I am a huge fan of M Billingham & Co camera bags. Billingham is a family business based in the Black Country area of the West Midlands, not far from where I live. I love the fact that a local company makes such great quality products that seem to last for years and are superbly functional and practical as well.
Over the years I’ve acquired a number of their bags but my two favourites are the Hadley Pro and Hadley Small Pro. The Hadley Pro was the first Billingham bag I purchased, back in 2006, and it’s still going strong. Whilst, a bit like me, it is showing its age, the bag is still as strong and functional as ever and will, I’m sure, keep going for a good few years to come.
I’ve recently been looking for a small, lightweight bag that could hold a fixed lens compact or mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera, together with essentials such as phone, wallet, notebook and pen, that I could carry with me all day without really noticing it being there. Luckily for me Billingham held a sale over Easter so my eye was drawn to their Stowaway bags (of which there are three, the Compact, Airline and Pola). The Airline seemed to offer the best combination of internal sizes for me (W150mm x D65mm x H240mm) so that is the one I went for.
You can find all the other specs and colours on the bags page of their website so I won’t repeat those here other than saying I opted for the Black Canvas/Tan Leather colour combination. If you’re anything like me what is most of interest in a review such as this is what the bag is capable of holding and how it handles. Durability is obviously also important but in this case a) I’ve only had the bag just over a week and b) as stated already there is absolutely no issue with the durability of these bags. So let’s get down to practicalities.
As well as the internal space the bag features no less than six (yes, that’s SIX) additional storage compartments. There are two side pockets where you can slip pens, memory cards or maybe a Cuban cigar or two. At the back there is another pocket pretty much the width and height of the bag which would easily hold a Moleskine Classic (140mm x 90mm) type notebook. Down one side at the front there is another zipped compartment also big enough for a notebook or mobile phone etc. At the front of the bag is a flap attached by a leather strap. Opening this reveals the fifth pocket which is almost the width of the bag and three-quarters of its height. Finally the flap itself has another zipped pocket which could take a Bellroy type billfold or maybe a pack of Post-its should you be the sort that like writing and sticking these notes whilst you’re on your travels. You can see most of these pockets in the following series of images.
Whilst the Stowaway is clearly good at carrying all these essentials let’s get to the main business of the day which is how good is it for carrying a camera?
The short answer, for me, is very good indeed. I really bought this to carry my Fujifilm X100F and it stores this in the main compartment with room to spare and without pushing out the bag at all. You can also fit an average sized paperback book as well as, and get this, an iPad mini! See images below containing all the bits and pieces I have mentioned apart from the iPad mini (well, and the cigar).
Although it’s not shown, take it from me that a book, iPad mini and X100F all do fit with only slight expansion of the bag. The only thing you need to watch out for is that there is no internal slip pocket in the bag so the camera and iPad will be rubbing against each other. Best to get a cover on the iPad therefore if you intend to carry these together.
I was pleasantly surprised that the Fujifilm X-T3/X-T4 camera with a slim lens like the Fujinon XF35mm F2, also fits (although also carrying the book or iPad would make the bag a bit too bulky for my liking).
Finally, the bag features a removable strap which attaches by secure folding leather buckles to two D-rings. If you remove the strap then you have the option of attaching the bag, via the two straps at the back, to your belt.
Finally, finally Billingham include a nice little drawstring bag designed to protect your actual bag from getting dusty while in storage (which apparently some people use to carry clothes in while going on holiday, though for this size bag you’d only fit a few pairs of socks).
As you will have deduced by now I am a complete Billingham fanboy and find it very difficult to have anything bad to say about any of their products. As far as I am concerned they make the best camera shoulder bags bar none! I also cannot emphasise enough just how well made and durable they are. This is British craftsmanship at its absolute finest and although not the cheapest of bags, you definitely get what you pay for with Billingham and these bags will give you not just years but decades of service. I’m tempted to add “if you look after them” but to be honest you don’t really have to do that as they are just so tough.
Do I have anything bad to say, not really. The only thing I might say is missing is an internal slip pocket where you could keep a small tablet but to be honest, that would be the cherry on the icing which is on top of an already very nice cake.
Because of our present lockdown situation I’ve not taken this bag out other than for relatively short walks so far but during those times, with the above kit being carried, it hardly seems to be there.
This is another great bag from Billingham and one I’m pretty sure is going to give me great service as well as enabling me to always carry a decent camera with me.