As I’ve said before, more than once, I’m a big fan of the wonderful camera bags made by M. Billingham & Co here in the West Midlands not far from where I live. Their bags are not only good looking and stylish they are incredibly durable and long lasting. My original bag, a Hadley Pro, was purchased in 2006 and is still going strong. I use it either to carry my portrait kit when travelling to a shoot or as a messenger style shoulder bag, to carry a laptop (and small camera) when travelling around on business, by removing the protective insert. I also own the Hadley Large which I use to store/carry all my gear.
The Hadley series is one the original range of bags made by Billingham and as well as the original Pro and Large they also make the Digital, Large Pro and Small. I used to own the Digital as well but, although a great bag, found it a bit too small to be useful when out and about. Even if carrying just one camera I like a bit more room to carry additional ‘stuff’. I’d looked at the Small as an alternative but always wished it had a carrying handle which is quite useful when you’re travelling with others cases or a backpack and need to not always have a shoulder bag as well.
When visiting this years Photography Show at the NEC I was pleased to see that someone in Billingham must have been having similar thoughts as they had just released the Small in a Pro format with a carrying handle as well as a few other new features.
Other differences from the original Hadley Small are that the shoulder strap is now detachable, which presumably means is replaceable (not that any of the straps on my other bags show any signs of wearing out any time soon).
Two other additions are that on the back there is now a document pocket with a waterproof zip (a clever plastic film that covers the zip and peels nicely away as you open it). There is also a strap for fitting over the handle of a wheelie case so if you find yourself whizzing around an airport and don’t want your bag falling off your shoulder you now have another way of securing it.
The new Small Pro bag has the same two adjustable front pockets as the original Small which are secured with brass studs (no velcro anywhere on this bag). The studs are heavy duty and feel really secure making them safe from potential pickpockets as you’re walking around with the bag. The bag also has the traditional Hadley removable padded insert. The insert comes with two vertical and two horizontal dividers though shown here are just one vertical/horizontal pair.
There were a couple of reasons why I wanted this bag. First off because I wanted something a bit bigger than the Digital so I could carry my Olympus OM-D with the M.ZUIKO 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO fitted as well as one other (shown here the M.ZUIKO 45mm f/1.2 PRO). The bag holds these snugly with the single vertical and horizontal divider as shown below. The OM-D fits either lens down or on its size, albeit minus the battery grip but that’s fine as that does make the camera a bit more obvious if you are using it for street work.
I also wanted something for my street photography which was small and discreet so the colour was important. Billingham make some amazing (and luminous) colours for their bags but for street work discreet and restrained are what you need so a black bag is more the order of the day. The Small Pro is available with black leather trim but I opted for the black and tan leather in the end as I decided it gave a nice mix of style and discreetness.
In use the bag is everything you would expect from a Billingham. It’s tough and weather resistant (the latter not tested yet as we have actually had sun and no rain here in the UK for the last week) as well as very light to carry (the bag itself weighs just under 1Kg). Although you could load this bag up with quite a lot of kit it’s not something I plan to do as I don’t want the extra weight or bulk when out on the streets for a long period of time. The padding in the bag is also excellent, really protecting your kit and the adjustable dividers mean you have lots of options for configuring the bag for your own needs.
As with all canvas strap bags if you are wearing the wrong type of jacket it does have a tendency to slip off your shoulder but that’s easily fixed by adding the optional shoulder pad or wearing the bag across your chest. The additional features of carrying handle and back pocket are useful and well designed and a good incremental addition to an already nice looking bag.
If you like this style of canvas, shoulder bag with a slightly retro look and feel there really is not a lot to dislike about it. The bag is not cheap (£200 from the Billingham web site inclusive of UPS delivery) but as I say it’s incredibly strong and durable and will pretty much last forever I suspect. Definitely worth a look if you’re in the market for a nice compact ‘street’ bag that won’t let you down come rain or shine and give many years of service.
Update: 16th April 2022
It’s been four years since I posted this review and my Hadley Small Pro is still going strong. Indeed I am sitting here with it now as I write this, about to go out and do some street photography using it to carry my gear. I was prompted to write this having seen the new website that Billingham have just announced and saw they still had the link to this review. For another later review of this bag you might also want to check out this later post.