My F-Stop Tilopa camera bag has died, so I’ve had to start looking for a new camera bag.
Every photographer I know has multiple camera bags, it seems that for many of us it is an unending quest to find the “perfect” camera bag. Personally, I went through 5 different camera bags ranging from backpacks to slings and a few other variations, all of them we good at doing 1 or 2 things, none of them covered all of what I wanted though. I primarily photograph landscapes, travel images as well as servicing commercial clients, mostly in the tourism and travel sectors. Nearly all of my work involves travel, most of that via plane and/or helicopter.
In 2010 I came across the brand F-stop Gear through another photographer, Colby Brown.. curious about the brand, I tried to find a local dealer. Turns out that my favourite local camera store in Perth, Team Digital, had a few in stock. I went in to the store intending to “just have a look” and somehow walked out with a brand new F-Stop Tilopa. Within 2 weeks of buying the Tilopa, I had sold my previously indispensable Lowe Pro Nature Trekker and I’ve actually not looked at another camera bag since!
The first thing that you notice about f-stop bags (other than how awesome they look) is what they call the “Internal Camera Unit” (ICU). The ICU is a separate carry bag that slides into the backpack and it is the section that holds the majority of your gear. I went for the largest ICU available at the time, it can comfortably fit 2 DSLR bodies, a mirrorless body and 4 or 5 lenses, depending on what lenses you have. The ICU is designed to be removed if you get pinged for your carry on bag being too large (something I’ve never had happen) or over the weight regulations (had that happen once out of hundreds of flights), you can then carry on just the ICU while you check the rest of your bag in the checked luggage.
Since I purchased the Tilopa it has travelled with me on over 140 flights in planes and helicopters, been dragged on the back of trucks and tuk tuks in Cambodia (4 trips), inside one of the Pyramids in Egypt, all over Petra in Jordan as well as having visited: Norway, Iceland, Malaysia, Singapore, United Arab Emirates (5 times). Not to mention every single state in Australia.. multiple times. I’ve hiked through mountains and sand dunes with it, hung out at a glacier lagoon and been caught in a blizzard. It is a very worn out and well travelled camera bag. This bag has been nearly indestructible until the last few months of it’s life.
Late last year the bag started to really show signs of the wear and tear I’ve put it through, plus dirt and grime from 10 countries. So I took the frame out and gave it a good wash, it came up nice and clean, although still looking a bit worn out. The frame has some how twisted on my last overseas trip (Iceland and Norway) and the bag just hasn’t sit right since. I decided that it was time to let the bag retire after a good career and move onto the next bag.. this one outlasted the last bag by a good 5 years! With that in mind I started looking at bags again.. the market and offerings have changed a huge amount since I was last looking at bags. It seems many other manufacturers have taken some inspiration from F-Stop Gear, offering all types of ingenious designs and solutions to problems I didn’t even know I had. Really though, looking around just reinforced my opinion on the F-Stop range. They are designed properly by people who “get it” and from what I hear, they actually use them day to day as well.
I know this isn’t your standard review with clean studio product shots and the technical ins and outs that normally go along with such a review. Think of it more as the world’s longest product trial in real world conditions. I really can’t think of too many more conditions that you could put a bag through on this planet, it’s survived being dragged on and off helicopters and landing on ships out at sea (the “baggage handlers” can be even rougher on those flights than regular ones), through the deserts of Australia and Dubai. Hiking through the mountains and snow in Tasmania, climbing the gorges of Karijini National Park, thrown in and out of various vehicles around the world. It has accompanied me on Aerial Photography shoots in Dubai, The Kimberley region of Western Australia, Hamilton Island in Queensland and over the remote wilderness of Tasmania.
I’ve put it through every test I can in my line of photography work and it has passed them all with flying colours. The bag’s final 2 months saw it accompany me on a project with Qantas that had me fly: Perth > Melborune >Uluru > Cairns > Darwin > Melbourne > Sydney > Perth in 9 days. Then a few short weeks later it was on a Tourism Tasmania project with me, being dragged all over that amazing island again in a campervan!
So I’ve decided on the bag that will replace my now retired F-Stop Tilopa.. is another F-Stop Tilopa. I’m also looking at a few of the other options that F-Stop have for bags, their range has increased somewhat since I bought the Tilopa. The updated Tilopa has a few new pockets and extra straps for lugging tripods and adventure gear around plus a few other extra features. I’m not sure that this is the “perfect” bag, but it is pretty close to it and that’s good enough for me! I’m looking forward to seeing how many adventures the new bag will accompany me on, the very first of which will be a trip to Antarctica with Aurora Expeditions. The older bag deserves to mounted and framed I think though! Not sure what I’ll do with it just yet, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of it.
If you are an active photographer who mostly shoots outdoors, does any sort of hiking on a regular basis and travels from time to time (or frequently) you really can’t go past the Tilopa. I am not sure it would be all that suitable for say a Wedding Photographer as it doesn’t leave all that much gear immediately accessible, but F-Stop have other options available for that type of photography.
Also… my apologies for the massive amount of selfies ;-)
Great review ! It confirmed what I was thinking about F-Stop Gear bags : Hard to kill ! It’s good to have an actual test of 5 years on the ground !
I was wondering, when you travel, your tripod is in the check-in luggage ? Did you ever have the possibility to take it with you in cabin ? I saw this week in edinburgh, Scotland, a man with the tripod in hand, after the security, and before to fly… I was a bit surprised.
Thanks for your time.
Thank you! As for my tripod, it really depends on where I’m travelling and what stops I have. I quite often fly with it attached to my F-stop backpack. Never had any issues with it in security. I do that if I have a stop over that is long enough for me to want to venture outside the airport and take photos.
Thanks for the quick reply !
Currently I travel only around Europe, so it’s mainly direct fly. I have to check with the companies, but it would be great to have the Tilopa full of clothes and other stuff plus tripod, and the ICU as a personal bag…
Thank you again ! I’m glad F-Stop shared your article, I can follow your work now !
If you are happy to check the bag full of clothes I’d recommend going for one of the larger bags like the Sukha. The Tilopa is a 50 litre bag where as the Sukha is 70 litres.. so much more room for gear and clothes.
Oh, maybe I wasn’t clear enough (sorry for my english), I meant to take all in cabin with me, not to check in the bag. I really wand to find a way to travel without two bags (one in cabin and one as check-in). If it’s the case, I generally put the tripod in the second bag.
The sukka is very big, I guess too big for me. The tilopa would be good enough. With the F-Stop straps system, I could attach more to the bag.
Ahh.. I have never had to check my Tilopa, so that should be just fine for you then!
I’m on my second “order & wait” for a tilopa. After 2-months the first time I had to cancel the order to get my money to put towards something for my upcoming trip. Now I’m up to a month + and the latest word is it will be another two months at least. The most frustrating part, other than wanting a product that never seems to be in stock, is that you have to pay when you order. In the meantime f-stop is collecting interest on a whole lot of back-ordered bags.
I’m sure that f-stop would prefer to be shipping the bags out.. finding the balance between having millions of dollars of stock sitting there waiting to be sold and having not enough stock to keep your customers happy is one of the biggest struggles for businesses who sell physical items.
Great batch of “selfies”, too. What sensational locations! They complement the article very well.
haha, cheers! I’ve been very fortunate to have some pretty epic adventures :-)
Couldn’t agree more. Bought my Tilopa after carrying Jay Patel’s bag from Tamarama to Bondi beach then back again. It weighed about 15kgs and it was very comfortable. Even bought the next size down for the missus. That was 2 years ago and we have travelled 14 countries and they haven’t missed a beat. Highly recommend these bags.
My bag usually weighs close to 15kgs as well, very comfortable even with my dodgy back!
Now I’m shooting Olympus M43 I can carry OMD EM1, OMD EM-5mk2, 7-14mm f2.8, 12-40mm f2.8, 40-150mm f2.8, 12mm f2, 45mm f1.8, 60mm f2.8, tripod, clothes, toiletries and other gadets while still under 7kgs. Last trip to NZ was a dream with no check-in luggage. I’m never ever check-in luggage again.
I’m in the process of deciding which way to go with my gear.. I’m currently shooting a mix of Canon and Sony gear. I’m usually carrying a few extra bits of kit and hiking boots and the such, so there is always checked luggage unfortunately!
I use a waist pack for my mirrorless bodies/lenses which I find suits really well. Still have the big back pack for the DSLR and associated lenses for the epic landscapes though. The combination of waist pack and back pack means I can have full flexibility on the rare occasion the situation requires it.
I will get an F-Stop Tilopa after seeing this review….after my big camera back pack fails, which is imminent…
I’ve got a Lowe Pro waist / sling pack as well, it doesn’t get used all that much any more though as I stopped shooting events a few years ago.