Fstop Tilopa BC Review

Eight or so years have passed since I began my photographic journey, and one issue I have always had was in camera bags. Going from brand to brand trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t was the name of the game it seemed. There was never a shortage of options and manufacturers to choose from. A camera bag needs to obviously carry your gear, as well as provide adequate protection together with being comfortable to carry and allow easy access and organisation. To this day I have owned about nine or ten different camera bags, and I have finally found the perfect solution to all my photographic bag woes.

I shoot both landscapes and wildlife and I find myself photographing from various platforms… my own vehicle, a game viewer, on foot walking short distances and then the longer overnight hikes for example. I need a solution that carries varying amounts of gear, depending on the style of photography I am doing on a particular shoot. On some days I would carry all my gear, other days just a wide angle and single camera body on a hike. I found each camera bag I previously owned to offer solutions to only some of the scenarios I encountered, but I could not find one solution to cater for my every need.

I then heard of the F-stop Gear bags, thanks to Hougaard Malan, an exceptional landscape photographer from South Africa. Being the renowned traveller and photographer he is, I read a blog post he wrote on the F-stop Satori bag and I immediately knew I was on to something, I liked what I was reading. Years and years of questioning, trying to figure out what would work for me as a “one bag does it all” was finally answered. Hougaard’s blog is definitely worth a read, as he delves into more of what the bag offers for the landscaper and hiker – read his blog article here.

I use a lot of photographic gear on my travels. The largest item I carry at any given point is a Nikon 400 f/2.8 VR lens. Together with a Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR II lens, Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 lens, Nikon 20 f/2.8D lens, 2 bodies, flash, lights, varying accessories and a Macbook Pro, there was a question I was sure the F-stop bag would answer to. I needed something that I could take on board an aircraft with me as well. I met up with Hougaard at his warehouse, and I took my gear with to see how it would fit.

Now, the F-stop bags work in a completely different way to any other bag I have ever seen – whats termed an “Internal Camera Unit” (ICU), these ICU’s slide into the main compartment of the bag. What makes this system work so well, is you can own different sized ICU’s for different photographic applications. I can keep the same bag, and have an “all gear” ICU, a “landscape ICU” and a “minimalistic ICU” for hiking. Using smaller ICU’s frees up the rest of the bag for other things – food, clothing, tents etc.

View of the photographic gear inside the ICU, inside the Tilopa BC bag.

View of the photographic gear inside the ICU, inside the Tilopa BC bag.

A great feature of the F-stop bags is the rear access to the ICU. This allows one to put the bag down and zip open the access panel and get to all the gear packed. It’s this versatility of the system which I love, and find to be so suited to my style of adventure and photography.

* PLEASE NOTE – the Nikon 400 f/2.8 VR lens pictured above includes the lens hood in reverse position. If I am walking further than in just an airport building, I may opt to hang the lens hood on the outside of the bag because I find the lens hood just a little too big, which slightly digs into my lower back. The lens hood definitely does fit and the bag closes perfectly, but for added comfort I may remove the lens hood and place on the outside of the bag. I only use one lens hood with the 400mm lens.

Before I go into how my gear fits, and what combination I use, please check out this article for more info on these fundamentally different and extraordinary bags. The F-stop range offers a whole variety of different backpacks and ICU combinations, and I found the Tilopa BC to fit my specific requirements perfectly. Should you be interested in these bags and live in South Africa please contact Hougaard Malan at WWW.LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA.

F-Stop Gear XL Pro ICU with photographic gear which gets packed inside.

F-Stop Gear XL Pro ICU with photographic gear which gets packed inside.

The XL Pro ICU holds the following gear, which slides into my F-stop Tilopa BC bag,

  • 1x Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR lens with Lens Hood
  • 1x Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II lens
  • 1x Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens
  • 1x Nikon 20mm f/2.8D lens (not pictured above)
  • 1x Nikon 1.4 Convertor with pouch
  • 1x Nikon D810 Camera with Kirk L-Bracket
  • 1x Nikon D7000
  • 1x Nikon SB-900 Flash
  • 1x Off Shoe Flash Cord
  • 2x Rain covers for 70-200mm and 400mm Lens
  • 2x Small video lights
  • 2x Small video light stands
  • 1x Lens cloth
Grid-It organiser that fits into the front pouch on the Tilopa BC.

Grid-It organiser that fits into the front pouch on the Tilopa BC.

I came across whats called a “Grid-It Organiser” at a local outdoor shop, which I use to organise some of my accessories, which fits perfectly into the front pouch of the Tilopa BC. Items include,

  • 1x Camera remote timer release
  • Spare lens caps
  • Camera battery charger and cables
  • Spare hot-shoe bubble level
  • Extension cables for cable release
  • Camera strap
  • Rocket air blower (not pictured above)
  • USB plug charger and cable
  • The top compartments and laptop compartment on the Tilopa BC backpack hold the remainder of my gear, which includes the following,
  • 1x Remote Cable Releases
  • Spare Batteries
  • Extra Memory Cards in Memory Card Wallet
  • AAA Batteries
  • AA Batteries
  • Spirit Level for Flash Hot Shoe
  • LED Torch
  • Wimberley Flash Brackets
  • 2x Lens Pens
  • GoPro Camera
  • 77mm Polarising filter
  • 2x Lens Cloths
  • Sensor Pen
  • GoPro Charger
  • Macbook Pro 15”
  • Lacie External HD
  • CF/SD Card Reader
  • Macbook Charger

A quick note on tripod use – I carry my travel tripod on the side of the bag – many straps and places to mount accessories are found on the bag and I quickly attach my tripod to the bag when on the move.

As you can see, there is a lot of gear this bag swallows up, and I find it perfectly organised and can get to anything I need in a second. The bag is heavy when it is fully loaded, but comfortable to carry with the exceptional design by the F-Stop Gear team.

In South Africa, WWW.LANDSCAPEGEAR.CO.ZA is the leading retailer of the F-stop bags. They also offer a whole host of the very best photographic accessories money could buy. Please check out their website for more info on pricing and availability.

* JUNE 2016 UPDATE - I have changed some of the equipment that I use, but the fundamentals of how I pack my gear in the F-stop Tilopa BC bag is the exactly the same.