- Buyer's Guide
HoldFast Gear Roamographer Review :: Drive By
He was a sturdy unit, his fingers like bratwursts, eyes, bagged like a racoon. It was 6.30am, and the German customs clerk needed a caffeine hit more than I did. I’d just ridden my bike through the sleet and dawn halfway across Berlin to the Shoeneberg Zollamt: the widely feared and much loathed local customs house. The carry package I’d been expecting – a Hold Fast ‘Roamographer’ camera bag all the way from Oklahoma – had gotten stuck in red tape. The only way to avoid the Zollamt’s heinously long waiting times was through an undesirable red-eye visit. With a grunt and twist, bratty fingers retrieved my box from his backlog, sliced the lid, unpeeled the wrapping, and, standing dazed, muttered his first words of the morning.
Ol’ Bratty was right. This bag was indeed pretty.
Aesthetics aside, there’s much to be wooed about Oklahoma-based carry mob Hold Fast than its watershed product’s candy factor alone. Created locally, using American labour and materials, Hold Fast is an ethical and responsibly run artisan enterprise with a focus on stylish camera-carry. Born of a sense of adventure and the view that “history is waiting to be captured and made,” designer-photographer and presumed ‘roamer’, Matthew Swaggart founded Hold Fast in recent years after a period of personal transformation. In the tradition of all good American storytelling, his brand is beginning to tell, and visually capture, some sweet heartland stories.
“Created locally, using American labour and materials, HoldFast is an ethical and responsibly run artisan enterprise with a focus on stylish camera carry.”
As part of the Berlin Muse series, HK and I have enjoyed countless Carryology adventures across the planet. Having the right gear in order to properly capture the visuals along this intrepid road has been a crucial practicality. Fresh adventures again fell on the horizon for us at the turn of last year’s winter, with more snaps and stories to grab. Toting the Hold Fast Roamographer, we barrelled out of Berlin for a 6-month jaunt to our native land: a Southern Hemispheric refresh, and a taste of home amidst the wild isolation of the Australian bush.
With its fish ‘n chip shop, BBQ area, its population of fewer than 900, South Australia’s Normanville was about as antipodean to our Berlin existence as one can get. Five minutes from one of the most stunning, if not isolated, beaches in the area, a half hour drive from some of the most revered wine country in the nation, we set up shop in HK’s family beach house and relished in our isolated, spacious summertime surrounds. Cue kangaroos and wallabies in the wild; haunting squalls in the dark nights; ethereal sunsets and primordial alpenglow.
No, it wasn’t quite an adventure packed romp through a foreign land. But it proved a fine chance to collect our heads after a wild couple of years abroad. We cooked, read, wrote, took shots and rejuvenated our systems, trading our Berlin housemates for ‘Ponglord’ the family border collie; and hectic nights in the smoky bars of Neukölln for cups of tea and bed before 10. We sure weren’t in Kansas anymore (nor was the Roamographer; good thing it blended in well).
The Roam Test
We enjoyed countless road trips across the sun-crisped Fleurieu Peninsula during our Normanville months, and many a weekend camera odyssey through the beach and bush. We roamed big time. Marketed as a luxury weekender, the Roamographer proved its worth in the Australian rural context, becoming a worthy handler of HKs’ Canon 5D II, Fuji X-T10, and requisite lenses (keep in mind, we were probably over packing this unit – the larger size bag is best for DSLR equipment, the smaller model for mirrorless and rangefinder gear; but it speaks of the latter’s versatility that you can make room for more weighty gear if you need to).
“Marketed as a luxury weekender, the Roamographer proved its worth in the Australian rural context, becoming a worthy handler of HK’s Canon 5D II, Fuji X-T10, and requisite lenses…”
A considerable boon for the Roamographer is that it’s internal space is fully customisable. It comes with a red insert, replete with four exterior pockets, one interior document sleeve, one exterior padded iPad pocket, two removable dividers and a removable dual lens sleeve (all Velcro-able). However, if you’re keen to leave the camera kit at home, and instead cart around your weekend miscellany (like, say, your dog’s beach toys), then this bag can handle the challenge, a multi-purpose unit.
Tough, resilient, it looked good, felt good, and the bison leather suited the sunburned Aussie surrounds to a tee. Comfort-wise, its shearling strap offered a thick layer of comfort for the shoulder, even when lugging a fat swag. So far, so good.
“A considerable boon for the Roamographer is that its internal space is fully customisable.”
Above all, this a camera bag for the aesthetically inclined – think Oklahoma by way of Williamsburg, with enough vintage to satisfy any hipster, lumbersexual or female photo-roamer on the planet. But there’s a caveat here. From the outset, we wondered if the Roamographer’s functionality could match its lavish aesthetics. In the midst of so many camera bags on the market, few have managed to tread this fine, perilous line. In this regard, the Hold Fast wasn’t without its drawbacks.
“From the outset, we wondered if the Roamographer’s functionality could match its lavish aesthetics.”
Firstly, the duel leather straps: they looked great, in keeping with the vintage style, but proved cumbersome to operate in accord with the hinged split-handle ‘doctor’s bag’ opening. *Access to kit became an awkward affair, and a far from speedy one. On top of this, the rounded rectangular buckles created fraying along the straps’ edges. Through the use of a straighter rectangular buckle, or a revised closing system, this wouldn’t be a problem (and might alleviate some of the access issues). Similar story with the central thumb tab – it wasn’t ageing too gracefully after the barest of use, and seemed to loosen (not great when the bag is packed with swag, and you’re under-confident that your ‘spensive kit will be sufficiently coddled).
*Update: A caveat ought to be added here: in hindsight, it appears we weren’t using the buckles and straps as they was designed for in a day-to-day setting. For regular use, the straps should actually be fastened back over the opening where they tuck into two rear strapkeepers. Although they proved slightly cumbersome to insert in this way, this certainly alleviated much of the functionality issue, though the point still stands about the central thumb tab closure.
The camera buckle addition on the shoulder strap gets a thumbs up – however, you need to make sure you have the right attachment on the camera (not included). At US $560 ($660 for the larger model), the Roamographer is no budget option. It’s a luxury bag, with a price to match, though it could well be justified for the visual experience alone.
This bag is brilliant – visually. It’s ideal for the basic photographer who enjoys a neat escape to the wilderness and wants to look good while they do it. For someone who photographs often, the central thumb tab closure system may prove a little weak. But it’s worth keeping this shortcoming in context – with a basic tweak (i.e. with a more robust central leather tab and lock system) the issue could be immediately addressed.
We really wanted to love this bag, and to a massive extent, we did. It garners praise from anyone we come across. The Roamographer is stylish and usable, with only a couple of minor functionality issues. And that really isn’t enough to detract from the fact that it’s one of the best-looking camera bags we’ve ever seen.
Bison leather: sexy as hell, one handsome beast
Spacious for the size
Unisex and inclusive
Did we mention how pretty it is?
The Not So Good
Mild functionality concern with the closure system
Buckles and strap edges/finishings could be more robust
You’re paying chiefly for style
“It’s ideal for the basic photographer who enjoys a neat escape to the wilderness and wants to look good while they do it.”
The Roamographer is stylish and usable, a talking piece, and something that’ll make you feel darn good about yourself. A worthy purchase.
*Photography by Honor Kennedy