Tamrac Evolution 9 Review

BBA (Bag Buying Addiction) is the lesser known but equally debilitating cousin to LBA (Lens Buying Addiction) that every photographer suffers from at some stage in their life, just as you can always find a reason to buy yet another lens, there is always a reason to buy yet another camera bag, for me the reason that I bought the Tamrac Evolution 9 (Model 5789) was ‘I have too many camera bags!’

Let me explain! Just before I bought this my collection of bags consisted of :-

1. Tamrac Expedition 9X

2. Tamrac Expedition 8X

3. Lowepro Fastpack 350

4. Kata 3in1 30

The Expedition 9x is the main bag that carries the F* 250-600mm lens so it’s purpose is well defined and earns it’s place in the kit list.

The Expedition 8X was already owned before the large lens and was bought to carry as much kit as possible including my 17″ MacBook Pro.

The Fastpack 350 was my everyday bag to take laptop and camera to work and back.

The Kata 3in1 was originally bought for it’s aircraft use to go on honeymoon and also for when only a light kit or sling use was needed.

So, 1 bag to replace 3? Does it make sense? Well it certainly seems to, let me explain! Since the purchase of the F* 250-600mm at the end of 2010 and very recently the addition of an A* 200mm F4 Macro our collection of lenses has dwindled quite dramatically to fund the new arrivals.

A total of 7 lenses have been replaced with just the 2 ! This obviously changed what was needed from the carrying solution and I had always liked the look of the Evolution 8, Tamrac bags just do seem to ooze quality and the brown one had an appeal!

The Evolution 8 was never an option though for one main reason, the laptop didn’t fit! One inch taller and I would have bought one ages ago!

The Evolution 9…

Enter the Evolution 9, exactly the same as it’s smaller family member, just bigger! Laptop fits easily (so does the 250-600 but more of that later) and because of the size, all of our remaining lenses (except the 250-600!) fit along with 2 gripped bodies and flashguns.

So 3 bags replaced, the all in one bag, the laptop bag and the lighter use bag (just remove the laptop!).

Some of the best features of the other bags are there too.

The strap management from the Kata as an example where unused straps can be tucked away, (the waist straps also in these pics) allowing the bag to be set up to sling either to the left or right hand side.

Having the bag setup as a sling bag is an option that I very rarely use and only when I have a very basic kit with me, as an example if I am out on a recce for a location I might only have the camera (gripped) with just the 16-50 & 60-250 with me so having the bag set up as a sling makes for a quick and easy lens change.

Normally though the bag is setup as normal for both shoulders because for everyday use I am carrying the laptop to work as well and this helps to spread the weight.

The waist straps are normally tucked away in day to day use as they are not needed for a very short walk to and from work, this does save for an unsightly mess of unused straps!

When loaded and on a bit of a trek though, they are very easy to pull out to help spread the weight over my ample hips as well!

As you may have seen from the pictures so far, as it is possible to set up the bag for either left or right handed use as a sling bag and as such both sides have both a zipped pocket for easy camera access and a smaller pocket above them.

This can work out very useful as the pockets are the same size on both sides of the bag, so where you would access the bag on one side to get to your camera, you can use the other side to easily access other lenses for example.

The smaller pockets that flank both sides at the top of the bag have a netted  section to hold items in such as spare AA batteries or filters as an example.

There is also another zipped storage space on the inside that is more than large enough to take a modern smartphone or alternatively items such as a passport or a press pass could be kept here.

In one of these pockets you will find the rain cover!

This is one of the key reasons in updating my every day bag! A rain cover was to be  found in the Kata 3in1 30 but was sadly lacking from the Fastpack 350 (even though most Lowepro bags have an AW option, this line does not!)

It might not sound like that big a deal,  but I do like a well made, well thought out option like this especially when it has been designed properly for its intended use.

When needed it takes little time to remove the cover and protect the bag, as it is elasticated it completely covers the front and the sides of the bag.

Very important when you consider the cost of the laptop and camera kit that I can fit in there!

Ideal for a Laptop

As you may have gathered, I do value the ability to carry a laptop with me with my camera gear, not just for going to work, but when I am out in the field as well!

Whether it has been going away for a weekend wedding so I can show the days images on the large screen at the bar in the evening, a nights stay at a hotel so I can review the shoot from during the day or visiting family and showing them my latest images, having a laptop with me has proven to be invaluable.

The Evolution 9 takes my 17″ MacBook Pro with ease but if you only have a 15″ model and not as much kit, the Evolution 8 may be better for you.

The section in the top of the bag easily swallows the mouse for the laptop and mains chargers for both laptop and phone with plenty of room to spare.

Alternatively, you can obviously use the top section for anything you like such as a packed lunch or for extra kit when the occasion calls for it.

As you can see here I took an extra (gripped) body into the studio with a lens attached, a blower and another lens in its case.

At the back of the top section there is another elasticated, netted section for yet more storage!

On the inside of the flap for the top section is a zipped pocket which has a clear plastic window to help you easily see what is on the inside for quick reference.

In this case I have used the space to keep a manual and a cleaning cloth ( this is the one that came with my laptop to clean the screen, so keep it here as all other items for the laptop are here too).

Ease of Access

So now we get to the part that is probably the most important for most of us out of a camera bag and that is the access to the camera and lenses!

As mentioned before, both of the side access panels are the same size to allow easy access to the camera on one side and lenses on the other. What I didn’t mention is that on the inside of the flap on each of these pockets are 3 more pockets!

Two of these pockets are smaller and probably best suited for memory cards and the larger one is perfect for either a lens cap, a cloth or a most frequently used filter.

All 3 of these pockets have a piece of velcro to secure them down and a red tab to pull for easy access to them. Very useful and very typical of the attention to detail that you will find throughout all of Tamracs’ bags.

As soon as you open the main side access panel (the one on the side you have chosen to store your camera!) the camera is instantly accessible. There is room here height wise to easily accommodate my K-5 with both grip and 16-50 lens attached.

My bag is organised in such a way that once the camera is removed I can peel back the right hand (velcroed) panel to access my 60-250 and Metz 58 flash gun.

These are here for a couple of reasons, the main one being that this is the heaviest lens in the bag so is more comfortable to have the weight near the bottom and that this is the most frequently used lens in the bag when the 16-50 is not in use.

Both this lens and the flash gun would not fit vertically in this compartment so they have to be stored horizontally in the bag, organising them in this way works very well in everyday use.

To help prevent damage there is a panel separating them which can also be used vertically.

Behind the left hand panel is the newly acquired A* 200m Macro which I am sure I will be using very often come spring time! Again this lens needs to be stored horizontally and fits very well here.

You can also see, like on the right hand side, that I have a flash gun here above the 200mm lens. Unfortunately it cannot be accessed from here as the ring flash comes in 2 parts and they are attached by a cable.

The best way to access the ring flash is via the large access panel on the front of the bag. From here, not only is it easy to access the ring flash but is also another way to access the main flash gun.

Depending on how you work one way may be easier for you than another, but having the flexibility here does give you plenty of choice.

Of course if you don’t plan to use longer lenses or flash guns then you can arrange the velcro panels in any combination of vertically or horizontally to accommodate your chosen kit.

From the other side panel I have easy access to another couple of lenses. In this case both the 10-17 Fisheye and 100mm WR Macro lenses are stored in their carry cases to stop the kit from scratching against each other. Also visible is the Ring Flash with adaptor for the 100mm Macro.

As with the top compartment front panel, the panel on the bottom compartment also has a zipped pocket with a clear plastic window. In here is where I would normally keep my lens cleaning cloths, separate from other cloths to avoid any possible cross contamination.

These are also colour coded so I can keep separate cloths for glass cleaning distinct from the ones that I would use to clean contacts on either lenses or cameras.

Should you use the tripod foot pocket on the front of this flap to carry either a monopod or a tripod (this would have to be a small tripod compared to the main one I use!), then this would need to be removed before you gain access to here.

When not in use, the tripod foot pocket is kept closed with a velcro catch.

So…What can I fit in here?…

This bag may not look like it but is quite the cavernous beast! The layout is very versatile and the amount of pockets both internal and external is quite extraordinary. You should be able to find a home for just about anything!

To give you an idea of how much kit I can fit in here, the list of the main kit you have seen so far includes:-

  • 17″ MacBook Pro
  • Pentax K-7 with grip
  • DA 10-17 Fisheye lens
  • DA* 16-50 lens
  • DA* 60-250 lens
  • DA* 55 Lens
  • DFA 100 Macro WR lens
  • A* 200mm macro lens
  • Pentax AF 160 ring flash
  • Metz 58 flash gun
  • iPhone
  • Cloths, blower etc.

That’s quite a lot of kit! Not to mention that I also had my gripped Pentax K-5 in there to take all the pictures with and there was still room in the top compartment and pockets for even more!

There is one more thing!…

In true tradition I’ve saved the best til last! This bag has one major party trick left to play and one that is hugely beneficial if you have a long, long lens. It fits a 600mm lens!

Yup, you heard it right I can fit my big lens in here! How I hear you ask?

Well, first thing you need to do, obviously, is to take all your kit out and put it somewhere safe then start that lovely process of fiddling with the velcro!

Starting with the bottom compartment, taking out all of the velcro panels leaves you with a very large space.

You can probably think of other uses for using the bag in this way that may well save you buying yet another bag, but for now, lets get the big lens in there!

To do this you need to remove the middle panel that separates the top and bottom compartments which is also held in with velcro. Once this is removed you will have a completely open bag from top to bottom in which to fit your long lens.

This is absolutely ideal for me as it gives me the flexibility to go out on a shoot when I know that all I am going to need is the long lens on the monopod without the bulk and weight of the larger bag or other kit.

There is one very slight issue here though and that is the camera will not fit in the bag whilst attached to the lens. Now normally I wouldn’t do this even in the Expedition 9X, I’m just paranoid about damage in transit with all that weight in there!

There is obviously plenty of room left in the bag to store the camera safely so this is not an issue, but those few extra seconds needed to setup may be a small concern to some.

Overview…

This for me has to be the ideal bag (for now!). It can carry almost all of my kit, be a laptop bag for work, has weather protection and is very, very versatile. It also means that when the others have found new homes, that I will only have 2 camera bags which helps to make for a happy home!

If you are not familiar with Pentax kit and the sizes of the cameras and lenses, then the specifications of the bag from the Tamrac website are as follows:

External Dimensions:  W 33cm  x D 28cm  x H 50cm

Bottom Compartment Internally: W 28cm x D 17cm x H 25cm

Top Compartment Internally:  W 25cm x D 17cm x H 21cm

Weight: 2268g

Street price around £140- £150.

Links: Official TAMRAC website.

See also:-
Gitzo GT5562GTS Review
Wimberley WH-200 Review