Finally, a Near-Perfect Camera Bag

After much excitement and anticipation, a few weeks ago I finally had a chance to pack up the new Tom Bihn Parental Unit “diaper bag” as a camera/day bag. I’ve been in search of the “perfect” camera bag which can also function as a travel/day bag for a long time, and the Parental Unit is as close as I’ve ever gotten.

I ordered my Steel/Ultraviolet Parental Unit with the Quick-Adjust Shoulder strap, and quickly realized that the immovable shoulder pad is not for me, even just carrying the bag around the house. Since the should strap attaches through links instead of clips, it was easy to replace with a different, temporary strap until I could acquire a standard shoulder strap for it, which I finished with my favorite Crumpler Shoulder Pad for comfort.

Although I prefer Tom Bihn’s Gray fabric over their Steel, the Steel is a nice dark color that looks good but won’t show the dirt and scuffs of everyday life. Combine that with a light Ultraviolet interior to make it easy to spot small random objects hiding in the bottom corners of the bag, and it’s a great color combo.

Whether empty, full, or half-packed, the bag stands up nicely on it’s own, and pockets hold open when un-zipped, making it easy to pack and un-pack the bag. Plenty of exterior pockets mean easy organization, and the ability to convert the center from one section to four is quite handy.

For today’s packing as a camera/day bag, I snapped the center compartment into four sections to keep things neatly organized. Small items like chapstick, Kleenex, and headphones went in the front outer pockets, for easy access during the commute. Packs of camera filters, spare battery, memory cards, and iPhone went in the back outer pockets, making them accessible but more secure from potential pick-pockets. In the main compartment, I was able to tuck my spare lens, re-usable grocery bag, and iPad mini into a single section. Wallet went into another section, followed by my work ID badge, glasses, mini mag lite, and nail file into a third section. That left one end section for my Canon dSLR, and it fit perfectly into the space. Due to the heavy ballistic fabric of the bag, I wasn’t afraid to carry the camera without a bulky camera insert to protect it.

Speaking of protection, even though the bag does not have Tom Bihn’s usual Aquaguard zippers, it was still more than enough protection against a rainy Seattle commute, and all my gear was still safe and dry after my walk to the office. The zippers are also noticeably easier to use than the standard Aquaguards, as well.

Prior to actually packing and using the bag, I had some concern that the Parental Unit would be both too small for my gear, and too large for someone of my small stature to carry comfortably. Happily, both those concerns failed to materialize, as the bag held everything I needed with room to spare and still looked reasonably slim and compact while doing it. My last worry was the lack of a dedicated grab handle, but I find that it’s quite easy to grab the bag by one of its “ears” at the shoulder strap attachment, and likely this is even more convenient than a grab handle would have been.

I only have two fairly minor nit-picks about the bag:

  1. Double zippers on the main center compartment would have been nice, so it could open from either end (or the middle!)
  2. Pen/Pencil slots in one of the many compartments would have been a nice addition; they’re useful for a lot more than just pens and pencils (like mini Mag lites and nail files)

While I’ll be going back to the Tom Bihn Synapse 19 backpack for my every day bag, the Parental Unit fits perfectly into the gap of a shoulder bag that can hold camera + essentials for a day out at home or on vacation.

The gorgeous Parental Unit, enjoying a few brief moments of Seattle sunshine:
Tom Bihn Parental Unit

Steel/Ultraviolet with custom cord zipper pulls:
Tom Bihn Parental Unit - Steel/UV

Packed for the day:
Tom Bihn Parental Unit - Packed

It can hold all this and more:
Tom Bihn Parental Unit - Contents

One more gratuitous glamour shot:
Tom Bihn Parental Unit - Fully Loaded