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Gear Reviews

The ONA Bowery – A Stylish Bag That Can Also Take A Beating

By Jay Cassario on June 4th 2015

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Writing a bag review can be a lot like writing about your favorite pair of jeans or your favorite pair of dress shoes; subjective at best. Personal taste can play a big role in choosing a camera bag, especially when it comes to ONA bags. Some photographers are strictly interested in durability and how well a bag can protect their gear, no matter what the bag looks like. Other photographers that tend to deal with clients and care about the look that they portray, putting emphasis on the styling of their camera bag. ONA is a company that designs their bags for the latter, focusing on style as well as versatility, and they do an exceptional job at it.

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Just like my camera gear, I have different bags for different purposes. I have bags that are more robust and made to take on more extreme conditions, bags that are simply for traveling and built to take a beating, and I have bags for when I am just out and about or when I want to look good. A bag that has always seemed to be difficult for me to find is one that is small enough to carry around with me on shoots that simply does not get in my way. I tried a number of different bags, some were either too small and didn’t hold enough, some were awkward to carry or uncomfortable, and the ones that did meet those qualifications simply weren’t very good looking. Finding a bag that could hold enough to make it worth carrying, comfortable, and looked stylish at the same time was a tough task.

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Since my interaction with my clients is a big part of my photography business, I realized a few years ago that I wanted to not only look good in front of them, but also look professional. I didn’t like carrying around camera bags on shoots that made my clients think I had no style sense, especially on engagement shoots. These clients are not only paying a lot of money for me to take amazing photos of them, but most of them also rely on me helping them look their best. Most ask for my opinion on how they should dress, what shoes to wear, what accessories, etc. I didn’t want to give them a reason to question my suggestions and guidance because I dressed like a slob or carried a camera bag that looked like it was cheap or was meant to be taken on a hike in the mountains.

[REWIND: Think Tank Airport Navigator Review]

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ONA is a company that not only understands the need for a stylish camera bag, but they understand that looks only go so far if the bag itself is junk. They designed the Bowery line of bags for photographers looking for something just like I had been for years. A bag that is small, comfortable, carried just enough equipment for a shoot, and looked good. Just as ONA describes the bag, it’s very sleek and versatile. I first purchased the brown leather Bowery, which is handcrafted with Italian-tanned leather and detailed with antique brass accents. It has five exterior pockets and a soft inside that can hold one DSLR with a lens attached on one side and an additional lens on the other. I also use it to hold my Leica M9 with a lens on one side and my Sony A7II with a lens on the other.

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The design is excellent, and it holds just about everything I need when walking around with my clients on a shoot. When I do decide that I need to carry more gear with me, I usually carry it along with my Holdfast Moneymaker straps which allow me to carry two additional camera setups. A lot of times when I go on a shoot, I try to only bring one camera and 2 prime lenses. As many of you that follow my work know, I have a lot of gear. I never carry a lot of gear with me though, too many choices while shooting simply doesn’t work for me. This bag allows me to pack it and go, leaving no room for any other gear I may be tempted to bring.

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As much as I love this bag though, there is a downside to it, and that is a result of its small size. I’ve been told several times that it looks like I’m carrying a purse. I’m a little bigger in size than most, so carrying around a little leather bag tends to look a little funny to people. Honestly, I’m not one to go out and walk the streets to take photos, I take it with me on shoots where the only people I see or care about are my clients. Being told it looks like a purse doesn’t bother me, and for as many times I have heard that, I have been told twice as much just how awesome it looks. The other downside is the price, which to some is a little too much for a small bag that doesn’t carry much. I can tell you that you’re paying for quality and craftsmanship. This is my 3rd ONA bag, and I have beat them all up pretty well, the Bowery being no different. They have all taken their beating well and are still smiling, and beautiful.

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The ONA Bowery is an excellent bag and I highly recommend it for someone looking to go light and look good. This isn’t a one bag for all, nor is it a bag you will want to take on your next excursion through the wilderness. You will know if this is a bag you need or not, and if you do, you’ll look sharp carrying it. My wife liked the one I bought so much that we bought her one as well, so take it for what it’s worth, but I ended up buying a second one. You can see the entire ONA line of bags at www.onabags.com.

All photos of me were taken by my awesome intern Austin Wheeler.

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About

Jay Cassario is a fulltime photographer from South Jersey, and owner of the wedding, engagement, and portrait photography studio Twisted Oaks.

WEBSITE: Jay Cassario
Personal Facebook: Jay Cassario
Business Facebook: Twisted Oaks Studio
Google Plus: Jay’s Google +
Twitter: @JayCassario

33 Comments

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  1. Steve McEnroe

    Also, I have read some complaints that the snaps on the shoulder strap are easy to click off by a thief. I can’t see any reason I would ever need the strap off, so I simply superglued the latches together. No thief will be able to pull a fast one on me now.

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  2. Steve McEnroe

    I just bought the brown leather Bond Street for traveling. Beautiful and rugged.  Smaller than Bowery and only 1 pocket on front now. Right now I plan on carrying my X-T2 with 27 attached in one pocket and two lenses in the other. Years ago I learned a trick. Glue 2 rear lens caps together so you can have two lenses in a single slot without them banging around.

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  3. Rob Sz

    It’s a great bag, but there is one thing to consider: it weighs just over 800g. That’s more than my x-pro2 + 23mmf2 combined.

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  4. Simon Johannssen

    Thank you for this interesting article! I’m thinking about buying this bag for a long time.. There is one question I can’t find an answer for: Is there enough space/pockets to fit in a prism, a cd, a short cable and my Nikon D810 with battery grip attached and one or two lenses? Thank you!

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  5. Emerson Bailey

    I love my Leather Brixton, It’s just the right combination of practical & Stylish. Plus when you are walking round a big city it’s not obvious that you have 1000€€ worth of gear!

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  6. Tom Blair

    Nice bag, 3 of those photos look like Batsto village

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  7. Albert Ang

    Thanks Jay for the review. Can it fit Canon 6D+24-70mm f2.8 II?

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  8. Ralph Hightower

    I’m using a Subzero lunch bag to carry my Canon film cameras and filters, or the DSLR just fits in. It’s non assuming.

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  9. Aidan Morgan

    I’ve had a Bowery Bag for over a year and it’s fantastic for basic carry-around gear. I generally keep two small cameras or one camera with a couple of extra lenses, plus batteries, a filter or two and a tablet. It’s not quite as slick and engineered as a Think Tank bag, say, but it’s beautiful and surprisingly capacious.

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  10. Mark Romine

    This review is putting far too much into how our gear bags looks and how that may or may not effect the opinion of what our clients think of us. Wont they think far better of us if we treat them kindly and provide them with great photos?

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    • Pye

      Mark, I think it should be obvious that treating clients well and providing them with great photos is job #1. But as photographers, we claim to have a handle on “aesthetics, beauty and artistry” how does it look when they show up looking as if they don’t understand those things? Whether you are a Lawyer, I-Banker, or Professional Photographer, you are counted on to look the part. How you choose to present yourself is going to have a big impact on bookings and client experience. I wouldn’t hire a lawyer who showed up in shorts and a t-shirt, regardless if he was the best lawyer in the world. Likewise, I wouldn’t hire an artist/photographer who can’t present him/herself in a way that fits the title. So, bottom line, aesthetics and appearance are quite important.

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    • Mark Romine

      Pye, you are stretching my words. I wasn’t commenting on how the photographer dressed or comported himself. rather on the bag only. I’ve never lost or booked a client based upon how my gear bags looked. Now how I dress and comport myself is entirely different subject but that wasn’t what I was commenting on. Far too much emphasis is being placed on a bag. This topic is nothing but a glorified sales piece for an expensive bag.

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    • J. Cassario

      Mark, I think your stretching my words. I simply stated that there are bags for different purposes. I have bigger bags and more weather sealed bags for when that is needed, but this bag is made with style in mind. Therefore, i simply stated that for those photographers who want a bag that looks good, as well as looks good to clients, this is an awesome bag. Yes, I don’t book or lose clients to how my bags look, but it is looked at as an accessory to what I’m wearing, especially by brides that are looking to me to give them my advice on what to wear as well as different accessories. Yes, I get sent photos of accessories all the time by brides and I’m asked to pick what I think is best. Do you not think they would second guess my judgement if I showed up to their engagement shoot with a huge backpack camera bag? I’m simply stating that there are some bags that put emphasis on style, ONA is a company that makes bags that look good.

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    • Scott Pacaldo

      Can’t a photographer want to be stylish with these stylish bags?
      It’s like going for a job interview(office), you make yourself look good, and in turn that will help you with your confidence in a way, as well as how the HR person will see you. Looking good does not only limit to the clothes you wear, but by also through the accessories too(read: bag,camerastrap,etc). If you try to read this article again without those seemingly sales word or whatever, the idea still sticks.

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  11. Yankel Adler

    Having seen quite a few of their bags,
    I can say they make really nice stuff!

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  12. Jesper Ek

    Great bags! Love mine! I would like a size 25% bigger to fit DSLR with my battery grip.

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  13. Dustin Baugh

    Is anybody else so jaded by camera bag reviews that they scroll down to see the price first?
    “Wow! Not even listing the price on this one. I’m good.”

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    • J. Cassario

      Dustin, honestly I forgot to put the price, but you can click on one of the many links provided to be taken directly to the price :)

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    • Thomas Horton

      If you have to ask how much it costs… this is probably not the bag for you. :)

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  14. Mark C

    Nice review Jay. And for the record, you’d make any bag look small!

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  15. Tanya Goodall Smith

    That’s one sexy bag…

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  16. Karlis Kalnins

    I love my ONA Bowery Bag and with my Moneymaker straps it’s a awesome combo! By the way: You can also wear the ONA Bowery on the back side with two extra sliders from the moneymakers – see also here: https://instagram.com/p/28cyKIAJEJ/

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  17. Jason Switzer

    I own a waxed-canvas ONA Union Street and it didn’t take me long to realize that the bag is more about looking good than being practical. It’s now been relegated to the place where I store my less-frequently used lenses.

    While no one can argue that ONA uses the finest materials available, more attention is paid to style than function. Their bags are the ultimate example of style over substance. My Union Street weighs 4 lbs when empty and has zero padding in the shoulder strap. When carrying my 5D3, plus 3 lenses and a flash, the weight literally crushes my shoulder. I’ve since moved on to a Tenba large messenger bag. Sure, it doesn’t look as cool, but it has amazing shoulder padding, holds more gear, costs less, and weighs half what my ONA weighs.

    Long story long… Save your cash and skip ONA bags (at least until they figure out how to add shoulder strap padding and use materials that are still high quality, but weigh less). Just my $.02.

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  18. Jason Markos

    Great review, thanks for posting. Although I confess I’m a little biased having been running a Leather Brixton from Ona for a year or so. For me, I needed the space for a laptop too so this bag has been that bit more practical than the Bowery. A friend has the waxed cotton version and they both seem to just get better with age and abuse! They’re also surprisingly weatherproof – I wouldn’t deliberately take one out in the rain but it’s always been fine when I’ve been caught unprepared.

    Highly recommended from me.

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    • J. Cassario

      Jason, I also have the larger ONA Astoria for when I need to bring my Macbook Pro with me. I love the ONA bags and they really do hold up well. I beat my bags up pretty good and I’ve had the Astoria for a couple years now. Thanks for reading and not commenting on my ripped jeans :)

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  19. Thomas Horton

    Kinda funny that the first pictures about a bag designed for stylish looks features a guy with ripped jeans. :)

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    • Pye

      Have you seen how ripped he is? Jay can’t find clothes that don’t tear around his bulging muscles. It’s a problem, but a good problem ;)

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    • J. Cassario

      That’s my style…not dress pants and dress shoes on a shoot on a farm :)

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    • Kyle Stauffer

      I like the style Jay! Like the antler sheds you included in your gear pic! Last year I had a friend of mine that crafts leather make me a dual strap like yours. It’s one of my favorite pieces of equipment. A leather bag such as this would be a nice addition.

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    • J. Cassario

      Thanks Kyle!

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    • Uncle Bob

      Gotta chime in hear on Jay’s style… on paper it does sounds funny to say a guy in a camo hat, hoodie, torn jeans, boots with a can of dip in his pocket meshes with the style of an Italian leather ONA bag but I’ve read and seen a ton of Jay’s reviews both on here and on Shotkit and his style REALLY fits somehow.

      It’s uniquely him and I don’t think anyone else could pull it off quite the way he does. Jay looks like a dude that can probably fix a car and maybe drive a forklift, but he ALSO looks like a guy that can put on a tux and go shoot an upscale NYC wedding and totally fit in. He’s comfortable in his own skin and that goes a long way.

      It’s kinda like his gear setup, he’s somehow shooting Leica, Sony, Canon and Nikon all together but yet somehow his images flow together seamlessly and are unique to him. You see a Jay Cassario shot and you KNOW it’s his work no matter what camera it was.

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    • J. Cassario

      Wow Bob, someone is going to think I wrote that up myself, thank you my friend. That honestly just put a smile on my face reading that, and also knowing that there really are some people out there get me :) Thanks for following my work Bob!

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