The Hadley Pro is a premium camera bag from M Billingham & Co. With a price tag of £150 (+VAT) it certainly positions itself at the expensive end of the market, but is it worth it?
I chose to buy the black canvas version of the Hadley Pro, but there are other colours and materials available. To be honest, I think the other colours look better, but I decided on this one because it is the most discreet out of the selection. It just looks like any other messenger-type bag, and that’s an advantage for me. When I put my camera away I want it to disappear. Let’s take a closer look at some of the features of this bag.
Build Quality & Design
The quality of this bag is evident right from the moment you open it. It comes in its very own draw-string fabric bag with the Billingham branding on one side. I’m not sure when or whether I’d actually use it, but hey, I’m not complaining. It certainly adds to the feel of quality – which goes some way to appeasing the side of you that can’t quite believe you spent all that money on a bag. It must be a man thing.
There are two main fabrics Billingham use to make their bags – canvas and FibreNyte. If you’re wondering what the difference is, FibreNyte is advertised as an alternative material that is lighter and more resistant to wear. I preferred the feel of the canvas, however. Both materials are rated as totally waterproof though, which was the most important property to me.
To find out exactly how waterproof it is I recently took it for a walk in some really foul weather. It was definitely beyond the conditions suitable for taking photographs, but that’s not to say you won’t ever be caught out in a downpour and have to depend on your bag to keep your equipment dry. Below is a short clip of the conditions I tested it in.
As you can see the weather was quite damp, but even after a couple of hours the contents were bone dry. I have quite a bit of experience with outdoor products and one thing I noticed about the bag is that the water didn’t run off particularly easily. It definitely behaved liked canvas and could become saturated during a sustained downpour. The waterproof membrane will keep the water off the contents but be aware that, unlike totally water repellent material, the canvas will need time to dry out.
Depending on which bag you choose the details are slightly different – some are nickel, some are brass. On this version the zipper and press-studs are nickel.
There are generous amounts of leather used throughout the construction (you get that “new shoe” smell when you first unwrap it) and inside you have an assortment of soft dividers that let you configure your own compartments.
Inside the bag is very well padded, and the main compartment can be removed entirely so that the Hadley Pro can be used as a regular messenger bag. The internal padding really strikes a great balance between giving the bag some structure and being flexible enough to conform to your body.
The bag also has some really neat design touches that might not seem like a big deal in isolation but add up to a very well thought-out product.
At first glance the Hadley Pro looks like it is kept firmly shut by two buckle fastenings, but if you look more closely you’ll see that this is an illusion to make the bag appear more secure than it actually is. The real fastening is a quick-release design to help you dive into your bag more easily. The fake buckle is to deter others from considering doing the same. Another thing I like about the fastening is that it is silent – no zippers or velcro – which is ideal if you need to open your bag in a church, for example.
The front pockets each have a press-stud that allows you to expand them should you need a little more room. I can’t see myself storing anything other than memory cards and filters in these pockets, but it’s a nice option to have.
The carry handle is really good on this bag. Surprisingly good. It is attached to a hefty stiffener (it’s actually fibreglass) that runs nearly the length of the top flap underneath the canvas. This means that when you lift the bag, the weight is distributed more evenly across the whole lid instead of putting stress on the two small points of contact where the handle meets the canvas.
Another great thing about the Hadley Pro is that, if you lift the bag by the handle when the top flap is unfastened, it keeps its composure and doesn’t spill your contents all over the floor (we’ve all done it). The balance of this bag is fantastic and this could save you from smashing thousands of pounds worth of glass the next time you’re in a hurry.
So what sort of equipment could you practically carry in the Hadley Pro? Well, if you have specific requirements then I strongly recommend you try to find one of these to look at in person. You can never reliably judge things from pictures and videos.
Having said that, I will tell you what I consider practical to carry in this bag:
- A professional size camera body (without grip) with a large professional general purpose zoom attached (e.g. 17-40, 24-70, 24-105)
- A flash (e.g. 430EX II, 530EX II)
- Two primes stacked (e.g. 50mm 1.4, 85mm 1.8) or a single telephoto lens (e.g. 70-200 f/4)
- The two front pockets, rear zip pockets and space between the padding on the inside of the bag provide ample room for multiple filters, memory cards, spare batteries etc.
Perhaps the single biggest disappointment for me was that my 5D wouldn’t fit with the battery grip attached, at least with my preferred layout. Note that I carry the lenses without hoods. I have no doubt that some people could squeeze more into the bag, but if you have to do any sort of unpacking to get to the stuff you need then I don’t consider it a practical option. After all, this is a bag designed to be out and about with. It’s not for storing or transporting your gear from place to place.
It’s worth taking a moment to think outside the DSLR camera box – this bag would make a great travel companion for those with a smaller camera setup. If you have a micro four thirds camera or similar you could keep it protected and also have room for a water bottle, map, mp3 player etc. and other sundries in a discreet messenger-style bag.
When I first opened the Hadley Pro I was a bit underwhelmed by the shoulder strap. Unlike most of the camera bags, the strap has no padding whatsoever – it’s just a plain old strap. Shoulder pads are available separately but I really think one should have been included for the price. Business is business, I suppose. Thankfully, the strap is comfortable to wear even without the shoulder pad.
I tend to fling these types of bag across my body over my right shoulder and under my left arm, and let the bag nestle around the small of my back. With all the padding inside it’s very comfortable and it’s relatively slim profile means you don’t feel like an oil tanker going around corners. In crowded places or public places where I’m not moving as quickly as I would like to, I swing the bag around more to my side and keep my left arm resting on it.
I would rate the Hadley Pro as very comfortable, although it remains to be seen whether I decide to go for the additional shoulder pad.
So, is the Hadley Pro worth the asking price? I won’t lie and say I didn’t think twice about spending this amount of money, but since using it I don’t feel like I’ve paid any more than it’s worth. This bag does its job, and does it well, and should be around for many years – far out-lasting the camera bodies it will be protecting. The product also comes with a 5 year guarantee.
If you think about the price in context with your other camera gear, you might even come around to think it’s a bit of a bargain. Maybe.