When you need to bring your camera gear on an outdoor adventure, a backpack is a great solution. But what if your kit contains larger items like cinema cameras or super-telephoto lenses? We’re going to need a bigger backpack.
Like the previously available Explore series of backpacks from Shimoda, the Action X uses removable Core Units in order to house the camera gear in the main compartment. The Core Units come in a variety of different size options which opens up possibilities in being able to stack multiple in a backpack and interchange or remove certain ones based on what’s on the day’s shooting agenda.
In the case of this review, I’ve bundled the Action X70 backpack with their Extra Large DV Core Unit, both of which are the biggest available styles. The XL DV Core Unit will take up all the available space in the main compartment, but there would be nothing stopping me from switching it out with smaller Core Unit pieces if I wanted to carry less camera gear and more hiking or camping gear in the open space. For wildlife photographers and video shooters, the XL DV Core Unit will likely be the way to go as it will be able to have the length and depth needed to house supertelephoto lenses and cinema cameras.
Below is a rundown of the things I liked and things which I thought could be improved.
What I Like
- The XL DV Core Unit fits a small cinema camera and long lens with some room to spare in the main compartment. For wildlife photographers, the compartment is deep enough at 7.9 inches for most supertelephoto lens hoods and should fit many models of these long lenses with a gripped camera body attached if you wish. The biggest of the big lenses, like Nikon’s 600mm f/4, measures in at 18 inches long while the XL DV Core Unit measures 18.1 inches long on the interior.
- The Action X backpack’s exterior material is water resistant and durable. I like that it’s not the typical nylon woven feeling material that most every other backpack uses. The Shimoda has a nicer tactile experience, which to me matters since it’s a very hands-on product using it day in and day out.
- The zippers are very smooth everywhere on the backpack and fitted with generously-sized pull tabs that also act as a silencer. On some other bags with just the metal pulls, they tend to jangle while walking so I usually cut off with wire cutters and replace them with silent cord pulls. I didn’t have to be so drastic in this case.
- The buckle clips are also buttery smooth and I’ve never felt like my fingers were in constant danger of pinching like some other backpacks I’ve used.
- Both side pockets are very large and surprisingly capable of accepting two tandem legs of my video tripod. When not in use or with smaller items, these same pockets can be zippered shut for a clean look.
- There are a number of attachment points on the outside to provide flexibility in adding more straps and whatnot. The backpack does come with a nifty bike helmet strap. This is in addition to all the built-in strap options that are present throughout the exterior.
- The Action X series features a roll top compartment that allows for an extreme amount of expandable storage. Food, clothing, camping gear, camouflage throw blinds, accessory cases, more Core Units, you name it — it can probably be thrown in there. There’s also a few zippered mesh pouches inside this top compartment. Even better is that it’s very smartly designed because if this expandable storage isn’t being utilized, it can be rolled down tight and the same area can be accessed through a simple zipper.
- One of the best features of Shimoda backpacks are how they have an adjustable anchor point for the shoulder straps to adapt to different torso heights. This is so great because I always thought that waist straps were completely useless, but it turns out it’s actually because they were never sitting at the right height on my hips. I’m running the straps at the medium setting, but Shimoda’s sizing chart suggests large as a starting spot for my height. That just shows what I’m talking about with customization to fit my own body shape. When it comes to carrying heavy video gear and big lenses, it makes a major difference having waist straps that actually help take some of that load off my shoulders and back.
- To get to the main compartment, the back panel of Shimoda backpacks open to the side rather than top to bottom. They can easily stay open and seemingly takes up less space to get into since I’m doubling up the short side rather than the long side. It’s technically still doubling up the total area either way, but having the side opener style feels more compact.
What Could Be Improved
- While I love the exterior material for its weather resistant properties, it is on the noisier end of backpacks I’ve used when loaded up. It does seem that over time the noise drops as the material stretches into place with heavy gear, which is a good sign.
- I wish the upper strap used on the sides had a locking-style buckle for more tripod security. As it is now it relies totally on friction which isn’t totally secure for heavier tripods. My tripod will come loose when laying the pack down flat since it can’t handle that kind of weight. It can also come a smidge loose while hiking normally with heavy tripods, but has been minor for me. It’s not bad for what it is, and I’ve had backpacks that use a terribly slippery strap fabric and buckle combination which hold almost no weight against them. These manage quite well in many situations, I’m just saying they could be improved a step above that with a simple buckle swap.
- I wish there was a simple flat handle at the bottom to be able to use while lifting or pulling out from spaces. It’s not something I would notice with lighter equipment, however as this big bag gets weighed down quickly with the big gear, having another hand under the backpack to move it around while not wearing it on my back would be welcomed.
- The laptop sleeve seems like a missed opportunity for some more simple pockets on the inside.
- I wish the larger shoulder strap pouch had a little more stretch to it to be able to close the zipper when boxy items are inside, like batteries for my Sony FS5 or Atomos recorder. On that note, it’s a little perplexing why each strap has a different style built-in pouch when the bigger one can do everything of the smaller one and more.
- Shimoda backpacks don’t come with removable rain covers and they need to be purchased separately.