I’ve been wanting to look at an ONA Bag for a while. Call me a sheep, but after listening people whine incessantly about how much like they love their ONA’s has been extremely annoying. Part of me is inquisitive to understand what all the fuss is about (the other part of me wants to tell them to stop whining).
ONA recently released a smaller bag called the ONA Bond. It’s a small street bag, smaller than the Retrospective 5 which is what I currently use. It seemed like a nice option as a single camera bag for days I’m taking my Sony A7 with a 35mmF/2.8 and an 85mmF/1.8 without a strap. To date I’ve got through with some ThinkTank Retrospective bags, and I’ve been happy with them, but I’ve wanted a leather bag for some time and it was the antique cognac that tempted me (along with a review from a fellow photographer – thanks Greg). It also seemed like a good excuse for GAS, you can never have too many bags after all, or at least that’s what my wife says although I’m not sure she meant the same thing.
The challenge with going into a camera store is they carry the whole range of bags and this creates a level of indecisiveness. It’s the feeding frenzy phenomenon that sharks go through with the smell of bloody, except mine seems to work with leather. If they just had one bag, you’d go “hell, that’s great” and you’d walk out happy, but life isn’t that simple. When I started comparing the sizes of the models, I started to realise the price difference between the Bowery and Bond was so small that I had to question why I wouldn’t just get the Bowery. The other issue with the Bond, is that the bag shape it looks like a handbag (which Greg also mentioned), and as much as I am not homophobic, living in a family of 3 females has forced me to a point where I have to find all the masculinity I can get – that’s what happens when you find yourself as a man dressed in a Elsa dress because you don’t have the heart to turn down a 4 yr old.
Great, so I just get the Bowery, walk out and problem solved? Not so easy…when I started looking at the Bowery, I realised if I’m going to get a bag for a body and a lens, then I might as well look at Prince because it’s still small but a little more flexible…then I started to realise that the Prince was just a little large to be small carry around bag. I’m not sure if you get where this is going, but what started as a Ona Bond purchase ended up with the purchase of a Prince, and the intention to go back and get a Bowery at some point in future when I sell my body on the street for enough to buy one. At this point I’ve only received $1.80 which may be a clear indication of the value of my body or a failure in my body selling marketing strategy. Note to self: Avoiding walking into stores that carry leather camera bags in future.
Now after the longest intro in the history of camera bag reviews, let’s get onto the review. If you’re bored already, I understand.
Most bags come in cheap plastic bags, with ONA they try to put a little bit of effort into it by making it an experience. They put the bag inside a nice material bag, the purpose of which I am yet to discover as anyone who puts this bag in a cupboard after buying it probably needs to get some therapy. Making the whole experience of opening the bag “special” is probably to distract you from the fact that you won’t be able to pay the rent after buying one of these. Maybe you can use the bag cover as a sleeping bag after your landlord kicks you out. Okay, I get it, it’s a nice touch and does start off the process well and I appreciate the effort ONA put into it. I feel special, thanks ONA…now does anyone want to buy a tiny ONA branded sleeping bag for $200?
Quality and construction
Some people say with ONA, you’re paying for the brand name, others say you’re paying for the quality. What do I think? A little of both. The ONA bags definitely top out on the construction front. No chemical smells, it’s a thick bag with good quality leather, good quality stitching, the buckles and clips are great, overall there isn’t much to complain about. There is nothing cheap and nasty about this bag other than receipt paper that came with your bag. Even the little card you get inside the bag that says “Thank you for selling your soul to buy one of our bags” is made of really nice cardboard.
The interior padding is great, soft, plenty of padding and not the rougher nylon you get with most bags. With the leather version, you get a leather shoulder strap with good padding, instead of the seatbelt material that the non-leather bags come with. The strap is nicely padded to allow for hours of walking around with heavy gear (or no gear if you can’t afford any after buying the bag).
They don’t mentioned whether the leather has been fully weather proofed, but I don’t think this is the type of bag you want to be dragging out in a torrential downpour. If you live in a wet weather climate, or plan to go on Safari somewhere with heavy rain like the Amazon, the waxed canvass bag might be the better option.
Value for money
I’m not going to beat around the bush here. The leather bag is horrendously expensive, I’ll leave you to look up pricing based on your local region, but when you start to do the numbers in comparison to the canvass versions, the costs of the leather bag do make sense. The thick strap is also leather instead of the seatbelt material, so you’re paying for a completely leather bag, a leather strap etc. Whilst the difference is justified, I still do think you’re paying for the name to some degree, maybe about a 10%-15% premium.
Looking around, I couldn’t find many alternatives that cater for the premium market. They have a market they are targeting in this space and I think it’s a smart move, because people will pay for premium goods. I see this as targeting the high end, Sony users with more money than sense, Leica users (all Leica users have more money than sense), lottery winners, owners of Facebook, bank robbers who haven’t been caught yet, politicians who haven’t been caught, etc.
We know the quality is very good. All of that is pretty useless if the bag doesn’t actually work. With ONA, it has everything it needs to be a good bag in a minimalist sort of way. You have pockets, dividers and buckles and the inside of the bag is nicely padded. If you want to throw in a camera and some lenses, it hits the mark. Where it falls down a little, is the small touches like a business card sleeve or other small pockets that are missing and there are no zipped down locations to store anything that you may want to lock down in case you are leaving the bag open while you walk around. I understand the minimalist approach but having some level of subdivision on the front leather pockets would have been good, or even a small zipped compartment to make sure one or two things don’t go missing in the abyss of the camera bag.
In conjunction to this, due to the depth of the bag, it would have been great to have longer dividers with the flexibility to bend them over like the Peak Design Flexifold Dividers. Obviously there could be some patent issues, but even a single divider with some level of flexibility to bend over would have been great addition to this bag and I will probably order one from Peak design for added flexibility in my bag. Without that, I feel you lose out on a bit of space in the bag because you don’t have the ability to stack small mirrorless lenses in a bag that is quite deep.
This photo shows the depth of the bag with a 90mmF2 and a 35F2. The 90 is flush with the top of the dividers but you still have the depth on top to fit a camera body whilst you could probably stack a 35F2 and a 23F2
Overall, I think most people will be happy. It’s the kind of bag you have to accept as a no-compromises quality bag, not an innovation tech bag with bells and whistles. I accept both views and perspective, and those who are the more tech orientated may be more comfortable with something like a Peak Design.
The ONA Prince (AKA “The Prince of Darkness” which represents your partner’s mood when he/she finds out what you just spent on a camera bag) is the Aston Martin camera bags, with the minor exception that my wife couldn’t care less about this, and she would love an Aston Martin. Her priorities aside, like the Aston, the Prince has space for the kids (lenses) and you can fit two bodies with 2 spare lenses, or one body with 4-6 lenses depending on whether you stack, if we’re talking about Fuji X gear of course. Technically, it will fit a Fuji X-T2 with battery grip and 50-140 which is a sizeable lens, but you would have to remove the iPad sleeve and forego any contents in the front pocket for the battery grip to work. I don’t think works that well so in short, yes it will work but it’s a bad idea, and probably not the right bag for it. The picture below shows everything I could fit into the bag, with the exception of my X100 which was used for the photo.
In the bag, the 50-140 sits a little high attached to the body, but it still closes without any problems. You may have some issues with lenses depending on the thickness of the lenses. I.e. Some of the wider lenses like the 16-55 might be a tighter fit than the 50mmF2.
The front pockets are large enough for a flash (TT350F) or an X100. It fits with the X100 Fuji case but the strap would be a problem as can be seen from the photos so it would be better without a strap or case. This gives you the flexibility to run 3 bodies if you have two in the bag and the X100 in the front pocket. If you run your X100 with a removable strap like the Tap & Dye, this will probably work well.
Having got rid of my DSLR when I joined the Fuji clan, someone recommended I print a lifesize replica of a DSLR to gauge sizing.
As you can see from my experiment, I would have no problem fitting at least a hundred full size DSLR’s in the bag if that helps the DSLR users. Okay, before you send DSLR hate mail, it’s a weak attempt at humour , and to be completely honest, there are so many websites dedicated to DSLR cameras, I couldn’t care less how your cameras fit into the bag. (If the Nikon to Fuji switchers guide didn’t give you that hint, maybe this will).
What can we say about the ONA Prince that already hasn’t been said? Great quality? Yes Overpriced? Maybe. It’s an amazing bag and if you can afford the price tag, I’d highly recommend it. If you want leather, there aren’t many options that provide full leather bags with the insert quality offered by the ONA. If you want the ONA quality but can’t afford the price tag, they offer both a Waxed Canvass version which is more reasonably priced and probably better suited for bad weather where you might cringe taking the leather version out.
I’ve joked about the pricing a bit through the review, but in all honesty, I still see this as reasonable from a value for money perspective, in the same way that I am prepared to pay more for a Macbook. There are some that argue you can get better performance from other laptops for a lower price, but ultimately, it’s the sleek lines, quality construction, great aesthetics you are paying more for, rather than “just another camera bag”. Time will tell whether it has the durability to justify the price tag, and that’s where I may have to update the article long term, but like the leather backpack I bought from Pad & Quill, I see this last 10+ years and the great thing with leather, it looks better with age as it add character to the bag.