Heed No Warning

Now for something completely different.

Chrome's Niko Camera Bag
Chrome's Niko Camera Bag

So, I’ve been meaning to do an “Everyday Carry” style post, as well as a “What’s In My Bag?” post. I decided to mash them together a bit and work in a quasi-review of my new Chrome Niko. If you know me, you know that bags, specifically laptop and camera bags, are my one real retail weakness. I have a massive collection of bags, including a veritable who’s who of Timbuk2 messengers. When it comes to camera bags, I’ve tried multiple solutions from Lowepro, Domke, Naneu, and looked at hundreds of others. For larger jobs I usually just use a photo insert with a Timbuk2 M messenger, but I’ve been dying for a perfect day bag. Even for just basic day shooting I actually carry quite a clip of gear, so first we should look at what it is I am trying to cram into this mythical perfect bag.

Terrible Cellphone Pic. Wee!
  1. Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM
  2. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM
  3. Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
  4. Press Patches [DMZ]
  5. Canon Speedlite 320EX
  6. Lowepro Lens Case 2 (For 70-200mm)
  7. BlackRapid RS-Sport w/ S Timbuk2 3-Way (contains my Canon RC-6)
  8. 5 Star Notebook
  9. Amazon Kindle Fire
  10. Timbuk2 “S” Shagg Bag
  11. Timbuk2 Dimebag
  12. Canon LC-E6 Battery Charger
  13. 1TB WD Elements HD
  14. Canon EOS 60D w/ BG-E9 Grip & E2 Hand Strap
  15. Reporters Notepad
  16. Clive Cable Bag
  17. Timbuk2 3-Way
  18. Dorcy 41-4287 80 LED Flashlight
  19. General Tools 16-1 Precision Screwdriver
  20. Leatherman Wave
  21. Lowepro SD Card Case
  22. Lens Cloths
  23. Starbucks Reusable Drink Sleeve
  24. Fox “Bomber” Gloves
  25. Hi-Liter, Pen, Black Sharpie, Silver Sharpie
  26. My Passport
  27. 3rd Gen 8GB iPod Nano
  28. Sony Headphones
  29. Superglue
  30. USB Drives
  31. AA Batteries
  32. Vitamin C

Ok, so that’s what I’m trying to cram into a bag. There are some obvious omissions, like my phone, but those items are my “Recital 5”, the 5 items I always repeat aloud to myself before I leave any place (Keys, Wallet, Knife, Phone, Watch). Also missing is my laptop, a Lenovo ThinkPad X201, which I’ve started carrying separately. My Kindle Fire has been thoroughly rooted and modified, so it has been, combined with my phone, picking up my media consumption duties. In fact, I wrote the last post on this site entirely in the WordPress app on my Kindle Fire. Not needing a bag that can fit a laptop allows me to consider a much smaller array of carry options, which is awesome. I’m glad the Niko doesn’t have a dedicated spot for a laptop/large tablet. I feel that it would ruin the near perfect dimensions of the bag.

One thing that has severely limited my bag options though, is using the battery/portrait grip on my camera. I’m often out shooting for long periods at a time, and I shoot a lot of portraits, so the grip is essential for me. I also have pretty big hands, so the grip is just more comfortable. This form-factor is typically referred to as “pro body” and anyone who shoots with one knows how much of a pain is the ass it is to find a good bag that can accommodate one. Anyway, the real question is; Does it all fit in the Niko?

It fits.
Sure does.

For the most part, yes. Everything fits in there with the exception of one of the Timbuk2 3-Ways and the Timbuk2 Dime Bag, but I wear those externally. The Dime Bag because it’s full of change and quick access stuff, and the 3-Way for another reason, detailed below. My 70-200mm rides externally as well. The Lowepro Lens Case attaches easily to the tripod straps on the side of the Niko, which is fine since I don’t usually carry my tripod with me. If I’m event shooting, I attach the lens cases (I have one for the 24-70mm too) to my belt anyway. I transition to my strap for events too.

So, there are a ton of great reviews of the Niko. Those reviews are one of the reasons I watched the Chrome site like a hawk waiting for the Niko to be back in stock after the initial run sold out before I could buy one. Now that I have one, and have put it through the ringer on this last trip (Boston > Vegas > LA > Boston), I wanted to do a little write up about it because it is a much better bag than I anticipated. Once I got it a bit customized, I realized that it fits a lot more than expected, which was a pleasant surprise. It does have a couple of weird design quirks though, so I thought I’d outline them here because, well, they really prevent this bag from being perfect. Here’s the lowdown…

Main Strap: Part 1 – Adjustment Slack

Main Strap: Issue 1

Ok, so, for a bag aimed at cyclists (Chrome’s primary demo) this seems like a pretty glaring oversight. This is what I use that Timbuk2 3-Way for. So, really not a huge deal. This could be solved with a paperclip if you really wanted.

Main Strap: Part 2 – Buckle Lock

Main Buckle
Main Buckle Lock

One of the key Chrome bag features is that they use seat-belt style buckles on their straps. It is secure and convenient way to get the bag on and off quickly, without having to pull it over your head every time. I dig it, and I love the sound of it clicking closed. One of the downsides though, is that it’s heavy. This isn’t a problem so much in general, but it does create an issue when it is unbuckled and hanging. There is a locking mechanism that prevents strap creep when the strap is buckled. It’s a nice solution that prevents the strap from creeping while you move around, are riding, etc. But, when you unbuckle the strap and the lower portion (which has the strap lock on it) falls downward, the lock flips open, which allows the strap to creep, and the weight of the buckle actually forces the strap to creep. This is probably the most annoying aspect of the bag. The strap will always be longer after unbuckling it. This means it has to be readjusted/tightened every time. This, combined with the above issue, is just an extra step every time the bag goes on via the buckle. It’s probably less of an issue for regular Chrome bag people (this is my first Chrome bag). I am probably just spoiled by Timbuk2’s brilliant Truefit Cam-Buckle system.

Stabilizer Strap: What?

Stabilizer Strap
Is this a mistake?

When I first attached the stabilizer strap to the main cross strap I thought that maybe my bag had been made incorrectly. Was the buckle stitched on upside down? Even now, I can’t figure out this design decision, it looks terrible when it’s on and it actually pulls the main cross strap away from your body when it’s attached. This is one of those seriously “WTF” design flaws and one that I will probably just fix myself with some industrial sewing skills. Yeah, I just don’t get it.

So yeah, all in all, not a bad bag at all. It does a lot correctly. It’s a great size, feels good on, fits a crapload of gear, and is easy to get in and out of. The minor design flaws will hopefully be addressed in a 2nd version.

If I could change your mind,
I wouldn’t save you from the path you wander.
In your desperation, dreams,
Any soul can set you free