Avid streethunters.net readers may remember our first ever gear review just over a year ago featured a review of the Cosyspeed Camslinger Camera Bag. Now that we’re a bit more experienced and we’ve got some more reviews under our belts, we’ve been given the opportunity to revisit Cosyspeed’s product line. The guys at Cosyspeed were kind enough to send over a preproduction prototype of their new Streetomatic camera bag for me to try out on the streets. Cosyspeed camera bags are quite unusual in that that they offer street photographers the unique facility to wear their camera bags on their hips like a utility belt, and they can also function as a regular messenger ‘sling’ bag if desired. I’ve been using the Cosyspeed Streetomatic for street photography extensively over the last month, and I’m going to share my findings with you in one of our comprehensive street hunter reviews.
This review was amended on 3/9/2015 as a result of planned changes by Cosyspeed to the production model of the Streetomatic. See ‘Update’ for further details. The score ratings remain the same, but the summary text at the end of the review was altered to take into account these changes.
The Streetomatic measures around 24cm x 16cm x 11cm, making it slightly larger than Cosyspeed’s largest current offering, the Camslinger 160. The extra size over the Camslinger 160 is due to the extra pockets present on the side of the Streetomatic, which I will discuss in depth later. The inside of the Streetomatic is roughly 18cm x 16cm x 9.5cm. As you may know, I shoot street photography with a Canon 6D DSLR, which is one of the larger cameras you can use practically for street photography. My Canon 6D teamed with my favourite focal length lens (a 16-35mm lens) is a monster in terms of size, and is not a combination I would recommend for subtle low-key street photography. Just looking at the Streetomatic, it’s clear there would be no way a DSLR with a big zoom lens would fit in it at all – that isn’t the market Cosyspeed are targeting. Their products are largely aimed at mirrorless camera users. What was pleasant for me though, was that the 6D with the Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens fitted perfectly inside the Cosyspeed Streetomatic. So ‘compact’ full frame DSLR users (by which I mean cameras below the full gripped models like Canon 1Ds and Nikon D4s etc) will probably find they can use the Streetomatic in combination with a small prime lens with no problems. In fact, for my walk into work I was actually able to fit my 6D and 50mm plus the charger for my MacBook on top in the main compartment of the bag. This impressed me for a bag with such a small footprint. Like Cosyspeed’s current Camslinger offerings, the Streetomatic features a fully adjustable belt, which extends to around 125cm. I can’t vouch for its effectiveness at this setting, as I had to use the belt towards the smaller end of its length, at 87cm.
Despite the fact that I was using a pre-production prototype of the Streetomatic, I must say I found the build quality to be absolutely excellent. The Streetomatic is made from nice heavy duty fabric, and the attention to detail on the stitching is excellent. The soft fabric used for the lining of the bag was also very good quality, as was the velcro for the dividers and on one pocket. The zip on the other pocket was also a high quality affair. I particularly liked the stitching for the Cosyspeed logo on the flap, and the embossed ‘STREETOMATIC’ in the bottom right corner of the bag. The little Cosypeed tag on the belt is a nice touch too.
As you can see from the photos, the Streetomatic I had to test was blue, and I really liked the colour. I have to say I much prefer it to the plain black of the Camslinger 160 that I’ve seen Spyros Papaspyropoulos use extensively on street hunts. Because blue is a lighter colour, I actually found it made the Streetomatic look smaller in comparison to the Camslinger, despite the fact it is actually a little larger. I also particularly liked the way the blue hue perfectly matched the blue denim colour of my favourite ‘one wash’ Levi’s 501 jeans! Blue offered the added advantage of making the Streetomatic look even less like a camera bag than it already does, which is always useful, and a bit more stylish to boot. It’s nice to look your best on the streets! On launch, the Streetomatic will also be available in khaki and a special edition black version.
My one major criticism of the build quality of the Streetomatic would be the buckle used to secure the flap used to access the bag. I didn’t particularly like the look or the feel of the chrome plating on the buckle, and I think a matte effect would have looked much nicer. The buckle was also a little problematic to use and I found clicking it into place quite difficult, but I will go into that in further depth later on.
Obviously it’s a little difficult to accurately assess the durability of a camera bag over the course of just a month, but my initial impressions of the Cosyspeed are that it appears to be very durable indeed. The highest stress part of the camera bag design is probably the belt buckle, and this is satisfyingly heavy duty, made from very tough thick plastic. There were a few occasions when I put the Streetomatic on in a hurry and I found the lower lug of the buckle hadn’t clicked though. I’m not sure if this was a problem with this particular buckle, but perhaps it may have been down to my own user error and the fact I like to stretch belts and wear them very tight. It’s difficult to tell. I certainly wouldn’t have any worries about the buckle giving way over time. Perhaps the fact it didn’t always click first time is because the plastic is so strong!
The soft lining of the inside of the Streetomatic didn’t show any signs of immediate wear during my time with the bag. The fact that the flap is secured by a buckle and not velcro should prevent any scuff marks or plucks where the flap overlaps onto the outside of the bag, unlike those that have now appeared on my own Lowepro messenger bag. The outer material of the Streetomatic is both dust and splash resistant, and even after a month of use I was pleased to see that it showed absolutely no signs of dirt or wear at all. In fact I forgot to check the bag over before I handed it over to Spyros Papaspyropoulos to use for the Istanbul street hunt, but I found that a few quick brushes were enough to leave the bag looking absolutely brand new, much to my relief!
Overall, I enjoyed using the Cosyspeed as a camera bag. Wearing my camera on my hip was a new experience for me, and I found it very liberating to be able to access my camera so easily, and to not be encumbered by having a bag hanging over my shoulders either. Being able to just flip open a flap to gain access to the camera was useful too. The positioning of the pockets on either side of the Streetomatic was really useful, particularly the one at the front edge which also featured a flap for faster access.
Unfortunately, the positive handling experience of the Streetomatic was marred significantly by the buckle which fixes the flap over the main camera compartment. I actually thought a buckle would prove much more useful than the elasticated hook and loop ‘luxx knob’ tab on the Camslinger models, but in reality this proved to be far from the case. I’m not sure what exactly was the problem, but the buckle proved to be rather fiddly and inconvenient. Initially I found it a little difficult to click in and open, but after a while I got used more used to opening it quickly as I developed a technique. However, in my month with the bag I was never able to master a technique for securely closing the buckle quickly at the first attempt. Time after time I thought I’d clicked the buckle, only to find that one half of it was still depressed under the clasp, so the spring to fix it hadn’t activated. This proved really frustrating, and really slowed down securing the bag. Even when I did get the buckle lined up properly, it failed to give the satisfying ‘click’ I would have liked. I’m not sure if the problem was just one limited to pre-production and the buckle not lining up properly, or if there is a general problem with the buckle design itself. In operation, the buckle didn’t offer quite the same high quality experience as the rest of the bag, which was a shame. I was also very conscious of the way the buckle protruded from the side of the bag as I squeezed through spaces – I was worried about it scraping past things and getting damaged, or worse still damaging something like car paintwork as I went past – I found I had to be quite vigilant.
Update: Based on feedback received during product testing, Cosyspeed will be altering the buckle mechanism on the production model of the Streetomatic. An improved buckle mechanism would greatly improve the handling score of the Streetomatic. See conclusion for further details.
Before using the Streetomatic, it had never occurred to me that carrying a camera on my hip would be a comfortable or convenient thing to do, despite the positive feedback I’ve had from Spyros Papaspyropoulos, who uses a Cosyspeed for street hunts. As you may well be aware, Cosyspeed’s approach is rather unique, and a hip camera bag is quite unusual. I must say I found it quite liberating. One of the main selling points of Cosyspeed’s bag designs is the speed they offer over conventional messenger style camera bags, and I found this to be a real perk. I actually felt much more inclined to use my camera as I could just rest my right hand on the bag and flick the flap open. This was so much more accessible than spinning a messenger bag over my shoulder and then back again. The back of the Streetomatic features thick webbing and padding, as does part of the belt, and this made it pretty comfortable to wear. At times I did get a bit annoyed at the extra weight of the bag and camera on one leg, and the way this affected my stride. However, in the interests of fairness I should point out two things here. Firstly, my 6D is a pretty heavy camera, and even with a small lens it weighs close to a kilo (945g). I definitely would not be comfortable with anything heavier in the Streetomatic. A perfect street camera like the Fuji X100s is less than half the weight of the Canon. Secondly, I quite regularly get annoyed by the weight of my messenger bag when I’m walking too. Any bag becomes inconvenient after a while! That said, I would far more comfortably carry a greater weight in a messenger bag than I would the Streetomatic.
One small little annoyance I came across using the Streetomatic day-to-day (in addition to my issue with the buckle) concerned the zip on one of the pockets. I found that sometimes the metal tab for the zip would jangle as I walked. What was weird was that it only made a noise sporadically, so perhaps it may have been something to do with the way I was walking sometimes, or how empty or full the bag was. Certainly when I heard the jangling on occasion it was enough to annoy me, and would undermine that all-important street-stealthiness a little. It would be a pretty easy problem to overcome though – Cosyspeed can just add a plastic tab to the zip instead, or you could make your own hack by wrapping the zip tab in gaffer tape! Not exactly a deal breaker then, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
As I’ve said, the main feature difference between the Streetomatic and Cosyspeed’s Camslingers is the pockets on either side of the bag. For me, they proved essential. I cannot imagine using a bag like this without them. I am so used to carrying a big messenger bag that I like to be able to carry extra things around with me, so the idea of using a bag with a tiny footprint with nowhere to store accessories and extra paraphernalia is an anathema to me! When I was using the Cosyspeed, I kept an inhaler and some sheets of painkillers in the side pockets. If you look at the photos, you’ll see they can comfortably accommodate an iPhone 4S, spare Canon DSLR battery (and these are quite big), and a pack of 4 AA rechargeables with ease and room to spare. So the pockets are really convenient, and definitely added some good functionality to a bag which is already very small. Because the pockets are located on the sides of the bag too, they don’t add to its overall bulk which is good as they don’t protrude from the edge making your hips wider!
The Streetomatic came with 4 velcro compartment dividers and a velcro fabric Fingerstrap for a camera. I used two dividers in the Streetomatic – one flat on the bottom of the bag as extra cushioning to protect the end of my lens if ever I set the bag down, and one as an extra flap over my camera’s LCD and eyepiece to stop dust and scratches on the LCD. This also allowed me to fit my laptop charger on top of the camera in the main bag compartment without the charger damaging the camera. Given the size of my 6D I wasn’t able to make a separate compartment at the side of the camera, but with a smaller mirrorless camera this would probably prove quite useful. I must confess I didn’t make use of the Fingerstrap at all. The 6D is just too heavy to be comfortably supported by a single strap around the finger. Unlike the Camslinger 160, the Streetomatic is not adjustable to two different sizes. Given the size of my camera, I didn’t find this to be a problem at all, and you’d be able to use any extra space in the bag in combination with the dividers to fit more things inside.
In blue and khaki the Streetomatic will retail for €69/$69 USD/£49. A special edition black version of the Streetomatic endorsed by Thomas Leuthard will retail for €79/$79 USD/£59, with the extra RRP on the special edition going to a charitable donation for a street kid project in Burundi. Given the build quality of the Streetomatic, the RRPs represent pretty good value for money in my book. Cosyspeed’s offering is quite unique, so it’s good to see the price is relatively accessible. Camera bags are a very personal and subjective purchase, and everyone will have a different price point at they think is an acceptable amount to spend on a camera bag to suit their needs. Personally I own a Lowepro Messenger which I paid around £45 for, and at the moment I don’t see the justification to spend around £100 or £190 on a Domke or Billingham messenger bag. Situated at the lower priced end of the camera bag spectrum then, and with a nice build quality, and a good USP (unique selling point), the Streetomatic represents good if not a bargain value for money. As the Streetomatic is still under development, you can actually pick it up for an even better deal for a short while by making a purchase through Cosyspeed’s Indiegogo campaign, for €49 for the blue and khaki models, and €59 for the black special edition. Again, €10 from this model will go the Burundi Street Kid Project.
I enjoyed my time using the Cosyspeed Streetomatic. Coming from a very large messenger bag (which can fit a 13inch laptop, and two DSLRs with zoom lenses), I have to say that I found the Streetomatic a real breath of fresh air. I couldn’t believe how mobile I felt with just a small bag on my hip as opposed to a big bag on my shoulder. As strange as it sounds, I also found the easier access afforded by the Streetomatic encouraged me to shoot more, which is arguably the best praise that can be lavished on a camera bag! A smaller bag also forced me to really think about my approach to street photography, and made me realise that I’ve actually been carrying around too much gear with me on a daily basis. Challenging myself to a single camera and lens combo was quite liberating. The extra pockets on the Streetomatic were incredibly useful, and with a bigger camera taking up the majority of the space in the main compartment, it would definitely encourage me to select this model over the Camslingers. It’s a real pity though that the buckle proved so problematic in day-to-day use. I think with the loop system from the Camslingers in place of the buckle, Cosyspeed could have an absolute gem of a camera bag design on their hands here. As it is, the Streetomatic is a good camera bag for street photography, but not quite perfect.
Update: As I stated at the start of this review, the Streetomatic I was reviewing was a preproduction prototype. Cosyspeed have now informed us that based on the feedback they received from prototype testing they will implement a different mechanism on the buckle design on the production model to address the issues raised with the closure. If this proves to be the case the Streetomatic will receive an even higher score as a street photography camera bag. This is a great example of a camera bag manufacturer listening to and taking on board feedback from users field testing their products. Well done Cosyspeed!