One of the most challenging tasks a photographer has to face is the choice of bag to carry his/her equipment in. I have experimented with a wide variety of options, from top loaders, to sling bags, to internal camera units (ICUs) inside backpacks for hiking, and of course, a messenger camera bag or two.
I found that there is no easy solution to this problem since there is no such thing as the ‘best camera bag’. The bag that works for you depends on the type of photography you are into and the extent of your equipment.
If you are using compact cameras, your needs for space will be wildly different to those of a photographer using the latest full frame DSLR.
If you are into street photography, you’re more likely to value ease of camera access over gear protection, whilst waterproof, sturdy and well padded bags are a must for the landscape photographers out there.
I am mostly an urban and landscape photographer, meaning I shoot both in the urban and natural environment: these are clearly two different kinds of beasts and I am yet to find a camera bag that satisfies me in both situations.
While I am still struggling to find a good solution for my landscape photographic sessions, I can say with confidence that I have found my favourite camera bag for urban photowalks in the form of the Tenba Messenger DNA 11.
Now, if you are like me, while you enjoy reading long and detailed articles and how-tos, you want reviews to be easy reading, short and straight to the point, telling you why you should and should not buy the item they’re referring to.
So, to the point: if you are an urban photographer who likes messenger bags, you’ll love this one.
Here is why, in a nutshell:
1. Flexibility: it can work as a camera bag as well as an everyday messenger bag – getting two bags for the price of one is always a good thing.
2. It is a sturdy bag made to last: YKK zip, external waterproof shell, the bottom consists of heavy duty material and it has a nicely padded interior.
3. Comfort: the padded shoulder strap makes it comfortable to wear for long periods of time, with a secondary strap to keep the bag stable and in position, even when cycling.
4. The wide bottom and rigid structure allow the bag to stand upright when you leave it on the floor.
5. Lighting fast access to your camera gear.
6. Stealth: it does not attract too much attention, screaming “Ehi, I am loaded with expensive photographic gear!”
Are there any reasons why you should not buy this bag? Just a couple:
1. You can’t attach a lightweight tripod to it.
2. If you carry very heavy equipment and a lot of it. But this is a general problem with messenger bags, therefore is not specific to this model.
Something to check before buying: yes, the Tenba website states there should be a rain cover but mine did not come with one… ask before you buy.
Now that you know the pros and cons of this bag, you may want to get to know the Tenba DNA at a more detailed level.
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You can choose one of four different sizes: DNA-8, DNA-11, DNA-13 and DNA-15. What changes between the models is, of course, their size. This impacts the amount of gear you can carry as well as the size of tablet/laptop that the camera can accommodate.
Yes, the DNA is basically a messenger bag with a removable internal camera unit – you can use it everyday for commuting to/from work, as well – two bags for the price of one.
Last year I converted to “lightweight photography”, meaning I have abandoned the bulky and heavy world of digital DSLR cameras, replacing these with the smaller, lighter universe of mirrorless micro four thirds cameras.
I could not be happier and my back agrees with me.
I decided that the DNA-11 was the right size for me; this is the model I will review.
The bag feels solid and is well padded, with five adjustable separators kept in place by velcro. This creates up to 6 compartments to conveniently store your gear in.
You can use the height of the bag to create 6 compartments by rearranging the five padded separator, as demonstrated in the photo below:
This way you can carry, say, three lenses at the bottom, two on the top and the camera body with a small lens attached in the top-middle compartment.
There are also a number of pockets both on the bag and attached to the exterior of the removable internal camera unit. You can use these to store filters, batteries and other small accessories.
And a nice, padded sleeve for your tablet or laptop computer up to 11”. This fastens securely with a velcro strap.
In the DNA-11 I can comfortably fit (and, more importantly, carry) my iPad, wallet, iPhone, notebook, business cards, the Olympus OM-D EM-10 with 3 to 4 lenses, a flashgun, filters and other small accessories.
I feel my gear is very well protected in this bag: the internal camera unit is well padded and the material is soft. The velcro of the five separators is strong enough to ensure that what is at the top remains at the top.
Should you get caught in the rain, the exterior of lightweight 600 Denier Helix™, with a durable water repellant coating and new flap design, will help to keep your gear safe and dry. With the external rain cover, you can carry it in heavy rain too without any worries.
The bottom is composed of water repellent, heavy duty material – no need to fear putting it down on gritty, dirty or wet pavements.
The shoulder strap is large and generously padded, helping to evenly distribute the weight in a more comfortable manner. The smaller secondary strap will keep the bag securely in place if you choose to cycle with it.
Access To The Camera Compartment
Ok, I hear your objection: these are all nice features but, honestly, many of the shoulder bags from well respected brands are similarly well equipped.
So… why should I get this one?
For its price?
For its size?
What makes me recommend this bag is the lighting quick and easy access to the gear compartment.
Firstly, this bag has a magnetic clip to secure the opening of the flap: this can be easily operated with one hand and there’s no need to look at what you are doing as it will fall back in place automatically.
Nice touch but the real point of interest is that you can reach the contents of the bag even without messing with the clips and the flap velcro: a YKK large zip on top of the flap allows for the fastest, easiest and noise-free access to all of your gear.
This is the reason why the Tenba stands out in the sea of messenger bags that I have checked out in my local camera shops.
I find it both annoying and impractical having the flap of a messenger bag in the way when I need to get something out of my bag quickly. This is the reason why, until now, I kept resorting back to small, vintage Samsonite hand luggage bags from the seventies, featuring a similar opening.
Technical Specifications (From Tenba Website)
• Fidlock® patented magnetic clips allow blind, drop-on attachment and a fast slide release. This is the quickest clip in the world. It can be both secured and opened with one hand, even when wearing gloves, or when the bag is behind you.
• Adjustable security strap connects to D-rings on the back of bag, anchoring it in position behind you and preventing the bag from sliding forward while riding a bicycle or scooter.
• Quick Access™ zipper lets you securely swap out cameras and lenses without opening the front flap and exposing an entire camera system to prying eyes in unfamiliar or dangerous locations.
• Tapered front flap with a sewn hinge ensures easy closure and excellent weatherproof coverage at the corners.
• Included WeatherWrap rain cover is removable and reversible, with silver on one side to reflect the heat, and black on the other side for a bit more stealth and subtlety at night.
• Large elasticized micro-mesh pockets hold a water bottle, or can even be used for temporary storage of a lens.
• Zippered pockets in the main flap provide out-of-sight, out-of-mind secure storage for important items like a mobile phone and keys.
• The shoulder strap combines smooth-sliding seatbelt webbing and a contoured, non-slip shoulder pad. The non-slip pad grips the shoulder while the seatbelt webbing slides through smoothly, making it quick to move from the bag from front to back.
• Removable padded camera insert protects a mirrorless camera system with 3-5 lenses, or a DSLR with with 2-3 lenses. It will fit a DSLR with an attached 24-70mm 2.8 lens.
• The padded camera insert slides out to convert the bag for general-purpose, non-photo use.
• Rear padded sleeve fits an iPad or similar sized tablet, or a laptop up to 11 inches (such as MacBook Air). A velcro retaining strap covers the sleeve for security.
• Rear trolley strap slides over the extending handle of a rolling suitcase or equipment case for secure and convenient piggyback travel.
• Tenba’s exclusive heavy-duty tarpaulin bottom panel is water and abrasion resistant. This protects the bag if you have to put it down on a wet and/or dirty surface, and is easy to wipe clean.
• Rear pocket fits magazines or documents, and includes smaller interior pockets for pens and accessories.
• Tons of pockets and compartments to keep hard drives, mobile phones, cables, chargers, pens and business cards organized.
• Exterior of lightweight 600 Denier Helix™ with a durable water repellant coating.
• Interior made with lightweight ripstop nylon and soft, brushed tricot.
• The hardware is second-to-none: YKK® zippers and clips, contoured zipper pulls and welded steel D-rings.
• Sturdy, well padded and comfortable.
• Plenty of room for photographic gear, accessories and personal items.
• Ensures the fastest access to your bag contents thanks to the zip on the top.
• Removable camera compartment allows everyday use of the bag.
• It is a “neutral” bag – it does not scream “I am carrying expensive, photographic gear!”.
• There is no easy way to attach even a small, lightweight tripod to it.
If I had to rate this bag, I would give it a solid 4.5/5 (half point under perfection due to the tripod issue).
Since I suffer from an herniated disc in my back, my fear with messenger bags is that I am forced to carry the weight in a non-balanced way but I find this bag very comfortable, even when fully loaded.
While this kind of bag may be a nightmare for DSLR owners, I think they are extremely practical for city shooting with lightweight equipment.
The sturdy materials used for the base and exteriors make it durable and the well padded removable insert ensures the best protection for all of your equipment.
Finally, there is the wonderful zip on the top that (finally!) allows me to access my gear in a fast, noiseless and easy way.
Where to Buy It
If you can’t find the Tenba DNA bags at your local store, they are easy to obtain from amazon or other online shops.
This review is based solely on my personal experience as a user of this product. This review has not been sponsored or endorsed by Tenba in any way.
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