My goal for writing reviews is to be completely honest about my experience. I read a lot of great reviews of the Shootsac before buying it, and I’d say that they are mostly accurate. The Shootsac definitely fills a need – it allows you to easily carry lenses around on a shoot. But there are some things I wish I had known before purchasing it, even if I might have bought it anyway despite the flaws.
I wanted to fall in love with the Shootsac. Really, I did. When I saw it with its beautifully branded website, dizzying array of cover possibilities, and shiny silver accents, I was ready to adore it forever. After all, the Shootsac is a major part of the “cute photography bags” movement that has saved us from the world of fanny packs and photography vests. Nothing against packs and vests, they have their uses. But when I’m photographing stylish women in chic dresses, I don’t want to show up feeling like the Crocodile Hunter.
I expected a long and happy relationship with my Shootsac, which I ordered as soon as I moved to a multiple-lens setup. Once I got to know the Shootsac a little more though, the ardor cooled to a marriage of convenience. It’s still fun to be around, but it doesn’t make me want to kiss it goodnight and leave it love notes on the bathroom mirror.
Let’s take a closer look. I’ll start with the good qualities.
Let’s face it – the Shootsac is total arm candy. I mean, look at it:
With sleek lines, deliciously interchangeable covers, and a slim profile, I don’t think the market has anything better-looking to offer. My clients are full of compliments when they see it, and several have been disappointed that it was actually a lens bag, because they wanted one!
It’s Comfortable To Wear.
I’ve been using the Shootsac for over six months now. Once I’m lost in shooting I hardly notice it is there. For me, this was reason alone to buy it. I want to be thinking about my clients and my photos, not my gear. This is what it looks like when I’m wearing it, hanging on the side or in the back so it stays out of my way:
The three-pocket design for lenses is useful in that it curves around your body, even when lenses are in it. It’s ability to curve distinguishes it from other lens bags I’ve seen, and greatly adds to its comfort.
The shoulder strap is sewn onto the bag on one end and has a heavy-duty fastener so you can unhook the other end. This is handy because sometimes I carry a reflector with me. The reflector case has a loop on it, and I can slide the loop over the strap, fasten it, and carry it along with me hands-free. The reflector bounces around and isn’t the most convenient thing in the world, but at least it’s there.
There is a shoulder pad (which has to be purchased separately…eye roll…), that is squishy and comfortable to wear. When you’ve got heavier lenses in the bag, the pad is invaluable to keep the strap from digging into your shoulder. After all, it’s not a backpack – all the weight goes on one spot. If you’re going to buy a Shootsac, I’d pony up the ten extra bucks for the pad. Your shoulders will thank me later.
Economy of Design
There are three pockets in front for lenses, and three pockets in back for other things. Simple, straightforward, uncluttered. The only down side is that because all the pockets are exactly the same, occasionally I forget where I stuck something.
Because it’s so slim, when I travel I can roll it up and slide it in my ThinkTank camera bag (separate review upcoming on that product). When I get to my destination I can just unroll it and poof, there’s my second bag. As the name suggests, it’s a bag for shooting and not for lugging gear around, so it’s nice that it’s so economical with space and can pack nicely into a larger gear bag when you’re done.
I can’t speak to the long-term durability since I have only had it for half a year, I can say that it has held up very well thus far. The neoprene feels durable and snag-resistant, the cloth cover is holding up very nicely. Since it stays on your body while you’re shooting, it doesn’t really take a huge beating other than getting bounced around a bit.
UPDATE: I’ve had this for three years now, and it has held up well. I’ve taken good care of it, but the neoprene is intact, the cover is still nice.
Sounds like a great product, right? And I suppose it is. However, there are some non-trivial design issues that can leave you feeling pretty lukewarm. These don’t seem to get talked about much in the reviews, but they are small annoyances that can add up, and I feel they’re worth mentioning to anyone who is considering investing in a Shootsac.
The flap that covers the lenses is velcroed – not sewn – to the bag. (See image below.)
I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t want the flap sewn on the bag since there’s nothing else – no snaps, no enclosures – protecting the lens pockets. No way do I want my L glass to go uncovered while shooting, exposing it to dust, wind, moisture, etc.
UPDATE: I still wish there was a zipper option. During a shoot my gear stays protected but I never keep anything in there – I always have to have a second bag to transfer to after the shoot, which honestly is a little annoying but I don’t feel safe just setting the shootsac down to go home.
You may think the velcro thing is just a picky little detail, but it poses a major problem. The back pockets are very deep (same depth as the lens pockets), and because they are so snug, you have to stick your hand pretty deeply to get at your memory cards, batteries, keys, etc. This is a bit awkward to begin with, and stuff at the bottom is not sensibly accessible. At any rate, when you’re pulling your hand back out, the velcro that secures the flap always SCRATCHES the back of my hand, and I usually have red marks on my hand after the shoot. There’s no way around this because the velcro is sewn in, I can’t move it, and it’s the way the flap is attached. To me, this is a thoughtless and totally preventable design flaw. I try to carry smaller items in my jeans pockets to avoid getting mangled by the velcro, but why spend over two hundred bucks on a bag to not be able to carry everything in it without getting the skin scraped off of you?
The pockets in the back are each secured by a single snap at the top. The snap is clumsy because the neoprene is so squishy, so you have to find it and really press down to get it in securely. There is also a good 2.5 inches on either side of the snap that is left open even after it is snapped ‘shut’. This is plenty of space for anything you’d be carrying back there – keys, memory cards, batteries – to slip right out. If you look at the image below, you can see that with the snapped-shut pocket, the CF card still has plenty of room to sneak out:
Again, this seems totally preventable. A single pocket could have had a zipper. A mesh enclosure. At the very least some more velcro. On one hand it’s not typical that you’d turn the bag upside-down so that things would fall out, and the pockets are deep enough that it would not be a regular occurrence. But as a photographer, what is ultimately the worst thing in your bag to lose? THE MEMORY CARDS! Again, at two hundred bucks, this bag should have some feature that would be Ft. Knox for your memory cards. Something to give you peace of mind that after scraping the skin off of your hand, at the very least you’re secure in knowing that the memory card will stay put. I’m probably going to end up buying a ThinkTank Pixel Pocket Rocket to have more security.
Inconvenient Access to Lenses, After All
So you can carry your lenses around on a shoot – cool. The bag holds lenses pretty snugly, which is a good thing in some ways. But all my lenses have hoods on them and thus take a bit longer to pull out. When I put in my 85mm f/1.2 with its lens hood inside the bag (pictured below) it’s a particular pain to get out. It always feels a bit awkward when the client is standing there and I’m jerking the 85 out of my bag. I wish at least one of the pockets was a bit roomier.
The cover, while cute, can be a bit of a hassle. It is secured by velcro at the top but not the bottom. It’s unclear why it is only secured on one side and not the other. It stays on the bag, but flops around loose when you’re lifting or closing the cover or when it’s windy. I am tempted to use a safety pin or add more velcro onto the bottom of the cover, but I don’t want to ruin the bag in any way by poking it or snagging it with the wrong velcro. For two hundred bucks, this is a silly problem to have.
UPDATE: Not long after leaving this review, I was told the idea was that the back of the flap is soft cloth for lens cleaning. Although I like this idea, I don’t really use it for that purpose.
Because it flaps around, it does sometimes get dust and particles from the surroundings environment on it. And it’s thick enough that if you’ve got a lens hood on, it doesn’t do a great job. I keep a small, thin microfiber cloth inside the shootsac that does a better job. I still wish it had a snap at the bottom – if you wanted to use it for cleaning during a shoot you could just unsnap beforehand.
Value for Your Money
I’ve already alluded to this throughout the post, but ultimately I don’t think the Shootsac gives you great value for your money. Now don’t get me wrong, I will pay through the nose to get good quality, or even just a brand I like. I’m not a bargain shopper at heart. I buy what gets the job done – period. I won’t speculate on markups and manufacturing costs, but I will say that for the price you pay, there are some pretty significant flaws. You also have to purchase two integral things – the shoulder pad and the cover – separately. I can live with buying the cover separately, but why would you want a shoulder bag designed for carrying heavy items without some kind of padding on the shoulder strap? It should really come standard, even if they do have to add ten bucks to the price. It’s the kind of pesky thing that you shouldn’t have to deal with when you shell out that kind of cash.
I bought an amazingly-constructed, high quality, durable ThinkTank camera bag that included a heavy-duty laptop case for the same price as a Shootsac. ThinkTank thought of everything, made a place for everything, and made it comfortable to wear. Shootsac made a good-looking product that’s wearable, but its design does not seem well thought out. Which baffles me, because the designer is a well-known photographer whom I respect. With just a few tweaks it could be awesome, but as is, it’s just okay.
In terms of the materials, it is a very well-made product that will probably last a long time. It’s comfortable to wear, and enables you to focus on what you’re shooting. These are solid reasons to buy it. But the design has plenty of room for improvement. Between scratched arms and unsecured items, it doesn’t give me the peace of mind that I wish it did, and that I think the customer paying this price deserves.
UPDATE: I still use my Shootsac three years later, but I have also recently purchased a Kelly Moore Songbird (Amazon affiliate link) bag. I love the look and it doubles as a purse. This bag prevents anything from falling out (zippered enclosures), and it stands up on its own. I can’t speak to durability yet, but I do suspect the neoprene on the shootsac may hold up better long-term than whatever faux leather Kelly Moore uses. However I used the Songbird for 17 days straight traveling around Europe and it still looks new. I suspect it will slowly replace my Shootsac.