Breaking Down the Lowepro Fastpack 350 (PLUS VIDEO)

Categories: Tech Talk Reviews Misc

By Mike Zawadzki, Technical Consultant
For the longest time, I wanted nothing to do with camera backpacks.  To me, they looked geeky and I couldn't imagine fitting all of my stuff in a tiny tube-looking sack.  Plus, who wants to look like they're in high school again?
I already had a couple bags that fit my needs, but I always felt like I was either compromising my creative controls by packing less or compromising my back by jamming a ton of stuff into a giant shoulder bag.  Additionally, I tried a big roller bag which worked nicely for certain situations, but as a landscape photographer, I like to be able to hike around a bit.  And while my roller is pretty durable, it hardly ever made it out of the hatch of my SUV if I planned on doing some walking.
After working in the showroom here at Unique Photo for a few weeks, I began to learn more than any one person would ever want to know about camera bags.  Even though I was still skeptical, my interest was piqued after showing the Lowepro Fastpack 100 to a customer.  It seemed like a nice layout and design, but it was too darn small!  When I pack my camera gear, I always purposely over pack my stuff.  I want to bring as much as I can.  And yes, I still love to shoot on either medium (6x7cm) or large format (4x5in) film. So for me, having space for another rather large film camera in addition to my Nikon D700 DSLR is a necessity.  After much head-scratching, strap adjusting, and nagging of my colleagues, I decided to purchase the Lowepro Fastpack 350 (Photo courtesy of Lowepro).  Everything fits nice and tidy, but I seriously doubt they had a weirdo like myself in mind (who still uses that old fashioned film stuff!) when they designed this bag.  

So let's see how it did fitting my gear.   
You may want to grab some popcorn and a drink, the video is around six minutes, but trust me, if you want to see every compartment of the Fastpack 350 and see exactly what fits, watch the whole thing.
Despite this being my very first video for the Unique Photo blog, the bag held up nicely when filling it with all of my stuff.  Additionally, I thought it would be neat if I showed you close-ups of the bag in stills with some sample gear.  So let's take a closer look.
Click any image on the page to view a larger size.
Here is a front view of the bag.  What I liked immediately is that it didn't have a million strings and zippers popping out all over the place.  Turning the bag around was a different story.  I wasn't thrilled to find both a waist level strap and chest strap that buckle.  Personally, I doubt I will ever use either of these features, but then again, I am not a serious hiker; I could see how these straps would aid someone on a long trek across rocky terrain.  All of the straps on the bag are nicely padded and very sturdy.  Furthermore, they can be adjusted to be small enough to fit a child, or large enough to fit someone larger than myself (and let's just say I am not about to be featured in any tight fit jeans advertisements). 
Upon turning the bag on its side, we can see that there is a laptop slot.  While I usually don't bring my laptop on an excursion, I know many pro photographers and photo-journalists who do.  There is plenty of padding and space to comfortably fit a 17" wide screen laptop in here, as  I've demonstrated in the video.  If you'd rather not bring a laptop with you, this space could also be used to store a notebook or an item you can fold, such as a poncho or focusing cloth for a large format view camera (if you're a real warrior).
On the other side, there is a mesh net pouch with an adjustable strap.  This space seems like a good fit for a medium to large sized thermos or water bottle.  Again, I'll probably find a way to misuse it for a light meter or something, but that's what I really enjoyed about this bag so far: all of the spaces can be utilized in a variety of ways they probably weren't intended for.
Here, we can see there are also a couple small accessory pouches.  The one on the lop of the bag (left) would be a nice place for a map or other paper documents.  There isn't much padding here, so I wouldn't recommend putting anything in there that couldn't handle an impact.
Under the buckled flap on the front, there is yet another pouch with two mesh net holders.  Ideally, this looks like a good spot to put your filters, but it could easily double as a spot for another accessory, such as filter gels, a small light meter, or a compass.
The top compartment unzips to reveal a tremendous amount of space and flexibility.  Well, it's not that a pouch for my lunch is extremely versatile, but the amount of space is really nice.  The amount of padding is decent and in the video above you can see that I fit a Bronica 6x7 medium format in here with ease!  If you rolled them up nice and tight, you could fit a change of clothes in here as well.  There are a few more pouches and slots for pens or small screwdrivers.  In addition, there is a nice little zip pouch that I usually use to hold my rolls of film.
So now it's time for the fitting test.
Here is my choice of gear that I am going to fit into the Lowepro Fastpack 350.  
  1. Canon EOS 7D Camera
  2. Canon Speedlite 430EXII Flash
  3. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS  
  4. Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L
  5. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L
  6. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L
  7. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L macro
Unzipping the main camera compartment bag reveals ample space, but it looks like it will be a tight fit.  Typical of bags in this style, the Fastpack 350 has plenty of padding and adjustability in its dividers.  There is also an additional two pouches at the top of the compartment for extra memory cards; both CF and SD cards will fit here.  You can never have too much backup when it comes to memory cards.  It's just like bringing extra film.
As you can see, all of the lenses fit perfectly into the bag.  The fit is tight, but in a good way.  I have absolute confidence that this bag is going to protect the camera and lenses.  Removing one velcro adjustable divider and repositioning it above the 70-200 f/2.8L IS lens allows me to place the 430EXII Flash right on top for easy access and solid protection.
The last feature on the Lowepro Fastpack 350 that I'm going to cover is the on-the-move accessibility.  When zipping up the main compartment, you should close each one evenly so that they meet in the center (I also demonstrate how to do this in the video).  Ultimately, this allows for fast and easy on-the-go shooting.  The closed, dual-buckled flap on the front of the bag won't allow the zippers to move past a "safe" point, meaning when you take your camera out on the fly, none of your other gear (such as those fabulous L series lenses) will come flying out of the bag like 4th of July Fireworks.  If you were packing all of the lenses that I demonstrated above, this could also be called stroke/heart attack prevention.
For some people, this is way too much stuff and the bag itself without any packed items weighs around 4lbs.  So if you have a smaller SLR, maybe you'll want to check out a Fastpack 100 or 250. Some other brands claim to have better weather-sealing and "toughness", but unless you are going into the rain forest, I wouldn't worry about it.  This bag has really thick padding on its main compartment and unless you jump into a pool like an idiot, your stuff won't get wet.  If you're on a sinking ship, you're probably going to want to worry about other things first, such as your life.  But if you're like me, you would probably grab your camera gear before your children (considering I don't have any).
I have been really happy with my Lowepro Fastpack 350 so far.  If you've read the rest of the article and watched the video, you can probably tell what kind of a photographer I am and what my demands are from a bag.  If you feel that you'd be carrying a similar amount of gear with a need for mobility, I highly recommend this bag.
That's all for now.  Check back soon for an extensive hands on review of the Canon EOS 7D from a Nikon shooter's perspective and for some exciting interviews.
Please leave comments!  I want to hear from you!  I know a lot of people are viewing this page, but I want you speak up.  Go ahead bash, praise, or critique me, I appreciate all of it. -MZ