Simple, yet sophisticated: Our Lowepro Photo Sport 300 AW II review
posted Tuesday, September 22, 2015 at 1:49 PM EDT
Lowepro is one of the most recognized and ubiquitous names in the world of camera bags. The reasons for this are aplenty, but in the simplest terms, it’s because Lowepro consistently puts out affordable, hard-working bags year after year.
One of Lowepro’s newest bags is the Photo Sport 300 AW II, a second-generation camera bag that improves upon its predecessor across the board while retaining the qualities that made it a favorite among photographers with active and adventurous lifestyles.
As part of our ongoing camera bag review series, Lowepro sent us a sample of the Photo Sport 300 AW II to play with and take for a spin to see just how well it holds up to the spotlight so proudly shone on it. To put it through the ringer, I took it on both a run and a short hike over the course of a few days, two activities this bag is specially designed to excel with.
Before we dive into the experience, I’ll take a moment to share with you my initial thoughts on the bag. Lowepro’s Photo Sport 300 AW II comes in two color options: blue and black, the latter of which is the model I was sent for review.
Even if the logo on the front of the bag was to be removed, the active-oriented camera bag oozes Lowepro’s aesthetics with its monochrome design and practically trademarked orange that Lowepro has long used in its branding.
The bag itself is designed much like a typical hiking bag with a flip-top design, water-resistant material and elongated frame, shaped as such to spread the weight out across the entirety of your back. Unlike hiking bags though, the Photo Sport BP 300 AW II doesn’t feature an internal/external frame or many external straps and harnesses to attach accessories. This makes for a much cleaner design and one that suits consumers who want an active-oriented pack without the unnecessary weight and components.
Design and Materials
From top to bottom, back to front, the bag is designed to be as comfortable as possible. It weighs an acceptable 3.30 lbs (1.5 kg) and features some Lowepro-specific technologies to keep you comfortable and your gear safe.
First and foremost, the outside of the bag is constructed almost entirely out of light, weather resistant oxford-weave ripstop nylon. In times when more protection is needed, Lowepro has included a built-in All Weather AW Cover capable of shielding the bag from almost anything you or mother nature can throw at it.
The section of the bag that holds your camera gear uses UltraCinch, Lowepro’s proprietary method for tightening up and loosening the padding that holds your gear in place. In essence, UltraCinch is nothing more than a dedicated pull-tab attached to stretchable cord that helps keep your gear from bouncing around in the bag while running, hiking or biking.
On the front of the bag, there are two loops for mounting either trekking poles or a small tripod. It's not a dedicated tripod solution, really, as the mounting points are rather small, but with a little bit of trial and error, you can attach most any small or medium tripod you own. I would normally consider this a downfall, but considering this bag is focused on more active lifestyles, it makes sense they don't include a dedicated system for mounting larger tripods, as its defeat the purpose of streamlining the bag in so many other areas
Above the section that houses camera gear is a spacious top-loading compartment that can easily store extra clothes, food, snacks or even a blanket for your day trips. Closing the top compartment is done via a pull cord, which is then protected from the elements when the top flap is closed.
Other compartments on and within the bag include a large front pocket that spans the entire height of the front of the bag, a zippered pocket on the top flap, an elastic pocket on the side and an internal zippered pocket inside of the main storage compartment. The waist belt also contains two zippered pockets, perfect for cash, card or small snacks.
Another proprietary design and material feature of the Photo Sport BP 300 AW II is its ActivZone suspension. Together, the back padding, shoulder strap and waist belt are moulded and designed in such a way that keeps the bag snug against your body, further reducing any unwanted movement when going about your activities. Part of this ActivZone design is a moulded neoprene back pad that uses a unique geometrical design designed to increase comfort and airflow to your back.
The clasps that adorn the bag are made of a lightweight plastic. At first, the components seemed slightly cheap, but not once did I have a problem with them, nor do I see them being a problem in the future. Their weight simply doesn’t lend credit to how sturdy they are.
Behind the ActivZone back panel, you'll find a clever little pocket Tharp can hold up to a 2-liter reservoir of water and features a small hole that you can guide a hose through to one of the shoulder straps.
I spent roughly a week with this bag, taking it on a short run and a four-hour day hike through the woods of Northern Michigan. For context when referencing sizes, I’m 6’3” (1.9 m) and weigh 190, give or take a few.
Before diving into my thoughts on the bag, it’s important to know that in my time as a photographer I’ve never been a big fan of small camera bags. I’m fairly fit and if having a backup or a few extra snacks means a little more weight, I’m more than content with bringing it along.
This is an important disclosure because this is the smallest camera backpack I’ve ever used (although smaller bags are in my review queue). The dimensions of the Photo Sport BP 300 AW II are 10.63”W x 9.45”D x 22.05”H (27 x 24 x 56 cm).
On Lowepro’s site, they advertise that the main camera compartment can house up to a full-frame DSLR (non-gripped) with a 16–35mm or 24–70mm lens attached, a 70–200mm lens, and a speedlight. My experience backs up this claim, as I was able to fit my un-gripped Canon 5D Mark III, 16–35mm f/2.8, 70–200mm f/2.8 IS and a 1.4x teleconverter in the bag.
The aforementioned UltraCinch technology in the bag might seem like nothing more than a marketing ploy, but in my time with the bag, it proved useful. It’s much more simple than having to worry about filling gaps in the gear compartment to keep things snug and pulling a single tab was far more efficient than having to deal with multiple buckets and straps.
As with a number of camera bags I’ve reviewed and a few more I have queued up, LowePro uses the pull-tab design for a number of its zippers, a convenient feature for when you have gloves on or are trying to open a compartment without looking. Partially coated in rubber, these pull-tabs are way to find and even easier to open a compartment with. Solid addition, as small as it may seem.
Another minute detail that stuck out to me was the use of an interesting buckle design on the chest strap of the bag. I don’t know if there’s even a name for it, but rather than pressing in on both sides, you apply pressure towards the direction you want to unbuckle it. In my experience, this design was more difficult to work with than a traditional buckle, but it could very well be because I’ve never seen anything like it.
The ActivZone suspension and padding design is another component of the bag that felt slightly gimmicky to me, but from what I could tell, the unique back padding design did, in fact, keep my back cooler than other bags I’ve reviewed. This could also be contributed to its smaller size, but I believe the padding design also played a roll.
Above the compartment where camera gear is stored is the more spacious and less padded main compartment. It uses a cinching design to keep closed and the folding flap of the bag to keep elements and would-be thieves out. The compartment held a surprising amount of gear; there was more than enough room for a 1L Nalgene water bottle, a light hoodie/jumper, an extra pair of socks and more. Inside of the compartment is a zippered pocket on the back, which is great for storing an external hard drive, cables and more.
On the flap of the bag is a small, easily accessible pocket, perfect for storing anything you’ll want quick access to, be it a snack, keys, wallet or more. More quick-access pockets can be found on the waist strap. I found those to be large enough to carry keys, cards and a Clif energy bar.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to use it, but the Photo Sport BP 300 AW II also comes with a rain cover, which creates a water-resistant shell around the bag that should keep your gear dry in most any precipitation.
Overall, the bag proved to be far more capable than initially expected. Its simple design disguises some unique features that make it a vast improvement over its already-respected predecessor.
Personally, the bag is a bit too small for my taste, but when looked at in the context of its intended demographic, the Photo Sport BP 300 AW II is a perfect bag that offers everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Lowepro also has a smaller version of the bag I reviewed, the Photo Sport BP 200 AW II. Similar in every regard, except for size, the Photo Sport BP 200 AW II is perfect for mirrorless owners who want the above features in an even smaller package.
If you have any questions about the Lowepro Photo Sport BP 300 AW II or my review, leave them in the comments below, and I’ll address them as soon as possible.