Part I: Initial Love
To start this review, I would like to first thank everyone at Tom Bihn for making fantastic, amazing products. I would especially like to thank Darcy for her help and fantastic customer support in getting me the Camera Insert before my trip and before it was officially released.
I am very impressed by the design features of the insert. The exterior has the TB logo on the outside, which is a nice cosmetic addition. The inside of the insert is a nice light grey, which does help with seeing what is inside of the insert. The insert is rather large, being about 12 inches tall and maybe 14-15 inches wide. It is deep enough for me to put my D7000 inside of it with a lens attached with only minimal bowing out of the insert.
Continuing on with design—my camera insert came with 4 insert organizer pieces. For lack of a better way to describe them, there are two large and two small organizer insert pieces. The large ones, generally speaking can be used to divide the organizer all the way to the bottom. They also can be used to make the insert not as deep—it works out really great for my camera putting it into the insert lens down. Tom also designed the large pieces to handle putting your camera in that way, with the bottom of the large inserts being narrower than the top. The two small organizer inserts are the same size of the depth of the bag and can be using to keep things up off the bottom of the bag. It should be added that all of the organizer inserts seem to be made of the grey cordera nylon and are padded.
Another pretty neat feature that Tom designed was the removable flaps for the top. If you’re using it as a true insert inside of a larger bag, you can simply take off the top and have easy access. I was also glad that the insert uses the same handles at the Cadet. I like those very much.
For me, I think the insert will work out pretty well. It is a little big for my application, but I do not own any large lenses (yet!) like the Nikon 70-200 2.8 VR II or a Canon 70-200L 2.8. These large lenses would fit inside of the insert with no problem.
At first, I was a bit concerned with making sure the Velcro would be able to hold my camera up off the bottom of the insert. However a day in, it sure seems fine so far. I haven’t had a real chance to road test it yet—that’ll come when I head out to Arizona.
TL;DR: Tom once again develops an outstanding product with super attention to details. (Big surprise, amirite?)
Part II: An Air Test—a Testament to Tom Bihn Products
Spoiler: This section contains little information on the Camera Insert, see the next section for that info. If you’re a general Tom Bihn Fanatic, this information might be interesting to you.
This is my second trip I’ve taken with my Tom Bihn gear. I picked up my Super Ego shortly after my spring break trip to the Phoenix area last March and purchased an Aeronaut this past fall. In December when I came out to Phoenix, I used my Super Ego and my Aeronaut with great success. This time around, however, I had the wonderful new Camera Insert to pack into my bags. The problem I ran into was deciding how I was going to pack everything. As I stated before, the Camera Insert is a bit big for what my camera setup requires. If it went inside of my Super Ego, I knew that it would limit the amount of legroom I had on the airplane, as the SE would be in front of me beneath the seat. So I decided to pack it into my Aeronaut.
Want to know what’s great? It fits into the main compartment of my Aeronaut without a problem. Since it is padded from all sides, I didn’t fear for my camera, as it is pretty structurally solid. Best part? I had room in there to pack another 4 pairs of shorts (2 khaki, 1 jean, 1 exercise) along with 4 shirts (3 polo, 1 button up short sleeve, along with my 311 bag and a medium organizer pouch all in the main compartment of my bag. This also by NO MEANS bulged into my side compartments. Those were filled with their own goodies (socks and boxers in one, rolled up t-shirts in the other)
Since it was a night flight, I knew I wouldn’t have any reason to have my camera out, so the Camera Insert performed greatly in my Aeronaut. I really couldn’t have been happier.
TL;DR: The Camera Insert works like a champ in a variety of Tom Bihn bags.
Part III: A Road Trip
I will admit—when the Camera Insert was announced, I had every intention of using it as your standard, insert-within-a-bag-type-camera-insert. My Super Ego has pretty much been my carrying bag of choice when it comes to hauling my camera around. So coming up to today’s (March, 19) little endeavor: a “day” trip from Sun City, Arizona to Hoover Dam, at the Nevada/Arizona border. A lovely 4 hour each way day trip.
So I pack the essentials in my Super Ego: my Camera Insert with gear in it, my iPad (for post picture taking viewing on the way home, and my 13” Macbook Air (because…well I’m a bit of a nerd.) We leave at the wee early hours in the morning, and start to head up to that area on highway 93. The four of us (my sister and grandparents) pack into their little Camry and start to head up to the Dam. As it turns out, a Toyota Camry isn’t setup for having the front seat forward a lot with a larger sized individual in it. Solution? I pull out my Camera Insert, keeping that in the front seat with me, and put the Super Ego with the reminder of my equipment in the trunk. Problem solved! I was able to take many pictures of the snow on the ground. (Yes, I am bitter that while I was in Arizona the weather as in the low 40’s in the morning and 50’s at midday while the weather at home in Wisconsin was in the 80’s.) ((Double Aside: Weather in the mountains generally isn’t nice))
When we eventually arrived at the Hoover Dam, we decided it would be an exceptionally awesome idea to go out onto the pedestrian part of the new Pat Tillman Bridge and take pictures looking back onto the Hoover Dam. I didn’t want to take my Super Ego loaded with my computing devices—so I just took the Insert as a stand alone with an Absolute Strap attached (the Absolute Strap is probably overkill—the standard strap that comes with the Ristretto or Cadet would work great for this.)
After the lovely time taking pictures on the bridge that is an absurdly high over the Colorado River (around 900 feet above the water,) we went down to the Dam area. As it turns out, there is in fact a bag size limit posted near the parking lots. This got me sort of worried, as the Camera Insert was only slightly bigger than it –but then I saw a guy coming out of the tour with a backpack on. Still—I chose just to use the Camera Insert to bypass any issues.
The result: I was able to take about 400 pictures with relative ease and not having a huge weight on my back, all while having my camera equipment protected and with me.
TL;DR: The Camera Insert does in fact work quite well as a stand alone bag.
Part IV: Final thoughts, etc.
I first off need to reiterate how grateful I am for Darcy being amazing and allowing me to purchase the Camera Insert ahead of its release. Your product helped to make my trip a more enjoyable experience. Thank you.
The Camera Insert went with me up to the Grand Canyon. This time I chose to have it stay protected inside of my emptyish Super Ego, as it had snowed a few days prior and it was overall pretty muddy. I’m not going to go super in-depth here, as most of the greatly points with the Camera Insert were made in the Hoover trip section. That being said, for the time I spent at the Canyon, my Camera Insert had its top flaps removed, (thank you Tom for making that a design feature—it’s great!) I had no issues reaching into my bag to pick out a different lens or my flash for when I needed it.
I also used the Insert by itself at a spring training game. One of the guards told me my bag was “interesting.” I guess I’ll take that as a compliment. I returned the favor by trespassing on their decorations for a photo shoot!
Going back to when I first received the Camera Insert, I was a bit worried at how well the dividers would stay in place with their Velcro. Result? Not a problem. Works perfectly.
All and all, I think the Camera Insert is another great Tom Bihn product. Tom once again has changed a practical item and made it into an exceptional item. For most people with dSLR’s, the insert will give them room to expand their camera setup; for others it might be a tad bit big for them. It all depends on what you need to carry with you. I’m exceptionally happy that I ordered mine, and even more so happy with everyone at Tom Bihn for being amazing.
Photo: Camera Insert inside of my Aeronaut
Photo: Shot from the front seat of a fast moving car.
Pictures: Insert on the Bridge
Picture of Bridge from Hoover Dam
Picture: Insert in active use
Picture: CI + SE
Once again, a major THANK YOU to Darcy, and everyone at Tom Bihn!