For a few months I have been using an Ona Brixton camera messenger bag, which I treated myself to as a retirement present. (I retired at age 49, and yes I do need to find another job!) It is a fully functional camera bag but what sets it apart form the many effective but ordinary bags is its striking appearance and quality, which makes it feel great to carry and use. I am not a stylish person by nature and still wear Rohan outdoor trousers I bought 15 years ago, so I would not sacrifice function to style, as even minor annoyances in camera bag design become big over time.
They do the Brixton in waxed canvas in several colours and I know this is a great choice as I have a small Ona Bowery bag in this material. However, on this occasion, I wanted something even more special, so decided to get a leather bag. There was a choice of the light tan-coloured Antique Cognac leather or Dark Truffle leather, both of which are gorgeous. In the end I went for the dark truffle as to me it appeared a bit more masculine and its dark colour perhaps makes it less obvious and a bit more formal where required.
Needless to say the leather is fabulous, thick, tough and beautifully put together with a slightly aged appearance from new. It has a satin, lightly waxed finish, which I top up from time to time with a natural beeswax dressing. The leather has an interesting colour that appears to shift slightly depending upon the light it is viewed in. Sometimes at appears to be a rich chocolate brown and other times takes on a slightly aubergine hue. The below image was a RAW file taken on a Fuji X-T1 and then treated to the Classic Chrome film simulation in Lightroom. In cooler shade lighting the slightly purple tones are more apparent.
In late afternoon sunshine, the bag has taken on a brown appearance, when shot on the X-T1 as a jpg with Astia film simulation. Which is correct? Well they both are!
The bag is carried with a very substantial, matching leather shoulder strap fitted with a comfortable and grippy pad. A small leather loop handle is affixed to the top rear of the bag and is great for extra security while passing through crowds, or for quickly handling or shifting the bag in and out of a car for example.
Closure of the main compartment and the two front pockets is by a large leather flap that folds over the front. Two leather straps with adjustable buckles backed by male metal spring clasps, then clip into metal female retainers to secure the bag. They are an identical design to the Bowery and I find then easy to use, but very secure. You can leave them open but they do click in time to your step when you walk! Closure had to be by this type of clip or something similar, as velcro or plastic buckles would look totally out of place on such a traditional styled bag. One thing I really like about the straps compared to many other bags (including some other messengers by Ona) is that the twin leather straps continue right up and over the front flap to the rear panel of the bag. The metalwork is limited to the closure buckles and clasps and the loops and adjustment buckle for the shoulder strap. The antique brass finish looks just right and it all appears to be premium quality.
The bag has a simple messenger style and is very different from bags such as the Tenba Messenger (which I also love). Where the Tenba is stacked out with layers, pockets (too many IMHO) and compartments of all sizes and is great for taking a stack of fiddly bits away on a trip, the Ona just has a large main compartment, 2 front pockets, a small, open topped pocket at each end and a rear slip pocket. Inside the main compartment there are hook and loop dividers to create a sleeve for a 13 inch laptop and to separate the rest of the compartment into spaces for lenses and cameras. That is it....no pen pockets, no phone pockets no SD card pockets, no hidden pockets. The main flap is backed by a tough nylon or polyester fabric that is also present on the front inside of the front pockets. The rear of the front pockets is formed by the main leather panel that forms the front of the bag. The main compartment and its dividers have a soft brushed finish that will cosset camera kit.
In the following image the laptop sleeve is fitted and there are two dividers inserted, a low and high one. A fuji X-T1 with lens fitted slots into the compartment at left, a small space centrally is stacked with a lens or two plus a rocket blower and at right is a Fuji X-E1 with lens mounted. When not carrying a laptop I use the sleeve for Lee filters and camera remotes and here there are 3 filters in a wrap in the sleeve and the Lee mounting system is seen in the front left pocket. The front pockets are very useful as they open enough to take accessories like filters, batteries, wallet, phone, cables and external HDDs with no issues. If I wanted to max out the bag it would be easy to carry another lens or two in protective pouches underneath each camera, as the bag is deep enough for this.
The weather flaps at each end of the bag are clearly visible here and effectively prevent rain blowing into the bag when closed. A dusty environment may not be ideal for a messenger style bag as they will never be as effectively sealed as a zipper bag. It does keep out a decent rainfall as the leather is proofed enough, especially if waxed from time to time.
The side pockets are quite tight and not easy to access under the shoulder strap loops but can take a small pack of wet wipes or tissues, pens and similar small, non-valuable stuff.
The rear slip pocket is the whole size of the back panel and can take a magazine, map, notepad or papers.
The bag is ideal for toting two mirrorless bodies with lenses mounted and ready to go, plus extra stuff like a couple of extra lenses, a flash, a filter set, remote triggers, batteries and a computer or tablet, so it builds on the carrying capacity of the Ona Bowery for those times when more stuff is needed. It will also easily take a DSLR and a few lenses, so is quite versatile, although for large DSLRs it may be better to remove the laptop divider to deepen the compartment a little.
Carrying and working from this bag with the inspirational Fuji X-cameras is a real pleasure and it just feels right and totally suitable for their functional, retro appeal. It has been in town, by the sea and out in the country and taken it all just fine, as you would expect. While it obviously looks like a premium bag, it isn't very obvious that it is a photographer's bag. It hangs comfortably and somehow manages to conform without sliding or bumping about, while retaining its shape and holding and dividing its contents properly. Its a pure shooter's bag, with no frills and gimmicks and will carry what I need for a day out or a small trip. It is free of annoyances like buckles in places where a camera constantly swings against it, noisy releases and shoulder straps that slip out of adjustment. If I had stacks of cables, HDDs, documents and other bits to carry on a job or trip it would not be my choice, but that's why we like lots of bags! To have a choice of the right one for the day.
It will probably last longer than me! One to pass on to my son. Its function alone may not make it good value as there are many bags that do equally well, but its style, quality, user satisfaction and longevity set it apart from the normal, anonymous bags and I love it.