for a backpack within this category. I am awarding the Lowepro Fastpack 250 an outstanding rating of 4.5 out of 5 in our MyMac.com Rating System.