Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ona Bowery Canvas Camera Bag Review

Virtually all markets spiral into the inevitable economic equivalent of thermodynamic heath death. Before the market's demise by commodification occurs, a natural inclination for competitors is to escape upwards ... "up" as in heading for the hills to avoid the tide of increasing price competition and declining margins. So it is with cameras, and so it is with camera accessories. Let's be honest, there isn't anything groundbreaking  about a camera bag "technology", and the problem for any maker of such is how to stand out from the numerous over competitors in the market.  Admittedly, some makers of camera bags do a better job of creating a desirable product than others. To that end, Ona camera bags are visually fetching and have a way of conveying an upscale presence that remains accessible. 

Considering how utilitarian bags are supposed to be, it's surprising how many brands are pushing into the "premium category." Some, like Think Tank are about conspicuously well engineered functionality. As nice well made as Billingham bags are, you could argue that their claim to fame is that they are conspicuously expensive. Ona leans towards into this interpretation of the word "premium." That's especially true of the leather versions of the Bowery bags (Dark Truffle and Antique Cognac), which will grow in "character" as they weather over time. The canvas versions of this bag are a bit more nuanced in that regards: the aesthetic is that of an expensive premium bag mimicking the look of a more pedestrian cloth camera bag.

The canvas versions of the Bowery are made of waxed cotton. Compared to a typical nylon camera bag, the material doesn't quite have as organic a texture as you might guess. There's a stiffness to fabric that is a bit reminiscent of suede. When new, the fabric stays somewhat folded if you bend it ... it's odd, but the best way to describe this texture is "moldable." In comparison, the Ona waxed canvass fabric feels more processed than the waterproof synthetic fabric that Billingham uses, which has a nylon-like texture but which is soft and supple as a unprocessed cotton. Over time, the waxed canvass Ona bags will require periodic re-waxing to maintain their water-resistance. There's a saying about home renovations that applies to the Bowery as well. When you are choosing flooring for your home, the difference between laminate and wood flooring is that you live on the laminate, but you live with the wood flooring because of the extra care and consideration that it requires. That's true of bags; your camera lives in a nylon bag, but you live with a canvass bag.

There's leather trim used in the closing buckle, the strap attachments an the lip of the bag opening. It's pretty stuff and by its presence, the leather broadcasts the upscale aspirations of the bag and the brand. However, the trim work on the lip of the opening could be better. It's stitched down solidly enough, but the material on the inside edge doesn't sit completely flush with the canvas. If you run your finger down the stitching, you can tease the free edge of the material away from the cloth. On other bags, this material sits tightly against the inside edge of the fabric and cannot be lifted away freely. The front buckle cleverly hides a push-button clasp. to open the bag, you don't undo the buckle as you would a watch strap, but you lift the tail end of the leather buckle strap to expose the deployment button. As far as protection goes, the bag isn't overly padded, but there is a respectable amount of structure to protect your camera gear during reasonable use.

Not visible: The shoulder strap is made with a rather sturdy helping of nylon. The metal trim on the shoulder strap anchors and the closing clasp/buckle are metal and are finished to look like weathered brass. However, the patina is not a true weathered finished. If you look closely, the scuffed brass is a metallic veneer over some sort of base metal. Truth be told, this is a bit disappointing, as it feels a bit inauthentic and as the saying goes, it the faux-brass appearance of the metal trim "takes you out of the moment"  if you examine the trim a bit too closely.

As a general rule of thumb, Ona bags aren't terribly deep,. but they will expand more than they appear that they will. The interior lining is soft and smooth; the main chamber is very simple and straightforward. You could fit a DSLR with a short lens into the Bowery, but it would be a bit tight. Where the Bowery does well is with mirrorless cameras, the Sony A7 and the Fujifilm X100s or a Micro Four Thirds camera come to mind. The Bowery does especially well for a Leica M body, but it will fit tightly for a M240 that's be fitted with a case. If you are a Leica owner, the bag will store an M camera with a lens on it along with two other lenses if they are wrapped in cloth. Otherwise, there's only enough workable room for one additional lens if you use the Leica carrying pouches that come with the lenses.

The downside is that there is only one divider provided, and it's a simple partition and not the like the multi-segment inserts provided in less expensive camera bags that allow for the camera to be safely stored lens-down without front of the lens sitting on the bottom of the bag. This can be remedied by borrowing an unused insert from another camera bag.

If you step up to the leather version of this bag, the design and dimensions stay the same, but the canvas is replaced by full-grain leather that comes in either antique cognac or dark truffle. The leather bags are meant to develop a patina as they wear. The end result after years of service will be a rough-and tumble looking bag, but one that is fashionable and functional.

Bowery, Dark Truffle Leather

Overall the Ona Bowery is a smart-casual but somewhat dressy camera bag that does does well for the mirrorless camera user who isn't going into an extreme shooting environment. This is a bag that looks better slung over a wool pea coat than across a Gore-tex parka. Truth be told, it is expensive for a camera bag, but it's inexpensive as a luxury item. In that regards, it's very much in keeping with the "affordable Luxury" category of goods; an extravagance, but an attainable one. 

With thanks to Broadway Camera.


  1. Hi! Great review of your camera bag, Looks stylish. Do you mind if I share our of camera bags and laptop bags ? Thanks!

  2. Your comment regarding the fake patina on the strap is totally on point. Like, why!? Added to the car seat belt of the strap, it makes a wish-mash of styles that just feel incongruous with the canvas and leather. A canvas strap with genuine brass would have done fine, and tend to slip less, I would have thought. Also, one insert is just stingy! Thanks for the review. From a black bowery owner.