In the quest to find the perfect camera backpack, I ran into Vanguard’s new and stylish Quovio 44 camera backpack. Yes, the name is a little strange at first, but then again, this sleek bag doesn’t look like your typical camera bag, either.
The great thing about this backpack is that it doesn’t scream camera backpack. Even though it is typically thick like the majority of camera backpacks, because of the sloping top edge, the bag does not look as cumbersome. Of course, the penalty of this design is that the top compartment of the bag has less space. But more on that later. The material is top notch all around and feels good to the touch. The lid on the front, for example, sports a soft, almost micro-suede like material that you don’t typically see in a camera bag.
So looking at the front side, the first thing you’ll notice is a horizontal band across the front pocket with clips on either side. Aside from adding visual interest, this clipped band is designed to slow down anyone who is trying to access either the front pocket or the main compartment. There is also a removable key clip underneath the band. Strangely, none of the interior space has a similar loop in which you can attach this key clip.
The smaller front pocket can hold an iPad or similar sized tablet, as well as other items such as cell phones. I managed to fit a Sekonic L-258 lightmeter, an X-Rite Colorchecker Passport, and my business card case. An issue that I have with this pocket is that although there is decent amount of width and height, there is not a lot of depth. I tried to squeeze a simple composition book under all the other gear, but there is simply not enough space. I wish Vanguard has given a bit more room inside this pocket. Also, there are no small pouches, mesh pockets, or pen loops to help you organize your content. It’s just one pocket and that’s it.
The zipper for the Quovio’s main compartment starts all the way at the top and opens up on both sides all the way to the bottom. At the top of the main lid is another zipper that gives you access to a small pocket. What I like about this pocket is that there is another zipper on the inside of the flap that allows you to retrieve items when the flap is open.
Down the left side of the bag (when viewing from the front) is a long vertical zipper that gives you side access to your camera. Although having a vertical zipper means that there will only be one pocket on this side, it is a quicker and easier way to open the side as opposed to the more popular clam-shell design that you see from other backpacks.
There is even a magnetic strap that prevents you from accidentally opening this zipper, which is actually convenient. It’s a nice little touch that makes this backpack stand out.
The Quovio also has an ID tag that you can attach on either side of the bag.
There is a similar-styled vertical zipper that runs along the right side of the bag, as well. When you open this zipper, you can pull out the two tripod straps and a tripod foot pouch. Usually, I prefer my tripod straps to run on the front side of the bag in order to distribute the weight of the tripod evenly, but given the design element of the bag, I can see why they chose to have the straps on the side.
Yes, you can fit a large tripod unto this (it was the only one I had at the time), but generally, this bag works better with a small to medium size tripod with normal feet. The Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT tripod that I reviewed earlier this year would be a perfect fit for this bag. Having the tripod feet pouch and two tripod straps instead of just one gives you a peace of mind that your tripod is not going to accidentally fall out. All the straps are very easy to pull and tighten, as well.
Over on the back side the first thing I have to say is that the padding and the shoulder straps are very comfortable. Yes, this bag just feels great to wear! The straps in particular feel great to the touch. There’s room for air circulation so your back doesn’t get all sweaty.
And the straps are convertible, as well. You can change the backpack into a right or left sling strap. There is also a sternum strap and a waist belt for the bag. The latter can be tucked away if you don’t want to use it. On top of that, there is a rain cover that is tucked under the lower back padding.
And here another great attention to details. One thing I hate about shoulder straps is that once I adjusted the straps to fit my body frame, there is always that excess material that just hangs there, waiting to get tangled up. Not so with the Quovio. The loose end of each of the adjustment strap has a built-in Velcro flap in which you can roll up the excess fabric and secure inside this flap. It’s hard to explain it in words, but if you see the photo below, you can see what I mean by this. I don’t know why more bags don’t have this, even within Vanguard’s own line of bags. Details like these should be used across the board for all of Vanguard’s products.
Finally on to the top, you can see from the image below how that the zippers for the main-compartment start all the way from the back of the backpack and wrap around to the front.
There is also a removable top handle that spans across from the left side of the bag to the right side of the bag. When not in use, this fold flat just in front of the zippers. Like I mentioned before, Vanguard really knows how to pick their material when it comes to soft-touch fabrics because this handle is also very comfortable to hold.
What’s not so hot about this handle, though, is the way it attaches itself the bag via an open end carabiner. It’s great that you can actually move this handle and attach it to the tripod side of the bag whenever you want to carry the backpack like an overnight bag, but because of the open end, there were times when the handle detached itself from the bag. It doesn’t seem like it would, but it does. And of course, I usually find out about this when I lift the bag. I wish those carabiners have a flip lock or something to prevent this. In the meantime, I just have to double check whenever I want to lift the bag with this otherwise nice handle.
Ok, so overall, there is a lot to like about the outside. But what about the interior?
Since I already talked about the front pocket, let’s head straight to the main compartment. The body of the backpack is actually divided into two sections, the top half, which you can store gears or snacks, and the camera compartment itself. The volume up top isn’t too bad, despite the curving lid that cuts into the space. The flap itself actually attaches to the removable floor of this compartment via Velcro. This is nice when you just want to access the top and not show everyone your camera gear in the bottom half of the bag.
You can also see the flap pocket that has the zipper access from the inside, as well as from the outside. This pocket, however, is pretty tight and rigid, which means you won’t be able to fit anything thicker than a memory card case or a Lenspen. There are also three memory card pockets underneath the flap pocket. There are no other pockets, pen loops, or hooks in the top half, though. The Quovio also has a mesh pouch which I keep in this compartment. Unfortunately, there is no Velcro attachment to secure the pouch to the inside wall of the bag, so I ended up using Velcro tie-downs to secure the pouch.
One thing you may notice about the removable floor of the top compartment is that it’s thick. It’s very secure, but it’s thick. I actually wish that it’s a lot thinner, since that can free up some more space up top. The grey section of this floor can be removed, as well. The reason you may want to do this is because the actual camera compartment is a self-contained unit that you can take out and rotate so that you can insert your camera from the top. This is convenient if you want to keep a 70-200mm lens attached to the camera body. This vertical arrangement is probably why the divider has to be so thick, in order to support the camera. You can, of course, remove the entire camera compartment if you want to use the bag for other uses.
While I didn’t try to put a camera from the top-loading position, I did have my Panasonic GH2 with an Olympus 4/3 Zuiko 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 II Lens and hood attached in the side-entry position. Surprisingly, the body of the small GH2 actually sits pretty tight on the side of the bag. A full frame Canon 5D mkII which I was using to take the product shots of the Quovio was even tighter in this side position, and you can see the left side of the bag bulge out a bit.
So going back into the camera compartment, I am carrying the following items in addition to the camera:
It may seem to be a decent amount of gear, but I really think it’s not. I may be able to substitute the triggers for another micro 4/3 lens, but that’s about it. This means that if you are carrying a full-frame DSLR system, you may only have room for 2-4 lens max in the side-loading orientation.
I had that 5D mkII with a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 mkI lens, a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens, and a Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II USM lens inside the bag, and it was already getting to be a tight squeeze. If you wanted to add a 70-20mm f/2.8 mkII lens, then you are stuck with the top-loading orientation. Even then it would require a lot of moving the dividers around just to have these 4 lenses with a 5D mkII body.
A couple of last critique with the bag. The main flap doesn’t have a mesh pocket over the area that covers the camera compartment, and there is no additional storage space for a laptop. Although there is the front pocket for a tablet, if you’re looking to be on the go with a laptop, you’re going to have to bring it in another bag.
THE PROS AND CONS
So although it seems that I’m somewhat critical of the bag, there is a lot to like about the Quovio 44. The bag looks great and can hold a pro DSLR with 3-4 lenses. You can open the side access easily and quickly because of the straight-down vertical zipper, which means you are less likely to miss out on a shot. The materials just feel top notch all around and definitely adds to the quality of the bag. Even the stitches look like extra time was spent in sewing them.
The dual-purpose camera compartment that allows you to quickly switch from side-loading to top-loading for longer lenses is also useful, although the latter does take away from having the separate compartment up top.
The Quovio is also comfortable to carry around even with a full load. It really is satisfying to see a camera bag company who actually took their time to make sure that above all, the backpack is comfortable to schlep around.
I took the backpack with a tripod attached to it on an airplane recently and I was surprised that I can fit the Quovio in an overhead compartment without any problems.
I think the biggest cons I have with the bag are the oversight in extra pockets and organizational arrangements. Just a little bit more space overall couldn’t hurt.
First, the front pocket is too slim to hold a lot of thicker items and it does not have any mesh pockets or even pen loops. You just throw everything that will fit in there and that’s it.
Second, top compartment can also use some mesh pockets along the wall to hold items that you want to keep separate from the pouch that Vanguard included with the Quovio. The pocket that is on the main flap is also on the tight side.
The removable divider that separates the camera compartment from the top is too thick and eats up space, although I understand that this is due to having to support the weight of a DSLR when you are storing it from the top.
Moreover, the space for your camera gear is not as big as the spec would suggest. If you do want to squeeze in 4-5 lenses and a pro DSLR, you are limited to the top-loading configuration.
Finally, I do wish that there is a space for a laptop, even if it adds a couple of inches of depth.
As I mentioned earlier, despite the shortcoming in space, extra pockets, and ways to be more efficient in storing, there is a lot to like with the bag. Sure, it can be just a tad bigger and be able to carry a laptop, but all in all, the Quovio 44 strikes a pretty good balance of portability and storage space. Add on to its good looks that doesn’t scream camera bag, and you have a great, comfortable backpack to trek around the city. I can say that unless I am in need of carrying more gear to a studio shoot, the Vanguard Quovio 44 is now my new everyday camera backpack.
Surprisingly, the Quovio model line does not comprise of the same backpack in different sizes. Instead, each of the four members of the Quovio is different enough from each other. Yet, they all share similar design philosophy. The smallest member, the Quovio 26, is like a small shoulder satchel, capable of holding a DSLR with attached lens and another lens. The Quovio 41 is similar to a small overnight bag, complete with dual overhead handles. The Quovio 44 that I am reviewing is a backpack. Finally, the Quovio 49T is a lightweight rolling luggage. So in a sense, they are more like close cousins – not merely the same kind of bag in different lengths, but similar enough in style that you can tell that they are related.
If you are interested in checking out the Vanguard Quovio family of bags, you can click on the link below:
Quovio 26: $119.99
Quovio 41: $229.99
Quovio 44: $119.99
Quovio 49T: $279.99