Coming in as one of the smallest Billingham bags, the Hadley small is by no means a weak competitor. It’s size may be an issue for those who like to carry 2 or 3 pro zooms or multiple flashes or multiple bodies, but it’s a fantastic bag for those of you who are like myself and much prefer venturing out with one or two fast primes or are users of smaller form-factor cameras like the micro fourthirds, NEX or even Leica branded cameras. Personally i use is bag for either when I am heading out with the D90 with a 28mm + 50mm for light digital street work or with my Minolta x300 with 50mm and 5-10 rolls of film OR with my iPad. Or all three together, yep, that’s right, this bag can, with little encouragement, take two primes, two small bodies, ten rolls of 35mm AND an iPad/net book. Hardly befitting of it’s size.
If, however, you do intend to carry this amount of gear in the bag, i would highly recommend one of Billinghams leather shoulder straps as sloping shoulders + heavy bag + frictionless camera strap = disaster. I was a little disappointed to learn that the bag did not come with said strap, but luckily I had one from my 335, so i just bunged that on and all was well.
Having used this bag for my entire 5night trip to NY, i can safely say it is brilliant for street photography. And i mean brilliant in every sense of the word. It’s small so it’s not an issue on the subway, the leather straps ensure it is secure from pick-pokets and it’s weather resistant coating enstows a sense of confidence should a sudden downpour enter the mix. This bag is a LOT faster to use than the 335, with that bag i had to unstrap 2-4 straps, 1-2 zips and then wrestle my gear out, with this, its two, well fitted straps and your away! Don’t worry though, the lack of a zip-top is compensated for with a padded top flap that adds another layer of water and shock protection.
The main compartment has ample room, when divided properly, to hold my D90 with small prime and my X300 with 50 1.7, which is great for speedily grabbing a cam out when the opportunity arises. The back pocket can snuggly fit an iPad/small net book, or whatever you want of similar size, just be aware that this does make the bag a bit tight and it does tend to roll around your body more as the bag cannot form to your body. The front two pockets area good size for many of the small necessities for street, or just about any other shooting, theirs room in each pocket for 5 or more (at a push) rolls of film, or a lightmeter, phone, iPod, small hard drives, cables, memory cards, batteries, I’m sure you get the idea. Personally, I have around 5-6 rolls of film, a pen, light meter, memory cards and replacement Nikon battery, but theirs still room for a small notebook or phone.
I prefer having my wallet and phone in this bag rather than my pocket now, it’s just a lot safer and cleaner.
As for build quality and ergonomics, this has to be the best in class. Even though it is among the smallest pro camera bags available, it is as well built and designed as any bag in Billinghams range and even better than my 335 (as it is the older version with the traditional canvas). The material is soft a nice to the touch, the leather is thick, well cut and of obvious high quality, all of which are stitched together in way that will NOT break under strain. This bag, as with all in Billingham range, seem to fit my body and distribute weight perfectly. I can bend down quickly, swing the bag round to my back and front, run, jump, you name it the bag just. Seems to be exactly where you want it, all the time (when its not stuffed with an iPad).
Being in New York, one of the most photographed places in the world, locals, other photographer and more importantly thieves know what a good camera looks like and more aptly, what a good camera bag looks like, so discretion, as with all places, is key. I had some hangups about using a Bilingham on the street, as it’s not exactly unheard of and if anyone knew what it was, they would presume it would be carrying expensive gear. This however was never really the case, i noticed other photographers being noticed a lot when they were sporting very tactical looking lowepro bags, yet i never once caught even a passing glance onto my bag, even whilst shooting. This isn’t to say i didn’t wrap the strap round my leg every time I sat down and on the subway, but that’s just being sensible.
Suffering from scoliosis, I have to be careful of not only what gear i travel with and use, but also the bags i use, as the way in which a bag distributes weight CAN make a massive difference. I have used the Lowepro SlingShot AW, but just found it very impractical and uncomfortable. With bags that lie across your torso you get a crushing effect on your chest that leads to chest pains and mid back pain, so this bag was not for me. Other shoulder bags of no brand I have used seem to place the weight in such a way that my lower back becomes compressed and begins hurting, which is all limiting in the field. Without wanting to sound like a brand adoring snob, the Billinghams just seem to place the weight and carry any load perfectly; I mean i still get back pain, but i do anyway, its just no where near as severe, which speaks volumes for their design.
This is a gorgeous looking and amazing performing bag that i would not be without now. It literally goes everywhere with me, with my iPad, a pen, a camera, some film and whatever papers and such given at school, two camera bodies for shooting or just the NEX and the iPad for when im just leaving the house. A truly brilliant bag that i would recommend in a heartbeat to just about anyone, photographer or not.