Gear review – Lowepro Flipside 400 AW Backpack

Since starting to shoot on a more professional basis some time ago, it wasn’t long before two main issues started to become apparent on a nearly daily basis. Firstly, you can never have enough kit…

Just when you think you have all the gear you need, you suddenly find a lens you can’t live without, or have something break at a critical moment – which inevetibly means you start carrying two of most irreplacable or vital pieces of equipment to help prevent any embarassing moments. As you start acquiring and needing to carry around more equipment, the second problem rapidly appears – finding the right equipment bag to store, protect & transport your vital camera gear along with keeping everything accessible while you’re shooting.

When you’re just getting started, a decent bag isn’t really much of a priority. You probably don’t have a huge amount of gear that needs to go out and about with you and most of the time lots of it can probably stay at home. Starting to shoot busy events or weddings etc. tends to change that, and before long you find yourself carrying a couple of pro camera bodies, lenses galore, two flashes, loads of batteries / memory cards etc. along with all the miscellaneous stuff like lens hoods, rain covers, flash triggers etc.

Over the years I’ve tried various styles of camera bag from traditional back packs to large shoulder bags and the more “modern” messenger-style bags which you can allegedly slide around on their strap to access your gear without putting everything down. The various styles all have their own strengths and weaknesses, along with varying degrees of actual practicality.

If you’re a photographer who tends to shoot under studio conditions where ease of access in a hurry to a particular item, or portability isn’t a particlar concern; or one that has an excessive amount of kit to transport, suggest you stop reading here and go buy whatever’s large enough to carry everything around and comes with some wheels!

If you’re out and about on a regular basis however or have a reasonable amount of kit that needs to go with you, then I thought I’d share a few thoughts on my latest purchase in a long succession of Lowepro bags – a black FlipSide 400AW.

I’ve always preferred backpack styles bags when transporting equipment, but previous models have all shared a number of somewhat annoying “features”; the most prevalent one being that to access your equipment you need to take the backpack off, remove its rain cover, lay the bag on the ground strap-side down, undo various clips & buckles and eventually unzip the equipment section before reversing the process. If you’re indoors, this doesn’t normally present a problem as floors indoors tend to be dry.

Working outdoors however is a somewhat different proposition as when you pick the bag up again, although your equipment remains protected, the side of the bag that will be against your back is inevitably now either wet, muddy, snowy, or dirty… Not nice.

The Flipside changes the traditional backpack model enough to make a difference. In terms of style, it’s definitely a backpack – complete with comfortable shoulder straps and a waist belt to help spread the load around if it’s full.

However, unlike most other camera backpacks you access the equipment section from the back of the bag rather than the front. This instantly gives it a couple of major advantages over other bags – 1) your gear’s secure against “tampering” while the bag is on your back, and 2) the surface that will be in contact with you remains clean & dry when you put the bag down to get something out.

This alone is enough of a difference if you like backpack style bags but don’t like using them when out & about!

In terms of features, like all Lowepro bags the Flipside 400aw is well constructed and feels like its made to last. Lowepro’s lifetime guarantee helps to reinforce this and in practical terms it replaces a 12 year old Lowepro backpack of mine which is long past it’s retirement age. Over the years I might have just been lucky, but so far have yet to have a Lowepro bag fall apart due to a fault. It’s early days yet, but initial indications are that there’s no reason this trend won’t continue with the Flipside.

As mentioned earlier, there’s little to fault in terms of the bag’s straps. They’re well-padded, generiously sized, and comfortable to use – all vital requrements once the bag’s full! The large waist strap serves two purposes – firstly it obviously helps to improve distribution of your equipment’s weight around your body making a fully-laden bag significently easier to carry. Secondly, it allows you to slip off the shoulder straps and pull the bag around to your side or front to access equipment without taking the bag off or putting it down. This sounds a slightly odd concept and is one that’s better tried out to experience it for yourself than described. Suffice to say that once you’ve realised that the strap can take the strain this can work surprisingly well if you need to grab something but don’t want to put the bag down.

Like most other Lowepro bags, the Flipside 400AW is festooned with pockets and attachment points for the company’s SlipLock range of add-on storage pouches and cases. It has a large zipped storage section which is ideal for holding shallower lens hoods, remotes & cables etc. along with memory cards & batteries.

The sides of the bag also feature handy exterior pouches for holding water bottles etc.

The main equipment compartment is secured by a pair of what look to be heavy-duty zippers, and can be reconfigured to suit your exact equipment storage requirements by simply moving the dividers around as needed. The compartment is deep enough to accommodate pro or gripped camera bodies and could be adjusted to probably fit a 300 or 400mm lens attached to a body down the centre of the bag.

Many lenses can be stored vertically to save space / fit more in, and its deep enough to store 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters stacked – saving a useful lens-slot which might come in handy.

Without anything being unduly crammed I currently have the following kit in mine:

  • Canon EOS 5D MK III and EOS 5D bodies with a grip attached to the 5D.
  • EF 70-200 f2.8L IS.
  • EF 24-70 f2.8L.
  • EF 17-40 f4L.
  • EF 50mm f1.4.
  • EF 100mm f2.8.
  • 1.4x & 2.0x teleconverters.
  • Canon 580EX II & 550EX Flashes (580EX in main compartment, 550EX in the front).
  • Lens hoods for the 70-200/24-70/17-40.
  • Batteries for the cameras & 4 sets of spare AA’s for the flashes.
  • Numerous memory cards.
  • Radio flash triggers (when needed) & a remote shutter release.

Fully loaded, it looks something like this:

All in all, I can only recommend the Flipside 400AW. It does exactly what I need a bag to do and somehow lets you carry all your gear around in a surprisingly comfortable manner. It’s also apparently suitable for airline carry-on use and should fit in the overhead bins without issue – haven’t personally tried this however so would highly recommend you verify this before flying anywhere with it!

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