Lowepro – Fastpack 250 Review

Carrying my camera gear can be challenging, especially when I’m traveling on a plane.  I don’t like to check my camera gear for any reason which means that if I want to take it, it has to be in a carry-on sized case.  I also don’t like carrying more than one carry-on which means that all of my other travel necessities (laptop, batteries, mp3 player, powercords, etc.) must also fit in the same bag.  I also need a bag that I can carry without tying up my hands or falling off my shoulder.  It would also helps if the bag doesn’t look like a camera bag.  Let’s face it, camera bags advertise big bucks to anyone looking for a quick score so anything that blends in is a definite plus.  I don’t know if I will ever find the “perfect” bag but I might have come pretty close with the Lowepro Fastpack 250 camera backpack.

Fastpack 250 front-view

A few weeks ago I got my hands on the new Fastpack 250, just in time for me to put it through a couple of travel challenges.  The first, to Orlando where I would be attending the Photoshop World Conference, and then to Dubai, where I would really put the bag to the test.  As I said earlier, my two big requirements for a travel bag are that it holds my camera and lenses but also that it has a laptop pocket.  One thing I didn’t mention but it is very important is that it also needs to fit under the seat in front of me.  I hate having to get up and retreive my laptop from the overhead compartment during a flight (I’m a window seat guy), so storing it under the seat makes my life a little better.  So let’s look at the bag and see how it held up in short and long distance travel.

First let’s talk about the pack itself to see how it is configured.  The bag can be divided into 3 main compartments: the main compartment for camera storage, the secondary top compartment for accessories, and the laptop compartment.

The Camera Compartment – This is really where the bag shines.  Lowepro built on the success of their Sling Bags and their side entry compartment when they designed this pack.  The main camera area is accessed from a side entry flap that allows you to slide your camera out for quick shooting, even while wearing the pack.  The inner dividers are completely configurable thanks to their velcro edges and allow you to customize your camera space.  I had a D300 with the 70-200 f/2.8 lens loaded in the main camera section and it fit across the width of the bag very comfortably.  The one thing I found was that it was a little easier to get the camera in and out by loading the camera in upside down, that is, prism facing the back of the pack.  It didn’t have any real bearing on the way the bag worked, it just seemed to fit better that way.  With the 70-200 and the camera taking up the entire middle section of the camera compartment, I was left with four smaller lens pockets, two on each side of the middle compartment.  To access these sections, you need to open the security flap which then allows complete access to the main camera compartment.  Unlike a regular camera bag, you’ll have to take the bag off your shoulders to access this part but it never really seemed to be to much of a problem.  

Side view of Fastpack showing access to camera and laptop compartment

Side entry for main camera body and lens

The main camera compartment

The use of the larger 70-200 did make things a little more cramped and your ability to use really big glass might be just a little hindered depending on how you configure things but overall I was very pleased with the amount of glass I could stick in here.

The Accessory Compartment – The upper part of the backpack is basically a large open compartment with two internal pockets with flap closures, a small mesh pocket, and two pen pockets.  The rest of the space is open and quite roomy.  This is where I placed my extra camera body, power supply for the laptop, extra laptop batteries, Epson P-5000, portable hard drive, and various other goodies.

The upper storage compartment

Laptop Compartment – The final storage compartment is a side-loading laptop storage sleeve with room enough for a 15.4″ laptop.  This is in the back of the pack and rests against your back while the pack is worn.  Not to worry though as it is quite well padded and protected my laptop from banging and bumping my way through the airport, on the plane, and across the desert when necessary.  I don’t normally carry the laptop in the bag when I’m out shooting if I can avoid it just because I like to eliminate as much weight as possible.  It did do an excellent job carrying the laptop safely during transport.

Laptop Compartment

Other Features – There are some other small pockets available for storing smaller items that are tucked away around the bag.  Thee is a mesh pocket on the side of the bag that will hold a water bottle, lens, or flash although it is not padded (I wold stick to a water bottle for this one).  The top front cover of the pack has a flat side-entry pocket that is great for maps or filters or other such items.  Once again, this is not a padded pocket so only flat, durable items in here.  Underneath the security flap is a nice wide pocket with two mesh pockets inside.  I used this for my memory card vaults, Whi-Bal card, and a few other items.  The back of the pack is extremely well padded and was quite comfortable when worn as were the shoulder straps.  All of the straps are adjustable and there is a waist belt with hip pads to ensure that the pack is held in place during longer hikes.  The left shoulder strap has a sewn-in cell phone pocket and there is a strap on the right shoulder strap that accepts the Lowepro accessory SlipLock Pouches.  There are even two camera memory card pockets in the side entry flap for easy retrieval during shooting.

The back view of the pack

What I like – This is a great bag and really did surprise me with the amount of gear I could stick in it (for a complete list of what I was able to carry in the bag, check out last Friday’s post).  There are more pockets than my older bag which let me be a bit more organized.

The side-loading camera access was great!  I love not having to open up the entire bag to get to my camera.  I had to keep the 70-200 on the camera body to make everything fit but this was usually the lens that I would grab first so it really didn’t make too much of a difference for me. 

The pack is small enough to fit under an airline seat (one of my big requirements) and held my laptop firmly and safely in place when I wasn’t using it.  There is a small flat pocket in the laptop section that is closed with velcro but I couldn’t really tell what it’s purpose might be.  At first glance I thought it was a removable padding for the pack but it only opened about half the length up the compartment so I am still working on a purpose for it.

The configurable camera compartment held all of my gear well.  I had room for four smaller lenses along with the big 70-200 and camera body.  The removable compartment walls are a blessing when customizing the bag for your own gear.

What I would change – Don’t get me wrong, this is a kick-butt backpack but there’s always room for improvement.  Having just talked about the lens compartments, I would try and make those just a little larger.  If I was going to carry some bigger glass like the new Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8, I would really have to do some squeezing and rearranging to make it fit.  That being said, Lowepro does make a Fastpack 350 that fits a 17″ backpack and might actually accommodate bigger glass so I’ll have to check that out for certain.

The shoulder straps are great but the position of the SlipLock strap was a little high and placed my pouch a little too close to my face.  A little lower placement would be nice.  I would also like some D-Rings on the bag to clip stuff to the outside.  This is just a personal thing but I am always clipping on carabiners to my bags so i can attach extra water bottles and other stuff.  D-rings just make this a little easier.  Also, the cell phone pocket is a little small for anything other than a really slim phone.  You would never get an iPhone or my Blackberry in there.  It’s a great idea but it needs to be just a little larger to make it work for todays multi-purpose phones. 

As long as I’m making up my wish list, more exterior pockets would be handy.  There are some nice little pockets on the inside of the bag but really only one outside accessible pocket on the front and it is really for flat items.  Just a couple of pouch pockets here and there for things like MP3 players and earphones, or a place to stash a few granola bars without digging in the main compartment would really take this bag over the edge. 

To make my wish list complete, some sort of tripod carry option would really be nice.  Just some way of attaching a small travelers tripod to either the front or the side would be handy.  

Of course there will never really be a perfect bag because my needs are always changing depending on what I am setting out to do.  As I go through new gear and accessories, my needs in a gear bag will continue to change.  The great thing about the Fastpack 250 is that it is so configurable and roomy that I know that at least for my travel photography, I have a bag that is up to my standards and helps me get the most bang for my buck.

Speaking of bucks, the best part about this great backpack is the price.  Currently you can buy this great pack for under $90 at Amazon.  Click Fastpack for more info.  My pack is red but it’s also available in blue and black.  To find out more about Lowepro and all of their great camera carrying solutions, click here.

 

Comments

  1. Thats alot of gear is a small sace Jeff – good read, I was looking at this model at Penn the other day – The quest continues –

  2. Great, detailed review Jeff. Thanks – I’m going to Europe in 3 weeks and was looking for just the right backpack. I have a Tamrac Adventure 6, which I love, but I want something I can take my laptop in as well. I think you’ve sold me on this one.

  3. Great review Jeff.

    Can you tell me if a D300 with MBD10 attached or even a D3 will fit in it comfortably?

  4. Excellent review!

    I also have the Fastpack 250, but find it a bit large for my daily use. I recently posted a side-by-side comparison with the Kata DR-467. Check it out if you are looking for a slightly less bulky bag.

    http://thatpixelgeek.com/2008/09/kata-467-vs-lowepro-fastpack-250/

  5. Jeff, this is an excellent review!

    I am going to get this Fastpack 250 but I just have one more question. Can the divider between the top compartment and the camera compartment be taken out? Then I can turn it into a normal backpack when I am not going out shooting photos?

  6. ‘Hi’ from Brazil!

    Do you think it’s possible to use D300+ 17-55 2.8 in the centre of the compartment, and a 80-220 (or 70-200) into one os the ‘sides-compartment’?

    Thans for the review!

  7. Xiru,
    I usually keep my camera body on the 70-200 and place that in the main compartment across the bottom of the bag. It is accessible from the side (see pictures 3 & 4 above). Your 17-55 is a pretty large (wide) lens so I’m not sure if it would fit into one of the smaller compartments along the side of the 70-200. There would however be room for it in the top compartment (see picture 5).

  8. Jeff
    I really’d like to buy tha FP 350, but I can’t find it here in Brazil, neither with the Lowepro’s official distributor here =/. I also tried the Slingshot 300, but it’s very uncomfortable. So, probably I’ll tri the 250, and, as you suggested, use the top compartment.

    Thanks VERY much for your help!

  9. I like the size,weight and flex use of this 250…a black magic marker will cover up the Lowepro insignia…and a sewing machine helped to attach a Logic case to strap for larger phone,large ipod and ear phones. If you need more room including laptop, you might use a Sams Warehouse Swiss backpack($39)…take out the file holders and make a camera tray out of outdoor carpet(homedepot); using a little velcro, this bag can even hold a 70-400 and tripod on the side. You can make anything work if you have time and imagination.

  10. The description says that it is made from water resistant material, but I’m wondering what exactly this means…
    I plan to be in an area that has heavy monsoon rainfalls later this year. While I will try my hardest not to stand outside in the middle of a heavy down-pour, getting wet will be inevitable and unavoidable. Would a pack like this hold up?

  11. Could anyone tell me if the Lowepro Fastpack 250 can hold a Nikon D300 attached to a 70-200mm lens and a 2x teleconverter? thankyou

  12. Thanks for the review Jeff. I am going to The Gambia in Feb and have a Tamrac Expedition 7. The thought of being refused carry on is not an option (West Africa + $$$$$ not a good mix) I have just ordered the 250 on ebay.

    I will keep the Tarmac as it can store all my gear (and some) and has tripod mount etc etc being able to transfer gear from one secure bag to another will keep my gear protected all the time.

    Again thanks for the review, I have added PhotoWalkPro to my favorite sites.

  13. Hi Jeff,

    I happen to have come across your review, while I was online ‘shopping’ for a camera bag.
    I am not a pro photographer, so have no fancy, top-of-the-line lens, but, I am a Mommy to 2,
    and have every intention of capturing my 2 children and their moments. 🙂
    I love, love, love your detailed review on this bag, and your attention to every last pocket on this bag.
    I believe, I don’t need to look any further.
    Thanks for a great review, and for whenever, they might be on the look-out, I’ve forwarded your link to my friends.

    Thanks again!

  14. Pham Dong says:

    I like products lowepro, but I don’t know where to buy it?

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