I’ve had my eyes on this Filson Photographer’s Backpack for a couple years now. The two and only major reviews of this bag I was able to find online was by Anastasia Petukhova and Nathan Ward. Both of their reviews were accompanied with attractive, droolsome pics. A week ago, I was able to find a used Filson Photographer’s Backpack in Otter Green on Craigslist for a great price! I contacted the dude, received a prompt response, and we met the following day at a Starbucks. The bag is no longer available directly from Filson, but is currently readily available from Amazon in both Tan and Otter Green.
To my knowledge, Filson and Magnum collaborated in 2014 to produce several camera bags. A bit about both companies’ histories: Filson was established in 1897 by C.C. Filson who specialized in goods to outfit the laborers of the Klondike Gold Rush. As the laborers moved north, the cold became unbearable. Filson manufacturered Mackinaw clothing and blankets to garment these workers for warmth against the elements. The clothing of the era was not based on style, but solely for survival. For many years after, people trusted in C.C. Filson and his company to create goods that would last a lifetime.
Magnum was established more recently in the 1940s from a group of reknown photographers. Magnum photos have provided photographs to publishers, advertising, the press, and galleries across the world.
Two specific photographers, Steve McCurry and David Alan Harvey, designed bags in specifications to what they felt was necessary to protect their camera gear. The ones designed with Filson were not only “built to last”, but also encompassed details that each designer wanted. Each of these photographers had different visions in mind. McCurry wanted his bags not to stand out, but instead be “invisible” to others so that the bags looked like they had nothing important in them. Harvey was instead a minimalist that tailored his designs based on portability and durability. He was a one lens, one camera type of guy, and he knew that any additional zippers or padding would add weight to the end of the day.
Prior to owning thisFilson Photographer’s Backpack, I had most recently utilized a Tenba BYOB 9 Camera Insert that fit my mirrorless Fujifilm and a few lenses. I liked that I could easily switch between bags such as tossing the whole insert into my Filson 261 Zippered Tote. Before that, I had used a Tanner Goods Field Camera Bag, but I really disliked carrying an additional bag solely for a camera. I would often carry a Tanner Goods Wilderness Rucksack on my back to school daily, so having an additional side bag was cumbersome. I preferred the Tenba Insert so I could throw the whole insert into my rucksack.
- 22oz Rugged Twill cotton and 12.5oz Tin Cloth cotton
- Wool lined shoulder pads with bridle leather straps
- YKK Nylon Zippers to reduce scratching damage
- 1 Bellow pocket, 1 zipper pocket, 7 removable/adjustable slot interior dividers
- Hidden zipper at the top to a padded top compartment and laptop sleeve
- Made in the USA and of course, with the Filson lifetime guarantee
The whole backpack itself felt really lightweight without anything inside. A few couple things I noticed right off the bat: I felt that even with the highest shoulder strap hole, the bag felt too low/loose on my back. In the future, I may look into punching additional holes into the bridle leather straps. The nylon YKK zippers were really smooth and I loved that I could zip and button the pockets using only one hand (because of the finger loops).
The bag already had a bit of darkened tin cloth patina to it. Otter Green is my favorite Filson colorway because it doesn’t display as much dirt as the Tan, and also the color lightens with age and use. I can’t seem to explain why the color “fades” with time/sunlight, but it may have something to do with the green dye breaking down. I could see that the shoulder straps which were exposed to the sunlight while carrying the bag had faded to a lighter color.
The main compartment was a large empty space with several removable dividers. The compartment is accessible by a pair of two way YKK nylon zippers with leather pulls attached to them an an additional button to prevent compartment from unzipping erroneously. The YKK nylon zippers are buttery smooth and feel quite substantial. The compartment is very well padded on all sides; 4 smaller dividers and 2 long dividers are included to arrange to your liking. I’m still figuring out what configuration I best prefer them in, but I’m glad Filson leaves the option up to the user. I’m currently placing the heavier items towards the bottom and the lighter items towards the top. The compartment can easily store two camera bodies with several large lenses. Within this main compartment there is a zippered pocket that protects the items in it from moisture/rain. I wish this zippered pocket had a leather pull loop on it (but is something I can add myself). The pocket is labeled on the outside with “Filson + Magnum”, the only logo that the bag includes. I’m glad it’s not visible from the outside like all other Filson products! I store spare batteries and memory cards in this pocket because they are shielded from the rain.
The outer bellow pocket is made of tin cloth and closed by one button. Likewise, this pocket has a finger loop and is utilizable with one hand! It’s important to note that this pocket isn’t fully covered with the flap and actually has two built in eyelet holes at the bottom likely to allow drainage of water. Therefore, the items in this pocket won’t be secure from water damage from the rain. I currently keep my quick access items in this pocket such as my sunglasses case, notebook, and keys.
The top hidden pair of YKK nylon zippers are underneath the tin cloth. They open up to a smaller rectangular compartment with a velcro’d laptop pocket within. The laptop pocket can easily fit my 15 inch laptop and/or an iPad easily. The rectangular pocket is small, but large enough to fit a lightweight jacket rolled up.
Now, let’s talk about the shoulder straps and handle. The bag handle placed on top is a single piece of bridle leather that appears quite thin (~0.5in in width) but feels substantial enough to lift the whole bag up. The two shoulder straps are lined on the inside with a thin wool felt pad and are attached to the bag with two bridle leather buckled straps. As mentioned before, I might take the bag to a cobbler to punch additional higher strap holes because the bag hangs somewhat loosely on my back. Both the back and bottom are made of 22oz twill cloth.
I’ve used the bag for about a week, and I absolutely love it. The style of the bag is inconspicuous enough to hide the fact it’s a camera bag, but also stylish enough to fit the Filson lifestyle. I haven’t yet held the bag up to a rainy day, so I’m not sure how it will handle water. But I have a feeling that I don’t have to worry. This is my first and only experience with a camera backpack, but it may as well be my last! As with all Filson goods…
I own many Filson bags and know that their warranty is guaranteed for life. Looking at the tin cloth, I feel it might be drying out and may need a rewaxing soon (this particular bag was manufactured in 2014 according to the tag). Because the Magnum bags were produced in limited numbers, this backpack isn’t readily available to purchase for those interesteds. I still see a few of these bags pop up lightly used! I’d recommend creating a search for eBay/Craigslist and be ready to pounce on the next bag that appears!
Regarding the $385 MRSP price, I think it’s quite a bit steep for its value. But to protect and lug your camera gear potentially worth thousands more, camera bags are not an item you should cheap out on. With most of my Filson bags, I don’t purchase them at full retail value. I hope this review helps out some of you photographers out there!