- Buyer's Guide
Focusing in on three camera carry solutions from the Compagnon Element line…
Compagnon is a small team of talented bag wizards based in Birkenfeld near Pforzheim, Germany. Founded nearly a decade ago by two friends, Vitalis and Valentin, the company has been flying under the radar for many bag enthusiasts despite producing high-quality, durable and dare I say gorgeous gear.
From its very inception, Compagnon has pursued the goal of creating bags that would carry photography/video equipment safely and with style. The products feature leather and waxed canvas in a wide range of styles and colors – a stark contrast to predominantly black nylon/Cordura backpacks offered on the market.
Until recently, Compagnon’s product line was dominated by leather (carefully sourced in Italy and a family-run tannery in Northern Germany) and waxed canvas bags. With the launch of a Kickstarter campaign back in April, the company decided to boldly venture into a new direction by introducing a more technical offering in the Element line – a family of three unique camera bags that could satisfy even the most demanding customers.
Who It Suits
- Those who have a ton of camera equipment and want to securely and comfortably carry it
- Someone who is into rolltop bags and the expandability they offer
- Anyone seeking durable, comfortable, and stylish bags that can hold their shape
Who It Doesn’t
- If you are looking for bags that will change their shape depending on the load, the Element line might not work for you due to the distinct structure that is retained regardless of the load. This is a trade-off for increased security of the precious camera gear.
About the Bags
The Compagnon Element family consists of three bags that would be excellent as a standalone camera solution and could also complement one another.
- The Compagnon Element Backpack is a rolltop backpack with 30L base capacity, expanded all the way to 42L with the top fully unrolled.
- For the Compagnon Element Sling, it comes in two options. The smaller bag has a base volume of 6L and expands to 11L. The bigger sibling has a base volume of 18L and fully expanded comes to a whopping 30L.
All of the bags occupy a very distinct niche and don’t overlap much in terms of volume. So even though they are all camera bags, they each hold their own unique position and don’t cannibalize one another.
The comfort of each member of the Compagnon Element family is superb. To ensure that you don’t suffer while carrying your heavy equipment, the team at Compagnon has developed a very sophisticated and ergonomic harness they call the CarryLite Ergo system. In a nutshell, it is a killer combo of generously padded breathable mesh on the back panel with thoughtful air channels as well as thick and wide shoulder straps that alleviate the heavy load of the camera gear. The overall design of the harness system of each bag makes the carrying experience a joy.
To my surprise, even on the Sling 15 and 11 where most of the pressure is put on one shoulder (the nature of sling/messenger carry), the comfort level remained consistently high even over extended use.
Considering that the Element Backpack is the largest of the bunch, it also comes with a removable, beefy waist strap. This further improves your comfort, while also providing a couple of extra pockets for quick access.
The folks at Compagnon definitely know their craft.
Design & Features
Despite each bag being very different, they all share a common design language and some of the best features are implemented on each bag.
Some of the highlights:
- The front organizational panel with a metal key hook and pockets to keep your smaller items in check. When opened fully, the pocket stays secured by gusseted fabric.
- Rolltop secured by magnetic Fidlock V-Buckle (some of the best buckles known to man which are also extremely addictive and fun to use!). As expected the rolltop allows you to expand the capacity of each bag, but Compagnon went beyond that. The rolltop section is separated from the main compartment with your camera gear by a zippered divider. This is extremely helpful if you for example want to store your wet clothes in the rolltop section while still maintaining the safety of your camera equipment in the main compartment. Simple and brilliant.
- Multiple access points to your gear. On the Element Backpack you have the rolltop and the full clamshell opening for unrestricted access and visibility. On both the Sling 15 and 11 there is of course the rolltop and also a zippered section at the base of the rolltop that unzips around the bag. Closing and opening the second access point is a joy thanks to WooJin U pullers. You insert a finger in and pull which makes it an easy one-finger operation. This is unlike most bags with zipper pullers that you have to squeeze with both fingers for a good grip. Moreover, both the Element Backpack and Sling 15 feature side access via a U-shaped zipper. It very much reminded me of the Boundary Supply Prima side access.
- All bags come with configurable Velcro dividers that allow you to customize the internal compartment the way you see fit. They perfectly accommodate different sizes and numbers of lenses, cameras, etc.
- On top of dividers (that, let’s admit, are expected on any camera bag) the entire Element Line offers something extra. Velcro zip organizers, essentially extra pockets that you can place anywhere inside the bag where the Velcro can attach. Neat!
- All three bags have a hidden compartment at the bottom. The Sling 15 and the Backpack feature an included raincover inside. Perfect for additional protection from the elements and also added security. None of the external pockets can be accessed while the cover is on, for priceless peace of mind.
- All bags regardless of the size offer a tidy, dangle-free experience with all the straps featuring elastic loops to secure the excess – love it!
- The Sling 15, unlike the Sling 11, comes with a wide and comfortable top grab handle. I’d argue that even the smaller brother would benefit from it.
Materials & Organization
All the materials are meticulously selected to complement each other well. The Dimension Polyant VX21 boasts the highest strength-to-weight ratio on the market. It has become a go-to option for many bag manufacturers. Without boring you with technicalities, I can simply highlight the important features of X-Pac for the end user. The fabric is extremely tough, durable, and incredibly light. The cool diamond pattern is an added bonus that makes the fabric stand out compared to regular Cordura or canvas.
The interior is a high-visibility gray P/F 150D liner.
The hardware is all top-notch with the aforementioned Fidlock V-Buckle complemented by YKK AquaGuard zippers.
The organization of all the bags is excellent. All bags feature front panel and mesh pockets on the outside, together with the rolltop section (that as mentioned above is secured from the main compartment with the zippered divider) and the hidden pocket below the front panel.
The Compagnon Element Sling 15 and Element Backpack add on the outside:
- side access to the main compartment
- a vertical pocket (that could fit a smaller water bottle)
- a flat front pocket secured by a Velcro flap – perfect for a wallet, phone, or even a smaller tablet
All bags feature customizable and configurable internal space thanks to the generous number of different Velcro dividers. These are different sizes and allow you to make each bag your own.
If you don’t carry any camera gear you can simply remove all the dividers and use the cavernous space as you see fit. However, this would negate some of the effort Compagnon has put into making this product the way it is.
- All the materials across the board are top-notch and confidence-inspiring
- Supreme weatherability and durability
- Excellent comfort regardless of the load
- Outstanding versatility thanks to the expandable rolltop section. It helps keep the bag compact if you are only carrying camera gear but fits so much more when required
- Multiple access points to your gear with thoughtful separation between the rolltop section and the main compartment
- Nice add-ons, such as Velcro zip organizers, a raincover, strap keepers, etc. that further elevate the user experience
- At 2kg for the Compagnon Element Backpack and 1.6kg for the Element Sling 15, these are not the lightest bags. But considering the harness and the built-in protection I can see where this added weight is coming from
- Considering the main purpose of the bag – to carry camera gear – the shape is on the boxier side, with all of the bags retaining their shape whether filled to the brim or empty.
- Not a negative per se, but the Compagnon bags have a premium price tag for all the features and build quality they offer. Considering the cost of the equipment that photographers and videographers have to carry, I’d argue the price of a secure and comfortable camera bag is more than justified.
I have to say I had a blast using the Compagnon Element line. Though, admittedly, I don’t own that much camera gear to take advantage of the sheer scope of internal organization (I own a Canon 6D Mark II with a couple of lenses), the attention to detail, the build quality, and the versatility of each bag have left me very impressed.
Another factor that made the Compagnon brand so appealing to me was the fact that unlike most companies, Compagnon is very open and transparent about the people behind its products. It is not often you see a brand with the names and faces of each team member with their emails open to anyone who wants to reach out, ask a question, or just share their experience or suggestions. You can go here to see exactly what I mean. Such an approach shows that everyone at Compagnon takes ownership of their work and stands behind each of their products.
If you are looking for a dedicated camera solution to comfortably and securely carry your precious camera equipment, I can highly recommend Compagnon as one of the top options to consider.