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Crumpler Keystone and Sinking Barge bags

A good bag is an essential accessory for every photographer. You can of course carry your camera in any bag, but one designed with photographers in mind should accommodate your specific equipment and accessories, along with giving you quick and easy access to them. It should also provide sufficient protection from day-to-day knocks and outdoor elements, while additionally being comfortable to carry. Beyond these, a good bag could also be stylish while additionally being discreet about its high value contents.

   
   
   
Crumpler Keystone - oatmeal Crumpler Sinking barge - blue
   
   









  There’s certainly a great deal of choice in the market from dedicated camera bags to hybrids which attempt to accommodate both photographic and normal day-to-day items. In this review we’ll be taking a look at one of each type from Australian bag giant Crumpler. Originally known for its tough and stylish courier-style dispatch bags, Crumpler now produces numerous models with photographers in mind. Over the past four months we’ve been road-testing two Crumpler rucksacks for photographers: the Keystone, a dedicated (but convertible) camera bag, and the Sinking Barge, a hybrid day-pack.







   
   
Crumpler Whickey and Cox - interior Crumpler Whickey and Cox - rear
   

Being well-aware each person has different requirements, Crumpler also offers larger versions of each bag we tested: the Customary Barge is a bigger version of the Sinking Barge, while the Whickey and Cox (pictured above) and Karachi Outpost are bigger versions of the Keystone. All the bags are also available in a variety of colours.

Crumpler’s trademark materials and design are apparent on both the Keystone and Sinking Barge models. Both are constructed from tough Nylon materials which shrug-off almost any attempt to puncture or tear. You’d really need a determined thief to slash these bags or a direct collision with something sharp to leave a significant wound.

While not 100% water-proof, we found the bags could easily keep their contents dry during most showers, although in very heavy or prolonged rain, you’d really want to additionally use a water-proof covering to play safe or keep valuable contents in their own plastic bags.

The shoulder straps are wide, generously padded and comfortable even when carrying a heavy load – like many padded shoulder straps though, these can become compressed over time. Both bags also feature thin reflective stripes and D-rings for accessories on the shoulder straps, along with both waist and chest straps for greater comfort and stability; the waist and shoulder straps are removable if desired.

Again like other Crumpler products, the zips are superb – big, chunky, easy to use, rarely catching and never once splitting during extended use – this equally applies to Crumpler bags we’ve owned for years. All zips are also protected from rain by generous overhanging material.

Beyond the materials, the two bags on test take different approaches to carrying and presenting your kit, so we’ll deal with each in turn.

Crumpler Sinking Barge

The Sinking Barge is a conventional-looking rucksack designed to accommodate both photographic and day-to-day items using three main compartments.

   
Crumpler Sinking Barge - interior Crumpler Sinking Barge
   


In its standard configuration, the biggest compartment closest to your back actually only extends to approximately half the depth of the bag – it opens to reveal an area measuring about 25cm deep by 30cm long and 9cm wide. It’s big enough to carry, say, a 1.5 litre water bottle on its side with a folded coat above it, or a number of books. Behind this and right against your back is a dedicated 25x35x4cm padded sleeve for carrying a laptop which extends to the base of the bag – this can accommodate most 15in laptops or a selection of A4 magazines or papers. The sleeve also has a thin area in the front for documents.

On conventional rucksacks the second main compartment would be in front of the first, but on the Sinking Barge, it’s actually underneath – albeit still accessed from the front of the bag. In the standard configuration, this is where you’ll find the dedicated camera section – a separate padded area measuring around 28x10cm and 14cm deep, and with a mesh lid to prevent anything from falling out. This section may sit underneath the first compartment, but with the zip opened, it leans forward for easy access. With the camera compartment opened, you also have access to two small internal pouches for carrying smaller items like memory cards, batteries or filters.

   
   
Crumpler Sinking Barge (black) - rear Crumpler Sinking Barge (black) - interior
   
   


In effect it works like a small camera bag that’s been inserted into the base of a rucksack. With two Velcro separators you can just about accommodate a small DSLR and a couple of small lenses or accessories, but the key here is realising it’s ‘small camera bag’. Owners of bigger DSLRs could find their body and lens occupying almost this entire area, but if you like the concept, there’s always the scaled-up Customary Barge version of the bag.

Finally, the third compartment, furthest from your back on the front of the rucksack is a fairly generous pouch which can take a variety of smaller accessories like chargers and cables.

Like most Crumplers, the whole rucksack is also customisable. The base of the first upper compartment can be opened to provide direct access to the lower camera section, or the latter removed entirely for a more traditional full-height compartment. These customisable bases and walls are also very securely locked into place with double Velcro strips.

Ultimately any hybrid product will involve compromises, and at times the Sinking Barge feels like a rucksack which simply has a separate (and relatively small) camera bag stuffed in the bottom. But if you don’t have much camera equipment to carry around, it provides a decent overall solution for transporting a variety of specialist and day-to-day items. And once again if you like the concept, but have bigger (or more) kit, then there’s always the larger Customary Barge version.

Crumpler Keystone

The Keystone may look like a conventional rucksack from the outside, but with one major difference: there’s no obvious zips for opening any main compartments. And that’s because access to the Keystone’s main storage area is from the rear. You take the rucksack off your back, place it face down, then the entire rear panel unzips and opens like a door to reveal the previous cargo. This unconventional design means any thieves sneaking up from behind won’t be able to unzip any major compartments.

   
Crumpler Keystone - interior Crumpler Keystone
   



In its default configuration, the entire main compartment is devoted to camera gear, giving you a section measuring about 40x25cm and 14cm at its deepest point. This padded section is fitted with numerous padded separators which can be velcro’d to accommodate different sizes and shapes, and topped with a zippered mesh cover to prevent items from falling out.

The deepest section should accommodate a compact DSLR with lens, along with two small lenses alongside. Beyond this point though the natural curve of the bag results in ever-shallower sections towards the top which restricts what you’ll be able to squeeze-in. The Keystone is however the smallest version of this particular design, and if you went for the larger Whickey and Cox or Karachi Outpost versions you’d have a much more useful area to work with. We’ve seen people carry large DSLRs and lenses in these bigger models like the Canon EOS 5D with a 28-300mm lens attached and still have plenty of space for extras.

But back to the Keystone, where on the inside of the rear panel you’ll find a padded sleeve for a 12in laptop (or A4 magazines and papers) measuring 26x30x3.5cm. This sleeve also features a thin pouch and spaces for pens and other small accessories.

Like many other Crumpler bags, the Keystone is customisable. You can remove the padded laptop sleeve and even the entire padded camera section to provide a single empty space if desired. If you do remove the laptop sleeve though, the freed-up space can’t be used by the camera section without leaving the mesh cover unzipped. So if you do remove the sleeve, the spare space is only really practical for inserting, say, a folded coat or jumper.

While the Keystone and its bigger cousins are based around a large compartment accessed from the rear, there are pouches on either side with conventional front access. From the outside these give the impression of being quite large, occupying approximately half the side area, but in practice they’re quite tight, especially if the main compartment’s packed full. So they’re only really practical for a handful of slim items.

   
Crumpler Keystone - rear Crumpler Keystone - interior


Finally, on the very front of the bag you’ll find two straps (one with a clip) which look like they’ll be able to handle a tripod, although to prevent it from falling you’ll need to weave the upper strap through the legs under the head. The smaller scale of the Keystone also means this is only really practical for small travel tripods.

Overall we loved the secure rear-access of the Keystone and its bigger cousins, although you will of course have to put the bag down somewhere to open it, at which point everyone will see all your valuable contents laid-out. That said, you do feel more confident walking around an urban environment with this type of bag.

In terms of accommodating equipment though, the Keystone is only practical for small photographic kits – but again it is the smallest model in the range. If you like the concept and design, but have bigger cameras and more lenses then consider the Whickey and Cox or Karachi Outpost versions.

Verdict

Ultimately while all bags are highly personal choices, both the Keystone and Sinking Barge have a great deal going for them. Tough construction, well-padded and customisable interiors, thoughtful features and stylish design all add up to bags which are well worth considering. Both models tested may have been a little small for anything other than compact DSLR kits, but as we’ve mentioned throughout, Crumpler offers larger versions of each bag for greater capacity.

We’d highly recommend anyone in the market for a camera bag checks out the Crumpler range, including models which may not specifically be designed for photography – you may find something which suits your needs better. It’s also important to try them in person with some of your equipment in tow. That way you’ll see what fits, along with avoiding the company’s infuriatingly over-designed website – we’re very fond of Crumpler’s bags, but trying to find product information on their site can have you seriously considering the competition instead.



All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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