Andy Westlake examines a series of three small camera bags from Billingham
Billingham S-series bags at a glance:
- Top-quality shoulder bags
- Made of canvas and leather
- Four colours available
- Price: S2 £180, S3 £195, S4 £210
- Website: www.billingham.co.uk
Billingham has always been one of my favourite bag makers. Its products may be pricey, but they look good, are waterproof and will last for years. This year Billingham has released a couple of new ranges. I admired its model 25 and 35 backpacks in June, and now I’m looking at a family of three small shoulder bags, the S2, S3 and S4 (it’s not entirely clear why there’s no S1).
All three bags follow almost exactly the same design template, with the main difference being size. The S2 is the smallest at 25cm wide, 20cm tall and 14cm deep, followed by the S3 (31x22x15cm) and the S4 (37x27x17cm). Common design features include a zipped main opening, two adjustable dividers and a deeply padded removable base to protect your camera. Internal slip pockets at the front and back will take small items such as memory cards or a smartphone, and there’s a zipped document pocket on the back. A deeper pocket at the front will hold larger accessories such as filters and batteries, and can be closed using a central press-stud, while leather attachment points at each end allow small pouches to be attached to expand the capacity. These are specifically designed for Billingham’s Avea pouches, but items such as filter holders and water-bottle carriers could be fitted too.
Billingham S-series bags – key features
The zip can be tucked out of the way behind internal dividers to give unhindered access to your gear.
Leather slots on the side allow the addition of Avea accessory pockets.
Zipped rear pocket
A full width and height document pocket is concealed under a canvas flap.
All three bags feature zip openings with twin pullers.
The lids can be closed quickly using Billingham’s signature brass closure
The smallest of the three bags is distinctly aimed at users of mirrorless systems, so don’t expect a DSLR to fit. It will take a small DSLR-style model with standard zoom attached, and perhaps a small telezoom or a couple of compact primes. It’s a lovely little bag for anyone who wants to travel light, but be aware that there’s very little room for anything but your camera.
Mid-sized in the range, the S3 will take either a small DSLR or an enthusiast CSC with their standard zooms, and a couple more small lenses. The supplied dividers seem a little ill-matched to this bag. As on the other bags they’re of the type with a vertical section that attaches to the interior using Velcro, with fold-over top sections that normally cradle a camera body and prevent scratching to lenses beneath. Here, though, the dividers reach up to the top of the bag, then fold over, which only has the effect of hindering access. This can be addressed by simply putting them in upside down, but it’s a strange oversight from Billingham.
With the largest model, the S4, Billingham has created a design that’s suitable for DSLR users. Indeed, it’s unusually thick from front to back, and while this means that larger full-frame DSLRs will fit in very comfortably,lenses and other accessories can be left rattling around inside. Billingham already has a couple of other models with about the same capacity, namely the F1.4 and the Hadley Pro, and to me both of them seem a bit more well designed.
Each of the three bags is available in a choice of four colours: black canvas with tan leather, khaki and tan, sage and chocolate leather, or burgundy and chocolate. You can see each size below – the S4 is black, the S3 olive, and there’s a pair of S2s in tan and burgundy. There’s no difference in the type or quality of materials used for each colour. Traditionalists will likely go for the khaki or black, but the olive and burgundy bags are, if anything, even more attractive.
Billingham S-series bags – our verdict
The S-series models are the only small camera bags from Billingham that currently include the security of zipped enclosures, and for this reason alone they’ll appeal to some photographers. They’re beautifully made from quality materials, including Billingham’s triple-layer waterproof fabric, and will doubtless last for years. My biggest criticism is that the accessory pockets aren’t especially large – for instance, you’ll struggle to fit personal items such as sunglasses into the smaller two bags in particular. But while none of the S-series models seems perfect, overall they’re lovely bags for when you want to carry around a relatively small amount of kit.