Gadling Gear Review: Booq Python Courier Camera Bag

The Booq Python courer bagAs digital SLR cameras continue to grow in popularity, new buyers will inevitably be looking to purchase a good travel bag to protect their investment. A high-quality camera bag not only allows them to tote their gear around safely, but also keeps it well organized and close at hand. It doesn’t hurt if that bag provides a healthy dose of versatility and happens to look great too.

The Python courier from Booq certainly meets that description and then some. This sling bag is made of high-quality ballistic nylon that is both water resistant and incredibly durable. In fact, everything about this pack screams quality, including the thick interior padding, rugged buckles and seat-belt style nylon shoulder strap. The result is a camera bag that should securely and comfortably carry all of your camera gear for many years to come.

While the Python’s exterior is certainly impressive, Booq hasn’t skimped in any way on the interior either. The cavernous main pocket has plenty of room for a digital SLR body with an attached lens, as well as up to four more additional lenses. Adjustable padded panels give the pocket a measure of customizability to accommodate a variety of different equipment sizes. A second internal organizational pocket keeps other items, such as spare batteries, memory cards and pens, neatly in place, while a handy clip ensures you won’t misplace your keys while traveling either.

A third pocket on the back of the bag features a water-repellant zipper and is large enough to comfortably carry an iPad, MacBook Air or other tablet or small laptop. Those devices have become indispensable tools for professional photographers and travelers alike and the inclusion of this well-padded, extra pocket is a nice touch on the part of Booq. I found that while testing this pack, having this extra pocket actually made it possible for the Python to serve as my carry-on bag. With plenty of room not only for my camera gear and iPad, but also an iPod, smartphone, earbuds and just about everything else I needed for a trip, I generally didn’t see the need to carry anything else.The Booq PythonBooq’s attention to design extends to the look of the Python as well. At first glance you wouldn’t suspect that this is a camera pack at all, as its general outward appearance resembles that of any traditional messenger bag. In fact, the Python can actually become a full-blown courier pack when needed. The inner padding that serves to protect and organize camera bodies and lenses can actually be completely removed to allow other items to be stored inside. That means that this pack can pull double duty, acting as a workbag for day-to-day use and a tough camera bag when on the road.

I found the Python to simply be a joy to use. It is as comfortable and durable as any camera bag I’ve ever put to the test and far more organized than simply throwing your lenses and SLR body into a daypack, which is often my typical modus operandi. Booq has a legendary reputation for creating high-quality products and this bag more than lived up to that reputation. Not only have they created a bag that looks great and provides plenty of versatility, but it is also logically designed for ease of use as well. While I personally prefer a backpack for most of my travels, this is a sling pack that definitely won me over and has me reconsidering my options for future trips.

I’d be remiss in writing this review if I didn’t mention Booq’s Terralinq program. Each of the company’s bags comes with its own unique serial number ID and bar code displayed on a metal label somewhere on the pack. When the bag is registered with Booq, that serial number can be used to connect an owner with his or her gear in the event that it becomes lost or stolen in the future. Of course, we all hope that we never need such service, but it is nice to know it is available just in case.

If there is a knock on any of the products offered by Booq it is likely their price. The Python retails for $179.95, which definitely puts it at the higher end of most camera bags on the market. But much like the various options for buying luggage for your travels, you often get what you pay for. Anyone who has ever purchased cheap luggage knows that it typically doesn’t last long and you end up replacing it sooner rather than later. The same holds true for a bag like this one. The Python is likely to last you a lifetime, while a less expensive bag will show the wear and tear of travel much sooner. Besides, after spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on your camera equipment, don’t you want to protect it with the best bag possible? Yes, the Python by Booq is more expensive than some of its competitors, but it is also worth it in every way.

Photo of the Day (12.7.10)

I love travel gear shots. I’m always curious to know what people consider essential items & what tech gadgets people can’t live without on the road. This photo was taken in 2005 and at first glance, seemed pretty outdated.

These days, it’s rare to see a camera that shoots on DV tapes, a Powerbook, or an iPod without a touchscreen (gasp)! It just makes me wonder what we’ll consider outdated in 5 years from now – laptops? Full-sized SLR’s? Guide books / printed materials altogether?

This photo was taken in Canada by Flickr user Jon Rawlinson. Thanks for sharing what was in your bag Jon! If you’d like to share your travel essentials leave a comment below or take a quick photo and post it in our Flickr Group – we may just include it as our next Photo of the Day.

Daily deal – Nikon D40 Digital SLR camera + 18-55mm lens + 4GB memory card for $392

My daily deal for today is a great way to get one step closer to professional style photography.

This Nikon D40 Digital SLR camera is one of the cheapest dSLR kits on the market at the moment, and at $392 for the camera, basic lens and a free 4GB memory card, it is a true steal. It is on sale at Abe’s of Maine, one of the most reliable online camera vendors in the country.

Sure, the camera is “only” 6.1 megapixels, and the lens will be in need of an upgrade once you get a hang of being a pro, but it will certainly produce better results than most point and click cameras.

As with most SLR’s, the camera will usually end up being the cheapest part of your investment. Once you start dropping money on extra batteries, a bag, more lenses and a ton of memory cards you’ll be feeling like a (poor) pro before you know it!

I’ll also admit that I suck at making photos. As a geek, I purchased a dSLR quite early on, and the lack of an “idiot button” forced me back to my trusty point and shoot camera after just a few days. Thankfully our own Karen Walrond has posted a nice collection of educational articles and some handy tips on how to make great photos.

The Nikon D40 kit comes with the camera itself, a basic 18-55mm lens, a battery with charger and video/USB cables. The deal includes a free 4GB memory card. To get the price down to $392, you’ll need to add a couple of promotional codes; when you start the checkout process make sure to add “NKDS50″ and “LOYALTY10″, and you’ll magically see the price go down to $391.95. Shipping is free, and sales tax is only collected in NJ.

Through the Gadling Lens: What kind of camera should I buy?

Maybe you’re about to take the trip of a lifetime: your passport’s ready, you’ve bought all the latest guidebooks, you now have an entirely new wardrobe/set of luggage to take on your trip, and you want to make sure you capture every perfect moment for posterity — but your camera skills are a bit lacking. Or perhaps you’re tired of going on fabulous vacations, only to return disappointed that the hundreds of photographs you took don’t really capture the brilliant blue of the ocean, the way the sun turned everything golden, the teeming humanity or the grandeur of the mountain ranges.

Well, today’s your lucky day: welcome to Through the Gadling Lens, Gadling’s newest weekly guide to ensuring you enjoy your travel shots for many years to come. I’ll give you practical tips on how to frame your shots, how to use Photoshop or other photo editing software, how to archive your shots, where to find great online photography resources and other tools to help you capture your very best images. In fact, if you have any burning questions about travel photography that you’d love to have answered, be sure to shoot me an e-mail at karen.walrond@weblogsinc.com, and I’ll be happy to answer them right here on the site.

In the meantime, let’s get started with the basics: choosing a digital camera. Ask any photographer, and she’ll likely confirm that the number one question she’s asked is “what kind of camera should I buy?” This question, obviously, isn’t easy — besides the fact that there are literally hundreds of brands and types of cameras to choose from, the truth is that the answer depends strongly on how you plan on using the camera in the first place.
Given this, these days the decision ultimately comes down to a choice between buying a single lens reflex or SLR camera (read: the kind of camera where you can switch out lenses), or a point-and-shoot (read: the kind of camera where you can’t). When making your decision, here are some things to consider:

You should buy a point-and-shoot if:

  • You like to travel unencumbered. Let’s face it: SLRs are bulky. They’re heavy. And worst of all, they take up precious carry-on baggage space. If you’re the type of person who likes to pack light for trips, go sightseeing without so much as a backpack, and your rule for daytrips is that all necessary gear must completely fit in your jeans pockets, then clearly, an SLR would be exactly the wrong kind of camera to take with you. With the designs and profiles of compact cameras getting smaller and smaller by the day (without, by the way, losing any snap-taking-power), a good point-and-shoot would definitely be the way to go.
  • When visiting a new place, you don’t like to have anything on you that screams “TOURIST!” Nothing says “foreigner” like a large camera hanging around your neck — and I say this as a person who has a large camera perpetually around her neck, even when I’m at home. If you’d rather not stand out, and prefer to take your images and keep your tourist status on the down-low, a compact camera will likely be more your speed. Bonus: its easier to sneak the point-and-shoot into places where photography is discouraged — just make sure that your flash is turned off!
  • You just want a camera that will take quick shots of scenery and snapshots of you and your friends on holiday. If you couldn’t care less about apertures and f-stops and your eyes glaze over when people start talking shutter speeds and ISOs, then a SLR would likely be more camera that you require. Do yourself a favour and simply buy a good compact camera. And the good news: with a few tricks of the trade, you’ll find that a point-and-shoot is capable of images as high a quality as an SLR, even if it might not have the range.
  • You don’t have unlimited funds to purchase a camera. Brand new single lens reflex cameras are expensive; conversely, you can get a fairly decent new point-and-shoot for hundreds, rather than thousands of dollars. Then, once you’ve purchased the SLR body, you’re going to have start buying lenses and other accessories to really make it sing. If you really want a new camera, but don’t have the time to save up for a good SLR, a good point-and-shoot is your only alternative.

You should buy a SLR camera if:

  • You’re interested in learning about photography, independent of your upcoming trip. Again, single lens reflex cameras are pretty expensive — I wouldn’t recommend purchasing one unless you consider it an investment. And once you discover the power of a single lens camera — the variety of images and technical depth you can achieve with one — you’ll want to spend some time learning how to harness that power.
  • You want to take specific types of pictures. Perhaps you’re interested in taking huge, wide-angle, panoramic views of stunning scenery, like the Grand Canyon. Or maybe you’re interested in getting nice tight, magazine-cover-quality shots of beautiful local faces, or even really up-close macro shots of the stamens and petals of an exotic flower. Or all three. The truth is that a standard point-and-shoot rarely has the range to do every type of photography out there. And if you’re interested in a specific type of photography, and really sticking to it, then investing in a good SLR might be a sensible option.
  • You’ve got some money to spend. In addition to buying an SLR camera body, you’ll have to buy the proper lens … or two … or five, depending on what kinds of images you want to take, and how serious you want to get. There are things like macro lenses, fisheye lenses, portrait lenses, zoom lenses … and the list keeps going and going. Then there are flashes. Tripods. Reflectors. Clearly, you don’t need to get all of these things at once, but once you have a SLR, there’s always some new gadget that promises to increase your ability to take that stellar shot. Never let it be said that photography is a cheap hobby.

Now that you’ve decided what kind of photographer you’re going to be, here are some additional tips for going out and actually picking a camera:

1. Do some research. Ask friends what kinds of cameras they use, and how they like them. E-mail professional photographers, and ask for advice on specific products. Go to review sites, like Digital Photography Review for example, to see how the various brands stack up against each other. As with any expensive purchase, arm yourself with knowledge before plopping down the cash.

2. Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, actually go to a camera store and try them out. Review sites and blogs can only tell you so much — the truth is that using a camera is a very personal experience, and what might feel good in the hands of one person may not feel so great in yours. Go to a camera store and actually look through the viewfinder. Play with the dials and meters. Click the shutters. Decide which feels right for you. Then make your decision.

3. When it comes to online purchases, buyer beware. Recently, I was in the market for a new SLR camera body. I knew how much the suggested retail price was for the specific camera I wanted, so when I found a site that purported to sell the camera body for almost half the amount, I was thrilled, and placed an order. Two days later, I received a call, and the person online wanted to “clarify” if I wanted a battery with my camera. And a battery charger. And a manufacturer’s warranty. By the time the “extras” were added, the price was more than I would’ve paid going to my local camera store — and that was all before shipping! Needless to say, I canceled the order, and purchased the camera from my local store. It was a lesson that I should’ve known before placing the order: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

4. Don’t be afraid of second-hand. Photographers are a fickle bunch, often trading in their relatively-new cameras for the latest and greatest. My first camera was purchased second-hand 15 years ago, and it still works beautifully (when I’m in the mood to shoot film, that is!). Buying second-hand is a great way to get a powerful camera for a fraction of the cost. But if you choose to do so, be sure to actually try it out before buying it (see #2, above).

5. And finally, when it comes to purchasing an SLR camera, remember that what you buy today is likely what you’ll keep buying 10 years from now. For example, I’m a Nikon user — and the Nikon D300 I just bought takes the lenses that I bought for my original Nikon FE Series camera fifteen years ago. As such, be sure to buy an SLR from a manufacturer that has a long history of service and support, that you can be sure will be around for a while, because you don’t want to spend $1000 on a lens that you won’t be able to use twenty years from now. In my experience Canon and Nikon are the most popular brands among professional photographers, so I would certainly consider them when looking for an SLR — but if you’d prefer another brand, be sure to look into history and longevity before making a purchase.

Good luck with your camera purchase! Stay tuned for more Through the Gadling Lens features: next week we’ll talk about what various lenses can help you do. And again, feel free to send me questions directly at karen.walrond@weblogsinc.com — I’m happy to tackle them here on Gadling!

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.

Spring photography roundup

Travel photography enthusiasts will be pleased to hear about the flurry of recent product launches and news floating around the web. Perhaps everything was timed to the warm weather and extra daylight of Spring? Those tricky camera manufacturers – how diabolical. Anyway, here’s a quick rundown of some of the more interesting news.

Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-LZ10

Engadget has the scoop on Panasonic’s new 10-megapixel Lumix DMC-LZ10. I’m not the biggest fan of Panasonic’s digital cameras, but Engadget and Photography Blog both give it high marks, calling it “one of the most versatile compacts in its class.” They were particularly impressed with the camera’s manual controls and image quality. Considering it retails for less than $250, it could be a nice model to snap up for those family vacation photos. Remember, if you’re in the market for a point and shoot digital camera, don’t get too caught up with the number of megapixels. A better optical zoom and a quick startup/shutter speed are much better indicators of quality.

Hacking your Canon digital camera

Enterprising Canon camera owners should also head over to Wired, where they’re offering a cool Wiki on how to modify your camera’s software. Why would you do such a thing, you might ask? Because digital camera hardware can often do much more than is allowed by its standard software. For instance, Canon only allows shutter speeds up to 1/1,600 of a second, but the camera is actually capable of up to 1/60,000! Once you’ve installed the hack, you’ll unlock all manner of cool functions like super-long exposure shots, RAW file format and battery readout. I tried it last night on my Canon SD630 and it worked like a charm. It’s worth noting that the process can get a bit technical – make sure you know what you’re doing and that you have a compatible Canon camera before giving it a try. Jump over to Wired for full instructions and FAQ.

The Ultra-fast Casio Exilim EX-F1 SLR

Meanwhile, New York Times gadget guru David Pogue reviews Casio’s speedy new semipro Exilim EX-F1 digital camera. A typical digital camera snaps about one picture per second, but the Exilim, which is billed as the world’s fastest camera, can take up to sixty. Remember that shot of the cheetah chasing the antelope you missed on safari because you couldn’t get your camera snapping in time? This is the model you’re looking for. It also has a motion detector which will wait, for hours if necessary, until motion is detected and then automatically snap a rapid fire of 60 shots. Pretty awesome. The Exilim retails for $1,000.