Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Review: Billingham 445

The Billingham 445 camera bag

Billingham bags are a popular choice for many photographers looking for a robust way of carrying their expensive equipment around. Classic design and a solid construction have given these bags a fierce reputation for quality. For this review i have used my five year old Olive green 445 which i use use to carry a mixture of medium format and digital/35mm equipment.

The first Billingham bag i purchased was a 550 which i used throughout my student days. I would later swap to a 445 due to the difficulties of carrying the huge 550 in confined areas. The solid construction of the Billingham 445 is just superb and gives you the nice feeling that your gear will be perfectly safe inside the bag. A solid base plate is located at the bottom of the bag to provide protection when on the ground. The plate can be removed which makes the bag into a softer travel type bag. All of the zips and brass fasteners are top quality, providing a solid seal against the weather. A mixture of olive canvas and tan leather is used on my bag but Billingham currently only offer the 445 in a khaki canvas, black canvas and khaki Fibrenyte material. The olive colour is no longer available which is a shame - i always liked that colour. Dirt and mud can be brushed off and the more persistant marks usually come off with a bit of soap and water. These bags are very tough and will last years - in fact, you may never have to buy another bag again, if it's looked after correctly.

Storage offers a range of options, depending on what you want to carry. A bit of time is needed to work out what will go where when you first buy the bag; getting a good layout is often quite time consuming but essential for getting the best use of space out of the bag. The 445 is easily capable of carrying the larger pro digital/film SLRs as well as larger medium format equipment like the Bronica SQAi. I use mine to carry both types of camera. The extra height in the 445 means it is perfectly capable of carrying a large upright hammerhead flashgun in the bag. Billingham's super flex inserts are used to cushion the equipment during transport and they work brilliantly. My 445 is divided into sections with the cameras located at both ends of the bag. Lenses, flashguns and other items are placed in the middle. This layout works fine for me but there are plenty of variations that you could use. As the internal image demonstrates, one great feature about the Billingham design is the extra protection the flaps offer from prying eyes and bad weather. The bag has LOTS of pockets for items including a large front pocket that will carry a laptop, lots of bits and pieces or a large 35mm size camera. A huge amount of gear can be carried safely and if extra pockets are required, Billingham offer Delta pockets that fit onto the bag. Extra super flex inserts are also available should you require more.

Carrying the 445 bag is comfortable experience but users of modern bags like the Tamrac Pro 12 may find the design of the strap not to their liking. The location of the padded shoulder pad is rather awkward at times; especially when carrying large amounts of equipment. The Tamrac Pro 12 is easier to carry due to its angled shoulder pad that takes some of the weight away from the shoulder. When fully loaded, the 445 is certainly less forgiving on the shoulder than the 'modern' designed camera bags on offer but the solid, rugged feel of the bag's strap and shoulder pad makes up for this. Like the rest of the bag, the finishing quality is just superb. These bags are designed to take all sorts of punishment - the most common of which will be water. The water proof nature of the 445 is remarkable. I've been in storms and downpours which have thoroughly tested the bag, with no problems encountered at all. I even accidently dropped this bag into thick harbour mud (I was with it!) with no damage done to the bag or the gear inside. The bag is about as waterproof as you can get!

In conclusion, i would have to say that the Billingham 445 is one of the best bags on the market. In many respects the bag offers a different, classic type of look, compared to the modern bag designs that we see today. The weight of the bag is something that needs mentioning. The materials used certainly adds to the weight of the bag - i would estimate that it's a third heavier than my Tamrac Pro 12 bag. The weight does, however, reflect the amount of protection offered by the bag. The Billingham 445 is not cheap, retailing in the UK at around £240.00 but if you want the best possible protection for your camera equipment - I would recommend that the Billingham be first on the list when it comes to a new camera bag.

The Billingham website can be viewed HERE

The next review, to be posted in early June, will look at the Tamrac Pro 12 camera bag.


Unknown said...

your blog is really admirable,would you please allow me translated into Arabic ,you have many wonderful ideas i found interesting to the Arab reader,thank you and good luck

Richard Flint Photography said...

Please feel free to translate any of posts on the blog into Arabic that you want.

Unknown said...

Thanks Richard. On the strength of your review I've just purchased a 445 for myself, even though I'm only a hobbyist. Always wanted a Billingham since I first came across them in the 80's, and now can finally afford one!

Great website, keep up the good work.

Gavin Fraser said...

Hi, Great review! I currently use a Hadley Large which I love to bits, but I actually need to get something a little bigger and the 445 looks ideal. However, can you tell me if the hand carrying straps are removable? I can't quite tell from the images on the Billingham website. I really like the quick release straps on the top lid of my Hadley, but I can't help but think that undoing the hand straps on the 445 would slow down access to the main compartment. If the hand straps were left open it looks as though they would be left dragging around?
I hope I've explained my question clearly enough and I hope you can set me straight!

Richard Flint Photography said...

Hello Gavin, thanks for the comment and you are have hit upon THE design 'issue' with the 445. As you mention the main bag handle does drag around a bit when undone. The handle goes across the front of the back to the top and is quite long. Sadly it isn't detachable and it does tend to flop all over the place so you have to be careful when placing the bag near mud, puddles or lochs :) As you walk along it can tap (like a drum) on the base of the bag if left undone. I've got use to it but some people may find it irritating. Other than the handle issue, which does make you close up the bag each time before you move which I find is good for security etc, i would really recommend the bag. If you don't like the idea of the handle flapping about then maybe have a look at the slightly bigger 550. Hope that helps Gavin :)

Gavin Fraser said...

Thanks Richard, that's a great help :)

Anonymous said...

Hello, wonderful review. I have a 225 which I love to bits. Other well known black bags are great but it's nice to be a little different and Billingham has character. The droopy handle tap can be a problem, what I do to get round it is stuff the handle into one of the front most pockets and bobs your uncle - no more tapping :) Hope this helps.

Steelman said...

I have 2 Nikon bodies, 5 lenses (not very long), a Nikon speedlight and associated accessories. Would a Metz 75 also fit in the bag somehow?

Richard Flint Photography said...

Hi Steelman. Regarding your question about the Metz 75, the 445 does have plenty of space in the main storage section and it is deep. There is also a large storage section with zip access (behind the pockets seen in the photo) that is remarkably roomy and would accommodate a Metz 75. I store a Nikon F3HP with an attached MD-4 motordrive in that section and there is still room to spare for odds and ends so i don't think you'd have trouble storing a Metz 75 in there. Hope that helps :)