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05-11-2009, 09:54 PM   #1
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Kata DC series - a plug for a nice simple bag

I've been on an ongoing quest for the perfect bag. Of course what constitutes "perfect" changes as my equipment list does. Right now, my priorities are for a shoulder bag that is relatively small (especially with regards to how far it extends from my body - "low profile", let's say), but also weatherproof and flexible enough to easily handle a variety of different combinations of equipment. Basic capacity needed: enough for K200D and say, 3-4 small lenses (to be chosen from DA limiteds, M primes 135mm and less, 18-55, or 50-200) and a minimum of additional accessories (batteries, Raynox 150, etc).

Sounds like a common enough request, but neither Tamrac nor Lowepro seems to really nail this. Most of their bags are bulkier than seems necessary for the capacity. The Crumpler million dollar series has the right reputation, but they aren't particularly cheap, and I've never seen one in person, which makes me hesitant as bags are tough to buy on pictures and specs alone. Plus the loud velcro several people have mentioned sounds like a drag, if they haven't addressed that adequately by now. The Quantaray Euro Messenger Bags - which one can see at any Ritz - look like rebrands or copies of the Crumpler bags in some respects from what I can tell, but they seem a bit awkward to load and unload. And while smaller one seems a bit cramped for me, the larger one is a bit larger than I really need. There others too I've heard of but never seen; they haven't really been on the radar for me.

Enter the Kata DC series, which I just encountered for the first time at Denver Pro Photo. Similarly unassuming outward appearance (if different in style) as the Crumpler bags, similarly low profile for the capacity, and they seem reasonably weather resistant as is but also come with a rain cover. They had three sizes in the store - 435, 439, and 441 (I think). The middle one - DC 439 - was close to perfect for me. Maybe slightly larger than I would need most of the time, but that beats being too small, and like I said, it's still a fairly low profile bag. Kata also lists a DC 437 with slightly smaller exterior dimensions but identical interior dimensions, which doesn't really seem likely given they are otherwise the same design. Would have been interesting to see these side by side, but that wasn't an option. As it was, the 439 seemed like a good enough fit, and the "content demo" picture on their site make it look like the 437 would be just enough tighter to limit my options. So for $45, the DC 439 is my new bag:

Video bags camera bags Kata - Manufacturer of camera bags

The nice thing is that same design actually comes in *eight* different sizes, so if the basic idea seems right to you, chances are one of them will be the size you want. The smallest looks good for a K-m & DA40, for example, and the larger ones for a K20D with grip plus the DA* zooms, flash, and more. And if I found one in a store, that must means they do sell in stores, so you might have some chance of finding one in person too (apparently they are distributed by Bogen).

05-13-2009, 03:14 PM   #2
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I have a Kata 3N1-20 sling bag that I am also quite happy with. I have had it for close to a year, I think.

It seems very well put together -- even with the abuse I dish out, e.g. stuffing it full of heavy old Takumars, dropping it (heh, oops), cramming it into airline carry-on compartments, etc., it shows no signs of wear or damage. The seams seem strong. (Say that five times fast.)

It's well padded, and the time I dropped it a couple of feet -- and then watched it roll down a hill -- nothing happened to the equipment inside, including the plastic lens hood on my Sigma 24-60, which was on the camera in the bag.

My only complaint is very minor: the Velcro-type movable dividers inside are well padded but rather flimsy, so if I take something (like a lens) out of its slot, other stuff in the bag will move around and squash the empty slot so it's difficult to put the item back in. This is probably less of an issue for smaller bags.
05-13-2009, 04:30 PM   #3
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I kind of like that the dividers in mine aren't too stiff so they can stretch - gives me more flexibility in how I pack things. But they do tend to move around a bit too easily if your clumsy about fishing around for stuff - the velcro doesn't hold as well as it could. BTW - after initial skepticism, I am growing to really like the bright yellow interior - it does make it noticeably easier to see what the heck is in the bag.

FWIW, another bag to compare with would be the Lowepro Rezo AW series - a similarly simple low profile bag that is reasonably weather resistant on its own and comes with a rain cover too. But it's a bit deeper for a given capacity (mostly on account of the front pocket, I guess), and that's the dimension I am most trying to limit. And like the Quantaray messenger bags, it seems one size is a little too small for my purposes, the next one up unnecessarily big. My Kata DC 439 is ostensibly comparable to the Rezo 140 AW in published dimensions, but definitely feels roomier, so it might be closer to the Rezo 160 AW in practice. I've never seen one to be able to judge for sure.

Anyhow, if you knew you'd never want anything more than 3 DA limiteds, I think the Rezo 140 AW (or Kata DC 437 - perhaps 435, even) would probably be fine. But I wanted the flexibiltiy to be able to add one more slghtly larger lens - 18-55, 50-200, M135/3.5, etc - without having to sacrifice one or two others to make room. Choosing to get a bag that's bigger than I normally need means I am even more sensitive to it being relatively "low profile" for its capacity, and that's really what ruled out almost everything else for me.
05-13-2009, 05:17 PM   #4
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Got the DC 439 as a gift last year but decided to give it away after trying it out. The bag is well made for the price and very similar to the Lowepro Apex 140. Compact design but I found a few issues I didn't like about it after using it. First the boxy, cube-like design does not really hug the body very well. Secondly the strap goes under the bag and over time it has a tendency to sag a little if a heavy camera/lens combo is used. Thirdly, once you take out the camera and lens from the bag, the small size and light weight means the bag swings around too much when slung on the shoulder. But bags are a personal thing (that's why there are so many designs out there) and this is a decent and affordable one.

05-13-2009, 09:30 PM   #5
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Thanks for the perspective - I'll definitely be on the lookout for those issues. Although I don't understand what you mean about the strap going "under the bag"? And what is it that sags? But it is true that the 439 at least gives the camera quite a lot of room to potentially move around. It's not going to hit anything but cushion, but still, a smaller bag (or larger camera!) might be better in that regard.

I've never seen an Apex, althugh I did notice it on the Lowepro site as something that appeared somewhat comparable as well. But I do like having external side pockets.
05-14-2009, 07:29 AM   #6
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Marc, what I meant to say was when I used a heavy lens attached to the camera, the middle of the bag seemed to sag a little under the weight. A minor quibble I guess. The bright yellow interior common to Kata makes looking for small items real easy in low light. Currently quite happy using their DR 465 backpack.
05-14-2009, 08:29 AM   #7
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Yeah, I can see how that would happen - I don't own any heavy lenses, though. Thanks for mentioning what you use instead - that was going to me my next question!

Everything you've said makes me that much more curious about the 437, to see if being just that much smaller would address some of those issues, or if it would just make it too small for me.

05-14-2009, 02:21 PM   #8
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I think that part of the issue is that 'serious' bags are increasingly being designed for like, one body and a couple of those stew-can sized zooms. It's hard to find stuff that's suitably-trim and also good for a couple of bodies and some moderately-sized-to-small primes. Lowepro's got a nice new line, though: ...a little posh-looking for me but laid out OK. In general, I like their stuff, cause it's usually thought-through and does nothing to annoy me.

Kata seems to make nice stuff, though I'm not too enamored of the idea of signaling passing aircraft every time I go to change lenses . They seem very 'sporty.' (Now, I've exhausted my recollection of Spice Girls names. )
05-14-2009, 03:20 PM   #9
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I did see a Lowepro Rezo 160 AW today. It's actually still not as big (interior or exterior) as the Kata DC 439, despite having published interior dimensions that are larger. Just goes to show the danger of buying a bag on specs alone. The stuff I had with me that fit very comfortably in the Kata was much tighter in the Rezo. I guess maybe the 170 would be more comparable?

BTW, I forgot about the Tamrac Aero series as another contender in this category of simple low profile bags that provide a lot of room for the size. Kind of flimsy feeling compared to the others I've mentioned - nowhere near as much padding as the Kata - but that means it can be smaller still for the capacity. The Aero 40, 45, or 50 would probably work for a lot of people. Although it's still a bit deeper than I prefer - and depth was my main dissatisfaction with the Nova 2 AW I started with a few years ago.

The thing that strikes me most, though, is just how unusual any of these designs are compared to the much bulkier designs that dominate. There are tiny bags for P&S cameras, and bulky bags & backpacks for "pro" (I guess) bodies & lenses, but relatively few options in between.

I know, it's kind of an obsession with me...
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