Finding the right camera bag for street photography is a very subjective choice. Some street photographers will prefer to travel light, heading out on the streets with just one camera and one lens in hand and a spare battery or memory card, whilst others will opt to carry the proverbial kitchen sink with them when out shooting – multiple cameras, lenses, flashes – the works. Personally I’ve always shied away from using a backpack for street photography as they have traditionally appeared a little overkill – hulking great black monstrosities festooned with zips, buckles and compartments that absolutely scream “I’m a camera nerd!”. Packed and bursting to the gunwales with a bit of camera gear for any eventuality, such backpacks for me epitomise the excesses of gear acquisition syndrome, and are exactly not what the street photographer needs. Plus I’ve harboured a somewhat irrational dislike for wearing backpacks ever since reading one of those dreadful style-magazine type articles which said a grown man should never be seen wearing a backpack – something about them making the wearer look like an overgrown schoolboy together with their excessively utilitarian appearance, which has also stuck with me.
As a result, I’ve always preferred the single strapped messenger bag style (practicality and back pain be damned!). For my street photography camera bag needs over the last few years I’ve been relying on the Lowepro Event Messenger 250 (with space for laptop and several cameras or lenses if I want them), or if travelling lighter, the nifty Cosyspeed Camslinger Streetomatic. But, things are changing. Backpacks are getting trendy – or at least it appears that way judging by the sheer number of Fjällräven Kånken backpacks I see being worn by students from my local art school. So, I figured it was time I put my initial misgivings aside and try a camera backpack for street photography. Something that looked more ‘casual street’ than Terminator-style uber photo machine. Enter the K&F Concept camera backpack.
You may well be familiar with the K&F Concept brand from Spyros’ recent review of the excellent C/Y to FX Lens Adapter for street photography. I’ve actually been lucky enough to have been familiar with their products for some time – I bought a K&F OM to FX Lens Adapter myself some 18 months ago to adapt the lenses from my dad’s old Olympus OM SLR film camera system to use on my Fujifilm X-T10. Suffice to say I’ve been blown away by the quality and price of the K&F adapter, so when they offered to send me a camera backpack to review I leapt at the chance!
The K&F Concept Camera Backpack for Street Photography
As always, I will start with a reminder that Streethunters.net reviews are our own personal interpretations of a piece of gear. None of us claim to be camera experts, so we can only offer our own personal interpretations of the usefulness of gear for a street photographer. Obviously with this K&F concept bag being a backpack I can offer some broader comments about its suitability as a general rucksack, but the primary focus of this review will be using the K&F Concept Camera Backpack for street photography.
I’m going to be analysing the suitability of the K&F Concept Camera Backpack for street photography across seven different criteria: size, build quality, durability, handling, performance, features, and value. If you’ve got any personal experience of this bag, or have any feedback for this review, you can leave me a comment at the bottom of the blog post.
Size is clearly the most fundamental factor in a camera bag. Whatever your needs, you’re going to need to select a camera bag that can accommodate the street photography gear you want to carry. The K&F Concept Camera Backpack measures around 27.5cm (10.8″) x 17cm (6.7″) x 44cm (17.3”) putting it around the small to mid-size level for a camera backpack but the largest camera bag I’ve ever used. Crucially this size is well within the limits for carry-on cabin baggage for the major airlines, who tend to allow bags up to 55cm x 45cm x 20cm. This makes the K&F Concept bag ideal for the travelling street photographer who doesn’t want to let their precious camera gear be swallowed up into the hold of the aircraft and placed at the mercy of the elements as well as risk it being lost. One of the great things about the K&F Concept Backpack is that it is designed to serve as a day/overnight bag as well as a camera bag, so it can accommodate camera gear and personal items like clothing, a laptop and toiletries if the need arises – making it well suited for day trips and even weekend street photography breaks abroad when travelling with only hand luggage (but more on that later).
So, what can the K&F Concept bag actually fit? My go to set-up (and this was a slight hack) had the K&F backpack housing both my Fuji X-Pro1 and X-T10 mirrorless cameras with 18mm and 27mm lenses attached respectively, plus a small flash, wireless triggers, and spare batteries for the cameras, flash and triggers. The camera compartment still had space for a larger Canon flash, and one or two small Olympus OM old manual lenses (standard zoom or prime sized). Best of all, after packing all this lot in the (cushioned and felt lined) dedicated camera compartment in the base of the bag, I still had enough room to squeeze in my 13” MacBook Pro Retina in its hard slip case, plus room at the top of the bag for things like a hoody, Kindle, lunch, laptop charger, etc. All in all, the K&F Concept backpack offered me something that was entirely new for me – the ability to carry my light street photography camera gear plus laptop and a load of daily items in a really comfortable way, making it ideal for a whole day out shooting away from home. Great news! I played around with some other camera combinations too, and if I wanted to use a DSLR for street photography I was able to fit my Canon 6D with large 16-35 f/2.8L lens attached, Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC, Canon 70-200 f/4 L, Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens and just about still squeeze the MacBook in too – still with room to spare at the top of the backpack for personal items, plus the pockets too! All in all, the K&F Concept Backpack scores well for size – don’t expect to be able to fit the entire kitchen sink’s worth of massive DSLR gear in there, but for a small to medium-size rucksack it’s positively TARDIS-like, with the added huge bonus of being designed to also fit things alongside your camera gear – a feature which very few dedicated camera rucksacks can boast.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been really impressed by build quality of the K&F Concept lens adapter I own, and I’m delighted to report this backpack is of equally high quality. First impressions on unpacking the bag were very good – high quality stitching, covered seams, sturdy buckles and good quality padding across the back of the rucksack and on the (nicely designed) straps. This feels like a quality backpack, with tough 600D polyester fabric covering it (which happens to be waterproof and rip-proof too) with some nice leather accents on the top flap, buckle straps and front pocket. In a jeans-style navy blue with the faded leather highlights this is a good-looking casual bag which wouldn’t look out of place alongside the aforementioned Fjällräven’s out on the street, but has the added bonus of being practical, not looking like a camera bag, and being nicely built. My one only criticism would be of the keepers for the magnetic ‘buttons’ on the flap and front pocket – the parts attached to the bag body feel slightly thin and cheap in comparison with the rest of the bag’s high quality finish – so only a minor gripe!
Durability is the Kool-aid acid test of any camera bag – they need to be built to last. Both my Lowepro Event Messenger 250 and Cosyspeed Camslinger Streetomatic have stood up to a lot of abuse and survived largely unscathed to tell the tale – I certainly have no complaints. Initial impressions of the K&F Concept Camera Backpack are as equally as impressive. Time will tell of course, but this really is a bag that feels built to last. The outer fabric is heavy-duty and rugged feeling, and the stitching feels very tough too. The straps appear very well reinforced, and the padding on them and the back of the bag is very nice and thick and well-made. I must confess I am prone to being very tough on zips – I’ll often really try to squeeze things into a bag and jam things closed with the zip. When subjected to this kind of abuse the K&F Concept Backpack showed no signs of damage – hopefully a good indicator that these zips should last the distance. The plastic buckles on the bag also feel nicely heavy-duty too, and the hidden rain cover is stitched into the body of the backpack rather than being attached by a flimsy piece of elastic like some other designs. My only potential durability fear would concern those magnetic button keepers for the flap and pocket – not only are they thin metal, but they’re only held onto the backpack body at their centre rather than all the way across – I fear given the amount of use they get and the strain they’re under it’s possible over the years they could work themselves free. Happily no signs of that yet though!
The K&F Concept Camera Backpack handles well. As with many dedicated camera backpacks, the main camera compartment (located at the bottom of the bag) is accessed via a main zipped door flap at the back of the backpack (i.e. the part covered by a person’s back when worn). This ensures that it’s harder for thieves to gain quick access to precious camera gear while camera backpacks are being worn, but adds a massive layer on inconvenience for the photographer when it comes to being able to grab a piece of equipment out of the bag quickly – you need to remove the bag from your shoulders which is a real pain when walking around on the streets. The K&F Concept Camera Backpack gets around this problem by using a second fast access flap door on the lower right hand side of the bag body (if you’re looking at the front of the backpack). This does potentially sacrifice a little security – though I’d say given the sweeping shape of the zip any potential thief would be hard-pressed to open the zip in one fast moment that close to someone’s body. The benefits for the street photographer though, are huge. With this side flap you can swing the backpack over your right shoulder across and in front of you and unzip the door with your left hand, reaching inside to grab your camera and gear. This is a real godsend for a street photographer, as it means you can grab your camera pretty quickly if the need arises, or stow it away briskly if it starts raining or you in end up in a dubious neighbourhood. The area of the bag (for personal items) is secured by a drawstring and toggle, as well as a flap which uses dummy buckles over magnetic fasteners – a wise choice as the magnets are so much faster to use than fiddling undoing toggles each time. The front flap of the bag features the same magnetic fastener technique, as well as a zip underneath. There’s also a durable hook at the top of the backpack for picking it up and can also be used for hanging it on a peg. All in all, the K&F Concept Camera Backpack handles very well out on the streets and is very user-friendly.
There are two aspects of performance where any good camera bag needs to score well. How comfortable is it to wear/carry, and how safe and secure does it keep your camera gear? I’m happy to report that the K&F Concept does very well in both respects here. In contrast to my messenger bag – which does a nice job of holding my camera equipment but puts a lot of strain on the back and shoulder when heavily loaded, the K&F Concept backpack is very comfortable. You can pack this bag up and walk about shooting on the streets for hours and it’s as comfortable as any backpack can get! The back of the bag is supremely well-padded, as are the straps, which are also quite nice and wide – helping to spread the load. There’s even a chest strap with a plastic buckle across the front of the straps to secure the bag more tightly and to help balance the load, although I found the bag was comfortable enough that I didn’t need to use it. This is easily one of the most comfortable backpacks I’ve ever used – ideal for many hours and miles out pounding the streets. I wore it during one of the hottest days of the year so far (that’s not saying much in the UK, but temperatures were in the mid to high 20s) and the bag didn’t feel unpleasantly hot either, which was a very pleasant surprise!
As for keeping camera equipment secure, the K&F Concept Backpack again performs admirably. The lower section of the bag is dedicated to camera storage, with a thick and soft ‘felt’-lined body with a fair bit of cushioning – particularly at the very base of the bag which is a nice touch. This camera compartment features padded velcro dividers (more on those later) as you’ll find in almost any other camera bag, which you can arrange to fit snugly around the camera gear you are carrying. With two potential access doors to your camera (back and side) you do need to apply a bit of logic to how you arrange the dividers though for maximum convenience. A larger removable velcro board divider (felt one side, tough PVC-style the other), is designed to separate the camera compartment at the bottom from the space at the top of the bag, though I rearranged my dividers slightly to use the board to create a separate area at the back of the bag to slide my laptop into instead. In an ideal world, I’d have really appreciated some extra dividers included in the bag – as it is there’s one large board, two L-shaped dividers, and three small square ones. I’d have loved to have perhaps a few more L-shaped dividers plus another large board so I didn’t have to reappropriate a divider to create a space for a laptop sleeve. Nitpicking perhaps, but this bag is so wonderfully versatile it was a shame not to use it to its maximum and it’s great to be able to carry a laptop even if the bag isn’t specifically designed for it. I actually tried searching on eBay for more velcro dividers but couldn’t find any that cheap or suitable for my needs – perhaps here’s a gap in the accessories market K&F Concept could fill without photographers having to resort to expensive Billingham branded velcro dividers! Overall though, the performance of this bag was excellent. This is a backpack that’s very comfortable to wear when heavily loaded, can accommodate loads of camera gear and keep it safe, and has that all-important space for clothes and daily/overnight items, plus a laptop too.
As well as the camera bag specific features you would expect – the aforementioned soft and padded lined compartment, plus dividers, the K&F Concept Camera Backpack has some other nice features too. Both camera access door flaps feature a pair of velcro pockets which will fit memory cards, batteries, small filters or cleaning cloths. The bag’s top flap has a hidden top zipped compartment which is a really useful additional storage area. Under the flap in the main body of the bag there’s also a pair of mesh pockets which will fit an iPod Touch, earphones, gum or more batteries. Those street photographers who also dabble in landscape photography or who like to create street timelapses will appreciate the the buckle and loop on the side of the backpack designed for holding a tripod, and below this there’s also a zipped side pocket with another mesh pocket inside. The backpack’s front pocket (covered by a flap and zip) has two inner pockets which fit an iPhone 5S, as well as more space in front for a powerbank and charging cable. When you consider this bag is made from tough waterproof material too, and has a built-in rain cover, it’s certainly bursting at the seams with useful features!
I’d always welcome more pockets, though I’m not sure where else K&F could squeeze them – perhaps an inner zipped pocket in the top compartment of the bag opposite the mesh ones? That aside, my only other complaint (and it is a big one) is that lack of provision for space for a water bottle. This bag could really do with some kind of open side pocket that you could drop a water bottle (or dare I say it beer can?) into. I did resort to using the zipped side pocket for my water bottle but this was hardly ideal – I had to keep the pocket open at all times as it’s too shallow to accommodate a water bottle zipped up. Using it like this means you can’t risk keeping anything precious in that compartment either for fear it would fall out, plus it didn’t feel very secure either. The main compartment of the backpack was out of bounds for a water bottle too – there’s no way I’d want to risk a drink leaking down onto my camera equipment! So the lack of an open water bottle pocket was my only major complaint in terms of the K&F Concept Camera Backpack’s features, and really my only large criticism of the bag in day-to-day use too – definitely a key feature for the Mk.2 version of the bag I feel!
There’s a huge choice of different bags, brands and styles when it comes to camera backpacks, and that’s reflected in the price of what’s on offer – the sky really is the limit. The K&F Concept Camera Backpack is currently selling for £56.23 from K&F direct with free shipping to many countries. That’s $75.99 in the US or €64.59 in the EU. What I can say with some certainty is this represents very good value when you consider the quality and features of this bag. This price is about on a par with similar backpacks from Lowepro, Tamrac, Vanguard, Canon, etc. However, if you do a little research you’ll actually find that it’s quite rare to find a camera backpack that can offer everything the K&F Concept can – flexibility, security, the ability to carry things in addition to camera equipment, and all wrapped up in a nice stylish package for this price. Rivals like the Case Logic (around £5 more) would appear to struggle to fit a 13” laptop, and the Benro Incognito is at least £10 more expensive. For comparison, one of those Fjällräven Kånkens mentioned earlier will set you back at least £75-80! The K&F Concept Camera Backpack also arrived with a free cleaning kit in its own little zipped pouch, featuring a rocket blower, lens pen, cleaning cloth and spray bottle which was a nice surprise touch too. It’s worth remembering also K&F also do a range of more traditional camera backpacks too, plus a larger version of this bag in a similar style (with padded compartment for a 14” laptop), as well as Messenger and Billingham style bags too. When all’s said and done, I struggle to look past this backpack for the price, especially given the build quality, versatility, and looks.
I was really impressed with the K&F Concept Camera Backpack. It helped to win over a skeptical rucksack user with its combination of style, supreme comfort, easy handling, flexibility and good value. With some clever packing it was able to accommodate almost everything that I could throw at it, and the ability to be able to pack for a day out and have access to my street photography gear, lunch, laptop, book and all that paraphernalia was fantastic. It’s a useful addition to a street photographer’s arsenal, and certainly one that I didn’t realise I would find as useful as I did. Only the lack of a pouch for a drink keeps me from singing its praises wholeheartedly. I continue to be impressed by the K&F Concept brand, and based on my positive experience with two of their products now I shall certainly bear them in mind when on the hunt for good value nicely built accessories. Keep up the great work K&F!