Review: Lowepro ProTactic 450AW
I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned.
This review is based on my opinion.
All Image rights reserved.
- Great Zipper Pulls.
- Highly Customizable.
- Waist Belt.
- MaxFit Dividers.
- Dodgy Advertising.
This is my first gear review, and I felt compelled to write about the Lowepro ProTactic 450AW as I struggled to find much info on it before buying it.
As a rule of thumb for all future reviews, I am going to try to find four things that I like about a product and four things that I do not, in real-world scenarios. I will offer an honest opinion and will do my best to keep things short and sweet.
I have been on the lookout for a decent travel backpack for some time. I've owned many Lowepro bags in the past, with my favourite being the Lowepro 'DSLR Video Pack 350AW'. I've had it for several years and bought it to haul studio equipment while photographing the Himba Tribes of Northern Namibia. Although it wasn't an overly exciting purchase at the time, it's been GREAT, and I have yet to take it out circulation.
A few years later and I spotted that Lowepro was launching their 'ProTactic' line of bags. From the pictures, they looked pretty badass. They appeared to have a similar 'side access' feature to my VP350 (video pack) and were almost identical in height and width. It also looked to me like they were designed to haul more gear - or so I thought.
I am 6ft tall and reasonably broad. Slinging the PT450 (ProTactic) over my shoulders, I immediately noticed how comfortable it was. It's a snug fit and sits high on my back. The shoulder straps are wide, well padded and don't eat into my neck - even after prolonged wear. The 'back padding' is decent; it's firm and offers excellent support.
However, the waist/ lumbar and chest straps are complete shite. The chest strap, even at its loosest, pulls the shoulder straps together so tight that it limits movement and becomes suffocating. The result is also hideously unflattering.
It's a similar story with the waist/ lumbar support. I rarely use this feature on most bags but when trekking up a mountain with +20Kg's worth of gear, moving the weight off my shoulders and onto my hips can make life much more comfortable. Although physically long enough, the straps aren't much wider than a cable-tie and are guaranteed to slice into your stomach like a knife. The whole thing can be removed and thrown away - which is probably all it's good for...
I am happy to report that this bag is tough. Scrambling over rocks and pushing our way through the caves, it takes abuse in its stride. I didn't feel for a moment that my kit wasn't well protected. On this hike, not a single grain of sand made its way through the zippers, despite my having to drag the bag through the dirt while squeezing my way through "The Birth Canal" (a choke-stone rock that is only passable by sliding underneath it head first, on one's back). Talking of Zippers, the rubber/ plastic hoops that Lowepro have put on each of them are fantastic! They make getting in and out of the bag a breeze and you'll wish that every bag/ zip had them...
The only semi-disappointing zipper is the one to the main compartment. For whatever reason, Lowepro has given the 'lid', a semi-hard opening at the top of the bag, a big ultra heavy-duty zip. It's great. However, the zip for the main compartment, on the back of the bag, is poxy by comparison. I'm sure that it's perfectly adequate, but I did think that this was an odd decision given that if it were to fail, all your equipment would be at-risk.
Moving on. The outside of the bag is covered with a MOLLE style webbing which makes it highly customizable. MOLLE webbing is commonly found on military equipment and allows one to easily attach a whole host of accessories to bags and vests. For this hike, I used this feature to affix my LED Lenser F1R torch and Leatherman Surge to the outside bag. They didn't budge. Something which can't be said for the included accessories.
The bag comes with a tripod/ monopod holster, cinch straps, an accessory case and a water bottle pouch. The Tripod setup is pretty good, but I prefer the small built in/ pull out version on the VP350. The one on the VP350 works like the rain covers on the Lowepro bags - quick, simple and brilliant. The PT450 is cumbersome in comparison but does allow better flexibility which can be great when trying to balance out the weight of the equipment inside. The accessory case and water bottle pouch, although useful, are terrible. They are bulky and look like blatant bolt-ons. The water bottle pouch is about a third of the height of the entire bag but only attaches to two MOLLE hoops via a single "SlipLock". This means that it is perpetually bouncing around, which can get exceptionally irritating. The accessory case is rectangular and only has one SlipLock in the middle instead of two on either side. As a result, it also flaps about and catches on absolutely everything. As a side note, I can't help but feel that SlipLocks are also slightly short, often missing an additional yet critical MOLLY hoop. Have a look for yourself.
Right, inside the bag and where to start? Firstly Lowepro's 'new' Maxfit system should be dubbed MaxiSh!t. Ok, perhaps a little harsh but I just can't see how they managed to produce something so flawed. While the theory behind the new Maxfit dividers is a step in the right direction, the Velcro tabs on either side of the divider are too short. This means that sure, it is easy to size up your equipment, but it won't be held in place on for long. This is Immensely frustrating, particularly when you're in a rush to swap a lens and suddenly half of your bag is dislodged or, worse still, on the floor...
(Lowepro's Maxfit Divider - clinging on for dear life)
I also ended up getting caught out by Lowepro's rather misleading product photographs...
(Left - Official Lowepro Product Photograph) (Right - My Bag)
When you look at the official product photographs from Lowepro (Above Left), it clearly shows that the central divider around the DSLR at the top of the bag resembles a Y in shape (marked in Red). However, on my bag, it resembles more of a T-shape (right).
Why is this a problem, you may ask? Simply put, space!
With the central dividers in a 'T configuration', there is a huge amount of wasted space either side of the camera (above, marked in green and also visible in the image below). Due to the bags rounded exterior, it is not practical to put accessories, such as filters, under one's shorter lenses. So, I thought that I would replicate Lowepro's 'Y configuration', shift my lenses further up the bag and put various accessories in the space once filled by my lower lenses were. However, this simply isn't possible without either losing the top loading or side access functionality of the bag - arguably its two most important features.
(I have tried to pack the bag with equipment that I own which is a similar size. I no longer have two DSLR bodies and nor do I own a battery grip so there will be some discrepancies.)
(My Bag in a 'T-Shape configuration)
Note how much wasted space there is either side of the camera...
It is also worth noting that the top lid of the bag presses against the viewfinder/ screen of the camera when closed!
(My Bag in 'Y-Shape configuration as per Lowepro product photograph)
Note how there is nothing to secure the top of the central divider. Also, note how much of a squish it is to add/ remove the camera when in a Y-shape configuration.
In my opinion, it neither looks or works like how Lowepro depicted in their photographs of the bag.
The Lowepro ProTactic 450AW is very well made, on par with all of the other Lowepro products that I have owned. It's extremely comfortable, with exception to the useless lumber and chest support straps. It has a great form factor and is perfect for air/ road travel. I think that it looks pretty cool and is fairly discreet. The zippers are, for the most part, great, and the pull tabs are a fantastic addition. The accessories, however, seem like an afterthought and don't do the MOLLE technology justice. The inside of the bag was a HUGE disappointment for me. The Maxfit dividers are flawed, and the central divider that holds everything together doesn't work as advertised.
Fixing these issues should be simple for Lowepro, and I think that if they did, I think that they would be onto a winner! Until then, I guess I am still on the hunt for the perfect backpack. Damn!
Lowepro if you read this, please contact me before launching version 2.0 ;-)
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