You need a lens bag.
Before I begin, I want to say that until manufacturers start sending me stuff, most of my reviews are going to be glowing positives. That's because I research the hell out of the stuff I buy, and am fairly confident that I'm going to love it already. On top of that, I'm going to be reviewing stuff I have, therefore haven't hated enough to get rid of. That isn't to say I'm not going to discuss what I don't like... but at least for the first few reviews I start doing, there is going to be far less hate than love. Cause that's what I'm all about. The love.
"A Whaa?" I hear you say. Yep, your camera should be in your hands, or at least on a strap around your neck. The issue with traditional camera bags is that they compromise... and if you've read anything I've ever said, I find that to be a dirty word. Behold, the Boda V3. It's called a lens bag, not a camera bag*, because it's designed to be used on the job, not store your crap when you're not. Sorry, get another bag for that. This is your assistant, not your trunk (boot for you Brits). While it's been out just over a year, and many of you have probably heard of it or even read a review or two already, I don't care. If you aren't using one, or haven't even tried one, you clearly need to read another. *You *can* put your camera in it, see the pictures at the end.
The Boda V3 is the third-generation of Boda bags, the vision and execution of Jim Garner, a Seattle-based wedding photographer. He’s sought out and received input from more than 100 photographers, and in this – his third edition of the BODA Lens Bag, he has achieved success. While there are two earlier versions, this is where I got on the boat, so the only experience I have with the previous generations is what people tell me. And from what I hear, the concept was always great (as it was designed by photographers), but there were surely bugs to be worked out. And lo, they did. Specifically, the build quality is outrageously good. We're talking ballistic nylon, heavy duty gripped zipper-pulls, weather sealing, pockets galore... and speaking of pockets, there are purpose-built pockets made specifically for your cell phone, business cards, memory cards, water bottle, lens cloth (included and built in on a retractable line), pen, flash/strobe, lenses (duh), along with general pockets that I use to store flash gels, pocket wizards, lens caps, straps, yadda yadda. Everything is ultra-accessible, as that's the name of the game.
Alrighty, so I hope your appetite has been sufficiently wetted. Let's dig in deep. When you pick up this bag for the first time, it's all about the build quality. From what I hear there were issues with the previous models having zippers fall apart after a couple months, and the strap hinges wearing out prematurely... but with over a year of use, there is no sign of that happening anytime soon with the V3. With high-grade balistic cordura nylon, you couldn't even cut through it with a box-cutter without breaking a sweat.
The joint where the strap comes to the bag has multiple points of contact so wear is both evenly distributed, but there is also flex for comfort (but we'll get there shortly). There are metal rivets on the bottom so when you set it on the ground, they will take the abuse. The zipper pulls are ergonomic and anti-fray... and even the zippers are covered in an auto-sealing liner so you can feel good when it's pouring down rain... and trust me, I've tried them out. They work. Speaking of rain and zippers, if the weather is nice, you can fold the top lid back so it acts like a hip pad. No need to worry about the top flopping around or getting in the way. It's actually a little padded, so it is extra comfortable that way.
So what's the next thing you do with a bag once you've tried to break it? You put your crap in it. Now, remember, this is a lens bag, it's really designed to hold the stuff you want access to while you're shooting, not hold stuff when you're traveling. Now, I will regularly cheat on smaller shoots and pack my camera while it's in the car, but if you've got a camera with a built-in grip, forget about it. I can only do it because I take my grip off. Alright, so you know it holds lenses, but how big of lenses will it hold? Are you ready for this? It will hold a 70-200 f/2.8 zoom. With the lens hood on. Attached to a pro body. Seriously. Don't believe me? Check this the pics!
But it's not just length. It's got two of those long pockets and it comes with Velcro dividers, just like every other good camera bag. The difference is that things get stacked from the top. This does cause one issue, and thats having two smaller lenses on top of each other. You have to reach down the side of one to get to the one on the bottom.
I've rigged up some interesting installations of these dividers to make things easy, like installing them at an angles so I can reach down below, but I'm still coming up short with a setup I *really* like. As for now, I've just taken them completely out and I stack two lenses on top of each other, just making sure their lens caps are touching. No big deal... except when I can't find my lens caps. To be honest, I don't think the intention of the design was to carry that many lenses... but I'll touch on that in the cons below.
So, yeah... Everything, and I mean everything is easily accessible. I'll stress it again. It's a shooter's bag. There is even a pocket on the side for a water bottle. Man, were they thinking. I think we all underestimate the dehydration issue when we're hard at work in the summer. Just throw a 20oz bottle in the side and you're ready to go. It doesn't really work with anything larger, but I don't think I could expect it to do so... well, I take that back. They put these multi-purpose o-rings all over the bag so you can hang extra stuff off of it. That'd be perfect for those metal water bottles that come with a carabiner.
So we've established that it's built like a tank, it holds everything you'd want while you're shooting within easy reach... but how comfortable is it? In short, outrageously so. We're talking 8 hours straight in a suit, and no shoulder or hip discomfort. The shoulder pad is well-sized and distributes weight very evenly, and the hinges that attach to the bag allow it to have an angle that doesn't push the bag too far inward or outwards. I used it on almost every session in 2011, and it never once left me down in the comfort department.
So the bottom line is that it's awesome. But of course, nothing's perfect. What would I change? Well, for starters, i find the zipper pulls can take a bit of man-handling to get moving, especially around the top. I assume this is because of the weather sealing, so it's a well-earned trade-off... but that doesn't change the fact that sometimes it can, annoyingly, take a little elbow-grease to get things sealed up. It's much easier to open it.
Next up, I think I'd change something about accessing lenses... or would I? Some people have asked why you can't zip down the entire front so you have side access, but then it wouldn't really be a lens bag. But the issue is still there... If you've got four prime lenses *in* the bag (which it can easily hold), the bottom two can be tricky without pulling out the top one and putting it on a table. Sometimes we just don't have that luxury. I don't think it's a design flaw as much as it is due to the purpose of the build. I think the bottom line is, this is your quick-access bag. If you're a hot-shot rock-star wedding photographer (which I know you are), you're going to have a second (or third) bag of your second-tier stuff. You're not going to have five lenses in your quick-change bag. Even a primes photographer will probably have an 85mm, a 24 OR 35, and maybe a 135... and maybe a 50mm just because. In that scenario, you've got one on your camera, and three in the bag, yes? Well, you can do what I do, and throw the 50 in a side pocket for emergencies, and then you've got two in the bag. Take the one off your camera, set it on top of the lens you aren't changing to, change the lens, then drop the one you just took off into the empty slot. Bam, problem-solved. But you are a 70-200mm FIEND, aren't you? Easy. Get a Black Rapid strap (I smell another review coming), attach it to the tripod collar, then when you change to a different lens, you can have your 70-200mm hang at your side while you hand hold with your prime. 😉
Also, the memory card slots, while there are eight of them... which is awesome... they are a little tight, and I find them difficult to pull cards out sometimes. But what's cool is they have these tabs that you can tuck in or pull out to mark whether a card has been used or not (or you could just turn the cards label out if they are ready, or label down if they are used... since the pockets are clear).
And finally, there's the price. It's... not cheap. $195 from Boda. With that said, I'd have to say it's worth it. I have never used another bag that I felt was designed for *me* while I was in the field. I've got my camera on a strap, I don't need my bag to cater to hold it while I work. I just bought Molly a Six Million Dollar Home from Crumpler, and while it's cool, it's not a Boda. So I have to recommend you get your own. If you are a primes shooter, and don't plan on having nearly as much crap, they do a smaller version called the Boda V3 Junior. The only problem is that it's only $20 cheaper... but I still want one for really small shoots. There are times where I just want an 85mm and a 24mm... and that's it.
Build Quality: 20/20
Over a year of use, and no significant wear. Everything is made from top-notch materials. No expense spared... loses a couple points below for that, though.
There is nothing it doesn't do. There is an optional hip belt, too!
Zipper-pulls, and memory card pockets are a bit tight. Flash pocket could be larger. Designed to use fewer lenses, but I think it could handle using more with some tweaks.
Infinitely better looking than its predecessors, and really, one of the best designed, most "aerodynamic" bags around. While it doesn't bother me, it's branded like CRAZY. It's says "boda" EVERYWHERE. I have to give it a point off for going over the top with that.
Wow! Factor: 8/10
It's as cool as a bag gets... but in the end it's still just a bag. No bag is getting more than an 8, unless it lights up or something.
It's worth every penny... but it's still a lot of pennies.
I have to recommend it as a buy to anyone who does a shoot more than every other week. This isn't a bag for a beginner. This is a bag for someone who already has storage bags, and would likely be bringing multiple bags to a wedding. You'll be amazed at how comfortable it is, and how much easier it is to be a prime-shooter, having to change lenses fairly often.