Kata 3N1-33 professional camera backpack review

Kata 3n1-33 professional camera bag

Selecting a camera bag can be a daunting process. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of options, and even bags that aren’t specifically designed with cameras in mind can be altered and repurposed for use with your setup. Kata is a respected name in the bag industry, offering quite a few travel packs and a handful of dedicated camera packs. Where they stand out is their rigidity and flexibility. The company’s packs are stronger, stiffer and more rugged than the average bag, and the prices show it.

The Kata 3N1-33 is its highest-end sling / torso pack that’s designed for hauling around a robust DSLR rig. It’s not nearly as bulky as some of the backpacks we’ve seen, but the internal compartments are arranged in a way so that you can carry around a 15.4-inch (or smaller) laptop, a DSLR (with or without battery grip), a long-range zoom lens, five or six other lenses, a camera flash and a handful of chargers, batteries, pens, keys, business cards and any other small essentials that you typically would carry on a business or travel shoot.

But what truly sets this bag apart in our mind is the handling capabilities. You can wear this pack a half-dozen different ways: as a standard backpack, as a left or right-handed torso pack, or in a x-strap configuration that’s a hybrid of the two.

Wondering how this bag fares against the competition, and if it’s really worth the $130 or so that it’s selling for? Read on for our full review.

%Gallery-112423%With one look at the 3N1-33, you’ll know that it’s a very different pack. There are an interesting arrangement of straps, hooks, and pads in which to conceal those straps on the rear. Kata thankfully includes a small booklet which describes the many ways this pack can be worn. We particularly enjoyed two of them. Wearing it as a standard backpack was extremely comfortable. There’s a sufficient amount of padding on the rear, and adjusting the straps to bring it closer to your frame is a cinch. The torso / sling approach is quite useful as well. This combines the flexibility of a messenger bar hold with the stability of a backpack hold. You only use a single strap in torso mode, but the pack remains upright on your back; when you want, you simply slide the pack around in front of your stomach, and the side compartment is right there for easy access. Left and right side compartments are here to support left- and right-handed shooters.

Internally, there’s tons of room, and it’s all well arranged. You can easily fit a flash along with two to three lenses on each side compartment, along with three to four more in the center. Accessing those requires the bottom to be unzipped, but it’s not a hassle. There’s also a separate and dedicated top portion; we love the compartments here. Keeping things separate ensures that items don’t slide into a section as you’re shooting, and this approach worked very well for us in the field.

Kata 3n1-33 professional camera bag

There are two side pockets along the top edge that are separated from the core of the bag; these work very well for holding lens caps, keys, wallets, cellphones, business cards, etc. Of course, the padded laptop sleeve is its own compartment as well, and held our 15-inch MacBook Pro snugly and without issue. You can squeeze two in there back-to-back, but it’s really tight.

Overall, the attention to detail here is just impossible to ignore. The pack is rigid from top to bottom, and it’s almost impossible to knock over. The padded compartments are all easy to access, and we truly felt as if our lenses and peripherals were in good hands within the pack. The ability to wear this in so many different ways gives the 3N1-33 a huge leg-up over the competition, and while it’s compact enough to slide beneath the average airline seat, it’s able to hold quite a load due to it not slimming from bottom to top as most traditional backpacks do.

Kata 3n1-33 professional camera bag

Just to give you an idea of what will fit in here with ease: a 15-inch laptop, power adapter, 2.5-inch external hard drive, seven USB / connector cables, a Nikon D3s DSLR, 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, 50mm f/1.4 lens, 60mm f/2.8 macro lens, an included Kata rain bag (to protect the entire pack if it starts raining), a bulky D3s charger, two Lensbaby creative lenses, an SB-700 flash, car keys, a stack of business cards, a smartphone and at least two more medium-sized lenses if I wanted. All of this fits in with ease, and while you’ll need a strong back to load it around, the Kata remains comfortable for hours on end, particularly when you can change how you carry it every half hour by just swapping a few clips and redistributing the weight.

This particular Kata has earned our highest recommendations, and that’s saying something. The only people who may not be fond of this bag are those who routinely carry very small camera setups. This is a bag intended for professionals or enthusiasts that enjoy carrying around a robust lens collection and loads of accessories. Kata makes a few smaller versions of this very pack that still maintain the multiple carrying options, so we’d recommend having a look at those (3N1-10, 3N1-11, 3N1-20, 3N1-22 and 3N1-30) if you need something that’s more compact.

Kata 3n1-33 professional camera bag

At around $130, the 3N1-33 isn’t cheap, but it’s a good value for what you get. Packs are easy to find, even cheap ones. But good packs are hard to come by, and you definitely pay a premium for good design, rigidity, stability and flexibility. This particular bag is also fantastic for traveling; the dedicated laptop compartment as well as the standalone top compartment help to keep things moving when rolling through airport security. Rather than having to dig into multiple places and under mounds of accessories to get your laptop and Bag ‘O Liquids out, you can keep them in their own sections for easy access. For the hardcore travel warriors, there’s even an optional wheel attachment that’ll allow you to roll this bag from gate-to-gate. Our advice here is to skip that and invest in a rugged roll-aboard while keeping this on your back.

If we had any complaints at all (more like recommendations for the next revision), we’d say that there’s a need for a dedicated zippered window on the front compartment, so you don’t have to unzip around the entire bottom just to access some of your lenses that are stored more towards the center of the pack. And while the zippers were as rugged as they come, we’d prefer the yellow found in the interior to be pulled over to those zipper pulls. When you’re shooting a dark reception, having well-lit zipper pulls makes accessing your gear a lot easier. Other than that, we can’t really find anything to nitpick, but we definitely see a need for an even larger version to house 17-inch laptops and even bigger lens collections.

Photo of the day (12.16.10)

Photo of the day 12.16.10
What charmed me about this photo from Thimphu, Bhutan, other than the pleasant colors and lines, was the caption. Flickr user AndreaKW translated the suggestion box’s Dzongkha script as literally “thoughts box” and I love the idea, much less pressure than coming up with constructive suggestions. A thoughts box could have notes like “Next time, pack fewer shoes” or “Why don’t I ever eat meat on a stick at home?” or even the classic “Help! I’m trapped in a thoughts box!” The possibilities are endless, especially for traveler interaction, like the postcards from strangers project.

Have any photos to leave in our thoughts box? How about adding them to the Gadling group on Flickr? We might just choose one of your shots as our Photo of the Day.

Walk with your bags before traveling – Packing tip

If you want to keep your bag smaller, and more travel-ready, walk with it for 30 minutes… on a hilly blacktop… on a sunny day.

I admit, this exercise may not directly trim your bags. However, this should make you more able to prioritize what you need for your trip.

[Photo: Flickr | .Luc.]

Pack for a theme party – Cruise tip

If you really want to get into the spirit of a cruise, you’ll want to participate in any theme parties or special events on board.

Before departing, contact the cruise line to find out what will be offered on your cruise. Toga parties require a gown made of bed sheets, of course, while shamrocks and green hats are appropriate for a St. Patrick’s celebration. Beads, feathers and masks are in order for a Mardi Gras parade, and pirate garb would be appropriate for any pirate-themed celebration.

You can sometimes buy the items aboard ship to make your costume, but why spend the money? Pack your own outfit and save your cash for a Hurricane cocktail.

Related: Choose a themed cruise – Cruise tip

Use heat packs to avoid clogged ears – Airplane tip

Traditional methods for clearing “flier’s ear” include yawning, chewing gum, and using special earplugs for flying. However, there are other methods for preventing this painful condition, including this unusual, but effective, one:

  • Pack two small heat packs (they grow warm when mashed).
  • Use earphones to hold one over each ear.
  • Keep the earphones’ plug visible so flight attendants will see you’re not using an electronic device.

You’ll get a few weird looks, but it may help. (A pack may last a couple of flights if placed in an airtight bag after use.)