Peak Design Everyday Messenger - First Impressions

I was one of those people who supported this project via Kickstarter.  I received my bag earlier this week, about two days before it showed up in retail stores.  Not exactly the early preview I was expecting, particularly given that some folks have had theirs for well over a month.  I liked the concept online very much and paid my money to support a company whose products I really like and recommend highly.  Sometimes, expectations and reality don't end up in the same place and this is what happened to me.

First Impressions

I'm not bitching.  The bag is well made and everything that the makers talked about is there.  I made the decision to invest based partly on the online videos.  In several, the bag is shown hanging across the user's back.  In the videos, the bag looks nice and substantial, perfect for carrying an assortment of pro gear.  

Let's say that appearances can be deceiving.  I know that Trey Ratcliff was deeply involved in the design of the bag, and I expect that if my gear was all small bodied ILC, I would be really excited.  My gear isn't all small ILC stuff.  I have a series of full size DSLRs, all with built in battery grips (Canon 1Dx, 1D Mk IV) or added on battery grip (Canon 7D Mark II) and the appropriately sized lenses.  You can get one body with a short lens in the bag with space for another lens or two, but the bag is not nearly as wide or deep as it looks in the video.  This doesn't make it bad, it makes it too small for a professional photographer using pro DSLR gear.  My Leica M and lenses will fit it just fine, although in that case, the bag is quite a bit larger than I would normally choose.  If you shoot without a battery grip as many of my associates do, this bag is plenty wide for a body like that.  Everything I own in the DSLR space has a grip and if I were to buy a mirrorless, it would have a grip as well.  My recent test of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II had a grip but it went back before the bag arrived.  I think that it would have fit the Everyday Messenger very well indeed.

Perhaps I am a klutz but I find the origami dividers less easy to use than I saw in the video, about the same as any other divider in reality and my happiness with the overall density of the padding is less than expected.  The bag closer is as innovative as advertised and it works well, although you can misalign it when using it without watching what you are doing.

The front pocket is nice and large and bellows out for a goodly amount of space.  There is a concealed security strap and attachment points for clips that attach to Peak Design's very effective Anchor system.  I use Peak Design straps because of the Anchor system's ease of connection and reliable locking and this is the same tech.  There is also a belt section designed to take the Peak Design locking clamp.  I use these for field tests of smaller bodies.  It worked great with the Sony a7R Mark II and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II but my regular bodies are just too large for this system to be effective for me.  I have used the Peak Design clamp and plate system on the Leica, but doing so requires me to remove the RRS L Plate that I have on everything I use.  It's not Peak Design's fault that their clamp uses their plate to lock in, but it would be nice if I could use any Arca Swiss style plate on the versatile Peak Design Capture system.  Moreover, in their recent redesign, Really Right Stuff stopped tapping 1/4-20 attachment holes into their L plates, a dumb decision in my mind because this limits their flexibility.  Also not Peak Design's problem.

The Field Trip

I spent good money on this thing and it's mine so I owed it to myself to take it into the field on a job.  I'm in the process of reviewing the AF-S Nikkor 200-500/5.6 ED VR lens so figured I'd load up the bag and see what happened.

So I oriented a divider to put the big zoom on the right side, nose down, looking at the bag from the front.  Well, it's rather tall.  The bag lid will close and latch but only on the first two catches from the top.  I pulled the second divider out completely and moved the one on the left closer to the left side and dropped in an SB-910 equivalent speedlight.  This left enough space in the center for a D4s with 24-70/2.8 attached (the older version without electronic diaphragm and VR).  The origami divider actually folded over on its own to become a bridge for the side of the camera body when the pentaprism is facing forward.  Into the front zip pocket, I put a set of radio trigger/receiver units for the flash.  There's a slot in the lid that you can slide a tripod leg through, so I did that too, pushing a leg from a Manfrotto 055 carbon fibre leg set through the slot and then pulled the lid shut.  With a bit of a strain I could make the first position latch but decided not to bounce the tripod off the LCD of the D4s so removed it.  Then I adjusted the strap and rolled it over so the grippy side would be down on my shoulder.  This is a Peak Design thing.  The dominant side of their straps are slidey.  The upper side has grippy material.  The bag comes with the grippy side up, which is handy if you are wearing it like a Messenger bag and sliding it around and back a lot.  I wanted it to not be falling off my shoulder so put a twist in the strap and it stayed in place where I put it.  I do wish it was simpler to reverse the bag strap as I like sticky side down by default.

Getting access to the bag while working was easy.  The latch is easy to find and open without looking for it.  In fact, I am really impressed by the usability here.  Thus I was able to do my famous lens juggling trick without setting anything down.  I like to work quickly and hate scraping mud off bag bottoms so this made me happy.  The bag had gotten used to the idea of being wide open and there was no issue stowing and finding lens caps without having to look for them.  The zip on the front pouch hung up on me twice and I had to pull the bag around to use two hands.  I've seen this with YKK high end zippers before, they need a break in period.  I switched the carry to a Messenger style with the slippy side of the strap down and went for my walk in the woods.  Even with all that weight in the bag, it was comfortable enough to carry once I got the strap set to have the bag ride in the small of my back.  I see a lot of folks with Messenger bags bouncing them off their butts.  Perhaps I am missing some cue, but I find that uncomfortable.  The Everyday Messenger uses the same strap length management system as the Peak Design straps and it is the fastest and easiest system to use that I have found.  Five stars for that!

By the end of the shoot, where I was switching lenses a lot more often than I might in a general time out, I was pleasantly pleased.  Yes the lid would not close fully on the big lens and it looked goofy with one side up and the latch was not true to the center but I come away happier than expected.  So long as I can control my packing enthusiasm, the bag will probably be more usable than my first look suggested.

The Accessory Pouch

As a backer, I also chose to purchase the little pouch offered with the bag.  It's a pouch with a foldover lid and a couple of belt loops.  It's not well padded, and you have to remove your belt to thread it through the loops so using it is a decision point and putting it on or taking it off is not quick.  It could hold spare batteries for a speedlight, a holder for memory cards or perhaps a point and shoot but I am failing to find a good use case.  Delusional hopes that it would similar to a ThinkTank Chimp Cage are just that.


Which leads me to the crux.  No one lied to me.  The bag is what Peak Design said it was.  I inferred a size that wasn't there.  I have over a dozen bags, that I have acquired over the years and kept, so I don't include the mistakes that I have since sold or more often given away.  The Everyday Messenger will be a great choice for the mirrorless shooter with a strobe and a collection of lenses, or for someone who wants to carry a basic DSLR with a couple of lenses and a speedlight.  Neither of those buyers is me.  For my habitual use cases, the bag is probably going to too small and therefore of limited use to me.  Bags are always a challenge for a photographer.  While I commend the great people at Peak Design for delivering on the Everyday Messenger, it doesn't fit a number of my use cases, or the likely use cases of folks using DSLRs with battery grips.  If it's right for you, awesome.  I like the bag but I think it may be overpriced for what it delivers.