When somebody offers me the chance to try out a new camera bag that is winning awards all over the place, I normally jump at that chance. An email from the people behind the Vanguard range of bags arrived in my inbox a few weeks ago and the Heralder 38 arrived at my home shortly afterwards. I have tried so many rucksack bags and been disappointed with the compromises that you have to make in order to get portability and so I keep coming back to shoulder bags – despite the best advice of people who know about back pain.
Lets put this bag into some sort of context: I have used a Lowe Pro Stealth 650 as my main “carry everything” shoulder bag for many years now and I am used to it, quite like it and would buy the same again to replace it if Lowe Pro hadn’t done what they seem to love doing – which is to take a perfectly good design and “improve” it. The old Stealth 650 that I have is a good bag but the new Stealth 650 is really annoying!
Anyway, back to the review: The way that I test things is to use them in my everyday work and so the amount of testing depends entirely on what I’m up to at any given time. The last couple of weeks have been relatively quiet but I have had enough days out with this bag to have made a lot of important decisions about it. From my own experience of reading reviews, I know that a lot of people skip straight to the end and because of that there will be a “conclusions” section at the bottom.
Most people want their camera bags to be smaller than they need to be, to weigh less than the total of everything that they want to jam in, have super-easy access, look great and to be a joy to carry for several hours. I guess that’s why nobody has ever found the perfect bag. It’s impossible to make that bag on a commercial level because we all have subtly different needs and so the word compromise rears it’s head AGAIN!
What can you get in the bag?
If this bag is going to become my everyday carry everything bag then it needs to swallow my standard amount of kit: Two Canon EOS5D MkII bodies, 16-35 f2.8L, 24-70 f2.8L and 70-200 f2.8L lenses, two 580exII flash units and all of the bits, pieces and accessories that go to support that kit in the field. I also need to put either a 15.4″ Apple MacBook Pro or an 11″ MacBook Air plus gadgets in from time to time. The good news is that everything fits in and the bonus is that I can just fit the 70-200 standing up with its lens hood in place (I hate having to remove and reverse hoods every time you put a lens away).
The bag itself doesn’t have too many pockets and hiding places for anything other than relatively small or flat items such as pens (x3), memory cards (x4) notebooks, passes and business cards. What it does have is a removable pouch which holds a couple of spare batteries for the camera, a couple of spare sets of AAs for the flash units and an electronic release for the camera. Because of this pouch and the excellent use of space within the main compartment of the bag the Heralder 38 passes this test rather comfortably – even with a laptop and related accessories on board.
Ease of Access
Shoulder bags are nearly always nicer to work from that rucksacks or rolling cases. I prefer my bags to have a simple method of closing them whilst working and a more secure method for securing the contents when I am simply travelling. The combination of a zip around the whole lid and a single snap-shut clip on this bag meets that requirement too. I suspect that the designers of this model have looked at the old LowePro Stealth bags and decided that they were on to something before designing their own similar solution.
It’s at this point that I found my first ‘issue’ with the Heralder 38. I like to be able to close the bag in work mode one handed. Every Domke and LowePro I have ever owned has the ability to do this in common and the Vanguard looks as if this wouldn’t be a problem either. So far I have struggled like mad with the plastic snap-shut clip fitted to this bag and I cannot work out why. I cannot seem to line it up as easily as the more square ones on my LowePro or on the Think Tank roller that now carries my lights everywhere. I’m still trying to master this clip and failing.
Beyond that niggle, getting kit in and out of the bag whilst moving is as easy as it has ever been on a bag that I’ve used. If they could source a less trendy looking clip I’d be well on the way to proclaiming this bag a massive success.
Carrying the bag
This is where the Heralder 38 comes into its own. Somehow they have made this a superbly comfortable bag to carry. The strap is excellent and the shape of the back of the bag means that it sits on my hip incredibly well. Vanguard have gone some of the way to fooling me into thinking that I am carrying less dead weight than I actually am and that is a huge advantage for this bag when comparing it to the other bags of a similar size that I have owned and/or tried out. Put simply, this is an easy bag to carry – possibly the easiest I’ve ever used.
All bags these days come with clips and straps that allow you to attach tripods, monopods and other large and unwieldy accessories. To be honest I never want to be in a position to have to do that and so the bits an pieces that came with this bag that allowed me to do that were removed (where possible) and put into a cupboard.
What the bag does have (in common with my old LowePro) is a rain cover tucked away in the back of the bag that can be fitted to keep the contents drier than would otherwise be the case. We are in the middle of a spell of beautiful weather here in the south of England and so I haven’t had a chance to test the rain cover yet but I can tell you that it is fast to fit and easy to pack away again. The great news is that it is detachable too – which is a big tick from me. I have had other bags where the rain cover is permanently attached – which means that when it stops rainy you have to leave it out to dry or pack it away wet.
The bag comes with a very stylish luggage tag and an elasticated end pocket that fits a small bottle of water rather well. As someone who carries his bag on the left shoulder, the elasticated pocket is on the wrong end but that’s just a small niggle and not a deal-breaker!
Looks and construction
I guess that when you design a camera bag you have two choices: you either go down the “it’s a camera bag so it should look like one” route or go the other way and design something that looks like a normal holdall. This bag is squarely in the former camp – to the extent that it would be hard to imagine that it was anything else. The black water resistant materials are of a great quality and the plastic base appears to be pretty tough. The orange colour of the interior may be off-putting for some people and I’d prefer something 18% grey myself (like my old LowePro) but it has the advantage of being very visible from a distance and being the colours of The BPPA.
The quality of the stitching and the fabrics tells me that this bag should last a long time. If they put a better snap-shut clip on the bag I think that they will have the whole construction sorted.
This is a very good bag. It is OK to look at, swallows a lot of kit and is easy to work out of. It appears to be well made and the biggest selling point for me is that it is supremely comfortable to carry. The number of distributors for these bags seems to be growing and a quick search of the internet found the best price is as low as £124.98 at Amazon– which is good value for money as far as I’m concerned.
So far I only have one real niggle: the snap-shut clip. Beyond that, for the first couple of days I thought that a couple of external pouches would be useful for when I have a few extra bits but I suspect that would alter the superb balance and usability of the bag rather than enhance it.
So that leads me to the big question: “Is this the best bag in its class that I have ever used?” The answer is very close… for portability and comfort of carrying the answer is a big yes. For ease of working is a marginal “no” BUT the bag that I would say beats this one has been modified by LowePro and the new version isn’t as pro’ friendly as the old one and so, if you needed to buy a shoulder bag to carry a decent amount of kit along with a laptop, I don’t know of anything that would beat the Vanguard Heralder 38. I haven’t found the camera bag equivalent of the holy grail yet but there is every chance that it is just a myth anyway.