Lowepro Photo Hatchback 22L AW Review

product

Photo backpacks are typically very one-dimensional products that only get used in tandem with a camera. The Lowepro Photo Hatchback 22L AW breaks that mold with its split personality. At the drop of a hat, one can transform it from a photography companion into an everyday hauler. Whether it’s heading to a class or meeting, going on short hikes, or carrying a change of clothes to the gym, the Photo Hatchback is fully equipped to handle the daily grind and more. 

 

Overview


  • Sleek and modern outdoor daypack design offers a casual, yet high-performance carrying solution
  • Multi-functional compartments provide versatile organization of camera gear, tablet and creature comforts.
  • Removable, padded camera box with storm-flap closure and grab handles offer customizable storage for a complete camera kit; remove it to convert bag into a fully functional daypack.
  • Body-side, hatchback opening provides easy and secure access to camera gear.
  • Padded, front stash pocket offers quick access to a dual compartment that fits a tablet or compact laptop, plus other fast-grab items.
  • Padded, mesh-covered backpad provides soft, breathable comfort for all-day wearing.
  • Tall, stretch-mesh side pockets supply ideal storage for water bottles or extra gear.
  • Roomy upper compartment offers plentiful space for personal items (lunch, jacket, sunglasses, etc.) and includes a zippered pocket with built-in key fob and 2 stretch-mesh pockets.
  • Built-in memory card pocket supplies a convenient place to stash spare memory.
  • Patented, built-in All Weather AW Cover™ provides a premium Lowepro feature that protects gear from the elements.
  • Multiple adjustment points offer a custom and comfortable fit via straps at shoulders, sternum and waist.
  • SlipLock™ attachment loops on shoulder straps expand carrying capacity.
  • Webbing grab handle provides an extra way to carry pack.

 

*Courtesy of Lowepro

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Video Review


 

Unboxing


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A Closer Look - Exterior


 

design5At first glance, the Photo Hatchback doesn’t look like your typical boxy camera bag. The only visible exterior feature that betrays the bag’s contents is the large, distressed Lowepro logo, which is both bold and subtle. Even if you don’t like a lot of branding on your bags, the font doesn’t draw much attention – a good thing given the expensive kit you’ll likely be hauling. Extrovert photographers can opt for the Pepper Red or Galaxy Blue Hatchbacks to really stand out in a crowd. The whole bag feels very durable and well-ventilated in the spots where it counts, but it is extremely light when empty at just 2.2lbs. The shoulder harness is quite plushy, which is good given that the straps are relatively thin. A chest strap and waist belt are there to further stabilize heavier loads. The waist belt is easily removed should you choose not to use it. Dual bottle/tripod pockets flank the bag on both sides while a top-mounted handle makes it easy to grab-and-go. Reinforced stitching means you should have no worries using the handle to carry around upwards of ~25lbs worth of cargo, which is important given the Photo Hatchback’s split personality. An abundance of ventilated cushioning on the back side and shoulder straps ensure your treks will be sweat and soreness free.

tablet
The inclusion of a tablet pocket is a great convenience feature for photographers who use tablets or small laptops to view and edit their work on the road. The pocket on the 22L Photo Hatchback has been sized to comfortably carry an 11.6” laptop such as the MacBook Air, so my 10.6” Microsoft Surface RT had no issues sliding in. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this pocket is actually split in two, which provided the perfect space for me to stow miscellaneous cables and other relatively flat items alongside the tablet. There are two elastic loops sewn directly above the top of the divider to hold pens and styli.

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cover2The durable outer shell of the Photo Hatchback looks like it can weather the elements quite well, until a sudden downpour arrives. That’s when the included all-weather cover is a godsend, especially if you happen to be carrying your best camera kit. The cover is stored in a Velcro pouch at the very bottom of the bag for quick access. An elastic lining does a good job of hugging the contours of the bag, although externally carried water bottles and tripods do tend to get in the way. Two short Velcro straps loop around the shoulder harness to keep the cover secured in place. The mesh backside of the bag remains almost completely exposed, so there’s still a good chance of water running into the gap between you and the bag. Still, having some level of protection for your delicate electronics is better than none.

 


 

A Closer Look - Interior


The Photo Hatchback’s main compartment opens wide for easy loading and unloading of your gear. Even with the bottom half of the bag fully stocked with camera equipment, there’s plenty of room to stow a sweater or rain jacket in here, which adds to the Hatchback’s credibility as a do-it-all backpack. A large zippered pocket runs the full width of one side of the compartment – a great place to throw keys, gum, loose change, and other small items. Two mesh pockets on the opposite side do a fine job of hanging onto pocket notebooks, headphone tins, and mobile devices.


It’s easy to see why Lowepro called this bag the Photo Hatchback once you find your way into the camera compartment, which is concealed behind a zippered hatch that is integrated into the backside. The space is quite cozy, with just enough room for a DSLR with attached 18-105mm zoom lens, two extra lenses, and a flash. The flap itself has a single elastic pocket for spare memory cards. I would have liked to have seen at least one more of these pockets or perhaps a slim zippered pocket in which to keep extra cards or a cleaning cloth, but I suppose the zippered pocket in the main compartment could fulfill that purpose. All of the half-inch thick interior dividers are equipped with Velcro tabs for quick reconfiguration of the space. My current configuration gives me just enough room to fit a Canon Rebel T2i with 18-55mm kit lens attached, Carry Speed FS Slim Camera Sling, Canon 50mm F1.8 II lens, macro adapter barrel, GoPro HERO3, and Canon battery charger. Lowepro recommends that the 16L version of the bag be used to carry compact system cameras, but it will accommodate a full-size DSLR and 1-2 extra lenses in a pinch. The location of the compartment at the bottom of the bag might raise concern for some, but the benefits of this implementation certainly outweigh the cons. Having the compartment open into your back gives the gear inside the best possible protection against theft and the elements, while the bottom location keeps the bag’s center-of-gravity low for balance and comfort. Given the thickness of the padding and the fact that the pocket containing the all-weather cover is located just underneath the camera compartment, you really need not worry about setting your bag down too hard on the pavement. Keeping your camera lens pointing upwards as it sits inside the camera compartment will further help to protect the lens while keeping the heavier camera body as low as possible.

cube

At this point, the Photo Hatchback has already ticked all the boxes on my wish list for a photo bag. But there’s one party trick feature that really makes it stand out. The entire camera compartment is in fact an independent bag within a bag, meaning that it can be completely removed to free up a significant amount of useful space. The camera “cube” can then be cinched closed with its own weather cover to be stowed inside other luggage. Now all one has to do is fold down the interior Velcro divider to transform the Photo Hatchback into a very capable backpack for everyday use. A change of clothes for the gym or a pair of college textbooks are easily swallowed. The thicker padding of the shoulder harness means that even heavy loads can be carried in comfort for long jaunts around town, the park, or a campus.

 


 

Testing - CES and The Daily Grind


testing

Seeing that travelling to the International CES presents a combination of challenges for one’s luggage, it was the perfect opportunity to test out just how useful the Photo Hatchback could be. Starting with the flight out to Vegas, I discovered that the bag fits comfortably underneath the seat of your average airliner, provided that it isn’t crammed full of gear. A few hours on the convention floor was all it took for me to deeply appreciate the external water bottle pockets. Having my tablet along for the ride gave me quick access to the web, email, and documents on-the-go. The well-ventilated harness kept my back sweat-free, and the split inside of the tablet pocket made it a convenient place to stash maps, boarding passes, or other flat items. Since the end of the show, I’ve been using the bag on a daily basis to carry a change of clothes from the office to the gym with enough room to spare for my lunch. The camera box stays at home ready to be swapped into any bag that I choose at a moment’s notice. I can definitely see myself using this backpack for years to come, so my initial reservations about its price are long forgotten.

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One of the very first things I did after receiving the bag was remove the waist belt. Unless I’m backpacking with 50lbs of gear, I’d rather go without a waist belt dangling at my sides. For those who choose to keep the belt attached, you can swing the backpack around to your front to conveniently access the camera compartment. The belt keeps the bag suspended at the perfect height. I can still comfortably access the compartment one-handed without the waist belt, but I do so at the risk of something falling out. Another less-apparent bonus feature of the bag involves the tablet pocket. Its size allows it to accept a ~1.5L hydration bladder. Best of all, you can route the hose through the grab handle and into one of the loops in the shoulder harness for a CamelBak-esque setup.

There are only two downsides that I’ve found with the Photo Hatchback. The first is that the mesh outer pockets are not well-suited to carrying very tall or slender tripods. They tend to topple out if the bag isn’t full. Had Lowepro included an elastic or Velcro loop above these pockets I could carry a wide variety of tripods or monopods without concern. This second point is more of a nitpick really. Unlike past Lowepro bags that I’ve handled like their classic Slingshot series, the shoulder straps on the Hatchback do not have any elastic bands to keep any strap excess in check.



 

Final Thoughts


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What the Photo Hatchback lacks in organization, it certainly makes up for in sheer space and versatility. Those without the urge to keep a tidy kitchen sink of gadgets and tools will have no trouble at all using the backpack as a daily hauler. There aren’t any concessions to be made when using the Photo Hatchback as a dedicated camera bag either. Everything in the camera compartment can be accessed without completely removing the bag from your shoulder, and the positioning of the equipment ensures the best possible weight distribution and safety from theft. The inclusion of the all-weather cover and tablet pocket is just the icing on the cake to make this bag ready for any task or environment that you can throw at it. If you happen to be heading off to college with a DSLR in hand, the Photo Hatchback 22L AW could very well be the last backpack you ever purchase.

 

The Good

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The Bad

  • Not one, but two water bottle pockets - a must for any backpack.

  • The already handy tablet pocket can double as a hydration bladder holder.

  • There’s no need to remove the entire pack to access the camera hatch.

  • The ability to transform into a standard backpack greatly increases the bag’s usefulness on a day-to-day basis.

  • All-weather cover could have a better fit.

  • Slender tripods and monopods tend to topple out of the outer mesh pockets.

  • The bag pays for itself, but a $100 MSRP would seem a bit more reasonable.

 

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Comments   

 
# Ofir 2013-03-26 14:16
Excellent review! I'm using this bag for around 4 months now to carry a 5D Mark II along with a few prime L lenses and the best part of it, aside of it not being so apparent as a photographer's bag, is the way it distributes the weight - I can barely feel it on me!
By the way, the front pocket can hold a 13" Macbook Air, at least that's how I carry mine... :)

Loving this bag, after going through 3 different Lowepro backpacks, I finally found my comfort-zone.
 
 
# John 2013-05-06 22:14
Do you think there is enough room to fit a non gripped DSLR with kit lens + 2 lenses and a canon 430 ex flash in the camera compartment? The pictures ive seen seem quite misleading. Any information is much appreciated. :)
 
 
# Ofir 2013-05-07 06:53
In addition to my comment (if it got posted), here's a picture of the gear in my bag - plenty of room left, fit also a 135L, can easily fit other common gear.

http://img593.imageshack.us/img593/1147/img20130507152631.jpg
 
 
# John 2013-05-07 19:48
That was very helpful. Thank you so much. I just ordered it. :)
 
 
# Mike 2013-07-15 07:45
Would it be possible for you pop up a picture of the front pocket with the 13" air inside? This is the only deciding factor for me purchasing this bag :)

Thanks
 
 
# Ofir 2013-07-15 10:15
Unfortunately I sold my 13 inch Macbook Air a month ago. I can tell you tho that it just about fits (wouldn't fit with any case tho), I would add that it's better to use it in that front pocket when the Macbook Air has "Invisible Shield" applied to it to protect it from bumping from the zipper when taking it in or out.

But as I said, it just about fits - wide wise. Depth wise, that's not even a question, and there is double layer of protection (inner layer+outside layer).
 
 
# Mika 2013-08-16 02:04
Ofir, sorry to jump in so late, but I am wondering whether I should get 11" or 13" MBA and since I already have Lowepro Hatchback 22, I am interested on why you got rid of your MBA 13?

I tried 13 MBA in the store and found additional means to get it into hatchback: I took out divider from the inside and slided the MBA 13 behind the camera compartment. Seemed to do the trick, although I would need to use the back like that for a while before final conclusions.
 
 
# Ofir 2013-08-20 04:20
Hey again,
I sold my Macbook Air only because I needed the cash at that time. To me, it is the best ultrabook by far and I wouldn't consider any other computer to take along with me, not even the Macbook Pro Retina (at least until it gets AS thin as the Air series".

Referring to your method of storing the Macbook Air in this bag, I wouldn't recommend it and as I said, the Air fits fine in the front compartment where the zipper is. It fits and can be pulled in or out easily (after one or twice of training, and is protected by 2 layers.
 
 
# Mika 2013-08-23 23:43
Thanks for the reply.. I have to start training then, as soon as I get the 13 MacBook Air.. if I'm lucky, ill have mine before the end of the next week ;-)
 
 
# Ofir 2013-03-26 14:21
P.S.

The backpack DOES come with elastic bands!
 
 
# Ofir 2013-05-06 23:30
Quoting John:
Do you think there is enough room to fit a non gripped DSLR with kit lens + 2 lenses and a canon 430 ex flash in the camera compartment? The pictures ive seen seem quite misleading. Any information is much appreciated. :)


Hey John,

The answer is yes. From my experience, it can hold a 5D Mark II (I don't have any battery grip) with a 35L attached, a 85L and a 50mm f/1.8 on the left and a 580 EXII on the right - all in the camera compartment. And I have no idea how is that, but I don't feel the weight on my back.
 
 
# John 2013-05-07 06:52
That's perfect. Sounds like the right bag for me :) thanks a bunch!